Wells run dry

Eight of the 420 hymns in the 1927 hymnal were penned by Mormon poetess Emily Woodmansee, among them a rousing celebration of the Relief Society: “Oh the Daughters of Zion, the friends of the poor, should be patterns of faith, hope, and charity pure.” In the 1948 revisions, six of the eight were removed. With the issuance of the 1985 hymnal, all eight of the Woodmansee lyrics that once graced the 1927 hymnal had been removed. However, the new hymnal did not allow the name to be forgotten altogether. Newly included was the now-popular hymn “As Sisters in Zion,” originally a nine verse poem published in the Women’s Exponent, three of which are now included in the hymnal.

Emmeline B. Wells, fifth President of the Relief Society, authored four hymns for the 1927 hymnal. The 1948 hymnal kept one out of the four, Our Mountain Home So Dear, which remains in the 1985 hymnal.

Mary Ann Morton, an LDS woman who we know little about, authored five of the hymns in the 1927 hymnal. Two of these were retained in the 1948 revisions. A single one of the group was kept in 1985, Sweet is the Peace the Gospel Brings.

Lucy Mack Smith, the mother of the Prophet, was the author of a single text in the 1927 hymnal, “I Have No Home” (originally titled “Moroni’s Lamentation”). The 1948 revisions removed it.

Even Eliza R. Snow, Mormonism’s greatest poetess, saw her share drop from 22 hymns in 1927 to 10 in 1985. Gone are texts like “Cease, ye fond parents, cease to weep”; “Hark, from afar a funeral knell”; and the beautiful, sad words of consolation in “Your Sweet Little Rosebud has Left You”:

Your sweet little rosebud has left you
To bloom in a holier sphere
He that gave it, in wisdom bereft you
Then why should you sorrow and fear?
Your child in the grave is not sleeping
She joined her dear sisters above
The bright beings now have them in keeping,
In mansions of beauty and love.

They’ve gone where life’s ills cannot find them
They’re safe from each danger and snare
They are happy and free, would you bind them
To years of affliction and care?
Look up and you’ll find consolation
Which God by His Spirit will give
And through faith, sure manifestation
Those gems, your sweet children, yet live.

They’re treasure you’ve laid up in heaven,
Removed for a time from your sight,
To your bosom again they’ll be given
With fullness of joy and delight.


Of necessity, revision leaves some words behind as new voices are introduced. Revisions to the hymnal since 1927 have brought us some wonderful new voices. Women authors of hymn texts introduced since then include Karen Lynn Davidson, Jean L. Kaberry, Penelope Moody Allen, Susan Evans McCloud, and Mabel Jones Gabbott, just to name a few.

But while we celebrate the present, we can remember the past as well. This women’s history month, I’ll be remembering some of the women gone before. And what better way than by reviewing the words of poetesses of the past?

Emily Woodmansee felt strongly about the power of Zion’s women, and her feelings came across in her poetry. Today, we hear her words often, that “the errand of angels is given to women.” Eighty years past, we would have sung:

O woman! God gave thee the longing to bless
Thy touch like compassion is warm and caressing
There’s power in thy weakness to soften distress
To brighten the gloom and the darkness depressing
And not in the rear, hence need woman appear
Her star is ascending, her zenith is near
Like an angel of mercy she’ll stand in the van
The joy of the world, and the glory of man.

13 comments for “Wells run dry

  1. I’ve checked T&S for updates several times this morning, reading and rereading Kaimi’s post each time, and keep being astonished that there are no comments — until I remember that I haven’t found anything to say either. Just this: I had no idea. No idea at all. This is almost like the first time I read a scholarly book on Mormonism, a topic I expected to find thoroughly familiar, but instead I found myself on the other side of the looking glass. I’ve seen Emily Woodmansee poetry in so many 19th century Utah newspapers but have never taken the time to read any of it. The lines quoted here make me realize I’ve missed something extraordinary. Thanks, Kaimi.

  2. Great offering. I wonder how much of the transition happened as a result of the so-called “Dying of Death” (ca 1860-1920 in evangelical mainstream, not yet carefully documented among the Mormons). All of ERS Smith’s hymns partook of the prior death culture and would have looked quite out of place in the new one. That of course applies only to those specific poems, but I wonder whether a content analysis could provide insight into some of these transitions.

    What about some of the other Phelps hymn beyond our old standbys? How many of them have been culled?

    Also, does anyone have the text of Lucy’s hymn? I’m curious how it reads, as there’s a clumsy but touching memorial poem in the Wasp signed merely L****S*****, and while I doubt it’s Lucy, it would be interesting to compare styles.

    In terms of uses of hymns, I recommend Kristine Haglund Harris’s essay for the Bushman summer seminar a couple years back.

  3. “Like an angel of mercy she’ll stand in the van
    The joy of the world, and the glory of man.”

    I too really enjoyed the thoughts that were shared, and I love this little quoted couplet — I just need someone to explain the meaning of the word “van” in historical context. I am sure she was not writing about one of our dear RS sisters in her Odyssey minivan…

  4. “Van” is feminist code:)–it means at the head, in the forefront. Contemporary usage retains the word in “vanguard”. My favorite instance is in the suffrage song “Woman, Arise,” which has the chorus (sung to the tune we know for “Hope of Israel”): “Woman, rise, thy penance o’er! /Sit thou in the dust no more./Seize the scepter, hold the van,/Equal with thy Brother, Man!”

  5. I’ve also noticed, and many times stopped to read, Emily’s poems in the Woman’s Exponent. For those interested in Emily, the following is a short bio I put together recently:

    “Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee, 1836–1906, in Warminster, England. “Emily was baptized when she was 20 years old and immediately left for the United States with her older sister, Julia, who had also converted. Upon their arrival in America, Emily and Julia traveled from New York to Iowa where they joined a handcart company to make the Mormon trek west to Utah. Their company experienced many difficult trials and may not have made it to Utah except for the timely rescuers sent from Salt Lake City by Brigham Young. [The young women sailed with the James G. Willie Company, and Emily pulled their handcart across the country from Iowa until the ill-equipped and starving group met with a disastrous snowstorm on the frozen plains of Wyoming. They took shelter in Martin’s Cove until their rescue.] In Utah, Emily entered into the covenant of plural marriage when she wed William Gill Mills on June 14, 1857 in Salt Lake City. The couple had one child before William left on a mission for the Church. After he had been gone for three years Emily received a message from William stating that he would not be returning to Utah and severing their relationship. Following this difficult trial Emily married Joseph Woodmansee on May 7, 1864 in Salt Lake City and bore him eight children. When Joseph experienced financial difficulties due to incorrect mining speculations Emily began working in the real estate industry, where she became quite successful. Because of her talent in business Emily was appointed Treasurer of the Woman’s Cooperative Store—a position she held for over ten years. Emily was also well-known for her abilities as a poet. Many of her poems were published in various magazines and journals, such as The Contributor and Parry’s Literary Journal.” See Biography of Emily Hill Mills Woodmansee, Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library, Women’s Manuscript Collections (accessed on 15 October 2006); Emily Hill Woodmansee in the Mormon Literature Database (accessed on 15 October 2006) and Crocheron, Representative Women, 82–90.”

    The following poem was read by Nellie Colebrook at the 1886 “Mormon Women’s Protest”, see:


    An introduction to the “Mormon Women’s Protest” is posted at:



    In behalf of the “Mormons” the following address is respectfully submitted to every lover of freedom and fair play in the United States of America; also to the members of the House of Representatives, and of the Senate, and to all honest hearted people elsewhere.

    Must the “Mormons” be mute, when compassion is weeping?
    And sorrows unnumbered are right at our door?
    Should “the daughter of Zion” be quietly sleeping—
    As if the dark day of her bondage were o’er?
    Our wrongs and our cares—must we welcome as sweet?
    Or walk into snares that are laid for our feet?

    Like a whirlwind approaching, vile laws now are pending,
    If passed, all the pillars of freedom will shake;
    “Our cause is most just,” yet it claims such defending;
    “The women of Mormondom” needs must awake.
    Thus, we humbly petition Columbia’s nation,
    To frown on oppression, and harsh legislation.

    Our foes trouble little, or nothing to mention,
    For “poor Mormon women,” or “down-trodden wives.”
    Were polygamy only the bone of contention,
    The “Mormons” might vote all the rest of their lives.
    Our foes may not count us smart, sensible folks;
    But we see through their purpose—contempt it provokes.

    We prize not their pity, whose aim is to plunder
    A people who strictly to peace are inclined;
    If the “Mormons” lose patience need any one wonder,
    Who considers our wrongs, by the crafty designed.
    Yet they’ll harvest disgrace where they hope for renown,
    Who for power or place thrust the innocent down.

    We appeal to the people in freedom’s dominions—
    To the fair-minded millions who love what is right;
    Must the “Mormons” he robbed for their faith and opinions—
    Crush’d and ground, ’twixt the millstones of greed and of spite?
    Is it needful or lawful to wrest freedom from us
    For what we believe, or for what we can’t promise?

    Our honor is priceless, our rights are all precious,
    Our affections are sacred, our households are dear;
    Our husbands are heroes, in spite of the specious
    And wonderful (?) rulings of judges so queer,
    Who shift their decisions, around and around,
    Till for “Mormons” a verdict of “guilty” is found.

    “The world loves its own,” but it “hates us,” and fights us,
    Our rights are withheld, and our friends are in prison;
    Yet, we never are comfortless, always, the righteous
    “Through much tribulation” to glory have risen.
    Let the spirit of fairness, quench bigotry’s fire;
    Then, the “Mormons” will reap all the praise they desire.

    Foretold was our fate, of a truth “men revile us,”
    And the meanest of motives, our foes thus disguise;
    Their black-hearted falsehoods will fail to defile us,
    But the masses are misled by plausible lies.
    Alas! that such libels so stript of the truth;
    Are read more than Bibles, by thousands forsooth.

    If the vex’d “Mormon problem,” must have a solution,
    ’Tis time something nobler than hate should be tried;
    Sure, the “Mormons” have suffer’d enough persecution,
    Yet sustained by their faith, they have lived, they have thrived.
    The more they are slander’d, and hunted and driven—
    The more they are prosper’d, and favor’d of heaven.

    Praise! Surely is due to the stout hearted exiles—
    Who rescu’d from barrenness Utah’s broad vales;
    Who built all the bridges, and leveled the ridges
    And braved all the hardships such settling entails.
    God bless our endeavor; He rescues us ever,
    Though ev’ry thing fails, shall we doubt Him? No never.

    Our homage we yield to the Lord, our defender,
    For manifold mercies, what less can we do?
    “To Caesar” the “Mormons” submissively render
    Whatsoever is just, whatsoever is due.
    But to those who would crush us or fleece us by law,
    We can’t for the life of us kneel down in awe.

    To statesmen we turn, yea, we ask for protection,
    In the land that with blood, was from tyranny freed;
    Must the “Mormons” to-day be the only exception
    To the hosts who can honor their conscience indeed?
    Oh ye, whose brave fathers scaled freedom’s proud heights
    Concede to the “Mormons” their God-given rights.

    By the way Ardis I think it’s wonderful that you’re presenting at this year’s Mormon History Association. Well done!

  6. Suzanne,

    Sorry about the delay — for some reason, your comment got flagged as possible spam by our spam filter. I let it out of the filter as soon as I saw it.

    (And I just took the liberty of deleting the follow-up comment asking about that, since it was no longer relevant.)

    Thanks for the background on Emily, which is great, and also for the additional poetry.

  7. Kaimi, your post reminded me of the hymns included in older editions of the Dutch hymnbook, for also the “international” hymnbooks undergo changes. My wife and I have fond memories of some of these hymns as they remain tied to Mormon converts we have known several decades ago and who passed away since. Thanks for bringing history back.

    Suzanne, that was a wonderful addition to the piece. And your contribution actually leads us back to the present in the international realm, to countries where Mormonism is not yet fully recognized and where it suffers, with other minority religions, under restrictive legislation. We could still say with Emily:

    Must the “Mormons” to-day be the only exception
    To the hosts who can honor their conscience indeed?

  8. Kaimi, thank you for this post. I love the music posts when they come along.

    My own great-grandmother, Ida Romney Alldredge was an LDS poet from the 1920’s until her death in 1942. She published many times in the Juvenile Instructor and the Relief Society Magazine, among others. She was paid around $2 per poem. When she submitted longer items, she sometimes would get around $7, according to her biography. Ida wrote many cantatas and pageants. In the 1920’s alone she wrote 220 poems, often for friends. She stated that she would have written more if there was a greater use for her work. Her lyrics were put to song by such contemporaries as George Careless, B. Cecil Gates, and William Clive. Ida had songs sung in General Conference, in the Salt Lake and Arizona Temples, and at the Arizona Temple re-dedication of 1927.

    One of Ida’s last big moments was for Easter sunrise services at the Arizona Temple in 1940. A chorus was gathered on the roof of the Arizona Temple. They sang a cantata written by her and composed by B. Cecil Gates called “Resurrection Morning”.

    Most people probably know her work best from hymn “They, the Builders of the Nation.” I would love to have the musical setting for the poem “I Would Not Part the Curtain” posted below. Supposedly, this song, set to music by William C. Clive, was sung in the October General Conference in 1931, sung by Spencer W. Kimball in the Arizona Temple in 1933, and sold generally as sheet music in Salt Lake City.

    “I Would Not Part the Curtain”
    by Ida R. Alldredge

    I cannot know the future, nor path I shall have trod,
    But by that inward vision, which points the way to God.
    I would not glimpse the beauty or joy for me in store,
    Lest patience ne’er restrain me from thrusting wide the door.

    I would not part the curtains or cast aside the veil,
    Else sorrows that await me might make my courage fail;
    I’d rather live not knowing, just doing my small mite;
    I’d rather walk by faith with God, than try alone the light.

  9. I am quite familiar with “Resurrection Morning”, having conducted it several times in various wards over the past 30 years. In the years when the complete cantata was not performed I would sometimes select excerpts for the Ward Choir to sing during the Easter Sacrament Meeting programs.

  10. Hans, thanks for posting that. I didn’t realize “Resurrection Morning” was out there in use. I now have it on order. I am looking forward to its arrival!!!

  11. I came across this site while looking up old articles about my husband’s family and found it very interesting, especially the the history of a woman who was obviously very creative, capable and very devoted to God and her religion. I find it refreshing that a woman who came about her name the same way I did (marriage) did so much for her church.
    Emily Woodmansee

  12. Emily Woodmansee: My great-great grandfather was Joseph Woodmansee and my g-g grandmother was Lavinia Hawkins Woodmansee. I see you have done family history and it would appear that Emily Woodmansee (One of Joseph\’s wives) is related to you. I am trying to confirm if my g-g-g Joseph is the same as yours. Please contact me at [email protected].

    Thanks, Rod

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