By Peggy Fletcher Stack for the Salt Lake Tribune.
In the sedate setting of an academic symposium in Provo, a respected LDS scholar delivered this historical bombshell:
Eliza R. Snow, one of Mormonism’s “founding mothers,” was gang-raped by eight Missourians during 19th-century tensions between LDS settlers and their Midwestern enemies.
“The rape was brutal, and so it made Eliza unable to have children,” Brigham Young University-Idaho professor Andrea Radke-Moss said in an interview. Mormon founder Joseph Smith “offered her marriage as a way of promising her that she would still have eternal offspring and that she would be a mother in Zion.”
Snow was one of the faith’s longest-serving presidents of the female Relief Society, a strong advocate for women’s suffrage and a well-known poet who penned the famous lyrics to the beloved Mormon hymn “O My Father,” which refers to the LDS belief of a Heavenly Mother.
News about the rape — discussed Thursday by Radke-Moss for the first time in an academic forum — comes from the autobiography of Alice Merrill Horne, the granddaughter of Bathsheba W. Smith, one of Snow’s closest friends.
As a child, Horne would spend time at her grandmother’s home, listening to the elderly women of Mormondom reminisce about the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Radke-Moss said. “She then wrote about those visits 50 years later in the 1930s, where she recalled hearing those women discuss the rape of Eliza.”
Those recollections seem to confirm the speculation of Snow’s biographer, historian Jill Mulvay Derr, who has argued that the iconic writer’s wording about Missouri “exposes particular rage that is not seen in most of her other poetry.”