There are a number of great matriarchs in my family, but one in particular who has influenced me is my great great grandmother. Looking at her photo, I imagine I would have found her quite intimidating. And I know reading of her history isn’t a true picture into her life and who she is–it’s simply a compilation of varying perspectives into who she is.
Even our own words are just another perspective of the world as we experience it.
That said, I love knowing that she was a strong voice for and advocate of women. She fought for women’s suffrage. She spoke up for the rights of her friend, Jane Manning. She was educated. She became a midwife and eased the suffering of women who labored as she delivered their babies. I’m still looking for the source, but one of my friends once shared a story she’d read in which Zina had delivered a daughter and one of the men in the home at the time expressed disappointment the baby was not a son. History (somewhere) records that Zina disabused him of that disappointment without hesitation.
She served in the Relief Society, a women’s organization in which I too, although on a much smaller scale, am privileged to serve. An organization that advocates for and looks after women and families.
I love reading that Zina was not at all fond of silkworms but accepted the call to be the president of the silk industry for a time nonetheless.
One of my favorite stories of Zina (besides the one where she once had to sleep with four Egyptian mummies hidden under her bed) is when she went back east represent the women of Utah at a women’s rights meeting. Allegedly another woman looked her up and down and then huffed, “Hmph, you certainly don’t look oppressed.”
There is much controversy over the history of her marriage to my great great grandfather. Many of versions of the story are told, and I don’t believe we truly know. But from what I have read of Zina in her own words, she was not at all oppressed. She did not proceed without her own witness as to her intended path. And her testimony was sure.
When my daughter was in third grade I helped chaperone the Utah history tour and had the opportunity to visit Brigham Young’s home in St. George. I knew from her history Zina had visited there often and entertained there. I looked into the tiny rooms and observed the rustic kitchen and wood stove. I tried to imagine the kind of work required to care for a household and a number of guests.
And it is hot in St. George.
The experience gave me a deeper appreciation both for the hard work of our forbearers and also the modern conveniences we take for granted.
Zina gave birth to my Grandpa Jacobs’ father on cold, rainy day on the steep muddy banks of the Chariton River. And when she was done the party moved on towards Salt Lake.
I know I am in no way remotely equal to this strong, spiritual, hard-working, charitable woman of God. And yet I can’t help but wonder if perhaps she is part of where I got my desire to stand up for truth and to be a voice for women whose voices stifled or muted. And I want to be more like her.
[Day 50 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]