Lorenzo Snow was born on April 3, 1814, in Mantua, Ohio, the fourth of seven children and the oldest son of Oliver and Rosetta Pettibone Snow. His parents were leaders in the community. Snow's father was involved enough in community affairs that the business of the farm was often left to Lorenzo. Lorenzo was bookish by nature. He declined an apprenticeship, something most young men of the time pursued to learn a skill, and instead continued his academic studies. He was educated far beyond the levels of most men at the time and even attended Oberlin college for one term.
The Snows were Baptists, but they had broad religious interests. Their home was often the venue for forums regarding other religious teachings. When Lorenzo was in his teens, Joseph Smith moved to Hiram, Ohio, four miles from the Snow's farm. Lorenzo Snow wrote in his own account that he heard the Book of Mormon read at his home in Mantua and later met the Prophet in Hiram in 1831. Although interested in the Church, Snow left for college undecided about baptism. While at college he defended the Church and was mocked by those around him. Lorenzo's mother, his two eldest sisters, and perhaps his father, were soon baptized into the Church. Lorenzo decided to continue his education at Kirtland. He joined his sisters there, and was baptized on June 19, 1836.
Shorty thereafter, he received a manifestation that confirmed "a perfect knowledge that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and of the restoration of the Holy Priesthood, and the fullness of the gospel" (Eliza R. Snow Smith, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, 1884). This conviction changed the course of his life. Snow decided to discontinue his education and set out on a series of missions for the Church. He served his first mission in 1837 in the surrounding counties of Ohio. Serving "without purse or scrip" was difficult for Snow, as he had to rely on the charity of others for his support. His family had always had the means to provide for him. The Snows then joined the rest of the Saints in Missouri. After Lorenzo recovered from a serious illness, he left in 1838 to serve another mission to Illinois and Kentucky. When the Saints were driven out of Missouri, Lorenzo's parents moved past Nauvoo to Walnut Grove, Illinois. At that time, Lorenzo Snow served a mission to England. Elder Snow taught the gospel in Birmingham for three months and organized a branch in Wolverhampton. In February, 1841, he was called to preside over the Saints in ten established branches in London. With the call to gather the Saints, Lorenzo Snow accompanied 250 saints from London to Nauvoo. On the way, the captain and several of the ship’s crew joined the Church. The party reached Nauvoo in April, 1843. Elder Snow taught school throughout the following winter in Lima, Illinois. He then returned to Ohio to forward the work of the Church. It was there that he learned of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Elder Snow ended his Ohio mission and quickly returned to Nauvoo. In the confusion following Joseph Smith's martyrdom, Lorenzo Snow chose to follow and uphold Brigham Young and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He did his best to forward work on the Nauvoo Temple.
Following the revealed doctrine of plural marriage, Elder Snow married Charlotte Squires, Mary Adaline Goddard, Sarah Ann Prichard, and Harriet Squires. (He took several more wives later in his life.) They left Nauvoo when the Saints were forced out in 1846. The family stopped in Iowa, because Elder Snow was again taken ill. Three children were born there; two survived. Elder Snow was called to preside over the settlement, and while there, he diligently raised money to aid in the exodus. The family arrived in Salt Lake City in 1848.
On February 12, 1849, Lorenzo Snow was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He arranged a celebration of the Saints' first arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, and upheld the notion that celebrations and pageantry can build morale and group identity. In October of 1849, he was asked to serve a mission in Italy. He went first to England and while there, was inspired to begin teaching in Italy among the long-persecuted Waldensian sect of Christianity. He did win a few converts, who migrated to Utah. Elder Snow's mission lasted three years. He visited French Switzerland and Malta, and sent missionaries into India. He also oversaw the translation of the Book of Mormon into Italian. The mission was extremely successful, but his efforts in Italy aroused the ire of Catholic newspapers and local officials.
When Elder Snow returned to Utah, he discovered that one of his wives, Charlotte Squires Snow, had passed away during his absence. He reestablished his family life and renewed his church and community service. He founded the "Polysophical Society" to encourage culture and education. He was elected to the Utah legislature and served well for twenty-nine years, ten of those years as president of the Legislative Council.
In 1853 Lorenzo Snow was asked to lead a group of fifty families to settle a new area. This group established Brigham City, in Box Elder County, Utah. He worked tirelessly to create a thriving community, complete with a dramatics society and public school system. He also established the Brigham City Mercantile and Manufacturing Association with forty departments. The cooperative became the most successful in the entire territory.
In 1864 he was called with Ezra T. Benson and Joseph F. Smith on another mission, this time to Hawaii (then called the Sandwich Islands). In Hawaii, he experienced a near drowning and was miraculously saved. Elders Benson, Smith, and Snow were forced to excommunicate an apostate Church elder, Walter Gibson. Eight years later Elder Snow accompanied George A. Smith and other Church leaders to Palestine, where they blessed the land for the gathering of the Jews on the Mount of Olives. In 1885 he served another mission among the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. Upon his return, he was arrested for practicing plural marriage and incarcerated for eleven months, before being released by a mandate from the Supreme Court. Elder Snow did not languish in prison. He taught classes there in reading, writing, mathematics, and bookkeeping.
In April of 1889, Lorenzo Snow was sustained as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and in 1893 he was called to be the first President of the Salt Lake Temple. On September 13, 1898, at the age of 84, he was sustained as the Prophet of the Church upon the death of Wilford Woodruff. However, concerned about his advanced age, he pleaded with the Lord for a divine manifestation of God's will. He testified that the Lord appeared to him in the Salt Lake Temple, affirmed his calling, and counseled him to immediately form the new first presidency. He set the precedent of reorganizing the First Presidency immediately following the death of a prophet.
By the time Lorenzo Snow became prophet, the Church was indebted in the amount of $2.3 million. This was mostly due to the fact that the U.S. Government had seized most of the Church’s assets, including tithing funds, under the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887. Church members reacted by holding back their tithing donations. The First Presidency undertook emergency financial measures, including the consolidation of debts, issuing bonds, and selling Church interests in businesses. These measures helped, but were not enough. President Snow received revelation that full tithe-paying on the part of the Saints would be enough to bring the Church out of debt. The Saints committed to this principle, and by Lorenzo Snow’s death in 1901, the Church was debt-free.
As the new century dawned, President Snow envisioned a global Church. He urged the Saints in foreign lands to build their congregations there, instead of emigrating to Utah. He reopened the Mexican mission and sent Heber J. Grant to initiate missionary work in Japan. He envisioned missionary work in Russia, Austria, and Latin America.
After serving for three years as President of the Church and many more in the service of the Church, President Snow passed away on October 10, 1901. He performed and was the beneficiary of many miracles. He was promised apostolic power by Patriarch Joseph Smith, Sr., who said, "If expedient the dead shall rise and come forth at thy bidding" (Thomas Romney, The Life of Lorenzo Snow, 1955). In 1891, he restored life to Ella Jensen, who had been dead two hours.
Quotes from President Lorenzo Snow
- "One of the chief difficulties that many suffer from is, that we are too apt to forget the great object of life, the motive of our Heavenly Father in sending us here to put on mortality, as well as the holy calling with which we have been called; and hence, instead of rising above the little transitory things of time, we too often allow ourselves to come down to the level of the world without availing ourselves of the divine help which God has instituted, which alone can enable us to overcome them. We are no better than the rest of the world if we do not cultivate the feeling to be perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect."
- “Blessings of the Gospel Only Obtained by Compliance to the Law,” reprinted Ensign, Oct. 1971
- “We should try to learn the nature of [the spirit of revelation].... This is the grand means that the Lord has provided for us, that we may know the light, and not be groveling continually in the dark.”
- Conference Report, Apr. 1899
- “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.”
- The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, ed. Clyde J. Williams, 1984
See also Quotes from the Prophets