The Thirteenth Apostle: Susa Young Gates

Keep busy in the face of discouragement

-Susa Young Gates

I couldn’t resist writing a little about Susa Young Gates.  Susa was the 41st child born to Brigham Young, daughter to Lucy Bigelow Young.  She was mother to thirteen children, only four of whom lived to adulthood.  She was a gifted stenographer, writer, poet, and composer.  With her second husband she served a mission in the Sandwich Islands.  She was also active in the women’s movement.  Susa served on the General Relief Society and General Young Women’s boards.  Susa was editor of the Young Women’s Journal. She created manuals for geneology and personally catalogued over 1600 family names while she headed up the Church Geneology Department. She wrote fiction, short stories, novels, and biographies (audio recording, Poets of the Restoration).  And seriously, that is not all, there’s more, but I wanted to keep this post brief.

In her own words she says, “I was jokingly referred to by one of the Church authorities as the Thirteenth Apostle.  He told me that if he could just put breeches on me, he would put me in the quorum.”  She was the only woman of her time to have an office at the church office building.  Susa’s influence truly was and is far reaching.  After doing a little research on her I found myself asking, “what did she not do?”   I found the telling of her birth amusing and thought it would be fun to share it here:

The story of Susa’s birth was told several times, each time differently.  Aunt Zina was midwife on March 18, 1856, the year of the Mormon Reformation.  The authorized version is that when Zina informed Lucy that the baby was a girl, Lucy exclaimed “with great force, if not elegance, ‘Shucks!’ ‘No,’ said Zina, it isn’t all shucks, it’s wheat, and full weight too!”  With this story Susa wrote elsewhere, “you have a thumbnail sketch of my life ever since.  Someone always either inside of me or outside of me , is usually saying ‘shucks’ after my hurried entrance most anywhere.  And I am usually trying to convince my other self and the rest of the folks that ‘it’s all wheat and full weight at that.’  Sometimes I don’t care and let it go at ‘shucks.’ (Sister Saints, Burgess-Olsen, 64

It is said that she was a gifted speaker.  In fact Spencer W. Kimball was inspired by her words as young man,

My greatest adventure, however, was the reading of the HolyBible. From infancy I had enjoyed the simplified and illustrated Bible stories, but the original Bible seemed so interminable in length, so difficult to understand, that I avoided it until a challenge came to me from Sister Susa Young Gates. She was the speaker at the MIA meeting of stake conference and gave a discourse on the value of reading the Bible. In conclusion she asked for a showing of hands of all who had read it through. The hands that were raised out of that large congregation were so few and so timid! Some of them tried to explain by saying, “We haven’t read it through but we have studied many parts of it.”

I was shocked into an unalterable determination to read that great book. As soon as I reached home after the meeting I began with the first verse of Genesis and continued faithfully every day. Most of the reading was done in my attic bedroom that I occupied alone. I burned considerable midnight oil and read long hours when I was thought to be asleep.

Approximately a year later I reached the last verses in Revelation:

“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

What a satisfaction it was to me to realize I had read the Bible through from beginning to end! What exultation of spirit! And what joy in the overall picture I had received of its contents!

For more than half of a century now I have continued to be grateful to Sister Gates for the inspiration that provoked me to read the Holy Bible my first time (Friend, November 1978).

I would have to say that Susa Young Gates was ‘all wheat and full weight at that!’  She is an inspiring woman and I think what touches me most is knowing that she didn’t let herself be weighed down by the hard things in life.  She lived her mantra, ““keep busy in the face of discouragement.”

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