On December 20, 1854, siblings Lorenzo Snow and Eliza R Snow formed the Polysophical Society, where plays, poetry, music, orations, and other spectacles were performed. Eliza described that it was a “gathering for social, literary, and a general cultivation for mind and manners” and a “magnificent moral, intellectual, and spiritual picnic.” The group meet weekly in the home of Lorenzo Snow on the Southeast corner of South Temple and Third East in Salt Lake City. One of its members, Henry Naisbitt, described the society as “the first nucleus of a varied intellectual character in the Church and its speedily drew toward itself the lion’s share of that latent talent which through the gathering, gravitated to Salt Lake City.”
For a typical Polysophical Society meeting, Lorenzo’s home was “decorated in a manner to correspond to the occasion” according to Eliza. Each member was allowed no more than fifteen minutes for their performance. The acts were typically all planned and arranged beforehand. Many different types of instruments were played such as the guitar, organ, piano, violin, bagpipe, flute, and clarinet. Dramatic productions were often performed in French, Italian, or English. Many of the members also wrote poetry for the meetings. Eliza, as well as other poets such as Martha S. Heywood, penned several poems discussing a range of spiritual, social, and economic issues that they read for the society.
Eliza described, that “throughout the city quite a sensation was created...many came to my brother and with persistent earnestness begged admittance.” Soon the meetings were too large to be held in Lorenzo’s home and were often held in the Seventies Hall and the Social Hall. Prominent Church members such as Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, and Brigham Young were members of the society. This original group inspired other polysophical groups to be formed within different wards in the Church.
However, in the fall of 1856, the Polysophical Society was shut down after only two years of existence. This was not the choice of its members, but the decision of Mormon Church leaders Jedediah Grant and Heber C. Kimball, who said the group had an “adulterous spirit” and was “a stink in [the] nostrils.” Despite the original society’s demise however, by the 1880s many ward and city polysophical societies spring up again and continued to inspire its members with intellectual, cultural, and spiritual refinement.