Women of History: Elisa Mazzucato Young

April 22, 2022

Adele Simpson

Elisa M. Young, c. 1930 (right). Courtesy of Longyear Museum.

Elisa Mazzucato Young (1846–1937) was a musician and Christian Scientist. She and her husband, Christian Science practitioner, teacher, and lecturer Bicknell Young, were married for 54 years and had three sons. She composed one of the first operas by a woman produced in the United States, as well as other musical works. After joining the Christian Science church in 1894, she devoted much of the next 40-plus years to supporting its healing mission.

She grew up in Italy, the daughter of Alberto Mazzucato (1813–1877), an opera composer and “the director of the conservatory and the conductor of the orchestra of La Scala [Opera].” Her mother, Teresa Bolza, was a daughter of Count Luigi Bolza, an Austrian police commissioner in Milan.1 Elisa was probably the source for a third-person account of her early life, published in 1885:

Mme. Young began the study of music under her father when she was eight years old;…[but] he was not able to give her regular lessons. He would however, provide her with heaps of music to read, encouraging her constantly….

As a young teen, Elisa started accompanying her father’s voice students on the piano. Her mother’s death at that time had an unintended effect on her exposure to music: “…her father began to take her to almost all the rehearsals (which he conducted) and to the performances at the Scala,…so that she had opportunities to hear repeatedly the best operas as sung by the greatest singers.” This may have helped to cement her career decision, and “she studied singing…not for the purpose of appearing in public, but so as to know the art thoroughly and become an earnest teacher.”2

After her father’s passing in 1877, she and her brother went to London. Within a year she was on the faculty of the National Training School for Music. In 1882 she transferred to its successor institution, the Royal College of Music. The following year she married Bicknell Young, who had arrived there in 1879 from Salt Lake City as a 22-year-old student. Ten years older than her husband, she was later described as “a lady of great sweetness of disposition.”3

It would be hard to conjure a couple with more disparate backgrounds. Bicknell Young came from a prominent polygamous Mormon family presided over by his father, who had five wives. His mother was the first of those wives and gave birth to ten of his father’s 21 children. In England Bicknell had distanced himself from the religion of his youth. We have found no information on Elisa’s religious background.

Over the first four years of marriage, the Youngs welcomed sons Arrigo, Hilgard, and Umberto. The family returned to Salt Lake City in 1885, performed, and opened a music school. A few years later they moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where Elisa distinguished herself as the composer of Mr. Sampson of Omaha: A Comic Opera in Three Acts. It was successfully staged in Omaha in 1888, and later in Salt Lake City. She collaborated with librettist Fred A. Nye, “one of the editors of the old Omaha Republican [newspaper].”4  Bicknell played the part of the King of Bulgaria. A romantic duet for two lovers suggested Elisa and Bicknell’s own bond, conditioned by their time and place:

Sampson and Chorus:
As the stars are true to the sky,
As the needle is true to the pole —
So I will be true to the girl I love
With the strength of my heart and soul.

When maiden loves a man
She says good bye — good bye —
Since time when time began,
When maiden loved a man
She said good bye— good bye.

To everything save him
She says good bye — good bye.
Although her eyes be dim,
She turns to follow him
Saying good bye, good bye.
To home the maiden says
Good bye, good bye;
For him her future days —
Her hand in his she lays —
Good bye, good bye.5

Of interesting note, sheet music from another song in that same comic opera, “A Bulgarian Pin,” was distributed to train passengers “compliments of the Union Pacific.”

By 1890 the Young family had said goodbye to Omaha and relocated to Chicago, to further pursue their musical careers.6 There Elisa composed the one-act opera Maiden and the Reaper, in addition to other musical works.7 An undated sketch stated: “During the first few years in Chicago Mr. and Mrs. Young devoted much of their attention to oratorio, English ballad and operatic work. More recently they have entered the field of German lieder and French songs.”8 An 1891 recital program lists Bicknell on the faculty of the National School and College of Music, performing “Song of the Morn,” accompanied by “Mme. Mazzucato-Young.”9

Bicknell’s 1891 healing of a chronic stomach ailment through Christian Science brought them both into the new religion. They joined The Mother Church (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston) in December 1894. And they came into contact with the eminent Chicago Christian Scientist Edward A. Kimball, who gave them Christian Science Primary and Normal class instruction in 1895 and 1901, respectively. They were members of First Church of Christ, Scientist, Chicago, and also helped to found Second Church of Christ, Scientist, Chicago. Elisa composed a solo, “Now is Come Salvation and Strength,” sung by her husband at the start of the 1897 dedicatory services of First Church.10 She sent an inscribed copy of the solo to Mary Baker Eddy, “With love and gratitude/most humbly/The composer.”11

A brief piece published in the Christian Science Sentinel a few years later showed the tenor of Elisa’s thinking:

“Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak.” We ought to know that this is not the doubting prayer of one who is trying to persuade God to help him, but it is the very turning to God who is our help; who is our strength and our health.

When in need, we should at once go where all supply is: we should at once and with all assurance turn to God and receive help, strength, health, for they are ours. They are ours, for God is our God.12

Elisa was first listed as a practitioner in the directory of The Christian Science Journal in 1904. In downtown Chicago she shared an office for a time with Bicknell, who was beginning to travel extensively as a member of the Christian Science Board of Lectureship, in addition to teaching the religion to his own students.

Elisa was in the public practice of Christian Science until 1909, when, for unknown reasons, she asked that her listing be removed from the Journal. That year the Youngs returned to England at the request of the Christian Science Board of Directors, after an absence of almost 25 years. Living four years in London, they visited parts of Europe where Christian Science was gaining adherents, with Bicknell offering lectures on the religion to large and small audiences. Back in the United States their sons were now grown—two had left Chicago for the western United States, and Elisa and Bicknell had six grandchildren.13

After returning home to Chicago for several years in 1913, Elisa found herself moving again, this time to Boston, where Bicknell served as First Reader of The Mother Church from 1917 to 1920. We do not know how she adjusted to this peripatetic period of their lives. But after the Boston sojourn, the Youngs continued to live in Chicago.

Elisa Mazzucato Young passed away in California at the age of 91.

For more related content, read the “From the Collections” article “A rich portrait of Bicknell Young” and listen to two Seekers and Scholars podcast episodes: “Bicknell Young—a Mormon and Christian Science story” and “BONUS: Eliza Mazzucato Young: a musical and Christian Science story.”

Portrait of Fannie Young and her sisters

Group photo of Young family sisters, n.d. Back row (from left to right): Chloe Eliza Young, Julia Ann Vilate Young, Fannie Young, Rhoda Young. In front: Henrietta Young. Courtesy of Jane Hinckley.

Henrietta G. Young and her sisters

Bicknell and Elisa Young joined The Mother Church in December 1894. But they were not the first of Bicknell’s family to make that commitment. Elisa’s sister-in-law, Henrietta G. Young (1853–1944) had joined the church two years earlier and was listed as a practitioner in The Christian Science Journal starting in 1896. A few years before that time, Henrietta—called “Rhettie” by her family—had shown her bonhomie by singing in the chorus of the comic opera Mr. Sampson of Omaha, composed by Elisa Young, during its Salt Lake City production (as the program for the performance tells us).

The venturesome Henrietta went to New York City for Christian Science Primary class instruction with Mary Baker Eddy’s student Laura Lathrop, and was one of 11 people present on July 17, 1891, “to organize ‘more systematic work as Christian Scientists’ in Utah.” She may have been the first native Utahn listed as a Christian Science practitioner, and also served as librarian of the local Christian Science Reading Room.14 Henrietta’s mother, Jane Adeline Bicknell Young, also became a Christian Scientist,15 as did her sisters Vilate Young, Chloe Young Benedict, Rhoda Young Mackintosh, and Fanny M. Young. Rhoda’s husband, Thomas John Mackintosh, also united with The Mother Church.

The sisters, in common with their brother Bicknell Young, were “very interested in music and worked to develop their talents.”16 Fanny joined Henrietta in a long healing career as a practitioner. Rhoda and Vilate were listed as practitioners for shorter periods of time, in Salt Lake City and Chicago, respectively. Like her brother and sister-in-law, Vilate Young studied with Edward A. Kimball. Fanny Young, Chloe Young Benedict, and Rhoda Young Mackintosh received Primary class instruction from Mary A. Bagley, a student of Eddy who lived in Salt Lake City from 1891 until at least 1894.17

Henrietta Young and Fanny Young (also spelled Henriette and Fannie in their Journal listings) lived together for much of their lives. By 1910, after Henrietta had resided in Chicago for a time, they left Utah with their mother for Washington State, where they continued in the public practice of Christian Science for three more decades.

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  1. Mary F. McVicker, Women Opera Composers: Biographies from the 1500s to the 21st Century (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2016), 71.
  2. Edward Williams Tullidge, “The History of Salt Lake City and Its Founders,” in Tullidge’s Histories, vol. II (Altenmunster, Germany: Jazzybee Verlag, 2019), 578.
  3. William D. McCrackan, “Bicknell Young C.S.B.,” n.d., 3, Subject File, Young, Bicknell.
  4. Fred Nye (libretto) and Elisa Mazzucato Young (music), Mr. Sampson of Omaha: An Original Comic Opera in Three Acts: Book of the Words, (Salt Lake City: n.p., 1889); “‘Mr. Sampson of Omaha,’” Omaha Sunday Bee, 22 August 1915, 1-B. The Bee called it “a made-in-Omaha, produced-in-Omaha, by Omaha talent comic opera.”
  5. Nye and Young, Mr. Sampson of Omaha, 29.
  6. Kenneth L. Cannon II, “Brigham Bicknell Young: Musical Christian Scientist,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Spring 1982, 130.
  7. Rupert Hughes, “Women Composers,” in Young Folks Library: Vocations (vol. IX): Music and Drama, ed. Horatio Parker (Boston: Hall & Locke, 1911), 200-201.
  8. Biographical sketch of Mr. and Mrs. Bicknell Young, undated, Subject File, Young, Bicknell.
  9. “National School and College of Music, Fourth Recital,” c. March 1891, Subject File, Kimball, Edna (Wait).
  10. “Dedication of the Chicago Church,” The Christian Science Journal, December 1897, 525. The article also notes that these words from Revelation 12:10 were “carved on a twenty-foot tablet above the portal [outer doors]” (524).
  11. Elisa M. Young, “Now Is Come Salvation and Strength,” (Chicago: Clayton F. Summy, 1898), SM0078.
  12. Elisa M. Young, untitled article, Christian Science Sentinel, 11 December 1902, 230.
  13. Their son Hilgard B. Young later contributed two articles to the Christian Science periodicals: “Duty,” the lead article in the Christian Science Sentinel, 16 February 1946, 265–266; and “The Significance of Christian Science to the World,” The Christian Science Journal, November 1952, 590–592. The theme of “Duty” may have been especially poignant for Hilgard Young; his nephew, Lieutenant Junior Grade Lawrence Hilgard Young, USNR, was killed in action in 1942 during World War II; Ancestry.com,https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/23651974:60525?ssrc=pt&tid=85092053&pid=36566458675 accessed 3/24/2022
  14. First Church of Christ, Scientist, Salt Lake City, Utah. Board of Directors meeting minutes, page 21, quoted in Jeffrey O. Johnson, “The Kimballs and the Youngs in Utah’s Early Christian Science Movement,” unpublished paper, n.d., Subject File, Johnson, Jeffrey O., 1, 4.
  15. She joined The Mother Church in 1897.
  16. Kenneth L. Cannon II, “Brigham Bicknell Young,” 125–126.
  17. Lee Z. Johnson to Executive Board, Second Church of Christ, Scientist, Salt Lake City, 12 September 1968. Another student of Mary Baker Eddy, Lydia (Chase) Glanville, was listed as a practitioner in Salt Lake City from 1895 to 1901.