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Bonus Chapter 2

Double Diligence

Cedar City Benevolent Society

Tabernacle, Cedar City, Utah

January 8, 1857


The Cedar City “Benevolent Society” functioned much like other early Relief Societies in the 1850s, focusing on the local poor and needy and providing women with leadership and the opportunity to bear testimonies.1 On November 27, 1856, a week after being called as president of the society, Lydia Hopkins said “she wished for the sisters to say what they could do.”2 Nine of those present responded; there was indeed much for the women to do.3

The Cedar City area, located in Iron County, was originally part of the Iron Mission, a settlement established in 1850 to produce iron for the territory. Located about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City, Cedar City was founded in 1851 and quickly grew with the arrival of converts from the British Isles. It soon became the largest settlement in the Iron Mission. Settlers planted crops; built mines, roads, cabins, fences, and waterways; worked with neighboring American Indians; and started schools and local wards.4 In 1856, Iron County stake president Isaac C. Haight organized a women’s society with a president, two counselors, secretary, and treasurer, patterned after the model of the Relief Society of Nauvoo. In hopes of caring for needy families scattered throughout the county, and desiring to utilize women’s skills and talents, Haight taught the society “the necessity of helping the poor who will come in our midst.”5 He later reported that “the organization of this society was an experiment to try the feelings of the sisterhood,” noting the women’s responsibility to help build their part of the kingdom, which would have included the settlement, thus contributing to the Iron Mission.6 The women answered this call, offering immediate care for the needy and readily contributing to the society treasury, demonstrating their commitment to such practices as plural marriage and resolving to “double [their] diligence,” according to second counselor Rachel Whittaker.7

The Cedar City Relief Society was organized during the Mormon Reformation, a time when church leaders emphasized recommitment and obedience to church practices, often with fiery rhetoric.8 As part of this effort, Haight noted that Cedar City women had “a mighty influence in the midst of this people.”9 His counselor M. John Higbee told the women, “Let us stir ourselves and see if we cannot make a reformation in our houses, right in Cedar City.”10 At another meeting, Cedar City bishop Philip Klingensmith “spoke considerable on the reformation and the necessity of a union of spirit.”11 As a result, themes of reformation, obedience, and unity are found throughout these minutes, as well as efforts to provide necessary service and work for the local community.

Up until January 8, when the fourth meeting of the society was held, male church leaders had presided and taught at the society gatherings. At this meeting, while Higbee attended and set the tone, the women conducted business and shared religious instruction under the direction of first counselor Annabella Haight, second counselor Rachel Whittaker, and treasurer Alice Randle, as recorded by secretary Ellen Whittaker Lunt.12 The meeting demonstrates the communal spirit of early Relief Society women; they shared testimony at the same time they worked to meet local needs. Rather than have one woman give a speech, a public speaking practice that may have made many of the women uncomfortable at this time, they each contributed to a cumulative Relief Society discussion.13

This organization ended in 1859, probably after president Lydia Hopkins passed away. The official Cedar City Relief Society was reorganized on June 14, 1868.14

Met pursuant to adjournment January 8th, 1857. Thursday. President John M. Higbee presiding.15 Singing. Prayer by President Higbee. Singing. Minutes read and accepted. President Higbee then arose and made some very good remarks and gave some good advice to the sisters, said “that a great responsibility rests upon the sisters. It’s you that bends the young and tender minds; example is better than precept. Teach them while they are young, and they will call you blessed. We may say just what we will, but they will take teaching from example, etc.” Said that anyone that would speak or go against the Plurality were in darkness.16 I don’t want to take up your time, sisters; I want to throw the meeting into your hands. Sung “O my Father, thou that dwellest.”17 Sister Anabella Haight said she felt she held a responsible situation since the society was formed and gave some very good advice to the sisters; said that they had visited a many poor of this place, as regards worldly matters, but not poor in spirit, and that they manifested a good spirit generally. She hoped the sisters would do their duty and speak their feelings. Sister R. Whittaker said it was the first meeting in this new year, and she intended to double her diligence, and that she would bear testimony to what Sister Haight had said, and that she spoke on the principles of the new and everlasting covenant wherever she went, with few exceptions, and they were not aware that any of the members disbelieved the Principle.18 Sister Liston said she felt that this society was of God, and she took great delight in it, etc.19 Sister Morris bore her testimony to the work.20 Sister Randle said the treasury was getting rather low, wanted some clothing, and yarn to darn stockings with, etc. Moved and seconded that the following sisters become members of this society: Mary A. Savage, Sarah M. Willis, Susannah Perry, and Naomi Howles. Carried unanimous.21 President Higbee said it is expected that the donations will be taken to the treasurer.22 You have no idea the amount of good you are doing. You have done liberally and God will bless you a hundred fold. He then asked if there was any particular business to be done, Sister Hopkins being absent attending a case of sickness. Sister Haight answered and said she didn’t know of any particular business, only she would like to mention the case of Old Father Chatterley having to sleep on the floor in consequence of his bed having been burnt up.23 She thought it was our duty to find him one. Sister Hannah Fife said she would find a bed tick, and Sister Mary McConnell a feather pillow.24 A few more sisters bore their testimony, and then Brother Higbee said he didn’t think it was wisdom to hold the meeting any longer, as the day was very cold.

Footnotes

  1. [1]Richard L. Jensen, “Forgotten Relief Societies, 1844–67,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16, no. 1 (Spring 1983): 105–125; Cedar City Ward, Parowan Stake, Relief Society Minute Book, 1856–1875 and 1892, Dec. 3 and 11, 1856, 4–6, CHL. For additional excerpts from the Cedar City Benevolent Society Minutes, see Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 227–234.

  2. [2]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Nov. 27, 1856, 3. Lydia Okie Van Dyke Hopkins “was a faithful Saint and much respected by all,” according to Isaac C. Haight. (Isaac C. Haight to George A. Smith, Oct. 17, 1859, George A. Smith Papers, CHL.)

  3. [3]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Nov. 27, 1856, 3.

  4. [4]Janet Burton Seegmiller, A History of Iron County: Community Above Self (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1998), 45, 51, 57–58.

  5. [5]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Nov. 20, 1856, 2.

  6. [6]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Feb. 4, 1857, 8.

  7. [7]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Jan. 8, 1857, 7. Rachel Taylor Whittaker (1808–1876) served as the second counselor in the Cedar City Relief Society, later serving as its president from 1868, when the society was reorganized, until 1875. (“Obituary,” Woman’s Exponent 5, no. 10 [Oct. 15, 1876]: 77.)

  8. [8]From 1856 to 1857, Mormon leaders encouraged members to repent of their sins and be rebaptized to demonstrate individual worthiness and commitment. (See Paul H. Peterson, The Mormon Reformation, Dissertations in Latter-day Saint History [Provo, UT: Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History; BYU Studies, 2002], 1, 49–51.)

  9. [9]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Nov. 20, 1856, 1.

  10. [10]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Dec. 3, 1856, 4.

  11. [11]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Dec. 11, 1856, 5.

  12. [12]Annabella Sinclair McFarlane Haight (1812–1888) was first counselor in the Cedar City Benevolent Society from 1856 until after its reorganization in 1875. She was from Scotland and was a plural wife of Isaac C. Haight. Alice Cattell Randle (1818–1871) came from England to the United States in 1852. Ellen Whittaker Lunt (1830–1903) was the daughter of second counselor Rachel Taylor Whittaker. As secretary, she recorded minutes of the Cedar City Relief Society for thirty-five years. She was called as the stake Relief Society president in 1879. (“Obituaries,” Woman’s Exponent 16, no. 19 [Mar. 1, 1888]: 152; Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 646, 658, 666–667.)

  13. [13]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Apr. 9, 1857, 10.

  14. [14]Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, June 14, 1868, 33.

  15. [15]John M. Higbee was first counselor to Iron County stake president Isaac C. Haight.

  16. [16]Plurality refers to the principle of plural marriage, or polygamy.

  17. [17]This poem by Eliza R. Snow was included in the 1851 hymnal. The hymn represented the everlasting union of man and woman and was sung often at Relief Society meetings as well as other church meetings. (Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 172; Jill Mulvay Derr, “The Significance of ‘O My Father’ in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow,” BYU Studies 36, no. 1 [1996–1997]: 85–126.)

  18. [18]Common terms associated with the practice of plural marriage at the time were “the principle” and “the new and everlasting covenant.” (“Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” accessed Dec. 11, 2015, lds.org.)

  19. [19]Elizabeth Reeves Liston (1829–1892) was from Ohio. She taught school in Cedar City and worked as a nurse. She joined the Cedar City Relief Society at its first meeting on November 20, 1856. She moved farther south to Santa Clara, Washington County, in the fall of 1858. (Ovilla Rosaltha Liston Empey, “Elizabeth Reeves Liston,” in Lisa L. Martin Family Biographies Collection, 1–2, CHL; Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Nov. 20, 1856, 2.)

  20. [20]This could be either Mary Lois Walker Morris (1835–1919) or Barbara Thomas Morris (1793–1866), both members of the Cedar City Benevolent Society. (See “Names of Members in the Female Benevolent Society,” Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, [inside front cover], CHL; “Mary Lois Walker Morris” and “Barbara Thomas Morris,” The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, “People,” accessed Aug. 2, 2016, churchhistorianspress.org.)

  21. [21]Mary Abigail White Savage, Sarah Melissa Dodge Willis, Susannah Ward Perry, Naomi Howler. The practice of voting on membership started in Nauvoo. (See Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 30.)

  22. [22]The treasurer provided a report at the following meeting. (Cedar City Ward Relief Society Minute Book, Feb. 4, 1857, 8.)

  23. [23]This could be John Bourne Chatterley, who lived in Cedar City during this time. (“Died,” Deseret News, Nov. 26, 1862; John Chatterly, 1856 Census, Cedar City, Iron Co., UT.)

  24. [24]Hannah Barrow Fife and Mary Webb McConnell.