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10

Let Us Cultivate Ourselves

Salt Lake City Seventeenth Ward Relief Society

Union Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory

February 18, 1869


As a young woman, Eliza Roxcy Snow (1804–1887) worked as a secretary for her father when he served as justice of the peace in Portage County, Ohio.1 Early exposure to legal documents and parliamentary procedure prepared her to draft a constitution when Latter-day Saint women in Nauvoo, Illinois, proposed a women’s sewing group in March 1842. When Snow submitted her constitution and bylaws for Joseph Smith’s approval, he commended her efforts, then suggested that the women instead form an official church organization, which became the Relief Society.2 She acted as secretary of the Relief Society and maintained the ledger containing the minutes and donation and membership records. In this capacity, Snow became acquainted with the intricate details and breadth of women’s work, which she discussed in a talk twenty-five years later in the Salt Lake City Seventeenth Ward Relief Society.

Snow connected the foundation of the Nauvoo Relief Society with new official iterations of the society in Utah. She carried the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and then to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.3 Several relief and benevolent societies emerged in Utah in the 1850s, although they did not survive through the Utah War and the Civil War. Snow participated minimally in these groups; at the same time, she was officiating in the Endowment House, which commanded much of her time and attention.4 When Brigham Young called for the reinstitution of the Relief Society, first in 1867 and then again in 1868, he appointed Snow to assist bishops in organizing Relief Societies in each ward.5 She later remembered, “To me it was quite a mission, and I took much pleasure in its performance. I felt quite honored and much at home in my associations.”6 She took the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book with her as she traveled around Utah Territory and used it to show new Relief Society leaders how to keep minutes and hold proper proceedings.7

With Snow’s influence, the Relief Society in Utah provided a forum for women to act, to understand their relationship with the priesthood and with male counterparts, and to develop a sense of female spiritual and secular authority.8 In a two-part article in the Deseret News in April 1868, Snow explained: “This is an organization that cannot exist without the priesthood, from the fact that it derives all its authority and influence from that source.” She explained that the Relief Society “was organized after the pattern of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a presidentess, who chose two counselors.”9 She and others who attended the Nauvoo meetings later remembered Joseph Smith’s explanation of women’s responsibilities.10

As part of Snow’s assignment to help organize ward Relief Societies and her effort to expound Joseph Smith’s teachings to women, she visited the Seventeenth Ward, a ward society that had close ties to the Nauvoo Relief Society, on February 18, 1869.11 In attendance were members of the Salt Lake stake presidency and several presidents and officers of other Salt Lake City Relief Societies.12

I have often thought that unless we had more to do than what it seemed possible for us to accomplish, that we should not perform all that we might.13

It is a blessing to us that we, at times, are brought into circumstances which are calculated to bring into exercise every power and faculty which we possess. It is true, it may not seem very desirable for the time being, but it has a tendency to strengthen and develop our abilities and prepare us for greater usefulness.

We have been instructed that each one of us in our organizations is endowed with the germs of every faculty requisite to constitute a god or a goddess.14 These little ones in their mothers’ arms have the germs of all the capabilities which we exhibit, and what constitutes the difference between them and ourselves? Merely a lack of development in them, and this development requires cultivation, energy, and perseverance.

The organization of the Female Relief Society places the sisters in positions to bring into exercise and thus develop all of our faculties: thus in doing good to others, we benefit ourselves. “In blessing thou shalt be blessed.”15 And those who do the most good shall be most blessed.

My sisters, let us cultivate ourselves, that we may be capable of doing much good. We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, and our position as Saints of the Most High is at the head of the world.

Let us try to realize our responsibilities and honor our position.

It is a delicate thing for us sisters to act in an organized capacity. Our brethren are accustomed to move in organized bodies—we are not, and we need a great deal of the Spirit and wisdom of God to direct us. Although we should meet with difficulties, let us never feel discouraged, but move forward in the path of duty, and through the blessing of God and the encouragement of our brethren, we shall surmount every obstacle.16 When you see one step before you, take it, and do not wait to see where is the next—if we see one step, it is not for us to stand still until we can see the way clear in the distance, but move forward and the way will be opened before us, step by step. This is a principle. God requires us to make the effort and thus prove our faith and trust in him, and then he is sure to extend his aid. We have a gratifying illustration of this principle here before us. Sister Rich reports that Bro. Rich donates $50.00 worth of lumber to this society.17 If the society had not made a move in preparing to build, this liberal donation would not have been made.18

This society has already done much. God has been with you, my sisters, or you could not accomplish what you have—you have also had the faith and prayers of the First Presidency and of your bishop.19

This organization is a portion of the holy priesthood, and stands in the same relation to the bishop that the society which was organized in Nauvoo by Joseph Smith stood to him; and the idea of the society acting in opposition to the bishop is not only preposterous, but an impossibility.20 In all its movements it acts in accordance with his counsel, and the moment it takes a step aside from this, it ceases to exist in its proper order, and the spirit of the institution is withdrawn.

But I am not in the least anticipating such an event. You have a president and counselors who have learned by many years of experience to respect and be guided by the authorities placed over them.21

Yet, I feel to say to you be careful, move cautiously, yet with energy.

I feel to congratulate you on your success—you have done much. You have donated liberally, and you have disbursed as liberally.22 I trust that in the ensuing year, the demands on your treasury will not be so heavy as in the past.23

And, by the way, I wish to caution my sisters a little with regard to sympathy: Our sympathies, as well as every other emotional feeling, require cultivation. This I have learned by practical experience. I could not believe that any person would solicit charity unless really needy, and I had been many times imposed upon before I dared to question my sympathies; but I “learned wisdom from the things I suffered.”24

It is your duty and province as a society for the relief of the poor to make yourselves fully acquainted with the circumstances of those who solicit your aid.25 I have known instances of people being supported by charity when they had large boxes stored with good jewelry, etc.26 Do not hesitate to inform yourselves—the really needy will not dissemble, neither will they shrink from investigation. You need the wisdom of God to direct you in these matters, that you may neither withhold from the destitute, nor unnecessarily drain your treasury.

Each member of the society should study to know her place, and honor herself by filling it honorably, and all move forward like machinery that is perfect in all its parts.27 Let no one overstep her mark or in the least crowd against another. For instance, I would say to the teachers or visiting committee, it is for you to visit your respective blocks—to ascertain the circumstances of those you visit and report to the proper authorities whose province it is to deal out or administer as shall be requisite.28 And if this principle shall be carried out in every department, the society will move on like clockwork.

We must learn to act from principle, not from feeling—we often have occasion to put the bit upon our feelings, and with a strong curb of restraint keep them under proper control, for through this channel the tempter will seek to stir up jealousies and envies—check every feeling of this nature. We may at times think we have not received due respect from this or that one, but let us ever remember “it is better to suffer wrong than to do wrong.”29 Let us act nobly, as becomes Saints of God and daughters of Abraham, and ever bear in mind the greatest and the noblest are the most condescending.

This is one branch—there are many branches but they all constitute one Female Relief Society, as it was organized by Joseph Smith. Let each member realize her responsibility, and seek to make the society honorable by being honorable herself. Let us be humble and cherish the Spirit of God, that we may increase in wisdom and knowledge, that we may attain to true and noble womanhood, that we may become what we were in the beginning created to be—helpmate to our brethren.

According to instructions by the Prophet Joseph at the time of its first organization, this society is designed to be a relief to the bishop and elders of Israel. In administering to the poor you have already aided your bishop and lessened his cares, and every labor that comes within the province of woman devolves upon the Female Relief Society.30

In a recent address by President Young before the F.R.S. [Female Relief Society] of the 15th Ward, he established a broad platform, and pointed out an extensive field, or fields of labor—almost too much, it might seem, to be accomplished in this generation.31

I desire fervently that we all may grow better day by day, that when the faithful shall be called out, as we have been instructed they will be, we may be one of the number.

My sisters, you have my blessing, and my prayer is that we may have grace to overcome evil with good—have power to withstand every temptation—attain to the faith of the ancients, and obtain victory over everything that opposes us on our way to the celestial kingdom.

Footnotes

  1. [1]Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” in The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2000), 6; Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, “Eliza of Ohio: The Early Years,” in Eliza and Her Sisters, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher (Salt Lake City: Aspen Books, 1991), 33.

  2. [2]Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” Woman’s Exponent 12, no. 7 (Sept. 1, 1883): 51. Kimball, who visited the second meeting of the reorganized Salt Lake City Seventeenth Ward Relief Society on February 13, 1868, recounted the story of Eliza R. Snow’s initial constitution for the Nauvoo Relief Society. (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, vol. 2, 1868–1877, Feb. 13, 1868, 58, CHL.)

  3. [3]“Jedediah M. Grant—Joseph B. Noble Company (1847),” Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847–1868, accessed Dec. 21, 2015, history.lds.org; Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Preserving the Record and Memory of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 1842–92,” Journal of Mormon History 35, no. 3 (Summer 2009): 90.

  4. [4]Richard L. Jensen, “Forgotten Relief Societies, 1844–67,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16, no. 1 (Spring 1983): 105–125; see also Eighteenth Ward, Salt Lake Stake, General Minutes, vol. 5, 1854–1857, Sept. 6, 1855, 9, CHL; Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” 32, 265n49.

  5. [5]Brigham Young, “Remarks,” Deseret News, Dec. 18, 1867; Brigham Young, “Remarks,” Deseret News, May 13, 1868; Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” 35. Portions of Eliza R. Snow’s sketch are also published in 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), 268–269.

  6. [6]Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” 35; Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 268.

  7. [7]Derr and Madsen, “Preserving the Record and Memory,” 88–117.

  8. [8]See Derr et al., First Fifty Years, xvii–xxxix.

  9. [9]Eliza R. Snow, “Female Relief Society,” Deseret Evening News, Apr. 18, 1868. For a transcript of the two-part article, see Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 270–275.

  10. [10]Sarah M. Kimball later remembered that Joseph Smith organized the women “under the priesthood, after the pattern of the priesthood.” John Taylor, who was present at the first meeting, stated that the women were now “organized according to the law of Heaven.” (Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” 51; Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, Mar. 17, 1842, 14, in Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 36; see also, for example, Bathsheba W. Smith’s speech to the Pioneer Stake, in Clara L. Clawson, “Pioneer Stake,” Woman’s Exponent 34, nos. 2–3 [July–Aug. 1905]: 14; Mercy R. Thompson, “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” Juvenile Instructor 27, no. 13 [July 1, 1892]: 398–400; and Eliza R. Snow, in Spring City Ward, Sanpete Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, vol. 2, 1878–1901, June 23, 1878, 16, CHL.)

  11. [11]At its first meeting, on August 16, 1856, Bishop Thomas Callister taught the women that this new organization was “a continuation of that which was organized in Nauvoo.” At the following meeting, Callister reiterated his hope that “this society … be organized according to the pattern that was set up in Nauvoo. He wanted it set up on a permanent foundation.” He read aloud a sermon from Joseph Smith to the Nauvoo Relief Society and invited women to share their personal memories. The Seventeenth Ward was located on nine blocks between 200 North and South Temple, and Main Street and 200 West. (Seventeenth Ward, Salt Lake Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, vol. 1, 1856–1870, Aug. 16 and 21, 1856, CHL; Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1941], 751.)

  12. [12]Sarah M. Kimball, Zina D. H. Young, Marinda N. Hyde, Margaret T. Smoot, and Bathsheba W. Smith also spoke. Each woman had been a member of the Nauvoo Relief Society. This meeting celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Seventeenth Ward Relief Society. (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Feb. 18, 1869, 145.)

  13. [13]Snow described her perception of Brigham Young’s views regarding women: “If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least circumscribed in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed. … President Young has turned the key to a wide and extensive sphere of action and usefulness.” (Snow, “Female Relief Society.”)

  14. [14]See Doctrine and Covenants 76:58; 132:20. In an address at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on August 8, 1852, Brigham Young stated that “the Lord created you and me for the purpose of becoming gods like himself; when we have been proved in our present capacity, and been faithful with all things he puts into our possession. We are created, we are born for the express purpose of growing up from the low estate of manhood, to become gods like unto our Father in Heaven.” (Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool: Various publishers, 1855–1886], 3:93; see also “Becoming like God,” Gospel Topics, accessed May 4, 2016, lds.org.)

  15. [15]See Genesis 22:17.

  16. [16]At the beginning of the meeting, Albert Merrill “said he was glad to see the spirit manifested by the sisters in striving to do good and in assisting to build up the church of God. He said there is work for all, both male and female. … We all have an interest in building up this kingdom, if we are citizens of it we shall inherit it forever and ever.” (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Feb. 18, 1869, 146.)

  17. [17]According to its annual report, the Seventeenth Ward Relief Society had acquired $150 worth of lumber for their building. This lumber may have been donated by Joseph C. Rich, who had attended and spoken at a society party earlier. (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, “Annual Report for 1868,” 144; Feb. 18, 1869, 152.)

  18. [18]At a meeting of the visiting committee, Rhoda Marie Carrington proposed that the committee seek money to fund the building of a meeting hall for the Relief Society. Discussion of the building was featured in a subsequent meeting of the visiting committee a month later. (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Dec. 10, 1868, 136; Jan. 14, 1869, 153.)

  19. [19]In February 1869, the First Presidency included Brigham Young, first counselor George A. Smith, and second counselor Daniel H. Wells. While Seventeenth Ward bishop Nathan Davis was abroad on business in February 1869, George Morris served as “acting bishop.” Brigham Young had specifically counseled the bishops: “Now, bishops, you have smart women for wives, many of you; let them organize Female Relief Societies in the various wards. We have many talented women among us. … You will find that the sisters will be the mainspring of the movement.” (Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols. [Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–1936], 1:37, 62; Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Feb. 18, 1869, 147; Brigham Young, “Remarks,” Deseret News, Dec. 18, 1867.)

  20. [20]See Derr et al., First Fifty Years, xxvi–xxxiv; see also Dallin H. Oaks, “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign 44, no. 5 (May 2014): 49–52.

  21. [21]Seventeenth Ward Relief Society president Marinda N. Hyde was a member of the Nauvoo Relief Society, having joined at its first meeting on March 17, 1842. She had served as the treasurer of the Seventeenth Ward Relief Society, replacing Bathsheba W. Smith, on August 21, 1856. A president, two counselors, and other officers were “to carry out the designs of the institution,” as recommended by Joseph Smith in the Nauvoo Relief Society. (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, vol. 1, 1856–1870, Aug. 21, 1856; Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, Mar. 17, 1842, 8, in Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 31.)

  22. [22]For example, during this time period, donations listed in the Seventeenth Ward Relief Society minutes included fabric, peaches, sugar, carpet rags, paper, yarn, flour, coffee, apples, cash, pork, soap, clothes, shoes, and candles. (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Feb. 13–Apr. 23, 1868, 62–76.)

  23. [23]The treasurer was Elizabeth A. Felt. According to the annual report given at this meeting, the Seventeenth Ward Relief Society had collected a total of $1,238.32 for the past year, including cash and donations. They had disbursed $854.85 in cash, $12.50 in store orders, and $188.12 in merchandise and retained $182.85 in cash. (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, “Annual Report for 1868,” 144.)

  24. [24]See Hebrews 5:8.

  25. [25]Acting bishop George Morris had given particular details “of individual cases of persons in the ward who were wholly dependent on charity for support. He expressed his entire satisfaction of the course pursued by the F.R.S. [Female Relief Society].” (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Feb. 18, 1869, 148.)

  26. [26]At a meeting three months later, the visiting committee reported an encounter with a Mrs. Frazier. Heeding this instruction from Snow to investigate the circumstances of the needy, the visitors asked to look in her trunks to ascertain her financial situation. Frazier at first refused, then partially lifted the lid of one trunk, but shut it down to prevent the women from seeing what was inside. The bishop instructed that no aid be given to Frazier and indicated he would work with her directly. (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, May 27, 1869, 177.)

  27. [27]George B. Wallace, acting president of the Salt Lake Stake, had said earlier in the meeting, “Every calling is honorable: the honor consists in doing honor to the calling unto which we are called, and in honoring ourselves in that calling.” (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Feb. 18, 1869, 146.)

  28. [28]Seventeenth Ward Relief Society president Marinda N. Hyde had earlier instructed the visiting teachers that they “must consult with their president upon any subject that claims the attention of the society, and all will work well together.” (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, July 9, 1868, 94.)

  29. [29]Plato, Gorgias, 473a–475e.

  30. [30]Earlier in the meeting, George Morris said, “The object of this society is to labor in connection with the priesthood, to aid the bishop by looking after and administering to the wants of the poor—in comforting the sick and afflicted, etc.” (Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Feb. 18, 1869, 147.)

  31. [31]On February 4, 1869, Brigham Young addressed the Relief Societies of the church from the Fifteenth Ward meetinghouse, praising women’s efforts and activities. He encouraged girls to get a formal education, counseled women to seek meaningful employment to contribute to the community, and spoke about the responsibility of mothers to discipline children and educate them formally in school. He also encouraged women to learn bookkeeping and work in mercantile businesses and telegraph offices, relieving men for more physical work. At the next meeting of the Seventeenth Ward Relief Society, Serepta M. Heywood asked that Young’s speech be read aloud. “It was motioned and passed unanimously that the address be recorded in the Record Book of the Society.” (Brigham Young, “An Address to the Female Relief Society,” Deseret News, Feb. 24, 1869; Seventeenth Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, Mar. 4, 1869, 153, 154–161.)