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7

Thirteenth Ward Relief Society Covenant

Salt Lake City Thirteenth Ward Relief Society

Private Residences, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory

June 14, 1854, and May 6, 1857


Matilda Matey Dudley Ferguson Paschall Busby (1819–1895) had a long history with American Indians. Her family history maintains that Indians attacked the Dudley family when she was a baby. Her father, Lawson, was scalped and killed, and she and her mother were kidnapped and later escaped, perhaps to Ohio, where Matilda later married her first husband, Stephen Ferguson.1 Dudley was baptized in November 1849, then immigrated to the Salt Lake Valley in 1851 with her son, Henry Ferguson, where they lived in the Thirteenth Ward.2

When the Latter-day Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, they began to cultivate relationships with local American Indians, negotiating conflicts over land, water, and other natural resources. Utes and other native peoples soon entered a devastating decade of disease, resulting from sickness spread by the Mormon settlers.3 On January 24, 1854, several women from all over Salt Lake City met to consider “the importance of organizing a society of females, for the purpose of making clothing for the Indian women and children.”4 The next week they met at Matilda Dudley’s home, elected her both president and treasurer of the new society, and resolved that all members should pay twenty-five cents in dues as well as donate work hours “for the benefit of those Indians that should seem to be most necessitous or most deserving of our sympathy and assistance.”5 This was one of several such organizations throughout the territory.6

A few months later, Brigham Young issued a formal call to the women in Salt Lake City to unite their efforts in sewing clothing for native peoples and instructed bishops to organize Relief Societies in each ward.7 Dudley’s Indian Relief Society disbanded, and she was a key participant in the organization of the Salt Lake City Thirteenth Ward Relief Society on June 7, 1854.8 The next week, she presented a “covenant” for Relief Society members, which echoed counsel given by Emma Smith in the Nauvoo Relief Society for the sisters to be unified and not speak ill of each other or of church leaders.9 The minutes of the Thirteenth Ward Relief Society meetings record the women making donations; sewing clothing, quilts, and carpet rags; and braiding straw hats, all of which was done “in the usual social, useful, and kindly manner.” The organization took an annual winter hiatus when it was too cold to work together.10

Three years later, on May 6, 1857, Dudley, who had since married Joseph Busby and changed her surname, reissued the same covenant, nearly word for word. That covenant, which is reproduced here, may have been intended for new members who had joined after 1854 or as a reiteration of the purpose of the society.11 In both its 1854 and 1857 versions, Dudley’s brief speech illustrates her organizational vision for this local group and its connection to the broader Relief Society. The Thirteenth Ward Relief Society was discontinued in 1857 because of the pending arrival of the federal army, which had been sent by President James Buchanan in response to allegations of a Mormon rebellion in Utah.12

[June 14, 1854]

Moved by M. Dudley, seconded by A Cobb,13 and carried unanimously, that the following covenant be made by all who become members of this society, viz., that we speak no evil of each other, nor of the authorities of the church, but endeavor by all means in our power to cultivate a spirit of union, humility, and love, and that this shall be the covenant into which all shall enter who become members of this society.

[May 6, 1857]

Sister M. Busby14 proposed that the covenant entered into at the commencement of the first organization of the society should be renewed, which was as follows: That all who become members of this society shall speak no evil of each other while assembled, nor of the authorities of the church or any other person, but endeavor by all means in our power to cultivate a spirit of union, humility, and love, and that this shall be the covenant that all shall enter into who become members of this society.