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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.