After the Order of Heaven

Nauvoo Relief Society

Lodge Room, Red Brick Store, Nauvoo, Illinois

April 19, 1842

Twenty women gathered for the first Relief Society meeting on March 17, 1842, and at the second meeting, President Emma Hale Smith taught the women “to promote union in this society” and encouraged all those who wished to join.1 Counselors Sarah Marietta Kingsley Howe Cleveland (1788–1856) and Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney (1800–1882) and secretary Eliza Roxcy Snow (1804–1887) contributed to the society’s inclusive and welcoming spirit. By the fifth meeting, held on April 19, 1842, there were 158 members, including Lucy Mack Smith (1775–1856), Elizabeth Davis Goldsmith Brackenbury Durfee (1791–1876), Martha “Patty” Bartlett Sessions (1795–1892), Abigail Calkins Leonard (1795–1880), and others who participated in discussion, testimony, and service.2

Some women living outside of Nauvoo, Illinois, had heard about the organization and wanted to participate. Presendia Lathrop Huntington Buell (1810–1892), for example, lived in Lima, Ohio, about thirty miles south.3 She traveled to Nauvoo, where her sister, Zina D. Huntington Jacobs [Young], lived, to attend the Relief Society, and the women welcomed her as a new member.4 Other Relief Society groups met later in surrounding towns.5 The Relief Society provided a central location to unite women across location, age, and socioeconomic status. Lucy Mack Smith “rejoiced in view of what was doing. As she came in and looked upon the sisters, it gave her feelings of deep interest. [She] wept … [and] hoped the Lord would bless and aid the society in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked … [and] felt to pray that the blessings of heaven might rest upon the society.”6

Joseph Smith taught the Relief Society that their institution followed an ancient order that existed in the time of the Old and New Testaments.7 As demonstrated in this April 19 meeting, women of the Relief Society participated in gifts of the Spirit with the belief that they were part of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.8 They spoke in tongues, with others interpreting. They gave and received blessings of health and comfort, allowing them to participate in sacred rituals as well as build intimate social networks.9 These experiences contributed to the “Spirit of the Lord which pervades this society” mentioned in this meeting. The Relief Society meeting was a participatory event—consisting more of discussion than a formal lesson or address. Many women spoke. Their public testimonies and personal blessings reveal the emotional relief they found in service and in communion.

A special meeting of the society being convened agreeably to previous appointment; President Emma Smith not being present, Counselor Cleveland presided.10

The meeting was opened with singing. Prayer by Counselor Cleveland. Singing by the choir. …

Counselor Cleveland then arose and addressed the meeting by saying that inasmuch as the meeting was specially called for the admission of Mrs. Buell, who resided at a distance, was deprived of the privileges enjoyed by the sisters in Nauvoo, and wished to become a member of this society; there was not much business to be attended to, therefore we might spend the time in religious exercises before the Lord. Spoke of the happiness she felt in the present association of females, and made very appropriate remarks respecting the duties and prospects of the society, that it was organized after the order of heaven, etc., etc.11

Counselor Whitney also made many interesting remarks and invited all present to speak their sentiments freely.

Mrs. Buell arose and said that she rejoiced in the opportunity, that she considered it a great privilege. She felt that the Spirit of the Lord was with the society and rejoiced to become a member, although residing at a distance and could not attend the meetings.

Joseph Smith’s red brick store

Joseph Smith’s red brick store. Circa 1885–1886. The founding meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo took place on the second floor of this dry goods store on March 17, 1842. The red brick store became a location for women to gather and share needs, concerns, and spiritual ministry. Photograph taken or obtained by Brigham H. Roberts. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

Mother Smith spoke very pathetically of her lonely situation, and the feelings she had as she reflected on the care which Father Smith always felt for the sisters when in life he presided over the meetings.12

Mrs. Durfee bore testimony to the great blessing she received when administered to, after the close of the last meeting, by President E. Smith and Counselors Cleveland and Whitney.13 She said she never realized more benefit through any administration, that she was healed, and thought the sisters had more faith than the brethren.

Miss Snow, after making observations with regard to the society, the importance of acting in wisdom and walking humbly before God, etc., said she had a blessing for Mrs. Buell, that inasmuch as she had become a member of this society, as the spirit of a person pervades every member of the body, so shall the Spirit of the Lord which pervades this society be with her. She shall feel it and rejoice. She shall be blessed wherever she is, and the Lord shall open the way and she shall be instrumental in doing much. Through her own exertions and by the instrumentality of others, she shall be enabled to contribute much to the fund of the society. She shall warm up the hearts of those who are cold and dormant and shall be instrumental in doing much good.

Mrs. Leonard, Counselor W., and Counselor C. bore testimony to the truth of what Miss Snow had said to Mrs. Buell.

Counselor Cleveland stated that she many times felt in her heart what she could not express in our own language, and as the Prophet had given us liberty to improve the gifts of the gospel in our meetings, and feeling the power resting upon, desired to speak in the gift of tongues, which she did in a powerful manner.14

Mrs. Sessions arose and gave the interpretation of what Counselor C. had spoken in an unknown tongue, and said that God was well pleased with this society, that if we would be humble and faithful the Lord would pour out upon the members generally the gift of prophecy. That when the speaker laid her hand on the head of Sister Snow, she said that not only she should have the Spirit but that all should have it also. That the speaker then addressed herself to Mother Smith, saying that the prayers of Father Smith were now answered upon the members of the society. That the days of Mother S. should be prolonged and she should meet many times with the society, should enjoy much in the society of the sisters, and shall hereafter be crowned a mother of those that shall prove faithful, etc.15

The meeting was very interesting, nearly all present arose and spoke, and the Spirit of the Lord like a purifying stream refreshed every heart.

Mrs. Mary Smith recommended Elizabeth Eaton to the patronage of the society as a person skillful in needlework.

The meeting closed with prayer by Mother Smith and singing by the choir—after which Mrs. Leonard was administered to for the restoration of health, by Counselors Cleveland and Whitney.

Cite this page

After the Order of Heaven, At the Pulpit, accessed May 23, 2024 https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/at-the-pulpit/part-1/chapter-4