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31

Sensing Responsibility of Office

Relief Society General Conference

Bishop’s Building, Salt Lake City, Utah

April 4, 1933


Formal education, teaching, and life experience made Lalene Hendricks Hart (1885–1972) an expert in the field of home economics. She first studied household economics at Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah, and later at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. Upon completing her training, she taught at the Night School in Nephi, Utah; at Cassia Stake Academy in Oakley, Idaho; and at Brigham Young College, where she became head of the Household Economics Department. She married Charles H. Hart, a widower with ten children, in 1915.1 Beginning in 1923, she wrote numerous Relief Society Magazine articles full of housekeeping tips under the title “Of Interest to Women.”2

Hart worked on the Relief Society general board under two presidents, Clarissa S. Williams from 1921 to 1928 and Louise Y. Robison from 1928 to 1939.3 She maintained her position on the Relief Society general board when she accompanied Charles to Toronto, where he was president of the Canadian Mission from 1927 to 1930.4 While presiding over the Relief Society in Canada, she traveled throughout the mission to attend conferences with female members, to give talks, and to proselytize.5 She approached this mission as an extension of her service on the board. At a Relief Society conference on the eve of her departure in 1927, she said, “While I shall not for a time be permitted to meet with you in board meetings or in conference, perhaps I may feel your spirit by mothering the boys and the girls that will have the privilege of going into the Canadian mission. … I assure you with all my heart that I shall try to guide and protect as far as it is my duty to do, the boys and girls that come under my direction.”6

As chair of the social service committee during the early 1930s, Hart reported on recent Relief Society Social Service Institutes, which prepared women to act as social workers in their own communities.7 The Great Depression was in full swing, and Utah was not faring well. By 1930, only a third of the state’s adult population was employed, the worst record of any state except for Mississippi. Social Service Institutes trained stake and ward Relief Society leaders in modern social-work techniques and lasted anywhere from several days to six weeks.8 Relief Societies appointed at least one social service aide per stake and some at the ward level where necessary. This training helped the Relief Society to cooperate with government agencies and to address the overwhelming needs of their community members.

Relief Society efforts to cultivate a sense of social obligation also included monthly lessons dedicated to social service, which were published in the Relief Society Magazine. The Relief Society’s social welfare programs included child placement, the Employment Bureau for Women and Girls, summer trips for malnourished children, and a storehouse for clothing and other supplies.9 Hart gave the following talk on what it meant to be a leader in Relief Society at a Relief Society general conference meeting for officers in the Bishop’s Building in 1933.10

The life of each of us is largely governed by a threefold obligation: duty to ourselves, duty to our fellowmen, and duty to our God. The law of ethics prescribes certain rules whereby human relations and behavior are controlled.

The members of a Relief Society organization are in a school of training in ethics which is far superior to any other class or club. Besides gaining knowledge through outlined lessons, they learn other lessons in courage, tolerance, kindliness, and devotion. This school is also trying to create in its membership a sense of social obligation, to stimulate interest in the welfare of neighbors, and to develop interest in all classes and races of people.

Every woman who enters into the service of this organization as an officer11 does so with some degree of ambition and determination to gain new ideas and experiences that will give her a broader view of life, will raise her own and others’ standard of ideals, and efficiently serve those with whom she comes in contact. At no previous time has the preparation for better and more complete living been so intensive. Women are interested in more things and in more people than heretofore. They are eager to know more of human nature, their own personality and its development.

Those who have been given the responsibility for directing this preparation12 must rise to their possibilities and offer opportunities and experiences to their respective groups, which will enable them to find a life freer from those things which discourage, worry, and annoy, and fuller of things that satisfy, stimulate, and inspire. This responsibility has not been solicited, but has been bestowed upon us as an honor. Any office, however, ceases to be an honor unless that office is honored. Ben Jonson says, “Great honors are great burdens, but on whom they are cast with envy he doth bear two loads. His cares must still be double to his joys in any dignity.”13

To be worthy to preside over a well-organized society in dignity and poise is an officer’s greatest achievement; it requires long, intensive labor to acquire.

The mission of officers is to create and develop in the lives of our members the spirit of the gospel and carry its message to all people, to encourage the distressed and disheartened.

As we approach the end of our season’s outlined work, we may well ask ourselves, has this year’s work been a success or failure as far as I am individually concerned? What is success, and how is it to be measured? Not by the length of the days or the accumulation of knowledge or influence, but by the continuous and unrelenting adaptation of the powers and capacities that we have to the opportunities and needs of our environment.

Such a result may be far short of the standard we have set for ourselves, or it may even exceed it, but nothing can excel in loftiness of purpose the desire to make the most effective use of our talents in the service of others.

That Relief Society officer has achieved success who has lived well, loved much, given generously, served willingly, and grown graciously through her responsibility. She has failed if she has ignored the truth, discarded her highest ideals, and lain aside the standards of her own organization and the church.

Let us sense seriously the responsibility that rests upon us to rise and shine and show the way to a doubting, waiting, skeptical world that there is a God in heaven, that Jesus Christ lives, and that he is interested in the welfare of his children.

Footnotes

  1. [1]“Mrs. Lalene H. Hart,” Relief Society Magazine 8, no. 7 (July 1921): 394. Brigham Young College and the Cassia Stake Academy were church schools. The Church Board of Education decided to close the Cassia Stake Academy by 1925, and Brigham Young College was closed in May 1926. (Arnold Kent Garr, “Brigham Young College,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 5 vols. [New York: Macmillan, 1992], 1:219; William E. Berrett, A Miracle in Weekday Religious Education [Salt Lake City: Salt Lake Printing Center, 1988], 36–37; “Cassia Stake Academy to Have New Building,” Deseret News, May 23, 1908.)

  2. [2]See, for example, “Of Interest to Women,” Relief Society Magazine 10, no. 1 (Jan. 1923): 35.

  3. [3]“Lalene H. Hart,” obituary, Deseret News, July 28, 1972; Elaine Justesen, Treasures in Heaven: A Biography of Charles Henry Hart, 1866–1934 (Salt Lake City: Charles Henry Hart Family Organization, 1999), 38–39.

  4. [4]Justesen, Treasures in Heaven, 77, 83.

  5. [5]Justesen, Treasures in Heaven, 80. During this period, women married to mission presidents served as “Relief Society mission presidents.” In this capacity, they organized Relief Society conferences and visited individual units of the Relief Society, oversaw record keeping, coordinated Relief Society activity with missionary work, communicated and established Relief Society policy, and reported to church headquarters. The practice of appointing Relief Society mission presidents began by 1916 and lasted until 1964, when the title of the position changed to “Relief Society mission supervisor.” Relief Society mission supervisors were appointed until at least 1973. (Amy Brown Lyman, “General Conference of the Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine 3, no. 12 [Dec. 1916]: 663; “Mrs. Lalene H. Hart,” Relief Society Magazine 18, no. 6 [June 1931]: 335–338; Relief Society Annual General Conference Program, 1963, 18; 1964, 16; 1973, 21, Relief Society Conference and Convention Programs, 1916–1975, CHL.)

  6. [6]“Mrs. Lalene H. Hart,” Relief Society Magazine 14, no. 6 (June 1927): 312.

  7. [7]Lalene H. Hart, “The Social Service Institute,” Relief Society Magazine 19, no. 1 (Jan. 1932): 33–36; Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 19, 1932–1933, Dec. 7, 1932, 72, CHL.

  8. [8]David Hall, “Anxiously Engaged: Amy Brown Lyman and Relief Society Charity Work, 1917–45,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 27, no. 2 (Summer 1994): 82, 85.

  9. [9]Handbook of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: General Board of the Relief Society, 1931), 55, 178–180; Mayola R. Miltenberger, Fifty Years of Relief Society Social Services (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987); Jill Mulvay Derr, “A History of Social Services in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1916–1984” (Salt Lake City: LDS Social Services, 1988), 38–62.

  10. [10]Relief Society Annual General Conference Program, 1933, Relief Society Conference and Convention Programs.

  11. [11]The term officer referred to Relief Society members in leadership positions. Stakes and wards had executive officers (president, first and second counselors, and secretary-treasurer), and other officers, including chorister, teacher, organist, and magazine representative. (Handbook of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: General Board of the Relief Society, 1931], 134, 141.)

  12. [12]The meeting in which Hart gave this talk was specifically for Relief Society officers, not for the general membership. In 1933, officers’ meetings occurred twice a year and were held the day before the two general sessions of the Relief Society general conference. (“Officers’ Meeting,” Relief Society Magazine 4, no. 6 [June 1917]: 323–324.)

  13. [13]Ben Jonson, Catiline, act 3, sc. 1, ll. 1–4.