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Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book


Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book. This substantial volume contains the minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo from its founding on March 17, 1842, through its final meeting on March 16, 1844. Eliza R. Snow, secretary of the Nauvoo society, later carried the book to Utah and used it frequently in instructing local Relief Society leaders and members. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

This record of thirty-three meetings of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo commences with the founding meeting on March 17, 1842. A few weeks earlier Sarah M. Granger Kimball, a wealthy young matron in Nauvoo, proposed forming a “Ladies’ Society” to provide clothing for workers constructing the temple in the city. Church leaders had recently assigned more than two hundred missionaries to hasten work on the stone structure finally emerging from its foundation.2 Women’s sewing and benevolent associations flourishing in other U.S. cities probably informed Kimball’s idea to formally unite women to clothe missionary-workers.3 Eliza R. Snow, well-known Mormon poet and former secretary to her county commissioner father, drafted a constitution for Kimball’s proposed society. When Snow presented her constitution and bylaws to Joseph Smith, he praised the documents but asked the women to forego their “Ladies’ Society” in favor of “something better.”4

Twenty women responded to Smith’s invitation to gather in the large assembly room above the dry goods store he had recently opened on Water Street in Nauvoo. The red brick store’s offices and upper story provided space for church and city administration and for public and private gatherings.5 For example, the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge established its lodge in the store’s upper room on March 15 and conducted rites there on March 16. The lodge also met in the upper room on the evening of Thursday, March 17, after the women’s meeting was concluded. Joseph Smith, who had joined the fraternal order and advanced to the degree of Master Mason the day before the organization of the Relief Society, occasionally made references to Masonry when he addressed Relief Society women in 1842.6 More frequently, he referred to the Saints’ rising temple and the priesthood order and blessings connected with it.

Organized “after the pattern, or order, of the priesthood,” as Sarah Kimball recalled Joseph Smith saying, the women formally elected a president, Emma Smith, who in turn appointed two counselors, Sarah M. Kingsley Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney.7 Joseph explained that Emma had been “ordain’d at the time” of a July 1830 revelation, which told her “to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community.” Apostle John Taylor ordained Emma’s counselors and blessed Emma.8 The women’s presidency thus followed the pattern of the three-member presidencies of men’s priesthood quorums.

Eliza Snow and other scribes recorded minutes for seventeen meetings of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo in 1842, twelve meetings in 1843, and four meetings in 1844.9 At nearly every meeting, donations were listed and the names of those nominated for membership were submitted for a yea or nay vote. By the end of 1844, approximately 1,336 women had been admitted as members of the Relief Society. The number of participants and the place, timing, and character of the meetings varied during the three years. In May 1842, attendance having outgrown the small “Lodge Room” above Joseph Smith’s store, Relief Society women began meeting outdoors in a grove near the rising temple.10

The election of Emma Smith as the society’s president and the frequent attendance of and counsel from her husband probably helped speed the growth of the women’s organization during its first year. Emma Smith encouraged women in their new enterprise, provided spiritual counsel, and coordinated assistance to the poor. The minutes indicate that Joseph Smith attended nine of the meetings held in 1842 and addressed members on March 17 and 31, April 28, May 26, June 9, and August 31.11 The minutes are the only contemporaneous record of teachings that Joseph Smith directed specifically to women as a group. A letter that Joseph Smith and others wrote to the Relief Society on March 31, 1842, was also copied into the minutes following the September 28, 1842, entry.

The Relief Society did not assemble in the winter. When it resumed meeting in June 1843, more than one thousand women had enrolled as members. The group soon divided into four sections or wards that met separately in rotation. Because Sarah Cleveland, first counselor in the women’s presidency, had moved from Nauvoo, second counselor Elizabeth Ann Whitney presided in the absence of President Emma Smith, who battled sickness, traveled to purchase goods and visit family, and wrestled with Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage.12 Following the first two meetings in the summer of 1843, society secretary Eliza R. Snow moved to Morley Settlement, twenty-five miles south of Nauvoo, and assistant secretary Phebe M. Bartholomew Wheeler recorded minutes and donations.13 Relief Society visiting committees, appointed in each ward in July 1843,14 began to report needs of Nauvoo families and collect contributions for the poor and destitute, particularly new immigrants. From 1840 through 1845, nearly forty-seven hundred immigrants came from the British Isles, some three-quarters of them from 1841 through 1843.15 After a second winter hiatus, the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo reconvened on March 9, 1844, with Hannah M. Ells serving as secretary. Minutes for the last meeting on March 16, 1844, indicate an adjournment sine die, and no extant record suggests that further meetings took place.

At some point before the Latter-day Saints’ trek to the West from Nauvoo, which began in February 1846, Eliza R. Snow again took possession of the Relief Society minute book. When the Relief Society was reestablished in territorial Utah, Snow often used the minute book in local meetings and as a guide for the organization. She and other Relief Society leaders in Utah not only preserved the record as an artifact but also referenced it in their speeches and publications to perpetuate the memory and meaning of the Relief Society’s beginnings in Nauvoo.16


17A

Book of Records.

Containing

the proceedings

of

The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.

Title Page of Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

Title page. Eliza R. Snow, appointed secretary of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo at its first meeting, inscribed this title page in the organization’s minute book. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City. Photograph by Welden C. Andersen.)

The following appropriate frontispiece, was found lying on an open Bible, in the room appropriated for the Society; at its first meeting.

Written on a scrap.〉

“O, Lord! help our widows, and fatherless children! So mote it be. Amen. With the sword, and the word of truth, defend thou them. So mote it be. Amen.”18

This Book,

was politely presented to the Society by

Elder W. [Willard] Richards;

on the 17th of March, AD. 1842. [p. 4]

[page 5 blank]

Footnotes

  1. [1]In January 1842 Joseph Smith signed two promissory notes to George McIntire. (Joseph Smith to George McIntire, Promissory Notes, Nauvoo, IL, Jan. 17 and 20, 1842, Joseph Smith Collection, 1827–1846, CHL.)

  2. [2]Document 4.10. Church leaders asked members to supply provisions to the builders: “Beds and bedding, socks, mittens, shoes, clothing of every description, and store goods are needed for the comfort of the laborers this winter.” (Brigham Young et al., “Baptism for the Dead,” Times and Seasons, Dec. 15, 1841, 3:625–627.)

  3. [3]For the broader context, see, for example, Nancy F. Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman’s Sphere” in New England, 1780–1835 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 126–159; and Lori D. Ginzberg, Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990).

  4. [4]Document 4.10.

  5. [5]The store opened for business January 5, 1842. The upper story was often used for meetings by the Nauvoo City Council, the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge, the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, and other organizations. (“Store,” in Andrew H. Hedges et al., eds., Journals, Volume 2: December 1841–April 1843, vol. 2 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee et al. [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011], 424–425 [hereafter JSP, J2].)

  6. [6]Nauvoo Masonic Lodge Minute Book, 1841–1846, CHL, Mar. 15–16, 1842; Joseph Smith, Journal, Mar. 15–16, 1842, in JSP, J2:45.

  7. [7]Relief Society Record, “First Organisation,” n.d., ca. June 1880, p. 5, Relief Society Record, 1880–1892, CHL; see also Document 4.10.

  8. [8]Document 1.2, entry for Mar. 17, 1842; Joseph Smith, Journal, Mar. 17, 1842, in JSP, J2:45.

  9. [9]For 1842, the record references eighteen meetings but contains no minutes for the seventeenth meeting. For 1843, the record notes fourteen meetings but contains minutes for only twelve (the ninth meeting was canceled because of bad weather and there appear to be two different versions of the September 15 meeting, one of which was dated August 15). In 1844, four meetings were held, two each on March 9 and March 16.

  10. [10]The Latter-day Saints frequently held public meetings in three groves near the temple site in Nauvoo: one to the west of the site, which was the most common meeting place and likely the site of the Relief Society meetings; one to the south; and one to the northeast. The groves each had a stand for speaking. (“Grove,” in JSP, J2:416.)

  11. [11]The meetings Joseph Smith attended without delivering extended remarks were on March 24, May 12, and May 27, 1842.

  12. [12]On Cleveland’s move, see Document 1.7; on Emma Smith’s activities in this period, see Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994), 155–168.

  13. [13]“Morley’s Settlement,” Nauvoo Journal 11, no. 1 (Spring 1999): 153–155. Snow moved back to Nauvoo in April 1844. (Eliza R. Snow, Journal, 1842–1882, CHL, July 21, 1843, and Apr. 14, 1844.)

  14. [14]Document 1.2, entry for July 28, 1843.

  15. [15]See Richard L. Jensen, “Transplanted to Zion: The Impact of British Latter-day Saint Immigration upon Nauvoo,” BYU Studies 31, no. 1 (Winter 1991): 77–87.

  16. [16]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): 88–117.

  17. [17]text: Eliza R. Snow handwriting begins.

  18. [18]This was likely a prayer used at the opening of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge. Masonic ritual customarily used the phrase “so mote it be” (“mote” is the archaic form of “might”), often reminded participants of their duties to widows and orphans, and sometimes used sword imagery. During the initiation of a Masonic lodge, an open Bible is placed on an altar. (Cornelius Moore, comp., The Craftsman, and Freemason’s Guide [Cincinnati: Jacob Ernst, 1854], 66, 113–114, 152, 192–193.)