The Church Historian's Press The Church Historian's Press

1.2.1 March 17, 1842

See images of the original document at josephsmithpapers.org.


March 17, 1842 • Thursday

A Record of the

Organization, and Proceedings of

The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.

Nauvoo Lodge Room

March 17th 1842.

Present— President Joseph Smith, John Taylor, Willard Richards, Emma Smith and others.1

Elder John Taylor was call’d to the chair by Prest. Smith, and elder W. Richards appointed Secretary,

Meeting commenced by singing “The spirit of God like a fire is burning” &c.—2 Prayer by elder Taylor.

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 March 17, 1842, on the second floor of this dry goods store. Several groups met in the upper room, including priesthood quorums, the Masonic lodge, the temple committee, and others. As membership blossomed, the Relief Society had to move their meetings outdoors to a grove near the temple. Photograph taken or obtained by Brigham H. Roberts. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

When it was mov’d by Prest. Smith and seconded by Mrs. [Sarah] Cleveland, that a vote be taken to know if all are satisfied with each female present; and are willing to acknowledge them in full fellowship, and admit them to the privileges of the Institution about to be formed.

The names of those present were then taken as follows

Mrs Emma Smith

Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland

Bathsheba W. Smith

Phebe Ann Hawkes

Phebe M. Wheeler

Elizabeth Jones

Elvira A. Co[w]les

Sophia Packard

Margaret A [Norris] Cook

Philinda Merrick

Athalia Robinson

Martha Knights

Sarah M. Kimball

Desdemona Fulmer

Eliza R. Snow

Elizabeth Ann Whitney

Sophia Robinson

Leonora Taylor

Nancy Rigdon3

Sophia R. Marks

Prest. Smith, & Elders Taylor and Richa♢ds4 [p. 6] withdrew while the females went into an investigation of the motion, and decided that all present, be admitted according to the motion, and that

Mrs. Sarah [Ward] Higbee

Thirza Cahoon

Kezia A. Morrison

Miranda N. Hyde

Abigail Allred

Mary Snider

Sarah [Stiles] Granger

[4 lines blank]

should be admitted;5 whose names were presented by Prest. Smith.

Prest. Smith, & Elders Taylor & Richards return’d and the meeting was address’d by Prest. Smith, to illustrate the object of the Society— that the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor— searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants— to assist; by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties &c. in their public teaching.6

Prest. Smith further remark’d that an organization to show them how to go to work would be sufficient. He propos’d that the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office— that he would ordain them to preside over the Society— and let them preside just as the Presidency, preside over the church;7 and if [p. 7] they need his instruction— ask him, he will give it from time to time.

Let this Presidency serve as a constitution— all their decisions be considered law; and acted upon as such.

If any Officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart, as Deacons, Teachers &c. are among us.8

The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon— your Constitutio[n] and law.9

He then suggested the propriety of electing a Presidency to continue in office during good behavior, or so long as they shall continue to fill the office with dignity &c. like the first Presidency of the church.—10

Motioned by Sister Whitney and seconded by Sister Packard that Mrs. Emma Smith be chosen President— passed unanimously—11

Mov’d by Prest. Smith, that Mrs. Smith proceed to choose her Counsellors, that they may be ordain’d to preside over this Society, in taking care of the poor— administering to their wants, and attending to the various affairs of this Institution.

The Presidentess Elect, then made choice of Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland and Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Whitney for Counsellors—

President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith,12 from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; and stated that she was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.— [p. 8]

The 2d Epistle of John, 1st verse, was then read to show that respect was then had to the same thing; and that why she was called an Elect lady is because, elected to preside.13

Elder Taylor was then appointed to ordain the Counsellors— he laid his hands on the head of Mrs Cleveland and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to the Elect Lady, even Mrs. Emma Smith, to counsel, and assist her in all things pertaining to her office &c.

Elder T. then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Whitney and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to Mrs. Smith, the Prest. of the Institutio[n]— with all the privileges pertaining to the office &c.

He then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Smith and blessed her, and confirm’d upon her all the blessings which have been confer’d on her, that she might be a mother in Israel14 and look to the wants of the needy, and be a pattern of virtue; and possess all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and preside and dignify her Office, to teach the females those principles requisite for their future usefulness.

Prest. Smith then resumed his remarks and gave instruction how to govern themselves in their meetings— when one wishes to speak, address the chair— and the chairman responds to the address.15

Should two speak at once, the Chair shall decide who speaks first, if any one is dissatisfied, she appeals to the house—

When one has the floor, occupies as long as she pleases.

Proper manner of address is Mrs. Chairman [p. 9] or President and not Mr. Chairman &c.

A question can never be put until it has a second

When the subject for discussion has been fairly investigated; the Chairman will say, are you ready for the question? &c.

Whatever the majority of the house decide upon becomes a law to the Society.

Prest. Smith proceeded to give counsel— do not injure the character of any one— if members of the Society shall conduct improperly, deal with them, and keep all your doings within your own bosoms, and hold all characters sacred—

It was then propos’d that Elder Taylor vacate the chair.

Prest. Emma Smith and her Counsellors took the chair, and

Elder Taylor mov’d— secd by Prest. J. Smith that we go into an investigation respecting what this Society shall be call’d— which was

carried unanimously

Prest. Smith continued instructions to the Chair to suggest to the members anything the chair might wish, and which it might not be proper for the chair to put, or move &c.

Mov’d by Counsellor Cleveland, and secon’d by Counsellor Whitney, that this Society be called The Nauvoo Female Relief Society.

Elder Taylor offered an amendment, that it be called The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society which would give a more definite and extended idea of the Institution— that Relief be struck out and Benevolent inserted.

Prest. Smith offer’d instruction on votes— [p. 10]

The motion was seconded by Counsellor Cleveland and unanimously carried, on the amendment by Elder Taylor.

The Prest. then suggested that she would like an argument with Elder Taylor on the words Relief and Benevolence.

Prest. J. Smith mov’d that the vote for amendment, be rescinded, which was carried—

Motion for adjournment by Elder Richards and objected by Prest. J. Smith.—

Prest. J. Smith— Benevolent is a popular term— and the term Relief is not known among popular Societies— Relief is more extended in its signification than Benevolent and might extend to the liberation of the culprit— and might be wrongly construed by our enemies to say that the Society was to relieve criminals from punishment &c. &c— to relieve a murderer, which would not be a benevolent act—

Prest. Emma Smith, said the popularity of the word benevolent is one great objection— no person can think of the word as associated with public Institutions, without thinking of the Washingtonian Benevolent Society which was one of the most corrupt Institutions of the day— do not wish to have it call’d after other Societies in the world—16

Prest. J. Smith arose to state that he had no objection to the word Relief— that on question they ought to deliberate candidly and investigate all subjects.

Counsellor Cleveland arose to remark concerning the question before the house, that we should not regard [p. 11] the idle speech of our enemies— we design to act in the name of the Lord— to relieve the wants of the distressed, and do all the good we can.—

Eliza R. Snow arose and said that she felt to concur with the President, with regard to the word Benevolent, that many Societies with which it had been associated, were corrupt,— that the popular Institutions of the day should not be our guide— that as daughters of Zion, we should set an example for all the world, rather than confine ourselves to the course which had been heretofore pursued— one objection to the word Relief is, that the idea associated with it is that of some great calamity— that we intend appropriating on some extraordinary occasions instead of meeting the common occurrences—

Prest. Emma Smith remark’d— we are going to do something extraordinary— when a boat is stuck on the rapids17 with a multitude of Mormons on board we shall consider that a loud call for relief— we expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls—

Elder Taylor arose and said— I shall have to concede the point— your arguments are so potent I cannot stand before them— I shall have to give way—

Prest. J. S. said I also shall have to concede the point, all I shall have to give to the poor, I shall give to this Society—

Counsellor Whitney mov’d, that this Society be call’d The Nauvoo Female Relief Society— second. by Counsellor Cleveland—

E. R. Snow offer’d an amendment by way of transposition of words, instead of The Nauvoo Female Relief Society, it shall be call’d The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo— Seconded by Prest. J. Smith and carried— [p. 12]

The previous question was then put— Shall this Society be call’d The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo?— carried unanimously.—

Prest. J. Smith— I now declare this Society organiz’d with President and Counsellors &c. according to Parliamentary usages— and all who shall hereafter be admitted into this Society must be free from censure and receiv’d by vote—

Prest. J. Smith offered $5.00 in gold piece to commence the funds of the Institution.

Prest. Emma Smith requested that the gentlemen withdraw before they proceed to the choice of Secretary and Treasurer, as was mov’d by Prest. J. Smith—

Willard Richards. Sec ty.

The gentlemen withdrew when it was Motioned and second. and unanimously pass’d that Eliza R. Snow be appointed Secretary, and Phebe M. Wheeler, Assistant Secretary——

Motioned, second. and carried unanimly. that Elvira A. Coles be appointed Treasurer—

Prest. E. Smith then arose and proceeded to make appropriate remarks on the object of the Society— its duties to others also its relative duties to each other Viz. to seek out and relieve the distressed— that each member should be ambitious to do good— that the members should deal frankly with each other— to watch over the morals— and be very careful 〈of〉 the character and reputation— of the members of the Institution &c.

P. A. Hawkes— Question— What shall we reply to interrogatories relative to the object of this Society?

Prest. E. Smith replied— for charitable purposes. [p. 13]

Mov’d and pass’d that Cynthia Ann Eldridge be admitted as a member of this Society—

Coulr. Sarah M. Cleveland donated to the fund of the Society

$12½

Sarah M. Kimball do [ditto]

1.00

Prest. Emma Smith do

1.00

Counlr. E. A. Whitney do

50

Prest. E. Smith said that Mrs. Merrick is a widow— is industrious— performs her work well, therefore recommend her to the patronage of such as wish to hire needlework— those who hire widows must be prompt to pay and inasmuch as some have defrauded the laboring widow of her wages, we must be upright and deal justly—

The business of the Society concluded— the gentlemen before mentioned return’d—,

Elder Richards appropriated to the fund of the Society, the sum of

$ 1,00

Elder Taylor do

2.00

Elder T. then arose and address’d the Society by saying that he is much gratified in seeing a meeting of this kind in Nauvoo— his heart rejoices when he sees the most distinguished characters, stepping forth in such a cause, which is calculated to bring into exercise every virtue and give scope to the benevolent feelings of the female heart— he rejoices to see this Institution organiz’d according to the law of Heaven— according to a revelation previously given to Mrs E. Smith appointing her to this important calling— and to see all things moving forward in such a glorious manner— his prayer is that the blessings of God and the peace of heaven may rest on this Institution henceforth——

The Choir then sang “Come let us rejoice in the [p. 14] day of salvation[”] &c.18

Motion’d, that this meeting adjourn to next week, thursday, ten o’clock— A M.

The meeting then arose and was dismiss’d by prayer by Elder Taylor.—

Footnotes

  1. [1]Taylor and Richards were members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Richards, who was also Joseph Smith’s clerk, recorded minutes of this organizational meeting, presumably on loose paper, until Eliza R. Snow was elected secretary partway through the meeting. Following that point, Snow recorded minutes for the remainder of the first meeting, as well as for subsequent meetings. Sometime after the first meeting, Snow copied Richards’s minutes and her own minutes of the first meeting into the record book presented to the society by Richards. The record book has few strikeovers and insertions, suggesting Snow kept minutes on loose paper that she later copied into the official record book. Richards made a separate summary of the meeting in his March 17, 1842, entry in Joseph Smith’s journal. (Joseph Smith, Journal, Mar. 17, 1842, in JSP, J2:45.)

  2. [2]Hymn 90, A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of the Latter Day Saints, ed. Emma Smith (Kirtland, OH: F. G. Williams, 1835), 120; and Hymn 252, A Collection of Sacred Hymns for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, ed. Emma Smith (Nauvoo, IL: E. Robinson, 1841), 274. This hymn was written by William W. Phelps and sung at the dedication of the Kirtland temple in March 1836. (Minutes, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Mar. 1836, 2:280–281; Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1988], 30–31.)

  3. [3]The names of Athalia Robinson and Nancy Rigdon are stricken out in a different ink. Both women were daughters of Sidney Rigdon, who at this time was a counselor in the church’s First Presidency. Rigdon was excommunicated in 1844 and thereafter established himself as the leader of a schismatic branch of the church in Pennsylvania; the names of his two daughters were presumably stricken out at or after that time.a This practice followed the scriptural injunction that the names of apostates should be “blotted out” from church records.b Consequently, Athalia Robinson and Nancy Rigdon do not appear in many early Relief Society histories, which officially list eighteen rather than twenty founding members.c (a. See Richard S. Van Wagoner, Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess [Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1994], 352–360. b. See, for example, Exodus 32:33; and Mosiah 26:32, 36. c. For example, see Document 4.28.) 

  4. [4]text: “Richa[page torn]ds”.

  5. [5]text: “should be admitted;” possibly inserted.

  6. [6]The duties of elders of the church included “to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church.” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:42; see also 2 Timothy 4:2.)

  7. [7]The First Presidency, the presiding body of the church, consisted of a president and at least two counselors or assistant presidents. A church presidency was first organized in March 1832. In 1842 the First Presidency included Joseph Smith as president, with Hyrum Smith as associate president and Sidney Rigdon and William Law as counselors. In November 1831 Joseph Smith dictated a revelation instructing that “the duty of the president of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church.” (“First Presidency,” in Dean C. Jessee et al., eds., Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839, vol. 1 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee et al. [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008], 466 [hereafter JSP, J1]; Revelation, 11 Nov. 1831–B, in Matthew C. Godfrey et al., eds., Documents, Volume 2: July 1831–January 1833, vol. 2 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee et al. [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2013], 135.)

  8. [8]Deacon and teacher were offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. For information on their duties, see Doctrine and Covenants 20:53–59.

  9. [9]Smith’s designation of the presidency and minutes as the new group’s “constitution” underscored the distinction between this organization and its short-lived precursor, the sewing society initiated by Sarah M. Kimball, for which Eliza R. Snow composed a constitution and bylaws. (See Document 4.10.) 

  10. [10]Members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles served for life or “during good behavior.” Of the men who served in the general church presidency during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, only two, Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith, died while in office. For a variety of reasons, the remainder ceased functioning in their roles in the presidency before their deaths. (For further information, see “Ecclesiastical Organization Charts,” in JSP, J1:455–459; and “Ecclesiastical Officers and Church Appointees,” in JSP, J2:505–508.)

  11. [11]Forty years later, Sarah M. Kimball recalled that when Joseph Smith invited women to attend the March 17, 1842, organization meeting, he stated: “I wish Emma to be nominated and elected President of the organisation in fulfilment of the revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants which Says She is an Elect Lady.” (Document 4.10.)

  12. [12]Document 1.1.

  13. [13]The March 17, 1842, entry in Joseph Smith’s journal, written by scribe Willard Richards, reads: “Assisted in organizing ‘The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo’ . . . gave much instru[c]tion. read in the New Testament & Book of Doctrine & Covenants. concer[n]ing the Elect Lady. & Shewed that Elect meant to be Elected to a certain work &c, & that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma’s Election to the Presidency of the Society, she having previously been ordained to expound the Scriptures.” (Joseph Smith, Journal, Mar. 17, 1842, in JSP, J2:45, underlining in original.)

  14. [14]See Judges 5:7; and 2 Samuel 20:19. On the historical use of the phrase “Mother in Israel,” see Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Mothers in Israel: Sarah’s Legacy,” in Women of Wisdom and Knowledge: Talks Selected from the BYU Women’s Conferences, ed. Marie Cornwall and Susan Howe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1990), 179–201. About six weeks before the organization of the Relief Society, on February 6, 1842, Emma Smith gave birth to a son who did not survive. This was the sixth of Joseph and Emma Smith’s children (five natural, one adopted) to die in infancy. The three sons and one adopted daughter living in March 1842 lived to adulthood, along with the last son born in 1844. (“Joseph Smith Pedigree Chart,” The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed Apr. 6, 2015, http://www.josephsmithpapers.org.)

  15. [15]In recommending the use of parliamentary procedure, Joseph Smith may have drawn either from local traditions or from Thomas Jefferson’s Manual of Parliamentary Practice, published in 1801, with second and third editions in 1812 and 1822. On this particular point, Jefferson’s manual states, “When any member means to speak, he is to stand up in his place, uncovered, and to address himself, not to the House, or any particular member, but to the Speaker, who calls him by his name, that the House may take notice who it is that speaks.” (Thomas Jefferson, A Manual of Parliamentary Practice: Composed Originally for the Use of the Senate of the United States [Philadelphia: Hogan and Thompson, 1840], 38; Don H. Doyle, “Rules of Order: Henry Martyn Robert and the Popularization of American Parliamentary Law,” American Quarterly 32, no. 1 [Spring 1980]: 4–5.)

  16. [16]Allied with the broader Washingtonian Temperance Society, founded in 1840, Martha Washingtonian societies were composed of working- and lower-middle-class women who sought to reform inebriates and succor their families. According to historian Ruth M. Alexander, “As early as 1842, the Washingtonian movement showed signs of weakening as it was beset with internal disputes over its inexperienced leaders, lack of organization, alienation of elite temperance and religious leaders, and ‘low-class’ social affairs.” (Ruth M. Alexander, “‘We Are Engaged as a Band of Sisters’: Class and Domesticity in the Washingtonian Temperance Movement, 1840–1850,” Journal of American History 75, no. 3 [Dec. 1988]: 775; 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], 202–204.)

  17. [17]The “rapids” refers to the Des Moines or Lower Rapids, an eleven-mile stretch of the Mississippi River just north of Keokuk, Iowa, where the river dropped about twenty-two feet. These rapids were impassable for steamboats during months of low water and potentially treacherous during many other months. (Louis C. Hunter, Steamboats on the Western Rivers: An Economic and Technological History [New York: Dover, 1993], 188.)

  18. [18]This hymn, which actually begins, “Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation,” was written by William W. Phelps and was sung at the dedication of the Kirtland temple in March 1836. (Hymn 263, Collection of Sacred Hymns [1841], 286; Minutes, LDS Messenger and Advocate, Mar. 1836, 2:276; Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns, 31–32.)