Eliza R. Snow gathered reports on women’s organizations in Utah Territory for the Committee on Charities of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, the first major World’s Fair held in the United States. The Committee on Charities, part of the Women’s Centennial Executive Committee that built and oversaw the fair’s Women’s Pavilion, called for reports on women’s benevolent societies throughout the nation. As part of this effort, Snow, who served as a member of the Women’s Centennial Executive Committee, wrote a ten-page history of the Relief Society, featured below, which she sent to the committee in March 1876.1 Snow received little response from other Utah women’s organizations but did send short reports she had gathered on the Ladies’ Benevolent Society of the Congregational Church and the Independent Order of Good Templars, a temperance organization dominated by women.2 In this history of the Relief Society, Snow emphasized its independence, effective organizational structure, and work on behalf of the poor, as well as the construction of a dedicated Relief Society building in the Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward.
From May to October 1876, almost ten million people visited the Philadelphia Exposition, which featured exhibits from thirty-six nations. The exposition celebrated the centennial of the Declaration of Independence by highlighting exhibits from throughout the United States and from many foreign nations. In June 1875 a group of women who had helped raise funds for the Centennial Exposition were informed that there would be no room in the exposition’s main hall for women’s contributions. In response, the women decided to construct a large Women’s Pavilion, which occupied forty thousand square feet and highlighted contributions from roughly fifteen hundred women. The Philadelphia exposition thus became the first World’s Fair to have a separate building designated to showcase women’s contributions to the arts, education, industry, and domestic life.3
In her autobiography, Snow recalled that in November 1875 she was “notified of an appointment” to participate in the Women’s Pavilion and not long after was invited to take charge of gathering items from Utah women for exhibition at the fair. Snow quickly organized a twelve-member committee made up primarily of Latter-day Saints and also of representatives from other established faiths in Utah.4 The committee recognized the women’s exhibit as an opportunity to provide a national audience with material evidence that might dispel negative perceptions of Utahns and Mormonism. In late 1875 the committee issued a call for donations of items to be sent to Philadelphia, asking for “all creditable specimens of women’s work, both useful & ornamental, from a necklace to a carpet, and all natural curiosities of our own collecting.” Those donating items were encouraged to list prices in case individuals at the exposition wished to purchase them.5 Though only a small sample of the items collected in Utah was sent to Philadelphia as a result of limited funding, Snow’s committee organized its own centennial celebration in a territorial fair during the summer of 1876, which Snow remembered as a “grand success.”6
The Relief Society7
Is the principal Charitable Institution in Utah. It is conducted by the women of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints,8 called “Mormons.”
The Relief Society is a self-governing body—independent of any written code or instrument, such as Constitution, bye-laws etc.9 It is organized with President, two Counselors, Secretary, Assistant Secretary, and Treasurer; with power to create, by majority vote of the Society, all officers, both standing and pro-tem, that shall be requisite to carry out the designs of the Institution, from time to time, and under every variety of circumstance: also to fill all vacancies that occur. In addition to the above mentioned, the members of a Visiting Committee, and also those of a Board of Appraisers, hold permanent official positions—all subject to removal through neglect of duty, or abuse of privileges.10
This Society was first organized in Nauvoo, Hancock Co. Illinois, where it was instrumental in accomplishing much good. Many of the citizens of that place, had been cruelly and forcibly driven from the State of Missouri by the notorious “exterminating order” of Gov. [Lilburn] Boggs,11 by which they had been reduced to destitute circumstances, having sacrificed their homes and property to mob violence: and, partly owing to the sickly climate of Nauvoo, and partly from fatigue and exposure on their journey, much sickness prevailed, which occasioned heavy demands on fellow-sympathy, benevolence and kindness. And who so well qualified to officiate in these noble, self-sacrificing duties, as woman! And with her, the constant and large demands were far more generally and satisfactorily met through the united efforts of this effective organization, than otherwise would have been possible. During the extremely severe winter of 1842 and 3, many lives were preserved through its agency.
From the year 1846, the time of the exodus of the Latter-Day-Saints from Nauvoo, the Relief Society was inoperative until 1855, [p. 1] when it was reorganized in Salt Lake City.12
It was a hard struggle for a people
s exiled from their homes, with only what provisions they brought in wagons across the trackless plains, and <with> no supplies within the distance of one thousand miles; and with no other capital than brain, bone, and sinew, and unfaltering faith and trust in God, to battle with the elements, and reclaim a sterile desert soil for that support which nature demands. When this was accomplished, and a covenant which had been solemnly made, to assist all of the Nauvoo Saints, who needed assistance, to the valleys of the mountains, was fulfilled, arrangements were entered into, and a “Perpetual Emigrating Fund” established, to assist the suffering saints in Europe to emigrate to Utah. As they arrived by hundreds, and subsequently by thousands, their wants must be supplied, until, through their own efforts, and the kindly aid extended to them, they were enabled to provide for themselves. These circumstances added much to the already onerous labors and responsibilities of the Bishops, who preside as fathers, each over his respective Ward or Settlement.
The Relief Society came to the relief of the Bishops by administering relief to the poor, in which capacity it has proven to be one of, if not the best organization ever known. Under its auspices, if the needy suffer from want, it must be their own fault, either through unwillingness to accept charity; or concealment of their circumstances; <which> is a very difficult task, for each Branch appoints a sufficient number for Visiting Com. to apportion two to each Block, and these, under ordinary circumstances—in time of general health, visit each family, at least once in each month, and report to the presiding Board; and it is the duty of those visiting women to know precisely the condition of the poor. If any are in want, they are supplied out of the Treasury, and when any are sick, who need assistance, they are specially cared for, and visited as their circumstances demand.
The funds of this Society were commenced, and are now [p. 2] mostly sustained by voluntary donations; however, there are many Branches that have moderate incomes from funds obtained through the various industries of the Society, being the proceeds of labor expended on donated material. Besides stated social and business meetings, each Branch has set days on which to meet and work for the benefit of the poor. Frequently other measures are resorted to for obtaining means, such as getting up Concerts, dances, Fairs &c. &c., the proceeds being devoted to the replenishing of the Treasuries.
Since its first introduction into Salt Lake City, the Society has extended in Branches, from Ward to Ward in the Cities and from settlement to settlement in the country, until it numbers considerably over one hundred Branches; and, as new settlements are constantly being formed, the number is annually increasing. Upwards of one hundred are represented in the Report of Disbursements appended to this sketch—many of them having been recently formed, have only commenced work.
Each Branch adopts measures—makes arrangements—appointments, and directs all of its financial concerns independently—adapting its regulations to whatever may be the peculiarities of its circumstances. Some hold weekly meetings, others semi-monthly, while some, not having accumulated sufficient means to build, have no house at their control, and meet according to convenience. Each organization needs, and as soon as practicable, builds its house, for the transaction of business and for the mutual benefit of its members.
That the Society may be universally effective, and capable of rendering immediate aid in every emergency, it is distributed throughout the Territory in such a manner that no one Branch is very large, consequently the Society Buildings are comparatively small, yet of respectable size, and sufficiently commodious for the purposes required. [p. 3] Utah has no “poor houses.” Under the kind, sisterly policy of the Society, the poor feel much less humiliated, and better satisfied by being admitted into hospitable families, <or by having rooms or homes provided for them,> while they are looked after by the Committee, than they would, if immured in a solitary “poor house.” Those who are emigrated from foreign countries by the Emigrating Fund, with the exception of the very aged and infirm, very soon, under the wise, fatherly counsels of the Bishops and other authorities of the Church, obtain for themselves comfortable homes, and <are able,> in their turn assist others.
The first industrial meetings of the Society in Salt Lake City, would naturally remind a spectator, of the Israelites in Egypt, making “brick without straw”13—the donations consisting of material for patch-work-quilts, rag-carpets, wool to be carded, spun and knitted into <mittens,> socks and stockings (no Machinery had then been imported) old clothes to be made over &c. and, in one instance at least, hair of beeves, was gathered from the slaughtering place, cleansed, carded, spun and knitted. These are things of record, or, probably they would be pronounced fabulous, even by many of the present members of the Society. To the honor of those indefatiguable laborers in the cause of human kindness, love and charity, let their deeds be “engraven in the rock forever.”14 Many of them yet live, and bear verbal testimony of the foregoing.
Those industrial gatherings continue to be very useful—even necessary, and truly interesting: but then, when we were without factories, and minus all kinds of machinery, to witness the strange varieties of work, brought into close fellowship, was a sight not easily forgotten—groups of cheerful faces, young and old, with willing hands—some with scissors, giving form to scraps of prints—some basting work for novices—some sewing—some embroidering—some carding batts for quilts—some spinning (for, on some occasions wheels were brought) for the knitters &c., and all for one common cause, the relief of the poor. Such articles as their condition required were made for the destitute; and, for financial profit, all kinds of useful and [p. 4] ornamental articles, for which suitable material could possibly be obtained, were manufactured. And, be it remembered, these humble, patient workers had not been strangers to the refinements and elegancies of life. Many of them had been reared in the midst of worldly popularity—were well educated, and, in woman’s work, artisans of the higher type. For the sake of their religion they had taken “cheerfully the spoiling of their goods”15—made their homes in the desert, where they were faithfully performing their part, that “the solitary place might be glad for them, and the wilderness become a fruitful field.”16
These working meetings, as they are called, are always opened and closed by prayer and thanksgiving: the hope of success in these, as well as in every other enterprise, being firmly predicated in a reliance on the blessing of God on the wise and diligent application of those powers and faculties with which He has endowed His children.
The first Society Building was erected in Salt Lake City by the ladies of the 15th Ward. They commenced their labors as above described—their first capital stock being donations of pieces for patch-work, carpet-rags etc and by their indomitable energy and perseverence, they sustained their poor, and in a few years purchased land and built a commodious house, which has been a great convenience for Society purposes, to which the upper story is appropriated, while the lower story is occupied by the Ward Store, which, most of the time, has been conducted by the Society.
The erection of this house constituting a leading movement, the laying of the corner stone was ceremoniously performed. The occasion being an anomaly in the sphere of woman, a large concourse of people assembled on the ground at 2 P.M. of the 12th of Nov. 1868, and the novelty of its being the enterprize of woman <excited> much curiosity as well as interest on that unique occasion.17 After the usual ceremony of corner-stone-laying, an address was read by Mrs. S. [Sarah] M. Kimball, Pres. of the Society, after which an extempore address was given [p. 5] by Miss E. R. Snow, on woman’s relations to the other sex, followed by an encouraging, commendatory speech by R. [Robert] T. Burton, the Bishop of the Ward, and remarks appropriate to the occasion by Mrs. B. [Bathsheba] W. Smith—each speaker occupying the “corner stone,” by turns.18
Gentlemen and Ladies,
I appear before you on this interesting occasion in behalf of the Relief Society, to express thanks to Almighty God, that the wheels of progress have been permitted to run until they have brought us to a more extended field of useful labor for female minds and hands.
It will readily be admitted that woman’s sphere of labor is not sufficiently extensive and varied to enable her to exercise all of her powers and faculties in the manner best calculated to strengthen, develop and perfect her; nor are her labors sufficiently remunerative to insure her that independence essential to true womanly dignity. . . .21
With feelings of humility and gratitude, I contemplate the anticipated result of the completion of our unpretending edifice, the upper story of which will be dedicated to Art and Science22—the lower one to Trade and Commerce. I view this as a stepping-stone to similar enterprises, on a grander scale.
The object of the building is to enable the members of the Society more perfectly to combine their labors—their means—their tastes <and> their talents for improvement physically, socially, morally, intellectually and financially, for more extended usefulness.
To those gentlemen who have kindly proffered aid in this enterprise, in behalf of the cause for which we labor, we extend heart-felt thanks.
We feel that our friends who kindly patronize us, will expect much at our hands. We promise you our best endeavors to meet [p. 6] your highest expectations. But we ask you to mercifully remember that the seat of the merchant’s counting-room-table is a new one for us to occupy, and, as pioneers for our sex in this department of woman’s labor in our Territory, we beg you not to be severe in your criticisms, but show your magnanimity by giving us an approving look and an encouraging word. With such helps, and the continued blessing of God, we have confidence that we shall be enabled to extend needed relief, and make our labors a blessing to the cause of humanity.
At the Dedication of the building, after its completion, the following—composed for the occasion by Miss E. R. Snow, was sung by the Society Choir.23
From God, the Source of life and grace,
Our streams of blessings flow;
This day, His holy name we praise
And grateful thanks bestow.
Thou God of truth and righteousness,
For faith we ask of Thee,
Preserve this humble edifice
From all impurity.
Here let thy holy Spirit rest
Without a chain to bind:
May all who enter in, be blest
In body and in mind.
Here may th’ influence of thy love,
Devotion’s pulses fire;
And may we strive in every move, [p. 7]
To lift our natures higher.
May union in this Hall abide
With Godlike strength and skill:
And Father, let thy wisdom guide,
And each department fill.
We dedicate this House to Thee,
As love and labor’s bower:
May Zion’s welfare ever be
Its ruling motive power.
And here may thought and speech be free.
Instruction to impart,
Commercial and financially—
In science and in art.
In works of mercy, faith and love,
To banish want and woe,
The records of this House shall prove
We’re neither slack nor slow.
Where love and duty mark the way,
Improving heart and head,
Onward and upward day by day,
We’ll move with tireless tread.
O God, our strength—our great reward,
Speed Thou, the glorious time
When “Holiness unto the Lord”26
Shall mark each grand design. [p. 8]
All houses built by the Relief Society, are, on their opening, formally dedicated with appropriate ceremonies.
The foregoing Address and Dedication Hymn are inserted as being expressive of the design of the Institution, which is not merely for the temporal benefit of the poor, although that may properly be termed its first, and one of its constant duties; but what is of still greater importance, it is designed, and has already become a power for good in society, socially, morally, and spiritually—not only in cultivating its members, but also in extending a purifying, elevating and ennobling influence wherever woman’s influence can reach.
The other Branches <of the Society> having failed to forward their Reports; the following catalogue, which has been compiled from their Records, is the aggregate of the Disbursements of 110, (one hundred and ten) since the several dates of their organizations.
for the relief and support of the poor
for the Emigration of the poor
for Sundry Charities
for Building purposes
In addition to the above, the Society is doing much, and expending no inconsiderable amount in establishing and promoting various branches of Home Industries.
It is an Institution formed to bless
The poor, the widow, and the fatherless: [p. 9]
To clothe the naked, and the hungry feed,
And in the holy paths of virtue, lead.
To seek where anguish, grief, and sorrow are,
And light the torch of hope eternal, there:
To prove the strength of consolation’s art,
By breathing comfort to the mourner’s heart:
To chase the clouds that shade the aspect, where
Sad mis’ry dwells, and waken pleasure there:
With open heart to extend the friendly hand
To welcome strangers from a distant land:
To stamp a withering impress on each move
That virtue’s noble self would disapprove:
To put the tattler’s coinage, scandal down,
And make corruption feel its scathing frown:
To give instruction, where instruction’s voice
Will lead from gross to pure, refining joys:
To turn the wayward from their recklessness,
And guide them in the paths of happiness.
It is an order, fitted and designed
To cultivate and elevate the mind:
To seek the needy, in the lone abode—
Supply their wants, and lead them up to God.
E. R. S.