At the request of Brigham Young, Emmeline B. Wells published two editorials in the Woman’s Exponent in fall 1876 urging local Relief Societies to begin a grain storage program and to send in reports on this work. She wrote with the hope that “the subject might be agitated in public and private until every mother and every sister should feel the necessity of immediate action.”1 At a November 11 Retrenchment Society meeting Eliza R. Snow suggested that the women form a central committee to oversee grain storage. At Snow’s recommendation, attendees voted to sustain Wells as committee chair; Wells then chose Snow and Bathsheba W. Smith as committee members, who were also voted in unanimously.2
The first official meeting of the newly formed Central Grain Committee was held November 17, 1876, in the Salt Lake City Social Hall. Officers of local Relief Societies attended, making this a general meeting of the central committee with the various local ward committees. As evidenced in the published minutes of the meeting transcribed below, the women took their new charge seriously. Likely in part because of their millennial beliefs that calamities would occur before the second coming of Jesus Christ, they anticipated their grain would be needed both by Saints and others during a large-scale famine in the not-too-distant future. They discussed how best to organize the central committee, including how to store the grain and to request cooperation from Relief Societies throughout Utah. Wheat storage would become so closely identified with the work of the Relief Society that two stocks of wheat were later depicted on the official Relief Society emblem.3
By 1876 Brigham Young had encouraged the storage of wheat for many years. From 1847 to 1876 the trek west, occasional widespread crop failures, the Utah War, and the Civil War had led Latter-day Saints to be prepared for periodic food shortages. Even after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 opened the possibility that grain supplies could be acquired from outside Utah rather quickly in time of need, church leaders continued to insist that portions of each grain crop be held over. Voluntary grain-saving, however, had not been collectively successful throughout the territory. The exhortations of church leaders, particularly Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, failed to induce the men to forego immediate sale for cash. Finally, Young directed his request to the women.4
GENERAL MEETING OF CENTRAL AND WARD COMMITTEES,
on the grain movement.
The meeting was held in the Social Hall on the 17th of November 1876. Called to order, and opened with prayer by Mrs. E. [Elizabeth] Howard. President of Central Committee, Mrs. E. [Emmeline] B. Wells, remarked as follows: “It is very generally understood that this meeting is called to discuss the Grain Question, It would be well to let our thoughts and words be concentrated on the subject; we want to make the best use of our time and use all dispatch, that the sisters may get home in good season. We would like the Presidents of Relief Societies to let us know what their ideas are on the subject.[”]
Miss E. [Eliza] R. Snow said: It is a very important occasion that has called us together, probably such as never occurred on the earth before. The Lord, through his prophet, has called on the mothers in Israel to prepare for a famine, which makes the subject we are called on to discuss a grave one. We are well assured that the time is fast approaching when the Lord will pour out His indignation on this country,5 and although we should escape, we will feel the effects of it in a National capacity. Our hearts must be hard indeed, if we will not feel for those who may come to us for help. The Lord showed his servant Joseph that such things would come, and it was of such a nature, and so distressing and revolting to humanity to witness, that he asked the Lord to close it up. We can see, from what has passed, that the predictions of the Servant of God, have been fulfilled to the letter. He has now called on the women of Zion to purchase and take care of wheat, and I hope we may act with wisdom, that the blessing of God may rest upon our labors. We want to decide how to procure the grain and take care of it; and whether we will act in Wards or in a general capacity; we have been told that there is room in the Tithing Office to store it.6 But perhaps some of the Wards have a good place for storing; if so, and they prefer it, they can do so.
Mrs. E. B Wells said: Bishop [Edward] Hunter told me we could store the wheat in the Tithing Office, and that the wards could also if they wished, as there was plenty of room unoccupied now; but whatever we do there, we will have to employ help, as the brethren who labor there are all fully employed.
Mrs. S. [Sarah] M. Kimball said: We have appointed a committee to visit in our ward. They report that the feelings of the people have been liberal and good. All we want to know is what steps we are to take in order to push the work forward. I feel that the Lord will bless us in our undertaking.
Mrs. E. B. Wells asked if any of the sisters could inform the meeting where wheat could be purchased.
Mrs. W. [Wilmirth] East: I expect Mrs. [Mary Isabella] Horne can tell us where we can buy wheat, when she returns from the South. I have been told that the brethren residing in the country places, are awakening up, and see the utilily of saving grain, and it may not be a very easy matter for the sisters to procure it. We held a meeting in the 14th Ward a short time ago exclusively for this question. The sisters feel the importance of the mission and will do all in their power to accomplish it. We feel that the Lord will open up the way for us to get wheat; and that he will bless us in our efforts.
Mrs. Elizabeth Goddard: I have heard that wheat can be bought for a dollar a bushel; and I think it would be well to take flour also, it can be kept good in sacks for a long time.
Mrs. E. [Elvira] S. Barney: I can report from three counties where they have no grain for sale; Morgan, Summit and Wasatch, were distressed with an early frost, which destroyed nearly all their wheat; but feel sure that we can make this business a success.
Mrs. R. [Rachel] Grant: The 13th Ward intend saving grain. We have had a large bin offered us for that purpose, which we will accept. It has long been preached that the brethren should prepare for a day of famine; it now seems as if the women were to have a hand in it, and I hope the Lord will give us strength to perform our work nobly.
Mrs. Sarah Howard: I feel it is a privilege the Lord has given us, and we will try and be united in it. For my part I will try and do all I can, and I feel that the Lord will open a way whereby we can obtain grain, although it is late in the season. Our Retrenchment Association has commenced a fund for that purpose, we will work in concert with the 20th Ward Relief Society.
Mrs. [Annie] Savage said: In the 20th Ward, they intend doing the best they can to help in this work, but just at the present time there are no funds in the Treasury.
Mrs. M. M. [Marinda N.] Hyde, 17th Ward, said: We intend to build a hall for the use of our Society; when we heard of this grain business, we talked the matter over, and think of making the hall smaller, and putting up a bin for wheat in part of it. I would just suggest, that in the States, wheat sometimes spoils, through dampness, but our atmosphere being so dry, I expect it would keep good for some time.
Mrs. E. B. Wells: President Young said the sisters were to solicit help from their husbands and the brethren, for this purpose; by that means we would be able to get funds to purchase the wheat with.
Mrs. [Diana] Reid, of the 16th Ward, said: The sisters of our Ward are willing to do all they can to carry out counsel.
Mrs. L. [Louisa] G. Richards: I think that if we unite our means, and have one energetic sister to buy up the wheat; and by having one, two or three hundred dollars, quite an amount could be procured, and I think would be better than being mixed up in wards.
Miss E. R. Snow said: What I have to give, I intend putting it with the bulk. I know no separate interest. I hope energetic sisters will be appointed to attend to it; one or two in each ward say, or a committee be formed, as may seem necessary.
Mrs. E. B. Wells remarked: I presume all the boards of the Relief Society will co-operate in this work, and I think it will be well for us to unite.
Mrs. Chase of the 1st Ward: I have talked on this subject in our meeting, and we intend to unite with the rest in whatever plan they may suggest. I have a large bin in which a great amount of wheat could be stored; perhaps all we could get this year. We have quite a number of poor, but will be able to help some in all good calls. At one time my husband put up a good deal of wheat but after some time the weevil spoiled it. But I hope we can plan some way to take care of that which the Lord will bless us with.
It was then moved and seconded that a general committee be appointed to purchase, but that will not hinder wards from having ward committees.
The following ladies were elected as a purchasing committee: Mrs. E. S. Barney, Mrs. E. Howard, and Mrs. S. M. Kimball.
Mrs. E. B. Wells said: Let every sister secure and store away every bushel of wheat that it is possible for her to obtain. She also said it will be necessary to have a Treasurer in some central place. Mrs. P. [Priscilla] M. Staines was sustained as Treasurer.
It was proposed that a record be kept of the proceedings in each ward, every name and donation put down in a distinct manner.
It was suggested that we commence at once and have no delay about it. In Manti they have put up 60 or 70 bushels, and we can’t be too prompt in this matter. Many of the brethren seem to wish to help us.
Mrs. Mercy Thompson said: Flour that is well sacked and kept in a dry place would keep as well, if not better, than wheat. I have some flour now using, that has been sacked four years, and it is as good, if not better than new flour. I know that the Lord will bless us in our undertaking.
Considerable business was transacted in regard to the Woman’s Book about to be published;7 and the propriety of the sisters making a carpet for the Historian’s Office was taken into consideration and the sisters donated liberally for that purpose.
Meeting adjourned until Nov. 24th, at 3 o’clock p. m. Sung “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning.”8 Benediction by Mrs. Rachel Grant.