Brigham Young first organized the Relief Society on a stake level at a Relief Society and Young Ladies’ meeting in the Ogden tabernacle on July 19, 1877. Ecclesiastical organization was on his mind; he spent the spring and summer of 1877 orchestrating a major reorganization of stakes, wards, and priesthood quorums throughout Utah Territory. At the beginning of the reorganization, there were thirteen stakes in the territory; six of the stakes were presided over by apostles, many stakes were incompletely organized, and leaders of the Salt Lake Stake were perceived to have supervisory authority over the other stakes. During the reorganization, Young and other church leaders created seven new stakes, released the apostles from their stake duties and called many new leaders, and clarified that all stakes were equal to the Salt Lake Stake. For instance, Young reorganized Weber Stake, centered in Ogden, in late May, releasing apostle Franklin D. Richards as stake president.1 Nevertheless, the decision to appoint a stake Relief Society presidency appears to have been somewhat spontaneous. According to the minutes of the July 19 meeting transcribed below, Young had been discussing the possibility of organizing Relief Society on a stake level with Bathsheba W. Smith and others during the journey to Ogden. After giving a discourse on other topics near the beginning of the meeting, he continued to discuss the idea on the stand while other church leaders addressed the congregation. When Young then arose to give some additional remarks, he turned the new idea into official precedent.
Young appointed Jane Snyder Richards, president of the Ogden Ward Relief Society and the wife of apostle Franklin D. Richards, as the first stake Relief Society president. Since being appointed as a ward president in August 1872, she had already been acting in a supervisory role over other ward Relief Societies in the area, having been blessed with her counselors “under the hands of Apostle Richards and Bp. [Lester J.] Herrick to labor not only in the R. S. of Ogden but also to visit and counsel the societies throughout Weber County.”2 Perhaps as a result of this role, Jane Richards and her counselors, Harriet C. Brown and Sarah G. Herrick, sat on the stand with Brigham Young and other leaders at the July 19, 1877, conference and were referred to in the minutes as the “Presidency of the Stake Relief Societies” at the beginning of the conference. Eliza R. Snow noted that the Weber Stake had “led out in a new direction,” a direction that President Young approved and solidified in the July 1877 meeting.3 Young encouraged the women to hold quarterly stake conferences with reports from each local Relief Society organization, and he promised to return in three months’ time to officially open the first conference. Snow summarized the event: “At a special meeting of the ladies of Weber Co. President Young had appointed Mrs. Jane S. Richards to preside over the various branches of the Relief Society in that Stake of Zion, and had appointed a meeting to be convened three months from that time, at which he requested they should bring a written report from each society in the county, of their progress and finance from their first organization.”4 Young’s sermon was later published, and copies were distributed at the first quarterly conference of the Weber Stake Relief Society.5
Following the July 19 meeting, Brigham Young traveled to organize the nearby Box Elder Stake and “required Sister Jane S Richards to leave the bedside of a sick child and go with him. They continued in close conversation during the trip; he instructing her in the varied duties of her presidency and the importance of keeping faithful records of all their doings.”6 Richards recalled, “When President Young first said we were to have Quarterly meetings, I was astonished, it almost made me stagger; the idea of the sisters having a Conference.”7 That summer or fall, “Sister Eliza R. Snow, President of all the Relief Societies in the Church, accompanied Sister Jane S. Richards at a meeting of each ward society in the Weber Stake, and presented her as the president of their Stake organization.”8 Following the Weber example, other stake Relief Society organizations were formed, beginning in December 1877, when Eliza R. Snow organized the Relief Society in the Salt Lake Stake as the second stake Relief Society organization.9
The minutes of the July 19 meeting are reproduced below from the Weber Stake Relief Society Minute Book. The textual history of the minutes is somewhat unclear. It appears the minutes as they exist may have been copied into the minute book well after the July meeting and may have been modified to some degree between the time of the meeting and the time they were copied into the minute book.10 The minutes are also incomplete, as they do not explicitly refer to the selection of Richards as the president of the stake Relief Society. This absence is explained by a note recorded in the minute book directly following the minutes of the July 19 meeting and signed by Franklin and Jane Richards, as well as other leaders: “In the consummate interest felt by the sisters in Pres. Young’s visit and discourse, together with the fact of the imperfect organization; and as yet, not fully appreciating the importance of records; and as this particular feature of the occasion was omitted in the report of the sermon, it failed of record at the time.”11
Minutes of a special general Conference, of the Relief Societies and Young Ladies Associations of Weber Stake of Zion, held in the Ogden Tabernacle on Thursday the 19th day of July 1877—
President Brigham Young—(having been invited by Pres. Jane S. Richards, to come to Ogden and talk to the ladies of Weber County,) was present on the stand, also Pres. Daniel H. Wells, and apostles John Taylor, F. D. Richards and Albert Carrington; of the Stake presidency there were present, D. [David] H. Peery—L. J. Herrick and C. [Charles] F. Middleton; of the Presidency of the Stake Relief Societies, Jane S. Richards, Harriet C. Brown and Sarah Herrick;12 of the Young Ladies Associations, Emily T. Richards, Mary Ann Riley and Mary Ann Ellis.
The Tabernacle was fully occupied, every part being crowded with people of both sexes; as an invitation to attend the meeting, had been extended to all who desired to come.
At 11 o’clock services commenced in the usual manner, by singing and prayer; after which, Pres. Young—being in but feeble health—delivered his famous sermon to the assembled multitude; which is contained in this record, commencing on page 713
Elder Carrington next addressed the meeting. He spoke at some length upon fashion, which to him, he said, was a myth; he asked no odds of Mrs. Grundy;14 felt that it was beneath the dignity of a saint to follow the fashions of “Babylon”; exhorted the sisters to make their own fashions said that some of the sisters were a head of the brethren in many good things. [p. 3]
Pres. Daniel H. Wells, in the course of his remarks, said he had long conceded woman was a power in the earth; and he hailed these organizations of the sisters, as a harbinger of good results; carrying with it, as it did, an influence more manifest than in times past. Said woman was an indispensible help meet to man, and should occupy that position in all practical work in building up the kingdom of God, as well as in spiritual work and exhaltation. Said that the saints of God should learn to govern and control themselves, according to the laws that govern our being, and the principles of life and salvation.
Elder John Taylor said there were more women present than it was usual to meet; he alluded to woman’s faith; referred to the counsel which a woman gave to the rich man, whom the Savior told to go and dip seven times in Jordan; the man felt it was too little a thing, but the woman had faith and intuition; and by listening to her, he was healed, through obedience.15 Spoke of obeying the laws of life and health, to preserve our lives to the age of a tree;16 and alluded to the manner in which children are brought up in the aristocratic families of Europe, and said, as saints, we ought to be more particular in the training of our children, than the people of the world are, and pray God ever to help us.17
Pres. Young again arose and spoke briefly in regard to a topic, upon which he seemed to be greatly exercised, and of which he had spoken to Sister Bathsheba W. Smith, and others, while on their way to Ogden—namely—that of organizing the Relief Societies so as to require them to hold Quarterly Conferences in each Stake of Zion.
He had been deliberating with Pres. D. H. Peery, Sister Jane S. Richards and others near him in the stand, upon this subject, while seated during the remarks of Pres. Wells and Apostle Taylor and Carrington; and as a result, proposed that this meeting be adjourned for three months; at which [p. 4] time he would meet with them again; his health permitting. He then instructed the Presidents of the ward Societies, to prepare for that meeting, written reports of the spiritual and financial condition of their several organizations, together with the amount of labor performed by each, since their first organization, and thereafter report their doings at their Quarterly Conferences.18
Elder Franklin D. Richards then made a few closing remarks, requesting in behalf of Mrs. Richards, President of Weber County Societies, that the societies prepare reports according to Pres. Young’s instructions; to be read at the proposed meeting, three months from that time; to which time, the meeting was then adjourned.
Before closing, a request was made, for all the Sisters, who felt like entering more fully and earnestly into the work of home industries, and helping to become self sustaining, to rise to their feet; to which every one in the room gladly responded.19