Building on Brigham Young’s April 8, 1868, general conference remarks regarding the Relief Society, Eliza R. Snow wrote the following article for the Deseret Evening News. Published in two installments on April 18 and 20, 1868, and republished in the paper’s semiweekly and weekly editions,1 it became a singularly important reference for wards she had already visited and those awaiting her visit. Drawing from the minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, which she had penned and preserved as secretary, Snow explained the Relief Society’s basic organizational patterns and objectives.2 Her article tied the Relief Society to its Nauvoo beginnings under the direction of Joseph Smith, to the New Testament church, and to the priesthood. It also referred to her private conversations with Joseph Smith regarding the society.
In December 1867, when President Young issued his first public call for the reorganization of local Relief Societies, many Latter-day Saints were unfamiliar with the organization. Young assigned Snow “to assist the Bishops in organizing Branches of the Society in their respective Wards,”3 a responsibility that apparently included a mandate to provide women and their bishops essential information about the organization’s structure and purposes. Snow thus met with many local Relief Societies and wrote letters to others explaining the structure and purposes of the organization.4 Beginning in 1868, as she traveled from ward to ward to establish the Relief Society, she carried the original Nauvoo minute book with her and often read from it to emphasize the organization’s foundations and to provide guidance regarding how it should be organized and what it might accomplish.
FEMALE RELIEF SOCIETY.
(by eliza r. snow.)
This is the name of a Society which was organized in Nauvoo, on the 17th of March, 1842, by President Joseph Smith, assisted by Elders Willard Richards and John Taylor. Although the name may be of modern date, the institution is of ancient origin. We were told by our martyred prophet, that the same organization existed in the church anciently, allusions to which are made in some of the epistles recorded in the New Testament, making use of the title, “elect lady.”5
This is an organization that cannot exist without the Priesthood, from the fact that it derives all its authority and influence from that source. When the Priesthood was taken from the earth, this institution as well as every other appendage to the true order of the church of Jesus Christ on the earth, became extinct, and had never been restored until the time referred to above.
Last winter President Young instructed the Bishops to organize Female Relief Societies in their various Wards,6 and at our last Conference repeated the requisition,7 extending it to all the settlements, calling upon the sisters to enter into organizations, not only for the relief of the poor, but for the accomplishment of every good and noble work. He urged upon them the manufacture of articles made of straw—the cultivation of silk, and the establishing of fashions that would be becoming—such as would be worthy the patronage of sensible, refined and intelligent women who stand, as we in reality do, at the head of the world.
Having been present at the organization of the “Female Relief Society of Nauvoo,” and having now in my possession the minutes of the organization and the records of that Society, which is a sample for all others, and also having had considerable experience in that association, perhaps I may communicate a few hints that will assist the daughters of Zion in stepping forth in this very important position, which is replete with new and multiplied responsibilities. If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least circumscribed in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed.
“The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo,” was organized after the pattern of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with a Presidentess, who chose two Counselors. These were ordained and set apart by the Priesthood, and were to fill those offices so long as they faithfully discharged the trust committed to them. This quorum was fully authorized to appoint such officers, committees and assistants as were requisite from time to time, either to fill permanent offices or to perform any temporary agency that circumstances might demand. But, to make these appointments legal they had to be sanctioned by vote of the majority of the meeting when such appointments were made.8
In organizing Societies, it is necessary to have a competent Secretary and Treasurer—these and all other officers must be nominated, and the nomination must be seconded, and then a vote of the House called, with opportunity for any to object, if they should feel disposed.
President Joseph Smith told the sisters that he not only wanted them to learn to do business, but he wanted them to learn to do it correctly and in a business-like manner. He set the example, and kindly proffered his instructions, not only through the Presidentess, but often met with the Society and gave much wise counsel and precious instruction and encouragement—copies of which are carefully preserved.9
Confidence being the key to union, and union the soul of successful concentrated action, he instructed the Society to be very careful in admitting members, that none be received but those of strictly virtuous character—those who could be received with confidence, and full fellowship; and then they should sustain, and hold each other’s characters sacred. In dealing with members, when they sit in judgment on those whose conduct was called in question, they could not be too cautious lest they should falsely condemn—they must imitate the example of Jesus, and like him be forbearing, merciful and forgiving.10
Through the authority which President Young has conferred upon the Bishops, they now stand in the same relation with the Societies which have been, and are now about to be organized in the wards and settlements, as President Joseph Smith did with the one in Nauvoo. No Society can overstep the counsel of its Bishop—his word is law, to which, all its doings are amenable.
Should the question arise in the mind, of any, What is the object of the Female Relief Society? I would reply—to do good—to bring into requisition every capacity we possess for doing good, not only in relieving the poor but in saving souls.11 United effort will accomplish incalculably more than can be accomplished by the most effective individual energies.
(To be continued.)12
FEMALE RELIEF SOCIETY.
(by eliza r. snow.)
As its name indicates, the first grand object of the Society is to seek out, and relieve the wants of the poor. President Smith, in giving instruction to the Society in Nauvoo, said that the sisters could much better look into, and understand the circumstances of destitute families, than the brethren; and as they were more sympathetic in their natures, they could better enter into the feelings of the afflicted, and administer aid and consolation.13
Relieving the poor, in most of instances, requires something beyond administering to present necessities. When giving, encourages people in idleness, it has a demoralizing tendency. The sick must be provided for: but to those who have strength to labor, it is far more charitable to give employment and so direct their energies that they can earn what they need, and thus realize the fruits of their own labors. President Joseph Smith proposed deeding a city lot to the Society in Nauvoo, on which we purposed building comfortable houses for homes for the homeless, sick and destitute, and furnish such varieties of remunerative labor as would be adapted to the strength and capacities of such as were able to work.14 But the sudden death of the Prophet, and subsequent expulsion from Nauvoo, blasted all these fond anticipations, and instead of the generous pleasure of providing and superintending homes for others, we were ourselves homeless until we found an abiding place in the lone wilderness. Although the existence of the Society was short, it accomplished much. During one extremely severe winter, in particular, it was instrumental, through the blessing of God, in preserving the lives of many who, otherwise, must have perished.15
The climate of Nauvoo was a very sickly one, it was a climate in which none but a people of faith and righteousness could prosper. The location was beautiful and very desirable, but, in consequence of its unhealthfulness it had been abandoned, by those who had from time to time tried the experiment, as a place that could not be built up. We had been expelled from Missouri, and in our transit subjected to great hardships and exposures, and our systems were more predisposed to sickness than they would have been under more favorable circumstances, and with all the faith we could exercise, we experienced much sickness.16 In consequence of this, in connexion with other adverse circumstances, many were unable to obtain those comforts that nature required.
Previous to the organization of the Relief Society, President Smith said that the sisters, by relieving the Bishops and Elders of the care of the poor, would perform a very important work, and be instrumental in doing much good by liberating their hands so that they might devote their time and energies to other labors; he said that such an organization belonged to, and should exist in the Church—that he had long had it on his mind, but had been too much crowded with other duties to attend to it.
The care of the poor was a prominent item in the teachings of the Savior, and it always stands prominently forth among the requirements of our holy religion; and the business of caring for, and attending to the wants of the poor, was a heavy tax on the time as well as on the means of the authorities of the Church, in addition to all the cares and labors incident on commencing settlements in new locations.
In administering to the poor, the Female Relief Society has other duties to perform than merely relieving bodily wants. Poverty of mind and sickness of heart, also demand attention; and many times a kind expression—a few words of counsel, or even a warm and affectionate shake of the hand will do more good and be better appreciated than a purse of gold.
“Evil communications corrupt good manners.”17 Many have apostatized through the influence of bad associations—they come here without the experience that is necessary to know how to estimate character, and forgetting that “the net which is cast into the sea gathers of every kind,”18 they are often deceived by fair appearances and oily tongues. When the Saints gather from abroad, strangers to everybody, and subject to be led astray by those who lie in wait to deceive, the F. R. Society should be prompt in looking after the stranger sisters, and introduce them into the society that will refine and elevate, and above all strengthen them in the faith of the Gospel, and in so doing, may be instrumental in saving many.
It would require volumes in which to define the duties, privileges and responsibilities that come within the purview of the Society. President Young has turned the key to a wide and extensive sphere of action and usefulness.19 But, says one, Where are the means? The means will accumulate. Do not refuse anything that may be donated, from a shoestring, or patch, or a carpet rag, to an elegant house and lot with all the appurtenances thereof. Go at it (under the direction of your bishop) coolly, deliberately, energetically, unitedly and prayerfully, and God will crown your efforts with success.