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Eliza R. Snow, Letter to Augusta B. Smith, circa May 7, 1868

Eliza R. Snow, Letter to Augusta B. Smith, ca. May 7, 1868; Fillmore Ward, Millard Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, 1868–1947, vol. 1, 1868–1877, June 16, 1868, pp. 5–8, CHL (LR 2858 14).

See images of the original document at dcms.lds.org.


The city of Fillmore was established approximately 150 miles south of Salt Lake City in the fall of 1851, following the legislature’s decision to locate the territorial capital there. Legislators named the proposed capital city Fillmore and the new county in which it was located Millard, a double honor for U.S. president Millard Fillmore, who had appointed Brigham Young as first territorial governor of Utah. In 1858 the territorial capital was moved to Salt Lake City, though Fillmore and the surrounding fertile Pahvant Valley continued to attract residents.1

The Fillmore Relief Society was organized in the city schoolhouse on May 7, 1868, by Bishop Thomas Callister. The meeting opened with one of his counselors reading Eliza R. Snow’s recent April 1868 Deseret News article titled “Female Relief Society,”2 and Callister “remarked that he did not think it necessary to say a great deal of the subject as it was now so well understood.” He underscored the importance of “making our own hats and bonnets” as well as administering “to the wants of the poor and needy.” After Callister presented the name of Eunice Dunning Holbrook as “presidentess,” she was unanimously sustained by those present with two counselors, a secretary, a treasurer, and twenty-one teachers—the “Visiting Committee.” These officers were sustained again three weeks later after nearly 140 women were received as additional members, some of them from adjacent settlements.3

However, Bishop Callister had misjudged how “well understood” the concept of Relief Society was. Although Holbrook had been a member of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, she and other officers soon floundered in a “disorganized state,” lamenting the absence of the bishop when he did not attend their meetings.4 Three weeks after the organization of the local society, Callister himself remarked that “in consequence of his not having had the privilege of meeting with the Saints in Nauvoo, he did not understand as fully as he would like about the organization of such Societies” and hoped to “inform himself as soon as possible” with regard to the organization.5 At some point—either before or shortly after the organization of the Fillmore Relief Society—Augusta Bowen Cleveland Smith, a member of the visiting committee, wrote to Eliza R. Snow for information on how to operate the society. Smith, an acquaintance of Snow, was a daughter of Sarah M. Cleveland, a friend of Snow who had served as first counselor to President Emma Smith in the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.6

Smith’s letter is not extant, but Snow’s response, apparently dated May 7, 1868, is reproduced here as it was copied into the Fillmore Relief Society Minute Book. Some evidence indicates that Snow’s letter may have been misdated, perhaps when it was copied into the minute book. In her letter, Snow mentioned that she had recently attended a meeting of the Relief Society in Farmington, Utah. That society was organized on May 7 and no mention is made of Snow in its minutes until June 3, when she spoke at a meeting.7 She may have composed the letter regarding the Fillmore society shortly after her return from that visit, meaning the letter would be dated early June rather than early May.

In any case, on June 16, 1868, the Fillmore society met again “for the purpose of reorganizing or organizing the Society more properly than it had at first been done.” They took as a guide Snow’s letter, which was copied into the minutes as part of the June 16 entry by secretary Eliza Partridge Lyman. Bishop Callister was absent, and his two counselors directed the meeting. After the reading of Snow’s letter, the bishop’s counselors made a few remarks and “then withdrew saying they thought the sisters could get along well without them.” Eunice Holbrook then spoke briefly about a needy member, donations were recorded, and the meeting adjourned, following the pattern of Snow’s instructions.8

Two years later, on July 26, 1870, Snow’s letter was again read aloud when the Relief Society was reorganized with a new presidency.9 And the influence of her letter was longer lasting still: Belinda Marden Pratt, appointed Relief Society president in the Fillmore First Ward in October 1877, made a copy of Snow’s letter in her personal diary.10


Salt Lake City, May 7th 1868

My Dear Sister Smith

I received your letter just as I was starting to go to Farmington to visit the F.R. Society in that place. Since my return I have had so much to attend to, that this is my earliest opportunity for writing to you. I was glad to hear from you, and will with pleasure communicate what I can. I will in the first place answer your question with regard to the necessity of having the Brethren present at your meetings. No. The object of the Society is to relieve the Brethren. It is the business of the Bishop and Counselors, or whoever he may appoint to organize the Sisters. It is expected that he will suggest who to choose for Prest and Counselors, although it is the privilege of the Prest to choose her own Counselors, or at least they must be those that she has confidence in; but, of course, the Bishop has more wisdom in selecting them than she can have,— The Prest and Counselors are to be ordained and set apart, just as Brethren are set apart for [p. 5] offices. These officers should preside just as the first Presidency preside over the church.11 The next officer is the Secretary—whose business it is to be present at each meeting and take minutes of all that is said and done that is worthy of being recorded— the minutes of one meeting must be read at the next, and then they must be put to vote of the House, and if accepted, she will record them in the Book (which should be no inferior thing) of Records, which will be a history of the Society. At each meeting, she will take the names in full of all the members as they are admitted, and put them on record. She will also take the names of all who donate, with the names and prices of all articles donated

to wit,

Mrs

Ellen Sandford one pr socks prized

$1,00

Jane Morris one half worn dress

1,50

It is a great ornament to the Society to have a Secretary who will keep the History, and Record the minutes in a neat and orderly manner. The next officer is the Treasurer—she takes charge of all property donated to the Society, and holds it subject to the demand of the Presidency. She merely keeps account of all receipts and disbursements, which should be kept separately— When the Quarterly report is to be made she adds up all the disbursements, and hands the account to the Secretary who makes out the report, by adding up all the receipts, then by deducting the disbursements, she has what remains in the Treasury, which furnishes the material for Report.12 When the Report has been presented and read before the Society—put to vote and accepted, the secretary puts it on the Record— In admitting members, they should be voted in separately so that objections can be made—and each one before being put to vote should be recommended by one or more good Sisters. Three Sisters who understand business who are familiar with the prices of home manufacture and of imported goods should be appointed, to constitute a Board of Appraisers—they should be at the meetings so as to prize the articles when they are brought forward to be minuted by the Sec,y and Treasurer. It is customary to appoint two Teachers (or Visiting Committee) to each Ward or district. This is a very important calling, and needs Sisters of Wisdom and experience [p. 6] but we have to work with such tools as we can get. If you can place one Sister who is young, with one who is experienced and filled with the Spirit of God, so as to lead the young into the Spirit of it, it will do well. They are not only to go around to solicit donations—they are to understand the circumstances of all both Spiritually and temporally—to speak words of comfort—to warm the cold hearted—to counsel &c &c. I think a month often enough for them to visit. The Presidency with the vote of the House, can appoint any Officers or Committee that may be needed from time to time. Now I will say something about the order of meetings— I will take it for granted that yourself is Presidentess— It would be well for you to appoint one of the Sisters to take lead in singing, and take the responsibility of looking after the Choir— Open your meeting by singing— Prayer— Singing. Secretary reads the minutes of the last meeting (you call on her to do so) in an audible voice in a standing position. You (if they are correct) say, (but you must stand up) I move that the Minutes be accepted— One of Councillors says I second the motion— you say it has been moved and seconded that the minutes be accepted, all in favor of the motion manifest it by the uplifted hand— This is the order to be observed in taking in members after they are recommended— If your meeting is not designed for working, it is well to proceed immediately to business— if there are donations let them be brought forward in order commencing with first District and having the Appraisers on hand, seated near the Prestss and Counselors, Sec’y and Treas’r (who should be together) and go all through 〈with〉 this District or Ward before you call up another, Observe order so that the Spirit of God will be with you, and learn to do business as orderly and as dignifiedly as men. After the business is done, arise and express your feelings—give instruction &c, call on your Counselors to speak, and if possible get all to speak, if it is no more than five words, in this way you will overcome embarrassment and learn to speak words of wisdom and comfort, and the Holy Spirit will rest upon you, but discourage all enthusiasm.13 When ready to dismiss, Motion an adjournment— Seconded— All in favor &c. You can act according to circumstances from time to time. In some societies they do all their work at home—others do most of it together— Some meet once in two weeks for work, and once in two weeks without work, just according to circumstances. I had forgotten to say after the vote for adjournment— Singing— Dismiss by [p. 7] Prayer— Well, I do not know whether I have written what you wished to know, If you had asked any other questions I should have answered them. Volumes might be written and the half not be told—the subject is one of endless varieties— It is a portion of the Order of Heaven.14

Yours with love

Eliza R. Snow

PS

I think the F.R. Societies will have a great tendency to check the habit of idle talk by presenting topics of usefulness and interest, for it is calculated to bring into exercise all the powers of reflection, every species of ingenuity and calculation—for it embraces every means of doing good both temporally and spiritually. It is calculated to very much elevate the Female character. Each one should strive to make the meetings useful, interesting and attractive, and so managed that it will be an honor to any one to become a member— it is not a thing of a moment— it need not be rushed forward, yet much energy of character is requisite not only at the commencement, but all the time, Indeed no great good can ever be attained to when energy is wanting. I am glad your feelings are so much engaged in this great, good work, I have no doubt your influence will do a great amount of good.

God bless you and yours forever

E, R, Snow

Footnotes

  1. [1]See Edward Leo Lyman and Linda King Newell, A History of Millard County (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1999), 40–41, 93.

  2. [2]See Document 3.6.

  3. [3]Fillmore Ward, Millard Stake, Fillmore Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, 1868–1947, CHL, vol. 1, May 7 and 28, 1868.

  4. [4]Fillmore Ward, Millard Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, May 14 and May 21, 1868; Document 1.2, entry for May 12, 1842.

  5. [5]Fillmore Ward, Millard Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, May 28, 1868.

  6. [6]On Sarah Cleveland, see Document 1.7.

  7. [7]Farmington Ward, Davis Stake, Farmington Ward Relief Society Minutes and Records, 1868–1951, CHL, May 7 and June 3, 1868.

  8. [8]Fillmore Ward, Millard Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, June 16, 1868.

  9. [9]Fillmore Ward, Millard Stake, Relief Society Minutes and Records, July 26, 1870.

  10. [10]Belinda M. Pratt, Diary, 1877–1885, Parley P. Pratt Family Papers, 1846–1886, CHL, 54–56.

  11. [11]At the first meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842, Joseph Smith “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.” (Document 1.2, entry for Mar. 17, 1842.)

  12. [12]The first annual report of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo set the precedent for such reports. (Document 1.8.)

  13. [13]Snow presumably intended to discourage “ill-regulated or misdirected religious emotion” or “extravagance of religious speculation.” (See “Enthusiasm,” in The Oxford English Dictionary, ed. James A. H. Murray et al., 12 vols., 1933, reprint [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970], 3:216.)

  14. [14]On April 19, 1842, Sarah M. Cleveland, a counselor in the presidency of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, stated in her “remarks respecting the duties & prospects of the Society— that it was organiz’d after the order of heav’n.” On March 17, 1842, Elder John Taylor described the Nauvoo Relief Society as an institution “organiz’d according to the law of Heaven.” (Document 1.2.)