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4.14

Eliza R. Snow, “To the Branches of the Relief Society,” September 12, 1884

Eliza R. Snow, “To the Branches of the Relief Society,” Sept. 12, 1884, Woman’s Exponent (Salt Lake City, UT), Sept. 15, 1884, vol. 13, no. 8, p. 61.

See image of the original document at lib.byu.edu, courtesy of Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT.


Officers and members of different Relief Societies often wrote to general president Eliza R. Snow for guidance. When her responses were delayed or untimely, some women felt hurt. She explained to an impatient correspondent, “There was nothing in the letter in question that specifically demanded an answer, and I have so many letters that must be answered.”1 One solution was to respond through the Woman’s Exponent, through which she could disseminate information not only to individual inquirers but to Relief Societies throughout the church. In the following Exponent article, Snow answered six questions regarding the administration of local Relief Societies.


TO THE BRANCHES OF THE RELIEF SOCIETY.

Being very frequently receiving letters of inquiry relative to duties, practices, privileges, etc., of officers and members of the Relief Society, and being unable to devote sufficient time to answer individually, we gladly accept the privilege extended by Mrs. Wells2 to respond in general manner through the columns of the Exponent.

“Should a president of teachers be appointed in each branch?”

It is better for small branches not to appoint a president. In those, the teachers should report in the general meetings, and keep no separate minutes. In every branch the president of the organization virtually presides over the teachers; and presidents of teachers are needed only in those branches where there is such accumulation of work as to render it necessary to relieve the presiding board.

“Should the teachers’ minutes be read in the general meetings?”

All members who attend meeting should be made acquainted with and have a voice in all business transactions of importance in both departments. No “change has been made” in this respect.3

“Is it right for the sisters to raffle?”

We say emphatically, No! Raffle is only a modified name of gamble. President Brigham Young once said to me, “Tell the sisters not to raffle; if the mothers raffle, their children will gamble. Raffling is gambling.”

Some say, “What shall we do? We have quilts on hand—we cannot sell them, and we need the means to supply our treasury, which we can obtain by raffling, for the benefit of the poor.” Rather let the quilts rot on the shelves than adopt the old adage: “The end will sanctify the means.” As Latter-day Saints, we cannot afford to sacrifice moral principle to financial gain.

Let us investigate the subject—Supposing an article, quilt or other property, is put up for raffle: twenty persons donate 25 cents each; all hope to draw the prize, and only one wins, while nineteen who have each contributed as much as the successful one, gain nothing but disappointment, which is almost certain to arouse feelings of jealousy to a greater or less extent.

Why not all donate 25 cents each to replenish the treasury, as well as to run the chances and only one succeed? And then by mutual consent donating the article or articles in question to some charitable purpose, they prevent the cause of jealousy and dissension—the same amount will go to the treasury and no unworthy example and no sacrifice of principle will stain their record.

“Should members of the Relief Society go to the Bishops for counsel?”4

The Relief Society is designed to be a self-governing organization: to relieve the Bishops as well as to relieve the poor, to deal with its members, correct abuses, etc. If difficulties arise between members of a branch which they cannot settle between the members themselves, aided by the teachers, instead of troubling the Bishop, the matter should be referred to their president and her counselors. If the branch board cannot decide satisfactorily, an appeal to the stake board is next in order; if that fails to settle the question, the next step brings it before the general board, from which the only resort is to the Priesthood; but, if possible, we should relieve the Bishops instead of adding to their multitudinous labors.

“Is it necessary for sisters to be set apart to officiate in the sacred ordinances of washing anointing, and laying on of hands in administering to the sick?”5

It certainly is not.6 Any and all sisters who honor their holy endowments, not only have the right, but should feel it a duty, whenever called upon to administer to our sisters in these ordinances, which God has graciously committed to His daughters as well as to His sons; and we testify that when administered and received in faith and humility they are accompanied with all mighty power.

Inasmuch as God our Eather [Father] has revealed these sacred ordinances and committed them to His Saints, it is not only our privilege but our imperative duty to apply them for the relief of human suffering. We think we may safely say thousands can testify that God has sanctioned the administration of these ordinances by our sisters with the manifestations of His healing influence. 7

“What age is most suitable for young lady officers?”

The young should fill all official positions in the Young Ladies’ branch (ward) Associations. No matter how unequal they feel to the situation, if they possess sufficient energy of character and the true spirit of the Gospel, trust in God, they will be sure to succeed.

E. R. Snow Smith.

Salt Lake City, September 12th., 1884.

Footnotes

  1. [1]Eliza R. Snow to Wilmirth East, Apr. 23, 1883, Eliza R. Snow, Letters, 1883–1884, CHL, underlining in original.

  2. [2]Emmeline B. Wells edited the Woman’s Exponent from 1877 to 1914. (See Document 3.21.)

  3. [3]For information on the history of visiting teaching in early Utah, see Document 3.9; and Jill Mulvay Derr et al., Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book; Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1992), 91–92.

  4. [4]In 1868, when many Relief Societies were being organized, Snow stated, “No Society can overstep the counsel of its Bishop—his word is law, to which, all its doings are amenable.” In an 1883 letter she reiterated this position: “But the R.S. is subject to the Bishop of the Ward, we never go in opposition to the Priesthood.” (Document 3.6; Eliza R. Snow, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, to Wilmirth East, Apr. 23, 1883, Eliza R. Snow, Letters, CHL.)

  5. [5]This refers both to performing healing blessings and to the practice of blessing pregnant women, or “washing and anointing sisters who are approaching their confinement,” not the similarly named temple ordinances. (Document 4.19.)

  6. [6]On some occasions, church leaders had set apart women to administer to the sick. For instance, on May 5, 1867, Wilford Woodruff recorded, “At the Close of the Meeting Presidet Young with Some of the Twelve laid hands upon the Head of Mother Atwood & blessed her & set her apart to administer to the Sick of her sex.” Suzanne Smith Adams, a Relief Society leader in Washington County, Utah, “was set apart [in 1854] by Apostle Geo. A. Smith to wait upon her sex in sickness.” (Wilford Woodruff, Journals, 1833–1898, Wilford Woodruff, Journals and Papers, 1828–1898, CHL, May 5, 1867; “Death of a Heroine,” Woman’s Exponent, Mar. 1, 1892, 20:127.)

  7. [7]The First Presidency apparently did not agree with the position expressed by Snow in these two paragraphs (regarding female administrations) or in response to the prior question (about going to bishops for counsel). Franklin D. Richards’s diary entry for September 26, 1884, states, “Prest. Taylor, Cannon, Woodruff, Carrington & myself met with sister Eliza Roxy Snow Smith in Gardo house & corrected her views as contained in W. Exponant of Sept. 15–84, page 91, Questions 4 & 5.” (Franklin D. Richards, Journal, 1844–1899, Richards Family Collection, 1837–1961, CHL, Sept. 26, 1884, underlining in original.)