Marion Eliza Scoles, the second counselor in the Relief Society of the North London Branch, wrote the following letter to the Woman’s Exponent at the close of 1888, providing a glimpse into the activities of the Relief Society in Great Britain. The North London Branch Relief Society was organized in February 1875. After five years, it had a membership of ten women, who were “energetic and liberal affording very acceptable support to the branch organization in many ways.”1 Minutes from the society’s meetings during the 1880s identify the nature of the members’ service: visiting the sick, encouraging church members who were not participating regularly, and sharing their means with the less fortunate. Frances Cornell, the first counselor, stated in a meeting that she “was never so happy, as when visiting, and being able to relieve her poorer brethren and sisters.”2 During one visit, Cornell and the branch Relief Society president, Ellen Bradford, found Eliza B. Wonnacott well, but three of her children were “sick with Hooping Cough and Brohnchitis, the baby was very ill indeed, we did that which we thought best and when we left we saw a change for the better.” They returned “2 days after and Bro [William] Wonnacott said he knew that we were instruments in the Hands of God in saving his babes life.”3
Scoles’s letter and the local Relief Society minutes from the period also reflect the difficulty that many branches had in keeping their organizations staffed as their members continued to leave England to join the Saints in Utah. At a meeting in 1885, several women expressed their longing to gather to Zion. Sarah Pearce, for instance, “bore a faithful Testimony and declared her knowledge of the work, and expressed a great desire, to be gathered home with Gods people.”4 In her letter to the Exponent, Scoles explained the small attendance in part by pointing to the “continued emigration,” which had included Frances Cornell in 1887.5
THE NORTH LONDON LADIES’ RELIEF SOCIETY.
Editor Woman’s Exponent:
The President of the above Society has desired me to write you a brief account of the work accomplished by it since its reorganization up till the close of 1888.
The Society was reorganized on March 9th, 1884, with Helen [Ellen] Bradford, President; Frances Cornell and Frances Jennings, Counselors; Caroline Parratt, Secretary; Helen Bradford, Treasurer.
Since that time, however, the First Counselor has emigrated to Utah,6 and Sister Jennings now holds that position, and Sister M. E. Scoles has been chosen Second Counselor. The Secretary has been succeeded by Elizabeth Bush, who also emigrated to Utah in October last, and that position is at present vacant.
392 visits have been paid, and 62£ 9 shillings and 4½ pence has been given to the poor. The Elders have been assisted to the amount of 25£, 11 shillings and 3½ pence. This is for rent of room and food. The attendance has been very small, the usual number present not exceeding six lately, although we have a number of names on the books. The Saints are scattered, and many too poor to travel, and the means at our command very limited.
The continued emigration and consequent loss [p. 142] of members account for this to some extent, but we are striving to use what we have to the best advantage. We may say though few in number the spirit of unity prevails, and all work harmoniously together, and have great joy in their labors. The Society is doing its best, and there are no hard feelings among us. The Elders meet with the sisters from time to time, and much valuable counsel is given and cherished.
It has been the President’s wish, and the sisters have so far carried it out to the best of their ability, that when visiting we should go into the different homes not with a prying curiosity, or a patronizing air, but with true sisterly feelings and sympathy in our hearts for the sufferings and sorrows of others. We have endeavored to carry relief and the precious truths we are in possession of together into the houses of those we visit, and rich is the reward when we hear and see what happiness follows. There is a luxury above all others in this world, and it is the exquisite luxury of doing good to our fellow creatures, although we may be only messengers, only carriers, only instruments in the hands of others, there is one sight seen of us that few others ever see—the grateful look, the eloquent tear, and the fervent “God bless you!” In the first blush of surprise and thankfulness lies our reward and the reward of the benevolent also.
We desire to go on with this work and lighten many hearts and cheer many homes, and trust that means will ever be in our hands to give to the needy and sick and afflicted, and health to carry on this noble work.
Your sister in the Gospel,
M. E. Scoles, Sec. pro tem.