Although Relief Society conferences had been held in many stakes before 1889,1 that year marked the first annual general Relief Society conference. The conference convened at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square on April 6, 1889, included representatives from nineteen stakes, and was presided over by Zina D. H. Young, who had succeeded Eliza R. Snow as general president after Snow’s death in 1887.2 During the conference Mary Isabella Horne noted “that Sister Eliza’s mantle had fallen on Sister Zina just as Elijah’s descended upon Elisha.”3
While Snow had earlier used the semimonthly meetings of the Senior or General Retrenchment Association as a platform to discuss Relief Society matters with the women who attended, the time seemed propitious for Relief Society workers to meet in a general assembly of their own.4 These general Relief Society conferences, along with visits of general board members to local Relief Societies and the communication network provided by the Woman’s Exponent, promoted unity and a strong sense of sisterhood among Latter-day Saint women.
Several themes that characterized Young’s presidency are evident in the address featured below. She affirmed the close connection of the Relief Society with its Nauvoo beginnings; invoked the memory and example of her predecessor, Eliza R. Snow; and made a fervent appeal for unity and righteous living. Young’s address is reproduced here from a report of the conference published in the Woman’s Exponent the week following the conference.5 The preliminary remarks Young made as she conducted the meeting are also included in the transcript below.
FIRST GENERAL CONFERENCE OF THE RELIEF SOCIETY.
The first general conference of the Relief Society was held in the Salt Lake Assembly Hall Saturday evening April 6th, 1889. . . .6
Prest. Zina Young said: “My sisters, upon this occasion I hope you will give me your faith and prayers. As I look upon the sisters around me, I realize we miss our beloved Sister Eliza, who on all such occasions was with us. In the providence of the Lord she was taken from us. She mingles with those above; we revere her memory. As this is our first meeting of this kind I hope we can unite our hearts as one that the Lord will bless us in so coming together. May everything be agreeable that takes place here this evening.” . . .
president zina d. h. young.
The Relief Society, under whose auspices we have met together here to-night, to receive instruction, and advice in our several duties, was first organized nearly half a century ago, by the Prophet Joseph Smith; after the pattern of the Holy Priesthood,7 and under its direction, to dispense temporal blessings to the poor and needy: and to give encouragement to the weak, and restrain the erring ones, and for the better development, and exercise of woman’s sympathies, and charities, that she might have opportunity to attain spiritual strength, and power for the accomplishment of greater good in the work of the redemption of the human family.
We should be diligent in all the duties of life, as mothers and wives, and as members ot [of] the Church, remembering to attend the meetings of the Saints, including our Fast-day meetings, and pay willing offerings to the poor, and our donations to the Temple; and with whatever belongs, especially to the mothers, observe the law of Tithing that the blessing promised may follow, and that the little children may be taught this important principle by example and educated in the path of duty, which is the path of safety. Teach them to keep the “Word of Wisdom,” and to be temperate in all things; avoiding all evil habits and pernicious practises, that they may have strong bodies, and be entitled to the promise that follows obedience to this commandment.8
Let us be careful to speak with wisdom before our little ones, avoiding fault-finding, and slang phrases, and cultivate the higher attributes of our nature, that will tend to elevate, refine and purify the heart, and make the home the centre of attraction, where the spirit of love, peace and unity will dwell, and that sweet charity that thinketh no evil will ever abide; that we might always be possessed of that heavenly principle embodied in the song “Nay speak no ill.”9
We should take the utmost pains to teach the children of Zion to be honest, virtuous, upright and punctual in all their duties; also to be industrious and keep the Sabbath day holy; not to be rigid or too severe, but as far as possible make all duties pleasurable. Mothers should never speak a word detrimental to the father’s best interest before the children, for they are close observers. Sow good seeds in their young and tender minds, and always prefer principle to policy, thus you will lay up treasures in heaven.
Our sisters who have been called to preside in a Stake capacity, over several branches of the Relief Society, should plead for wisdom from above to direct their efforts, that the greatest possible good may be accomplished. They should visit each branch society in the Stake at least once a year, and oftener if circumstances will permit. Where sisters can do so, it would be desirable and we think profitable, to visit each other’s organizations and become acquainted; it will tend to union and harmony, promote confidence, and strengthen the chords that bind us together, for there is more difference in our manner of speech, than in the motives of our hearts.
If the President of the society cannot be present to preside, it is her duty to see that one of her counselors attends to take charge of the meeting, for the success of an organization depends very much upon the efficiency and promptitude of its officers. When a vote is required one of the Counselors should make the motion, and after it has received a second, the President should present the motion, and call for the vote. President Joseph Smith’s instructions to the Relief Society were, that the meetings should be conducted in a parliamentary manner.10
President Young, in great wisdom we believe, established the custom of holding quarterly conferences,11 for the more perfect unity of interest in the Relief Society, and President Woodruff advises us to continue in this respect as we have been doing in the past. We should also keep correct minutes of our meetings, that we may have a complete record, and then with very little trouble exact reports can be made to the General Conference.
I trust the sisters will not neglect or grow weary in the duty required of them in storing up wheat.12 If it needs changing to preserve it, the Presidency advise, in the case of loaning it, the giving of written security, by the Bishop, for the full amount, and something added to allow for shrinkage, that the loan may be a safe business transaction, and that all interested may be satisfied.
When Relief Society Conferences are to be held, the Presidency of the Stake and the Bishops should be informed of the time, and invited to attend the meetings, that harmony and union may exist, and strength and encouragement be given to the diligent sisters, and that others seeing their good works, might be induced to come to meeting, and enjoy the same good spirit and feeling, that pervades the hearts of those who meet often one with another, to be instructed in their duties, and to gain spiritual strength and wisdom for the various vlcissitudies [vicissitudes] of life.
It is the privilege of the sisters, who are faithful in the discharge of their duties, and have received their endowments and blessings in the house of the Lord, to administer to their sisters, and to the little ones, in times of sickness, in meekness and humility, ever being careful to ask in the name of Jesus, and to give God the glory.13
Do not find fault with the Providences of God, it will not better our condition and only make our burdens heavier to bear; but rather be patient through all the trials of life, and speak not against the Lord’s anointed.
It is our duty to be self-sustaining, and to foster and encourage home industries, and home manufactures, and patronize those institutions that have been established for the best interests of Zion;—to the co-operative stores; and be careful not to use the means we have been blessed with, to build up those, who are seeking to destroy and overthrow the work of God, and to plant discord, strife and dissension in our midst.14
The silk culture is one of the branches of home industry, that demands our earnest attention.15 I have never yet doubted, but, that it would eventually become a fruitful source of revenue to this country. In the first sermon that I heard Brigham Young preach in this valley, he remarked “there is silk in these elements,”16 and I have heard a number of silk weavers say, “Utah silk was the best fib[e]red silk, they had ever seen.” Sisters do not be discouraged in any of the duties we have undertaken to perform; I am aware we have many responsibilities resting upon us, and also realize, that we all have great need to be diligent and prayerful. The Deseret Hospital is one of the institutions that needs to be sustained, in order that we may have a place where the sick and the afflicted among our people, may go when it is necessary, and receive the medical and surgical care, nursing and attention suited to their condition; and where they can have the Elders of the Church to administer in the sacred ordinances of the holy priesthood.17 We should not forget, or neglect our duty to this charitable institution; keep up your monthly donations for the Society, and continue to be members of the Association, and remember “he that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord and He will repay.”18
We should use our influence, too for the establishment and maintenance of educational institutions, in which our children and young people, may be taught the true principles of the everlasting Gospel; and discourage any tendency to outside influences, calculated to lead them into doubt or unbelief.19 In all things possible, let us endeavor to cultivate our home talent and stimulate our sisters to read, and to write, that they may be intelligent wives and mothers; read good books, especially the Bible, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. The Exponent, is at present, the only paper we have where the voice of woman is sent forth especially, to instruct us in our duties, and encourage the brave and determined ones to persevere in the midst of difficulties, and also to give expression to the views and opinions of the women of Zion on subjects of vital importance. And we recommend that the sisters subscribe for it, and read it, that they may be posted upon the condition, growth and progress of the various organizations of the women in Zion, and elsewhere; and become familiar with the efforts being put forth, for the uplifting, and further advancement of all womankind; and of the changes made from ttme [time] to time in the direction of progress.20
Sisters, let us be as one grand phalanx and stand for the right; let us be humble and firm, honor truth, and be valiant in sustaining it, not presuming, but trust-worthy in all things. Have we not shouldered the cross of the world’s scorn, and braved its anathema with more valor, than the warrior the cannon’s fury? Death with him, and then all is over, but we endure to live [p. 172] eternally. Purity, love and integrity, let these virtues live in our hearts; then the sunshine of a loving Father’s smile will be ours. Do not doubt the goodness of God or the truth of the work in which we are engaged; but learn obedience, it is better than sacrifice; follow our file leaders and fear not.
May we do a work acceptable to our Heavenly Father, and that will meet the approbation of our brethren, who are called upon to endure for the truth’s sake, what the Ancients did, when seeking to establish righteous principles to benefit humanity. May we as women of Zion, ever know and honor our true position, and continue to grow in grace, and abound in good works, until He whose right it is to reign shall come.21