During a quarterly Salt Lake Stake Relief Society conference held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in June 1880, the women of the Salt Lake Stake voted to sustain Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. H. Young, and Elizabeth Ann Whitney as the first general presidency of the Relief Society.
Snow, with the assistance of Zina Young, had directed the affairs of the Relief Society as a de facto president since 1868, but Brigham Young had never formally set her apart as president nor officially appointed counselors. Young initiated the large-scale organization of local Relief Societies in December 1867, and early the next year he called on Snow to “assist the Bishops in organizing Branches of the Society in their respective Wards.”1 Ward Relief Societies functioned under local presidents, who received counsel from Snow and her assistants. In 1877 Brigham Young appointed the first stake Relief Society president, in Weber County, after which stake Relief Society organizations were established in Salt Lake City and other communities.2
Held in June 1880, this “Sisters’ Conference of the Salt Lake Stake of Zion” occupied two days and was both a quarterly meeting of the stake Relief Society and a conference of the stake Primary and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (Y.L.M.I.A.). In two meetings on Friday, June 18, the women considered Relief Society business. The meeting on Saturday morning focused on the Primary, which had been first organized under the leadership of Aurelia Rogers on a local level in Farmington, Utah, in 1878.3 During this meeting Eliza R. Snow nominated Louie B. Felt as general Primary superintendent “to preside over all the Primary Associations of all the Stakes of Zion.” Felt was sustained along with two counselors, Matilda M. Barratt and Clarissa (Clara) M. Cannon.
President John Taylor then addressed the conference on the responsibilities of the Primary and the Nauvoo founding of the Relief Society. He ended his remarks, “God bless the children and God bless the sisters with Sister Snow at their head.” At that point, Mary Isabella Horne, president of the Salt Lake Stake Relief Society, moved that he appoint Eliza R. Snow as president of all the Relief Societies throughout the church. Taylor nominated Snow for the position, and attendees voted to sustain Snow, her chosen counselors, Zina D. H. Young and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, and a secretary and treasurer, Sarah M. Kimball and Mary Isabella Horne. The conference report explained, “These sisters form a central organization for all the Relief Societies of all the Stakes of Zion.”
Like the Relief Society, the Y.L.M.I.A. had functioned at the local level without a general presiding board since its founding a decade earlier as the Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association.4 Eliza R. Snow and a companion, most often Zina Young or Mary Isabella Horne, assisted individual wards in forming their own branches of the Y.L.M.I.A., although in some cases local authorities organized branches without a visit from Snow.5 During the Saturday afternoon session of this conference, Snow nominated Elmina S. Taylor as president of the Y.L.M.I.A. central committee. Taylor was sustained, along with Margaret (Maggie) Y. Taylor and Martha (Mattie) J. Horne, counselors; Louise (Louie) M. Wells, secretary; and Fannie Y. Thatcher, treasurer. The newly sustained general officers of the Primary and Y.L.M.I.A., however, did not fully act in their new capacities until after the death of Eliza R. Snow in 1887, who often presided at women’s meetings and was honored as the leader of all the women of the church.6
The following report of the conference was prepared by Emmeline B. Wells and published in the Woman’s Exponent on July 1, 1880.
SALT LAKE STAKE RELIEF SOCIETY CONFERENCE.
The Sisters’ Conference of the Salt Lake Stake of Zion was held in the Salt Lake Assembly Hall, Friday and Saturday, June 18 and 19 . The first day was devoted to Relief Society reports, business, etc. Mrs. M. Isabella Horne presiding. Sung, “O, Awake My Slumbering Minstrels.” Prayer by Mrs. E. S. Taylor. Singing, “Come, O, thou King of Kings.”7 Minutes of last Conference read by the Stake Secretary, Mrs. E. [Elizabeth] Howard. Reports from the several branches in the county were read, which were very favorable. Pres. Horne made a few remarks relative to the necessity of having correct reports, and said she wanted the sisters to become business women.
Pres. E. R. Snow Smith8 referred to the good conference in Brigham City, where the young ladies had spoken upon practical principles and were putting them into practice. Said the city council there had donated liberally of land for the purpose of raising mulberry trees to promote sericulture.9 Spoke of the calamities and judgments that were coming upon the earth and that Zion would be the place of safety.
Meeting closed by singing, “O, Say what is Truth.”10 Benediction by Mrs. S. M. Kimball. 2 p. m.: Meeting opened with singing and prayer by Mrs. E. Howard. After which several of the presidents of Relief Societies gave verbal reports. Mrs. E. B. Wells made a few remarks preceding the reading of an original poem by Bishop O. [Orson] F. Whitney, “The Women of the Everlasting Covenant.”11 She then introduced Dr. Ellen B. Ferguson, who read this grand poem in a smooth, eloquent and effective manner. Pres. Horne then spoke of a committee of two or three sisters being formed in each Relief Society to look after new comers. Joseph Smith had said the mission of the Relief Society was not only to look after the temporal wants of the poor, but to save souls.12
“Sister Eliza” explained this subject clearly and definitely and stated that there was a positive necessity for such committee and gave good instruction on the subject. She then asked the sisters to take shares in the Silk Association13 and to interest themselves in this simple and useful industry, which was now established upon a firm basis.
Bishop [John P.] Johnson, of Provo, heartily endorsed what had been spoken and blessed the sisters in their labors; said he had realized the great help the Relief Society was to the Bishops in many respects. Sang “Lord dismiss us with thy blessing.”14 Prayer by Bishop Johnson.
Saturday morning, June 19th. The middle seats of the Tabernacle were filled with the children of the Primary Associations of the city. President E. R. Snow Smith presiding. Children sang: “Sweet is the work, my God, my King.” Mrs. Zina D. Young offered prayer. Children sang: “We thank thee, O God, for a prophet.”15 The first business transacted was to appoint a central committee to preside over the Primary Associations of the Salt Lake Stake of Zion. Mrs. Ellen C. S. Clawson was nominated and sustained as President, Mrs. Camilla Cobb. and Miss Annie Davis as her Counselors. “Sister Eliza” then nominated Mrs. Louie Felt as General Superintendent, to preside over all the Primary Associations of all the Stakes of Zion, which was unanimously carried. Mrs. Matilda M. Barratt and Mrs. Clara M. Cannon were sustained as her Counselors.16 “Sister Eliza” addressed the children for a few minutes and asked them some questions, which were promptly answered. Mrs. Zina D. Young made a short speech upon obedience, reverence, honesty, truthfulness, etc., adapting her language to the children’s comprehension. The children sang by request, “O my Father.”17 “Sister Eliza” announced that President Taylor and President Angus M. Cannon were present, and asked the children who they would like to speak to them; they answered, President John Taylor.
President Taylor said, “I am pleased to have an opportunity of meeting with the children. The ladies of the Relief Societies are doing a good work in teaching the children correct principles, and instructing them that they may grow up to be honorable numbers in the Church of Jesus Christ, and to be honors to the kingdom. I appreciate the efforts of the ladies who are trying to bring the children up in the fear of the Lord; and the Presidents of these Primary Associations. Children you ought to be obedient to your parents and pray morning and night for them and for your presidents, that they may be under the inspiration of the Lord, and God will bless you and give you blessings upon blessings, and he will build up Zion, and these sisters are trying to instruct you in purity and in the laws of God, that your names may be honored in and through eternity; be careful to honor your fathers and mothers. This is one of the ten commandments. We purpose having them written here in this tabernacle, sometime—“Honor thy father and thy mother, etc.”18 Now I want to say a word to the Relief Society. You had your meeting yesterday, but as a number of you are here, I will say a few words to you. I consider it a duty for all to do all they possibly can to aid [p. 21] in this work which has been begun in this day. We are peculiarly associated; teaching the juveniles. the young men, and the young women, and the sisters to look after the wants of the poor, the sick, and also to look after the happiness of those they are associated with; it is a great thing to be able to do good, and I have brought along a book here, it is called “The Law of the Lord,” and I will have Bro. Nuttall read a little from this book.19 Joseph Smith organized the Relief society in Nauvoo.
Brother L. John Nuttall then read from the “Law of the Lord” concerning the orgnization of the Relief Society, in the Lodge Room, Nauvoo, March 17, 1842, when Mrs. Emma Smith was appointed President, Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Sarah M. Cleveland, her Counselors.20
After Brother N. had finished reading Pres. Taylor made explanatory remarks concerning the organization and the powers and duties it gave to woman. He stated that Emma Smith had been previously ordained to expound the Scriptures, probably by the Prophet Joseph himself, but he did not know, however he (President Taylor) said he was present at that time and was called upon by Joseph to ordain Sisters Whitney and Cleveland, Emma’s counselors.21 Prest. Taylor gave much more instruction to the sisters, and closed his remarks by saying, God bless the children and God bless the sisters with Sister Snow at their head. Mrs. M. I. Horne moved, and Mrs. S. M. Kimball seconded the motion that President Taylor publicly appoint “Sister Eliza” as president of all the Relief Societies. Prest. Taylor stated that Sister Eliza had been secretary of the first organization of Relief Society in Nauvoo. Prest. Taylor then nominated her and she was sustained as president. Sister Eliza then chose Sisters Zina D. Young and Elizabeth Ann Whitney as her counselors, who were then nominated by President Taylor and sustained by the conference; also Sarah M. Kimball as secretary and M. Isabella Horne as treasurer. These sisters form a central organization for all the Relief Societies of all the Stakes of Zion. The children’s conference was then adjourned for three months. Sung “Lord dismiss us with thy blessing.” Benediction by Prest. Angus M. Cannon.
Saturday afternoon, June 19. The conference of the Y.L.M.I. Associations of the Salt Lake Stake convened. Mrs. M. A. [Mary Ann] Freeze presiding. the remainder of the minutes of this interesting conference will be given in the July 15 number, as we have not space. However, we must notice the appointment of a Territorial Central Committee for the Y.L.M.I.A. On nomination of Mrs. Eliza R. Snow Smith, Mrs. E. S. Taylor was sustained as president of a central committee, and Mrs. Maggie Y. Taylor and Miss Mattie J. Horne [Martha Jane Horne Tingey] as her counselors; Miss Louie Wells, secretary, and Mrs. Fannie Y. Thatcher, treasurer.22 We regret exceedingly not being able to publish full particulars of this important conference.
E. B. W.