Three months after Eliza R. Snow was set apart as president of all the Relief Societies of the church,1 the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles composed a circular letter to all priesthood leaders and members of the church on a variety of subjects, including the Relief Society. The portions of this letter having to do with the Relief Society gave important insight into the current thinking on how Relief Society officers should work in connection with local church priesthood leaders and on female church members administering to the sick, reflecting earlier teachings from Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.2
The excerpt of the letter below is taken from a thirteen-page handwritten draft located at the Church History Library. The circular might never have been distributed.3
Salt Lake City, U. T.
October 6th, 1880.
To all the authorities of the Priesthood, and Latter-day Saints upon the land of Zion, Greeting.
In the Circular of the First Presidency, published July 11th, 1877, will be found nearly all the great fundamental principles, necessary to the organization and government of the Stakes of Zion.4 Yet as time passes and the settlements enlarge, and the inhabitants of Zion spread forth into other territories, new circumstances arise, calling for still further counsel from the general authorities. … [p. ] …5
Relief Societies have been established in all the Stakes of Zion, according to the pattern originally given by the revelations of the Spirit. These societies are organized among the ladies of Zion,—that they, as well as their brothers, husbands, and fathers, may have a wide and extensive field of usefulness opened before them. The beneficial results, of this benevolent institution, have been most signally manifest, in the laying up of grain against a time of scarcity:6 some thirty-four thousand bushels of wheat have thus been secured and preserved, which (in consequence of the greatly diminished crops of the preceding year) have proved of incalculable benefit to the industrious poor, in furnishing seed-grain for the present season.7 These charitable institutions, established in every Stake of Zion, if properly conducted, will comfort the poor, alleviate much suffering, administer consolation and needed help to the widow, the orphan, the sick, the infirm, and the aged.
The general officers of the Society, (who should be experienced ladies,) should travel, more or less, among the Stakes of Zion, organizing new branches of the Society, and instructing those already organized. When visiting any Stake, for this purpose, they should first consult with the President of the Stake and Bishop of the Ward, and by their approbation [p. ] and counsel, appoint meetings. All officers selected and appointed in any branch society, should be sanctioned by the majority vote of the ladies present. All ladies selected as presidents, should be blessed and set apart, by the President of the Stake, or by the Bishop of the Ward, wherein the branch society is organized. In blessing and setting apart ladies to perform certain duties in Zion, they should not be ordained to any office in the Priesthood; but they may be appointed as Helps, and Assistants, and Presidents, among their own sex, to instruct, to exhort, to strengthen, and to build up a holy people unto the Lord. In these important duties, God hath given them power; and he will be with them, and greatly bless them, and give them an honorable name which shall not be blotted out,8 but shall remain for ever
The Sick and Afflicted.
It is the privilege of all faithful women and lay members of the Church, who believe in Christ, to administer to all the sick or afflicted in their respective families, either by the laying on of hands, or by the anointing with oil in the name of the Lord: but they should administer in these sacred ordinances, not by virtue and authority of the priesthood, but by virtue of their faith in Christ, and the promises made to believers: and thus they should do in all their ministrations.9 [p. ] …