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In March 1842, work was progressing on the construction of the

Nauvoo Temple, but the men providing the labor were in need of
shirts. A group of women seeking to provide relief for their needs
presented a petition to the prophet, Joseph Smith, to formally organize
a ladies’ society for this purpose. So, on March 17th, Joseph Smith,
along with Elders John Taylor and Willard Richards met with twenty
women in the local Masonic Hall to formally organize the Relief Society
of Nauvoo. The object of the society, according to Joseph, would be:

• To have the sisters provoke the brethren to good works

• To look to the wants of the poor
• To search after objects of charity
• To administer to their wants
• To assist in correcting and strengthening the morals and virtues
of the community.

Essentially, Joseph was telling them to be good wives, good friends,

good neighbors and good examples; to pay attention to those in their
community who were in need and to help them. These purposes still
apply to us today.

During the past 159 years, the Relief Society has grown and evolved
from its humble beginnings with 20 faithful sisters in a borrowed hall in
a small, Illinois town to a worldwide organization consisting of millions
of members.

The evolution of the Relief Society, and the legacy of the women who
fueled it, is the topic of our program this evening. We hope to provide
you with a greater knowledge of the kind of women who founded and
nurtured this Society and to leave you feeling a stronger sense of the
sisterhood we share with them. Since its beginning, 13 women have
served as the General President of the Relief Society. Were they
ordinary women? Yes. Were they great women? Yes. But they were
extraordinarily great in the service they performed in their Heavenly
Father’s kingdom here on earth.

How do you want to be remembered by those who will attend this

birthday celebration a hundred years from now? If you don’t already
know the answer to that question, I hope you will by the end of this

We’ll begin in July 1830. The prophet, Joseph Smith, had just received
a revelation in which the Lord called Emma Smith, Joseph’s wife, “an
elect lady.” Twelve years later, Joseph read this revelation, which is
now the 25th section of the D&C, to the men and women gathered to
organize the Relief Society. Joseph explained that Emma had been
called an “elect lady” because she would be elected to preside as the
first president of the Relief Society.

After the women elected Emma, at the age of 37, to serve as their
president, Elder John Taylor ordained and set her apart along with her
counselors. In her blessing, Emma was counseled to be a “pattern of
virtue and possess all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and
preside and dignify her office”. Elder Taylor then suggested that they
name their new organization The Nauvoo Female Benevolent

Emma Hale Smith (1842-1844)

Emma: I objected to the word “benevolent”. To me, it was too closely

associated with some of the corrupt organizations in our town. I did
not want our society to follow the popular institutions of our day. We
were going to set our own course! We were going to do something
extraordinary. We expected extraordinary occasions and pressing
calls! Our duty was to seek out the distressed and to relieve them.
We were to be women ambitious to do good. I thought that our
organization should be called simply The Female Relief Society of
Nauvoo. And so it was.

We had so much work to do assisting the poor, welcoming new

members into the area, and taking care of the sick, not to mention
contending with all of the anti-Mormon persecution. By the summer of
1842, we had so many members that no building in Nauvoo could
accommodate us. We began to meet outside in the grove near the
temple site. Because we were meeting outdoors, we were unable to
meet together during the winter, but we continued to help and serve
each other as best we could. In fact, we organized a “necessity
committee” which was the forerunner to your modern day “visiting
teaching” program.

By June 1843, the Church had so many members that we had to divide
into 4 wards. I suggested that we also divide the Relief Society into
separate ward groups while maintaining just the one set of officers.
We appointed 4 women in each ward to constitute the “necessity
committees”, their job being to search out and assist those in their
wards who were poor and suffering. We held our meetings, most of the
time, in member’s homes, but soon, even these could not
accommodate our growing numbers. I wanted to be able to have all

the sisters gathered together again under one roof. We started trying
to find a building large enough, but little did we know, that soon
enough we would no longer have a need for one.

Narrator: Emma was the first compassionate service coordinator

because, by nature, she was a very compassionate woman and she
labored tirelessly to serve those in need.

At the time of their last recorded meeting on March 16, 1844, the
membership in the R.S. had grown to over 1,300. But throughout the
following months, the escalating turmoil and persecution of the Saints
led not only to the martyrdom of the Prophet, but to their eventual
expulsion from Illinois. For nearly twenty years, the Relief Society
ceased to function as a formal organization.

After the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake valley, several informal relief
societies operated with the function of providing friendship and aid to
the local Indian populations and to supporting the members of the
newly arriving handcart companies.

Finally, in 1866, President Brigham Young initiated the Churchwide

reorganization of the Relief Society. He appointed Eliza R. Snow to
help the bishops establish the R. S. in every ward. When the R.S. was
still in its infancy, Emma’s role as president consisted mainly of
compassionate service work among the Saints. But when Eliza took
the position, she began to develop and diversify its duties to
encompass all of what is now associated with a Relief Society

Eliza Roxey Snow (1866-1887)

Eliza: Although I became the acting R.S. president in 1866, I was not
formally called and set apart until fourteen years later. For most of my
life I had been known primarily for my work as a poet. I wrote many
poems and prose that became some of our Hymns. I even wrote and
published a poem for two of our former U.S. presidents, John Adams
and Thomas Jefferson, when they died on July 4, 1826. Although I
received quite a bit of recognition for this piece, I didn’t write it to
become famous. I wrote it because I was born a patriot. I love my
country and the flag that represents it. I am grateful that my
ancestors fought valiantly for our freedom.

When I became the R.S. president at the age of 76, I began the
arduous task of visiting all of the sisters in over 300 wards across both
Utah and Idaho. My board members and I told the sisters about the
original Relief Society in Nauvoo, and bore our testimonies of Joseph
Smith as a prophet of God. But this constant traveling became so

inefficient as a means of training the sisters that in 1877, we began to
appoint Stake Relief Society presidents and boards.

When the Church began to urge our members to move towards

becoming more economically self-sufficient, a number of bold and
exciting enterprises began to emerge.

During the U.S. Centennial Celebration of 1876, I was responsible

for collecting handmade items from the sisters and displaying them
at an exposition to be held in both in Philadelphia and Salt Lake. This
fair opened July 4th and ran for 2 months. When it closed, I realized
that this was an opportunity for us to sell these items for a profit. We
started the Women’s Commission Store, which became a very
prosperous business.

We also established a grain storage program and even helped

finance the medical training of midwives and female medical
doctors. With the support of the local wards, our R.S. board was even
able to establish our own hospital, which we named The Deseret.

We continued to be politically active as well. We encouraged

women to vote and actively campaigned for women’s suffrage.

We also felt that our teenage daughters and younger children should
be organized and supported in their respective endeavors so we began
the Young Women’s organization and the Primary.

My mother once said to me, “Let your first business be to perform

your duties at home. Inasmuch as you are wise steward, you will
find time for social duties, because these are incumbent upon us as
daughters and mothers in Zion. By seeking to perform every duty, you
will find that your capacity will increase, and you will be astonished
at what you can accomplish.”

I know there are many sisters here whose labors are not known beyond
your own homes and are, perhaps, not even appreciated there. But
what difference does it make? If your labors are acceptable to God,
however simple they are, if they are faithfully performed, you should
never be discouraged.

Narrator: When Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred
in 1844, Eliza was so overwhelmed with grief that she was unable to
eat or sleep and even pled with the Lord to let her die also. One night,
as she lay in bed, Joseph appeared to her and told her that although
his mission on earth was complete, hers was not—the Lord desired
her to live and to help build up His kingdom. She was to be of good
cheer and help lighten the burdens of others.

Eliza possessed special gifts of the spirit, and many individuals

recorded blessings she had given them that resulted in healings and
prophecies concerning their future potential. One historian wrote that
Eliza’s image took on a special holiness and the kind of mysterious
aura that surrounds the sacred ordinances of the temple.

One of the highlights of Eliza’s life was accompanying President

George A. Smith to the Holy Land in 1872, when he rededicated the
land for the return of the Jews. There she basked in the spirit of the
Savior as they visited many of the places where he had lived and
ministered. Eliza was once quoted as saying, “To be able to do
Father’s will is what I wish to live for.”

Eliza R. Snow indeed lived to become a legend in her own time.

Women, now as then, honor her as a great woman, but to the
practical Eliza, “greatness” was simply “usefulness”.

An organizer of rare ability, Eliza even tended to the details of her own
funeral with the same energy and strength of purpose as she had
tended to countless R.S. projects during her 21 years as president. At
her funeral, she asked that the choir sing her masterpiece “O My
Father” which speaks of returning to live with our heavenly parents.
She also requested that the Assembly Hall be draped in white and filled
with white flowers. She wanted no black, only white, …the symbol of

Zina D.H. Young (1888-1901)

Narrator: After Eliza’s death in Dec. 1887, her 1st Counselor, Zina
D.H. Young became the 3rd R.S. President, at the age of 66. Zina had
been a valiant leader and had served as the consummate educational

Zina had been baptized, at the age of 14, by Hyrum Smith, and soon
after began to realize her own potential in the gospel.

Zina: Not long after I was baptized, the gift of tongues rested upon
me with overwhelming force. I was somewhat alarmed at this strange
manifestation, and so I tried to not use it. However, I soon discovered
that because of this, the gift left me entirely, and I felt that I had
offended the Holy Spirit by which I had been so richly blessed.

I suffered a great deal in my feelings over this matter. One day, as I

was taking a walk in a nearby meadow, I thought about my blessing
and how I had turned away the Spirit. I knelt down and offered up a
prayer to God and told Him if He could forgive my transgression, and
give me back my gift, I would promise never to hold it back again, no
matter where or when I felt its prompting.

I have kept this promise, but it has been a heavy cross to bear at
times, for I know that this gift is the least of all of the spiritual gifts,
and it is often misunderstood and even treated lightly by those who
don’t understand it. Yet it is a gift of God, and I have been blessed to
have the opportunity to use it often, especially in the company of
Sister Eliza Snow, who had the gift of speaking in tongues. I have
taken great pleasure in using the Spirit to interpret many of her hymns
and sacred songs.

In my patriarchal blessing, I was also promised that I would be blessed

with other gifts as well. I was promised that I would witness the
ministering of angels which did occur later in the Kirtland Temple. My
sister and I were on our knees praying, along with the whole
congregation, when suddenly we heard, from one corner of the room
above our heads, a choir of angels singing. They were invisible to us,
but a myriad of angelic voices seemed to be united in singing some
song of Zion, and their sweet harmony filled the temple of God.

Narrator: Sister Zina was known for the love and sympathy she
expressed so freely to those around her. People were drawn to her
tender manner, and she became known affectionately as “Aunt Zina”.

Her tenderness, though, never undermined her strength and resolve to
carry forth her duties as a mother in Zion.

In March 1846, just a few weeks after leaving Nauvoo with the first
company of Saints, Zina had been traveling one morning for about 5
miles when she suddenly called for a halt in their march. There on the
banks of the Chariton River, she gave birth to her son, Henry. When
the wagons began to move on, she again joined in the march although
she had to stop occasionally to catch her breath.

Her husband was in England at the time, on a mission for the Church.
Unfortunately, after serving this mission, he settled in California and
they were never reunited again as husband and wife. When the Saints
began their westward trek, Zina was sealed to Brigham Young and
came under his wing of security.

Zina: Shortly after we arrived in Salt Lake, Brigham suggested that I

should take a 2 week course in obstetrics from a doctor who was
visiting our area. I did so, and soon after I commenced in delivering
the babies of Brigham’s wives and other women. I even made my own
medicinal home remedies, my favorite of which was an ointment I used
for treating lower back strains and rheumatism. You take 4 good-sized
live toads and put them in boiling water and cook them until they are
very soft. Take them out; boil the water down to ½ pint and add 1
pound of fresh butter. Simmer and then add 2 oz. tincture arnica.

Narrator: Zina went on to establish the Deseret Hospital, started a

nursing school and a school of obstetrics.

During her administration, the Relief Society’s economic and political

activities continued. They affiliated themselves with the National
Woman Suffrage Association and the International Council of
Women. They became a charter member of the National Council of
Women and, became incorporated in October 1892 as the National
Woman's Relief Society.

And as if acting as a political activist and delivering most of the babies

in Salt Lake didn’t keep her busy enough, Zina also became a
successful captain of industry. Because it would take over 10 years to
establish an adequate cotton supply to produce the cloth they needed
for clothing, Zina became adept in teaching the women the art of
raising silkworms from eggs in order to harvest the silk for cloth. She
started the Deseret Silk Assoc. in 1876 and served as its president for
over 20 years.

Zina: I abhorred silkworms. They were a “terror”. I became plagued

with nightmares about feeding the worms, but somehow I endured. I
fed millions of them myself, and watched our silk industry enjoy 25
years of success.

Narrator: As politically and economically involved as the R.S. was in
the western United States, these activities never displaced its primary
concern for spiritually nurturing the members and caring for the poor.
While Zina was serving as first counselor under Eliza Snow, they
traveled thousands of miles by wagon and carriage to visit wards
throughout the territory. Frequently on these trips, these two women
would have to make unscheduled stops to repair wagon wheels or to
fix a broken buggy tongue, and often found themselves camping out
under the stars at night. Remember that by this time, Zina, was
around 60 years old and Eliza was in her mid 70’s.

When the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated in 1893, the first presidency
called Zina to serve as the temple matron, in addition to her duties
as the general Relief Society president. She served faithfully in
both callings for the last 8 years of her life.

Fittingly, her gravestone is now inscribed with the Relief Society motto,
“Charity never faileth”.

Zina: I know this is the Church and Kingdom of God, and I have
rejoiced in putting my testimony before you daughters of Zion, that
your faith may be strengthened, and that the good work of the gospel
might roll on. Seek for your testimony, as you would, my dear sisters,
for a diamond concealed. If someone told you that by digging long
enough in a certain spot you would find a diamond of unmeasured
wealth, do you think you would begrudge one moment of your time or
one ounce of your strength, or one cent of your means spent to obtain
that treasure? If you will dig in the depths of your own hearts, you will
find, with the aid of the Spirit of the Lord, the pearl of great price, the
testimony of the truth of this work.

Bathsheba W. Smith (1901-1910)

Narrator: After Zina’s death, her 2nd Counselor, Bathsheba W. Smith,

became the 4th R.S. president at the age of 79. As much as Zina had
been the consummate 1st counselor for Eliza – contributing to the
education of the sisters, Bathsheba was her equal in the 2nd
counselor’s role as a Homemaking Leader.

Her strongest skills lay in spinning, weaving, sewing, and homemaking,

which sustained her in the various moves she made and the homes
she established. Her strongest character traits lay in her devotion to
her husband and family and in her diligence to make any place she
lived a home.

Bathsheba: At the age of 18, I was the youngest woman present at

the organization of the Relief Society, and later in my life I became the
last living survivor to have witnessed it. I joined the church when I was
15 years old after hearing some Latter-day Saint Elders preach in our
neighborhood. I believed what they taught. I believed the Book of
Mormon to be a divine record, and that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of
God. I knew by the spirit of the Lord, which I received in answer to
prayer, that these things were indeed true. One of the missionaries
was George A. Smith, the Prophet’s cousin. Three years later, we were
married, 14 days after he returned from serving a mission in England.

I was always a meticulous housekeeper, taking great pride in the

appearance of my home and myself. I grew up in a well-to-do family in
a beautiful home in West Virginia. When George and I moved into our
first house, on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, the roof leaked
and the chimney smoked and was otherwise uncomfortable. I moved 5
times that year, into homes that were shabby, at best.

When we moved to Nauvoo, we rented an unfurnished log home from

Bishop Knight. The windows did not have glass, so I had to hang
blankets in them to keep out the cold. George built a brick chimney
but soon we discovered that it smoked as well.

Recognizing our dilemma, the prophet gave us a small log home to live
in. My husband fixed up the house the best he could, but after all, it
was the worst looking house we had lived in yet. I was ashamed to
have any of my acquaintances see me in such a place. It did, however,
have the desirable qualities of neither smoking nor leaking.

In 1849 when we began our move from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake, I
employed all of the homemaking skills I possessed in an attempt to
make our wagon as accommodating as any home. We laid a frame
across the back part of our wagon on which we made our bed. We had
a door in one side of the wagon cover and a window on the opposite
side. A step-ladder was used to ascend to our door, which was
between the wheels, and on the inside, I hung a looking-glass and
candlesticks. In the center of our wagon, we had room for four chairs,
where we, and our two children, sat and rode when we chose. The
floor of our traveling house was carpeted, and we made ourselves as
comfortable as we could under the circumstances.

Narrator: Among her many abilities, Bathsheba made cotton cloth for
diapers, dresses, bedspreads, and mattresses. She made candles;
spun and wove tablecloths and towels; knit stockings, socks, hats,
scarves, mittens and encouraged the other sisters to become every bit
as self-sufficient as she was.

Building on her interest in home industry, the R.S. started holding

classes which taught lessons on marriage, prenatal care, child rearing,
industry, obedience, honesty and reverence. Thus their Home
Enrichment Meetings were born.

Under her direction, the general presidency and board published the
first R.S. handbook and established their official headquarters in Salt
Lake. Since they were housed in the same building as the YW, the
Primary, the presiding bishopric, and the church magazines, the
interdependence between priesthood and Relief Society leaders
became apparent. They began meeting together more regularly to
discuss their common concerns such as charity and community work.

Bathsheba believed that one of the most important things she could
do as president of the Relief Society was to serve in the temple. She
worked in the temples in Nauvoo, the Endowment House in Salt Lake,
the Manti and Logan temples and coordinated the women’s work at the
Salt Lake Temple until her death in 1910.

In her unfailing devotion to husband, family, and home, and her

dedication in teaching the sisters how to become more self-sufficient,
Bathsheba set a great example of the kind of wife, homemaker and
devoted daughter of Heavenly Father that we need to become.

Emmaline B. Wells (1910-1921)

After Bathsheba’s death, Emmaline B. Wells was called to serve as the

5th president of the Relief Society. At the age of 82, she became the
oldest woman to be chosen for that position. She was also the last
president to serve solely in the 20th century who had personally known
all 4 of the previous presidents.

Barely 5 feet tall and weighing only 100 pounds, her dynamic
personality provided a distinct contrast to her small size. A friend
related that “the dominant characteristic of Sister Well’s life was her
supreme will”. She was a great woman in a small package, but by
using her forceful will to perform her gospel duties, she made a
righteous impact on the building up of Zion.

The sisterhood of the women and their causes filled her 93 years. Her
life revolved around the women she loved and served. She knew there
was no excellence without labor. She taught her 5 daughters that a
woman’s mission upon the earth was not just to bear children,
although motherhood brought a zest and richness to life like nothing
else. But a woman’s usefulness didn’t end there, and other individual
interests needed to be nourished and developed.

Emmaline: In September 1876, Brigham Young asked me to direct a

project for the women involving the gathering and storing of wheat. I
accepted this responsibility and began asking women throughout the
territory to gather the wheat that was scattered along the fences and
ditch banks after the harvest. We donated this wheat to the poor and
loaned, or sold, several thousand bushels to farmers for spring

This wheat storage program became one of our most successful long-
term projects. As a result of our efforts, the grain storage program
eased the effects of the drought of 1898, helped survivors of the San
Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, and fed thousands of people
during WWI. At the end of the war in 1918, we sold over 100,000
bushels to the U.S. government for $412,000. President Woodrow
Wilson even thanked me personally for our assistance.

I had always been a fervent political activist, especially in pursuit of

women’s rights, so, as a writer, I began to publish my beliefs that “a
good Mormon is not silent; silence means consent.” I didn’t want just
the crumbs for women. I wanted the whole loaf of bread.

At 49, I became the editor of the Women’s Exponent, which was the
Church magazine for women, where I wrote hundreds of articles on
women’s issues. I became President of the Utah Women's
Suffrage Association and fought diligently for women’s rights and for
obtaining statehood for Utah. Many people thought it seemed peculiar
that two groups of women as different as Mormon plural wives from
Utah and feminist leaders from the East should become part of the
same women’s movement. But the fact is that each of us had
something the other group wanted, and we realized we could help
each other. We had the right to vote, which they wanted for all
women, and we believed, like they did, that legislation should not limit
women’s rights. So although they did not understand or condone
plural marriage, they did believe that we, as women, should have the
right to live it if we chose to do so.

Through my work with the women’s suffrage association, I became

good friends with Susan B. Anthony. She gave me a gold ring as a
symbol of the “sympathy of two great women for one great cause”.
In return, I gave her a dress, made of the finest Utah silk, for her 80th
birthday. It was our friendship, in large part, which helped to
encourage the relationship we enjoyed with the women involved in the
suffrage movement.

Narrator: Emmeline’s work as a writer and political activist
established her as an intellectual leader among the women in Utah.
On her 84th birthday, she was honored to become only the 2nd person
and 1st woman ever to receive an honorary doctorate degree of
Literature from BYU. Only 100 women nationally had ever received
an honorary degree from any university.

But it was Emmeline’s efforts in the R.S. that established her as a

spiritual leader.

Although she suffered from depression throughout most of her life,

the prose of her personal journals revealed her private suffering,
while the poetry of her life revealed her public strength. In 1917,
when she moved into the Hotel Utah in downtown Salt Lake, so that
she could work into the night in her R.S. office nearby, her life had
come full circle. 69 years before, on the site where the hotel now
stood, she had given birth in back of a covered wagon to her first
daughter, Isabel.

Amusingly, Emmeline attributed her vigor to the fact that she was born
on a leap-year day and only had a birthday every fourth year. When
President Heber J. Grant went to her home on April 2, 1921, and
released her as R.S. president after 11 years of service, she was

Though she was ill at the time, she had assumed that hers was a
lifetime calling. After all, she had fallen down an elevator shaft once
and had also been hit by a streetcar, both of which happened while she
was president, and on neither occasion had there been talk of a
release. However, after President Grant left that day, she suffered a
stroke on her way back upstairs.

She lay comatose for nearly 3 weeks before dying on April 25, 1921.
Her funeral was one of the largest ever held in the Tabernacle. On
April 29, flags flew at half-mast in Utah to commemorate her death –
the first time this had ever been done in honor of a woman.


The legacies left (point to the hall tree) by these women continue to
inspire those of us who follow in their paths.

Emma Smith was just an ordinary woman who expected extraordinary

occasions and pressing calls. Her greatness was revealed in her
compassionate service to the poor and the sick, and in visiting new
Church members and making them feel welcome.

Eliza R. Snow reminded us that usefulness is greatness. She

became a useful servant of God by developing her talents in industry
and in becoming self-sufficient. She used her literary talents and her
spiritual gifts to leave us her legacy in the beautiful poems and
hymns that she wrote.

Zina D.H.Young’s left us her legacy of greatness in her willingness to

serve where she was called, even when her duties were less than
desirable. She read and claimed the promises of her patriarchal
blessing, and used her own spiritual gifts to bless the lives of others.

Bathsheba Smith was an ordinary woman who worked at continually

developing her great homemaking skills and in teaching them to
others. She served faithfully in the temple doing the work for
those who could no longer work for themselves.

Emmeline Wells realized that each of us, as women, have a mission to

develop our own talents and spiritual gifts in becoming great women
in our own right. Tonight, we celebrate with her, our international
sisterhood as great women working together for great causes.

All of these women, like us, were just ordinary. But what made them
great was the faithful use of their God-given talents and spiritual
gifts to serve those around them to their fullest potential.

In whatever century we have lived, the underlying thread that unites

all of us is that we are all ordinary women with the capacity for
greatness. We are the Relief Society of the Lord’s church, and
though it has changed and grown through the years, we have always
exemplified our motto, that "Charity Never Faileth" for as Moroni
wrote, "charity is the pure love of Christ, which endureth

May our legacies endure, like those of our sisters who have gone
before, and may we exemplify the pure love of Christ in the
service we provide to each other is my prayer, in the name of Jesus
Christ, Amen.