Minute Book offers look into early days of Relief Society

By Jan Tolman

For Mormon Times

Published: Tuesday, March 8 2011 6:30 a.m. MST

Editor's note: Second in a series

When LDS women gathered together in Nauvoo, Ill., Eliza R. Snow, as secretary, began taking notes of all of the meetings. Dr. Willard Richards gave Eliza a book, to record in, and she titled it the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo Minute Book.

In this book, we can read Eliza’s interpretation of everything discussed, learned and accomplished as this group of women, known as the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, set off on a new adventure.

Eliza wrote an article, for the Woman’s Exponent, with this explanation:

"According to authentic testimony, an organization of which the present Female Relief Society is a fac-simile, has always existed when the church of Jesus Christ has been fully organized. 'Elect lady,' as it occurs in the New Testament, has direct reference to the same — alluding to one who presided over this Institution. See 2d epistle of John, 1st verse.

"The first organization of this Society, in the present dispensation, was effected on the 17th of March, 1842, by Joseph Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, assisted by other prominent Elders. His apology for deferring the organization till that period, was the great pressure of duties, labors and responsibilities, which devolved upon him. By his suggestion a meeting was appointed limited number invited."

Joseph called this first meeting and set up the organization. He would attend seven other meetings. The women understood that God had a plan for them, and they were prepared to fulfill that plan with all of their might, mind and heart.

Immediately, the women took charge by naming themselves, voting upon their leadership, discussing the needs of their fellow sisters and collecting money for the poor.

The Prophet and Bishop Newel K. Whitney came to those early meetings and spoke to the women, teaching new ideas. The men taught the women that the temple would offer them so much more than the world could. It was of utmost importance to be worthy, righteous and humble.

Those women, who were in attendance, hearing and knowing Joseph personally, would be the sisters called upon to carry out the work of Relief Society in the Salt Lake Valley. Eliza, using the Minute Book, was able to reorganize the Relief Society, using this book as the constitution; the purpose of the Relief Society remained intact. It was those women who heard Joseph’s passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. From the words and messages left behind, the women continued that passion through their work in the Relief Society.

Emma laid out the objectives of the Society: to relieve the distressed; each member should be ambitious to do good; members should deal frankly with one another; and to watch over the morals and be very careful of the character and reputation of the members.

“Every member should be held in full fellowship — all jealousy and evil feelings toward one another should be done away," she said.

We are familiar with some of the statements spoken in those meetings in Nauvoo. They have been quoted often to inspire us and remind us how holy the purpose of the Relief Society is. As you read the following statements, try to imagine the energy coming from that small group of faithful sisters.

“This society is not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls." — Joseph Smith

“The nearer we get to our Heavenly Father, the more we are disposed to look with compassion on perishing souls; we feel that we want to take them upon our shoulders, and cast their sins behind our backs." — Joseph Smith

”We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction, that we may all sit down in heaven together.” — Lucy Mack Smith

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