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

“God is looking down upon you, the angels are recording your secret acts. … Let us pray daily, and try to become more refined and visionary and bring up our children to be polite and refined, that they may be useful monuments to society. Endeavor to make home happy, keep your children from various company; and while you study to dress them neatly, do not neglect to adorn them much with those principles which will tend to elevate and ennoble them, and prepare them for future usefulness in the kingdom of our God." — Eliza R. Snow

“In the beginning, God created man, male and female, and bestow’d upon man certain blessings peculiar to a man of God, of which woman partook, so that without the female all things cannot be restor’d to the earth. It takes all to restore the Priesthood.” — Newel K. Whitney

“God was well pleased with this Society. If we were humble and faithful, the Lord would pour out upon the members … the gift of prophecy. That all sisters would have the Spirit." — Patty Sessions

“This Society shall have power to command Queens in their midst." — Joseph Smith

“This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God has established thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead — and I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time." — Joseph Smith

“Ye shall do the work which ye see me do. These are the grand key words for the Society to act from." — Joseph Smith

“Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand and watch over them with tenderness." — Joseph Smith

“The popular institutions of the day should not be our guide — that as daughters of Zion we should set an example for all the world." — Eliza R. Snow

“We can enjoy the privilege of associating together to converse on the things of the Kingdom, to comfort and edify each other while passing through this vale of tears." — Elizabeth Ann Whitney

Jan Tolman is a mother of six who enjoys spending time researching the history of Relief Society. For additional information on Relief Society, visit her blog at www.ldswomenofgod.com/blog.

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