A quick pop quiz:
1. What is the emblem of the Relief Society?
2. Why is the symbol of wheat on the Relief Society seal?
3. Why is there a torch on the Relief Society seal?
4. What are the official colors of the Relief Society?
5. What is the Relief Society motto?
6. What is the significance of the “key” as mentioned by Joseph Smith?
With an official Relief Society history promised by Sister Julie B. Beck, Relief Society general president, to be out sometime this year, the presentation on “Symbols of the Relief Society” by Connie Lamb, BYU librarian, at this year’s Mormon History Association conference on Friday morning was timely.
Lamb first outlined how the very name of the Relief Society has changed:
1842: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo
1866: Female Relief Society
1872: Relief Society
1891: National Women’s Relief Society
1945: Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
And the quiz above illustrates how most LDS members know little about the symbols. Many Relief Society sisters could likely answer that the organization's motto is “Charity Never Faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8) and maybe could answer that the colors of the Relief Society are blue and gold, but many would not know that the emblem of the Relief Society is the sego lily, because, as Lamb explained, it honors the early pioneers who had to eat the bulb of the flower to keep from starving and so symbolizes “a source of life, faith of the early Saints, beauty, chastity and the mercy of God.”
Looking closely at the current Relief Society seal, one notices both a small torch at the bottom and sheaves of wheat encircling the “RS.” The torch, as described by Lamb emphasizes “the knowledge from heaven referred to by Joseph Smith that would pour down on the organization.” The wheat, similar to the sego lily, hearkens back to the pioneer tradition. Lamb explains that Brigham Young asked Emmeline B. Wells in 1876 to encourage the sisters to “save grain.” This tradition of gleaning wheat and earning money for wheat would continue for decades afterwards. The wheat collected was used to feed the poor, given to farmers to grow, and ground into flour for those affected by natural disasters.
Lamb explains, “(Wheat is) an appropriate symbol for the Relief Society not only because of its association with assisting the poor and growth in intellect and spirit, but also as a reminder of the bread of life, the Savior of our salvation.”
Finally, the key has long been associated with the Relief Society. Lamb concludes, “In 1945, President George Albert Smith explained the significance of Joseph Smith’s statement about the key: ‘When the prophet Joseph Smith turned the key for the emancipation of womankind, it was turned for all the world. And from generation to generation the number of women who can enjoy the blessings of religious liberty and civil liberty has been increasing.’ The purposes of Relief Society demonstrate this truth, as sisters have learned, through the light of the gospel, used their time and talents for charity, and assisted each other in saving souls. The symbols of Relief Society including the key, the motto, the sego lily, wheat, and the torch are visual representations of what the organization stands for in its unity, righteous living and charitable work.”