1 of 2
organization of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, depicted here in painting by Nadine Barton.

SALT LAKE CITY — A collection of 78 rarely seen documents that explores the largely unknown history of the founding and early development of the Relief Society has been published by the LDS Church and is on sale now.

"The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women's History," published by the Church Historian's Press, offers direct access to and analyzes primary historical documents from the beginning of what has become one of the world's largest women's organizations from 1842 to its 50th anniversary in 1892, including meeting minutes, sermons by women and men, annual reports, political petitions, poetry, letters and journal entries.

Those records illustrate the suspension of the Relief Society in 1844 and its resumption in the mid-1850s, the spiritual and ecclesiastical activities of 19th century Mormon women and how they worked, gave healing blessings, stored grain and fought for the right to vote.

The 800-page volume is the first book published by the Church Historian's Press outside of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, a comprehensive collection of all documents related to the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The new book, colloquially known to some as the Relief Society documents project, was more than a decade in the making. It was co-edited by Jill Mulvay Derr, a retired senior research historian for the Church History Department; Carol Cornwall Madsen, a professor emerita of history at BYU; Kate Holbrook, a specialist in women's history at the Church History Department; and Matthew Grow, the department's director of publications.

Mormon Newsroom posted a story about the new book on Friday.

"The First Fifty Years of Relief Society" retails for $49.95 and is available at Deseret Book stores or online through Deseret Book, Amazon and the church's official store, store.lds.org.