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Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

The previous question was then put— Shall  this Society be call’d The Female Relief Society  of Nauvoo?— carried unanimously.—
Prest. J. Smith— I now declare this Society  organiz’d with President and Counsellors &c. according  to Parliamentary usages— and all who shall hereafter  be admitted into this Society must be free from censure  and receiv’d by vote—
Prest. J. Smith offered— $5.00  in gold piece to commence the funds of the Institution.
Prest. Emma Smith requested that the gentlemen  withdraw before they proceed to the choice of Secretary  and Treasurer, as was mov’d by Prest. J. Smith—
The gentlemen withdrew when it was  Motioned and second. and unanimously pass’d  that Eliza R. Snow be appointed Secretary, and  Phebe M. Wheeler, Assistant Secretary—
Motioned, second. and carried unanimly.  that Elvira A. Coles be appointed Treasurer—
Prest. E. Smith then arose and proceeded  to make appropriate remarks on the object of the  Society— its duties to others also its relative duties to each  other Viz. to seek out and relieve the distressed— that  each member should be ambitious to do good— that  the members should deal frankly with each other—  to watch over the morals— and be very careful <of> the character  and reputation— of the members of the Institution &c.
P. A. Hawkes— Question— What shall we  reply to interrogatories relative to the object of this Society?
Prest. E. Smith replied— for charitable purposes. [p. 13]
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On 17 March 1842, JS first formally organized Latter-day Saint women in a group with distinct responsibilities and authority. At JS’s invitation, twenty women assembled in the large room above his dry goods store in Nauvoo, Illinois, to be organized, as one woman recalled his description, “under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood” (Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-biography,” Woman’s Exponent, 1 Sept. 1883, 51). Priesthood quorums—units of men assembled according to priesthood office and usually headed by a president and two counselors—had been organized previously. The women assembled on 17 March elected JS’s wife Emma Hale Smith president, and she selected two counselors; a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles ordained or set apart the three-member presidency to their new callings or offices. These were the first ecclesiastical positions in the church for women.
The name the women selected for their institution, the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, paralleled that of contemporaneous women’s benevolent societies in the United States. Two or three weeks prior to the 17 March meeting, a group of Nauvoo women had met to form a “ladies society” to sew shirts for temple workmen, an effort probably informed by the broader benevolent movement. When JS invited these women to be organized as part of the church structure, they abandoned their plans for an independent society with a constitution and bylaws. JS told them at the initial meeting, “The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon—your Constitution and law” (Minutes, 17 Mar. 1842). This record of Relief Society “organization and proceedings” includes minutes for seventeen meetings in 1842, thirteen in 1843, and four in 1844. By the last recorded meeting in March 1844, a total of 1,331 women had enrolled as members, most of them joining the first year (Maureen C. Ward, “‘This Institution Is a Good One’: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 17 March 1842 to 16 March 1844,” Mormon Historical Studies 3 [Fall 2002]: 87–203).
JS attended nine Relief Society meetings in 1842 and addressed six of them. These minutes document his instructions regarding women’s new responsibilities, authority, and forthcoming temple blessings—the only record of teachings JS directed specifically to women. The minutes detail donations for and visits with the poor, contributions for temple construction, and women’s efforts at moral reform and civic activism. Discussions reported in this record refer explicitly or implicitly to tensions mounting in Nauvoo over JS’s political influence and threatened extradition to Missouri, the defection of prominent church and civic leader John C. Bennett, and the tumult surrounding the introduction of plural marriage. The record of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo ends on 16 March 1844; a decade passed before Relief Society meetings resumed in the Salt Lake Valley.

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