43990868

Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

The 2d Epistle of John, 1st verse, was then read to  show that respect was then had to the same thing; and that  why she was called an Elect lady is because, elected to  preside.
Elder Taylor was then appointed to ordain the  Counsellors— he laid his hands on the head of Mrs  Cleveland and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to the  Elect Lady, even Mrs. Emma Smith, to counsel, and  assist her in all things pertaining to her office &c.
Elder T. then laid his hands on the head of Mrs.  Whitney and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to Mrs.  Smith, the Prest. of the Institution— with all the  privileges pertaining to the office &c.
He then laid his hands on the head of Mrs.  Smith and blessed her, and confirm’d upon her  all the blessings which have been confer’d on her, that  she might be a mother in Israel and look to the wants  of the needy, and be a pattern of virtue; and possess  all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and  preside and dignify her Office, to teach the females  those principles requisite for their future usefulness.
Prest. Smith then resumed his remarks and  gave instruction how to govern themselves in their  meetings— when one wishes to speak, address  the chair— and the chairman responds to the address.
Should two speak at once, the Chair shall decide  who speaks first, if any one is dissatisfied, she appeals  to the house—
When one has the floor, occupies as long as she  pleases.
Proper manner of address is Mrs. Chairman [p. 9]
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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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