43990868

Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

or President and not Mr. Chairman &c.
A question can never be put until it has a second
When the subject for discussion has been fairly  investigated; the Chairman will say, are you ready for the  question? &c.
Whatever the majority of the house decide upon  becomes a law to the Society.
Prest. Smith proceeded to give counsel— do not  injure the character of any one— if members of the Society  shall conduct improperly, deal with them, and keep all  your doings within your own bosoms, and hold all characters  sacred—
It was then propos’d that Elder Taylor vacate the  chair.
Prest. Emma Smith and her Counsellors took the  chair, and
Elder Taylor mov’d— secd by Prest. J. Smith  that we go into an investigation respecting what this Society  shall be call’d— which was  carried unanimously
Prest. Smith continued instructions to the Chair to  suggest to the members anything the chair might wish, and  which it might not be proper for the chair to put, or move &c.
Mov’d by Counsellor Cleveland, and secon’d  by Counsellor Whitney, that this Society be called  The Nauvoo Female Relief Society.
Elder Taylor offered an amendment, that it  be called The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society  which would give a more definite and extended idea  of the Institution— that Relief be struck out and  Benevolent inserted.
Prest. Smith offer’d instruction on votes— [p. 10]
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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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