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Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

were not going right in laying hands on the sick &c. Said if he  had common sympathies, would rejoice that the sick could  be heal’d, that the time had not been before, that these things  could be in their proper order— that the church is not now  organiz’d in its proper order, and cannot be until the Temple  is completed— Prest. Smith continued the subject  by adverting to the commission given to the ancient apostles  “Go ye into all the world” &c.— no matter who believeth; these  signs, such as healing the sick, casting out devils &c. should  follow all that believe whether male or female. He ask’d  the Society if they could not see by this sweeping stroke, that  wherein they are ordained, it is the privilege of those set apart to  administer in that authority which is confer’d on them— and if  the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold  their tongues, and let every thing roll on.
He said, if God has appointed him, and chosen him  as an instrument to lead the church, why not let him lead it  through? Why stand in the way, when he is appointed to do a  thing? Who knows the mind of God? Does he not reveal  things differently from what we expect? He remark’d that  he was continually rising— altho’ he had every thing bearing him  down,— standing in his way and opposing— after all he always comes  out right in the end.
Respecting the female laying on hands, he  further remark’d, there could be no devils in it if God gave  his sanction by healing— that there could be no more sin in any  female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with  water— that it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith, or  if the sick has faith to be heal’d by the administration.
He reprov’d those that were dispos’d to find fault  with the management of concerns— saying if he undertook to lead  the church he would lead it right— that he calculates to organize  the church in proper order &c. [p. 36]
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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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