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Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

contracted in their views. You must not be contracted, but  you must be liberal in your feelings.
Let this Society teach how to act towards husbands  to treat them with mildness and affection. When a man is  borne down with trouble— when he is perplex’d, if he can meet  a smile, an argument— if he can meet with mildness, it will  calm down his soul and soothe his feelings. When the mind  is going to despair, it needs a solace.
This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order  which God has established— thro’ the medium of those appointed  to lead— and I now turn the key to you in the name of God  and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence  shall flow down from this time— this is the beginning of  better days, to this Society
When you go home never give a cross  word, but let kindness, charity and love, crown your works  henceforward. Don’t envy sinners— have mercy on them.  God will destroy them.— Let your labors be confin’d most ly to those around you in your own circle; as far as knowledge  is concerned, it may extend to all the world, but your  administrations, should be confin’d to the circle of your  immediate acquaintance, and more especially to the  members of the Society.
Those ordain’d to lead the Society, are authoriz’d  to appoint to different offices as the circumstances shall  require.
If any have a matter to reveal, let it be in your  own tongue. Do not indulge too much in the gift  of tongues, or the devil will take advantage of the  innocent. You may speak in tongues for your comfort  but I lay this down for a rule that if any thing is [p. 40]
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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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