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Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

the idle speech of our enemies— we design to act in the name  of the Lord— to relieve the wants of the distressed, and do all  the good we can.—
Eliza R. Snow arose and said that she felt to concur  with the President, with regard to the word Benevolent, that  many Societies with which it had been associated, were corrupt,—  that the popular Institutions of the day should not be our guide — that as daughters of Zion, we should set an example for  all the world, rather than confine ourselves to the course  which had been heretofore pursued— one objection to the  word Relief, is that the idea associated with it is that of  some great calamity— that we intend appropriating on some  extraordinary occasions instead of meeting the common  occurrences—
Prest. Emma Smith remark’d— we are going  to do something extraordinary— when a boat is stuck  on the rapids with a multitude of Mormons on board  we shall consider that a loud call for relief— we expect  extraordinary occasions and pressing calls—
Elder Taylor arose and said— I shall have to concede  the point— your arguments are so potent I cannot stand  before them— I shall have to give way—
Prest. J. S. said I also shall have to concede the point,  all I shall have to give to the poor, I shall give to this  Society—
Counsellor Whitney mov’d, that this Society be  call’d The Nauvoo Female Relief Society— second. by  Counsellor Cleveland—
E. R. Snow offer’d an amendment by way  of transposition of words, instead of The Nauvoo Female  Relief Society, it shall be call’d The Female Relief Society  of Nauvoo— Seconded by Prest. J. Smith and carried— [p. 12]
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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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