Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book

16 March 1844 • Saturday

Minutes of Preceedings of Second
Meeting of the Society 1844
Room over Brick Store March 16th
10 oclock A.M
Meeting opend with singing.
Prayer by Prest Emma Smith.
Mrs Prest— then arose and address’d the  meeting upon the Nec[es]sity of being united  amoung ourselves and Strenthing [strengthening] each others  hands in ordor that we may be able to do much  good amoung the poor— again read  the Epistle in defence of the virtues Female  part of the community of Nauvoo  exhorted them to cleanse thier hearts and Ears  and said the time had come when we must  throw throw the mantle of charity round to  shield those who will repent and do so no more  Spoke of J. C. Bennets [John C. Bennett’s] Spiritual Wife system,  theot [that?] some taught it as the doctrine of  B Joseph— She advised all to abide the  Book of Mormon— dr Coven’ts [Doctrine and Covenants] &c then read  that Epistle of President J. Smiths; rewritten in  this Book of Record— Meeting then closed  to reopen— 12 Oclock—
One Oclock meeting calld to order  Pres Emma Smith again addressed the Society  read Boath the former Epistles;— desired none  should lift their hand or voice; to adopt the  princples unless they where willing to maintain  their integrity through time & Etirnity  Said thease contain the princples, the Society  started upon; but was sorry to have to say [p. 125]
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.