My kids are growing older and in a few years my youngest will be out of the house. I’ve been trying to figure out what I’m going to do with the next 40 years or so of my life. It’s no easy task. I have a lot of interest in many things, but I haven’t worked in the field of my degree for nearly 15 years now. I have interests in design and diplomacy, but I’m not really sure if I want to pursue those or not. The one thing I have steadily studied since high school is church history and doctrine, even through college and babies and moves and family difficulties. The University of Virginia set up a Chair for Mormon Studies, and I am starting to think maybe I’ll pursue a Masters Degree there. The hubs is also considering an MBA or Masters in Technology Management. Maybe we will take off a few years and be students for a while….
Anyway, I picked up a copy of The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, and I have been reading it and writing all over it. I’ve been following up on the footnotes and reading up on little tidbits that strike me as interesting, too. I’ve decided that I might blog about my observances to see if this is really something I’m interested in pursuing a Masters in or not. I’m not really interested in starting a dialogue, so comments will probably stay off, but I figure the writing practice might give me an indicator whether this pursuit is for me or not.
I’m going to record my observations regarding at least some of the first meetings of the Relief Society minutes to try getting my feet wet. Though I’ve blogged on and off for years, I don’t expect anyone to actually read this material but I do want to make some attempts at expressing my thoughts in writing.
Also I need to figure out how to do footnotes in WordPress……..
Observations on the minutes of the first meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo
A Record of the
Organization, and Proceedings of
The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.
Nauvoo Lodge Room
March 17th 1842.
The Lodge Room was located in Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store. This building was completed 1841 and had only recently opened for business on 5 Jan. 1842. It was a large assembly room used for both religious and civic purposes, such as theatrical productions and municipal court. In this room just two days earlier, on 15 March Joseph Smith had become a Master Mason (equivalent to a 33rd degree, see http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_masons.shtml). About six weeks later on 5 May, the a partial endowment — a precursor to the full temple ritual — was given to nine men. (See http://josephsmithpapers.org/place/store-jss-red-brick-store-nauvoo-illinois and http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Freemasonry_in_Nauvoo)
Occasionally critics decry and members are surprised by Masonry’s influence on Mormonism. While these influences definitely exist, they are often overstated. Joseph was probably not ever an active Mason is only known to have attended three meetings at the Masonic temple in Nauvoo. Though he had friends and family who were Masons like John C. Bennett, his father, brother Hyrum, Orson Whitney and others (See http://www.ldsendowment.org/masonry.html), Joseph chose to go through the ritual himself to become a Mason. Why? Had Joseph wished to lift the Masonic ritual for use in the temple, he could have pressed his relations for information, claimed it was “inspiration” from an “apostate endowment” in which he had never participated, and revealed such to his membership. Further, why the additional building requirement? The full Masonic rituals could be performed in his lodge. Why wait for a temple? And why include women? Joseph had never needed authority outside of God for starting his own church or writing his own book of scripture. Why did he now require the Masonic Lodge to be set up by local Masons? The arrogant, demagogue Joseph of critical literature would have just started his own Lodge, added some Josephisms, invited the women, and moved on. This didn’t happen, so again, why Masonry?
I surmise that Joseph had known for some time that temple ordinances were pending and was anxious to have them revealed. He had learned from Masonic friends and family that Masonry claimed linked to Solomon’s ancient temple, that Masonry united men in fraternities, and that powerful men outside of Mormonism were Masons. All of these, no doubt, combined to make Joseph interested in Masonry. His lack of interest in Masonic ceremonies thereafter might be supportive of the argument that Joseph believed that Masonry does actually have an apostate form of endowment — had he believed anything else (that the fraternization aspects would be useful or that the connection to Solomon’s temple was real or close) I would expect him to have participated more frequently. Certainly Joseph’s lack of Masonic experience weakens the argument that he learned or memorized the ritual and then reproduced or adapted it for the temple endowment ceremonies. Joseph was elevated “on sight” to the degree of Master Mason. This is a high honor and unusual event (http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Freemasonry_in_Nauvoo), usually offered to men who have been Masons for many years. Though bestowed this high rank, Joseph did not have the experience, knowledge, or understanding typical of a Master Mason.
One could argue that Joseph’s inexperience with Masonry led to the adaptations for the temple endowment — he didn’t know the symbols or their meaning and perverted them. That is every bit as reasonable an argument as mine that his inexperience shows a lack of interest once he had experienced the Masonic ritual. Unfortunately there isn’t clear evidence either way. Joseph may have decided afterward to adapt Masonic ritual forms for the presentation of the endowment, but … so?
Irrespective, Joseph’s temple endowment (which which emphasizes male-female cooperative eternal exaltation) far surpasses the Masonic ritual (which emphasizes male fraternity for enrichment through commerce) in scope.
Though Joseph attended only three Masonic meetings, he attended nine meetings of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, participating in six. It would be difficult to say for certain, but based on his training of the women he seemed to place a heavy emphasis on the role of the Society in the a group as a collection of morally upstanding women who actively sought to stamp out immoral behaviors. The training emphasis on morality — and later secret-keeping — during his presentations to the Society seems to show that Joseph saw the Relief Society as something preparatory for the coming temple endowment.
Present— President Joseph Smith, John Taylor, Willard Richards, Emma Smith and others.
Elder John Taylor was call’d to the chair by Prest. Smith, and elder W. Richards appointed Secretary,
Meeting commenced by singing “The spirit of God like a fire is burning” &c.— Prayer by elder Taylor.
The meeting was called to order by Joseph Smith. Prayers and the majority of speaking were done by men. The very structure of the meeting and the location emphasizes that this group is being organized under the authority of the priesthood. The minutes correlate with Sarah M. Kimball’s 1883 autobiography recorded in the Women’s Exponent thus: “In the summer of 1843 a maiden lady Miss Cooke was seamstress for me and the subject of combining our efforts for assisting the Temple hands came up in conversation. She desired to be helpful but had no means to furnish. I told her I would furnish material if she would make some shirts fey the workmen. It was then suggested that some of our neighbors might wish to combine means and efforts with ours and we decided to invite a few to come and consult with us on the subject of forming a Ladies’ Society. The neighboring sisters met in my parlor and decided to organize. I was delegated to call on Sister Eliza R. Snow and ask her to write for us a Constitution and By and submit them to President Joseph Smith prior to our next Thursday’s meeting. She cheerfully responded and when she read them to him he replied that the Constitution and By-laws were the best he had ever seen. But he said ‘this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord and he has something better for them than a written Constitution. I invite them all to meet with me and a few of the brethren in the Masonic Hall over my store next Thursday afternoon and I will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.’ He further said’ The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.’ He wished to have Sister Emma Smith elected to preside in fulfillment of the revelation which called her an Elect Lady.” (The Woman’s Exponent 1883-09-01 vol. 12 no. 7)
When it was mov’d by Prest. Smith and seconded by Mrs. Sarah Kingsley Cleveland, that a vote be taken to know if all are satisfied with each female present; and are willing to acknowledge them in full fellowship, and admit them to the privileges of the Institution about to be formed.
This emphasis on good feeling between members hearkens to the future endowment.
The names of those present were then taken as follows
Mrs Emma Smith
|Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland
||Bathsheba W. Smith
|Phebe Ann Hawkes
||Phebe M. Wheeler
||Elvira A. Coles
||Margaret A Cook
||Sarah M. Kimball
||Eliza R. Snow
|Elizabeth Ann Smith Whitney
Sophia R. Marks
Prest. Smith, & Elders Taylor and Richads withdrew while the females went into an investigation of the motion, and decided that all present, be admitted according to the motion, and that
Mrs. Sarah Ward Higbee
Thirza Stiles Cahoon
Kezia A. Morrison
Miranda N. Johnson Hyde
should be admitted; whose names were presented by Prest. Smith.
At the Society’s organization, none of the founding women were yet plurally married to Joseph Smith.
Women present who later became plural wives were Sarah Kingsley Cleveland, Eliza Rocxy Snow, Elvira Annie Cowles, and Desdemona Fuller. Marinda Nancy Johnson Hyde was not present at this meeting but is listed as a founding member. She later became a plural wife of Joseph Smith as well. (See Brian Hales’ Joseph Smith’s Polygamy Volume 2: History, Evidence of Plural Marriages, Appendix B)
You could draw a reasonable conclusion that some women from the Relief Society who proved their mettle were then brought in to the holy order of marriage based on their comportment in these preparatory meetings. Though men received endowments as early as May 1842, Emma Smith and other women did not receive them until September 1843 (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/08/my-great-great-grandmother-emma-hale-smith?lang=eng).
Prest. Smith, & Elders Taylor & Richards return’d and the meeting was address’d by Prest. Smith, to illustrate the object of the Society— that the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor— searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants— to assist; by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties &c. in their public teaching.
Prest. Smith further remark’d that an organization to show them how to go to work would be sufficient. He propos’d that the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office— that he would ordain them to preside over the Society— and let them preside just as the Presidency, preside over the church; and if they need his instruction— ask him, he will give it from time to time.
Contrast this instruction with the instruction to men ordained to Priesthood in D&C 20. Where there is a clear comparison between instructions I have tried to indicate it below:
|the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor
11 Therefore, verily I say unto you, that it is expedient for my servants Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney, A. Sidney Gilbert and Sidney Rigdon, and my servant Joseph Smith, and John Whitmer and Oliver Cowdery, and W. W. Phelps and Martin Harris to be bound together by a bond and covenant that cannot be broken by transgression, except judgment shall immediately follow, in your several stewardships—
12 To manage the affairs of the poor, and all things pertaining to the bishopric both in the land of Zion and in the land of Kirtland; (D&C 82:11–12)
|searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants
46 The priest’s duty is to … visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. (D&C 20: 46–47)
|to assist; by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community
teach the female part of the community
expound scriptures to all
53 The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;
54 And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;
55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.
59 They are, however, to warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ. (D&C 20: 53–53, 59)
46 The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament,
47And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. (D&C 20: 46–47)
|save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties &c. in their public teaching
41 An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize; And to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons;
40 And to administer bread and wine—the emblems of the flesh and blood of Christ—
41 And to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures;
42 And to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church;
43 And to confirm the church by the laying on of the hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost;
44 And to take the lead of all meetings.
45 The elders are to conduct the meetings as they are led by the Holy Ghost, according to the commandments and revelations of God.
61 The several elders composing this church of Christ are to meet in conference once in three months, or from time to time as said conferences shall direct or appoint;
62 And said conferences are to do whatever church business is necessary to be done at the time. (D&C 20:41–45, 61–62)
|the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office— that he would ordain them to preside over the Society
An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize; And to ordain other elders, priests, teachers, and deacons; (D&C 20:39)
Note in the above the differing assignments given to women in the Society and to those holding priesthood office. Where priesthood minister to “the church”, “each member”, and “all”, members of the Society are instructed to direct their attention to assist the Elders “by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community”. Regarding charitable works, however, while priests are instructed to minister to each member, women are under no such restriction. They may seek out object of charity in any place, in or out of the church.
The presiding officer chooses counselors, but they are ordained by Joseph himself, not by other members of the Society or its officers. It is clear from this that the officers were not see to have authority to ordain others to equal or lesser office, even within the Society, unlike Priesthood holders.
Let this Presidency serve as a constitution— all their decisions be considered law; and acted upon as such.
Following the pattern of the priesthood for the Relief Society organization, instruction was given that leader instructions were given primacy, rather than a written constitution. The decisions of the presiding officers are to be followed “just as the [First] Presidency preside over the church”.
If any Officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the Institution, let them be appointed and set apart, as Deacons, Teachers &c. are among us.
This sentence does not mean that female deacons and teachers are among us, but that Deacons and Teachers are present in Nauvoo and can be called upon to set apart officers in the the group as needed.
Noting the hierarchy of priesthood leadership in D&C 20, the fact that Deacons — the lowest office in the lower priesthood — can ordain women to office in the new society indicates its place in the relative hierarchy of the church structure. This may be offensive to some, however, it’s consistent from all evidence I can find that the new organization was intended to operate under or outside of the lower priesthood. This is consistent with the quotation above from Sarah M Kimball’s Auto-Biography: “[Joseph] will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.”
The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon— your Constitution and law.
This instruction seems to indicate that once a decision has been made by presiding leaders, that is considered precedent for future actions, much as in a common law system. The Wikipedia describes this concept well: “A ‘common law system’ is a legal system that gives great precedential weight to common law, so that consistent principles applied to similar facts yield similar outcomes. … In cases where the parties disagree on what the law is, a common law court looks to past precedential decisions of relevant courts. If a similar dispute has been resolved in the past, the court is usually bound to follow the reasoning used in the prior decision. If, however, the court finds that the current dispute is fundamentally distinct from all previous cases, judges have the authority and duty to make law by creating precedent. Thereafter, the new decision becomes precedent, and will bind future courts.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_law).
Society leaders were expected to study the minutes of earlier meetings to determine how to handle future events consistently.
He then suggested the propriety of electing a Presidency to continue in office during good behavior, or so long as they shall continue to fill the office with dignity &c. like the first Presidency of the church.—
Motioned by Sister Whitney and seconded by Sister Packard that Mrs. Emma Smith be chosen President— passed unanimously—
Mov’d by Prest. Smith, that Mrs. Smith proceed to choose her Counsellors, that they may be ordain’d to preside over this Society, in taking care of the poor— administering to their wants, and attending to the various affairs of this Institution.
The role of counselor is to preside over the society in taking care of the poor and administering to their wants. They also administers to the various affairs of the Society.
The Presidentess Elect, then made choice of Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland and Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Whitney for Counsellors—
President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith, from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; and stated that she was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.— The 2d Epistle of John, 1st verse, was then read to show that respect was then had to the same thing; and that why she was called an Elect lady is because, elected to preside.
The relevant verses are D&C 25:3: “Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called.” and 2 John 1:1: “The elder unto the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth; and not I only, but also all they that have known the truth.”
Emma was instructed to expound scriptures to all and teach the female part of the community. These blessings are not limited to her alone, but others may also have the same.
Elder Taylor was then appointed to ordain the Counsellors— he laid his hands on the head of Mrs Cleveland and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to the Elect Lady, even Mrs. Emma Smith, to counsel, and assist her in all things pertaining to her office &c.
Elder T. then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Whitney and ordain’d her to be a Counsellor to Mrs. Smith, the Prest. of the Institution— with all the privileges pertaining to the office &c.
He then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Smith and blessed her, and confirm’d upon her all the blessings which have been confer’d on her, that she might be a mother in Israel and look to the wants of the needy, and be a pattern of virtue; and possess all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and preside and dignify her Office, to teach the females those principles requisite for their future usefulness.
Note that Emma was not ordained, unlike her counselors. Emma had already been ordained to this office as an Elect Lady in 1830 as recorded in D&C 25. She does not need to be ordained to an office that she already holds, but she receives an additional blessing to aid her in carrying out the responsibilities of that office.
Prest. Smith then resumed his remarks and gave instruction how to govern themselves in their meetings— when one wishes to speak, address the chair— and the chairman responds to the address.
Should two speak at once, the Chair shall decide who speaks first, if any one is dissatisfied, she appeals to the house—
When one has the floor, occupies as long as she pleases.
Proper manner of address is Mrs. Chairman 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.
Above Joseph offers the Society a brief training on Parliamentary procedure, which should govern the proceedings in Society meetings.
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—
The Society is not to deal with impropriety publicly. They should keep even the character of evil-doers sacred. Today we’d say, “no gossiping”.
It was then propos’d that Elder Taylor vacate the chair.
Prest. Emma Smith and her Counsellors took the chair, and
Now that the new officers have been installed, they take the leadership position, or chair. This means that all communication is now directed to the chair by the Parliamentary procedures described above.
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
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.
Emma and counselors are trained a bit more in Parliamentary procedure.
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— The motion was seconded by Counsellor Cleveland and unanimously carried, on the amendment by Elder Taylor.
The Prest. then suggested that she would like an argument with Elder Taylor on the words Relief and Benevolence.
In the above discussion, Sister Cleveland suggested a name for the Society, The Nauvoo Female Relief Society. Elder Taylor suggested a different name, The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society, because he thinks that the word benevolent gives a more definite and extended idea of what the Society is to accomplish. Sister Cleveland, in the way of women, agrees, seconds Taylor’s motion, and the vote is unanimously carried.
But wait! Emma doesn’t like the phrasing and wants more discussion on the terms relief and benevolent. It is possible that Emma, new to rules of order, did not know when to express her disagreement. She may have decided after hearing the name aloud that it was not a good one. Either way, she desired more discussion on the topic.
Prest. J. Smith mov’d that the vote for amendment, be rescinded, which was carried—
Modeling Parliamentary procedure, Joseph helps Emma rescind the vote so that more discussion can ensue.
Motion for adjournment by Elder Richards and objected by Prest. J. Smith.—
Everytime I read this I want to laugh out loud! No doubt anticipating a fight, Elder Richards calls for the meeting to be adjourned, but Joseph objects. He, too, prefers the word benevolent, but he is willing to entertain discussion on the matter. I think this speaks to Joseph and Emma’s relationship — while Joseph knows that Emma is firm, he also knows that she can be counted on to conduct herself with deportment and propriety. He does not fear her or her ideas. He is also modeling for the women how to deliberate in a meeting when multiple opinions are expressed.
Prest. J. Smith— Benevolent is a popular term— and the term Relief is not known among popular Societies— Relief is more extended in its signification than Benevolent and might extend to the liberation of the culprit— and might be wrongly construed by our enemies to say that the Society was to relieve criminals from punishment &c. &c— to relieve a murderer, which would not be a benevolent act—
Let’s compare the 1828 Webster’s dictionary definitions of the words benevolent and relief.
Benevolent has but one definition: having a disposition to do good; possessing love to mankind, and a desire to promote their prosperity and happiness; kind. Relief, on the other hand, has several meanings. The relevant ones with their position in the dictionary are listed below:
1. The removal, in whole or in part, of any evil that afflicts the body of mind; the removal or alleviation of pain, grief, want, care, anxiety, toil or distress, or of any thing oppressive or burdensome, by which some ease is obtained. Rest gives relief to the body when weary; an anodyne gives relief from pain; the sympathy of friends affords some relief to the distressed; a loan of money to a man embarrassed may afford him a temporary relief; medicines which will not cure a disease, sometimes give a partial relief A complete relief from the troubles of life is never to be expected.
2. That which mitigates or removes pain, grief or other evil.
3. The dismission of a sentinel from his post, whose place is supplied by another soldier; also, the person who takes his place.
7. A remedy, partial or total, for any wrong suffered; redress; indemnification. He applied to chancery, but could get no relief He petitioned the legislature and obtained relief
(Okay, maybe #3 is a stretch, but I like it in terms of the Relief Society — the Society is ready to stand in for someone who has tired in performance of their duty so that they can return to their post rested and ready to fight/defend again.)
Joseph and Elder Taylor have a point about the word relief. Given Joseph’s extensive experience with the law, he is probably sensitive to the use of the term. He may fear that people will think he has organized a society to help him escape the law or avoid punishment for any of the many lawsuits and criminal proceedings in which he was frequently involved. Though this is not the most common, or even sixth-most common, use of the word, Joseph’s objections indicate how the word has been most often used in his experience.
Consider, though, that while benevolent indicates a character trait, relief describes an action.
Prest. Emma Smith, said the popularity of the word benevolent is one great objection— no person can think of the word as associated with public Institutions, without thinking of the Washingtonian Benevolent Society which was one of the most corrupt Institutions of the day— do not wish to have it call’d after other Societies in the world—
I’m pretty confident that Emma refers here to the temperance movement called Washingtonians. The goal of that group and its societies was the reform of drunkards and helping their families. The group was distinctly a-religious and did not invite pastors or other religious leaders to participate because the religious element kept potential converts away. Meetings of the societies were testimonial style, similar to the Alchoholics meetings of today. Women’s benevolent societies often cropped up in connection with Washingtonian societies. The movement was probably beginning its decline in 1842. It’s unclear what Emma’s objections to the group were, but the groups were loosely organized and enjoyed limited success. “Some societies take none but those who have lately made, sold, or used intoxicating liquors – others receive all except children under a certain age – others receive even children with the consent of their parents or guardians.” (http://silkworth.net/washingtonians/washingtonian_movement_organization_procedure.html ) Members of the Washingtonians often traveled from city to city as missionaries to recruit members and were not of the more desirable elements of society. Some of the members could not maintain their total abstinence pledge, despite being officers in the Society. At least one member who relapsed committed suicide (http://silkworth.net/washingtonians/prohibitionists_paterson.html). In 1844, a member remarked that “The open infidelity, and radicalism, and abuse of ministers, by some reform-speakers had kindled up in many minds an opposition to all temperance effort, especially on the Sabbath”. There is an exhaustive library of information regarding the Washingtonians at http://silkworth.net/washingtonians/index.html.
Some have speculated that Emma was referring to the Washington Benevolent Society, which was an electioneering group formed by the Federalist Party to influence votes in the early 1800s. I find it more likely Emma is referring to the contemporary Washingtonians, which would have been making news in the press of the day.
Prest. J. Smith arose to state that he had no objection to the word Relief— that on question they ought to deliberate candidly and investigate all subjects.
Joseph may not be married to the word relief, but he is married to Emma :)
Counsellor Cleveland arose to remark concerning the question before the house, that we should not regard 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.—
Sister Cleveland revisits her preference to relief, emphasizing the action implied by its use.
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—
Perhaps predictably, Eliza supports Joseph’s use of benevolent. It’s interesting that she objects to the word relief because it implies too much action. She seems to fear that the group will step outside its bounds and insert itself into major catastrophes and neglect the smaller acts of kindness.
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—
Fearless, and perhaps influenced by some of the big thinking her husband frequently enjoins, Emma welcomes the challenge of an emergency or crisis. She expects these things and plans for the Society to be prepared to meet them.
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—
One can only imagine the fervor with which Emma must have spoken that convinced the men to follow her preference. Joseph shows his confidence in her leadership by committing to give all the funds he has to give to the poor to the Society for its use.
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—The previous question was then put— Shall this Society be call’d The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo?— carried unanimously.—
Wisely, and perhaps now seeing Emma’s expansive vision for the Society, Eliza suggests a slight name change from The Nauvoo Female Relief Society to The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Removing the Society’s locale to the end of the name makes it easier for other organizations in other locations to form similar societies.
Or maybe she just thought it sounded better. Who knows?
Prest. J. Smith— I now declare this Society organiz’d with President and Counsellors &c. according to Parliamentary usages— and all who shall hereafter be admitted into this Society must be free from censure and receiv’d by vote—
Originally the Society did not admit all females who wished to join. Members were received by the vote of current members.
Prest. J. Smith offered— $5.00 in gold piece to commence the funds of the Institution.
Prest. Emma Smith requested that the gentlemen withdraw before they proceed to the choice of Secretary and Treasurer, as was mov’d by Prest. J. Smith—
Willard Richards. Secty.
The gentlemen withdrew when it was Motioned and second. and unanimously pass’d that Eliza R. Snow be appointed Secretary, and Phebe M. Wheeler, Assistant Secretary——
Motioned, second. and carried unanimly. that Elvira A. Coles be appointed Treasurer—
Prest. E. Smith then arose and proceeded to make appropriate remarks on the object of the Society— its duties to others also its relative duties to each other Viz. to seek out and relieve the distressed— that each member should be ambitious to do good— that the members should deal frankly with each other— to watch over the morals— and be very careful of the character and reputation— of the members of the Institution &c.
Emma reiterates the charitable purposes of the society and that the membership must be women of good reputation. Interpersonal dealings should be frank, or straightforward and honest, but not rude.
P. A. Hawkes— Question— What shall we reply to interrogatories relative to the object of this Society?
Prest. E. Smith replied— for charitable purposes.
This is perhaps the most interesting event in the entire document. Though having both Joseph and Emma explain that the purposes of the organization were for relieving the distressed and aiding the poor, Sister Hawkes still wants to know how she should answer when someone asks about the secret society she has just joined. Why? There must have been no small amount of talk about what Joseph had planned for the women. Could he have been telling the women he planned to build a “kingdom of priests” among them? Were there indications that the Society was a precursor to the temple endowment? Knowing the Society was organized after the pattern of the priesthood, might there have been there some confusion about the relative status of the organization? In later meetings Joseph requests that nonmembers of the Society leave so that he can offer instruction only to its membership. Explosive growth of the organization might indicate that prospective members came seeking this additional special knowledge and instruction.
Mov’d and pass’d that Cynthia Ann Eldridge be admitted as a member of this Society—
|Coulr. Sarah M. Cleveland donated to the fund of the Society
|Sarah M. Kimball do
|Prest. Emma Smith do
|Counlr. E. A. Whitney do
Prest. E. Smith said that Mrs. Merrick is a widow— is industrious— performs her work well, therefore recommend her to the patronage of such as wish to hire needlework— those who hire widows must be prompt to pay and inasmuch as some have defrauded the laboring widow of her wages, we must be upright and deal justly—
When Emma invites the membership to provide work, rather than money, to a widow in need, the work of the Relief Society is begun.
The business of the Society concluded— the gentlemen before mentioned return’d—,
|Elder Richards appropriated to the fund of the Society, the sum of
|Elder Taylor do
Elder T. then arose and address’d the Society by saying that he is much gratified in seeing a meeting of this kind in Nauvoo— his heart rejoices when he sees the most distinguished characters, stepping forth in such a cause, which is calculated to bring into exercise every virtue and give scope to the benevolent feelings of the female heart— he rejoices to see this Institution organiz’d according to the law of Heaven— according to a revelation previously given to Mrs E. Smith appointing her to this important calling— and to see all things moving forward in such a glorious manner— his prayer is that the blessings of God and the peace of heaven may rest on this Institution henceforth——
The organization of the Society was recognized by leaders as fulfillment of the promise for women to preside over organizations, and to expound scriptures within the church. Though benevolent societies were common in the day, this one was authorized by priesthood authority with a new pattern (no Constitution) under which to operate. Thought it had charitable purposes like other similar organizations, this Society also had a doctrinal teaching purpose for women.
The Choir then sang “Come let us rejoice in the day of salvation &c.
Motion’d, that this meeting adjourn to next week, thursday, ten o’clock— A M.
The meeting then arose and was dismiss’d by prayer by Elder Taylor.—
Men prayed at many Relief Society meetings.