Most people think that March 17 is important because it’s St. Patrick’s day and you risk getting pinched if you aren’t wearing some visible shade of green.
There’s a much more important reason to celebrate though—on March 17, 1842, the “Female Relief Society of Nauvoo” was organized. It’s neat and tidy that March is also Women’s History Month in the U.S. (read more about that here: http://womenshistorymonth.gov/)
The secretary in that first Relief Society was none other than Eliza R. Snow who just happens to be someone that I admire very much. Here’s a short list of some of her accomplishments:
• Married and sealed to Joseph Smith on June 29, 1842
• Married and sealed to Brigham Young on October 3, 1844 (after the martyrdom of Joseph)
• Wrote the hymn, “O My Father” in October of 1945
• Journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley, arriving October 2, 1847
• Called by Brigham Young to preside over women’s endowment work in May of 1855
• Her first book of poetry was published in 1856 in England
• Called to assist in reestablishing ward Relief Societies in April 1868
• Assisted in organizing the Young Ladies’ Retrenchment Society in May 1870
• Assisted in organizing the Primary Association in August of 1878
• Called and set apart as the General Relief Society President in the summer of 1880
In short, this amazing lady had a hand in establishing everything from Relief Society, to Young Women’s, to Primary, all while also publishing poetry and writing that shared her testimony with the world.
Knowing all of this, I was delighted to see a wonderful opportunity to read more about Sister Snow and some other ladies that we may not now as well in a new book, “The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History,” which was released this week by the Church Historian’s Press, an imprint of the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Digital selections of the book are available for free online at https://churchhistorianspress.org. Additional digital selections will also be released online in the coming months.
Carol Cornwall Madsen, a contributor to the volume, described these women, saying,
“They’re not just sunbonnet pioneer women that just kind of trudged along in the dirt with their covered wagon. They were well read. They were articulate. They knew what they believed in. They knew how to move forward.”
The book is almost 800 pages long, and features 78 documents determined by the editors to be vital to understanding and explaining the first 50 years of Relief Society, as well as about 400 biographical sketches. Many of the documents will be entirely new to readers and some have never before been released.
Sometimes I hear sisters complain about Relief Society. They talk about how they don’t feel like they fit in, or that everyone is too old, or everyone is too young, or everyone is married, or everyone stays at home, or works, or that hearing one more lesson about the importance of visiting teaching will cause them to strangle themselves with crochet yarn. First, I truly am sorry that anyone would feel this way or that something has happened or not happened that has created this feeling. Second, no one has to continue to feel this way. Relief Society is for each of us, is about each of us, and holds blessings for each of us. It’s not one-size fits all. It’s individually tailored for you to give what YOU have to give, and for you to receive what YOU need to receive.
It’s interesting how perspective can change depending on how you change your focus. That doesn’t mean the picture itself has changed, but the interpretation, meaning, and one’s own interaction with the picture is new.
I wonder if the same might be true with our understanding and appreciation for the strength and vitality of the worldwide sisterhood of Relief Society. Perhaps if we focus on the past, we can better see and understand our present and our future.
Jill Mulvay Derr, retired senior research historian of the Church History Department, captured just that sentiment when she said of this book,
“You hear the voices of the women. You feel their devotion and commitment to the Church and to enlivening women with the Spirit and giving them opportunities to carry the kingdom forth. And those sisters did it with all their might. We feel the love of these women for the gospel and for each other and for God.”
The Relief Society organization turns 175 next March 17. What a great accomplishment it would be to determine now to study the history, the sacrifices, and the achievements in the coming year, so that by this time next year, we have a truer perspective on the blessings we enjoy and the women whose shoulders we stand on in doing so. And if you want to wear green while reading, that would be good too.