In collaboration with the Relief Society General Presidency, the Church History Department has released over 100 years’ worth of minutes taken during meetings of the Relief Society General Board (1842 through 1951); they are now available for viewing in Relief Society general board minutes, 1842–2007 (CR 11 10). These minutes tell the history of female administration in the Church, documenting the development of new Relief Society curricula (such as lesson manuals and materials), programs, and training initiatives for ward and stake leaders. They contain information about committee assignments and travel. They showcase the efforts of female leaders to work together with priesthood counterparts for the moral and spiritual welfare of the Church and larger community. They also situate the work of the Relief Society within the broader landscape of the work of female organizations within the United States and beyond.
Specifically, the minutes detail the work of the Relief Society general board members, a calling that is not well known. Now known as general advisory council members, these women “visit with [Latter-day Saints], review and provide recommendations regarding curriculum and other resources, work on committees and projects and provide training and support as assigned.”1 Historically and today, these women work closely with the Relief Society General Presidency with whom they serve, traveling throughout the world to provide training and ministering care to women in different areas—a vital link between Church leaders and the Saints they serve.
The following samples taken from the collection give a sense of the diverse kinds of information contained in the minutes.
Participation in National and International Women’s Councils
In April 1913, educator, reformer, and women’s rights activist May Wright Sewall accompanied Relief Society President Emmeline Wells to visit President Joseph F. Smith in Salt Lake City. During the visit, Sewall expressed her regret over diminished participation of female members of the Church in the National and International Councils of Women. She implored President Smith to do all he could to foster ongoing participation, and she also noted her admiration for President Wells, saying that there was an excellent “connection between the women of the Council and the women of [the] Church.”2
Later that year, Sewall wrote to President Smith. In her letter, read during the September 4 general board meeting, Sewall lobbied for the ongoing participation of Latter-day Saint women: “The Mormon organizations should be fully and adequately represented,” argued Sewall. “Nothing but association of all sections of all sects reveals what is best and what is unworthy in all of them.”3
This exchange is illustrative of the collaboration that happened between female Church leaders and leaders of national women’s organizations. Each volume of minutes is replete with details regarding the ongoing relationship between the Relief Society and these female organizations.
Relief Society Centennial
The volumes covering 1940–1941 and 1942–1943 contain extensive information regarding the planning and execution of events related to the 100th anniversary of the Relief Society. Interestingly, since the anniversary celebration took place during a world war, the minute books include discussions of possible contingencies, should the celebration be unable to proceed as planned.4
Mission Relief Societies
Throughout the collection, the minutes contain reports of work done by Relief Societies around the world. These reports were frequently prepared by mission Relief Society presidents—in many cases, the wives of mission presidents who were assigned to oversee the work of women, young women, and even children in their mission.
One such series of reports was detailed in a special meeting of the Relief Society mission presidents and General Relief Society leaders held in April 1931. Of particular poignance is the report of the Hawaiian Relief Society mission president:
There are forty-eight Relief Society organizations on the Hawaiian islands, each having its own meeting place. These vary from humble huts to beautiful little meeting houses. … The Mission organizations resemble the Wards, where the sisters are all most enthusiastic in their work; willing to do anything that is suggested for the good of the organization. The problem of jealousy among the members, and rivalry for office, as reported by the sisters of the European and United States Missions, does not seem to exist in Hawaii. The sisters are so generous in their donations that they give until it hurts.5
These reports, although of varying breadth and scope, provide snapshots of Relief Society groups in different locations throughout the world.
By making the minutes for 1842–1951 publicly available under our access policy guidelines, the Church History Department hopes that they will become frequently-used resources for researchers interested in Church and women’s history.
Top image: The Relief Society General Presidency and general board under Emmeline B. Wells (center).