Relief Society Organization Research Guide
On March 17, 1842, the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo was organized under the keys of the priesthood. Emma Hale Smith was called to be the first president. She stated that “we are going to do something extraordinary.”1 On April 28, 1842, Joseph Smith stated, “This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God has established—thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead—and I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time—this is the beginning of better days, to this Society.”2
The last meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo occurred March 16, 1844; the Relief Society was then disbanded and would not become an official organization again until 1867.
The martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith on June 27, 1844, and the resulting mobocracy in Nauvoo, Illinois, caused the disruption of Latter-day Saints’ lives and forced them to relocate once again. This time, they would trek to the Salt Lake Valley in the Utah Territory.
Relief Society was not officially continued once the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. However, some groups of women started ward Relief Societies to help aid the incoming immigrants, local Native American tribes, and the poor. In 1867, Brigham Young called on bishops to organize Relief Societies in their wards; later, in 1868, Brigham Young asked Eliza R. Snow to help the bishops organize the Relief Societies.3 Eliza R. Snow was also instrumental in helping organize the Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association (later the Young Women organization) in 1870 and the Primary organization in 1878. In 1880, Eliza was called to be the first Relief Society General President.
Since that time, the Relief Society has played a large role in not only Church members’ lives but also the community. Women of the Relief Society have initiated midwifery, nursing, and medical classes. They created hospitals where women and children could receive care. They developed cooperatives to build the economy, support their families, and learn important business skills; they also started a grain storage program that provided for Church members and disaster victims around the world. They were active in woman’s suffrage and rights. They created a newspaper for women written by women in 1872 called the Woman’s Exponent. Through this newspaper, women shared information about the Relief Society and other organizations, woman’s suffrage, cooperatives, and testimonies. In 1914, after the Woman’s Exponent was discontinued, the Relief Society began publishing the Relief Society Magazine. This magazine was discontinued in 1970.
The Relief Society continues to provide service, often through the help of such initiatives as ProjectProtect and JustServe. Women of the Relief Society serve in Church callings, their homes, government, business, medicine, law, and many other ways.
1. In “A Record of the Organization, and Proceedings of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo,” The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, accessed Sept. 4, 2020, churchhistorianspress.org.
2. In “Minutes of the Proceedings of the Sixth Meeting of the Society,” The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, accessed Sept. 4, 2020, churchhistorianspress.org.
3. See “Brigham Young, Discourse, April 8, 1868 (Excerpt),” The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, accessed Sept. 4, 2020, churchhistorianspress.org.