Sisters for SuffrageIndustry and Self-Sufficiency

Industry and Self-Sufficiency

Home industry was emphasized among the Latter-day Saints, and Relief Society sisters proved themselves to be talented and capable contributors to the self-sufficient Utah society.

Amid social turmoil in Nauvoo, the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo held its last meeting on March 16, 1844. In June the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed, and by 1845 the society had been officially disbanded. The Latter-day Saints were forced to leave Illinois, but after finding sanctuary in the desert valleys of present-day Utah, the women again began to organize. The Relief Society was officially reinstated on a Churchwide level in 1867. Eliza R. Snow, the key leader in the reestablishment of the Relief Society, declared, “United effort will accomplish incalculably more than can be accomplished by the most effective individual energies.”4

Eliza Roxcy Snow (1804–1887) was a driving force for female advancement in her position as General President of the Relief Society after its reorganization in Utah Territory. She encouraged Latter-day Saint women to better themselves for the good of the Church and the community. She composed over 500 poems, some of which became Latter-day Saint hymns.

Silk Industry

In 1855 Brigham Young imported mulberry seeds and, later, silkworm eggs from France. Relief Society sisters were tasked with promoting sericulture throughout the territory. With the establishment of the Deseret Silk Association in 1876, women received instruction on growing and cultivating mulberry trees, raising silkworms, and producing silk.

Silk Culture, 1895. Photograph by George Edward Anderson.

Silkworm cocoons, circa 1890s. German native Louise G. Wintch (1870–1937) was active in the Manti, Utah, Relief Society and saved these silkworm cocoons.

Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Young (1821–1901) was the third General President of the Relief Society. Her husband, Brigham Young, asked her to oversee a cocoonery, which she did stoically, despite her fear of silkworms. She was president of the Deseret Silk Association and helped establish the Deseret Hospital.

Relief Society Halls

Enterprising Relief Society sisters coordinated the construction of halls where they could hold meetings and sell handmade goods. Profits were used to help the needy and pay for public improvements, including the construction of granaries.

Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball (1818–1898) served as president of the Salt Lake Fifteenth Ward Relief Society for 41 years. She oversaw construction of the first Relief Society hall and of a grain storage facility. She attended several national suffrage conventions and was president of the Woman Suffrage Association of Utah for three years.

Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward Relief Society Hall. On August 5, 1869, the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society hall—the first building of its kind—was dedicated.

Sandstone Lintel Stone. This stone spanned the doorway of the Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward Relief Society granary, built in 1877. The fireproof building was 20 feet square and could hold 1,000 bushels of grain. It was located behind the Fifteenth Ward Cooperative Store at 340 West First South (now 100 South) in Salt Lake City.5

Deseret Hospital

Latter-day Saint women were encouraged to receive an education, and several traveled east to receive medical training. On July 17, 1882, the Deseret Hospital opened in Salt Lake City, primarily funded by the Relief Society. Most of the staff were women.

Dr. Esther Romania Salina Bunnell Pratt Penrose (1839–1932) graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1877, becoming the first Latter-day Saint woman to receive a medical degree. She was an eye and ear surgeon at the Deseret Hospital. In 1907 she represented Utah at the International Woman Suffrage Alliance conference in Amsterdam.

Deseret Hospital, circa 1885.

Medical Bag, circa 1873–76. This medical bag belonged to Dr. Mary Helen Barker Bates (1845–1924), who opened an obstetrics school for women in Salt Lake City.