History of Relief Society

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“One came in the October 1856 general conference as President Brigham Young announced to the congregation that handcart pioneers were still on the trail and late in the season. He declared: ‘Your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the celestial kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains, and attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, … otherwise your faith will be in vain.’

“We remember with grateful admiration the men who headed off to rescue those suffering Saints. But what did the sisters do?

“ ‘Sister [Lucy Meserve] Smith recorded … that after President Young’s exhortation, those in attendance took action. … Women ‘[removed] their petticoats [large underskirts that were part of the fashion of the day and that also provided warmth], stockings, and every thing they could spare, right there in the [old] Tabernacle, and piled [them] into the wagons to send to the Saints in the mountains.’ ’

“Several weeks later, President Brigham Young gathered the Saints again in the old Tabernacle as the rescuers and the handcart companies got closer to Salt Lake City. With great urgency, he pleaded with the Saints—especially the sisters—to nurse the sufferers and feed them and receive them, saying: ‘Some you will find with their feet frozen to their ankles; some are frozen to their knees and some have their hands frosted. … We want you to receive them as your own children, and to have the same feeling for them.’

“Lucy Meserve Smith also recorded:

“ ‘We did all we could, with the aid of the good brethren and sisters, to comfort the needy. … They got their hands and feet badly frosted. … We did not cease our exertions [un]til all were made comfortable. …

“ ‘I never took more satisfaction and, I might say, pleasure in any labor I ever performed in my life, such a unanimity of feeling prevailed. …

“ ‘What comes next for willing hands to do?’ ”

 
Linda K. Burton, Relief Society General President
I Was a Stranger,”April 2016 General Conference


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“Understanding the history of Relief Society strengthens the foundational identity and worth of faithful women.”

Julie B. Beck, Relief Society General President
Daughters in My Kingdom: the History and Work of Relief Society,” October 2010 General Conference

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“We study our history to learn who we are. There is a worldwide hunger among good women to know their identity, value, and importance. Studying and applying the history of Relief Society gives definition and expression to who we are as disciples and followers of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our faithfulness and service are signs of our conversion and commitment to remember and follow Him.”

Julie B. Beck, Relief Society General President
Daughters in My Kingdom: the History and Work of Relief Society,” October 2010 General Conference

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“We study our history to learn what we are to do. Through our history we learn how to prepare for the blessings of eternal life. The Relief Society as an organization has always had the responsibility to organize the energies of the sisters in the wards and branches of Zion. Through Relief Society meetings, the ministry of visiting teachers, and their combined service, daughters of God are taught, watched over, and inspired in their responsibility in the Lord’s work and kingdom. Ward and branch Relief Society presidents are set apart to direct that work.”

Julie B. Beck, Relief Society General President
Daughters in My Kingdom: the History and Work of Relief Society,” October 2010 General Conference

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“The history of Relief Society is a Spirit-filled story of strong, faithful, purposeful women.”

Julie B. Beck, Relief Society General President
Daughters in My Kingdom: the History and Work of Relief Society,” October 2010 General Conference

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“Just as the Savior invited Mary and Martha of New Testament times to participate in His work, women of this dispensation have an official commission to participate in the Lord’s work. From the earliest days of the Restoration, women were active in helping build up the Church by supporting missionary efforts, contributing to the construction of temples, and establishing communities where the Saints could worship together. The organization of Relief Society in 1842 mobilized the collective power of the women and their specific assignments to build the Lord’s kingdom.”

Julie B. Beck, Relief Society General President
Fulfilling the Purpose of Relief Society,” October 2008 General Conference

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“The small, diverse group of women assembled at that first Relief Society were dedicated women, similar to Relief Society members today. There were young women and older women, women who were formally educated and women with no formal education. There were married women, mothers, and single women. There were wealthy women and some who were very poor. They each had a love for one another, a love for the Lord, and a desire to serve. By remembering what Relief Society sisters did in the past, we can better understand and be guided today.”

Barbara Thompson, Second Counselor, Relief Society General Presidency
Now Let Us Rejoice,” October 2008 General Conference

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“I love the message of Sister Lucy Mack Smith, who, frail and failing with age, rose to speak to her sisters in an early Relief Society meeting in Nauvoo. I want you to remember, she is a woman who had been a powerhouse—a great leader. She was very much the kind of woman I see in Relief Society today. But that day she said, ‘We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction that we may all sit down in heaven together.’

“Those words speak of the sisters becoming ‘instruments in the hands of God.’ Which one of us does not long to be cherished, watched over, comforted, and instructed in the things of God? How does it happen? One kindness, one expression of love, one thoughtful gesture, one willing hand at a time.”

Kathleen H. Hughes, First Counselor, Relief Society General Presidency
That We May All Sit Down in Heaven Together,” October 2005 General Conference

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“Since its earliest days Relief Society has done incalculable good. The Relief Society provided the first carload of flour that reached survivors of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and later provided wheat to the United States government during World Wars I and II. Last year our sisters donated more than 140,000 quilts to help those in distress. We have championed motherhood and the family, waged war against illiteracy, and rendered untold hours of service throughout the world.”

Mary Ellen Smoot, Relief Society General President
We Are Instruments in the Hands of God,” October 2000 General Conference

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“Today, as at Relief Society’s founding, women of the Church see charity as the salient way of developing our capacities to know God, not merely to know about God.”

Aileen H. Clyde, Second Counselor, Relief Society General Presidency
Charity and Learning,” October 1994 General Conference

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“From the beginning—150 years ago—Relief Society has offered women ways to strengthen their own lives and ways to help them strengthen the lives of others. The others might be our own family, our neighbor, or the stranger who has come to our awareness. The ways sometimes come by assignment and often come from personal initiative. The needs are everywhere, and the key to our ability to meet them is Christ’s admonition that we love one another as he has loved us.”

Aileen H. Clyde, Second Counselor, Relief Society General Presidency
The Mission of Relief Society,” April 1992 General Conference

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“I want you to remember that the Relief Society began because one woman—a Miss Cook—we don’t even know her full name—talked to her employer, Sarah M. Kimball, and the two of them devised a way to provide shirts for the men working on the Nauvoo Temple. Be a Miss Cook! See a need. Talk to your sisters in the Relief Society. Combine your strengths. Find collective ways to serve that you individually feel good about. Service should be as different as the needs of your community and the talents of your sisters.”

Chieko N. Okazaki, First Counselor, Relief Society General Presidency
Rejoice in Every Good Thing,” October 1991 General Conference

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“As sisters in Relief Society, we have a noble heritage, a present challenge, and a vision of greatness to be. With the organization of the Relief Society came the Lord’s program for his daughters. The cornerstone of that work was to become deeply engaged in relieving suffering among his children.

“The Prophet also instructed the sisters that their Society ‘is not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls.’ That challenge is much with us today.”

Barbara B. Smith. Relief Society General President
Women’s Greatest Challenge,” October 1979 General Conference

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