Being Mormon

Happy International Women’s Day!!!

This is the talk I gave in church last Sunday. I just wanted to share it with you.

In the spring of 1842 Sarah Granger Kimball and her seamstress, Margaret A. Cook, discussed combining their efforts to sew clothing for workers constructing the Latter Day Saints‘ Nauvoo Temple. They determined to invite their neighbors to assist by creating a Ladies’ Society. Kimball asked Eliza R. Snow to write a constitution and by-laws for the organization for submission to President of the Church Joseph Smith for review. After reviewing the documents, Smith called them “the best he had ever seen” but said, “this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord, and He has something better for them than a written constitution. … I will organize the women. .. after a pattern of the priesthood.”

Good Morning Brothers and Sisters. I’m so excited to stand before you today. For those who don’t know me, my name is Kaylynn and I’ve been a part of the Footscray ward now for seven years. I’m married to a non-member and I have two beautiful children who have decided they wanted to stay home with dad…for now.

Today I’ve been asked to talk about the Relief Society Moto and what it means to me in my life. The motto of the Relief Society, taken from 1 Corinthians 13:8, is “Charity never faileth.”

Relief Society Purposes…

  • Help all women to increase their faith and personal righteousness.
  • Help strengthen their families and homes.
  • See out and provide relief for individuals and families in need.

Twenty LDS women gathered on Thursday, March 17, 1842 (almost 177 years ago!) in the second-story meeting room over Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo to discuss the formation of a Ladies’ Society with Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Willard Richards. Smith, John Taylor, and Richards sat on the platform at the upper end of the room with the women facing them. “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning” was sung, and Taylor opened the meeting with prayer. The women present were Emma Hale SmithSarah M. Cleveland, Phebe Ann Hawkes, Elizabeth Jones, Sophia Packard, Philinda Merrick, Martha McBride Knight, Desdemona Fulmer, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Leonora Taylor, Bathsheba W. Smith, Phebe M. Wheeler, Elvira A. Coles (Cowles; later Elivira A. C. Holmes), Margaret A. Cook, Athalia Robinson, Sarah Granger Kimball, Eliza R. Snow, Sophia Robinson, Nancy Rigdon and Sophia R. Marks. The women present were proposed as the initial members and the men withdrew as the motion to accept all present was considered. The motion was passed and the men returned. Then another 7 names were proposed by Joseph Smith for admission. They were: Sarah Higbee, Thirza Cahoon, Keziah A. Morrison, Marinda N. Hyde, Abigail Allred, Mary Snider, and Sarah S. Granger. The men again withdrew as the women considered and passed the motion. Smith then proposed the society elect a presiding officer and allow that officer to choose two counsellors to aid her. They would be ordained and would preside over the society. In the place of a constitution the Presidency would preside and all their decisions should be considered law and acted upon as such. At appropriate times, the body of the society should vote and the majority opinion of the sisters would be honoured as law. The minutes of the meetings would serve as an additional guide to their governance. Whitney motioned and it was seconded that Emma Smith be chosen President and this passed unanimously. Emma Smith then chose her two counsellors, Cleveland and Whitney. At that time Taylor, who had been presiding over the meeting, vacated that honour to Smith and her counsellors. The men then again withdrew as Smith chose a secretary and treasurer. The three members of the Presidency were then ordained and blessed by Taylor.[13]

Smith stated “the object of the Society—that the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor—searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants—to assist; by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties, ect. in their public teaching.”[14]

It was proposed that the organization go by the name “Benevolent Society” and with no opposition the vote carried. However, Emma Smith made a point of objection. She convinced the attendees that the term “relief” would better reflect the purpose of the organization, for they were “going to do something extraordinary,” distinct from the popular benevolent institutions of the day.[15] After discussion, it was unanimously agreed that the fledgling organization be named “The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo”. Joseph Smith then offered five dollars (worth $150 today) in gold to commence the funds of the Society. After the men left the room, Eliza R. Snow was unanimously elected as secretary of the Society with Phebe M. Wheeler as Assistant Secretary and Elvira A. Coles as Treasurer. Emma Smith remarked that “each member should be ambitious to do good” and seek out and relieve the distressed.[16] Several female members then made donations to the Society. The men returned, and Taylor and Richards also made donations. After singing “Come Let Us Rejoice,” the meeting was adjourned to meet on the following Thursday at 10 o’clock. Taylor then gave a closing prayer. Of his experience Joseph Smith recorded: “I attended by request, the Female Relief Society, whose object is the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes. … [W]e feel convinced that with their concentrated efforts, the condition of the suffering poor, of the stranger and the fatherless will be ameliorated”.[17]

The new organization was popular and grew so rapidly that finding a meeting place for such a large group proved difficult. Under Emma Smith’s direction, the Society was “divided for the purpose of meeting” according to each of the city’s four municipal wards.[18] Smith and her counsellors continued to preside over the groups. Visiting committees were appointed to determine needs in each ward. Young mother Sarah Pea Rich, wife of Charles C. Rich, recalled, “We then, as a people were united and were more like family than like strangers.”[19] By March 1844, membership totalled 1331 women.

***

Photo by Levi Guzman on Unsplash

This subject could not have had any better timing coming off of International Women’s Day last Friday. As my kids and I were getting ready for school on Friday, I hugged my 14-year-old daughter tight and wished her a happy IWD and told her I was very proud of her and how she was growing up to be a brave, strong, amazing woman. Then my son asked if there was an International Men’s Day? I cheekily said, ‘every day’. But then I explained to him how important this day was for women because of the history women have been through; how a long time ago (before Anne of Green Gables) that girls were not even allowed go to school because they were destined to just clean, cook and look after their families. How once upon a time women didn’t have the right to vote and how now the fight today is for equal pay. But it’s not just about that. IWD is all about recognizing the women in your life and how they contribute to molding who you’re growing up to be. So I told him to wish his teacher a happy IWD and we practiced him saying the mouthful. My son is in the back seat repeating the words and I congratulate him on getting it right. Then he said ‘No mom, I’m saying that to you.’…he’s catching on.

It’s so important to raise strong girls who will grow into strong women who are not afraid to use their voice. But it’s just as important to raise a little man who honors and respects women, especially when it’s hard for women to find that strength on her own. She might need a respectful man to help her find that strength.

Women are so important. More important then a clean house, a meal made, or makiing sure little teeth are brushed. Heavenly Father knew exactly what he was doing when he made us. We are daughters, sister, mothers, aunts, cousins, and wives but we are also complicated, moody, strong, soft and have superpowers. 

The Relief Society was formed in 1842, 51 years before New Zealand became the first self-governing nation to grant women the right to vote, followed closely by Australia in 1902. The United States, Canada, England and many other countries did not follow suit until shortly after World War I in the 1920s. In Saudi Arabia, women were only allowed to vote in December 2015, less than 4 years ago.

On August 26, 1920 American women won full voting rights but the ground work started in 1840 and I know the women mentioned above had a big hand in bringing that to fruition. I stand before you extrememly thankful for those strong brave women.

We are part of a very progressive and oldest women’s organisations in the world where all women are welcome.

Being a part of the Relief Society has had a big hand in molding who I am today. I have sisters I can go to for help as well as give assistance when I think they need help and mostly it’s giving a hug (of course), a listening ear, or going for a walk but we are here for each other. Women are here for each other in ways that men can’t be. Some of us are all doing the same job or have done the same job; raising little people to be big people, holding a corporate job, trying to sort out the bumps relationship or trying to put yourself out there to catch a relationship.

Relief Society is a safe space to share some of your deepest feelings, experiences and spiritual desires. It’s comfortable like stepping into a warm bath or hugging your mother.

I remember going to Relief Society the first time after I was 18. It felt weird, award and full of old ladies. And it still is, I’m just now one of those comfortable old ladies.

Being a part of this church has changed my life for good and being a part of the Relief Society has helped me change other’s lives for good.

I say these things, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Feature photo by Sam Manns on Unsplash

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