New Online Exhibit Shares History of Relief Society Building

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 25 July 2014

Members of the Relief Society presidency inspect the building project with the architect and contractor.

Article Highlights

  • A new online exhibit titled “A Home of Our Own” shares the journey of Relief Society sisters and their efforts to create their building.
  • Available through LDS.org, the exhibit shares photos, videos, and information that follows the progression of the Relief Society organization.

Using the words of Belle S. Spafford, the ninth Relief Society general president of the Church, a new online exhibit titled “A Home of Our Own” shares the journey of Relief Society sisters and their efforts to create a building for their organization “in the shadow of the temple.”

Available through LDS.org, the exhibit shares photos, videos, and information in a chronological timeline that follows the progression of the Relief Society organization, as well as the needs of the organization as it grew.

“There are a lot of great buildings on Temple Square that the Church owns in downtown Salt Lake City, and each one of them has an interesting story,” said Matt McBride, web content manager for the Church History Department. “That is definitely true of the Relief Society Building.”

In an effort to tell more about the history of the women of the Church and the contributions they have made—as missionaries, as leaders, and as citizens in their communities—the Church History Department is pulling together stories about “women of conviction” and posting them on its website. The story of how the Relief Society Building came to be is one part of that topic.

“That was something that was a long time coming,” Brother McBride said of the building. “And we tried to convey that a little bit in the exhibit.”

The exhibit is broken into five sections that share the process and story of the Relief Society and how the building came to be. The exhibit chronologically shares how the growth of the organization created the need for a place to meet, or a building of its own. The online format makes the exhibit accessible to Relief Society sisters around the globe.

Representatives of Relief Societies from around the world. Women representing the nations of the world in which Relief Societies had been established took part in the open house and dedicatory services.

Belle S. Spafford, Marianne C. Sharp, and Velma Simonsen were the Relief Society presidency while funds were raised and the building was constructed and dedicated. Sister Sharp, daughter of President J. Reuben Clark, played an especially important role in coordinating the fundraising and building efforts.

Fourteenth Ward Relief Society Hall. The earliest Relief Society halls in Utah were patterned after the store in Nauvoo in which the society was founded in 1842.

Photograph of the excavation for the Relief Society Building. The buildings of the Latter-day Saints’ University surround the excavation site. From left to right, the Utah Genealogical Society, the LDS Business College, Barratt Hall, and the Brigham Young Memorial Building. Looking in the background on the right is the Hotel Utah (now the Joseph Smith Memorial Building).

“Just as every woman who contributed to that building was supposed to feel a stake and an ownership and that they were welcome there, we feel that members of the Church all over—particularly members in the Church who don’t live in Salt Lake and may never visit the Relief Society Building—can benefit from learning about what the women of the Church were able to accomplish many years ago,” said Brother McBride.

Starting with the organization of the Relief Society on March 17, 1842, in Joseph Smith’s store in Nauvoo, Illinois, and expounding upon the dream of Sarah Granger Kimball to have the Relief Society Building “in the shadow of the temple,” the exhibit walks through the years of hard work, approvals, donations, and even some heartache that led to the Relief Society Building as it stands today.

“We tried in the exhibit to tell a facet of the story that has never been told before,” said Brother McBride.

Although many players were involved, much of the exhibit focuses on the work of Sister Spafford, a former Relief Society general president and editor of the Relief Society Magazine from 1937 to 1945. Her persistence and effort were huge contributors to the physical building coming into fruition.

“When Sister Spafford was called as Relief Society general president in 1945, a new building was among her first priorities,” says an excerpt from the exhibit. “In July, she wrote President George Albert Smith about this ‘proposed undertaking, which has been dear to the hearts of Relief Society [sisters] for many, many years.’ He approved the idea and added, ‘I don’t care how … beautiful it is, it will not be better than you deserve.’”

The exhibit shares pictures of George Cannon Young, the building’s architect (he later did Primary Children’s Hospital, the Church Office Building, and the North and South Visitors’ Centers on Temple Square) and tells of how the location was established.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is video footage from the groundbreaking and cornerstone ceremonies. The groundbreaking ceremony includes a speech by Sister Spafford, where she identified the site and future building as “a home of our own,” and video of the cornerstone ceremony shares a clip of a talk from then Church President David O. McKay.

Sister Spafford said that she hoped every Relief Society member would “feel the pride of ownership” in the building and hoped it would become a place where the women of the Church can gather, work, and learn together as they reflect on the sisterhood of the Relief Society.

“I think this is the happiest day of my life,” Sister Spafford said in the video, later saying, “This is a happy and a history-making occasion. … Women of the past are mindful of us and are looking upon us and sharing our joys.

An exterior shot of the Relief Society Building as it stands today.