A video shown during the general Relief Society meeting featured President Gordon B. Hinckley narrating the history of Relief Society. During the video the Prophet Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, and the early sisters of Relief Society were portrayed meeting in the red brick store.
President Hinckley: The growth of the Relief Society from 18 members, when it was organized on March 17, 1842, in the frontier city of Nauvoo, to more than five million 160 years later, with members in communities large and small across the world, is a saga both extraordinary and remarkable.
The elements from which the Relief Society grew predate its organization. Those elements include the natural instincts of women to reach out to assist in promoting the common good, to help those in distress, and to improve their own minds and talents. And on that occasion Joseph Smith organized them into a society.
Joseph Smith: This “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 community.” 1
President Hinckley: From that modest beginning has grown what I regard as the largest and most effective organization of its kind in all the world.
At that first meeting, when Emma H. Smith was elected president, she said that “each member should be ambitious to do good.” 2 That was the spirit then, and that is the spirit now. It must continue to be the guiding principle through all the generations that lie ahead—that “each member should be ambitious to do good.”
Emma Smith: “We are going to do something extraordinary. … We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.” 3
Joseph Smith: “This Society is to get instruction [through] the order which God has established—[through] the medium of those appointed to lead.” 4
“It is natural for females to have feelings of charity—you are now placed in a situation where you can act according to those sympathies which God has planted in your bosoms. If you live up to these principles how great and glorious!—if you live up to your privilege, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates. … Not war, not jangle, not contradiction, but meekness, love, purity, these are the things that should magnify us. …
“And the blessings of heaven will flow down. …
“When you go home never give a cross word, but let kindness, charity and love, crown your works henceforward. …
“As you increase in innocence and virtue, as you increase in goodness, let your hearts expand—let them be enlarged towards others—you must be longsuff’ring and bear with the faults and errors of mankind. How precious are the souls of men! …
“… 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.” 5
President Hinckley: That prophetic statement has stood as a charter through a century and a half of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Lucy Mack Smith, mother of the Prophet, in speaking to the sisters in Nauvoo said:
Lucy Mack Smith: “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction, that we may all sit down in heaven together.” 6
President Hinckley: The history of the organization has shown that women of the Church have not had to wait to sit together in heaven to taste the sweet fruit of the kind of activities she described.
They have experienced much of heaven on earth as in life they have cherished one another, comforted one another, and instructed one another. Who can gauge the miraculous effects upon the lives of millions of women whose knowledge has been increased, whose vision has been extended, whose lives have been broadened, and whose understanding of the things of God has been enriched by reason of countless lessons effectively taught and learned in meetings of the Relief Society?
Who can measure the joy that has come into the lives of these women as they have mingled together, socializing in the atmosphere of the ward or branch, enriching the lives of one another through companionships that have been sweet and treasured? Who, even in the wildest stretch of imagination, can fathom the uncountable acts of charity that have been performed, the food that has been put on barren tables, the faith that has been nurtured in desperate hours of illness, the wounds that have been bound up, the pains that have been ameliorated by loving hands and quiet and reassuring words, the comfort that has been extended in times of death and consequent loneliness?
Speaking of the Relief Society, President Joseph F. Smith said on one occasion: “This organization is divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and of men. Therefore there is not any organization that can compare with it, … that can ever occupy the same stand and platform that this can. …
“… Make [Relief Society] first, make it foremost, make it the highest, the best and the deepest of any organization in existence in the world. You are called by the voice of the Prophet of God to do it, to be uppermost, to be the greatest and the best, the purest and the most devoted to the right.” 7
God bless the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. May the spirit of love, which has motivated its members for more than a century and a half, continue to grow and be felt over the world. May their works of charity touch for good the lives of uncounted numbers wherever they find expression. And may light and understanding, learning and knowledge, and eternal truth grace the lives of generations of women yet to come, throughout the nations of the earth because of this singular and divinely established institution. May they recognize, one and all, their great responsibility and blessing to be “instruments in the hands of God to bring about this great work” (Alma 26:3).
Relief Society Minutes, Mar. 17, 1842, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7.
Relief Society Minutes, Mar. 17, 1842, 13.
Relief Society Minutes, Mar. 17, 1842, 12.
Relief Society Minutes, Apr. 28, 1842, 40.
Relief Society Minutes, Apr. 28, 1842, 38–40.
Relief Society Minutes, Mar. 24, 1842, 18–19.
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (1998), 184.