Happy Birthday, Relief Society!


Happy Birthday, Relief Society!

Relief Society is very old this year—150 years old! To help celebrate its birthday, here are some interesting facts from its past that you probably didn’t know.

Silkworms eat mulberry leaves and spin out a silk thread. You already knew that, didn’t you? And maybe you knew that Brigham Young told the Relief Society to raise silkworms and weave the threads into cloth for the Saints. But did you know that Relief Society members made a dress out of Utah silk for Susan B. Anthony (a famous woman who worked to get women the right to vote) for her eightieth birthday in 1900?

An earthquake in 1906 caused the city of San Francisco to burn down. Many years before that—way back in 1876—Brigham Young had charged the Relief Society with harvesting, buying, and storing as much wheat as they could. Teenagers and Primary children helped the women do this. So when the people of San Francisco had almost no food after the fire, the Church sent a railroad carload of “Relief Society flour” to them. And that’s just one place the wheat was sent to help people.

In 1933, the Relief Society had an exhibit of their handwork. One wool rug was made by a woman who raised the sheep the wool was sheared from. Then she washed, carded (untangled with a comblike tool), dyed, spun, and wove it into the rug.

Besides things made by sisters in the United States (including American Indian Relief Society members), the exhibit had items made by sisters in Armenia, Assyria, Czechoslovakia, England, France, Germany, Hawaii (Hawaii wasn’t a state in the United States then—did you know that?), Mexico, the Netherlands, and the South Sea Islands.

Relief Society members made clothes for the American Indians and tried to help them whenever and however they could. The sisters also learned as much as they could from these Indians. Did you notice the Indian medicines and other cures advertised in this poster from the Women’s Commission House? It was a store set up by a part of the 1876 Relief Society and had the fancy name of Relief Society Woman’s Mercantile Association. What do you suppose was meant by “linseys,” “wristlets,” “tiny trunks,” and “pain paint”?

Now, what would the Relief Society be doing with a jar of dead flies? Well, in the mid 1920s, they had a “Swat the Fly” campaign. Flies were swatted, collected in fruit jars, then buried. Why? Because flies carry disease, and with every Relief Society member doing her part—there weren’t many screens in those days, remember—lots of towns were a lot healthier to live in!

As Primary children, you live with Relief Society members and most of you will grow up to either become or marry members of this wonderful organization.

Whether it’s contributing their precious china for the Kirtland Temple, canning food for needy people, or any of the zillion other acts of charity done through the years, some of which you’ve read about on these pages, the Relief Society does its part to further the gospel plan. Its motto, Charity Never Faileth, reflects both its anchor, Jesus Christ, and its perpetual goal, to do His work.

[photos] Emma Smith 1842–44; Elaine Jack 1990–; Susan B. Anthony

[photo] Courtesy California Historical Society, North Baker Library, San Francisco. Photographer: Arnold Genthe. FN-05332.