When the Relief Society was established under the hand of the Prophet Joseph Smith on March 17, 1842, our early sisters in Nauvoo, who had committed themselves to the Lord at conversion, recognized the dawning of a new day. During that first sacred session they sang “Now Let Us Rejoice” (Hymns, no. 3).*
This time line, organized by the period of service of each of the Relief Society general presidents and detailing which Church Presidents they served with, chronicles some joyful milestones of the organization’s legacy and some Church and historical events. As Relief Society sisters today, we too rejoice in the Lord’s organization for women, which helps us as we strive daily to keep our covenants, exercise charity, strengthen families, and ultimately come unto the Savior Jesus Christ.
“We are going to do something extraordinary. … We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls” (Relief Society, Minutebook 1842 Mar.–1844 Mar., entry made Mar. 17, 1842, 12, LDS Church Archives).
Relief Society sisters received the Prophet’s charge to “save souls and look to the poor and needy.” The Prophet declared, “All I shall have to give to the poor, I shall give to this society.” He offered five dollars in gold to Emma Smith.
Joseph Smith martyred, 1844.
First public telegraph transmitted, 1844.
“No sister [is] so isolated … but what she can do a great deal towards establishing the Kingdom of God upon the earth” (Woman’s Exponent, Sept. 15, 1873, 62).
Relief Society sisters engaged in sericulture (the production of raw silk) and other projects to help provide for their families.
First temple in Utah, the St. George Temple, completed, 1877; General presidencies established for Relief Society, MIA, and Primary, 1880.
Telephone invented, 1876; Light bulb invented, 1879.
“May we as women of Zion, ever know and honor our true position” (Woman’s Exponent, Apr. 15, 1889, 173).
Relief Society sisters in the United States supported the national women’s suffrage movement.
The first general board was organized in October 1892, made up of stake Relief Society presidents.
Salt Lake Temple dedicated, 1893; Utah received statehood, 1896; First single sister missionaries called, 1898.
First moving picture shown in public, 1896.
“Cease not while life lasts to study diligently, for the knowledge which is of greatest worth” (Woman’s Exponent, Jan. 1906, 41).
Relief Society adopted a course of study with mothers’ classes on marriage, prenatal care, and child rearing.
Relief Society sent clothing, bedding, and wheat for national and international relief.
Church became free of debt, 1907.
Wright brothers launched first airplane, 1903; Henry Ford introduced Model T automobile, 1908.
“I want the sisters to study the scriptures. … Let them be holy books unto you” (Relief Society Magazine, Aug. 1919, 439).
“Charity Never Faileth” became the Relief Society motto.
Relief Society Magazine first published, 1914; United States government purchased more than 200,000 bushels of wheat from Relief Society, 1918.
World War I, 1914–18; Panama Canal completed, 1914; Women’s suffrage granted in United States, 1920.
“We have been given such blessings as have never been given to women in any other age, and we should in every way endeavor to live up to them” (Relief Society Magazine, Dec. 1921, 696).
Monthly visiting teaching messages first included in the Relief Society Magazine.
Improved health and education for families emphasized.
First radio broadcast of general conference, 1924.
Lindbergh transatlantic flight, 1927.
“Go where you’re needed; do what you can” (as quoted in Belle S. Spafford Oral History, LDS Church Archives).
Relief Society worked under the direction of priesthood leaders to help implement the Church’s new welfare plan.
Singing Mothers—stake and ward Relief Society choruses—organized.
Church’s 100th stake organized, 1928; Deseret Industries began, 1938; Church centennial celebrated, 1930.
The Great Depression, 1929–39; World War II, 1939–45.
“Little did the original members of the organization realize … how great their beloved Society would become” (“Relief Society in Action Today,” Relief Society Magazine, Mar. 1944, 139).
Relief Society welfare work expanded to help the priesthood meet wartime needs.
Focus of visiting teachers broadened to serve families and to assist priesthood leaders in evaluating family needs.
Wartime restrictions curtailed Church activities.
United States entered World War II, 1941.
“There is within this society a great life-giving element … , binding together women of all nationalities” (“The Spirit of the Gospel, the Soul of Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine, Mar. 1949, 148).
Relief Society became an international organization as Church membership expanded worldwide.
Church membership reached one million, 1947; General conference telecasts began, 1949.
Korean War, 1950–53; Berlin Wall built, 1961.
“Women can begin … with their little children at home, among adult friends, in their extended families, and in their professions … to reach out in love to serve someone every day” (“Service Makes the Difference,” Tambuli, Aug. 1984, 12; Ensign, Mar. 1984, 17).
The Nauvoo Monument to Women, with statues showing many facets of a woman’s life, dedicated.
Revelation on the priesthood, 1978; Consolidated meeting schedule began, 1980.
Personal computers introduced, 1981.
“I feel for the sisters of the Church this love, and sense the worth of each individual. I want so, and desire so, that we be unified, one together with the priesthood, serving and building the kingdom of God” (“I Love the Sisters of the Church,” Ensign, May 1984, 59).
New scripture-based lessons introduced and correlated with the Gospel Doctrine course of study.
Church Family History Library dedicated, 1985.
Berlin Wall dismantled, 1989.
“Our joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ and our place in His plan will draw people to us and change lives. We will lift and inspire a world so desperately in need of goodness” (“A Small Stone,” Ensign, May 1997, 75).
A sesquicentennial broadcast linked five continents and an international sisterhood of 3.2 million women.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” issued, 1995; The majority of Church members live outside the United States, 1996.
USSR dissolved, 1991; Public Internet era began, 1993.
“May we be exemplary women and stand boldly for truth” (“Come, Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord,” Liahona, Jan. 1999, 109; Ensign, Nov. 1998, 91).
Home, family, and personal enrichment meeting replaced homemaking meeting.
Visiting teaching message format composed of scripture references and quotations from Church leaders.
Church membership reached 10 million, 1997; Smaller temples announced, 1997; Conference Center dedicated, 2000.
Terrorists attacked New York City and Washington, D.C., 2001.
“If I could have one thing happen for [women] in this Church, it would be that they would feel the love of the Lord in their lives daily” (“Feel the Love of the Lord,” Liahona, July 2002, 95; Ensign, May 2002, 84).
Emphasized the successful transition of young women into adulthood.
Taught sisters to feel they belong to—as well as attend—Relief Society.
Nauvoo Illinois Temple dedicated, 2002; Three Apostles called to serve outside the United States as Area Presidents, 2002, 2004.