Chapter 19: The Relief Society and Individual Responsibility

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), 131–36


The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith, was an important means of helping the poor and strengthening the sisters in Nauvoo from 1842 to 1844. Following Joseph’s martyrdom, the Relief Society was discontinued for several years. In 1854, prompted by the sisters’ work in behalf of the poor, President Brigham Young established Relief Societies in some wards in Utah. When the United States sent Johnston’s army to Utah in 1857, however, ward organizations, including the Relief Society, were again discontinued. In late 1867 President Young decided that the needs of the poor could not be effectively addressed without the sisters being organized. He called on bishops to reestablish Relief Societies: “Now, Bishops, you have smart women for wives … ; let them organize Female Relief Societies in the various wards. We have many talented women among us, and we wish their help in this matter. Some may think this is a trifling thing, but it is not; and you will find that the sisters will be the mainspring of the movement. Give them the benefit of your wisdom and experience, give them your influence, guide and direct them wisely and well, and they will find rooms for the poor, and obtain the means for supporting them ten times quicker than even the Bishop could” (DEN, 14 Dec. 1867, 2). Today the sisters of the Relief Society work together to improve their families and communities and to build the kingdom of God.

Teachings of Brigham Young

Relief Society sisters help care for the poor, sick, and afflicted.

I have a short sermon for my sisters. I wish you, under the direction of your Bishops and wise men, to establish your Relief Societies, and organize yourselves under the direction of your brethren (DBY, 218).

Get women of good understanding to be your leaders, and then get counsel from men of understanding; and let your fashions proceed from yourselves, and become acquainted with those noble traits of character which belong to your sex (DNSW, 28 Apr. 1868, 2).

Let a sister appeal for the relief of suffering and poverty, and she is almost sure to be successful, especially if she appeals to those of her own sex. If you take this course you will relieve the wants of the poor a great deal better than they are now dealt by (DEN, 14 Dec. 1867, 2).

I will here say to the Latter-day Saints, if you will feed the poor with a willing heart and ready hand neither you nor your children will ever be found begging bread. In these things the people are right; they are right in establishing Female Relief Societies, that the hearts of the widow and the orphan may be made glad by the blessings which are so abundantly and so freely poured upon them (DBY, 217).

Sisters, do you see any children around your neighborhood poorly clad and without shoes? If you do, I say to you Female Relief Societies pick up these children and relieve their necessities, and send them to school. And if you see any young, middle-aged or old ladies in need find them something to do that will enable them to sustain themselves; but don’t relieve the idle, for relieving those who are able but unwilling to work is ruinous to any community (DBY, 217).

Relieve the wants of every individual in need in your neighborhoods. This is in the capacity and in the power of the Female Relief Societies when it is not in the power of the Bishops (DBY, 218).

Look to yourselves in your capacity as Relief Societies in this city and throughout the mountains. Look at your condition! Consider it for yourselves, and decide whether you will go to and learn the influence which you possess, and then wield that influence for doing good and to relieve the poor among the people (DNW, 14 Aug. 1869, 2).

A record of the doings of all these Female Relief Societies will be kept, and it will be known who were fervent and faithful in carrying out the counsels given them in order to enable them to magnify their high callings here on the earth (MS, 31:269).

Eliza R. Snow

Etching of Eliza R. Snow (1804–87). Often called “Zion’s poetess,” she was the first secretary of the Nauvoo Relief Society. She served as the second general president of the Relief Society for 20 years.

Sisters who manage their resources wisely can further God’s work.

I wish to call the attention of our sisters to our Relief Societies. We are happy to say that many of them have done a great deal. We wish them to continue and progress. In our Relief Societies we wish to introduce many improvements. We wish our sisters of experience to teach the young girls not to be so anxious for the gratification of their imaginary wants, but to confine themselves more to their real necessities. Fancy has no bounds. … We are too apt to give way to the imagination of our hearts, but if we will be guided by wisdom, our judgment will be corrected, and we will find that we can improve very much (DBY, 218).

Ladies, if you are the means of plunging this whole people into debt so as to distress them, will there be anything required of you? I think there will, for you will be judged according to your works. Are not the men as extravagant as the women? Yes, they certainly are, and just as foolish (DBY, 213).

A good housekeeper will be saving and economical and teach her children to be good housekeepers, and how to take care of everything that is put in their charge (DBY, 213).

Let it be your delight that your children do not waste bread and other food. If you have bread to spare, give it to the poor, and see that your children do not destroy it. Do not let them destroy valuable clothing, but put strong, durable cloth upon them, and save where you can, and give it to the gathering of the poor (DNW, 29 May 1861, 2).

We should learn how to take into our possession every blessing and every privilege that God has put within our reach, and know how to use our time, our talents and all our acts for the advancement of his Kingdom upon the earth (DBY, 53).

The time we spend here is our life, our substance, our capital, our fortune, and that time should be used profitably (DBY, 217).

Now, sisters, if you will consider these things you will readily see that time is all the capital stock there is on the earth; and you should consider your time golden, it is actually wealth, and, if properly used, it brings that which will add to your comfort, convenience, and satisfaction. Let us consider this, and no longer sit with hands folded, wasting time, for it is the duty of every man and of every woman to do all that is possible to promote the Kingdom of God on the earth (DBY, 214).

Sisters should “magnify, promote and honor the life they now possess.”

Here are young, middle-aged and aged women, who all have experience according to that which they have passed through. … I shall commence by saying to these, my sisters, it is their imperative duty before God, their families and their brethren, to exercise themselves in the capacity in which they are placed, according to their ability, in order that they may magnify, promote and honor the life they now possess (MS, 31:267).

Let the sisters take care of themselves, and make themselves beautiful, and if any of you are so superstitious and ignorant as to say that this is pride, I can say that you are not informed as to the pride which is sinful before the Lord, you are also ignorant as to the excellency of the heavens, and of the beauty which dwells in the society of the Gods. Were you to see an angel, you would see a beautiful and lovely creature. Make yourselves like angels in goodness and beauty (DBY, 215).

Eve was a name or title conferred upon our first mother, because she was actually to be the mother of all the human beings who should live upon this earth. I am looking upon a congregation designed to be just such beings (MS, 31:267).

Permit me, sisters, to say, that we are endowed with a capacity to enjoy and to suffer and to be delighted. Are we delighted with that which is obnoxious? No; but with that which is beautiful and good (MS, 31:267).

Study order and cleanliness in your various occupations. Adorn your city and neighborhood. Make your homes lovely, and adorn your hearts with the grace of God (DBY, 200).

I can say to the sisters, if you have superior talents, arise and let your light shine. Prove to your neighbors and the community that you are capable of teaching those sisters whom you deem to be ignorant or neglectful (DNW, 15 June 1859, 2).

As I have often told my sisters in the Female Relief Societies, we have sisters here who, if they had the privilege of studying, would make just as good mathematicians or accountants as any man; and we think they ought to have the privilege to study these branches of knowledge that they may develop the powers with which they are endowed. We believe that women are useful not only to sweep houses, wash dishes, make beds, and raise babies, but that they should stand behind the counter, study law or physic [medicine], or become good book-keepers and be able to do the business in any counting house, and this to enlarge their sphere of usefulness for the benefit of society at large (DBY, 216–17).

The sisters in our Female Relief Societies have done great good. Can you tell the amount of good that the mothers and daughters in Israel are capable of doing? No, it is impossible. And the good they do will follow them to all eternity (DBY, 216).

Suggestions for Study

Relief Society sisters help care for the poor, sick, and afflicted.

  • What blessing did President Young promise to those who “feed the poor with a willing heart and ready hand”? What other blessings can come to individuals, families, or the community when we share our resources? Why is it important to do this with a willing heart?

  • Why is it “ruinous to any community” to give aid to those who are able but not willing to work? Why is work such an important principle?

  • President Young counseled the sisters to “relieve the wants of every individual in need in your neighborhoods.” What types of needs do people have? What specific needs have you and others observed around you? How can you serve those in need in your family, your ward or branch, or your community?

  • How can Relief Society sisters “wield [their] influence for doing good”? When have you seen Relief Society sisters accomplish more together than individual women could alone?

  • How can you support the work of the Relief Society? What blessings have you received through the Relief Society?

Sisters who manage their resources wisely can further God’s work.

  • President Young counseled Relief Society sisters to teach young girls to satisfy their needs but not necessarily their wants. How can you tell the difference between “imaginary wants” and “real necessities”? How can we learn to be more satisfied with what we have instead of longing for what we do not have?

  • Why is it important to use our resources wisely and economically? How does frugal living by the Saints contribute to building up the kingdom of God? How can you use your resources more wisely?

  • President Young referred to time as “capital,” “our fortune,” and “wealth.” Why is time so valuable? How can we make sure we are using our time wisely?

Sisters should “magnify, promote and honor the life they now possess.”

  • How can we “magnify, promote and honor the life [we] now possess”?

  • How can you contribute “order and cleanliness in your various occupations”? Why are order and cleanliness important? What does it mean to “adorn your hearts with the grace of God”? How can Latter-day Saint women “make [themselves] like angels in goodness and beauty”?

  • Why is it important for women to develop their talents? What talents can you contribute to the building of the kingdom of God? How can you help advance the kingdom of God through your daily activities?