Chapter 21: Relief Society: Divinely Organized for the Good of the Saints

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, (2011), 183–91


The Relief Society was instituted by divine authority to administer comfort to those in need and to promote the spiritual welfare of the women of Zion.

From the Life of Joseph F. Smith

President Joseph F. Smith spoke of the Relief Society as being “divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God.”1 He participated in many Relief Society celebrations and special occasions, speaking with love and admiration about the work of the women. On 17 March 1892, the Relief Society marked the 50th anniversary of its founding with Silver Jubilee services. In the Salt Lake Tabernacle and in branches, wards, and stakes throughout the Church, Relief Society officers and priesthood leaders paid tribute to the founding of the Relief Society and to the many years of service offered by the women of the Church.

These congregations around the world had been instructed to join in a simultaneous offering of prayer. President Joseph F. Smith, then Counselor to President Wilford Woodruff, offered the special prayer of praise and thanksgiving in the Tabernacle: “Thou hast given unto us a degree of light which has made our hearts to rejoice and helped us to serve thee. … Thou hast given us a desire to establish thy Church in the earth, and to seek righteousness,” he said. “Bless the … members of the Relief Society throughout the earth, in Zion and in foreign lands, upon the islands of the sea, and wherever they meet together. … Wilt thou be with them by thy spirit to bless them, to cause their hearts to rejoice before thee.”2

Teachings of Joseph F. Smith

The Relief Society is instituted by God.

What a mighty, what a great and powerful organization is the organization of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and what responsibilities rest upon them!3

There is no other organization of women extant in the world that stands upon the same high platform of divine authority that this organization does in the world. The other organizations are men-made, or women-made. … 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 be compared with it, that can ever occupy the same stand and platform that this can, unless the Lord will organize another. And if he does, He will do it through the channels of priesthood, the same priesthood, and the same channels of the priesthood by which this was organized, and not in any other way.4

Women may organize clubs, and they may organize societies, and they may pass by-laws, draft articles of agreement, and establish rules for their government, and all that sort of thing. Do not forget it, that not one of those can be compared with a regularly organized ward Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. … It is not for you to be led by the women of the world; it is for you to lead the world and to lead especially the women of the world, in everything that is praiseworthy, everything that is God-like, everything that is uplifting and that is purifying to the children of men. … 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, and it is your duty to enjoy your privileges and to obtain all that belongs to your calling and that you should inherit from the Lord and His gifts.5

The Relief Society is to care for the needy, to comfort and enlighten.

I believe that our Relief Society is doing a magnificent work among the people. … They are an essential organization for the good of Israel, for the welfare of the sisters, and mothers, and the daughters in Zion.6

A word or two in relation to the Relief Society. This is an organization that was established by the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is, therefore, the oldest auxiliary organization of the Church, and it is of the first importance. It has not only to deal with the necessities of the poor, the sick and the needy, but a part of its duty—and the larger part, too—is to look after the spiritual welfare and salvation of the mothers and daughters of Zion; to see that none is neglected, but that all are guarded against misfortune, calamity, the powers of darkness, and the evils that threaten them in the world. It is the duty of the Relief Societies to look after the spiritual welfare of themselves and of all the female members of the Church.7

Where on earth should we look for good, for the spirit of truth, for sincerity, for divine love, for patience and long-suffering and forgiveness and endurance and charity and every other blessed thing, if we do not look for it in the organizations that develop the mothers and the daughters of Zion. What power you possess, my beloved sisters, in the exercise of your duties, in the performance of your callings as angels of mercy to the suffering and the down-trodden and downfallen, to the erring and the weak and suppliant, powers that you possess and that you may wield among the people of God and among any people among whom you may be permitted to associate!

Wherever there is need for comfort, this organization is established, or is near at hand and is prepared to administer comfort that is needed. Wherever there is sickness, this organization, in its branches, its diversified organizations, is there to administer that which is needed. Wherever there is a lack of knowledge of the principles of life, the principles of right living, the principles of correct living, this organization is near at hand to impart intelligence, to enlighten and to instruct by example as well as by precept, those who are in need of such succor and of such sustenance.

Wherever there is ignorance or at least a lack of understanding in regard to the family, duties of the family, with regard to obligations that should exist and that do rightfully exist between husband and wife and between parents and children, there this organization exists or is near at hand, and by the natural endowments and inspiration that belongs to the organization they are prepared and ready to impart instruction with reference to those important duties. Where there is a young mother, that has not had the experience that she should have to nurture and nurse her child, or to make her home pleasant and attractive and desirable for herself and her husband, this organization exists, in some part of its organization, to impart instruction to that young mother, and to help her to do her duty and to do it well. And wherever there is lack of experience in administering natural and nourishing and proper food to children, or where there is a necessity of giving proper spiritual instruction and spiritual food to children, there are in the great organizations of the Female Relief Societies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and organizations of mothers and daughters of Zion, those who are equipped to impart that instruction.8

Look after the needy more diligently than ever. … We fear that there are those who may suffer in silence for want of a helping hand. Your duty lies first to these in your locality. Remember the aged and care for the orphans and widows.9

It was my privilege not long ago to visit one of our settlements in an outlying Stake of Zion where a great deal of sickness prevailed at the time, and although we had been traveling many days and we reached the settlement late in the evening, we were solicited to go round with the president to visit some of the sick. We found a poor sister prostrate upon a bed of sickness, in a very critical condition. Her poor husband sat by her bedside almost distracted at the dreadful illness of his wife who was the mother of a number of little children clustered around. The family seemed to be in a very destitute condition.

A nice matronly woman soon came into the house, carrying with her a basket containing nourishing food and some delicacies for the use of the afflicted family. On inquiry we learned that she had been detailed by the Relief Society of the ward to watch over and administer to the sick woman through the night. She was there prepared to look after the little children, to see that they were properly washed and fed and put to bed; to tidy up the house and make everything as comfortable as possible for the afflicted woman and her family. We also learned that another good sister would be detailed to relieve her the following day; and so on, from day to day, this poor, afflicted family received the kindest care and attention from the sisters of the Relief Society until health should again come to relieve the sick one from her sufferings.

We also learned that this Relief Society was so organized and disciplined that all the sick in the settlement were receiving similar attention and ministrations for their comfort and relief. Never before had I seen so clearly exemplified the utility and beauty of this grand organization as in the example we here witnessed, and I thought what a gracious thing it was that the Lord inspired the Prophet Joseph Smith to establish such an organization in the Church.10

Relief Society sisters should seek to build faith and spiritual strength in themselves and those they serve.

Who can tell the extent of the good that may be accomplished in the midst of the Saints by a well organized and thoroughly disciplined Relief Society, not only in a temporal sense, but also from a spiritual point of view. The work is charitable and there is perhaps no more potent or far reaching influence than well-directed charity, to win the confidence and love of our fellow creatures. And having won their confidence through simple deeds of mercy the door is opened to win and lead their souls to higher planes of faith and spiritual excellence; and, after all, the spiritual part is of greater worth than the mere temporal. …

In the long run it is better to starve or even to perish for the want of temporal food than to be impoverished and perish for the lack of intellectual and spiritual knowledge which are essential to secure the gift of eternal life which is the greatest gift of God. To possess a knowledge of the principles of eternal truth is more to me than food or raiment. Yet we want both the temporal and the spiritual food and God has so ordained that both of these are within easy reach of all mankind, provided they will observe His laws and live consistent therewith.

It is the privilege of the worker in the Relief Society to take the little ones from their infancy and help to teach them to be honest and virtuous, to believe in God the Eternal Father, and in the divine mission of His Son; and to instruct the mothers and to teach them to bring up their little ones in this way. This is an important duty, even more so, if possible, than simply ministering to the temporal wants which devolves upon you, my sisters. Indeed there is no limit to your privileges or prerogative to do good in every way and everywhere that it may lay in your power.11

The labors of the Relief Society largely pertain to the material things of life, to the temporal necessities of the people of the Church, and yet the influence of their efforts may reach far beyond mortality, as they affect the spiritual growth as well as the temporal needs. … It is a part of your duty to look after the fatherless and helpless, not only as to their temporal wants, but with direct reference to their mental and spiritual development. Indeed you should be mothers to the motherless and helpers to the helpless. In all these good works the Church stands at your back to help you.12

The greater things are the spiritual things, those things that build up the faith of men and women, those things that give light and intelligence and power to resist evil and temptations to evil, power to discern deceitfulness of men and the cunning and the craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive. That intelligence, that spiritual knowledge, spiritual intelligence which will enable you to discern between truth and error, and between light and darkness and good and evil, this is the great thing for us to seek after and to obtain.13

Think of Aunt Em [Emmeline B. Wells, general Relief Society president] … coming into the Church when she was a little girl, passing through the trials and tribulations and disappointments and all the causes of anxiety and care incident to the early life of the Latter-day Saints, their exodus from Missouri and from Nauvoo to the Valleys of the mountains, over the deserts with nowhere to plant their feet and nowhere to lay their head. Was she discouraged? Was my mother discouraged? Was Aunt Vilate Kimball discouraged? No; they counted all these things dross and refuse to the light that they bore in their souls for God and His truth. Could you turn one of these women away from their convictions in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Could you darken their minds as to the mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith? Could you blind them with reference to the divine mission of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? No, never in the world could you do it. Why? Because they knew it. God revealed it to them, and they understood it, and no power on earth could turn them from what they knew to be that truth. Death was nothing to them. Hardship was nothing. Cold or rain, or heat, was nothing to them. All they felt and knew and desired was the triumph of the kingdom of God and the truth that the Lord had given to them.

My soul, where are these women now? We have some of them here, thank God, many of them. But we have some of them here who are not real. … You follow them to the center, their hearts and their habits and practices in their homes, and they are not what we are looking for, they are not what the gospel will make women or men who accept the gospel and live it, because they do not know the gospel themselves, neither do they practice it. Yet on the surface you would think that everything was encompassed in them, and that they possess all light and all faith and all wisdom and all knowledge; but it is not there,—it is not there. When women as well as men cease to call upon God in prayer, there is something lacking. … They have not the stability, they have not the faith, they have not the love in their souls they ought to have.14

The word and the law of God are as important for women who would reach wise conclusions as they are for men; and women should study and consider the problems of this great latter-day work from the standpoint of God’s revelations, and as they may be actuated by his Spirit, which it is their right to receive through the medium of sincere and heartfelt prayer.15

Let us work for the temporal welfare and for the spiritual welfare of the Church, and let us work harder still for the spiritual uplifting and spiritual benefiting, and the spiritual life and salvation of the Church.16

The Relief Society is not independent of the priesthood of the Son of God.

Our sisters engaged in the Relief Society work … have our respect, our full confidence; the blessings of the Lord will attend them. He has done so in the past and He will continue to bless them so long as they continue to sustain the Priesthood of God that has been placed in the earth to guide the Church and to counsel in the affairs of the kingdom of God.17

I want to say … to the Relief Society … and all the rest of the organizations in the Church, that not one of them is independent of the Priesthood of the Son of God, not any of them can exist a moment in the acceptance of the Lord when they withdraw from the voice and from the counsel of those who hold the Priesthood and preside over them. They are subject to the powers and authority of the Church, and they are not independent of them; nor can they exercise any rights in their organizations independently of the Priesthood and of the Church.18

From the depth of my soul, I have but one desire toward all these good women, who are engaged in this noble cause, and that is, God bless them, preserve their lives, help them to be firm and true in their integrity to the cause of Zion; and help them to feel in their souls that there is nothing that ought to be put in advance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and nothing else better than the Church beneath the celestial kingdom. The Church possesses God’s power, righteousness, truth and divine authority, to do his will on the earth.19

Suggestions for Study

  • By what authority was the Relief Society organized? How does the knowlege that the Relief Society was divinely instituted help the sisters fulfill their responsibilities? How does this knowledge help priesthood holders support the Relief Society?

  • How can Relief Society sisters “lead … the women of the world” in everything that is praiseworthy, uplifting, and purifying? (See also Articles of Faith 1:13.)

  • How can Relief Society sisters fulfill their “callings as angels of mercy to the suffering and the down-trodden”? How can we be led to those who “suffer in silence”?

  • How can the Relief Society as an organization administer comfort? How can it teach the principles of right living? How can it increase women’s understanding of their family responsibilities?

  • Why are the greater things the spiritual things? How can “well-directed charity” and “simple deeds of mercy” help us lead souls to “higher planes of faith and spiritual excellence”?

  • What impresses you about the Relief Society sisters described in this chapter?

  • How is the Relief Society blessed by the direction of the priesthood?

  • How has the “noble cause” of Relief Society blessed your life?

Show References

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Minutes of the General Board of the Relief Society, 17 Mar. 1914, Historical Department Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 54.

  2.   2.

    Minutes, 17 Mar. 1892, 233–34.

  3.   3.

    Minutes, 17 Mar. 1914, 51.

  4.   4.

    Minutes, 17 Mar. 1914, 54–55.

  5.   5.

    Minutes, 17 Mar. 1914, 55–56.

  6.   6.

    In Conference Report, Apr. 1914, 3–4.

  7.   7.

    Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 385.

  8.   8.

    Minutes, 17 Mar. 1914, 49–51; paragraphing added.

  9.   9.

    “Epistle to the Relief Society concerning These War Times,” Relief Society Magazine, July 1917, 364.

  10.   10.

    Woman’s Exponent, May 1903, 93; paragraphing added.

  11.   11.

    Woman’s Exponent, May 1903, 93; paragraphing added.

  12.   12.

    Woman’s Exponent, May 1903, 93.

  13.   13.

    Minutes, 17 Mar. 1914, 57.

  14.   14.

    Minutes, 17 Mar. 1914, 58–60; paragraphing added.

  15.   15.

    Gospel Doctrine, 290.

  16.   16.

    Minutes, 17 Mar. 1914, 63.

  17.   17.

    In Conference Report, Oct. 1906, 9.

  18.   18.

    Gospel Doctrine, 383.

  19.   19.

    “‘Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men,’” Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1915, 16.