In the first meeting of the Relief Society, Sister Emma Smith said, “We are going to do something extraordinary.” 1 She was right. The history of Relief Society is filled with examples of ordinary women who have accomplished extraordinary things as they have exercised faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Relief Society was established to help prepare daughters of God for the blessings of eternal life. The purposes of Relief Society are to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and provide relief by seeking out and helping those in need. Women fulfill these purposes as they seek, receive, and act on personal revelation in their callings and in their personal lives.
This book is not a chronological history, nor is it an attempt to provide a comprehensive view of all that the Relief Society has accomplished. Instead, it provides a historical view of the grand scope of the work of the Relief Society. Through historical accounts, personal experiences, scriptures, and words of latter-day prophets and Relief Society leaders, this book teaches about the responsibilities and opportunities Latter-day Saint women are given in Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness.
President Spencer W. Kimball, the twelfth President of the Church, said, “We know that women who have deep appreciation for the past will be concerned about shaping a righteous future.” 2 A study of this book can help women increase their appreciation for the past and their understanding of their spiritual heritage.
The history of Relief Society teaches the divine identity and infinite worth of daughters of God. It is a Spirit-filled story of strong, faithful, purposeful women who have served with little public recognition. Through a study of this history, Latter-day Saints can see that our Heavenly Father knows His daughters, that He loves them, that He trusts them with sacred responsibilities, and that He guides them as they fufill those responsibilities. In their efforts, the women of the Church have united with men who hold the priesthood to build God’s kingdom on the earth and strengthen the homes of Zion.
The value of this book is not so much in the dates and facts it provides but in the purposes, principles, and patterns it teaches. As individual Relief Society sisters study and refer to this book again and again, they will see that the heritage of Relief Society is not just about women who lived in the past; it is also about women all over the world today who make and keep covenants. This understanding can help sisters find inspiration from the past and feel peace as they face the future.
The teachings, stories, and examples in the book can guide sisters in establishing priorities and practices in their lives that will help them increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need.
Sister Belle S. Spafford, the ninth Relief Society general president, said: “The average woman today, I believe, would do well to appraise her interests, evaluate the activities in which she is engaged, and then take steps to simplify her life, putting things of first importance first, placing emphasis where the rewards will be greatest and most enduring, and ridding herself of the less rewarding activities.” 3
As sisters learn from the history of Relief Society, they may discover examples, expressions, and principles that are especially meaningful to them. Inspired by these discoveries and by the teachings of ancient and latter-day prophets, they can seek, receive, and act on personal revelation. They can receive guidance as they strive to become the people the Lord wants them to become and do the things He would have them do.
Sisters can find encouragement in the words of Alma: “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” 4 The small and simple things they accomplish will help them see how the Lord is strengthening them and guiding their lives.
This book is an important resource to help Relief Society sisters learn together on Sundays and on other days of the week. To find general instructions about teaching in Relief Society meetings, ward and branch Relief Society leaders can refer to the current handbook and to LDS.org . To find specific information about using this book in Relief Society meetings, they can visit LDS.org and refer to other supplemental instructions published by the Church.
The influence of this book is meant to extend beyond Relief Society meetings. Families may study and discuss the examples and teachings in the book together. Relief Society sisters may share the book with their friends. Church members of all ages may use the book as a reference in lessons, talks, and council meetings.
Those who have prepared this book for publication express their gratitude to Lucile C. Tate and her niece Elaine R. Harris, who were called and set apart in 1996 to compile an unpublished history of the Relief Society. Their work was kept as a resource in the archives of the Church. Their effort to document the lives of Relief Society general presidents and the major events in Relief Society provided the foundation for this book.
Appreciation is also expressed to the following: Susan W. Tanner, who was set apart in 2009 to write this first comprehensive history of Relief Society for the entire Church, using the work of Sister Tate and Sister Harris as a foundation; editors and designers, who captured the spirit of what this book could become and worked diligently to bring it about; other writers, contributors, and historians, who are recognized through citations of their published work in the notes at the end of this book.
Finally, this history never could have been written were it not for the faith, devotion, and service of Relief Society sisters throughout the history of the Church.
Emma Smith, in Relief Society Minute Book, Nauvoo, Illinois, Mar. 17, 1842, Church History Library, 12.
Spencer W. Kimball, “Privileges and Responsibilities of Sisters,” Ensign, Nov. 1978, 104.
Belle S. Spafford, A Woman’s Reach (1974), 23.