“The Last Conference,” Ensign, Nov. 1975, 144
The 86-year-old institution of Relief Society conferences ended this year. Accompanying the pleasant nostalgia of “the last time” was a strong undercurrent of excitement and anticipation as the stake and mission Relief Society leaders felt themselves growing into the responsibilities they will now have, buoyed up by the eloquently expressed confidence and trust of the general board members and the Relief Society general presidency.
Sister Belle S. Spafford, former general president, expressed the feelings of many in announcing, “The Society is no stranger to change.” She reviewed the changes in conference structure. The first general Relief Society conference was held April 6, 1889, in the Assembly Hall, for representatives from stake Relief Society boards. Before that time, the general officers had gone out from Salt Lake with their instructions, “becoming experts in repairing wagon wheels and replacing buggy tongues” on the way.
Two conferences then became the rule, a fall conference for education and a spring conference for compassionate service, music, membership drive, etc.
In 1945, the same year Sister Spafford became president, they went back to one conference, trying to squeeze all of their business in less time.
Other changes occurred as growth continued: the standing roll call of stakes and missions was abolished, attendance had to be limited, and now, finally instruction will be transferred to the yearly regional conferences. “Change,” declared Sister Spafford, “has ever been the handmaid of progress.”
There is, as Sister Smith said, “inevitable nostalgia” at this ending of an era, but also a “glorious sense of anticipation” as the sisters flex barely tested muscles.
“It’ll be a big responsibility but you’d be surprised what you can do if you have to. You see it in the wards,” said one president from Nevada. Her counselor exclaimed, “I’ve seen it in me!”
Another sister commented, “I’ve been watching all the presentations differently this year, and I’ve caught myself thinking, ‘I can do that. In fact, I can do it better!’ At least, I’d like to try.”
Another stake counselor added, “I hope that we’ll receive enlightenment and inspiration—and I’m really sure that we can do a lot more than we’ve been doing on the local level.”