Two days after the Wentworth letter was published in the Times and Seasons, the Prophet Joseph called 18 stalwart women to a council room on March 17, 1842, and organized the Relief Society - the first female society of its kind in America.
The minutes of this first meeting record that the Prophet encouraged the sisters to "provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor - searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants - to assist by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the community. . . ." (History of Relief Society, p.18.)Thus the sisters relieved the elders of the growing welfare burden, an acute problem that had arisen with the arrival of hundreds of converts to the Mormon community of Nauvoo.
Said Joseph, "The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized."
Emma Smith was unanimously elected president at that meeting, after which Joseph "gave much instruction, read in the New Testament and Book of Doctrine and Covenants. . . and showed that the elect meant to be elected to a certain work." (History of the Church 4:552.) All agreed upon the Society's name as "The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo."
To commence the funds of the Society, the Prophet offered five dollars in gold. He had stated earlier in the meeting, "all I shall have to give to the poor, I shall give to this Society." The Prophet's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, who joined the Society at its second meeting, said, "This Institution is a good one . . . we must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction, that we may all sit down in heaven together."
Articles on this page may be used in conjunction with the gospel doctrine course of study.
Information compiled by Gerry Avant and Elayne Wells
Sources: The Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage; History of the Church by Joseph Smith, volumes 1 and 4; Relief Society History; God, Family, Country, by President Ezra Taft Benson; Messages of the First Presidency, compiled by James R. Clark; Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball.