Organized March 17, 1842, in the Prophet Joseph Smith's red brick store in Nauvoo, Ill., the Relief Society, as an association for the women of the Church, has always had lofty objectives.
In general conference of April 1992, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve spoke of the organization and purposes of Relief Society:
"In the initial meetings of Relief Society, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the society 'is not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls' (minutes, June 9, 1842, p. 63; History of the Church, 5:25). A later First Presidency [in 1922] explained: 'One of the purposes of the organization of the Relief Society was that a system might be inaugurated by which study of religious subjects, or Church doctrine and government, might be pursued by women. The administration of charity under the direction of the Bishopric. . . was to be part of their active work. But this was not intended to absorb their activities to the exclusion of the development of faith, and the advancement of women in literary, social and domestic activities of life.' (James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5:217.)
"To save souls opens the whole field of human activity and development," Elder John A. Widtsoe later declared. "Relief of poverty, relief of illness; relief of doubt, relief of ignorance — relief of all that hinders the joy and progress of woman. What a magnificent commission!" (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 308.)