Eliza’s reputation as a writer was one reason she was invited to draft the constitution for a “ladies society,” an initiative that led to the organization of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo under the direction of Joseph Smith. On March 17, 1842, at the founding meeting of the new society, with twenty members present, Eliza was elected secretary. She meticulously recorded minutes of the first year’s meetings, including the six sermons Joseph Smith delivered to the Relief Society. She carried the 1842–44 minute book with her to the West, and she preserved the volume and shared its contents with her sisters until her death. “You see by these minutes, that Joseph Smith said if the sisters would carry out his counsel, they would become the most glorious organization that had ever been,” she told women in Draper, Utah, in 1870. Eliza was a woman of vision; did she, like the Prophet, foresee that this organization would one day number its members in the millions around the world?
As society membership increased during the spring and summer of 1842, Eliza published a poem describing the group’s purposes. Although some of Eliza’s phrasing may sound a little old-fashioned today, Latter-day Saints will likely find that her poem resonates as clearly with the aims and commitments of today’s Relief Society as it did with the Relief Society of 1842.
The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo
What Is It?
It is an Institution form’d to bless
The poor, the widow, and the fatherless—
To clothe the naked and the hungry feed,
And in the holy paths of virtue, lead.
To seek out sorrow, grief and mute despair,
And light the lamp of hope eternal there—
To try the strength of consolation’s art
By breathing comfort to the mourning heart.
It is an Order, fitted and design’d
To meet the wants of body, and of mind—
To seek the wretched, in their lone abode—
Supply their wants, and raise their hearts to God.
(Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson, Eliza: The Life and Faith of Eliza R. Snow [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2013], 36-38.)