Relief Society “is divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and men. Therefore there is not any organization that can compare with it,…that can ever occupy the same stand and platform that this can.”2
Joseph taught that “the Church was never perfectly organized”3 until we women were part of that structure. The organization of the Relief Society marks the first time in the restored Church that the women were given offices in the formal Church organization. Inclusion like this was uncommon in 1842, when women could not vote and rarely held offices in male-dominated organizations. In fact, “as the nineteenth century,…the personal property of a wife became the property of her husband as soon as he reduced it to possession.” Most of the early married women‘s acts did not appear until the 1840s in the United States.4 The 1840s were truly the “beginning of better days”5 for women.
Understanding that I, as a Relief Society sister, am a full-fledged participant in the structure of the Church empowers me to speak responsibly and clearly as I counsel with men in family and Church settings. I am not on the fringes of this Church, but have the opportunity and responsibility to help solve problems and attend to needs.
Elder M. Russell Ballard has repeatedly taught us about men and women working together, both in Church leadership and in families: “This is the miracle of Church councils: listening to each other and listening to the Spirit! When we support one another in Church councils, we begin to understand how God can take ordinary men and women and make of them extraordinary leaders.”6
As women, we can work respectfully with the brethren—with confidence and inspiration. I loved the description of the conversation between Joseph Smith, John Taylor, Emma Smith, Sarah Cleveland, and Eliza R. Snow regarding the selection of a name for their society in that first meeting above the red brick store in Nauvoo. The men thought it should be “The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society.” However, the women objected, gave their reasons, and put forth the word Relief in the place of Benevolent. After hearing their argument, “Elder Taylor arose and said—I shall have to concede the point—your arguments are so potent I cannot stand before them—I shall have to give way—
“Prest J.S. said I also shall have to concede the point, all I shall have to give to the poor, I shall give to this Society.”7
So I am a confident, inspired, valued, and fully vested member.
2. Joseph F. Smith, as quoted by Gordon B. Hinckley, Discourses of President Gordon B. Hinckley, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005—2006), 1:185—86.
3. Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007), 451.
4. Richard H. Chused, “Married Women’s Property Law: 1800—1850,” The Georgetown Law Journal, 1983, 71:1359, 1361.
5. Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book (hereafter Minutes), April 28, 1842. Available online at http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperDetails/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book?dm=image-and-text&zm=zoom-inner&tm=expanded&p=1&s=&sm=none.
6. M. Russell Ballard, “Counseling with Our Councils,” Ensign, May 1994, 26.
7. Minutes, March 17, 1842.