The Role of Womanhood to Be Depicted in Relief Society Monument
March 1976

“The Role of Womanhood to Be Depicted in Relief Society Monument,” Ensign, Mar. 1976, 78–79

The Role of Womanhood to Be Depicted in Relief Society Monument

A monument symbolic of women of the past, present, and future is being created by the Relief Society at Nauvoo, Illinois, where the organization was established by the Prophet Joseph in 1842.

Announced by Sister Barbara B. Smith in Relief Society Conference last October, the monument now is in design form and approval has been received from the First Presidency for its construction.

Rather than one large work, the monument will be comprised of a number of pieces depicting the roles and stewardships of women from childhood to motherhood to continuing service in the later years.

The monument will be displayed in a park and garden area, 365 feet long and 240 feet wide, immediately in front of the Nauvoo Visitors Center. Conceived by artist Dennis Smith, who will execute most of the works, it also will contain special sculptured pieces by Sister Florence Hansen.

The central feature of the monument will be the figure of a young woman, heroic in scale, envisioned by Brother Smith as “a young woman stepping forward into a subtle breeze, her long hair and the folds of her dress gently brushed back, creating a feeling of gentle confidence. I have tried to use clothing that is not dated by a particular period, developing a drapery that is delicate and free as well as monumental.”

This particular piece will be mounted in the center of a large, circular bed of flowers, around which will be placed four other life-sized sculptured figures. These will depict a woman sculpturing, conveying the idea of using one’s creative talents; a woman reading, conveying intellectual awareness; a woman in prayer; and a woman reaching out, offering to serve and help others.

Farther along the park walk way, which will be lined with trees, will be the figure of a young family unit, father, mother, and child, conveying the message that men and women are jointly charged with the responsibilities of parenthood and of raising their families in righteousness.

In another cluster of figures a young woman is playing with three children. Brother Smith explains that this scene demonstrates that a woman’s “capacity for rapport” is not restricted to motherhood. “The single woman can give and gain fulfillment.”

Other figures depict a mother preparing a teenage son for his responsibilities in life and a mother with a small baby on her shoulder. Following in her footsteps is an older daughter, looking up to her mother and foreseeing her future responsibilities and callings as a mother and a homemaker.

Also represented are a husband and wife planning for the eternities together and the figure of an elderly woman binding a quilt, finding fulfillment in serving and giving in her declining years. The pattern on the quilt is a double wedding ring design, a repetition of circles symbolizing the eternal theme of the whole monument.

Sister Hansen will create two special pieces for the monument. One will symbolize a mother sharing her talents with her daughter; the other, which will be located just outside the visitors center, will be of Joseph Smith and his wife Emma, the first president of the Relief Society. The piece will depict that moment in the Relief Society’s history when, at the organizational meeting, President Smith presented Emma with a five dollar gold piece to start the funds for the new organization.

That organization has now grown into a worldwide sisterhood of approximately one million members. Each sister has been requested to donate a modest sum to the construction of the monument; the names of all contributors will be recorded for placement in the garden.

“The purpose of this monument is twofold,” says Sister Smith, “first, to honor the founding of Relief Society by the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, where he turned the key in behalf of women that knowledge and intelligence might flow down to them; and second, to make it possible to portray to the world the role of women in the gospel plan, as understood by the Latter-day Saints.”

The monument is scheduled for dedication in March 1978, 136 years after the founding of Relief Society.

The Relief Society Nauvoo Monument to womanhood will be a number of sculptured figures depicting the various roles of women and located in a garden park. A model of the park and three of the proposed figures is seen here with Sister Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society (center); Dennis Smith (no relation), who designed the project and who will sculpt the majority of the works; and Sister Florence Hansen, who will sculpt two of the group pieces.

Sister Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society, admires a model for the proposed Relief Society Nauvoo Monument to womanhood.