“Relief Society Turns 141,” Ensign, May 1983, 90–91
“When Joseph Smith turned the keys in behalf of women in Nauvoo,” said Barbara B. Smith, general Relief Society president, “there was a door of great significance opened for womankind. Light and knowledge from heaven began to flow down upon women not only in the Church, but everywhere; and the wheels of progress provided women with more and more opportunities to take the responsibility for their own lives, and thus work out their own salvation and make contributions to the work of society.”
The occasion for her remarks was a March 16 presentation commemorating the 141st anniversary of the Relief Society. The Relief Society was formally organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith on 17 March 1842, with eighteen members present. Today, some 1,600,000 Latter-day Saint women attend Relief Society in eighty-two countries of the world.
Central to Sister Smith’s theme were the love and service which have characterized Relief Society sisters through the years. “It is fitting,” she said, “that the Relief Society should primarily be a story of love, written on many pages by many people because the Savior said, ‘By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.’ (John 13:35.)
“No birthday party is complete,” observed Sister Smith, “without a guest of honor.” There were several such guests—former and continuing Relief Society leaders. Each of those honored spoke briefly—and each, without exception, from Vera White Pohlman, who first began her Relief Society work when Emmeline B. Wells was general president (1910–1921), to the counselors in today’s presidency, expressed her love for the sisterhood of the Church.
Marianne C. Sharp, first counselor to President Belle S. Spafford during all 29 1/2 years of her administration, reminisced about “our wonderful Relief Society building. … I was always impressed by the goodness of the Brethren as we worked toward our goals.”
Verla Simonsen, a second counselor to President Spafford for ten years, reflected that “I have never known a place where I have experienced such an abundance of love as I have in the Relief Society.” Louise W. Madsen, also a counselor to Sister Spafford, was an accomplished and popular speaker in the Church; she recalled that “I think the thing I remember most is the fact that we all grew so greatly—that we grew much farther and better than we ever thought we could; that we discovered talents and abilities, and great love that we didn’t even know was in our being.”
Sister Hulda Parker Young served for twelve years as Relief Society general secretary-treasurer during a period of rapid worldwide expansion for the Church. “When you talk about love,” she said, “I think there is nothing that makes you realize the worldwide sisterhood aspect of Relief Society like traveling into many lands. You meet a sister in an entirely different culture; maybe she doesn’t speak your language; but she is a member of the Church and the Relief Society, and you love her—and you both feel that love.”
Janath Cannon served as first counselor to Sister Smith until she and her husband were called to help open Africa for missionary work; she is currently a member of the general board. “I want you sisters to know,” she said, “that we do have sisters all over the world. Some of them are not even yet members of the Church; and yet, knowing the Church, some of them did call themselves ‘Relief Societies’ before they were even baptized. And they are truly our sisters.”
Sister Marian R. Boyer, who has been a counselor to Sister Smith since 1974, added her testimony of the bonds of sisterhood: “I think that the special part of this work is the great love that we have felt—not only with those in the building, but from every sister in the Church. We don’t have an assignment any place without feeling this love; and even if we don’t do very well, we still are loved, no matter where we go. We love the same things, we have the same desires, we’re struggling for the same blessings, and so indeed we are sisters in the gospel.”
Shirley W. Thomas, who has been a counselor to Sister Smith, spoke of her love for the Lord and her admiration for Sister Smith: “Sister Smith has taught me that you never do anything in an ordinary manner. This is a manifestation of her magnificence, but also of the Lord’s love for you, he having chosen one who serves so well.” Sister Thomas was recently called to serve with her husband, Robert K. Thomas, who has accepted the call to be a mission president.
Also honored were Sister Camilla E. Kimball, wife of President Spencer W. Kimball, and Sister Sara Tanner, widow of the late President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor to President Kimball. Sister Kimball, still recovering from hip surgery, stood and assured those present that “I love all of the sweet sisters of Relief Society around the world. I feel that that has been my greatest privilege—to meet so many of them in their home environments, and to realize that we all have the same responsibility and the same anxiety to fulfill the will of our Heavenly Father.”
Sister Tanner said that “I’ve never met a woman yet that I didn’t love.”
Sister Smith concluded her remarks with her hope that “we, as daughters of our Heavenly Father, go forth with his power and with his name upon our lips and his glory round about us.”