The Founding of Relief Society

“The Founding of Relief Society,” Ensign, Mar. 1992, 57

Relief Society Sesquicentennial

The Visiting Teacher:

The Founding of Relief Society

The Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in Nauvoo, Illinois, on 17 March 1842. On that day, twenty women met with the Prophet Joseph Smith as he began what he shortly after called “a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous, and holy.” (Minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 30 Mar. 1842.)

Over the next few months, the women met together often to search out and help feed, clothe, and house the needy. Elizabeth Ann Whitney, a counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, praised the sisters “who were uniting their faith with their works.” (Ibid., 26 May 1842.) And when treasurer Elvira A. Holmes later reported their year’s donations, she said that “much good had been done and the hearts of many made to rejoice.” (Ibid., 16 June 1843.)

The women of Nauvoo also strengthened each other spiritually. Elizabeth Ann Whitney “rejoiced that we could enjoy the privilege of associating together to converse on things of the kingdom to comfort and edify each other.” (Ibid., 15 July 1843.)

Membership grew from an initial group of 20 in March 1842 to about 1,300 over the next two years.

What principles motivated the sisters in Nauvoo?

Enduring Principles

This month we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the organization of the Relief Society. Our motto explains our purpose: “Charity Never Faileth.” The early members of Relief Society emulated the “virtuous woman” extolled by the writer of Proverbs, who “openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” (Prov. 31:26.)

In the same spirit, today’s women are also finding ways to exemplify those enduring principles. When “the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives,” they attract other good people to the eternal principles they live by, said President Spencer W. Kimball. (My Beloved Sisters, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979, p. 44.)

Such a woman is Olga Kovarova, of Brno, Czechoslovakia, who was baptized into the Church in 1982. When Olga was introduced to the Book of Mormon, the phrase “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25) caught her attention. She felt that the people of her country needed that message in order to rediscover ethical and moral reasons for living. Although she could not reveal her interest in religion to her supervisor at the university where she taught, she found ways to teach this philosophy of gratitude, responsibility, and joy in classes and summer camps. She has become a voice of wisdom and encouragement to her people. (See Carri P. Jenkins, “After the Revolution: The Reemergence of Values,” BYU Today, Mar. 1991, pp. 30–34.)

How do we share the principles of wisdom, kindness, and charity in our families and communities?

Continuing the Mission of Relief Society

Following the pattern set by the Relief Society sisters of Nauvoo, modern Relief Society women exemplify the lasting principles of this society. Wisdom, kindness, and charity begin in our families and spread to our communities. Our gifts are many. Our field of labor is wide.

Relief Society women worldwide continue to search out those in need. We minister to the spiritual as well as to the temporal needs of our neighbors. We edify each other through weekly lessons and music. We express our testimonies in our words and our kind acts. We serve together.

During this sesquicentennial year, may we encourage each other to speak out with wisdom and to work for the good of others.

Illustrated by Beth Maryon Whittaker