“Celebrating Relief Society Voices from the Past,” Ensign, Apr. 1992, 79–80
“Dear Family,” wrote Leana Wood Larson, “when you read this, I will either be gone back to my maker or else I’ll be so old that I won’t be very much good to any body.”
Thus begins a letter written fifty years ago on 17 March 1942. Sister Larson was one of sixteen women from the American Fork Third Ward who celebrated the Relief Society Centennial by planting a tree and writing a letter to future posterity. Those letters were locked in a green, shoebox-sized metal box and stored away in a closet in the ward meetinghouse with instructions written on the front to open the box in 1992.
Fifty years later, that’s exactly what sisters in the American Fork Utah West Stake are doing. Just a few months ago, the forgotten metal box, locked with a large, rusty safety pin, was found. Upon opening the box, sisters discovered sixteen letters, several photographs, and numerous other mementos from the time period, including tax tokens, a 1940 Relief Society membership card, bobby pins, a nail file, a Valentine, and several newspaper articles.
“It was thrilling to discover these pieces from the past,” said Barbara Gordon, stake Relief Society president. “We feel so blessed to be able to use these things in our own Relief Society sesquicentennial celebration.”
Titled “Golden Voices from the Past,” the stake’s celebration centered around this discovery. Descendants of all sixteen women were contacted and invited to the event. The original letters were presented to these family members. In addition, pictures of the women were collected, portions of each letter were recorded for the program, and a display featuring the box’s contents was designed.
The celebration differed somewhat from the small gathering held fifty years ago. At the earlier celebration, Relief Society sisters planted a tree, then viewed a handiwork exhibit and enjoyed a program featuring original poems and true stories. In the evening, all the ward members attended a “plate lunch” and a dance. Celebrations were modest because the country—along with much of the world—was heavily involved in World War II.
Fern A. Walker, Alpine Stake Relief Society president and member of the American Fork Third Ward, spoke at the centennial celebration in 1942. Her recorded remarks were stored in the box. In part, Sister Walker said, “It is estimated that two thousand local wards and branches throughout the world are observing this centennial anniversary in some way or another. Many of these wards and stakes are planting trees on church grounds. … The planting of a tree is symbolic of the steady strength and growth of Relief Society.”
Sister Walker’s written remarks included mention that in 1938, the Relief Society general board had established a goal to enroll 100,000 women in Relief Society by the centennial year. In the 1942 celebration, she reported that “we have 113,000 women enrolled.”
A common theme in all the letters was the war; by 1942, the ward had sent twenty-two men off to fight. “With all the joy the gospel and service has brought us and the knowledge that we can accomplish some good, our hearts are still sad when we think of our boys on the battlefield,” wrote Martha P. Hunter. “Our hearts go out to them and we wish that we were able to do something to make their burden lighter.”
LuPriel G. Brown, a counselor in the American Fork Third Ward Relief Society, wrote about victory gardens and sewing, about teaching the Bluebird Primary class and about not being able to attend general conference because of the war.
“Fifty years,” she mused. “I am wondering and praying that peace will reign upon the face of the earth.”