The Early Relief Society

“The Early Relief Society,” Ensign, Mar. 2010, 72

A Moment in Time

The Early Relief Society

In 1842 a small group of women in Nauvoo, Illinois, gathered to form a sewing society to provide clothes for the temple workers. However, as the Prophet Joseph Smith counseled them, their responsibilities would be “not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls.”1 Thus Relief Society was born.

Joseph Smith formally organized the Relief Society on March 17, 1842. His wife, Emma, was its first president.

The sisters quickly set to work helping the needy. New settlers, including immigrants, often needed food, shelter, and clothing when they arrived. Many also suffered physical hardships, illness, and the deaths of family members.

By the summer of 1842, the Relief Society organization had grown so large that no building in Nauvoo could accommodate its numbers. The sisters chose instead to meet in a grove near the temple site. During the winter of 1842–43, they postponed their meetings, but sisters of the “necessity committee,” a forerunner of visiting teaching, still visited one another.


  1. Joseph Smith, in History of the Church, 5:25.