A 150th Anniversary Celebration of Relief Society: An International Sisterhood

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“A 150th Anniversary Celebration of Relief Society: An International Sisterhood,” Tambuli, Mar. 1992, 35

A 150th Anniversary Celebration of Relief Society:

An International Sisterhood

With the construction of the Nauvoo Temple underway, the sisters of Nauvoo were asked to contribute their time and resources. To better organize their efforts, Eliza R. Snow drafted a constitution for a ladies’ group, a constitution which Joseph Smith not only approved, but also wished to take one step further. He said, “I will organize the sisters … after a pattern of the Priesthood. This Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized” (Relief Society Magazine, March 1919, page 129).

On 17 March 1842 the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo was formally organized. Emma Smith was called to be the president, and Eliza R. Snow was appointed secretary. Twenty women and three men were in attendance.

Since that time, Relief Society has become an international organization of more than 1.78 million women in more than 128 countries and territories. These sisters work together to develop and share their talents among themselves, their families, and the community. Many have come closer to Christ as a result.

Throughout the years, the emphasis of Relief Society has remained constant: By learning to serve, we become disciples of Christ. On the following pages are specific areas of focus, as defined by the Relief Society General Presidency.

Above: Nauvoo Temple, by Helga Steffel of Ostfrieland, Germany, 1986. This embroidery in wool and synthetics is based on a 1967 painting by Stephen Baird.

Left: The Beginning of Relief Society in Nauvoo, by Nadine Barton (1921–1989) of Provo, Utah. Oil on canvas, 1986. Emma Smith, under the direction of the Prophet, conducts the first meeting of the Relief Society.

“Charity Never Faileth”

At the outbreak of World War I, Utah Relief Societies sold their wheat storage to help the war effort and used the money to give women and their infants adequate maternity care. Since that time, wheat has been a symbol of the Relief Society’s efforts to care for others. The tray pictured above, made in the 1950s and decorated with butterfly wings, is from Brazil. (The initials “SS” refer to the name of Relief Society in Portuguese.) Emblazoned on the tray and on the pin, below left, are the Relief Society symbols of wheat and the motto of charity. The symbol and motto are also reflected in an emblem, below right, commemorating Relief Society’s 150th anniversary.

Building Personal Testimony

Images of Love in Patchwork (Mal. 4:6), by Mirtha Veiga Richards of Cerritos, California. Oil on canvas, 1989–1990. During our lifetimes, we build our testimonies daily—through prayer, scripture study, and living the gospel faithfully. Looking back, we can see how those blocks of memories have formed a masterpiece of family relationships and of quiet devotion to the Lord.

Feeling Blessed and Valued as an Individual

The Fruitful Seed (Gen. 49:22), by Laurie Olson Schnoebelen of Alta Loma, California. Oil on canvas, 1990. Not only does every woman have a cultural heritage that enriches her life, but each also has gifts unique to her that only she can offer to Heavenly Father. Pictured here is a Tongan woman representing the Polynesians of the house of Joseph. She holds a fruit in her hands, symbolizing the endless possibilities for talent a woman possesses.

Developing and Exercising Charity

The Masses Are Yearning (Matt. 11:28), by Judith Mehr of West Valley City, Utah. Oil, gold leaf, wood on canvas, 1990. Many in our families, our communities, our countries, and other nations are groping through the darkness for the light of the gospel. As an international sisterhood, Relief Society can reach out to those women of the world who are longing for the truth. In 1969 Virginia Cutler, who had helped to found Brigham Young University’s College of Family Living, was awarded a chief’s chair (left) by the Ashanti tribe of Ghana for her support in establishing home economics programs in their country. The chair is the highest honor the Ashanti could bestow. (Now housed in the Museum of Church History and Art.)

Strengthening Families

Inheritance (Acts 20:32), by Jeanne Leighton Lundberg Clarke of Provo, Utah. Oil on canvas, 1990. Family traditions, like physical traits, are passed from parents to children from one generation to the next. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a unifying and strengthening influence. The exuberant colors and absence of shadows in the painting symbolize the light of truth that can prevail in the family, the basic unit of the Church. Children bring blessings and challenges to the family circle. Shown (at right) are baby carriers from different countries of the world. From top to bottom: Hmong, Ute (American Indian), and Mayan (Mexican).

Enjoying a Unified Sisterhood

Three Women at the Tomb, by Minerva Teichert (1888-1976) of Cokeville, Wyoming. Oil on canvas, 1947. Gathered at Christ’s tomb, Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Salome see an angel, who announces that Christ has risen (see Mark 16:1–8). Together, these sisters have come to serve the Lord; together they rejoice in His resurrection. Today, Relief Society provides the opportunity for women to share the blessings of a harmonious sisterhood as they worship the Lord.