Margaret Cook: Wide Awake to Her Duty
August 2021

Digital Only: Early Women of the Restoration

Margaret Cook: Wide Awake to Her Duty

Although she felt she didn’t have much to offer, Margaret’s willingness to fulfill her covenants helped lead to a significant work.

woman pinning fabric

On March 1, 1842, Margaret Cook (1811–74) enjoyed the cool morning air of Nauvoo, Illinois, USA, as she walked to the home of Sarah Kimball. Margaret had gathered to Nauvoo that year with her sister Elizabeth’s family after joining the Church in Pennsylvania in 1840.1 Margaret supported herself through sewing, which she planned to do for Sarah that day.

In mid-December 1841, an epistle from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had been published in the Church newspaper Times and Seasons, calling all members of the Church to contribute to the building of a temple in Nauvoo. “The Temple is to be built by tything and consecration, … whether it be money or whatever he may be blessed with,” the Apostles stated.2

Sarah noted that although the Saints were “poor in worldly goods,” they were “earnest in devotion to the labors required” to build their temple. Joseph Smith had made “strong appeals … for help to forward the work,” she continued.

When Margaret arrived at Sarah’s home, the two conversed about the “recent appeal for provisions, clothing, … and general supplies for the workmen [on the temple] and their families.”3 With little means, Margaret wondered how she could contribute.

That day, as Margaret sewed and Sarah sat close by, they discussed the request for clothing donations. Margaret would be happy to sew the clothing if the fabric could be provided, which Sarah offered to do. The two then wondered if others might want to contribute in the same way.4

There seemed to be nothing extraordinary about this conversation—it was just two friends speaking about life and their commitment to the gospel. Yet Sarah and Margaret were open to the promptings of the Spirit, which led their discussion. As President Russell M. Nelson has taught, “Heavenly Father … communicates simply, quietly, and with such stunning plainness that we cannot misunderstand Him.”5

Acting on what they had felt, Margaret and Sarah gathered their friends together the following week. They decided to organize a sewing society, and Eliza R. Snow was asked to write a constitution and bylaws. These bylaws were presented to the Prophet Joseph Smith for his review and opinion. He told them the bylaws were excellent—the “best he had ever seen”—and that “their offering is accepted of the Lord,” but that the Lord had “something better for them than a written constitution.”6 If they would meet with him the following week, on March 17, 1842, he would organize them in “the pattern of the priesthood.”7 This laid the revelatory foundation of what we know today as Relief Society, one of the world’s oldest and largest women’s service organizations.

Little is known about Margaret’s life after that seminal meeting in March 1842. In 1844, she married widower John Reid Blanchard, who had five living children; they then had four children together. The family had moved to Iowa, USA, by 1850 and then journeyed to the Salt Lake Valley, where the couple was sealed on February 6, 1853.8 The family lived in Farmington, Davis County, Utah Territory, by 1860.9

Barbara B. Smith and Shirley K. Thomas, former leaders in the Relief Society General Presidency, referred to Margaret as one of the “everywomen” of Relief Society. “Critical to the work, they often make a conspicuous contribution,” Sisters Smith and Thomas said.10 Margaret understood what Relief Society General President Zina D. H. Young would later describe as being “wide awake to our duties.”11

In Sarah Kimball’s home that afternoon in March 1842, Margaret Cook was “wide awake” to her duty. Her desire to help the temple workers was an attempt to fulfill her covenant to “bear one another’s burdens” (Mosiah 18:8). She was offering to serve however she could. To her, it may have seemed an unremarkable offering, not worthy of note. It was what most Saints would do. But Margaret’s offering was part of God’s inspired direction to set in motion the formation of an organization that continues to bless women’s lives today.

There is much to learn from Margaret about doing our duty and about acting on promptings from the Spirit as we hear the Lord more clearly. This unassuming but committed woman and those who joined her gave their all in fulfilling their duties as disciples of Jesus Christ. May the same be said of us.


  1. See Far West and Nauvoo Elders’ Certificates, 1837–1838, 1840–1846, 61, Church History Library, Salt Lake City (CHL).

  2. “Baptism for the Dead,” Times and Seasons, Dec. 15, 1841, 626.

  3. Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (2016), 495.

  4. Derr, Madsen, Holbrook, and Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, 495; see also “Early Relief Society Reminiscence,” Mar. 17, 1882, in Relief Society Record, 1880–1892, 29, CHL.

  5. Russell M. Nelson, “Hear Him,” Liahona, May 2020, 89.

  6. Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society (2011), 12.

  7. See Daughters in My Kingdom, 12.

  8. See 1850 US census, District 21, Pottawattamie County, Iowa, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Confirmation of the marriage date has not been found. See also Temple Records Index Bureau, Nauvoo Temple Endowment Register, Dec. 10, 1845, to Feb. 8, 1846 (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1974), 326; Endowment House, Sealings of Couples, Living and by Proxy, 1851–1889, Feb. 6, 1853, 84, Family History Library, Salt Lake City.

  9. See “Report of 18th Quorum,” Deseret News, June 22, 1854, 2; see also 1860 US census, Farmington, Davis, Utah Territory, 44, NARA.

  10. Barbara B. Smith and Shirley K. Thomas, When the Key Was Turned: Women at the Founding of the Relief Society (1998), 17.

  11. Carole M. Stephens, “Wide Awake to Our Duties,” Liahona, Nov. 2012, 115.