“Lesson 18 Class Preparation Material: Latter-day Saint Women and the Relief Society,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)
“Lesson 18 Class Preparation Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material
Elder James E. Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once said, “The world’s greatest champion of woman and womanhood is Jesus the Christ” (in Daughters in My Kingdom , 3).
President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
Our sisters have always been vital and integral to the work of the Lord. Faithful women have labored valiantly in the cause of truth and righteousness from before the foundations of this world. … Our dispensation is not without its heroines. (M. Russell Ballard, “Women of Righteousness,” Ensign, Apr. 2002, 69)
Emma Smith, the wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, serves as an example of a Latter-day Saint woman who fulfilled an important role in the Restoration. In a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord referred to Emma as “an elect lady” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:3). As you read some of this revelation, consider marking the responsibilities and counsel the Lord gave Emma. Note that in verse 16 the Lord declares that His counsel given to Emma also applies to each of us.
Emma and Joseph suffered great trials during their time together. They also brought each other much comfort and joy. True to her calling, Emma was a great solace to Joseph, encouraging and comforting him through persecutions and trying ordeals. Reflecting on a time when Emma visited him while he was hiding from danger, the Prophet wrote, “Again she is here, even in the seventh trouble, undaunted, firm, and unwavering, unchangeable, affectionate Emma” (“Journal, December 1841–December 1842,” 135, josephsmithpapers.org).
Emma served for a time as Joseph’s scribe, helping with the Book of Mormon translation. Throughout her life she boldly testified of the Book of Mormon. Shortly before her death she told her son: “My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it” (Emma Smith, in “Last Testimony of Sister Emma,” Saints’ Herald, Oct. 1, 1879, 290). Obedient to the Lord’s command, Emma also compiled the Church’s first hymnbook.
Emma taught by example: “In New York, she sewed clothing for … missionaries called to preach the gospel. … In Kirtland, she worked with other women to collect blankets, food, and clothing for the Zion’s Camp marchers to take to distressed Saints in Missouri. She helped prepare meals and make [clothes] for the workmen building the Kirtland Temple. She took in so many temple workmen as boarders that she and Joseph had to sleep on the floor. In the early days of Nauvoo, she devoted much of her time and attention to nursing the many malaria victims camped outside her home on the banks of the Mississippi River. In these and other ways, she exemplified the service given by many sisters in her day” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 450).
In the spring of 1842, the Saints struggled in their poverty to build the Nauvoo Temple. Many of the sisters desired to do more to help. Led by Sarah Kimball and Margaret Cook, a group of sisters gathered to draft a constitution and bylaws for a new women’s society to sew clothes for the temple workers. When they consulted the Prophet Joseph Smith, he told them their constitution was “the best he had ever seen” (Teachings: Joseph Smith, 450). “But,” he said, “this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord, and he has something better for them. … I invite them all to meet with me and a few of the brethren … and I will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood” (in Daughters in My Kingdom, 12). Eliza R. Snow recounted that Joseph Smith taught the Relief Society that “the same organization existed in the church anciently” (in Daughters in My Kingdom, 7).
Sister Julie B. Beck, former General President of the Relief Society, taught what it means to be organized after the pattern of the priesthood:
Relief Society is unique because it was organized after the “pattern of the priesthood” [Joseph Smith, quoted in Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-biography,” Woman’s Exponent, Sept. 1, 1883, 51]. … We operate in the manner of the priesthood—which means that we seek, receive, and act on revelation; make decisions in councils; and concern ourselves with caring for individuals one by one. Ours is the priesthood purpose to prepare ourselves for the blessings of eternal life by making and keeping covenants. Therefore, like our brethren who hold the priesthood, ours is a work of salvation, service, and becoming a holy people. (Julie B. Beck, “Relief Society: A Sacred Work,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2009, 110)
President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency further emphasized that the work of the Relief Society is done with priesthood authority:
In an address to the Relief Society, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said this: “While the sisters have not been [ordained to] the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. … You can speak with authority, because the Lord has placed authority upon you.” He also said that the Relief Society “[has] been given power and authority to do a great many things. The work which they do is done by divine authority” [“Relief Society--An Aid to the Priesthood,” Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, 4–5]. …
… Whoever functions in an office or calling received from one who holds priesthood keys exercises priesthood authority in performing her or his assigned duties. (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Keys and Authority of the Priesthood,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 50–51)
The first Relief Society meeting was held on March 17, 1842, in the upper room of Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois. Emma was chosen and sustained as president of the new organization. Joseph stood and explained that this was a fulfillment of the Lord’s declaration that Emma was “an elect lady, whom I have called” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:3). A short time later the Prophet said: “This Society is to get instruction through the order which God has established—through the medium of those appointed to lead—and I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time” (in Daughters in My Kingdom, 14–15).
Sister Emma Smith declared that together the women of the Church would do “something extraordinary” (“Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women,” Gospel Topics, topics.ChurchofJesusChrist.org). As you study the following statements, consider marking what stands out to you about the purposes and mission of the Relief Society.
Zina D. H. Young, former General President of the Relief Society, recalled:
The Relief Society … was first organized … to dispense temporal blessings to the poor and needy: and to give encouragement to the weak, and restrain the erring ones, and for the better development, and exercise of woman’s sympathies, and charities, that she might have opportunity to attain spiritual strength, and power for the accomplishment of greater good in the work of the redemption of the human family. (“First General Conference of the Relief Society,” Woman’s Exponent, Apr. 15, 1889, 172)
Sister Beck taught:
Joseph Smith said that the women of this Church were organized to provide for “the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes” [in History of the Church, 4:567] and “not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls” [in History of the Church, 5:25]. That relief effort was further defined by Elder John A. Widtsoe as “relief of poverty, relief of illness, relief of doubt, relief of ignorance—relief of all that hinders … joy and progress. …” [Evidences and Reconciliations, arr. G. Homer Durham, 3 vols. in 1 (1960), 308]
… Through Relief Society we practice being disciples of Christ. We learn what He would have us learn, we do what He would have us do, and we become what He would have us become. (Julie B. Beck, “What Latter-day Saint Women Do Best: Stand Strong and Immovable,” Ensign and Liahona, Nov. 2007, 111, 109)
President Spencer W. Kimball explained why both men and women must understand the purposes and power of the Relief Society:
There is a power in this organization [of Relief Society] that has not yet been fully exercised to strengthen the homes of Zion and build the Kingdom of God—nor will it until both the sisters and the priesthood [brethren] catch the vision of Relief Society. (Spencer W. Kimball, in Daughters in My Kingdom, 142; italics added)