Relief Society

From Academic Kids

The Relief Society, or Female Relief Society, is a women's organization in the Latter Day Saint movement. Founded in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois by Joseph Smith, Jr. and his wife Emma Hale Smith, the organization was discontinued after his assassination in 1844. In 1866, Brigham Young "reorganized" a Relief Society associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and headed by Eliza Roxcy Snow.


Organizing of the Relief Society

The purpose of the Society, according to the minutes of the first meeting, was "that the sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor, searching after objects of charity and in administering to their wants; to assist by correcting the virtues of the female community."

This first, organizational meeting took place on 17 March 1842 in the Nauvoo Lodge Room (second story of the red brick store in Nauvoo). Joseph Smith, Jr., John Taylor, Willard Richards, Emma Smith, and 19 other women attended.

Emma was elected unanimously as president. She chose Sarah M. Cleveland and Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Whitney as her two counselors, and Eliza R. Snow as Secretary. John Taylor was appointed to ordain the counselors. Next, he lay his hands upon Emma's head "and confirm'd upon her all the blessings which had been confer'd on her, that she might be a mother in Israel and look to the wants of the needly, and be a pattern of virtue..."

It was proposed that the organization instead go by the name, "Benevolent Society." With no opposition the vote carried. However, Emma Smith made a point of objection. She convinced the attendants that "Relief Society" would better reflect the purpose of the organization, for they were to do great acts of "relief," not merely be "benevolent." It was unanimously agreed that they should change the name back to "Relief Society."

Relief Society in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The last recorded meeting of the original Relief Society was 6 March 1844. A succession crisis followed the assassination of Joseph Smith, Jr.. Smith's widow, Emma, the society's president, remained behind in Illinois and eventually joined with what is now the Community of Christ one of the resulting Latter Day Saint denominations. She made no attempt to revive the society within that church.

In 1866, however, Brigham Young head of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints decided to reorganize and refound the Relief Society. He appointed Eliza Roxcy Snow, the secretary of the original Relief Society, to be the new society's president. Eliza R. Snow was one of the plural wives of Joseph Smith, Jr., and later became one of Brigham's Young's plural wives although it appeared to be only a marriage of convenience.

Subsequently, the Relief Society grew along with the LDS church and became one of the larger women's organizations in the world.

In its original forms, the Relief Society was an independent and self-governing organization led by women. The society owned its own buildings, published its own magazines and directed its own programs. In the later 20th century, however, the structures of the "auxilliaries" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began to be merged into the church proper. As part of a program called "Priesthood Correlation", the autonomy of the Relief Society was significantly reduced. Today the organization, while staffed and directed by women, is under the administrative authority of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, all of whom are male.

(The Relief Society is often cited as one of the oldest women's organizations, but it must be acknowledged that the organization was not in continuous existence from its 1842 foundation, and it is no longer an autonomous organization led solely by women.)

Presidents of the Relief Society

  • Emma Hale Smith (1842-1844)
  • Eliza R. Snow (1866-87)
  • Zina D. H. Young (1888-1901)
  • Bathsheba W. Smith (1901-1910)
  • Emmeline B. Wells (1910-1921)
  • Clarissa S. Williams (1921-1928)
  • Louise Y. Robison (1928-1939)
  • Amy Brown Lyman (1940-1945)
  • Belle S. Spafford (1945-1974)
  • Barbara B. Smith (1974-1984)
  • Barbara W. Winder (1984-1990)
  • Elaine L. Jack (1990-1997)
  • Mary Ellen W. Smoot (1997-Present)


  • "Relief Society Minutes", 17 March 1842. Found in Richard E. Turley, Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1 (Brigham Young University Press) [DVD].
  • Eliza Roxcy Snow, "To the Branches of the Relief Society", Woman's Exponent 13 (15 September 1884).

See also


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