Discover how the Relief Society was founded, how the organization’s name was decided, and how the early Church’s women became sisters.
Within the large collection of documents called the Joseph Smith Papers, there is a precious treasure that is particularly significant to women of the Church: the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book. This book is filled with brilliant gems of prophecy, humility, and charity that characterize the very beginnings of Relief Society.
One such gem is the naming of the society—a moment that defines the society’s purpose. On pages 11–12, the leadership present—including Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, and Elder John Taylor—are discussing what to name the society. Elder John Taylor suggests the society be called the Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society. To this, Emma Smith, Presidentess Elect, respectfully declines, responding that the word benevolence is being used by corrupt societies and that she “did not wish to have it call’d after the other Societies of the world.” Emma recommends the word relief instead.
Eliza R. Snow concurs, suggesting that the word relief has the connotation of aid for those people struck by “some great calamity . . . [and] that we intend [on] appropriating on some extraordinary occasions instead of meeting the common occurrences.”
Emma agrees and prophesies, “We are going to do something extraordinary.”
Later in the meeting, the scribe reported that Joseph’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, “hop’d the Lord would bless and aid the Society in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked— that her work was nearly done— felt to pray that the blessings of heaven might rest upon the Society” (p. 17).
These moments are defining and precious to our latter-day understanding of the purpose of Relief Society. Beneath these brilliant gems lies an even greater treasure: reading the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book places you in the midst of inspired men and women, allowing you to feel like you are a part of the history rather than an observer of it.