June, 25, 2010

Eliza R. Snow and the Relief Society

When it comes to the Relief Society, one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world, perhaps no one stands more respected, or as widely recognized, as Eliza Roxcy Snow.

Eliza, a renowned poet, converted to the Church in Ohio, and used her skills in writing and education to benefit the whole Church.  She was also responsible for bringing many saints into the Church, including her brother, Lorenzo Snow, who later became the fifth president of the Church.

When the Saints moved to Illinois, Eliza became a founding member of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, established in March of 1842.  Unanimously elected to be its secretary, Eliza took meticulous minutes of each meeting.  As Joseph Smith counseled the original Relief Society: “The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon—your Constitution and law.”[i] As a result of Eliza’s exceptional dedication, the Church now has six detailed sermons Joseph Smith gave to the Relief Society in Nauvoo.

In the late 1860s, many years after the Saints left Nauvoo, Brigham Young sought to reconstitute the Relief Society for the women of the Church in Utah.  Though sporadic meetings had been held when the Saints first arrived to Utah, it had been 25 years since the Relief Society had met in an official capacity.  It was Eliza whom the Prophet called upon to take charge of the new Relief Society.  Thankfully, like any good mother in Zion, Eliza carefully preserved things, and still had all her notes from Nauvoo.

Using these minutes recorded during the early Nauvoo meetings, Eliza created a constitution to unite the sisters of the Church in name, purpose, and organization.  Traveling to several settlements with her counselors, she used her experience to train and inspire women all across the Church.  Soon the Relief Society penetrated practically every settlement of the Church.

Members of the Church, male and female, have Eliza R. Snow to thank for the foundations of the organization that Joseph F. Smith called “divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and of men.”[ii]

Instead of depending entirely on our husbands for salvation and position, we have

to work them out ourselves. The responsibility and labor that devolve upon

women are becoming more important. … God has put the means into your hands

to become queens and priestesses in his kingdom, if you will only live for it.

—Eliza R. Snow, Relief Society General President, 1880

– Adam Watson, Communications Major and Education in Zion Gallery Educator

[i] History of the Relief Society, 1842–1966, p. 18

[ii] Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 184