The Relief Society is the women's organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Founded in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, the organization with the motto "Charity Never Faileth," today includes more than 7 million women in over 188 countries. All Latter-day Saint women age 18 and older as well as women younger than 18 who are married or are single mothers, are welcomed into the sisterhood of Relief Society.
The purpose of Relief Society is to assist priesthood leaders in carrying out the mission of the Church by helping women prepare for the blessings of eternal life as they increase faith in Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and His Atonement; strengthen individuals, families, and homes through ordinances and covenants; and work in unity to help those in need.
- 1 Relief Society Motto and Declaration
- 2 Relief Society Objectives
- 3 Relief Society Programs
- 4 History of Relief Society
- 4.1 Women in the Church Before 1842
- 4.2 1842 Organization of the Relief Society: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo
- 4.3 1842 to 1844: The Early Years
- 4.4 1844 to 1868: Struggling Societies
- 4.5 1868 to 1879: Resurrection
- 4.6 1880 to 1892: Centralized Leadership
- 4.7 World War II Relief Efforts
- 4.8 The Fifties
- 4.9 1970-1979: Changes to Relief Society
- 4.10 1980-2000: A Worldwide Membership
- 4.11 The Relief Society Today
- 5 Presidents of the Relief Society
- 6 Other Topics of Interest
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Relief Society Motto and Declaration
The Relief Society Declaration states:
- We are beloved spirit daughters of God, and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction. As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar. We are women of faith, virtue, vision, and charity who:
- Increase our testimonies of Jesus Christ through prayer and scripture study.
- Seek spiritual strength by following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.
- Dedicate ourselves to strengthening marriages, families, and homes.
- Find nobility in motherhood and joy in womanhood.
- Delight in service and good works.
- Love life and learning.
- Stand for truth and righteousness.
- Sustain the priesthood as the authority of God on earth.
- Rejoice in the blessings of the temple, understand our divine destiny, and strive for exaltation.
Relief Society Objectives
The following objectives of Relief Society show the vastness of its purpose and the breadth of its mission, setting it apart from all other associations:
- Build faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and teach the doctrines of the kingdom.
- Emphasize the divine worth of each sister.
- Exercise charity and nurture those in need.
- Strengthen and protect families.
- Serve and support each sister.
- Help sisters become full participants in the blessings of the priesthood.
Ultimately the goal of Relief Society is the exaltation of each of its members.
Relief Society Programs
In order to meet its objectives, the Relief Society has a variety of programs including Relief Society meetings; ministering; service; and welfare; in addition to Sunday doctrinal discussions held on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. While each program is under the direction of and works in partnership with priesthood leadership, men are not usually present at Relief Society meetings.
Relief Society Meetings
Relief Society sisters may participate in additional meetings. These may include service, classes, projects, conferences, and workshops. According to the Handbook of Instructions, "In these meetings, sisters learn and accomplish the charitable and practical responsibilities of the Relief Society. They learn and practice skills that will help them increase their faith and personal righteousness, strengthen their families and make their homes centers of spiritual strength, and help those in need. They learn and apply principles of provident living and spiritual and temporal self-reliance. They also increase in sisterhood and unity as they teach one another and serve together." Attendance at these meetings is not mandatory.
Meetings may be held either quarterly or as local circumstances dictate and are intended to serve all sisters in a unit. Activities are less structured than meetings and bring together smaller groups of sisters with similar needs, circumstances, or interests as needed. Meetings and activities can create a sense of belonging among sisters of all ages while learning and sharing ways to strengthen homes, families, and individuals.
Visitors are always welcome to attend Relief Society meetings or activities.
In the Ministering program, sisters are organized into pairs by the Relief Society presidency. Ministering sisters represent the Lord, the bishop, and Relief Society leaders. Ministering sisters are flexible in how they minister. They customize their contacts and service, and any messages, to meet the needs of sisters. Personal visits are important when they can be made. Ministering sisters may also reach out through phone calls, texts, emails, letters, contacts at church, attendance at family events, and service. Members of the Relief Society presidency hold interviews with ministering sisters at least once each quarter. Through Ministering, every woman in the Church has someone to watch over her.
Welfare and compassionate service are central to the work of Relief Society. Under the bishop’s direction, the Relief Society and elders quorum presidencies share the following welfare responsibilities: They teach principles of temporal and spiritual self-reliance; They care for those in need and encourage members to give service; They help individuals and families become self-reliant and find solutions to short-term and long-term welfare concerns.
Some non-confidential welfare needs may be served by the Relief Society's Compassionate Service Committee. Sisters may be asked by the committee to provide meals, rides, babysitting, literacy or translation services, fellowshipping, or other types of service to meet the needs of women or families.
The ability to read and write helps members find employment and develop temporal self-reliance. It also helps them increase in their gospel knowledge and spiritual self-reliance. Each ward implements literacy efforts according to its needs and resources. When basic literacy skills are lacking among members, the Relief Society presidency works with the bishop and ward council to identify practical ways to help members improve these skills.
Sunday Gospel Instruction
On the second and fourth Sunday of each month, members of the Relief Society meet for a 50-minute class time that includes brief announcements; discussion of any topics the presidency may want to counsel together about; doctrinal discussion based on messages from General Conference talks, as assigned by the presidency; and a closing prayer. These meetings are planned and conducted by the Relief Society presidency in each local church unit.
History of Relief Society
Women in the Church Before 1842
Women have always been an integral part of Church service. They have voted side by side on all questions submitted to the Church membership for vote since its inception in 1830. Latter-day Saint women were present at the first meeting of the Church on April 6, 1830, and were among the first individuals baptized.
The steadfast service of women has long been noted by Church leadership. Observing a band of sisters working on the temple veil the Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr. observed, "Well, sisters, you are always on hand. The sisters are always first and foremost in all good works. Mary was the first at the resurrection; and the sisters now are the first to work on the inside of the temple." (History of Relief Society 1842-1966, page 19)
1842 Organization of the Relief Society: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo
In the spring of 1842, Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball and her seamstress, Margaret A. Cook, discussed combining their efforts to assist the efforts of workers on the Nauvoo Temple. Sarah donated cloth to make shirts for the men working on the temple, and Margaret agreed to do the sewing. Shortly thereafter, some of Sarah's neighbors also desired to participate in the shirt making. During a meeting in the Kimball parlor, they determined to formally organize a Ladies' Society. Kimball asked Eliza R. Snow to write a constitution and by-laws for the organization for submission to Joseph Smith, Jr. for review.
After reviewing the notes, Joseph commented that "this is not what you want.... [The Lord] has something better for them than a written constitution. ... I will organize the sisters under the priesthood after a pattern of the priesthood." He further said, "The Church was never fully organized until the women were thus organized." (as quoted in History of Relief Society 1842-1966, p. 18)
Eighteen women gathered on Thursday, 17 March 1842 in the second story meeting room over Joseph Smith's Red Brick Store in Nauvoo, Illinois. Joseph Smith, John Taylor, and Willard Richards sat on the platform at the upper end of the room with the women facing them. "The Spirit of God Like A Fire is Burning" was sung, and John Taylor opened the meeting with prayer. Joseph Smith then organized the women in attendance who were:
- Emma Hale Smith
- Sarah M. Cleveland
- Phebe Ann Hawkes
- Elizabeth Hughes Jones
- Sophia B. Packard
- Philinda Merrick
- Martha McBride Knight
- Desdemona Fullmer McLane
- Elizabeth Ann Whitney
- Leonora Cannon Taylor
- Bathsheba W. Smith
- Phebe M. Wheeler
- Elvira A. Cowles Holmes (Coles)
- Margaret Cook Blanchard
- Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball
- Eliza R. Snow
- Sophia Robinson Marks Shaw
Joseph Smith stated "the object of the Society—that the Society of 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 morals and strengthening the virtues of the community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties, &c, in their public teaching." (History of Relief Society 1842-1966, p. 18)
The prophet also proposed that the women elect a presiding officer who would choose two counselors to assist her. Joseph's wife, Emma Hale Smith, was elected unanimously as president. She chose Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney as her two counselors. John Taylor was appointed to ordain the women and did so. After discussion, it was unanimously agreed that the name of the fledgling organization be changed to "The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo."
Joseph Smith then offered five dollars in gold to commence the funds of the Society and the men left the room.
Eliza R. Snow was unanimously elected as secretary, Phebe M. Wheeler as Assistant Secretary, and Elvira A. Coles, Treasurer. Emma Smith remarked that each member should be ambitious to do good and seek out and relieve the distressed. Several female members then made donations to the Society.
The men returned, and John Taylor and Willard Richards also made donations. After singing "Come Let Us Rejoice," the meeting was adjourned to meet on the following Thursday at 10 o'clock. John Taylor then gave a closing prayer.
Later in his journal, the Prophet recorded: "I attended by request the Female Relief Society, whose object is the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow, and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes" (History of Relief Society 1842-1966, p. 61).
1842 to 1844: The Early Years
During the first few years of the organization, the Relief Society helped raise funds for the Nauvoo Temple, sewed clothes for the men working on its construction, nursed and cared for the sick and poor, and generally gave assistance where it was needed. By its tenth meeting on 27 May, 1842, the Society had grown so large that there was no hall large enough to accommodate the membership. All subsequent meetings were held in the Grove, the usual place of holding Sabbath meetings during summer months.
Anxious to do their part to help with temple building, Society minutes record sisters offering a variety of items, included socks, money, soap, clothes, milk, and thread. Sisters also housed men while working on the Temple and loaded wagons to collect wool. Those who may have had little else to offer donated time and their skills at making clothing repairs.
In the summer of 1842 the Female Relief Society circulated a petition signed by its members to Governor Carlin "for protection from illegal suits then pending against the Prophet Joseph Smith." The Prophet was deeply moved by the action and expressed his gratitude by saying:
- "The Female Relief Society have taken a most active part in my welfare against my enemies...if these measures had not been taken, more serious consequences would have resulted.... The Society have done well: their principles are to practice holiness." (History of Relief Society 1842-1966, page 22)
The first annual report of the Female Relief Society made 16 March, 1843, reported receipt of "money, clothing, provisions, &c., &c," totaling $507.00. Of that amount, $306.48 was appropriated for the relief of the poor. One of the items purchased for the poor by the Society with that money was a cow for the use of "the widow H."
During the Society's 7 July, 1843, meeting, mention was made of the desperate circumstances of a widower with nine children. Sisters banded together and provided the family with a number of items including pantaloons, mittens, and thread. Sick men were taken in by some, and others stated their willingness to do anything that was needed. Meetings of the Society continued until March 1844.
1844 to 1868: Struggling Societies
The meeting recorded 16 March 1844 in the Female Relief Society Book of Records was the last meeting held in Nauvoo by the Society. After Joseph Smith, Jr. and Hyrum Smith were shot at Carthage, Illinois, on 27 June, 1844, all efforts were put toward finishing the building of the Nauvoo Temple before the exodus west.
Eliza R. Snow carried the Society's Book of Records with her as she fled Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846. Elizabeth Ann Whitney conducted a few Relief Society meetings that year in Winter Quarters, Nebraska.
During the 1850s, while church members tried to gain a foothold in the Utah desert, church meetings were held irregularly. However, several wards in Utah had temporary Relief Society organizations. Among their purposes was the feeding and clothing of Native Americans. Though these women were poor themselves, they felt the need of Native Americans exceeded their own. Records are scant, but we do know in 1854 an Indian Relief Society was formed in the Thirteenth Ward Meeting House with Matilda Dudley as President and Martha J. Corary as secretary. That organization continued for three years and kept complete minutes and financial reports.
In 1855, Brigham Young instructed the women "to form themselves into societies ... to clothe the Lamanite children and women," and also "the poor brethren." (as quoted in Derr, Cannon, Beecher; Women of Covenant; page 77) These societies were to be established in each ward and to be initiated by bishops.
The following year, the Provo Relief Society collected clothing for handcart pioneers trapped in early snows of that year. Said Lucy Meserve Smith, "The sisters stripped of their petticoats, stockings, an everything they could spare, right there in the Tabernacle, and piled [them] into wagons to send to the saints in the mountains." (as quoted in Derr, Cannon, Beecher; Women of Covenant; page 77)
In 1858 records for Relief Societies in ten Salt Lake City wards and in several other wards in Ogden, Provo, Spanish Fork, and Nephi, Utah exist. Later that year, the arrival of Johnston's army interrupted the regularity of the work of the Society where it had begun. These fledgling ward Relief Societies were disrupted when displaced families separated from their ward groups and located wherever housing or work could be found. Only the societies in the southernmost areas of Utah remained functioning. It is believed that fewer than five Relief Societies survived this upheaval.
Seeking "not only for the relief of the poor, but the accomplishment of every good and noble work" ("Female Relief Society," Deseret News, April 22, 1868) Brigham Young called Eliza R. Snow, to assist bishops in organizing permanent branches of the Relief Society in all Church units in the year 1868. She and nine other sisters began visiting wards and settlements, and at the end of the year, organizations existed in all twenty Salt Lake City wards, in nearly every county in Utah, and other nearby communities.
Meetings were held semi-monthly. One meeting per month was devoted to sewing and caring for the needs of the poor, and at the other meeting, members received instructions and encouragement from the discussion of elevating and educational themes and bore testimonies.
1868 to 1879: Resurrection
The term "Female" was officially dropped from the organization's title in 1873.
1880 to 1892: Centralized Leadership
In 1880, Brigham Young organized General Relief Society Presidency with Eliza R Snow as president. Her counselors were Zina D. H. Young (first) and Elizabeth Ann Whitney (second). The office of Secretary was held by Sarah M. Kimball, and Treasurer was M. Isabella Horne.
In 1877, the first "Stake" Relief Society was organized in Ogden by Brigham Young. This centralization organized a number of Relief Societies under one president.
In April 1888, two offices were added to Central Board: Assistant and Corresponding secretary, comprising a total Board of seven officers. Zina D. H. Young became third General President at that time, with Jane S. Richards, First Counselor; Bathsheba W. Smith, Second Counselor; Sarah M. Kimball, Secretary; Romania B. Pratt (Penrose), Assistant Secretary; Emmeline B. Wells, Corresponding Secretary; and M. Isabella Horne, General Treasurer.
1889 brought welcome changes for the Central Board. Heretofore, Board members had become expert at repairing wagon wheels and harnessing and unharnessing teams during their travels to instruct branches of the Relief Society. In April 1889, a call went out to all stake Relief Societies to send representatives to a General Conference of Relief Society to be held the evening of Saturday, April 6, 1889. Twenty stakes were represented at that first Relief Society Conference, some of whom had traveled over 500 miles to attend by rail or carriage.
World War II Relief Efforts
In 1945, Relief Society turned its efforts toward the pressing need in Europe for assistance after World War II. Nearly 30,000 Saints lived in Europe and England. About half of these members were in Germany where receiving aid was the most difficult. When Church president George Albert Smith visited Washington DC to offer assistance, United States President Harry S. Truman asked how long it would take for the Church to gather supplies. He was astonished to find that food, clothing, and bedding were ready and waiting. Over 3,300 quilts, hand made by Relief Society sisters, were included in that impressive stockpile.
Members living in countries liberated by the Allies could receive eleven-pound packages immediately, and so the Church sent one relief package to each of the 7,245 members of the Church in those countries. The immediate availability of those stockpiled supplies allowed the Church to relieve many suffering European Saints during the unusually harsh winter of 1945-1946.
During the 1950s, Relief Societies were organized at Brigham Young University, giving young women more opportunities for service. Also during the 50s, social service classes were discontinued, and instead, Relief Society officers received instruction at ward, stake, and regional welfare meetings. The intended collaboration between Bishop and Relief Society President on unit welfare issues became more clear, but the Relief Society maintained some separate welfare services including women's employment, adoptions, Indian student placement, and foster care.
1970-1979: Changes to Relief Society
From the founding of Relief Society, women held bazaars or other events to raise funds. Beginning in June 1970, this policy was discontinued by the Presidency of the Church, placing, in their words, "the duty of fund-raising where it belongs, on the Priesthood." (Derr, Cannon, Beecher; Women of Covenant; page 341) Relief Society operating funds were turned over to priesthood leaders, and officers received moneys from ward budgets subject to authorization from those priesthood leaders.
For years, each Church auxiliary had published its own magazine. In January 1971, The Relief Society Magazine was replaced by the Ensign, intended for all adult members of the Church.
In a directive published in May 1971, all Latter-day Saint women age 18 and older were considered members of Relief Society on September 1 of that year.
These changes and others were part of an effort made by Church leadership to correlate the efforts of the auxiliaries of the Church. With a growing worldwide Church membership, it was necessary to consolidate and simplify Church publications and eliminate departments with overlapping functions.
In April 1979, President Ezra Taft Benson announced the establishment of priesthood councils at every level of Church government. The result was a more efficient response in welfare and a better working relationship between priesthood and Relief Society leaders.
1980-2000: A Worldwide Membership
During the 1980s, the Relief Society's role was expanded to include a special emphasis on literacy.
During the Relief Society sesquicentennial in 1992, sisters were linked by satellite broadcast simultaneously on all populated continents of the world for the first time.
"The Family: A Proclamation to the World", a landmark statement on family values was issued in 1995 by President Gordon B. Hinckley during the Relief Society's annual General Women's meeting.
In 1996, the face of Church membership experienced essential change as the majority of Church members were living outside the United States.
Home, family, and personal enrichment meeting replaced homemaking meeting, to encourage Relief Societies to expand the scope of their outreach to women.
The Relief Society Today
The Relief Society meets on two Sundays each month during regular Sunday worship services. Weekly lesson topics include messages from most recent General Conference talks.
Relief Society sisters also gather four times a year for other Relief Society meetings. These meetings are organized and planned by local Relief Society leaders to meet spiritual needs in their locations. In these meetings, women strengthen each other in their common roles as wives, mothers, sisters in Zion, and daughters of God. Typically, one meeting per year is held to commemorate the organization of the Relief Society.
Relief Society activities are planned by local Relief Society presidencies to meet the needs of specific groups within the Relief Society that share similar interests or needs. For example, a group of Relief Society sisters might meet together to exercise, have a child's playgroup, learn gardening skills, learn about estate planning, socialize, or do family history work. Visitors are welcome to attend these meetings or activities.
Groups of several Relief Societies meet together twice annually for Stake meetings planned by stake Relief Society leaders. One of these meetings often corresponds with the annual General Women's session of General Conference held in October, when some of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary General Presidencies, and the First Presidency address women 12 and older by satellite transmission.
Former Relief Society president Bonnie D. Parkin (2002-2007) had this to say about Relief Society:
- Relief Society [is] the Lord’s organization for women. Relief Society is important to the Lord ... He provided women a safe haven from the harshness of the world when He gave us Relief Society. From the beginning our association together and our direction from priesthood leaders have helped us come unto Christ. There was no greater cause then; there is no greater cause today.
- Relief Society was not man-made or woman-made. It was, as President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) explained, “divinely made, divinely authorized, divinely instituted, divinely ordained of God to minister for the salvation of the souls of women and of men.” (Bonnie D. Parkin, “Oh, How We Need Each Other!” Ensign, Mar. 2004, 16).
Avoid the distraction of thinking that Relief Society is for “old ladies,” President Jean B. Bingham (2017-2022) counseled. “It really is for every woman, from age 18 to 108 and beyond. It can be as relevant, as fun and as invigorating, as it is comforting and reassuring of individual worth.”
“I think one of the wonderful benefits of participating in Relief Society is the opportunity to have friends of all ages from all walks of life,” she said, adding that “we learn from each other and we strengthen each other as we share testimonies and talents.”
Presidents of the Relief Society
- Emma Hale Smith (1842–1844)
- Eliza R. Snow (1868–1887)
- 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 (1997–2002)
- Bonnie D. Parkin (2002–2007)
- Julie B. Beck (2007–2012)
- Linda K. Burton (2012–2017)
- Jean B. Bingham (2017–present)
Other Topics of Interest
Growth of the Relief Society
Two years after its organization, the Relief Society had grown from a membership of 18 to 1,341. One hundred years later, in 1942, membership in the organization was approximately 115,000 women, growing to 300,000 members in 1966. Today, (2019) the Relief Society has over 6 million women members in over 188 countries.
History of General Relief Society Broadcast
In April 1889, a call went out to all stake Relief Societies to send representatives to a General Conference of Relief Society to be held the evening of Saturday, April 6, 1889. The first meeting was at the Assembly Hall at Salt Lake's Temple Square, and subsequent meetings were held at the Tabernacle.
Semiannual Conferences were held regularly in April and October until 1942, except for an interruption in 1919 when the April Conference was postponed until June because of the devastating influenza epidemic that year. From 1942-1944, no Conferences were held as a result of the United States' involvement in World War II. Another interruption to the conference occurred in 1957 when the conference was canceled due to the Asiatic influenza epidemic.
Since 1945, meetings have been held annually instead of semiannually.
During the Relief Society sesquicentennial in 1992, the proceedings were broadcast simultaneously to every populated continent of the world for the first time. Relief Society sisters were linked by satellite from Taiwan, Zimbabwe, Germany, Mexico, Korea, Australia, and America.
In 1996, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" was read for the first time to general church membership at the annual General Women's broadcast.
Relief Society Conference was held once per year in September. Addresses were given by the First Presidency and the General Relief Society Presidency and often included a multimedia presentation. The two-hour meeting convened in Salt Lake City at the Conference Center and was broadcast by satellite transmission and over the internet to Relief Society sisters worldwide. In addition to English, languages the broadcast is transmitted or recorded in include: Albanian, American Sign Language, Arabic, Armenian, Bislama, Bulgarian, Cambodian, Cantonese, Cebuano, Chuukese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Fijian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Guarani, Haitian Creole, Hindi (Fiji), Hmong, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kiribati, Korean, Kosraean, Laotian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Malagasy, Mandarin, Marshallese, Mongolian, Navajo, Norwegian, Palauan, Papiamento, Pohnpeian, Polish, Portuguese, Portuguese (EU), Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Tagalog, Tahitian, Tamil, Thai, Tongan, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.
In October 2013, the last General Relief Society Meeting was held the Saturday before General Conference weekend because in April 2014, the Relief Society joined with the Young Women and Primary to become the General Women's Meeting held in conjunction with the April and October General Conferences. The General Women's Meeting became more closely connected to General Conference when it was designated the General Women's Session in October 2014, but it continued to be held the Saturday prior to Conference weekend. In October 2018, the session was moved to the Saturday evening of Conference weekend, replacing the General Priesthood Session. The General Priesthood Session was changed to an annual session held at April Conference with the General Women's Session held at the October Conference.
Members of the public are welcome to attend these broadcasts at local meetinghouses or by live streaming on the Internet.
Relief Society and the Campaign for Women's Suffrage
Since the organization of the Church, Latter-day Saint women have voted side by side on all questions submitted to the Church membership for vote. This recognition of women was an advanced concept in the 1800s when few American women had political voice.
From 1847 to 1852, Utah women expressed themselves in political elections as well as religious votes. After Utah was admitted by the United States Congress as an official Territory in 1852, the privilege of voting was withdrawn for females.
By 1869, women all over the United States were organizing themselves to demand suffrage. In December 1869, the Wyoming Territorial Legislature granted suffrage to the women of Wyoming. Utah soon followed suit at the urging of Brigham Young, and women in Utah received their suffrage in February 1870 and the right to hold public office in 1880.
On 3 March 1887 women in Utah again lost their right to vote by the passage of anti-polygamy legislation, the Edmunds-Tucker law. Between the years 1887 and 1895, Utah women campaigned aggressively for suffrage and statehood for Utah. Even after the Utah constitution was signed in 1896 by United States President Grover Cleveland granting Utah women the right to vote and hold public office, Relief Society women continued to associate with the National Woman Suffrage movement and sent delegates to National Suffrage Conventions. The Relief Society Magazine reported on the efforts of prominent Latter-day Saint suffragettes. They worked earnestly and rejoiced with all American women when the 19th Amendment was ratified on 26 August 1920 granting complete suffrage to women citizens of the United States.
Relief Society and the National Council of Women
The Relief Society was a charter member of the National Council of Women in the United States in 1888 and worked along side its leaders to effect reform. Some of the Council's founding members include Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Clara Barton. The Council's mission statement has remained the same since 1888 and is as follows:
- "We, the women of the United States, sincerely believe that the best good of our homes and nation will be advanced with our greater unity of thought and purpose that an organized movement of women will best conserve the highest good of the family and state, do hereby band ourselves together in a confederation of workers committed to the overthrow of all forms of ignorance and injustice, and to the Golden Rule of society, custom and law." (National Council of Women in the United States Mission Statement)
Some of the reforms worked for by the Council include suffrage, dress reform, women's education, and economic issues. At the National Council of Women exhibit at the Century of Progress Fair in Chicago in 1932, Latter-day Saint women gave a demonstration on the monumental accomplishments of women in the previous one hundred years. (Cannon, Elaine Anderson, "Young Women", Encyclopedia of Mormonism)
The association continued, and Relief Society General President Belle S. Spafford served as president of the National Council of Women from 1968-1970.
Relief Society and the Equal Rights Amendment (1971-1982)
The Church of Jesus Christ and the Relief Society were opponents to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) proposals made in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States. The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposal to amend the United States Constitution adding the provisions: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article." It was assumed by many that the Amendment would be ratified easily. In fact, the Amendment had passed both the US House and Senate with no changes by 1972 and only needed ratification by a two-thirds majority of states to become law.
As the implications of the ERA became known, conservative groups, including leaders and members of the Church of Jesus Christ, opposed the Amendment on the grounds that it would cause the violation of protections given under current laws to women. While maintaining that "The place of woman in the Church is to walk beside the man, not in front of him nor behind him, " ("Frequently Asked Questions about the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Closer Look," Ensign, Mar. 1980, 5), Church officials raised concerns related to potential effects of the loosely worded proposal, including women being required to give compulsory military service, homosexual marriage, a male's financial responsibilities for children he fathered, and abortion.
New Book for All Relief Society Members
In late summer 2011 the Church of Jesus Christ released a new book called Daughters in My Kingdom. The book is about the history and work of the Relief Society and was meant to be distributed to every adult woman in the Church, over 5 million. It is "a recipe book for how to be a Latter-day Saint woman," said Sister Julie B. Beck, then Relief Society general president.
The 208-page book is not a comprehensive history of the church, nor is it a Latter-day Saint manual. It is intended as a personal and family resource to support women and strengthen them in their responsibilities. The book is organized by themes such as family, sisterhood and charity. Each chapter includes stories of Latter-day Saint women throughout history and around the world today. 
Initial distribution was to each adult woman in the Church. Copies were sent to English-speaking units of the Church by Sept. 30, 2011. Spanish and Portuguese by Nov. 30, 20 other languages by Jan. 15, 2012. Soft and hardbound edition of the book were available for purchase through the Church's Distribution Services.
The book is now available online.
- The Relief Society General Board Association, History of Relief Society 1842-1966, 1966.
- National Organization of Women, Chronology of the Equal Rights Amendment
- Derr, Cannon, and Beecher; Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society; Deseret Book Company; 1992. ISBN 0-87579-593-5
- "The Purpose of Relief Society," Ensign, January 2006, page 65
- Elaine L. Jack, "A Small Stone," Ensign, May 1997, page 73
- Our Heritage, 5: Sacrifice and Blessings in Nauvoo, page 55
- Barbara B. Smith, "Follow Joyously", Ensign, Nov. 1980, page 85
- Claudia Porter Black, "I Have a Question," Ensign, July 1995, page 64
- Official site of the Relief Society
- LDS.About.com: Relief Society Timeline
- Images of each of the Presidents of the Relief Society and a very brief explanation of events during their service can be found in this article: "Now Let Us Rejoice," Ensign, Mar. 2005, page 52.
- A website for Latter-day Saint women
- 170 Years of Relief Society
- Online Version of the "Daughters in My Kingdom" Manual