Joseph Smith and the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo

In early 1842, a small group of Latter-day Saint women in Nauvoo, Illinois, developed a proposal for a women’s society that would provide clothing for the men building the temple in that city. The women provided a draft constitution and bylaws for the society to Joseph Smith, who praised the ideas but suggested “something better.” On 17 March, he organized the women into a group called the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, stating that its purposes would include “looking to the wants of the poor,” “searching after objects of charity,” and “correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community.” Emma Smith was elected the first president of the society, and she appointed two counselors. After the Relief Society was formed, Joseph Smith continued to take a personal interest in it, attending a total of nine official meetings and delivering six sermons to members of the group, all in the year 1842.

Society secretary Eliza R. Snow and other scribes kept minutes of Relief Society meetings from that organizational meeting through 16 March 1844, the last time the society met in Nauvoo. The minute book is published in its entirety on both the Joseph Smith Papers website (images, transcripts, and brief introduction) and the Church Historian’s Press website (transcripts and extensive introduction and annotation). While the minute book is by far the most important record of Joseph Smith’s interactions with the Relief Society, several other records also provide valuable information.


Joseph Smith Sermons to the Nauvoo Female Relief Society

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 17 March 1842
(see also JS, Journal, 17 March 1842)
Joseph Smith attended most of the meeting, and his sermon begins on page 7; he also donated a five-dollar gold piece to the society (page 13)

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 31 March 1842
(see also JS, Journal, 31 March 1842)

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 28 April 1842
(see also Wilford Woodruff, Diary, 28 April 1842; and JS, Journal, 28 April 1842)

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 26 May 1842
(see also JS, Journal, 26 May 1842)

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 9 June 1842
Joseph Smith offered to donate property on page 63

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 31 August 1842
(see also JS, Journal, 31 August 1842)


Other Relief Society Meetings Attended by Joseph Smith

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 24 March 1842
(see also JS, Journal, 24 March 1842)

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 12 May 1842
(see also JS, Journal, 12 May 1842)
Joseph Smith spoke briefly about widows and promissory notes beginning on page 45

Relief Society Minute Book, entry for 27 May 1842
Joseph Smith entered partway through the meeting; he was apparently sick and couldn’t speak (see JS, Journal, 27 May 1842)


Other Joseph Smith Documents Related to the Relief Society

Revelation, July 1830–C (D&C 25)
This revelation called Emma Smith an “Elect Lady” and instructed that she be ordained to “expound Scriptures & exhort the Church.” Joseph Smith read this revelation at the first meeting of the Relief Society

Letter to Emma Smith, 31 March 1842
Joseph Smith and Brigham Young addressed Emma Smith and the Relief Society in an epistle, warning them of immoral individuals in and around Nauvoo who falsely claimed authority from church leaders; Emma Smith read the letter to the society the same day, and Eliza R. Snow transcribed a copy of it into the official Relief Society minute book


Other Relevant Material in Derr et al., First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saints Women’s History

First Fifty Years, Introduction

First Fifty Years, Introduction to Part 1: 1830, 1842–1845

Document 1.3, “Ladies Relief Society,” April 1, 1842
Editorial about the organization of the Relief Society in the Times and Seasons, of which Joseph Smith was serving as editor

Document 1.5, Nauvoo Female Relief Society, Petition to Thomas Carlin, ca. July 22, 1842
Petition to the Illinois governor to request that he not to allow Joseph Smith’s extradition to Missouri

Document 2.2, Joseph Smith, Discourses to Nauvoo Female Relief Society, March 31 and April 28, 1842, as Revised for “History of Joseph Smith,” September 5 and 19, 1855
Texts of two Joseph Smith sermons to the Nauvoo Relief Society, as edited by church historians in the 1850s for inclusion in the multivolume history of the church

Document 3.5, Eliza R. Snow, Account of 1868 Commission, as Recorded in “Sketch of My Life,” April 13, 1885 (Excerpt)
Joseph Smith’s role in organizing the society was mentioned

Document 3.6, Eliza R. Snow, “Female Relief Society,” April 18 and 20, 1868
Eliza R. Snow made several mentions of Joseph Smith’s involvement with the society

Document 3.27, John Taylor, Discourse, October 21, 1877 (Excerpt)
John Taylor briefly addressed the formation of the Relief Society by Joseph Smith

Document 4.1, Emmeline B. Wells, “Women’s Organizations,” January 15, 1880
Emmeline B. Wells, editor of the Latter Day Saint newspaper Woman’s Exponent, quoted from Joseph Smith’s journal (as published in the Utah newspaper Deseret News) regarding the formation of the Relief Society

Document 4.4, Salt Lake Stake Relief Society, Report, June 18 and 19, 1880
At this meeting, John Taylor asked that Joseph Smith’s journal be read regarding the formation of the Relief Society, and he then spoke of his own experience of the organizational meeting

Document 4.5, General Relief Society Meeting, Report, July 17, 1880
John Taylor again addressed the organization of the Relief Society, including Joseph Smith’s role

Document 4.10, Sarah M. Kimball, Reminiscence, March 17, 1882
Sarah M. Kimball, who played a key role in proposing a women’s society in Nauvoo, described in detail the organizational meeting of the Relief Society

Document 4.20, Franklin D. Richards, Discourse, July 19, 1888
Franklin D. Richards read from a Joseph Smith discourse and talked about Smith’s involvement with the Relief Society

Document 4.28, Report of Relief Society Jubilee, March 17, 1892
At the fifty-year anniversary celebration of the Relief Society, many women spoke on the foundations of the society and Joseph Smith’s part in its organization