17 March 1842 (Thursday). Upper Room, Red Brick Store

Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes[1]

The meeting was address'd by Prest. Smith, to illustrate the object of the Society [2]—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 the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties &c: in their public teaching.

Prest. Smith further remark'd that an organization to show them how to go to work would be sufficient. He propos'd that the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two counsellors to assist in the duties of her office—that he would ordain [3] them to preside over the Society—and let them preside just as Presidency, preside over the church: and if they need his instruction ask him, will give it from time to time.

Let this Presidency serve as a constitution [4]—all their decisions be considered law, and acted upon as such.

If any Officers are wanted to carry out the designs of the institution, let them be appointed and set apart, [5] as Deacons, Teachers, &C. are among us.

The minutes of your meetings will be precedent for you to act upon—your Constitution—and law.

He then suggested the propriety of electing a Presidency to continue in the office during good behavior, or so long as they shall continue to fill the office with dignity &C.,—like the first Presidency of the Church.

Motioned by Sister Whitney [6] and seconded by Sister Packard [7] that Mrs. Emma Smith [8] be chosen President—passed unanimously.

Mov'd by Prest. Smith, that Mrs. Smith proceed to choose her Counsellors, that they may be ordain'd to preside over this Society, in taking care of the poor, administering to their wants, and attending to the various affairs of this Institution.

The Presidentess Elect, then made choice of Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland [9] and Mrs. Elizabeth Ann Whitney for Counsellors.

President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith, from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; [10] and stated that she was ordain'd at the time the Revelation was given, [11] to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.— [12]

The 2d Epistle of John, 1st verse, was then read to show that respect was there had to the same thing, and that why she was called an Elect lady is because elected to preside.

… [After John Taylor had ordained the presidency] Prest. Smith then resumed his remarks and gave instruction how to govern themselves in their meetings—when one wishes to speak, address the chair—and the chairman responds to the address.

Should two speak at once, the Chair shall decide who speaks first, if anyone is dissatisfied, she appeals to the house.

When one has the floor, [she] occupies [it] as long as she pleases &C.

Proper manner of address is Mrs. Chairman or President and not Mr. Chairman &C.

A question can never be put until it has a second

When the subject for discussion has been fairly investigated; the chairman will say, are you ready for the question? &c.

Whatever the majority of the house decide upon becomes a law to the Society.

Prest. Smith proceeded to give counsel: do not injure the character of anyone—if members of the Society shall conduct [themselves] improperly, deal with them, and keep all your doings within your own bosoms; and hold all characters sacred—

… [After a discussion to determine the official name of the society, Joseph Smith said] I now declare this society organized with president and counsellors and according to parliamentary usage, and all who shall hereafter be admitted into this society must be free from censure and received by vote.

Manuscript History of the Church

I assisted in commencing the organization of "The Female {Relief Society of Nauvoo" in the "Lodge Room." Sister Emma Smith, President, and Sisters Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Sarah M. Cleveland Counsellors. I gave much instruction, read in the New Testament, [13] and Book of Doctrine and Covenants [14] concerning the Elect Lady, and shewed that the elect meant to be elected to a certain work &c and that the revelation was then fulfilled by Sister Emma's election to the Presidency of the Society, she having previously been ordained to expound Scriptures} [15] Emma was blessed, and her counselors were ordained by Elder John Taylor.

—17 March 1842


[1] Reference to this meeting is mentioned in History of the Church, 4:552-53. Not in Teachings. The account by Willard Richards is here published for the first time. First recorded into the "Book of the Law of the Lord," p. 91, these minutes were later transcribed into the Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes. The occasion on which the following remarks were made was the organization of the Nauvoo Relief Society. The "Red Brick Store," also known as Joseph Smith's store, was located on Water Street, block 155. The store opened for business on 5 January 1842 but did not remain under the Prophet's management continuously. In the upper level of the building was a large meeting room called the "Lodge Room" or the "General Business Office." This chamber accommodated a variety of meeting functions—city council meetings, court proceedings, Masonic meetings, Church councils, administering priesthood ordinances, and so on.

[2] The term Society is used consistently throughout the Nauvoo Relief Society minutes to mean identically "Relief Society."

[3] Regarding the "ordination" of Emma Smith and her counselors as the presidency of the Nauvoo Relief Society, and the implicit understanding they had that this ordination was not a conferral of priesthood but the conferral of presiding authority and keys over the sisters, the following explanation is pertinent:

"On the occasion of the organization of the Relief society, by the Prophet Joseph Smith at Nauvoo, I was present Sister Emma smith was elected president and Sisters Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Sarah M. Cleveland her Counselors. The Prophet Joseph then said that Sister Emma was named in the revelation recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants concerning the Elect Lady, and furthermore that she had been ordained to expound the Scriptures. By my request my Secretary Elder L. John Nuttall read to you relative to this meeting from the 'Book of the Law of the Lord,' at your Conference held June 19th, ult., which explained what was then done.

The ordination then given did not mean the conferring of the Priesthood upon those sisters yet the sisters hold a portion of the Priesthood in connection with their husbands. (Sisters Eliza R. Snow and Bathsheba W. Smith, stated that they so understood it in Nauvoo and have looked upon it always in that light.)

As I stated, at that meeting, that I was called upon by the Prophet Joseph and I did then ordain Sisters Whitney and Cleveland, and blessed Sister Emma and set her apart. I could not ordain these sisters to anything more or to greater powers than had been conferred upon Sister Emma who had previously been ordained to expound the Scriptures, and that Joseph said at that time, that being an elect lady had its significance, and that the revelation was then fulfilled in Sister Emma being thus elected to preside over the Relief Society" (The Woman's Exponent 9 [1 September 1880]: 53).

[4] Unlike other institutions, the Nauvoo Relief Society was not to have a written constitution. The voice of the presidency of the society and the decisions of its membership (recorded in their minutes) served as a living constitution.

[5] There was no attempt to differentiate between the terms set apart and ordain during this period.

[6] Elizabeth Ann Whitney (1800-1882) was the wife of Newel K. Whitney. She was first counselor to Emma Smith in the Nauvoo Relief Society.

[7] Sophia Packard (1800-1858). Wife of Noah Packard.

[8] Emma Smith (1804-79) was Joseph Smith's wife. She was baptized in 1830 and was (at this meeting) appointed the first Relief Society president in Nauvoo.

[9] Sarah Merietta Kingsley Cleveland, born 20 October 1788, was a native of Becket, Berkshire, Massachusetts. Although a faithful member of the Church and a plural wife of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Sarah remained with her non-Mormon husband, John Cleveland, in Quincy, Illinois, after the Mormon exodus.

[10] D&C 25.

[11] D&C 25:7-9. The revelation was given in July 1830.

[12] D&C 25:16.

[13] 2 John 1.

[14] D&C 25:3, 7-10.

[15] Emma was ordained at the time of the reception of D&C 25—July 1830. See text of this discourse at note 11. See also notes 3 and 11 of this discourse. The braces enclose the words that come from the "Book of the Law of the Lord."