The Nauvoo Female Relief Society Meeting of April 28, 1842
June 7, 2010 3 Comments
We’ve had a partial of these minutes up at boap.org in the Parallel Joseph for a long time, but recently we put up the entire transcript. Eliza R. Snow took the minutes. Since her notes constitute the only extensive report of the meeting, it’s impossible to have direct knowledge of how accurate they are. But their form and flow suggest a reasonably careful rehearsal of the day’s events. The minutes are the source of the oft-quoted “turn the key” phrase as well as the pronouncement that the biblical signs (Mark 16:17-18) follow *all* believers, not just males. (See a very different item from these minutes here.) There are some additional details that give us some clues about the operation of the Society, in particular the ongoing expansion of membership. After Nauvoo in some sense, other incarnations of Relief Society never really had the same internal cachet. While the echoes in early Utah ward Relief Societies tried to recruit the glory days, they never had real support from church leadership. But Snow and Whitney and others kept the dream alive, repeating Joseph’s words when the occasion arose. But the auxiliary movement would claim the RS and gradually it became one itself, losing independence and related status along the way.
So what does Relief Society mean today? Much of its original praxis still persists: gospel instruction, helping the needy. There are of course many differences. But Relief Society began by rolling a different way from its Protestant cousins in antebellum America. And it was taken under the wing of the church, not only getting its blessing, but it was raised to the level of a Divine plan, the object of one of Joseph’s many unwritten revelations. Did “turning the key” apply to all the later versions of the organization? I think in part it did. But Relief Society in Nauvoo was going to constitute a wing of the future temple’s staff. At least that’s one way of reading the April 28 minutes. Other aspects of religiosity went away as well, but like the evolution of the priesthood quorums Relief Society’s evolution was marked by conformity and correlation. Anyway, have a little fun reading them: