Re-Enactment of the First Relief Society Meeting

Heather from Women in the Scriptures has posted the following fantastic script based on the original minutes of the very first Relief Society meeting. It’s the most historically accurate script out there if you’d like to re-enact the events on the day the Relief Society was organized.

Heather has posted lots of pictures of the reenactment on her blog, so you can see how her unit did this event.

When you use this script, please give Heather credit during your announcements to thank her for all her hard work! That’s Heather as Emma Smith in the picture below.

The First Meeting of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.

Written by Heather Farrell ([email protected])at http://womeninthescritpures.blogspot.com

Author’s note: The dialogue in this script is taken from Eliza R. Snow’s original RS minutes at the LDS church archives. I have tried to keep it as historically accurate as possible. The only additions are that I’ve included some parliamentary procedure wording in because all Eliza wrote in her notes was “It was voted and carried that…” I also took the liberty of adding in some of Joseph’s Smiths famous quotes, which were really given at other RS meetings, but which people think he said at the first meeting. All quotes not taken directly from Eliza R. Snow’s minutes of the first meeting have been footnoted.

Running Time: About 45 minutes.

Scene: The Nauvoo Lodge Room, the second-story meeting room over the Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo. There is a platform at the upper end of the room with three chairs and about 20 chairs set up in the room.

Narrator: Sisters we have an unique opportunity because tonight we get to go back in time to witness the first meeting of the Relief Society. If you look around you will see that we are sitting in the second-story meeting room over the Smith’s Red Brick Store in Nauvoo and that the date is March 17, 1842. We should be expecting the sisters any moment now.

Oh, look here is Eliza R. Snow (Eliza enters, she is carrying a brown notebook and a feather quill. She looks around the room and straightens some chairs. There is an open bible on the front desk and she lays the notebook and pen down next to it) she is the secretary for the Relief Society in Nauvoo and it is from her minute book that the narration you are about to hear comes from, almost word for word. (Other sisters enter the room and she greets them, they visit (silently) and take their seats as the narration continues) Remember that meetings back then were conducted differently than they are today. Parliamentary procedure was commonly used and in order to speak you had to wait for the chair to notice you. Also all motions had to be seconded and voted upon by the assembly. They were much more formal than modern Relief Society meetings! Since we are sitting in on the meeting today you sisters should participate as if you are really there. This means when the chair calls for a vote you should raise your hand in favor and should also participate in the singing when instructed.

What a great blessing it is that the record of this evening as been preserved so that tonight you will be able to hear the original opinions and discourses as they were heard by these sisters almost 170 years ago.

(Joseph Smith, John Taylor and Willard Richards enter, greeting sisters as they move towards the front table)

Oh look the First Presidency has just arrived, the Prophet Joseph Smith and his counselors John Taylor and Willard Richards. It looks like the meeting is just about to begin.

(Narrator exits)

Joseph Smith: (Standing at the front of the room) Sisters, welcome. I recently learned that several of you wished to create an organization to promote sisterhood and to accomplish benevolent works. Sister Eliza R. Snow showed me her draft of your constitution and bylaws and at that time I told her I had “something better than a written Constitution. I will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.”[1] My dear sisters, the purpose of this meeting today is the making complete the organization of the church by organizing the women after the manner of the Priesthood.

I’ve called Elder John Taylor to act as chair of this meeting and Elder Willard Richards to act as secretary until you ladies elect your own leaders for this institution. (Motions to the men sitting with him) We will start by singing “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” after which I will ask Elder Taylor to give the opening prayer.

(All sisters sing the first verse of “The Spirit of God” after which John Taylor prays)

Joseph Smith: (Standing) Mr. Chairman (John Taylor nods at him to acknowledge his right to speak) I move that a vote be taken to know if all are satisfied with each female present and are willing to acknowledge them in full fellowship and admit them to the privilege of the institution about to be formed. (Sits)

Sarah Cleveland: I second it

John Taylor: It has been moved and seconded that a vote be taken to know if all are satisfied with each female present and are willing to acknowledge them in full fellowship.

Is there any debate? Seeing as there is no debate the question is if a vote should be taken to know if each female present should be admitted into full fellowship. All those in favor raise your hands. (All raise hands) All opposed. It appears the motion has been carried.

Joseph Smith: The gentlemen will now withdraw while the ladies conduct their business.

(Joseph Smith, John Taylor and Willard Richards withdraw from the room. Emma Smith gets up and stands at the front of the room.)

Emma Smith: (Standing) Sisters we all know each other intimately and I am sure we are all of good character, but we cannot have divisions among us. So I propose that each woman stand and we will show by a raise of hands that we sustain her and that we believe she should be admitted into full fellowship in this institution.

(As she reads the name of each woman, the woman stands and Emma asks “all in favor” all the other women raise their hands, then Emma asks “all opposed” none of the sisters raise their hands)

Sarah M. Cleveland, Phebe Ann Hawkes, Elizabeth Jones, Sophia Packard, Philinda Merrick, Martha Knight, Desdemona Fulmer, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Leonora Taylor, Bathsheba W. Smith, Phebe M. Wheeler, Elvira A. Coles, Margaret A. Cook, Athalia Robinson, Sarah Granger Kimball, Eliza R. Snow, Sophia Robinson, Nancy Rigdon, Sophia R. Marks and Emma Smith.

It appears that all sisters present have been unanimously accepted as worthy to be admitted into this society.

Sisters I also propose that Mrs. Sarah Higbee, Thirza Cahoon, Keziah A. Morrison, Marinda N. Hyde, Abigail Allred, Mary Snider, Sarah S. Granger, and Cynthia A. Eldredge who are not present with us today be admitted in full fellowship to this institution.

All those who are in favor of accepting these sisters into full fellowship in this society please show by raise of hands. (All raise hands) All opposed. It appears that the following sisters have been accepted in full fellowship.

Seeing as our business is now complete would someone please fetch the gentlemen?

(Bathsheba goes to the door and lets the gentlemen back into the room. They resume their original places.)

Emma Smith: (Standing) Mr. Chairman (Waits) all the sisters present have been accepted into full fellowship in this society. (Sits)

Joseph Smith: (Standing) My dear sisters I wish to illustrate the object of this society which is that this society of sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor, in 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 and their public teachings.

An organization to show women how to go to work will be sufficient. I propose that you sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over you and let that presiding officer choose two counselors to assist in the duties of her office. I will ordain them to preside over the society and let them preside just as the Presidency presides over the church. And if they need my instruction, ask me and I will give it from time to time.

Let this presidency serve as a constitution, 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 as Deacons, Teachers, etcetera are among us.

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

I suggest that the propriety of electing a presidency to continue in office during good behavior or so long as they shall continue to fill the office with dignity—like the First Presidency of the Church. (Sits)

Elizabeth Whitney: (Standing) Mr. Chairman (Waits) I move that Mrs. Emma Smith be elected president of this society. (Sits)

Sophia Packard: I second it.

John Taylor: It is moved and seconded that Mrs. Emma Smith be elected president of this society. Is there any discussion? (Waits). Seeing as there is no discussion the question is on the adoption of electing Mrs. Emma Smith to be president of this society. As many as are in favor raise your hands. (All raise hands) All those opposed. It appears the motion has been carried.

Joseph Smith: (Standing) Mr. Chairman (Waits) I propose that Mrs. Smith proceed to choose her counselors that they may be ordained to preside over this society in taking care of the poor, administering to their needs and attending to the various affairs of this institution. (Sits)

Emma Smith: (Standing) Mr. Chairman (Waits) I move that Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland (Sarah Cleveland stands) and Elizabeth Ann Whitney (Elizabeth Whitney stands) be counselors to the president of this society. (Sits)

Elvira Cole: I second it.

John Taylor: It is moved and seconded that Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney be counselors to the president of this society. Is there any discussion? (Waits) Seeing as there is no discussion, the question is on the adoption of electing Mrs. Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney to be counselors to the president of this society. As many as are in favor raise your hands. (All raise hands) All those opposed. It appears the motion has been carried.

Joseph Smith: (Standing) Sisters on this occasion I wish to read to you section 25 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

(Opens his copy of the Doctrine and Covenants and reads all of Section 25)

This revelation was given to me in July of 1830, not long after the church was first organized. Emma was ordained at that time to expound the scriptures to all and to teach the female part of the community. She is not alone in this but others may also obtain to the same blessings.

(Opens New Testament and reads all of 2 John chapter 1)

I read this verse to you to show that respect is had to the same thing and that why she was called an elect lady is because she was elected to preside.

Elder Taylor would you now please set apart the elect lady and her counselors? (Sits)

(A chair is brought the front of the room and Sarah Cleveland sits in it)

John Taylor: (Puts hands on Sarah Cleveland’s head) Sarah M. Cleveland I ordain you to be counselor to the elect lady, even Mrs. Emma Smith, to counsel and assist her in all thing pertaining to her office.

(Sarah Cleveland returns to her seat and Elizabeth Whitney takes the seat)

John Taylor: (Puts hands on Elizabeth Whitney’s head) Elizabeth Ann Whitney I ordain you to be a counselor to Mrs. Smith, the president of this institution, with all the privileges pertaining to the office.

(Elizabeth Whitney returns to her seat and Emma Smith take the seat)

John Taylor: (Puts hands on Emma Smith’s head) Emma Hale Smith I bless you and confirm upon you all the blessings which have been conferred upon you, that you might be a mother in Israel and look to the wants of the needy and be a lantern of virtue an possess all the qualifications necessary for you to stand and preside and exemplify your office– to teach the females those principles requisite for their further usefulness.

(Emma Smith and John Taylor return to their seats)

Joseph Smith: (Standing) I propose that Elder Taylor now vacate the chair and the elect lady and her counselors take their places.

(John Taylor steps down and Emma Smith, Sarah Cleveland and Elizabeth Whitney take their places at the head table)

Joseph Smith: The proper form for addressing the chair is now Mrs. Chairman or President and not Mr. Chairman. Whatever the majority of the house decided upon becomes a law to this society. I counsel you, do not injure the character of anyone. If members of the Society should conduct themselves improperly deal with them and keep all your doings within your own bosoms and hold all characters sacred. (Sits)

John Taylor: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I propose that we go into an investigation respecting what the society should be called. (Sits)

Sarah Cleveland: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I move that the society be called The Nauvoo Female Relief Society. (Sits)

Elizabeth Whitney: I second it.

Emma Smith: It has been moved and seconded that this society be called The Nauvoo Female Relief Society. Is there any discussion on the question?

John Taylor: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I move to amend the motion that it be called The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society, which would give a more definite and extended idea of the institution. (Sits)

Emma Smith: (Looks at Sarah Cleveland and Elizabeth Whitney they giver her stern looks) The chair would like an argument with Elder Taylor on the words relief and benevolent.

Joseph Smith: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) benevolent is a popular term and the term relief is not know among popular societies. Relief is more extended in its signification than benevolent and might extend to the liberation of the culprit and might be wrongly constrained by our enemies to say the society was to relieve criminals from punishment– to relieve a murder, which would not be a benevolent act. (Sits)

Emma Smith: The popularity of the word benevolent is one great objection. No person can think of the word as associated with public institutions without thinking of the Washingtonian Benevolent Society, which is one of the most corrupt institutions of the day. We do not wish to have it called after other societies in the world!

Joseph Smith: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I have no objection to the word relief. On this question we ought to deliberate candidly and investigate all objects. (Sits)

Sarah Cleveland: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) as concurring to the question before the house I suggest that we should not regard the idle speech of our enemies. We design to act in the name of the Lord—to relieve the wants of the distressed and to do all the good we can. (Sits)

Eliza R. Snow: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I feel to concur with the President with regard to the word benevolent, that in many societies with which it has been appreciated are corrupt and that the popular institutions of the day should not be our guide. As daughters of Zion we should set an example for all the world, rather than confine ourselves to the course which has been hereto followed. An objection to the word relief is that the idea associated with it is that of some great calamity. Well, we intend appropriating on some extraordinary occasions instead of meeting the common occurrences. (Sits)

Emma Smith: Yes sisters, we are going to do something extraordinary. When a boat is stuck on the rapid, with a multitude of Mormons on board then we shall consider that a loud call for relief. We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.

John Taylor: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I shall have to concede the point. Your arguments are so potent that I can not stand before them. I shall have to give way. (Sits)

Joseph Smith: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I also shall have to concede the point, and all I shall have to give to the poor I shall give through this society. (Sits)

Elizabeth Whitney: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I move that this society be called The Nauvoo Female Relief Society. (Sits)

Sarah Kimball: I second it.

Emma Smith: It has been moved and seconded that this society be called The Nauvoo Female Relief Society. Is there any debate?

Eliza R. Snow: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I move to amend the motion by of transposition of words. Instead of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society it should be called the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. (Sits)

Joseph Smith: I second it

Emma Smith: It has been moved and seconded that this society be called the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. All those in favor raise your hands. (All raise hands) All opposed. It appears the motion has been carried.

Joseph Smith: (Standing) I now proclaim this society organized with President and counselors, and all who shall hereafter be admitted into this society must be free from censure and received by vote. I offer $5 in gold to commence the funds of this Institution (hold up a gold piece and lays it on the table) and I propose that the gentleman withdraw from the room while the females proceed to the choice of secretary and treasurer.

(Gentlemen leave the room)

Elvira Cole: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I move that Eliza R. Snow be elected as secretary and Phebe M. Wheeler as Assistant Secretary. (Sits)

Sarah Kimball: I second it

Emma Smith: It has been moved and seconded that Eliza R. Snow be secretary and Phebe M. Wheeler Assistant Secretary. Is there any debate? (Waits) Seeing as there is no debate the question is on electing Eliza R. Snow as secretary and Phebe M. Wheeler as Assistant Secretary. All in favor. (All raise hands) All opposed. It appears the motion as been carried.

Bathsheba Smith: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I move that Elvira Cole be treasurer. (Sits)

Sophia Packard: I second it.

Emma Smith: It has been moved and seconded that Elvira Cole be elected treasure. Is there any debate? (Waits) Seeing as there is no debate the question is on electing Elvira Cole as treasure. All in favor. (All raise hands) All opposed. It appears the motion as been carried

(Standing) Sisters I wish to take a moment and speak on the purpose of this society– its duties to others and also our relative duties to each other. We are to seek out and relive the distressed, each member should deal frankly with each other to watch over the morals and be very careful of the character and reputation of the members of the institution.

I would like to mention a concern that has been on my mind. Mrs. Murrick is a widow who is industrious. She performs her work well therefore I would recommend her to the patronage of such as wish to hire needlework. Those who hire widows must be prompted to pay and is as much as some have defrauded the laboring widow of her wage we must be upright and deal justly.

I now believe our business is concluded. Would some one fetch the gentleman?

(Bathsheba Smith goes to get the men)

Emma Smith: Sirs we have elected as our secretary Eliza R. Snow (Eliza stands), Phebe Ann Hawkes as assistant secretary (Phebe stands) and Elvira Cole (Elvira stands) as treasurer. (Sits)

John Taylor: (Standing) Mrs. Chairman (Waits) I would like to address this society by saying that I am much gratified in seeing a meeting of this kind in Nauvoo. My heart rejoices when I see the most distinguished character stepping forth in such a cause which is calculated to bring into experience every virtue and give scope to the benevolent feeling of the female heart. I rejoice to see this Institution organized according to the laws of heaven. According to a revelation previously given to Mrs. Emma Smith appointing her to this important calling and to see al things moving forward in such a glorious manner. It is my prayer that the blessings of God and the peace of heaven may rest on this Institution henceforth. (Sits)

Joseph Smith: (Standing) Sisters this is “a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous, and holy.”[2] “I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time—this is the beginning of better days to this Society.” [3]

Will you all now sing “ Come Let Us Rejoice in the Day of Salvation”

(All sing first verse of “Now Let Us Rejoice”)

Emma Smith: Sisters I believe our business is concluded. We will stand and have a prayer by Elder Taylor, and then this meeting will be adjourned until next week, Thursday at 10 O’clock.

(All stand and John Taylor gives the closing prayer)

Narrator: Since this humble meeting of twenty sisters the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints has grown into the largest women’s organization in the world. It currently has more than 6 million members and is organized in nearly 170 countries. (Narrator bears her personal testimony of Relief Society)

[1] (Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-Biography,” Woman’s Exponent, 1 Sept. 1883, p. 51.)

[2] (Minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 30 Mar. 1842.)

[3] (Minutes, 28 Apr. 1842, p. 40.)

Free Instant Download