Women occupy a unique place in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [also known as Mormons]. Although none of us bear the priesthood of God and most of us have no desire to do so, the leaders of the Church heap words of praise upon the women of the Church. We often hear our leaders make statements such as “We, the Brethren of the Church, honor and respect our good sisters for their unselfish devotion to this glorious cause.”
Sister Margaret Nadauld expressed this requirement with these beautiful words: “Women of God can never be like women of the world. The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind. There are enough women who are rude; we need women who are refined. We have enough women of fame and fortune; we need more women of faith. We have enough greed; we need more goodness. We have enough vanity; we need more virtue. We have enough popularity; we need more purity.”
In the years following the organization of the Church, women of the Church wanted an organization of their own and wrote bylaws for their organization. They took their ideas to the Prophet Joseph Smith for his approval. He told them that their ideas were good, but the Lord had something better for them. On March 17, 1842, the Prophet met with a number of the sisters and organized them into a society which was given the name of “The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.” Today that organization is known as the Relief Society and is one of the largest and oldest organizations for women in the world. All sisters in the Church, eighteen years and over, are members of Relief Society. We work together to care for ourselves, each other, and our families.
President Joseph Fielding Smith stated, “That this organization was by revelation, there can be no doubt. This truth has been abundantly demonstrated throughout the years and today its value and necessity are abundantly attested.
“Surely the Church of Jesus Christ would not have been completely organized had not this wonderful organization come into existence…. This restoration would not have been complete without the Relief Society in which the sisters are able to accomplish a divinely appointed service so essential to the welfare of the Church.” (See Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, pp. 297-309.)
The Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that the women of the Church should be organized because they had an important work in establishing the cause of Zion. The organization was primarily responsible for the benefit, encouragement, and advancement of the women of the Church, but a secondary responsibility was to aid in the work of mercy and relief from distress and suffering of the poor, the sick, and afflicted throughout the Church. The Relief Society continues to carry out these responsibilities.
President Smith stated, “The Relief Society … has grown to be a power in the Church. Absolutely necessary – we speak of it as an auxiliary, which means a help, but the Relief Society is more than that. It is needed….
“The Relief Society was established by the spirit of inspiration, has been guided by that spirit [ever since], and has instilled into the hearts of countless of our good sisters those desires for righteousness which have been pleasing to the Lord.”
The women of the Church are expected to stand by the side of their husbands and to work with bearers of the priesthood to bless and strengthen individuals and families both in and out of the Church. The Lord has blessed us with the qualities of sympathy, tenderness of heart, and kindness and has given us the responsibility to minister to the needy and the afflicted. Women serve under the direction and in harmony with our bishops as we work together to bless our people both spiritually and physically.
President Smith stated, “It is the duty of the Relief Society, not only to look after those who are members of the Relief Society, but their labor should extend beyond those borders. Wherever anybody is in trouble, needs help, in difficulties, sick or afflicted, we call upon the Relief Society. … They can perform a great and wonderful work by encouraging the wayward, helping them, bringing them back into activity, helping them to overcome their weaknesses or sins and imperfections, and bringing them to an understanding of the truth. I say there is no limit to the good that our sisters can do.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley echoed this statement while speaking to the National Press Club on March 8, 2000: “… We are now operating in more than 160 nations. Our worldwide membership is approaching 11 million.
“Of these, approximately four million are women who belong to what we call the Relief Society. I think it is the oldest women’s organization in the world, and perhaps the largest. It has its own officers and board and these officers also sit on other boards and committees of the Church. People wonder what we do for our women. I will tell you what we do. We get out of their way, and look with wonder at what they are accomplishing.”
As a member of the Relief Society I have the opportunity to serve and bless other people. I also have the blessing of being taught by priesthood leaders and my peers. I have been taught the Plan of Salvation and my place in it. I understand that I cannot be saved in the Kingdom of God in ignorance, and I have learned the importance of studying the scriptures to gain and keep a strong testimony. I understand that the blessings of the priesthood belong to me and my sisters as much as they belong to the brethren of the Church. I know that women of the Relief Society are becoming women of God. As women of God, much more is required of us.