Ep 101 – For the Relief of Nauvoo Society plus Kate Kelly
On this episode, the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo is finally established. We walk through the set and setting of Nauvoo in early 1842 being built on nothing more than credit. Men are the providers, while women are tasked with home chores, raising children, and maybe doing a small money-making hobby on the side to keep the house afloat. We discuss women’s roles in 19th-century America and how early feminism caused small movements to rise long before the official beginning of the Women’s Era. We read through the meeting minutes of the foundation of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo when Emma Hale Smith was elected President. We speculate on Joseph’s intentions when it was first organized and opine on how stagnant and solidified Mormon doctrine today is in comparison to Nauvoo Mormonism of 1842. What does it take to change Mormon doctrine today? We invite on Kate Kelly to discuss her history with the Ordain Women movement.
Relief Society minute book
History of Relief Society
Joseph Smith Journal May 1842
Ordain Women into priesthood
Masonic Adoption rite
Emmeline B. Wells A Voice for Mormon Women by Carol Cornwall Madsen
Women in Masonry
History of Women’s Freemasonry
Order of the Eastern Star Robert Morris 1850
The Fern Foundation Short Creek Service Project
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
The Rosary of the Eastern Star: SYNOPSIS OF THE SYSTEM
Here is a story of the grand, old time,
A tale of virtues, tender, yet sublime,
Inscribed on sacred page to give us faith
In woman’s constancy, in life and death;
Here in God’s book, the bright narration see,
And five brave hearts make up the history.
Adah, great Jephthah’s daughter, soul of truth,
Ruth, flower of Moab, humble, pious Ruth,
Esther, the Crowned, and worthiest of a crown,
Martha, His friend, whom saints and angels own,
Electa, strong the martyr’s cross to bear—
These are the Heroines of the Eastern Star.
Fairest among ten thousand deathless names,
How altogether lovely do they glow!
Time’s annals yield no brighter, nobler themes,
No purer hearts the ranks of heaven know;
Here then, oh Sisters, sister-virtues trace,
And light from these your lamps of truth and grace.
Nauvoo, Illinois, early 1842 was beginning to look like a real city. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of man-hours for little or no pay, a constant influx of immigrant European Mormons making their way into the burgeoning city all coalesced to exhibit what humans can accomplish when they collectively devote their minds and all their energy to one cause. What used to be a swamp on the Mississippi, now hundreds of homes, dozens of small businesses, a schoolhouse, a community gathering hall, a Masonic lodge, a red-brick store, a mansion, a couple small church buildings, a small armory for the Nauvoo Legion, and half a dozen major buildings at varying degrees of construction covered the landscape.
This city didn’t crop up out of nowhere and all the necessary supporting infrastructure worked constantly behind the scenes to ensure a smooth and endless stream of construction could continue unobstructed. Logging operations had cleared every standing tree within miles and were venturing further and further for want of solid lumber. Steam-powered mills were refining raw wood to usable boards, 2 brickyards with massive kilns had a constant wagon train of clay coming in trying to fill the backlog of millions of needed bricks. Market areas were springing up on every corner for everything a person would need for planting this year’s crops.
From an outsider’s perspective, a person could travel into Nauvoo, spend a few days seeing the beauty of the city, patronize the local shops and tavern, and leave with an incredibly positive experience. Day-to-day life in Nauvoo for those living there, was not what the public outlook revealed. While the streets may look clean and pleasant, laid out in proper blocks hearkening to the Masonic genesis of the city, the people living in Nauvoo knew that the façade hid a darker side of Nauvoo no outsider could understand.
Nauvoo was purchased on credit, built on credit, and only functioned due to a constant stream of investors who chose to ignore Joseph Smith’s sordid past with his creditors. The city wasn’t built organically with first some farmers cultivating the area, then a small trading area, then manufacturing and industry slowly making its way in; the Mormons had brute-forced the city into existence against all odds.
This flash-in-the-pan way of building Nauvoo left a lot to be desired. Chief of all concerns, there weren’t any jobs. There was farming to be done, but way too many people and far too little land to employ everybody as a farmer. There were a few menial manufacturing jobs in small textile and mercantile industries, but there weren’t any major factories utilizing Nauvoo’s prime location on the Mississippi for shipping purposes as large factories require years and insane amounts of venture capital to get off the ground. Any goods the Mormons were making cost too much and weren’t produced at a high enough volume to offset the costs, forcing the asking price to be above local and national competitors for any given good. The only industry with any jobs was construction, but the pay was terrible because, once again, everything was being built on credit and Nauvoo had no major exports to bring in capital to invest. Nauvoo was a negative feedback loop and ledger books were being filled with more red ink every day.
Now consider the general structure of society in these hard times. The men were understood to be the breadwinners of the home and provide for their family, while the women were to remain homemakers tending to all necessary chores to keep the household running and raise the children with good Christian values. Women rarely held any job beyond what they could do while at home. Dressmaking, rug painting, sewing, basket weaving, making sweets, teaching children to read and write, the options were extremely limited in comparison to their male counterparts. All these money-making ventures could NEVER interfere with homemaking. We think doing laundry and dishes sucks today, imagine doing so without running water and only a washing board for a family of 10.
With the men devoting so much of their time to church business and construction, women provided relief in the form of home-cooked meals, caring for the kids, making clothing, and doing all necessary tasks to keep the home running when the men were working for 15 hours a day on the temple, Nauvoo House, farming, or any other business created by the Church.
Men provided, women were tasked with spiritual guidance and child-rearing. Women couldn’t vote. Women couldn’t own property or even start a business for that matter, with a few minor exceptions. Women could take over or inherit a business started by a man, but that was just about it, and their boards of directors were almost without excepted comprised solely of men. Women couldn’t write legally binding wills, sign contracts, or negotiate wages. If women wanted a voice in politics or business, they influenced it by raising good sons with proper ideals to accomplish their will. A Woman’s power in 19th-century America was exerted through the men by whom she was surrounded. It wasn’t until the 1890s that the dawn of the women’s era finally arrived, but it was, and still is, a long road ahead.
To look back even further, 1647 in this country was the first American woman to demand the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1869, that’s 31 years ahead of our timeline, that the first woman was admitted to the bar. It would be 1916 before the first woman was elected to Congress. It wasn’t until 1872 that the first woman ran for President of the United States. That’s 16 years shy of a century after the Constitution was ratified. Are we supposed to believe that there wasn’t a single woman capable of being a great President before 1872? There still hasn’t been one?
One of the signature revelations which distinguishes Mormonism apart from its Protestant counterparts is the Word of Wisdom in the modern D&C 89. We’ve discussed this before on My Book of Mormon podcast and back on episode 28 – Battle for Zion, of Naked Mormonism. There’s a story behind the Word of Wisdom which is merely eluded to in the introduction of the revelation as follows:
“Revelation given through Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Kirtland, Ohio, February, 27, 1833. As a consequence of the early brethren using tobacco in their meetings, the Prophet was led to ponder upon the matter; consequently, he inquired of the Lord concerning it. This revelation, known as the Word of Wisdom, was the result.”
The story behind this revelation coming to be is actually Emma Hale Smith, Jo’s first wife and the ‘elect lady’ of Mormonism. She was sick of cleaning up the tobacco spit from the brethren and asked Jo to talk to the Lord about it. The Word of Wisdom, banning Mormons from drinking hot drinks, smoking, and only allowing them to eat meat sparingly in times of famine, came into existence. This example perfectly exhibits a microcosm of the role women played in society. Their will influenced society based on the social standing of their husbands. The fact that even the modern D&C doesn’t acknowledge Emma’s influence on the prophet pondering the health effects of tobacco shows just how little power women wielded in the Church throughout its history. Given how much progress society has made since 1842, this discrepancy seems even more glaring today.
Emmeline B. Wells is one of the most quotable women in the early Mormon movement. A champion of women’s rights and a prominent suffragist, as editor of the Relief Society’s Women’s Exponent, her wit was particularly sharp and her pen was her weapon of choice.
In the 1981 edition of the John Whitmer Historical Journal, there’s an article on the life and times of Emmeline B. Wells written by Carol Cornwall Madsen, I’ll be quoting extensively from it when Madsen quotes Wells.
“A man too often saw his wife as simply a necessity in his establishment, to manage his house, to cook his dinner, to attend to his wardrobe, always on hand if she is wanted and always out of sight when not needed. He doesn’t mind kissing her occasionally, when it suits him; but he never thinks she has any thoughts of her own, any ideas which might be developed; she must not have even an opinion, or if she has she mustn’t express it, it is entirely out of place; she is a subject, not a joint-partner in the domestic firm.”
“Why is it not possible for man and woman to love each other truly, and dwell together in harmony, each according to the other all the freedom of thought, feeling, and expression they would grant to one who was not bound to them by indissoluble ties?”
There’s a common criticism leveled against feminists that they attempt to denigrate men’s position or opinions in lieu of elevating their position above men’s. While some of those feminists may exist out there, the broad consensus of feminism seems to be an overall equality of men and women in all aspects of society. We can discuss what that equality looks like and the physiological differences between men and women and how those differences may impact the paths men and women choose to lead. However, that’s a separate discussion. Emmeline Wells summarized the position of equalism extremely well when she said this in the October 1897 edition of the Woman’s Exponent:
“Women are not asking for their rights simply because of ‘place or power,’ or to crowd men out of the ranks of the wage earners or professions, but that they may be acknowledged as being an equal in the work and business of the great world in which all must live and take part… This great work can never be done well by one half of the human family; it is the opinion of all who think deeply that men and women must do the work together, and unitedly.”
Another powerful voice in the woman’s movement in Nauvoo history was truly one of the most unique and peculiar of women Joseph would take as a plural wife, Eliza R. Snow. She wrote extensively on the path and plight of women in mid-19th-century America. Hit it Brian.
92 One of Time’s Changes by Eliza Roxcy Snow
Some things have chang’d from what they were
When all the fairest of the fair;
Whom Fame has rank’d among the ‘beauties’;
Were skillful in domestic duties.
Our modern Misses scarce believe 5
That ladies us’d to spin and weave:
Or, that gay Princesses, of yore,
Wrought the rich garments, Princes wore.
Since Fashion has with Folly met,
The stars of Industry have set— 10
Pleasure and Profit have disbanded,
And Labor, like grim Want, is branded.
’Tis strange as foolish, but ’tis got so
Who are not idle, would be thought so;
And ladies too, have grown so common, 15
No wonder if they plunder Mammon!
Now who, beneath proud Fashion’s peal,
Will dare draw music from the wheel,
Or regulate the kitchen, when
Eliza stops, to wield the pen?
published in Times and Seasons, 1 March 1842
Various points can be charted throughout American history that could be labeled as the proto-feminist movement. It seems that the complaints the feminist movement attempts to address have existed in some form or another for centuries and trying to claim feminism started at a specific arbitrary time is an exercise in futility. We can point to the suffrage movement and say that’s the earliest iteration of feminism, but look back a few more decades and we have women gaining the power to vote in territories before states. A few decades before women could vote in these territories there were powerful feminist women getting doctorate degrees and professions previously reserved for just men and influencing local politics with organized marches without being able to vote on those politics. A few decades before that we have our first female ministers of various religions. Some historians have theorized that the Salem Witch trials evolved out of a misplaced sense of trying to quash an early feminist movement.
The ideas that women have less opportunities and their general position in society is inferior to that of a man’s position, generally speaking of course, has been around since the beginning of this country in some form or another. The mid-1800s is merely one point on the upward trajectory of women’s rights.
The beginning poem was from the Order of the Eastern Star, which was essentially a women’s Masonic lodge founded in 1850. Established as a para-Masonic society open to Masons and their wives, the Order of the Eastern Star was founded by a guy named Robert Morris and the society was readily accepted by multiple Masonic lodges who offered their facilities for Eastern Star meetings. The Order of the Eastern Star had five different degrees and practiced what was known as the rite of adoption.
To be painfully brief, the adoption system came from France as a practice appended to Masonry and was also practiced in some Scottish rites. This adoption system was essentially set out to bring women who were tied to Masons into the rite. From masonicdictionary.com:
“The objects of this Rite, as expressed by the framer, were "to associate in one common bond the worthy wives, widows, daughters, and sisters of Freemasons, so as to make their adoptive privileges available for all the purposes contemplated in Freemasonry; to secure to them the advantages of their claim in a moral, social, and charitable point of view, and from them the performance of corresponding duties." Hence, no females but those holding the above recited relations to Freemasons were eligible for admission.”
Basically, if your husband, father, or deceased husband was a Mason, this rite of adoption allowed you to essentially be qualified as a Mason. The Order of the Eastern Star used this same adoption rite and created androgynous ascendancy rituals so as not to discriminate against women who wanted to be part of the fraternity at some level, even if membership was only in the Eastern Star as opposed to the Royal Arch.
Like so many of these feminist, or equalist, movements, the foundation of the Order of the Eastern Star doesn’t mark the beginning of the ideas behind its foundation. The actual foundation of the group was a milestone along a much broader trajectory. The ideas that women should be equal in societies such as Masonry existed long before the Order of the Eastern Star was founded.
Joseph Smith listened to his constituents and their concerns as their representative to the Lord on this earth. Jo captured the sentiments of mid-19th-century feminism when he established the Relief Society on 17 March, 1842.
Vogel HoC 4:534:
“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, Counselors. I gave much instruction, read in the New Testament, and Book of Doctrine and Covenants, concerning the Elect Lady, and showed that 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 the Scriptures. Emma was blessed, and her counselors were ordained by Elder John Taylor.”
The actual minutes for the first meeting of the society provide much more insight into the meeting and the reasoning behind organizing it. The meeting minutes in their entirety can be found on JosephSmithPapers.org where they provide a wonderfully informative introduction to provide historical context. You’ll find a link in the show notes.
“On 17 March 1842, JS first formally organized Latter-day Saint women in a group with distinct responsibilities and authority. At JS’s invitation, twenty women assembled in the large room above his dry goods store in Nauvoo, Illinois, to be organized, as one woman recalled his description, “under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood” (Sarah M. Kimball, “Auto-biography,” Woman’s Exponent, 1 Sept. 1883, 51). Priesthood quorums—units of men assembled according to priesthood office and usually headed by a president and two counselors—had been organized previously. The women assembled on 17 March elected JS’s wife Emma Hale Smith president, and she selected two counselors; a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles ordained or set apart the three-member presidency to their new callings or offices. These were the first ecclesiastical positions in the church for women.
The name the women selected for their institution, the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, paralleled that of contemporaneous women’s benevolent societies in the United States. Two or three weeks prior to the 17 March meeting, a group of Nauvoo women had met to form a “ladies society” to sew shirts for temple workmen, an effort probably informed by the broader benevolent movement. When JS invited these women to be organized as part of the church structure, they abandoned their plans for an independent society with a constitution and bylaws. JS told them at the initial meeting, “The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon—your Constitution and law” (Minutes, 17 Mar. 1842). This record of Relief Society “organization and proceedings” includes minutes for seventeen meetings in 1842, thirteen in 1843, and four in 1844. By the last recorded meeting in March 1844, a total of 1,331 women had enrolled as members, most of them joining the first year (Maureen C. Ward, “‘This Institution Is a Good One’: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 17 March 1842 to 16 March 1844,” Mormon Historical Studies 3 [Fall 2002]: 87–203).
JS attended nine Relief Society meetings in 1842 and addressed six of them. These minutes document his instructions regarding women’s new responsibilities, authority, and forthcoming temple blessings—the only record of teachings JS directed specifically to women. The minutes detail donations for and visits with the poor, contributions for templeconstruction, and women’s efforts at moral reform and civic activism. Discussions reported in this record refer explicitly or implicitly to tensions mounting in Nauvoo over JS’s political influence and threatened extradition to Missouri, the defection of prominent church and civic leader John C. Bennett, and the tumult surrounding the introduction of plural marriage. The record of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo ends on 16 March 1844; a decade passed before Relief Society meetings resumed in the Salt Lake Valley.”
The notebook begins with the cover where it says the following written by first secretary, Eliza R. Snow:
Book of Records.
The following appropriate frontispiece, was found lying on an open Bible, in the room appropriated for the Society; at its first meeting.
“O, Lord! help our widows, and fatherless children! So mote it be. Amen. With the sword, and the word of truth, defend thou them. So mote it be. Amen.”
was politely presented to the Society by
on the 17th of March, AD. 1842.”
The actual meeting itself is oddly entertaining. Jo, John Taylor, and White-out Willard Richards were in attendance overseeing the meeting and ordaining the various women to their respective offices. The women of the group elected Emma Smith to be President of the society and then deliberation ensues as to what the society shall be called. Consistent with the historical context JosephSmithPapers provides, the general goal of the society was to provide relief to those who were in need for whatever may ail them. Whether it was need of medicine, clothing, a place to stay in a dire situation, this female society was created to relieve them of such stress and pressure. As with the Relief society today, when the women see a problem in the Church worth addressing, they’re to report it to the brethren to be handled with the proper authority. The purpose of the society and the naming of such was debated as follows:
“Prest. Smith, & Elders Taylor & Richards return’d and the meeting was address’d by Prest.Smith, to illustrate the object of the Society— 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 them to preside over the Society— and let them preside just as the Presidency, preside over the church; and if [p. 7] they need his instruction— ask him, he 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.
This is an interesting bit. This is Joseph Smith setting apart the leadership of the Relief Society to act as a presiding body over the women in the church the way the brethren preside over the rest of the Church, even carving out offices for them equivalent to offices of Teachers, Deacons, Priests, and Elders. The Relief society wields significantly less power today than the initial intentions when it was first created here in 1842. It’s also worth bearing in mind, women in the early Church conducted temple ceremonies and anointed and blessed the sick causing them to be healed. These are duties largely reserved to men in the Church today, seemingly a sharp discrepancy from Joseph Smith’s view of women’s role in the Church when the Relief Society was created. The Relief Society was also created as an instructor group to teach women the tenets of the Gospel. Mormon women teaching women about Mormonism, from curricula created by women for women. This shouldn’t need mentioning, but the Relief Society was truly revolutionary given the societal norms of 19th-century America, especially when it came to leadership in a Christian congregation.
“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.
President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith, from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; and stated that she was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given, 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.— [p. 8]…”
“He then laid his hands on the head of Mrs. Smith and blessed her, and confirm’d upon her all the blessings which have been confer’d on her, that she might be a mother in Israel and look to the wants of the needy, and be a pattern of virtue; and possess all the qualifications necessary for her to stand and preside and dignify her Office, to teach the females those principles requisite for their future usefulness.”
Jo then established the formula for how these Relief Society meetings are to be conducted with motions being raised and voted on according to unanimous consent. The way the Relief Society was established to operate is indistinguishable from how the Presidency of the larger Church operated.
“Prest. Smith proceeded to give counsel— do not injure the character of any one— if members of the Society shall conduct improperly, deal with them, and keep all your doings within your own bosoms, and hold all characters sacred—
Prest. Emma Smith and her Counsellors took the chair, and
Elder Taylor mov’d— secd by Prest. J. Smith that we go into an investigation respecting what this Society shall be call’d— which was carried unanimously…
Elder Taylor offered an amendment, that it be called The Nauvoo Female Benevolent Society which would give a more definite and extended idea of the Institution— that Relief be struck out and Benevolent inserted.
Prest. Smith offer’d instruction on votes— [p. 10]
Then, something remarkable happens. The Elect Lady, Emma Smith, motioned that she would like to debate Elder John Taylor on the name of the society and whether benevolence or relief is a better word to describe the society.
Prest. J. Smith mov’d that the vote for amendment, be rescinded, which was carried—
Motion for adjournment by Elder Richards and objected by Prest. J. Smith.—
Prest. J. Smith— Benevolent is a popular term— and the term Relief is not known 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 construed by our enemies to say that the Society was to relieve criminals from punishment &c. &c— to relieve a murderer, which would not be a benevolent act—
Prest. Emma Smith, said 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 was one of the most corrupt Institutions of the day— do not wish to have it call’d after other Societies in the world—
Prest. J. Smith arose to state that he had no objection to the word Relief— that on question they ought to deliberate candidly and investigate all subjects.
Counsellor Cleveland arose to remark concerning the question before the house, that we should not regard [p. 11] the idle speech of our enemies— we design to act in the name of the Lord— to relieve the wants of the distressed, and do all the good we can.—
Eliza R. Snow arose and said that she felt to concur with the President, with regard to the word Benevolent, that many Societies with which it had been associated, were corrupt,— that the popular Institutions of the day should not be our guide— that as daughters of Zion, we should set an example for all the world, rather than confine ourselves to the course which had been heretofore pursued— one objection to the word Relief is, that the idea associated with it is that of some great calamity— that we intend appropriating on some extraordinary occasions instead of meeting the common occurrences—
Prest. Emma Smith remark’d— we are going to do something extraordinary— when a boat is stuck on the rapids with a multitude of Mormons on board we shall consider that a loud call for relief— we expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls—"
Then, what must have seemed like an optimistic view of what the future of the Relief Society held, another extraordinary occurrence ensued.
Prest. J. S. said I also shall have to concede the point, all I shall have to give to the poor, I shall give to this Society—
E. R. Snow offer’d an amendment by way of transposition of words, instead of The Nauvoo Female Relief Society, it shall be call’d The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo— Seconded by Prest. J. Smith and carried— [p. 12]
The previous question was then put— Shall this Society be call’d The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo?— carried unanimously.—
Prest. J. Smith— I now declare this Society organiz’d with President and Counsellors &c. according to Parliamentary usages— and all who shall hereafter be admitted into this Society must be free from censure and receiv’d by vote—
Prest. J. Smith offered $5.00 in gold piece to commence the funds of the Institution.”
Something else remarkable happened once the name of the society was voted and unanimously accepted as the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. President elect, Emma Smith, motioned to dismiss the men and carry on the appointments as the women saw fit.
“Prest. Emma Smith requested that the gentlemen withdraw before they proceed to the choice of Secretary and Treasurer, as was mov’d by Prest. J. Smith—
Willard Richards. Secty.
[1 line blank]
The gentlemen withdrew when it was Motioned and second. and unanimously pass’d that Eliza R. Snow be appointed Secretary, and Phebe M. Wheeler, Assistant Secretary——
Motioned, second. and carried unanimly. that Elvira A. Coles be appointed Treasurer—
Prest. E. Smith then arose and proceeded to make appropriate remarks on the object of the Society— its duties to others also its relative duties to each other Viz. to seek out and relieve the distressed— that each member should be ambitious to do good— that the members 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 &c.
P. A. Hawkes— Question— What shall we reply to interrogatories relative to the object of this Society?
Prest. E. Smith replied— for charitable purposes. [p. 13]…
Prest. E. Smith said that Mrs. Merrick is a widow— is industrious— performs her work well, therefore recommend her to the patronage of such as wish to hire needlework— those who hire widows must be prompt to pay and inasmuch as some have defrauded the laboring widow of her wages, we must be upright and deal justly—…
Elder T. then arose and address’d the Society by saying that he is much gratified in seeing a meeting of this kind in Nauvoo— his heart rejoices when he sees the most distinguished characters, stepping forth in such a cause, which is calculated to bring into exercise every virtue and give scope to the benevolent feelings of the female heart— he rejoices to see this Institution organiz’d according to the law of Heaven— according to a revelation previously given to Mrs E. Smith appointing her to this important calling— and to see all things moving forward in such a glorious manner— his prayer is that the blessings of God and the peace of heaven may rest on this Institution henceforth——
In the March 30th 1842 meeting, Joseph articulated what he envisioned for the Relief Society in the Church as it continued to progress, grow, and evolve.
“Said all difficulties which might & would cross our way must be surmounted, though the sould be tried, the heart faint, and hands hang down—must not retrace our steps—that there must be decision of character aside from sympathy—that when instructed we must obey that voice, observe the Constitution that the blessings of heaven may rest down upon us—all must act in concert or nothing can be done—that the Society should move according to the ancient Priesthood, hence there should be a select Society separate from all the evils of the world, choice, virtuous[s] and holy—Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day—as in Pauls day—that it is the privilege of each member to live long and enjoy health--…”
Make of this society a kingdom of priests. He didn’t say priestesses, but it’s what he meant. The Relief Society had a lot of powerful real-world impacts in helping the poor and needy, and it evolved out of the women working together in groups to make clothing for the men spending so many hours working on the temple. It was created solely to help the community and it seems from many of Jo’s lectures concerning the society that he had the idea that the Relief Society would essentially be an equal arm of leadership in the Church of the women, to give them voice, to allow them to make authoritative decisions, to provide group-support for those in need, and most importantly, to bless and heal the sick as so many women were incredibly proficient in doing.
Jo articulated as much a month after this meeting when the Relief Society met again and he provided a lecture, from 28 April 1842 in Joseph Smith’s journal in the hand of William Clayton:
“Thursday 28 at Two o’clock after-noon met the members of the “Female relief Society” and after presiding at the admission of many new members. Gave a lecture on the pries[t]hood shewing how the sisters would come in possession of the priviliges & blesings & gifts of the priesthood--& that the signs should follow them. Such as healing the sick casting out devils &c. & that they might attain unto. These blessings. By a virtuous life & conversation & diligence in keeping all the commandments.”
The first women’s organization in the Mormon religion had finally been created. It would continue on to have another 19 meetings in 1842, about a dozen in 1843, and only 4 in the year of 1844. The dissolution of the Relief Society coincides with the formation of the Council of Fifty just a few months prior to the assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. It was another 2 decades before the Brighamite Church resurrected the Relief Society in Utah.
Bloody Brigham Young sought the help of Eliza R. Snow to bring to life again the Relief Society in Utah in 1868, and she was summarily elected president of the General Relief Society. When a question was asked to Eliza about the purpose of the Relief Society, she wrote the following:
“I would reply—to do good—to bring into requisition every capacity we possess for doing good, not only in relieving the poor but in saving souls.”
The Utah Relief Society was powerful. It sent women to medical school, trained nurses, opened the Deseret Hospital, operated cooperative stores, promoted silk manufacture, saved wheat, and built granaries, and it essentially created its own publication arm, the Woman’s Exponent, which was loosely affiliated with the Society but staffed with women who were almost exclusively members.
When comparing the Utah Relief Society to that of Nauvoo, it seems clear that one evolved out of the other and that the duties for the Utah Society greatly expanded upon those of the Nauvoo Society.
Let’s step back and pull all these floating threads together. 1842 was a ludicrously chaotic year for Mormonism and all those involved. As cited last week, D. Michael Quinn asserts that 1842-44 was the most active time for the Mormon church theologically speaking. 1842 Nauvoo Mormonism was bringing in such a broad diversity of people from all walks of life. Prior to the Europe mission trip by the Quorum of Apostles, Mormonism was a purely American religion. Suddenly thousands of converts flooded their way into the Kingdom on the Mississippi bringing all sorts of diversity and schools of philosophy and religion along with them. Europe has consistently remained a few decades ahead of America in most fields of progressivism. That’s painted with a really broad brush but I believe it’s true for the most part. Slavery, women’s rights, and a number of other major social issues seem to have had a foothold in Europe decades before becoming public on this side of the pond.
This major influx of progressive European immigrants altered Mormonism from that time forward. Most of the brazenly distinguishing characteristics of Mormon doctrine and practice come from this brief period of a major influx of new ideas and philosophies. Ideas like a law of adoption into one cohesive eternal family, a plurality of gods, the details of the plan of salvation and exaltation, Kolob and the Book of Abraham, the Articles of Faith, temple ceremonies and baptisms for the dead, doctrinal polygamy, and a number of other peculiar pieces we’ll eventually get in to which composed the puzzle of Nauvoo Mormonism.
Mormonism was much more fluid back then. I have this model of Joseph Smith in my mind that he could be approached by somebody with unique thoughts or a school of philosophy of which he wasn’t familiar prior to their meeting and magically he would issue a new decree from the pulpit that God or gods spoke with him and revealed a new piece to the Mormon doctrine puzzle. Joseph’s fluid and adaptive Mormonism is nothing like the Brighamite Church today. For Mormon doctrine to change in the 1840s, a person would wait until the next Sunday when Jo would deliver his next treatise on deeper Mormon doctrine. Deliberation was tolerated at the same time people were being excommunicated frequently for setting themselves up as prophets.
Today, however, in order to change something within Mormonism, a groundswell movement with thousands of supporters voicing their concerns with their bishops and stake presidents, sending letters to General Authorities, and demonstrating publicly doesn’t seem to be enough force to change doctrine. Threats to the corporation by the Government seem to be effective but those always seem to be last resorts after years of public demonstrations from within the organization.
Look, if you run a major organization, it can be hard to take criticism. You’re used to the way things operate and listening to criticism and making changes because of it exibits vulnerability in many ways. Whether that’s vulnerability to admitting that the system has flaws or vulnerability to bending to the will of the public who may or may not have the organization’s best interests in mind. It can be hard to deal with criticism. The larger and older any organization gets, arguably the harder it becomes to change things from the way they are. Now, to complicate these issues even further, when that massive 185 year old organization claims to be speaking for God, any criticism is of the adversary and requires being dealt with appropriately.
Our next guest went through an interesting set of circumstances in an attempt to change church doctrine. She organized multiple protests trying to get into Priesthood sessions of General Conference, she sent conversation packets to the apostles claiming historical precedent for giving the priesthood to women, and it all ended with her being dealt with appropriately, excommunication in absentia.
Bear with me for a moment while I give her a proper introduction, she has quite the rap sheet.
Kate Kelly is a zealous advocate and passionate activist. She has a JD from American University Washington College of Law, the only law school in the world founded by, and for, women. She graduated cum laude in 2012, and received the Class of 2012 Peter M. Cicchino Award for Outstanding Advocacy in the Public Interest. In her legal career she has had various incredible opportunities including working as an Ella Baker Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights; a law clerk at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights; a research assistant to the Chair of the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva, Switzerland; a post-grad fellow at the Women’s Refugee Commission; an attorney at the RFK Center for Justice & Human Rights; Legal Advisor for Legal Action Worldwide working on sexual violence legislation in Somalia, and litigating before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; consultant for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees report Women on the Run; and Strategic Advocacy & Policy Counsel at the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah.
She is a vocal women’s rights champion in the U.S., and around the world and is currently the Human Rights in the US legal fellow at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute. Kate, welcome and thank you so much for joining us.
For somebody who may have never heard your name or is unfamiliar with your work, in case the name of the movement isn’t self-explanatory enough, tell us about Ordain Women and what it seeks to accomplish.
Finish KK Interview
The truth of the matter is it’s really hard to change things in a church led by a group of men who were cognizant of world events during World War II. They grew up and matured in a different world than we inhabit today. These men were on their missions more than half a century ago. They were born before there was a single temple outside the contiguous United States. They don’t see anything wrong with the system because they’re completely insulated from what’s happening on the ground level, and that is unacceptable.
There’s a glimmer of hope here. The more the Church leadership digs in their heels on these important human rights issues, the more people become disenchanted. People won’t continue to just ignore issues like Protect LDS Children, McKenna Denson, Ordain Women, and any of these other social movements pushing for change within the Church. The longer the leadership ignores these issues, the more people simply walk away. The anecdotal evidence of wards closing or being consolidated world-wide and the Church’s own statistics revealing stagnating growth, coupled with tax exemption being revoked in Europe due to the exclusivity of temple attendance, all of these are pressures the Church MUST respond to in some way. The longer they don’t respond, the further they dig themselves into this hole.
Something bears attention here. When it comes to these various movements, public criticism from within the movements doesn’t do any good. Activists can overstep boundaries or make people feel uncomfortable, but lobbing bombs at each other, especially when a private conversation would suffice and be much more effective, only damages the movements and decreases their effectiveness. Infighting doesn’t bring diversity, it weakens the foundation. The leadership of the Church relies on a lack of cohesion for these groups to be less effective, and to see the online criticisms of Kate Kelly and other activists working to change the church is something the leadership relies on to destroy the cohesiveness of any given movement and prevent any changes from actually happening.
On a personal note; I’ve been following these social movements for years now. My opinions of the Church and its leadership have vacillated along the spectrum of vitriol and anger to pity for the leadership being victims of the system they unwittingly perpetuate. Seeing the Church stagnating the way it is and watching so many online movements crop up in opposition to the status quo is heartening. For every story I read on the exmormon subreddit of a transition story or a resignation sent through quitmormon.org, to every blog post lobbing bombs at the leadership, I’m absolutely giddy about this. I’m revealing my biases and transparency is important when it comes to these issues. In short, it’s really fun to watch this train-wreck in slow motion. It’s not fun to watch those who are hurt and damaged by it, that’s an important distinction to make, but the institution itself floundering in uncertainty of what the future holds with absolutely no solutions to keep the monster fed; that’s something worth relishing as we watch the Mormon Church continue to degrade into antiquity.
Ceremony changes: The ceremony has changed so many times over the Brighamite history. It wasn’t just in 1990 when they retired the washings and anointings as removed the violent consequences actions, there were changes long before that and have been changes since. You’ll find a link in the show notes which document the evolution of the temple ceremony since its inception in 1842.
Also, Cheryl pointed out that when I asserted that Bennett likely used connection he made in his Masonic days prior to joining Mormonism in order to lobby the Illinois government to pass the Nauvoo Charter. I need to clarify that this is pure speculation, but it seemed rather reasonable to me.
An email came in from a Mason and I’ll briefly quote it here.
I am a Christian (campbellite actually) and a Freemason, as well as a few other things. I have to tell you how much I enjoyed your excursions into both of those areas, particularly the most recent episode about freemasonry's influence upon mormonism. For a non-masonic historian, you could not have done much better in my estimation. (Years ago I fancied myself something of a masonic historian). I suppose if we were 'having coffee' I would add some 'nuance' to what you imparted, but generally speaking the episode was fair, informative and accurate.
I learned nothing about Freemasonry, but it answered a question that was never fully answered before. While I was active in Freemasonry I had the pleasure of befriending a mormon within the lodge. We went through the first three degrees at different times, but both went through the Royal Arch degrees together. At one point, in the ritual he turned to me and said, "Oh. Now I see why the Bishop discouraged me from becoming a mason. This raises a lot of questions within me." He then went on to describe exactly what we were going to experience in the ritual we were participating. He was correct. I have to say it kind of lessened the effect it might have had on me - you know, ruining the any surprise that might have been coming. Later I asked him "how'd you know all that?" "Dude," he said, "That's our temple ritual." Because of that experience he later told me he left the LDS and is now a protestant Christian.
Your show really fleshed out - put a lot more meat on those bone - for me. I really really LOVED that episode. I do have one petty, very small correction. In your opening, or somewhere near it you described masonry as "a boy's club where ideas are exchanged, and there's a lot of drinking." (I'm not sure you said a lot) Here's the minor correction: (I should add that I know this to be true only in 5 grand jurisdictions where I have attended lodge, it could be different elsewhere, but I would surprised) Drinking is not allowed. Further if it is apparent that a brother has been drinking he will be asked to leave, but of course welcome to return. In fact, the shrine often referred to as "the playground of masonry" was created, in large part, to provide a setting in which Masons could have a drink together.
Again, thank you for your work. I'm not sure what your motivation for beginning this podcast was, but I have to tell you my confirmation bias going in was that it was going to confirm my then existent general low regard for mormonism. I, like most orthodox christians have been indoctrinated to view mormonism as heresy. I must say, especially recently, my opinion, at least of 'main-line' LDS, is far more favorable than it was initially.
Just to respond to that, before lodges and temples were constructed, Masons largely met in taverns. It doesn’t immediately follow they were getting hammer-smashed drunk, but some of them would drink during meeting. Also, much of the temperance movement in America was supported by Masonic lodges and Christian organizations filled with people who were Masons. As with everything in most episodes of this show, there’s a lot of nuance to the subject matter. Thank you for the email and the correction, Carl.
Got in another email and I’m going to read it with permission from the sender.
So I don’t know if people normally do this, but I thought I’d drop you a message to go over my history with the podcast and why I’ve decided to become a patron. It’s a bit of a long email, so apologies in advance!
And it came to pass (drink!) that about a year and half ago I was trying to find some kind of audio reading of the Book of Mormon to help with scripture study and just to generally to have scriptures I could listen to when I was out and about. I listened to a few, and it was mostly older guys reading it all monotone and boring, but then I came across a little podcast called My Book Of Mormon. I listened to the first couple of episodes and fairly quickly found myself warming to David. As a convert, a lot of the jokes he made about the material resonated with me and I loved the outsider perspective.
Around late May to early June last year I got to your guest episode on Alma 57. Like David, I warmed to you immediately and started listening to Naked Mormonism. At the time I was preparing to leave for my mission (I got my call a month after I left to Greece btw). As part of my preparation I was looking into ‘anti-Mormon’ material so I would be able to answer questions investigators might have, rather than be blindsided by issues I didn’t know existed.
Part of those materials was your podcast. As something of an amateur historian I was (and still am) interested in early church history, and whilst the official church history was fine, the NaMo podcast was so well researched and backed up with historical evidence that I started being unable to ignore some of the conclusions you were coming to. Eventually (around late September) I got round to your mammoth Book of Mormon origin episode and my shelf, started by David, was finally broken by you. The evidence that the BoM was an 19th century work, and a plagiarised work at that, was incontrovertible.
I put a post up on Facebook towards the end of October that I was leaving the church, which didn’t go down well. I think the terms ‘Satan worshiper’ and ‘son of Satan’ were said, but I haven’t looked back. It’s been a rough few months as I’ve tried to deprogram myself, but this podcast, as well as the fine work David has done an that you and Marie continue to do, have been a big factor in that, so from the bottom of my heart, a big thank you to all three of you for the support you have unknowingly provided and for helping me to see the church for what it really is- a way for rich men to get richer under the illusion (or delusion) of religion.
Sadly at the present time, I’m only able to contribute to one podcast, otherwise I’d be a patron of My Book Of Mormon too, but I’m hoping within the next few weeks my financial situation will allow me to do both.
Thank you again, Bryce. Keep up the amazing work that you do and I look forward to the next episode!
WTADP NaMo HE
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