News Release

Relief Society Celebrates 180th Anniversary of Women Ministering, Serving 

‘Everyone belongs and we are all different,’ says Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham

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By Christine Rappleye, Church News

When the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized, the 20 women who gathered upstairs in the Red Brick Store had two missions — to relieve suffering and to save souls.

“It’s exactly the same purpose that the Relief Society has today,” Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham said while on a visit to Nauvoo, Illinois, in September 2021. And women today help each other in many of the same ways.

“We minister to one another just as they did in the early days. They went out and found one another and helped discover what their needs were and tried to meet those things,” she said. They also met together to learn about the gospel, as women do now, which is saving souls.

Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham is interviewed in her office in the Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. Photo by Laura Seitz, courtesy of Church News. Copyright 2022 Deseret News Publishing Company.

This year is the 180th anniversary of the organization of the Relief Society, one of the world’s oldest and largest women’s service organizations. It was started in 1842, when many people were helping with the effort to build the Nauvoo Temple. Church members had begun gathering in the community on the bend in the Mississippi River in 1838 after leaving Kirtland, Ohio and Missouri.

“I love that idea that sisters, wherever they are, can work together and can bring ideas that can result in some great work,” President Bingham said, while touring the Sarah Granger Kimball home in historic Nauvoo, Illinois, in September 2021.

Relief Society Beginnings

Before those 20 women gathered together, two women had been trying to figure out how to best contribute to the building of the Nauvoo Temple.

Margaret Cook, who lived in Nauvoo, Illinois, worked as a seamstress. She was pondering how to best help the temple-building effort with her limited means. One of the women she would sew for was Sarah Granger Kimball. As Margaret and Sarah discussed how to help, Margaret offered to sew if fabric was provided, which Sarah offered to buy. They also planned to ask if others would like to do the same.

“They decided they wanted to form a benevolent society, which was very common and very popular at the time,” President Bingham said as she talked about the beginnings of the Relief Society in the Sarah Granger Kimball home.

Primary General President Camille N. Johnson, left, and Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham pause for a photo outside of the Sarah Granger Kimball home during a tour in historic Nauvoo, Illinois, on Saturday, September 25, 2021.© 2021 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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The women decided that Eliza R. Snow would put together some bylaws and a constitution. When they presented it to the Prophet Joseph Smith, he commended their work, but added that the Lord had “something better for them.”

On March 17, 1842, he and other leaders met with the women in the upper room of the Red Brick Store to organize them after the pattern of the priesthood. Emma Smith was elected president and the women decided to call themselves the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.

“I think about how the Relief Society started as such a small group in such a small out-of-the-way place. It is remarkable the growth that has happened in Relief Society,” President Bingham said as she reflected on Relief Society.

“Today, we have members of the Relief Society throughout the entire world. There are seven and a half million sisters today who are relieving suffering, who are saving souls and who are doing the same things for fulfilling the purposes Relief Society was founded on way back in 1842,” she said.

Working with the resources they had, their faith and their willingness to serve, the women helped each other as they supported their families, taught their children and shared the gospel.

“When I think about some of those early founders, I am astounded at what they were able to accomplish with the few resources that they had. When I think about their vision, their strength, their insight, their testimonies, they were willing to share that and they were willing to go outside their comfort zone,” President Bingham said in a recent interview with the Church News.

“Are we willing today, in our current Relief Society, are we willing to look beyond our comfort levels? It’s not easy for many of us to step out and to influence the world. We want to kind of stay in our own little corner, but we’ve got to do that because we have the knowledge, we have the understanding of an eternal perspective that many people don’t see.”

Sister Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society General President, with some Latter-day Saint women in Sierra Leone, June 2019.2019 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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Relief Society at 180 Years

“I wish that every person understood the power of Relief Society. When we work together, we have the potential and the power to really make changes in the world, heart by heart even, when we help each other,” said President Bingham.

As she has ministered to women around the world, she’s seen how they help reach out to each other to help each other.

“As I visit with women around the world, you find that they are sisters, you have the same goals, you have the same understanding of your relationship with Heavenly Father,” President Bingham said. “I have watched women around the world do amazing things for each other.”

She’s seen women in Sierra Leone helping each other to read. In the Czech Republic, she went with a sister to minister to a mother with young children and saw the support and love the mother received. In the Philippines, she saw how women helped each other watch for signs of malnutrition in their children.

Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham, center, visits the Donor family at their home in Catarman, Philippines, on February 3, 2020. President Bingham visited the area to learn of a new stake pilot program focused on malnutrition. 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
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“In Wales, I participated in a multi-faith gathering of women where they shared their stories of faith and how they just reached out and put their arms around one another, no matter what their beliefs were. That was powerful,” she said.

In Chile, she saw how women helped each other get to the temple.

“No matter where we live, no matter what our life stage is, no matter what our socioeconomic situation is, we can make contributions to the Church and the Lord will support us in those and we’ll be blessed and we are blessing others’ lives,” President Bingham said.

All women, 18 and older, in the Church are part of the Relief Society, including those who may be serving in Primary, Young Women or other organizations.

“Everyone belongs and we are all different. We each have such unique bundles of talents the Lord has given us and every one of us has opportunities to contribute. There’s not one woman who’s not needed. We need every single one,” she said during interviews in Nauvoo.

“We need the enthusiasm and energy and drive of the young women. … We also need the wisdom and experience of the older women. And when we look at one another and say ‘What can I share? How can I be a strength to others?’ then we feel that we belong,” she said.

And she’s seen how being part of the Relief Society has blessed her own life.

“Wherever I’ve had the opportunity to serve, no matter where I was currently serving, I continue to feel connected to my Relief Society sisters,” President Bingham told the Church News. “That has given me a great understanding of others, has helped me through the rough spots in my own testimony and growth.

“It really showed me different ways of developing healthy relationships with family, with others, and most of all, it’s grounded me in the gospel of Jesus Christ. To me, that’s how the organization has really blessed my life,” she said.

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