SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Feb. 20, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — Nearly 175 years into its storied history, a new book about the first 50 years of the LDS Church’s Relief Society describes the organization’s early days and the strong women who built its foundation.
“They’re not just sunbonnet pioneer women that just kind of trudged along in the dirt with their covered wagon,” said Carol Cornwall Madsen, author of “The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History” (Church Historian’s Press, 2016, $49.95).
“They were well read. They were articulate. They knew what they believed in. They knew how to move forward.”
That’s how Madsen, a Brigham Young University history professor emerita describes the 19th-century women who were among the first members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Madsen tells their story using 78 documents chosen from thousands of available records. The book covers the period of 1842 to 1892. The 800-page hardback also contains brief biographical sketches of about 400 men and women who play more prominent roles in Church history.
“This is our history,” Madsen said in a written statement. “It’s important because it tells us who we were. We don’t really know who we are today unless we know where we’ve been and what we were before.”
Portions of the documents have been shared in meetings and published in the Woman’s Exponent, a semimonthly newspaper for Mormon women that was printed from 1872 to 1914, said Jill Mulvay Derr, retired senior research historian, Church History Department.
“We have a collection of 50 years’ worth of selected documents that tell the story of the Relief Society, but also the founding of the Young Women organization and the Primary organization,” Derr said.
“And so this instruction to women is unique. We don’t have anything like this in the early Church.”
Kate Holbrook, specialist in women’s history in the Church History Department, said the book includes information on talks given in Nauvoo, Illinois, by LDS Church founder Joseph Smith.
“Joseph Smith’s sermons included instruction given to the women regarding ‘spiritual gifts’ described in the New Testament, which he first described in 1842 as ‘the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth,'” Holbrook said.
“Early Latter-day Saints, both women and men, experienced these gifts, including offering blessings of healings by the laying on of hands through their faith.”
Derr said the Smith sermons documented in the book, “… are some of the best recorded sermons of Joseph Smith and some of the most inspiring instruction” regarding gospel topics such as charity, purity and repentance.
“I think this shows so clearly women’s engagement in the work of salvation, and these are sermons that were read over and over again.”