Celebrating 175 Years of the Relief Society

Relief Society 175 years

The Relief Society is the largest women’s organization in the world, organized on this day 175 years ago.  I am so happy to be numbered with women all over the world, from many generations.

Here are six generations of covenant Relief Society women in my family:

Claire Lewis Johnson, Ann Laemmlen Lewis, Grace Helen Smuin Laemmlen, Ruby Grace Lundquist Smuin, Grace Honor Bushman Lundquist, and Charlotte Turley Bushman.  Charlotte’s mother, Frances Amelia Kimberley Turley, who died at Winter Quarters, was also a member of this wonderful society.

2016-5 Claire & Graham Engagement (42)    _94A9556[1]Laemmlen, Grace portrait   Smuin, Ruby Grace portraitBushman, Grace Honor portrait  Charlotte Turley

I have enjoyed being a part of the Relief Society for 40 years now, and have met with women of many cultures in many countries.  I’ve served twice as a Relief Society President.  I love the Relief Society.  I love the sisterhood, the service we provide, and the connection I feel to those who have gone before me.  What we do is important and good. I am grateful for mothers and daughters, sisters and friends.

Relief Society purpose

As Relief Society sisters participate in the work of salvation, we become disciples of Jesus Christ. We strive to understand the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to increase our faith and our desire to live righteously. We participate in priesthood ordinances and cheerfully cleave to covenants made, which gives us greater access to priesthood power, and strengthens us individually and in our families and homes. Working in unity with priesthood brethren, we minister to and help those in need with charity, the pure love of Christ. As we do these things, we become  “one” with the Father and the Son.

This is what I believe:

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.
–Margaret D. Nadauld

Here is the transcript of a talk given by Jean B. Bingham, the General Relief Society President who spoke at the United Nations in New York City, Thursday, April 13, 2017:RS Jean B. Bingham UN Apr 2017.1

Focus on Faith Briefing Remarks — President Jean B. Bingham

Assembled dignitaries, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I am honored to be here today to discuss the role of faith-based organizations in relieving suffering and building self-reliance among the peoples of the world — particularly those who are most vulnerable. I am grateful to be in the midst of so many friends who recognize the tremendous good that is achieved when people of faith come together.

Relief Society

I am here today in my role as the Relief Society General President for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Since its origins 175 years ago, the purpose of the Relief Society has been to minister to “the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and…the exercise of all benevolent purposes.”  Today, the Relief Society is the oldest and one of the largest women’s organization in the world, with more than 7 million members across the globe. Its purposes, however, remain the same: to increase faith, strengthen the family, and relieve suffering.

In the very first meeting of the Relief Society, Emma Smith, the first Relief Society President said, “We are going to do something extraordinary.” And indeed, when you can mobilize 7 million women, each doing what they can according to their own time and resources, there is no limit to what they can achieve.

I believe that every faith-based organization echoes that same sentiment. We all desire to “accomplish something extraordinary” — and working together, we will. But let’s not forget that large, extraordinary achievements are generally made up of many small, seemingly insignificant contributions. Indeed, a notable passage in the Book of Mormon states that it is “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”

Today I will look at how people of all faiths can unite together to relieve suffering through small and simple means.

LDS Church History

Both doctrinally and historically, the plight of those in need is one that resonates with most communities of faith, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Those familiar with the Church today recognize the state of Utah as its worldwide headquarters, but most do not realize that it was not always so.

The Church was actually organized here in the state of New York, but severe religious persecution drove its early members from one location to another. During one particularly harsh period after Church members had congregated in Missouri, the state’s governor issued an executive order indicating that they must be driven from the state. As frightened families fled with what few possessions they could carry, they found refuge in neighboring Illinois, where kind strangers ministered to their needs, providing food, clothing, and shelter.

But peace was only temporary, and continuing hostility eventually forced the exodus of the Mormon pioneers — including every one of my great-great-grandparents — to the Salt Lake Valley. Is it any wonder, then, that our community of faith feels so strongly about our responsibility to help those who are outcast or otherwise in need?

In 1842, following a period of intense persecution, Church founder Joseph Smith made this remarkable declaration: “[A member of the Church] is to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever he finds them.” Can you imagine the boldness of such a statement to a group of exiles who must have been consumed with thoughts of how they would provide for themselves and their children…and their leader asks them to assist those who may be in even greater need? And yet this has always been our rallying call.

Beginnings of Church Humanitarian Efforts

The members of the Church have always been involved in humanitarian work, such as assisting the needy in Europe after World War II or providing relief to victims of natural disasters in many parts of the world.  Those efforts became more formalized in 1985 with the establishment of LDS Charities.  At that time, Church leaders became increasingly concerned with the news of the prolonged and devastating famine in Eastern Africa. After deliberating about how the Church could best help, they decided to turn to the individual members. A special fast was designated, in which members throughout the world were asked to forego two meals and to contribute the money saved to a special relief fund for those impacted by the famine. The response to such a simple request was overwhelming, and the small and simple donations—in the aggregate—allowed the Church to make a great contribution.

From those beginnings, donations have increased over time and have led to the formation of LDS Charities, the humanitarian arm of the Church. The work of LDS Charities spans the globe and consists of emergency response, refugee relief, clean water and sanitation, and support for various health care initiatives. Like so many other charitable organizations, our efforts are propelled by our faith that it is our God-given responsibility to relieve suffering, lighten the burdens of the afflicted, and bring hope to the hopeless.

To read the rest of her wonderful remarks, please check here:


RS Jean B. Bingham UN Apr 2017

About Ann Laemmlen Lewis

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