I recently traveled to a city I had never visited before. On my trip I enjoyed meeting some of the locals, trying their food, walking around town, and getting the “vibe” of the place. On a couple of nights, I spent several hours looking out of the floor-to-ceiling windows of my hotel room at the beautiful cityscape, the lights in the various buildings burning like nearer stars. I returned home rejuvenated and with my mind and heart enlarged by new perspectives. Since then, I have often found myself studying a picture that I took of the city on one of those nights, trying to recapture that vivid scene, but the picture is only a poor representation of what I actually saw and felt there.
I have recently completed another sojourn as well, and one of more significance—this one not to a distant place but to another time. This journey began more than two years ago when I was invited to be part of the editorial team for the book The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History, which at that time was mostly drafted and ready to be edited. As one with little background in women’s history, I had no idea when I started working on this project how riveting and inspiring I would find the early history of the Relief Society to be.
This book, which has now been published by the Church Historian’s Press in print and as an e-book (portions of which are available online), is a collection of letters, newspaper articles, meeting minutes, journal entries, and other documents that trace the history of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the society’s founding in 1842 through its Jubilee celebration 50 years later. The selection was made primarily by historians Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen, two of the world’s foremost experts on the history of the Relief Society. They, along with historians Kate Holbrook and Matthew J. Grow, are our tour guides through the book, informing us who wrote the documents and why and detailing what else of relevance was going on at the time the documents were written.
After having read and reread the documents in this collection numerous times over the course of two-plus years, I am left with deep feelings of awe and respect and love for many of the remarkable Latter-day Saint women and men I encountered in the documents. I have found the adjective “towering” useful in describing many of these figures because of their extraordinary energy, gifts, and dedication.
In the absence of time machines or live video recordings, the best way for us to travel to the past is through documents. They remove all the filters and let us experience the past through the eyes and in the words of those who were witnesses. The roughly four score documents in this book have the effect, if we read and immerse ourselves in them, of carrying our souls backward in time to the beginnings of Church history and into the company of the extraordinary women and men who founded and built the Relief Society.
As a way of introducing you to this book, I would like to share with you some information and observations about 10 fascinating people I met and was inspired by as I worked on the book (there are many hundreds of other interesting people I won’t be able to cover here). The summaries I share here are like snapshots from a trip. They give a glimpse of what I have learned but are no substitute for you undertaking your own journey through the pages of this remarkable new collection.
LAUNCH THE GALLERY: Ten Fascinating People You Will Meet in the First Fifty Years of Relief Society
The information found in this gallery is drawn from the documents and historical introductions in The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History.