So it's been a while since I've written about Daughters in My Kingdom. I'm sick with a cold and probably food poisoning, so it will give me something to do. Chapter 2 is entitled, '"Something Better" The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.' How appropriate as I'm missing our ward RS dinner tonight I can reflect on the history of the RS.
I've always wondered what it meant to "organize the women . . . after the pattern of the priesthood" (12) (1/15/12 update - DH Oaks gave a great talk relating to this.). It's still not totally clear to me, but one way was that the women who were asked to serve were set apart through a blessing, just as men are ordained to the priesthood -- not something that would happen in other women's groups of the day. In the Church today, we still set apart people to positions of service.
Another term that always makes me want more info is when Emma Smith is called "an elect lady." I think I've always been taught that it meant that she was righteous and predestined to fulfill the position. Now that's not explained in the book, but I believe it's in one of the Mormon Channel podcasts on Emma that it explains that when Emma was called to the position, the group was asked to raise hands to support her, as in "elected" -- this type of "sustaining" action is still done today. Maybe this podcast? on Emma or this one on the Organization of the RS.
Additionally, in regards to organizing the RS, I guess I have always felt the RS and Priesthood/Men were organized differently -- yet they're supposed to be so much the same. I started thinking about how they could be organized differently and, therefore, feel more similar to me. Other than actually "holding" the priesthood, I'd guess the biggest difference is that the boys when they're 12 and receive the Aaronic Priesthood start their associations with other men in the ward (priesthood opening exercises). For the girls, this doesn't really happen until they are are 18 and actually become members of RS. I think more and more now, though, young women (12+) are being included on occasion with the 18+ group, but maybe if the younger women were included when they also turned 12, like the boys, they'd feel more involved/important? I do wonder why there isn't an opening exercises for all the females 12 and up just like there is for the males. I'm sure there's a reason, I just don't know what it is.
On page 14, it mentions Emma's responsibility to compile hymns for the Church. It doesn't mention, though, how much W.W. Phelps also had to do with it, which I didn't know until I listened to this podcast from the Mormon Channel.
One thing that confused me a little bit in looking at the wording from back then is where Joseph Smith turns "the key" to the Relief Society. I'm guessing this means the "key" (14) to govern the RS? From my understanding now, keys are tied to the priesthood, yet because the women don't hold the priesthood, I wouldn't think they really held the "key"? Maybe it just means they were authorized to organize.
I was fascinated when I learned that not all women in the early days of the Church were included in the RS -- they had to "petition to belong, and they were accepted based on their goodness and virtue" (15). I found this interesting because, if I remember correctly, too, not all men were priesthood holders either back then. Now days, all women over 18 are included in the RS and all men/boys over 12, in good, active standing, receive an order/level of the priesthood.
I was surprised that there was no mention that to be a member of the RS, women had to pay dues (even up until the last century if I remember correctly). To me, when I learned that detail at another point in my life, it made RS that much more significant. I thought, if I had to PAY to belong to RS, how would that change my perspective of it? Would I be more involved in it? Would I take it more seriously? Would I show up to my RS activities more often? Would I try to bond with the other sisters more? Because I don't pay dues, I think in the past I'd really taken RS for granted. So, maybe in the book, the editors felt it was an insignificant fact, but to me, paying to belong to something is a big deal because it shows one's dedication to it. The more we sacrifice for something, the more important it is to us. (However, I can see the desire of Church leaders for inclusion of ALL women in the Church, so I can see some good benefits in opening membership up to all...)
I liked where Joseph Smith said, "You are now placed in a situation where you can act according to those sympathies which God has planted in your bosoms" (16). Because of the organization of the RS, the women were able to act in an organized manner beyond their typical household roles. If any of them had desires to serve outside the home, this was a great way they could be involved. However, the book also mentions the women "never lost sight of their responsibilities toward their own families and homes" (18). Well I'd sure hope not! If they'd lost focus of that, they wouldn't have survived!
I also liked learning that at RS meetings, women were taught by Joseph Smith "to seek their own salvation. . . all must do it for themselves. . . none can do it for another" (17). In one of the Joseph Smith Papers podcasts (sorry, can't remember which one), I learned that in that day, women of other faiths were taught that their salvation was tied to their husband's. So if you had a lousy husband, I guess that meant you couldn't go to heaven. How terrible. This did bring up a question, though. In V.H. Cassler's essay on polygamy, she points out that it was common for a woman to be sealed to a Church General Authority (and her husband to be sealed into that union as a child) to guarantee her salvation. Obviously there was some confusion there because she didn't need to be sealed to a GA, she just needed to be sealed. Now days we are obviously sealed in the temple to our husbands, and we, as individuals prove our own worthiness independent of the actions of our spouse.
I really liked, "Let this society teach how to act towards husbands, to treat them with mildness and affection. When a man is borne down with trouble -- when he is perplexed, if he can meet with mildness, it will calm down his soul and sooth his feelings. . . . When you go home never give a cross word, but let kindness, charity and love, crown your works" (19) Now I know some women will be offended by this and I admit I thought, now why do I have to be so nice? but the quote shows me that women back then weren't much different than we are today. They needed to bite their tongues just as much as we do. And, just to make it fair, men were taught to "love, cherish, and nourish his wife" and "regard her feelings with tenderness." So, it wasn't only the women who were asked to be nice.