In chapter 4 of Daughters in My Kingdom, "A Wide and Extensive Sphere of Action," the Relief Society is somewhat reorganized after 20 years (p. 41) of no formal organization. Brigham Young encourages bishops to seek out those in need and to enlist the help of the sisters in this effort. Fourteen years later (p. 44), Eliza R. Snow is officially called as general Relief Society President.
I've often wondered why approximately 34 years went by with no formal Relief Society! All I can see on the matter is on page 41 when Brigham Young says, "Some may think this is a trifling thing, but it is not. . . . " It is unclear as to is this trifling to the women or to the men. If it's in reference to the women, that would indicate they were somewhat indifferent on being organized. However, Brigham Young also states, ". . .you will find that the sisters will be the mainspring of the movement," which indicates to me that the women were pretty excited about their reorganization. Again, this is a topic I'd like to learn more about.
Another indicator that the women were happy about this is expressed in something Eliza R. Snow said on page 44: "If any of the daughters and mothers in Israel are feeling in the least [limited] in their present spheres, they will now find ample scope for every power and capability for doing good with which they are most liberally endowed." That tells me that women were excited for a bit of work to do outside their homes, just as most of us all feel a bit of relief with being useful outside the home (not that we don't want to be useful inside the home, but it's nice to have access to a bigger sphere sometimes).
I'm always impressed by the women who married into polygamy and defended it (p. 46). It was the standard they were tied to and the commitment they made. It's good they upheld their covenants. I'm glad we don't have to uphold what they did!
I liked that these women spoke up for themselves: "It was high time [to] rise up in the dignity of our calling and speak for ourselves. . . . The world does not know us, and truth and justice to our brethren and to ourselves demands us to speak. . . . We are not inferior to the ladies of the world, and we do not want to appear so" (p. 47). Now contrast that to the "fundamental Mormons" who practice polygamy today (if you are unfamiliar with them and us, they are NOT members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/LDS Mormons). You sadly don't see the fundamentalist ladies being able to speak up for themselves and their husbands, and you hear many stories where they are considered inferior. (I'm sorry, I usually try and keep my posts positive, but the contrast is just so obvious here.)
I loved the story on page 49 about Emily Richards learning to speak in a meeting: "The first time [Eliza R. Snow] asked me to speak in meeting, I could not, and she said, 'Never mind, but when you are asked to speak again, try and have something to say,' and I did." She "continued to improve her ability as a public speaker, and in 1889 she spoke at the National Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington, D.C." WOW, that's progress!
I also liked the quote by President Kimball (p. 50) that "Relief Society sisters will become a powerful influence for good upon the 'good women of the world.'" I hope we are, and I'm grateful for the good women out there that I look up to that are not of my LDS faith.
The balance of chapter 4 is mainly about temporal self-reliance and projects the women were involved in such as sewing, wheat storage, health care and medical education, and suffrage. On page 58, Eliza R. Snow is quoted as saying: "Our sphere of action will continually widen, and no woman in Zion need[s] to mourn because her sphere is too narrow. . . . Let your first business be to perform your duties at home. But inasmuch as you are wise stewards, you will find time for social duties. . . . . . . You will find that your capacity will increase, and you will be astonished at what you can accomplish." Those women had the same balancing act we do today.