From out of the parlor window, the white limestone walls of the temple shimmered as Sarah Kimball sat with her friend and seamstress, Margaret Cook, in her home in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The urgency to carry out the Lord’s commandment to build “unto him a house” was the topic of discussion, among other matters. As they chatted, they decided that something had to be done. They wanted to help build the kingdom, but how?

Sister Kimball said that she would provide fabric, so Sister Cook could sew shirts for the men who worked on the construction of the temple. Together, Sisters Kimball and Cook invited other sisters to join them in forming a ladies’ society to further these efforts.

“The neighboring sisters met in my parlor and decided to organize. I was delegated to call on Sister Eliza R. Snow and ask her to write for us a constitution and bylaws, and submit them to Prophet Joseph Smith prior to our next Thursday’s meeting,” said Kimball.

When they sought the Prophet’s endorsement of their proposed constitution, he praised their efforts but suggested an alternative.

The Prophet Joseph would “organize the sisters under the priesthood after a pattern of the priesthood.”

“Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord, and He has something better for them than a written constitution,” said Prophet Joseph Smith.

The eager group of 20 women filled the upper room at Joseph’s Red Brick Store the following Thursday, March 17, 1842. In their efforts to build up the kingdom of Zion on the earth, much more than a sewing society was born that day.

Fourteenth Ward Relief Society Hall. The earliest Relief Society halls in Utah were patterned after the store in Nauvoo in which the society was founded in 1842. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Fourteenth Ward Relief Society Hall. The earliest Relief Society halls in Utah were patterned after the store in Nauvoo in which the society was founded in 1842. Photo credit: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints & Church Newsroom

Sister Eliza R. Snow was appointed to be the secretary of the organization. She took careful and detailed notes for all the meetings.

Joseph Smith told the sisters that these minutes would become the “constitution and law” of the society.

With the invitation to choose counselors who, with her, would “preside over this society, in taking care of the poor — administering to their wants, and attending to the various affairs of this institution,” President Emma Smith chose Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney as her counselors.

They were each set apart by Elder John Taylor, by the laying on of hands, to act in their offices in the presidency.

Revelation received by the Prophet Joseph Smith almost 12 years earlier was fulfilled as the Lord had spoken to her as “an elect lady, whom I have called” and told her that she would be “ordained under (Joseph Smith’s) hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit.”

After some debate, the sisters decided to call themselves the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.

Emma Smith declared in the meeting, “We are going to do something extraordinary … We expect extraordinary occasions and pressing calls.”

In their weekly visits, Joseph Smith taught principles that helped Relief Society sisters to “relieve the poor” and “save souls.”

The Relief Society sisters took off running, embracing charitable service as a foundational principle of their organization.

Each week as the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo met, individual sisters reported on people in need. A treasurer accepted donations, and the donations were dispersed to relieve the needy. Donations included money, supplies, talents and time.

Women would give articles of clothing and bedding to the needy and offered flax, wool and yarn that could be made into clothing. They also donated food like apples, onions, flour, sugar, bread and butter.

Years later, the Relief Society continued to be influential, even after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith and the great migration to Utah Valley.

In 1895, Relief Society members successfully campaigned for assurance over women’s right to vote and hold public office in Utah, in the debate over the proposed constitution. The Relief Society also affiliated with the National Woman Suffrage Association and the International Council of Women in 1888.

Though the Relief Society isn’t the same as it was in the 1800s, its mission and foundation have stayed steady.

Worldwide sisterhood has now continued to unite women in one purpose and goal.

President Elaine L. Jack, previous Relief Society president, said that through its changes and growth, Relief Society has exemplified its motto.

“It is no minor thing that the motto of the Relief Society is “Charity Never Faileth,” for “charity is the pure love of Christ, which endureth forever,” Jack said.

Watch the worldwide broadcast on Sunday, March 17, to commemorate the 182nd year of the foundation of the Relief Society

Today's seal for the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Today's seal for the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Photo credit: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints