From the Original Exponent: Relief Society, Hierarchy, and Healing

Earlier this week, while reading some of the comments emerging from this post , I was reminded of a missive from President Eliza R. Snow “to the branches of the Relief Society.” It was printed in the September 15, 1884 Exponent under the title, “Should members of the Relief Society go the Bishop for counsel?” Clearly church organization and policy has changed some since 1884, but I thought readers might find it interesting.

The Relief Society is designed to be a self-governing organization: to relieve the Bishops as well as to relieve the poor, to deal with its members, correct abuses, etc. If difficulties arise between members of a branch which they cannot settle between the members themselves, aided by the teachers, instead of troubling the Bishop, the matter should be referred to their president and her counselors. If the branch board cannot decide satisfactorily, an appeal to the stake board is next in order; if that fails to settle the question, the next step brings it before the general board, from which the only resort is to the Priesthood; but, if possible, we should relieve the Bishops instead of adding to their multitudinous labors. . . .

Is it necessary for sisters to be set apart to officiate in the sacred ordinances of washing, anointing, and laying on of hands in administering to the sick? It certainly is not. Any and all sisters who honor their holy endowments, not only have right, but should feel it a duty, whenever called upon to administer to our sisters in these ordinances, which God has graciously committed to His daughters as well as to His sons; and we testify that when administered and received in faith and humility they are accompanied with almighty power.

Inasmuch as God our Father has revealed these sacred ordinances and committed them to His Saints, it is not only our privilege but our imperative duty to apply them for the relief of human suffering. We think we may safely say thousands can testify that God has sanctioned the administration of these ordinances by our sisters with the manifestation of His healing influence.


Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. jana says:


    Thanks for posting this. I love being reminded of the rich and powerful history of our LDS foremothers!!

  2. Dora says:

    Thank you for posting this Deborah! What amazing times and women. Sister Snow’s quote embodies my ideal of the gospel … men and women working together to administer to the needs of the saints.

    I read Emily’s piece with great interest earlier this week. It was refreshing to remember that the priesthood, besides being a responsibility, is also a privilege and a blessing. I wondered how the concept of the priesthood would change if it were something that needed to be renewed on a regular basis, like a temple recommend.

  3. AmyB says:

    I was surprised how emotional I felt when I read this. I feel a deep sense of loss.

    “Is it necessary for sisters to be set apart to officiate in the sacred ordinances of washing, anointing, and laying on of hands in administering to the sick? It certainly is not”

    In today’s church this seems near heretical. Women of the early church seemed much more empowered to help one another. They were endowed with power (as are we), but the difference is the institution recognized that power and condoned the use of it. Now that has been taken from us.

  4. Caroline says:

    This quote is very interesting. I think it is representative of the way that many (most?) women from that time viewed the priesthood. There was a common view that if a woman had received her endowments, she had some sort of priesthood and had the right to administer to other women. Therefore there are lots of old quotes about how women “hold the priesthood in conjunction with their husbands.” Now of course, this has morphed into “men hold the priesthood, but everyone has access to its blessings.”

    I have to say, I miss the former way of thinking about the issue. I am pretty tired of lessons on the priesthood that turn into nothing more than how “the priesthood” do so much for us women, always serving and hometeaching, etc. I would love it if the discourse could shift away from associating only men with priesthood, and instead focus on priesthood as the power of god that all people access through faith and righteousness. Just my two cents 🙂

  5. Rebecca says:

    I loved this – thanks! I felt kind of sad reading it – wishing I lived in a time where the RS was still like this.

  6. Kaimi says:

    Nice post, Deborah. It reminds me of the many accounts of women in the early church.

    By the way, one nice collection of some such stories is Pearson’s book Daughters of Light. It has a number of accounts of healings, blessings, and so on, performed by women in the early church. (Amazingly enough, it was published by Bookcraft! It’s now out of print, but you can get copies at various online used bookstores like Abebooks and Campusi).

    It may be a fun read for the commenters (Amy, Jana, etc) who seem to appreciate those accounts.

  7. jana says:

    I love CLP’s _DOL_!! I bought a copy at a DI when I lived in SLC.
    [Note to people in Utah: CLP’s books are almost always to be found on the shelves @ the DI. Pick them up and send them to your non-Utah friends!]

    [Note to self: stop using so many acronyms…]

  8. Deborah says:

    One of my favorite compilations is “Women’s Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints,” edited by Jill Mulvay Derr.

    I find passages such as this one, by President Snow, freeing. It helps me read scriptural passages about spiritual gifts without “gendered” classes — especially the gift to heal (physically, spiritually, emotionally). Snow doesn’t apologize for desiring this gift — she implores us to embrace it for ourselves. And absent a formal, linear recognition (e.g. priesthood ordination), I have watched my friends find creative ways to develop the gift of healing. More on that latter . . . (but Emily, if you are reading, I would love to read a post about being a hospital chaplain!)

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