Relief Society Lesson Chp 39: Divine Organization of Women

by Lynette at Zelophehad’s Daughters

This is a lesson I find rather challenging, so I’m going to suggest a couple of ways to approach it.

The first part of this lesson talks about the founding of the Relief Society.  One way to focus the lesson could be historical—most Latter-day Saints are familiar with (and can possibly even recite) all the presidents of the church, but we don’t generally know as much about what different Relief Society presidents have done, and I think that could be fun to learn.  A possible source could be Derr, Cannon, and Beecher’s Women of Covenant—please feel free to mention other possible resources in the comments.  To tie this back to the lesson, you could bring in this kind of historical material as illustration of some of the ideals outlined here, as a way of understanding better what they meant to earlier generations of women in the church.

Another approach could focus on people’s individual experiences with Relief Society.  This is a subject about which the people in the class have a lot of firsthand knowledge, so draw on that.  What role does the Relief Society actually play in people’s lives?  What parts do they like? Are there aspects they find challenging?  When they do attend, why do they do so?  If there have been times when they’ve avoided Relief Society, what were the reasons for that?  It might be interesting to have women of different ages talk about their perceptions of Relief Society, and how those perceptions have changed over time and with different life circumstances.  Again, these could be connected to statements regarding the purpose of the Relief Society in the manual—ask people to think about comments like “the Relief Society encourages women to practice holiness.” What does that mean, really? How does that ideal actually play out in their weekly experience of Relief Society?

And as usual, here are some possible discussion questions:

—  Joseph Smith commented, “The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.”  (p. 451) The first point in the manual is that “the Relief Society, organized under the priesthood and after its pattern, is an essential part of the Church.” This might seem obvious, but it’s worth unpacking. Why exactly is the Relief Society essential?  How does that connect to the fact that it also has the status of an “auxiliary?”

–There are some interesting differences between the way in which the Relief Society operates, and the institutional organization of the priesthood.  For example, the men are split into different groups based on their office in the priesthood, while all women over age 18 are in the Relief Society.  One has to be ordained to a priesthood office, but in the current church, membership in the Relief Society is automatic.  What do you make of these differences?  And what exactly does it mean to be organized “after the pattern” of the priesthood?  Do you see the Relief Society operating in a kind of parallel way to the priesthood, or do you see it more as something unique?

–At the founding of the Relief Society, Joseph Smith said, “This Society is to get instruction through the order which God has established—through the medium of those appointed to lead—and I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time—this is the beginning of better days to this Society.” (p. 451) Think about this phrase–“I now turn the key to you in the name of God?”  What is the key that the Relief Society has? (An interesting note here is that some other accounts of this mistakenly have Joseph Smith saying, “I now turn the key in your behalf,” which conveys a somewhat different sense.)  What does it mean to talk about “knowledge and intelligence” flowing down? In what ways have you seen that?

–Joseph Smith says that “it is natural for females to have feelings of charity and benevolence”  (p. 451) and the Relief Society is described as a place where those feelings can be put into action.  Does the Relief Society also have room for women who might not feel that they are particularly charitable or benevolent?

–The Relief Society—as indicated already by its name—has traditionally had a particular concern for helping those in need—its object “is the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes.” (p. 452)  But temporal relief is not its only purpose; the manual also cites Joseph Smith saying that it is “not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls.” (p. 453)  It could be interesting to think more about the tie between physical and spiritual salvation suggested here (and possibly consider this in the context of LDS views about the physical world more generally).  Are saving souls and aiding the poor two different things?

–D&C 25, the revelation to Emma, is referenced at the Society’s founding. “President Joseph Smith read the revelation to Emma Smith, from the book of Doctrine and Covenants; and stated that she was … to expound the scriptures to all; and to teach the female part of the community; and that not she alone, but others, may attain to the same blessings.” (p. 454)  It is notable that women are called not only to study the scriptures, but also to expound them to others.  What does it mean to expound?  Paul’s comments on women speaking in church notwithstanding, why might it be important to have women as well as men expounding the scriptures? (In the current church, one might note, women teach not only “the female part of the community,” but also mixed-gender groups in Sunday School.)

–The last section emphasizes the need to show kindness to others, to avoid contention and self-righteousness, to be careful about what you say.  These ideals can be challenging to actually live in the context of a diverse congregation.  What are effective ways of handling conflict with other ward members, or negative feelings toward others in the community?


EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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27 Responses

  1. Sarah says:

    Will there be a post for lesson 38 The Wentworth lesson? Thank you.

  2. Caroline says:

    sarah, it’s up. Just go up to the right hand corner of this page to the search function and type in Wentworth.

  3. Angie says:

    I love these ideas. The entire post reminds me of all the things I love the most about Relief Society – the exchange of ideas and experiences, the way we combine to become more than just the sum of our individual parts, the great works that we do. Relief Society makes me love being female.

  4. Sarah says:

    Thank you – for some reason lesson 38 wasn’t visible to me. Thank you for the instructions.

  5. hn says:

    Thank you for this post. I would like to share an idea that I am doing with this lesson. I have asked several priesthood holders in my ward to write a letter that expresses their feelings as how the Relief Society has blessed their lives and the lives of those around them. We as women are caring and want to help others around us and so I asked these brethren to share their feelings. The responses that I have received so far are very rewarding to read and see how the Relief Society does reach out to many in different circumstances.

  6. Jessawhy says:

    Great job!
    I just want to echo your suggestion for Women of Covenant.
    We read it for a feminist book club a few months ago and it was really interesting.
    I’d love to see RS groups read and discuss it everywhere. We should know more about the history of our organization.

  7. Eden says:

    Thanks I am teaching the lesson and have focused on the word divine the title of the lesson 2 Peter 1:4-7, Alma 7: 23-24

  8. Kelly Ann says:

    Thank you Lynnette. This is a very well done lesson with lots of good questions. I look forward to hearing the discussion in person.

  9. victoria says:

    I found this program that gave me lots of ideas . .
    I love your blog , Thanks

  10. Melissa says:

    If you can get your hands on a copy, in 2005 General Relief Society Conference (Oct.) there was a video presentation of the a drama of Joseph Smith organizing the Relief Society. It pretty much outlines the story from the begining of the lesson along with some of the quotes. President Hinkley interjects his thoughts as well. It’s really great.

  11. RS Sis says:

    Thank you, Lynette! Your suggestions for this lesson were the perfect fodder to cultivate a lesson hand-out for the very few sisters in our teeny-tiny branch in rural America’s heartland. They either receive the lesson in person or via snail-mail.

  12. Tia Isaia says:

    I have the opportunity to prepare to give Less: 39 on 8/17 and i am nervous english is my second language and have a language barrier. I am the only polynesian woman in the english caucasian ward. I need some ideas as well as handouts for the lesson i love music and i feel music is a strong influence to any opening of a lesson. So sisters out there I need all the ideas and suggestions for Lesson 39

  13. namakemono says:

    Good luck, Tia Isaia ^_^
    I am in a similar situation teaching the lesson in a language that is not my native one – its quite a challenge, isn`t it! Blog posts like this one really help.

  14. Amy says:

    A good song would be as sisters in zion . I am going to use it in my lesson

  15. Cindy Adams says:

    Great post! I found this lesson rather challenging as well. I am going to dive deeply into what each piece of what PJS said and make it meaningful for today’s women and challenges. I loved your questions and thoughts. Cindy

  16. Lynn says:

    Thank you for the help. I also plan to ask the sisters what it means to them that Emma was elected by the sisters to be the President. Does anyone know the history on that and how it changed?

  17. SB says:

    Thank you for your ideas. They are a great help to me each month. I appreciate the time you spend putting them together for all of us.
    Has anyone found where you can find that October 2005 conference video?

  18. Richard says:

    Melissa mentioned that if I could get a copy of 2005 General Relief Society Conference (Oct.) , there is a video segment of the organisation of the RS. I teach this lesson on Sunday and am wondering how I could get a hold of that video in 5 days?

  19. Melissa says:

    In my research I’ve found out that the opening hymn for the first RS meeting was “The Spirit of God” and the closing was “Come, Let Us Rejoice”. I’m using these hymns for my lesson. I think it will help bring the spirit of the restoration and divinity of the organization into the lesson.

  20. Becky says:

    I’ve been searching high and low for the Oct 2005 video mentioned, too. What I’ve found from the sisters in my ward who have General Conference from Oct 2005 on DVD is that the Relief Society session is not included! 🙁

    I’m trying to see if our Stake Relief Society has a copy. There is a streaming version available in the General Conference archives on, but it doesn’t appear to be something you can save and then burn to a DVD. My next step is figuring out if I can somehow use the internet connection + laptop + projector to share the video. I watched it online, and think it would be perfect for the lesson.

  21. Shauna says:

    Hymn #311 “We Meet Again As Sisters” was written by a man (Paul Anderson)to emphasize what women do is important and noble. As he began working on it, his wife suggested he read Joseph Smith’s first address to the RS. With that introduction, the song goes very nicely with the lesson.

  22. Shauna says:

    We had this lesson last week and the sister who taught it is originally from Ireland. When her family was planning on moving to the US she was very nervous about moving somewhere she didn’t know anyone. A good friend of hers was going on and on about how she couldn’t do such a thing when another friend (both were non-members) said, “She’ll be alright, they have that Relief Society thing and they’ll take care of her.” She said it helped her feel better, pleased her that her friend would think so, and ended up being true.

  23. Richard says:

    Becky ,I cant find the video archive on, Can you copy the address for me and post it here, or to my personal email address?

  24. MM says:

    Can you post the link for the video for everyone to view…thanks!

  25. Ruthanne says:

    The video can be seen if you click on the link for the complete Relief Society session, Oct 2005 about 10 minutes into the session. The link for the just the presentation is just the text. It doesn’t look like the video is high enough quality for it to look good on a TV screen. Your best option would be to get the DVD or tape for the Oct 2005 conference from the ward library if they have it.

  26. Carrie says:

    Joseph Smith commented, “The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.” (p. 451) The first point in the manual is that “the Relief Society, organized under the priesthood and after its pattern, is an essential part of the Church.” This might seem obvious, but it’s worth unpacking. Why exactly is the Relief Society essential? How does that connect to the fact that it also has the status of an “auxiliary?”

    I thought this was a great question. I am giving a talk on this topic and don’t know the answer. Any ideas would be appreciated!

  27. Katherine says:

    I am giving this lesson in three weeks and instead of just giving the historical background, I made a very simple play involving the women in the first part of the lesson. Sisters Kimball, Cook, Snow, Smith and the presidency she chose. It is very simple but will recreate the happenings of that day.

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