Within the last few hours, the Joseph Smith Papers Project website was updated to include the Documents volume covering 1834-1835, and the entirety of Minute Book 1 and the Record of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.
O, Lord! help our widows, and fatherless children! So mote it be. Amen. With the sword, and with the word of truth, defend thou them. So mote it be. Amen.
On March 17, 1842 a group of women gathered in the upper room of Joseph Smith’s Red Brick Store. The meeting began by singing “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” and a vote determining whether all present held good feelings toward each other. It was at this meeting that Emma Smith’s ordination was accepted as being fulfilled as she became President. And apostle and Recorder Willard Richards gave Eliza R. Snow a book to inscribe an account of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo for earth and heaven. 
Snow found the above prayer on a scrap of paper in the room in which that first meeting was held. The room was used for other ritual purposes and she memorialized it upon the first page of the fresh record. She was the Secretary of the Society and the principle scribe for the record book. She kept it well.
These months were explosive for church growth, though not numerically. Notably Joseph Smith started what ultimately became a temple quorum and his sermons to the Female Relief Society recorded an expanded vision for both men and women. The sisters, as well as the elders were to receive “keys of the kingdom.” Smith declared he would make of them a kingdom of priests, as in Enoch’s day, as in Paul’s day. He gave them a revelation affirming the female right to administer healing rituals. He turned the key to them. And it was to be the beginning of better days.
The heady times of the Spring of 1842, however, didn’t persist and the Female Relief Society, perhaps inevitably, fractured under pressures that make us uncomfortable today. Still, the purpose of the Relief Society moved on, whether it was in the donation of “a suit of clothes to old Mrs Miller” or an offering of a blanket and 60 cents.
For a century, the minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, or at least excerpts, were printed and reprinted. They were to be read and understood by all the members of the society. The twentieth century marked a time when these minutes fell out of use and for many, fell out of memory. However, starting in the 1970s scholars began to access them again and found new ways to understand old things (and old ways as well!). Andrew Ehat and Lyndon Cook published the Joseph Smith sermons in their foundational Words of Joseph Smith, and the manuscript minutes were digitized and included on the Selected Collections DVDs. Though in full, the latter resource is generally inaccessible. For some time, however, scholars—primarily Jill Mulvay Derr—at the Church History Library have been transcribing and annotating the minutes with other important documents of the Relief Society for a forthcoming print volume.
Today, however, in conjunction with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo are now available on-line. May this mark a great day in the expansion of Mormon scholarship as was this same month 169 years ago an expansion of our faith. May we also preserve the good feelings that made this publication possible for longer than one verdant Spring.
- For a detailed look at the record, its contents, and its use during the bulk of the nineteenth century, see Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Preserving the Record and Memory of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 1842-92,” Journal of Mormon History 35 (Summer, 2009): 89-117.