Manna in the RS/PH manual

Tomorrow I will teach Lesson 10 in the RS/PH manual. So rare is the very mention of a woman in the manuals that tomorrow’s lesson indeed boasts manna, the name of Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball. Feast a little when you come to page 130. Sarah is quoted regarding instruction JS gave in the School of the Prophets. The manual fails to add that, as the only woman I am aware of attending the School, she heard the teaching firsthand. The instruction is important but not as important as the opportunity to introduce the sisters to a heroine.

It was Sarah who first conceived of the RS. Initially she wanted to organize the sisters to make clothing for the temple builders. The first meeting, held in her home, authorized Eliza R. Snow to draw up a constitution, a constitution Eliza took to JS. It was only then that JS said he would organize the women in the manner of the PH the following Thursday in the famous meeting above his store.

When the RS was reorganized 20 years later, Sarah began 40 years as Pres. of the SL Fifteenth, from Temple South to Third South and west to the Jordan. She established the offices and organization, copied with few changes by the general RS. She led the sisters to build the first RS building, built and filled the first granary (the granary was her idea, storing grain was BY’s), raised funds for the Perpetual Emigration Fund, the SL and Logan temples, and Desert Hospital and made carpets and other goods while she and others led the sewing sisters in classes on theology, suffrage and practical (and impractical, like phrenology) subjects of the day. They studied, sang and spoke. She approached Eliza R. Snow and BY to raise funds for the Chicago Fire victims; they chose not to authorize a churchwide program but encouraged her. She and the Fifteenth raised $14,000 in 1 month. Under her leadership, the RS financed teacher training and operated a kindergarten, sent the Women’s Exponent to poor English sisters, founded a library and organized regular activities for the widowed and aged. She taught the sisters to read, to teach and to lead. With Eliza R. Snow (by some accounts her best friend), she was the offficial church rep to the suffrage movement and there is a wonderful photo of her sitting next to Susan B. Anthony in 1895 in SL in Women of Covenant by Derr, Cannon and Beecher.

I won’t be adding in class that, reportedly, Sarah was one of the women who turned down JS’s offer of polyandry, advising him to go teach that to someone else. But I’m torn because it speaks to the heart of the lesson. She is one of my heroines because she did exactly what the lesson is about: seeking our own revelation through personal prayer. And having the courage to act on it.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. We are a lesson behind you but I will print this out and keep it with me for lesson 10. Without the sisters this great work would never have moved forward at the pace it has. And SMGK did it all without a dishwasher, washing machine or a laptop!

  2. rondell says:

    I really wish that we had RS/PH lessons that talked more about women in the Church. I think we all, women and men alike, could learn a lot from the experiences of women. Men can certainly apply lessons about women, just as we apply lessons about men in our lives. We can study the same important doctrines through the experiences of women who were/are just as committed to the gospel as men.

    Don’t mean to nitpick, but I keep seeing this same mistake.

    polyandry = multiple husbands
    polygyny = multiple wives

  3. Kristine says:

    rondell, I’m pretty sure Molly knows that. Sarah MGK was already married, so had she accepted Joseph, she would have been engaged in polyandry.

  4. rondell says:

    Sorry, my bad. Shows what little I know.

  5. Kristine says:

    Molly, I love that she made it into the manual. I’ve been distressed by several recent conference talks that made it sound as though a correlated Relief Society had sprung full-grown from Joseph’s head. At least there’s a chance to correct that misunderstanding with this lesson.

  6. Kristine says:

    rondell, don’t worry about it–I think many (most?) church members are unaware of the polyandrous component of Joseph’s practice of polygamy.

  7. My ward’s RS president is especially fond of Sarah, and a few years ago (before I knew her) was behind a movement to put a new marker on Sarah’s grave in the SLC cemetery. She was unable to find any of Sarah’s descendants to attend the dedicatory ceremony, which bothered her so much that when I moved into the ward she asked me to locate them. A week later, I took my report to her showing that by the second or third generation, none of Sarah’s descendants were associated with the church. There was no great apostasy, just a general drift away, mostly due, apparently, to marriage with non-members and beginning to move in social circles that didn’t find religion especially important. I tracked two lines to the living generation, and keep wondering whether, were I to contact them, they would be irritated or pleased to know of their connection to someone we hold in such high regard.

    I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s lesson.

  8. Thanks, Kristine. Yes, Sarah had been married to Hiram Kimball several years when JS approached her. They remained monogamous; after he died, she remained single.

    Rondell, I couldn’t agree more. Learning from the experiences of men doesn’t disturb me; Not learning from the experiences of women, whose lives are by nature somewhat different, does disturb me.

    Thanks, Ardis, for the interesting update.

  9. Thanks, Molly, Sarah’s great. Fascinating too to think about how she navigated the proposal with her husband being essentially non-Mormon and generally on the outs with the inner circle. An interesting counterpoint to Zina Diantha in that regard, showing the different ways to follow the Lord.

  10. Researcher says:

    Since the issue came up, could someone run past me the source(s) for the account of Sarah’s invitation to participate in plural marriage?

    Just thinking about an extremely tenuous speculative and super judgmental connection between her refusal and Ardis’ comments in #7.

    By the way, if Noray and rondell are female, this post seems to be of interest largely to women (myself included)…

  11. Heck, Molly, I think I’d go ahead and say it. For one thing, it debunks the idea that Joseph Smith “coerced” women into marrying him.

  12. Jim, there was an awful lot of friction between Joseph and Sarah’s husband Hiram. I’m not entirely sure that your 10 is a straightforward inference.

  13. rondell says:

    I am female.

  14. Me, too. (Female, I mean)

  15. Since JimD commented, I guess it’s ok for another man to do so – ironically, by echoing Jim’s comment. :)

    I wish more ward and branch Relief Societies were as focused on relief as actively and passionately as Sister Kimball was.

  16. Randall says:

    Speaking from a man’s perspective, I’ve followed the rebirth of Mormon women’s thought and activism with great interest. The early women shared such power and vision. It’s heartwarming to see women of our era reclaim what was taken from them.

    Fare thee well my bright stars!

  17. Researcher, I will get you sources tomorrow when I’m back with my books. Seems to me Todd Compton references it, but I’m sure there are other sources as well. Perhaps others can beat me to an answer for you.

    This should not be a female subject. We are all diminished when we are denied the experience and wisdom of half of us.

    Ray, I agree. My RS president has involved the youth and the RS in involved projects for the church’s humanitarian arm and does tons with the families at UW Children’s Hospital. That relief type service has kindled a warmer, more enthusiastic spirit in RS than I have seen in years.

    JimD, good point. And I have mentioned polyandry before in my classes. However, I’ve learned to dole out such additions judiciously.

  18. Well, I had planned a post on this myself (before Molly posted), but since y’all are asking for sources:

    “Sarah M. Kimball’s Testimony,” in Andrew Jenson, “Plural Marriage,” The Historical Record 6 (May 1887), 232.

    Jill Mulvay Derr, “Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball: the Liberal Shall Be Bless,” in Vicky Burgess-Olsen, ed. Sister Saints (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1978), 21-40.

  19. … Shall be Blessed …

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Ardis’ two sources are the ones Todd mentions in ISL 633, so presumably those are the very ones Molly had in mind.

  21. Thanks, Ardis! Surely you will still do your post? Mine was cursory and aimed largely at making sure people don’t read right past her reference in the manual. A full post on Sarah would be great.

  22. rondell says:

    I think part of the reason that ward and branch RS don’t do nearly as much service as in the past is that we are so busy and pulled in so many different directions. We may not be able to do as much as SMGH or others, but many (most) of us do what we can.

    Of course stories like hers do remind us that we can accomplish much when we put the time and effort into it.

  23. Molly, I may still do the post — it was to include three women who turned down Joseph Smith, with the aim of debunking the claim of coercion.

    Here’s a <a href=”″New Era story about the girls in my ward who put up the new marker on Sarah’s grave.

  24. Well, that was ugly. Sorry. It’s “Remembering Sarah,” New Era, February 2001.

  25. Kevin Barney says:

    Oh, yes, Ardis, you absolutely must do that post! That would be a gem.

  26. Researcher says:

    Thanks for the info. Very interesting. I read the “Remembering Sarah” article online and then googled a couple of pictures of her new gravestone. When I was looking at it at first, I didn’t read it right and thought it said that she was killed in a shipboard explosion en route to Hawaii. Why wasn’t this mentioned in the little bio? When I slowed down and looked again, I realized that was her husband’s death info (1863). How nice of them to memorialize him also since he was undoubtedly buried at sea.

    I would love to read more about this amazing woman.

  27. polloloco says:

    According to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Sarah was one of the twenty-three women known to have attended Joseph Smith’s School of the Prophets in Kirtland.

    It might be helpful to note that the historically accepted definition of polyandry involves one woman being legally married to, and sharing intimacy with, more than one man, in a situation where the woman typically lives with all men involved in some manner. A woman married for time to one husband whom she lives with in an intimate relationship, while also being sealed for eternity to another male with whom she does not live nor share intimacy, does not meet the textbook definition for engaging in polyandry. If it did, every LDS woman today who is sealed to a deceased spouse and remarries for time only is engaging in polyandry.

  28. Molly, it’s time to return and report. How did your lesson go? How much did you discuss Sarah?

  29. Researcher says:

    I was doing a little work on one of my family lines this morning and followed up a lead on a (non-related) spouse of an ancestor.

    This led me online to the little Kimball Whitney cemetery in downtown SLC. I didn’t know it existed, but then I’ve never explored downtown SLC without a specific destination.

    The cemetery is in the center of the block east of the Conference Center. It contains the burial of at least one of Sarah’s Indian children. This is a total tangent to what I’m doing, but I wanted to mention it.

  30. Sarah M. Kimball is one of my favorite people to ever have lived on this planet! She was the subject of my master’s thesis (BYU, 1998), which you can access online.

    I’m in the very (very) early stages of turning this work into a publishable book. Read up! You will love her.

  31. Thanks for the link, Janelle.

  32. Janelle Higbee says:

    The account of her turning down Joseph’s offer of plural marriage is recorded in her autobiographical sketch: “I asked him to go and teach it to someone else.” (Woman’s Exponent v. 12, no. 7 [1 Sept 1883]: 51) A full transcription of that sketch is included in the appendix to my thesis–along with some other really brilliant pieces of theology and protofeminism from President Mrs. Kimball.

    One really juicy tidbit of unfolding historical research is this: many years after having rejected Joseph Smith’s personal teaching of plural marriage, Sarah M. Kimball had herself sealed to him (by proxy) in the St. George temple.

  33. Researcher says:

    Very interesting. I’ve bookmarked it to download when I have some time. Best wishes on the book.

  34. Janelle Higbee says:

    Also…when Sarah attended the School of the Prophets in Kirtland (probably alongside her father, Oliver Granger), she was still a teenager. The Grangers moved to Kirtland when Sarah was barely 15, and left for Nauvoo five years later–where she met and married Hiram Kimball.

  35. Molly, FYI your post got play in our lesson this week, with specific attention to her following her own revelation and not accepting Joseph’s offer, and not missing a prominent church service career over it.

  36. This is so interesting. We have (my best friend and I) have been discussing polyandry this last while.

    She thinks it unfair that women must be only married to one man, but men…

    IMHO in the celestial kingdom there must be reciprocity, being a place of perfect freedom. So, Joseph was teaching pure doctrine?

    The thread is hijacked. What a wonderful woman. How I despise the correlation committee which effectively killed the RS. I think it was done specifically for the RS. Male chauvinists, all.

    The priesthood did not want women showing them up. There must be some way of letting the women self-organize and keep their own check books.

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