Relief Society: 'We are going to do something extraordinary'
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Historical documents and items from the early days of the Relief Society will be on display during a three-day exhibit at the Church History Library. This year's "Treasures of the Collection" exhibit, with emphasis on the Relief Society, includes historical documents and artifacts from the Church History Library and Museum.
"We were asked ... if we would focus on Relief Society in conjunction with the publishing of the book, [Daughters in My Kingdom, the History and Work of Relief Society]," said April Williamsen, who works in public programming for the Church History Department. "We are focusing on the women of the Church and how Relief Society has affected their lives."
The exhibit, to be open Sept. 24, 30 and Oct. 1, includes seldom-seen historic books, photographs, manuscripts, journals and recorded minutes relating to the early Relief Society organization.
"We have Lucy Mack Smith's Book of Mormon," Sister Williamsen said. "You don't see that out of the vault every day."
Items such as Lucy Mack Smith's personal and engraved copy of the Book of Mormon and a painting depicting the Prophet Joseph Smith's mother sitting in a rocking chair with that same book in her hand will be on display. A handwritten letter from Lucy to her brother Solomon telling him of her personal testimony and a little bit of the background to the Book of Mormon will also be available to look at.
"The letter tells us that [the Gospel] was something, as a woman, that was so important to her," Sister Williamsen said. "It also helps us realize that they aren't that different than us. They went through hard times and drew from the same source that we draw from today."
The original minutes written during the period of time just after the organization and beginning of the Relief Society in Nauvoo, Ill., will also be on display. It is in those minutes that one can read a record of Emma Smith saying, "We are going to do something extraordinary."
Photos of the first female doctors from Utah, including Romania B. Penrose who was supported by the Relief Society to attend medical school, and of former Relief Society general presidencies and women from around the world will be included in the exhibit.
"We often talk about how, when you can view a piece of history like a document, and even hold it in your hand, it connects you to [a person] in a way you cannot with an Internet site," said Patrick Dunshee, manager of marketing and communications for the Church History Department. "It almost transports you back to 1831, and that's one of the benefits of coming out to something like this. To actually see something from the same distance ... that they held in their hands, it helps us realize we are all the same."
The display will have 10 exhibit cases including themes of Relief Society sisters in testimony, war, celebration, health, the new Relief Society building, record keeping, membership, publication, industry and charity. When guests walk into the library a short documentary film about the life of Belle Spafford, Relief Society general president from April 6, 1945-Oct. 3, 1974, will be playing in the lobby.
"Those who come will learn and have fun," Sister Williamsen said. "Some will remember the events themselves, and others will remember hearing their mothers' stories. ... It doesn't matter where you live, it will help women understand they are part of a plan in which they will have the opportunity to serve, and be served."
The exhibit will be set up as an open house, meaning visitors may walk freely to the different display areas. The displays will be open Saturday, Sept. 24, from noon to 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 30, noon to 9 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 1, from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m. The Church History Library will not be open for research during the exhibit times. The library is located at 15 East North Temple in Salt Lake City.