Kent Larsen has an interesting post on timesandseasons.org about the original purpose of the LDS Church Relief Society:
While we think we understand its purpose based on what the women’s organization does today, the things that Relief Society does have changed radically since its founding in 1842. . . Before the welfare program was developed in the 1930s, the Relief Society WAS (Kent’s emphasis) the welfare program. It collected and stored foodstuffs for later distribution to the poor, seeing to the welfare of everyone it could service.
As Kent’s blog post notes, this role can also be seen in the historic hymn “As Sisters in Zion” with words by Emily Hill Woodmansee. The lyrics have changed through the years, but below is a quote from the original:
- Its purpose, indeed, is to comfort and feed
- The honest and poor in distress and in need.
- Oh! the Daughters of Zion, the friends of the poor,
- Are exemplars of faith, hope and charity, pure.
I’m not a member of the Relief Society, for biological reasons, so this next comment may be unfair. But I feel that a reemphasis on helping the poor, particularly in developing countries where most of the growth in the LDS Church is currently occurring, could be a valuable task for the modern-day Relief Society.