Daughters in My Kingdom: “Charity Never Faileth” (Chapter 5)

Emmeline B. Wells and Her Presidency

The beginning of this chapter mentions that it was Emmeline B. Wells, fifth general RS President, and her presidency that decided on the motto, “Charity Never Faileth.”  Show a picture of the RS seal and ask, “What symbols do you see in this image? Why do you think they chose these particular symbols?”

When someone comments on the wheat, mention this background info: the most long-lived of the society’s economic enterprises was the wheat storage program directed initially by Emmeline B.Wells in 1876, after Brigham Young suggested the Relief Society store wheat against a time of famine. In 1906 the Relief Society donated several railroad cars of wheat and flour to the victims of the San Francisco earthquake. The Relief Society continued to gather and store wheat until the close of World War I (1918), when the Relief Society sold 205,518 bushels of their storage wheat to the U.S. government at its request.

Use this story as a jumping off point to share with your class some info about Emmeline B.Wells, who was an amazing person. (See Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society for more details.)

  • As a teen she was abandoned by her husband and lost her son
  • She knew Joseph Smith in Nauvoo and then made the trek west
  • She was a plural wife to first Newll K. Whitney, and then after he died, to Daniel Wells. She had five daughters from those two marriages.
  • She was the editor of the Women’s Exponent for 39 years
  • She represented the Relief Society in national gatherings of women
  • She was friends with Susan B. Anthony and other national suffrage workers
  • She herself was a tireless suffrage worker, writing many editorials about women’s rights
  • She was general RS President from 1910 to 1921

As leader of this organization during World War I, Wells guided the women of the RS during a particularly frightening time. I appreciated this quote from Wells:

“do not permit them [children] to imbibe the spirit of intolerance or hatred to any nation or to any people; keep firearms out of their hands; do not allow them to play at war nor to find amusement in imitating death in battle; … if they must needs take up arms in the defense of liberty, of country and homes they shall do so without rancor or bitterness … Teach the peaceable things of the kingdom…” 64

What strikes you about this quote? What do you like about it? It is so easy in a time of war for leaders to rhetorically paint the other side as evil and deserving of hatred and death. But Wells’ quote shows compassion and wisdom and a deep appreciation for peace and tolerance, even in war time.


Relief Society and Social Programs

Under Wells, in 1919 the Relief Society established the Relief Society Social Services Department.  The manual states, “Though the Social Service Department, the Relief Society cooperated with wards and stakes in efforts such as helping needy women and girls find employment and placing children for adoption. Its primary purpose, however, was to provide practical training for families….  The social Service Department created a six-week training program in family welfare. … Over 4000 women were trained. “ 67-68

The chapter also talks about the RS sponsoring a programs for training nurses and nurses aids. I was struck by how expansive the work of RS was in the early twentieth century. They were heavily involved in training programs, community programs, social services, etc. Under the next president, Clarissa Williams, the RS even established a maternity hospital. The manual states, ‘Sister Williams saw a great need for advancement in “health, opportunity, and a decent standard of living for all those with whom we come in contact.”  (69-70). Do you wish the RS was involved in efforts like this today? Running or sponsoring training, programs, and hospitals for the community? What are the pros and cons of such involvement? What are the pros and cons of the more limited focus of the contemporary RS?


Emmeline B. Wells’ Release: A Break from Tradition

President Heber J. Grant released Emmeline B. Wells from her calling as general RS President 1921 when she was 92. This was a break with tradition. General RS presidents before her had served until death, just as the President of the Church did. Wells was shocked by the release. Women of Covenant states, “She was astonished and hurt, knowing that Joseph Smith had declared that ‘like the first Presidency of the church’ the Relief Society Presidency was to ‘continue in office during good behavior, or so long as they shall continue to fulfill the office with dignity.’… Already ill, and wounded by this final change, Emmeline failed rapidly.” (222-223)

She died within a month of her unexpected release.

What do you make of this new policy to release RS presidencies before death? What are the positives and the negatives with this break in tradition?


World War II: Women in the U.S.

During World War II, Church leaders worked to simplify programs in order to “safeguard the family,” as the war fragmented families and often left women to support their families by themselves. DIMK states,

“As men went to war women had to sustain their families without the immediate help from their husbands and older sons. Church leaders again encouraged mothers with children at home to find ways, if possible, to provide for the children without working outside the home full-time. These leaders encouraged RS sisters to develop foundational skills of self-reliance: quiliting, sewing clothing, growing gardens, and preserving and storing fruits and vegetables.” 75

This quote brought to my mind questions about women staying home to be with children. I myself am home most of the time with my 3 young children. But often I’m not very present. I’m paying the bills, responding to email, trying to pick up, cooking, or looking after the baby. I’m often not really interacting meaningfully with my children as I do these things to keep the household running. In reading the above quote, I was struck by just how much more difficult it would be to be really present for your children if you were also trying to sew for a living, or harvest food, or do these other things mentioned in the quote above. How do moms balance the need to manage the household (or work outside the home) with the idea that moms should be meaningfully interacting with the children? How do we make sure that a parent’s presence is meaningful in children’s lives? What strategies have you come up with to listen, talk, and connect with children in the midst of  busy lives?



End the lesson by discussing a few experiences of women in Europe during World War II. At this time, European sisters experienced terrible hardship, but they found ways to serve each other despite the dangers.  Share with the class the story of Gertrude Zippro, who visited branch Relief Societies under German occupation at great personal risk. P. 76-77. Share with them the story of the Danish Mission Relief Society, which during the war sent food and packages to hungry Norwegians. P. 78. These are examples of important and brave RS service. We might not have as dramatic examples in our own lives, but no doubt there have been times when the RS or RS sisters have really come through for us in important ways. Ask two or three sisters beforehand to prepare a few words about a time in their lives when they were struggling and when RS sisters helped them in important ways. End by bearing your testimony of sisterhood, of charity, of the mission of the Relief Society


What ideas do you have for teaching this chapter? Please share.

Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.


  1. Bless, Emmeline, and bless you.

    The story of her release always breaks my heart, and makes me wonder what it would be like now, if the General Relief Society President’s calling were still lifelong, making it much more parallel to the First Presidency, as Joseph Smith explicitly told them it was. It also seems that it would make it easier to do the grand projects of former times.

  2. This is beautiful, Caroline. I love how you have organized this lesson and the points you bring up for discussion.

    It is interesting to think about with the new release structure. I think it is clear that Emmaline felt that the release meant she *should* die. It would have been brilliant to just have he in her calling for just a little longer, as she contributed so very much to the world.

    That being said, Belle Spafford’s anti-ERA rhetoric, and Julie Beck’s painful “Mothers who know” assumption make me wonder if the new releases have more to do with an attempt at retaining the support or retention of women in the Relief Society who may otherwise become embittered by some of statements leveled by the very limited female leadership. This way or not, it disempowers the General Relief Society presidency positions, i.e. short terms mean limited influence, for good or for bad.

    • That’s a good point. Short terms do limit the RS president’s power … and that can be good or bad depending on the person. Overall, though, I think I’d rather have RS leaders in for life, just because I think that has such important symbolic power.

  3. As I read about the social services programs that were initiated by the Relief Society, and managed exclusively and competently by the Relief Society for decades, it brought to mind this comment one of our readers made to a post about gender discrimination in church employment:

    The same rules apply when it comes to the Church Welfare System. My mom was the secretary at the Bishop’s Storehouse for years. When the manager (a male) was transferred to another region, she applied for the his position. She was obviously the most qualified of all of the candidates but she was told by the area manager guy that came to interview not even to bother. Her two youngest, my sisters, were in high school. She took it all the way to Salt Lake to the headquarters and was told, “that position traditionally goes to Priesthood holders.” End of story. She considered getting an attorney but decided she didn’t want to bring any negative press to the Church.

    Our “traditions” sure have changed, haven’t they?

  4. I love that you used one of these lessons to highlight a general RS president, Caroline. Such a good idea and not done nearly enough!

  5. In a hundred small ways, all of you wear the mantle of charity. Life is perfect for none of us. Rather than being judgmental and critical of each other, may we have the pure love of Christ for our fellow travelers in this journey through life. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.

    ~Ali Raza
    1love org

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