Something Extraordinary: The New RS Exhibit at the Museum of Church History & Art

A few weeks ago I was in Utah to attend my sister Louise’s wedding. After she gallivanted off on her honeymoon (how dare she!), I was left to entertain her new in-laws. Since her in-laws are not LDS and had never been to Utah before, high on their list of sight-seeing priorities was a visit to Temple Square. We then spent several hours at the Museum of Church History and Art, at the new Relief Society exhibit. Entitled “Something Extraordinary: A Sampler of Women’s Gifts” (referencing the prophetic statement made by Emma Hale Smith at the first Relief Society Meeting in 1842: “We are going to do something extraordinary”), the exhibit features an eclectic gathering of historic and contemporary items related to the Relief Society. The organization of the exhibit is topical rather than chronological—with topics culled from quotations found in Nauvoo-era Relief Society meeting minutes. The quotes assist the visitor transition from section to section of the exhibit, as well as create a sense of continuity from the 1840s Relief Society organization and the Relief Society organization as it is constituted today. These topics showcase the diversity of LDS women’s talents, virtues, and compassionate service. Some personal highlights from the exhibit include:

Fabulous artwork by LDS women, about LDS women. What a novelty! While there were several amazing pieces, my personal favorite was this watercolor by Louise Parker entitled “Five Wise Virgins.” Sister Parker painted this watercolor in tribute to the African sisters spoken of by Sister Ann Pingree in general conference in 2003 (the story about the women who walked dozens of miles for temple recommend interviews, without realistic hope of actually entering a temple during their lifetimes). The painting’s vibrant colors evoked a good spirit and fond memories of that general conference talk.

Recognition of the Relief Society’s role in the women’s movement in the 19th century. It was very cool to read about the Relief Society’s decades of involvement with the National Council of Women, International Council of Women, and the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Banners, such as this one made of silk, were carried in parades to announce the presence of the LDS Relief Society. How I would love to march in a women’s rights parade today, carrying the banner of the Relief Society! But I digress…
Display and discussion of prominent LDS women writers, our foremother publication the Women’s Exponent, as well as The Beginner’s Guide to Boston. Although Exponent II was not specifically mentioned, those familiar with its history know that The Beginner’s Guide to Boston was the publication that served as the launch pad for Exponent II. This indirect connection to the Exponent blog made me smile.I could go on, but you really do need to visit the exhibit to experience it yourself. Overall, the exhibit is thoughtful and well-organized, and it made me feel proud to be a part of the living heritage of the Relief Society. I left feeling renewed motivation to be an active participant in my ward Relief Society, and to invite and encourage other women to do the same.

My only complaint is that I wished there was some sort of pamphlet or brochure to take with me after I left. I keep such documents for reference purposes, as well as to pass along to others who I think might be interested. I spoke with a docent who was kind and knowledgeable, but she could only provide a computer print-out of the RS meeting quotes featured in the exhibit. The Church prints high-gloss professional brochures for just about everything else, so why not for this exhibit as well?

I would recommend the exhibit to anyone interested in learning more about the Relief Society, whether a member of our faith or not. I also think it would be a great outing for a Young Women’s (or, gasp, Young Men’s!) activity or an Enrichment night, if you live anywhere within geographical proximity. The exhibit runs from now until 2009, so there should be plenty of time to plan a visit.

P.S. Don’t forget to stop by the Museum Gift Shop afterwards. In conjunction with the exhibit, there are numerous books on LDS women’s history and the RS organization. I was like a child in a candy store, snarfing up copies of several books I’ve been meaning to buy for years: Mormon Sisters (ed. Claudia Bushman), Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society (Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon & Maureen Ursenbach Beecher), and 4 Zinas: A Story of Mothers and Daughters on the Mormon Frontier (Marth Sonntag Bradly & Mary Brown Firmage Woodward). They also sell prints of several of the paintings featured in the exhibit, so, of course, I had to buy one of “Five Wise Virgins.” As soon as that Michael’s 50% off coupon comes in the mail, I’ll get it framed and matted and up on the wall.


  1. Maria,
    Thanks for telling us about this. It sounds FABULOUS. If I get to Utah in the next couple of years, this will be one of my first stops.

    And how cool to see so many references to Exponent!

  2. I got to see this exhibit at the end of August between the wedding breakfast and the sealing ceremony for my sister’s wedding in the Salt Lake Temple. One of the highlights for me was seeing our dear old neighbor from our old ward in Sugar House volunteering at the museum. Maybe she was your helpful docent!

    I didn’t see brochures for the other exhibits. But then, I wasn’t looking for them. Did you, Maria?

    When you go to this museum don’t miss the conference room on the second floor, where they exhibit a beautiful little collection of Native American artifacts.

  3. Thank you for the interesting and informative review. Maybe the curator, Marjorie Conder, will comment here on the issue of a brochure.

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