Often when we discuss the principles of welfare today, we talk as if the whole idea of welfare developed in the 1930s, along with the current program. In reality, before the current program caring for the needy, poor and promoting self-reliance were largely the purview of the Relief Society. And so it is a Song of the Sisters of the Relief Society (familiar today since it is the poem on which the current hymn, As Sisters in Zion, is based — Julie also posted here on Times and Seasons about this poem) that I present below to help us understand the principles of welfare.
What is the purpose of the 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. And the Lorenzo Snow lesson on the Relief Society shows this change, since his comments reflect a focus on charity and providing for the poor that we don’t hear much today—since that function is now handled by the welfare program. But before the welfare program was developed in the 1930s, the Relief Society WAS the welfare program. It collected and stored foodstuffs for later distribution to the poor, seeing to the welfare of everyone it could serve. This role can also be seen in the following hymn, which appeared in LDS hymnals in Lorenzo Snow’s day.
Nauvoo had its Relief Society, but the “society of sisters” in Boston was instead the “Sewing and Penny Society,” or so the Church’s New York City newspaper reported. Despite all that the Relief Society has become in the nearly 170 years since it was founded, it apparently only existed in Nauvoo. In other areas, women were left to their own devices.