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.
The impetus for the “Sewing and Penny Society” wasn’t relief, but the calls of the Twelve for donations to the construction of the Temple from outside Nauvoo. As a result, the sisters in Boston created a local women’s organization, as the following item from The Prophet (New York City) of 3 August 1844 explains:
Boston, July 25, 1844.
Mr. Editor.—I send you the minutes of a society lately formed in this place, by which you will perceive the ladies of the Boston branch are determined not to be behind hand in assisting the rolling on of the cause of Christ.
A society of the sisters was formed on the 16th inst., called the “Boston Latter day Saint’s Sewing and penny Society.” The object of which is to lend their aid in the purchase of glass, nails &c, for the Temple of God, now being erected in Nauvoo.
The meeting was called to order and opened with prayer by Miss. Elvira Bassford, and the following officers chosen, viz—
- Mrs. Mary McAllester, president.
- Mrs. Clarissa B. Sperry, Vice Pres’t.
- Miss. Elvira Bassford, Vice Pres’t .
- Mrs. Margaret E. Wallace, secretary.
- Mrs. Isaac Hardy, treasurer.
- Mrs. Isabella Jones,
- Mrs. Caroline Welch,
- Mrs. Margaret Clementson,
- Mrs. Almira Hicks,
- Miss. Mary Murray,
- Miss. Mary Brown, as Committee of Arrangement.
The society meet once a month, and devote a day to sewing for the benefit of the society; and also to pay in the sum of one penny per week or more, each. It is expected that the brethren and friends will supply them with work. Every exertion of this kind is commendable, and it is to be hoped that they will succeed in their praiseworthy efforts, even beyond their most sanguine expectations. Yours, &c.
A. Mc. A.
Likely, given the society’s formation on July 16th, the news of the martyrdom was very fresh when the society was formed, although the news may have been discounted initially because it was from non-Mormon sources (like the reporting in the Prophet which only acknowledged the martyrdom after it received news from Mormons in Nauvoo).
I haven’t yet found any additional references to this organization, so I can’t even suggest that it made it to its second meeting. But I suspect that the organization didn’t survive the turmoil of the next few years. Boston and New York, in particular, suffered a lot of turmoil in the years after the martyrdom as schismatic groups attempted to gain followers there (often successfully) and rumors of polygamy (or affairs, for those who hadn’t heard of polygamy) spread along with attempts by some local leaders in the East to practice polygamy without authorization. However, some of the names of these women—McAllester, Sperry, Hicks, Welch and even Murray—appear in subsequent LDS history, so it may be that their descendants survived the turmoil and stayed with the Church.
Still, you have to like the initiative that these women took. I would find it encouraging to see such initiative today.