I’ve been impressed for a while to share some thoughts on the Relief Society, and was surprised last week when a member of our stake presidency ended up replacing our high counselor and teaching a lesson to us in our third block hour of meetings. His lesson? On the Relief Society of course. In preparation for sharing my thoughts of the Relief Society however, I wanted to introduce you to a couple of the magnificent women who helped found the society. Today, I will introduce the first of these.
Sarah Melissa Granger Kimball was born 29 December 29 1818, in Phelps, New York, to Oliver and Lydia Dibble Granger. Sarah never knew her great-grandmother, Sarah Pierce, for whom she was named, but well into her own old age she remembered her great-grandfather Elisha Granger “leaning upon his staff, bowed by the weight of many years.” She always pictured him trying to lead sinners to repentance. Growing up in a devoutly Methodist home, Sarah and her family joined the Church and moved to Kirtland, Ohio, in 1833 at age fifteen. While she never went into great details about her own conversion process, below I will share with you Sarah’s own “Auto-biography” which details a very sacred experience which her father had during his conversion process.
For Sarah, Granger family memories would always center in Kirtland where the Grangers lived for almost ten years. From there her father, Oliver Granger, went forth to serve several missions for the church to Ohio and New York. Oliver also served on the church’s high council, and when Kirtland collapsed financially Joseph Smith designated Oliver his fiscal agent with responsibility for settling a substantial debt. Though Oliver attempted to move his family from Kirtland to Far West, Missouri, late in 1838, anti-Mormon mobs forced him back. The Grangers joined the Saints in Nauvoo for a year, but the Prophet Joseph sent them back to Ohio so Oliver could exchange remaining land there for land further west.
During her family’s initial first year in Nauvoo, Illinois, she met Hiram Kimball, who was a very successful merchant of Commerce and lived northwest of the city proper on the river banks. Hiram Kimball was very well respected and well-to-do, and was known to the new community of Latter-day Saints as a friend they could trust. He had a frame home that was so well built that it still stands in Nauvoo today as a historic site. The foundation of his former store is out in the cow pasture behind the home. Although 14 years Sarah’s senior, and not a member of the Church, he followed Sarah and her family back to Kirtland, Ohio (when the Prophet Joseph sent her father back to handle Church business) to ask for her hand in marriage. Her father and mother were delighted at the proposal and readily agreed. After marrying Sarah he eventually joined the Church in 1843. His business kept them from going west with the rest of the Saints in 1846, and they together witnessed many of the darkest days of Nauvoo. Sarah herself saw when the original Nauvoo Temple caught fire and was burned terribly in 1848, and again saw when a tornado tore down the rest of the temple walls in 1850. As mobbers came and left, and the Church disintegrated around them, Hiram and Sarah were left in a fledgling community. In 1851 Sarah had finally had enough and packed up their two boys (the third son to be born while in Salt Lake) and moved west to Salt Lake City. Hiram joined her a year later.
After settling in the Salt Lake Fifteenth Ward boundaries, Hiram began setting himself up as a man of business and quickly became affluent once again. In 1863 he was called on a mission to the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), however, enroute the boiler of the ship blew up and he was killed on March 1st. Sarah would live as a widow for over thirty years until her death on 1 December 1898.
In February of 1857 Sarah had been named president of the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society, a position she held until her death. At Brigham Young’s suggestion ward Relief Societies had been reorganized in the early 1850s, but their activities were cut short by the Utah War and the subsequent move south in 1858. The local organizations were not fully revived until the end of 1867. In her position as ward Relief Society President she was known for her ministering to the poor, her tremendous organizational skills, and her zeal for serving others. After just one year as her ward’s Relief Society President she reported to President Brigham Young and General Relief Society President Eliza R. Snow that the poor, the sick, and the sorrowful had been looked after “so far as we had the means and power to relieve and comfort them.” She also proudly reported to her leaders, “We soon found an increasing treasury fund which it became our duty to put to usury.” That money was invested in a small lot 2 1/2-by-3 rods on which the society planned to build a hall, the first Relief Society hall in the church. The laying of the cornerstone for this hall in November 1868 was a watershed event attended by many, and Sarah was provided with a silver trowel and mallet as a gift on that occasion.
She served as Secretary in the General Relief Society Presidency to President Eliza R. Snow, and kept incredibly accurate minutes of both General Relief Society Meetings and her own ward’s meetings. In 1881 the Fifteenth Ward society attempted to center their weekly lessons on basic gospel principles, but Sarah became frustrated when attendance dropped off. On April 14, 1881, the secretary recorded:
Pres. S. M. Kimball said that we were eternal beings and that there was a germ within us that was eternal. Said the glory of God was His intelligence and that our glory hereafter was our intelligence. Said we came together to learn our responsibilities to ourselves to God and to all the world. Said if these meetings were not interesting to the sisters we would return to work again.
And return to work they did, ministering on an individual basis to each sister of their poverty-stricken ward. By 1884 the sisters were taking turns presiding and designating topics for discussion such as the Word of Wisdom, prayer, the Constitution of the United States, and the Atonement. To Sister Kimball everyone deserved a chance to lead. Recognizing an acute awareness for individual needs as women, she sensed that disagreements in Relief Society discussions were alienating some members; so she pleaded with the sisters to recognize that “when we grow old we get very sensitive,” reminding them that “we should govern our sensitiveness with judgment.” She thought sisters “tried and wounded each others feelings, but not knowingly,” and should work to cultivate good feelings toward each other.
Sarah Kimball celebrated her seventy-fifth birthday by sponsoring a special dinner for the widows and aged women in her ward. “The ladies came and went in carriages at her expense,” the Woman’s Exponent reported. Whenever personal support was needed Sarah Kimball seemed willing to give it. She constantly admonished her sisters to pray for their leaders, be they men or women leading the church, the state, or the nation. She pushed for women’s suffrage, encouraged education for all the women of the Church, and traveled endlessly throughout the Utah Territory established Relief Society groups that could be comparable to her own.
When she died President George Q. Cannon wrote in her personal autograph book, “What an amount of interesting history you have helped to make…Now you stand venerable in appearance, your head silvered, if not by age, at least by the trials you have endured, in an important station and as a representative woman among your sex.”
She was a woman of faith, and a woman you should know.
I have only briefly outlined her life of service and love in the words above. However, before closing it important that I share Sarah’s own words and testimony with you that you might get a fuller grasp of her level of consecration, and also the sacred nature in which her father gained his testimony. So here, in her own words, is her short “Auto-biography” as shared in the Woman’s Exponent in September of 1883:
I am the daughter of Oliver Granger, and Lydia Dibble Granger, was born Dec. 29, 1818, in the town of Phelps, Ontario Co., New York. Of my father and mother’s eight children only myself and two younger brothers, (Lafayette and Farley) remain. My father, Oliver Granger, had an interesting experience in connection with tht ecoming forth of the Book of Mormon. He obtained the book a few months after its publication and whil ein the city of New York at Prof. Mott’s eye infirmary, he had a “heavenly vision.” My father was told by a personage who said his name was Moroni that the Book of Mormon, about which his mind was excercise, was a true record of great worth, and Moroni instructed him (my father) to testify of its truth and that he should hereafter be ordained to preach the everlasting Gospel to the children of men. Moroni instructed my father to kneel and pray; Moroni and another personage knelt with him by the bedside. Moroni repeated words and instructed my father to repeat after him. Moroni then stepped behind my father, who was still kneeling, and rew his finger of the three back seams of my father’s coat (which my father felt very preceptiably) and said, “A time will come when the Saints will wear garment mae without seam.”
Moroni told him (my father) that he might ask for what he most desired and it would be granted. He asked for an evidence by which he might know when he was approved of God. The evidence, or sigh, was given and remained with him until his dying hour, being more particularly manifest when engaged in prayer and meditation. I love the memory of my father. He died in Kirtland, Ohio, August, 1843, aged 47.
I was married in Kirtland, Geauga Co., Ohio, by Warren Cowdery Esq., September 22nd, 1840, to Hiram Kimball, eldest son of Phineas and Abigail Kimball, of West Fairley, Orange Co., Vermont. My parents had previously spent a year in Nauvoo, Hancock Co., Illinois; their present stay in Ohio was considered only temporary (my father sickened and died there the next year). I returned with my husband to his home in Nauvoo, Ill., three weeks after my marriage. We boarded six months in the family of Dr. Frederic Williams, then went to housekeeping. My eldest son was born in Nauvoo, Hancock, Co., Ill., November 22nd, 1841; when the babe was three days old a little incident occurred which I will mention. The walls of the Nauvoo Temple were about three feet above the foundation. The Church was in need of help to assist in raising the temple walls. I belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; my husband did not belond to the Church at that time. I wished to help on the Temple, but did not like to ask my husband (who owned considerable property) to help for my sake.
My husband came to my bedside, and as he was admiring our three days old darling I said, “What is the boy worth?” He replied, “O, I don’t know, he is worth a great deal.” I said, “Is he worth a thousand dollars?” The reply was, “Yes, more than that if he lives and does well.” I said, “Half of him is mine, is it not?” “Yes, I suppose so.” “Then I have something to help on the Temple.” (pleasantly) “You have?” “Yes, and I think of turning my share right in as tithing.” “Well, I’ll think about that.”
Soon after the above conversation Mr. Kimball met the Prophet Joseph Smith, President of the Church, and said, “Sarah has got a little the advantage of me this time, she proposes to turn out the boy as church property.” President Smith seemed pleased with the joke, and said, “I accept all such donations, and from this day the boy shall stand recorded, church property,” then turning to Willard Richards, his secretary, he said, “Make a record of this; and you are my witness.” Joseph Smith then said, “Major (Mr. Kimball was a major in the Nauvoo Legion) you now have the privilege of paying $500 and retaining possession, or receiving $500 and giving possession.” Mr. Kimball asked if city property was good currency. President Smith replied that it was. Then said Mr. Kimball, “How will that reserve block north of the Temple suit?” President Smith replied, “It is just what we want.” The deed was soon made out and transfered in due form.
President Smith said to me, “You have consecrated your first born son, for this you are blessed of the Lord. I bless you in the name of the Lord God of Abraham of Isaac and of Jacob. And I seal upon you all the blessings that pertain to the faithful. Your name shall be handed down in honorable rememberance from generation to generation.
You son shall live and be a blessing to you in time and an honor and glory to you throughout the endless eternities (changes) to come. He shall be girded about with righteousness and bear the helmet and the breastplate of war. You shall be a blessing to your companion and the honored mother of a noble posterity. You shall stand as a savior to your father’s house, and receive an everlasting salvation, which I seal upon you by the gift of revelation and by virtue and authority of the Holy Priesthood vested in me, in the name of Jesus Christ.
Early in the year 1842 Joseph Smith taught me the principle of marriage for eternity, and the doctrine of plural marriage. He said that in teaching this he realized that he jeopardized his life; but God had revealed it to him many years before as a privilege with blessing, now God had revealed it again and instructed him to teach it with commandment, as the church could travel (progress) no further without the introduction of this principle. I asked him to teach it to some one else. He looked at me reprovingly, and said, “Will you tell me who to teach it to? God requires me to teach it to you, and leave you with the responsibility of believing or disbelieving.” He said, “I will not cease to pray for you, and if you will seek unto God in prayer you will not be led into temptation.”
In the summer of 1843, a maiden lady (Miss Cooke) was seamstress for me and the subject of combining our efforts for assisting the Temple hands came up in conversation. She desired to be helpful, but had no means to furnish. I told her I would furnish material if she would make some shirts for the workmen. It was then suggested that some of our neighbors might wish to combine means and efforts with ours, and we decided to invite a few to come and consult with us on the subject of forming a Ladies’ Society. The neighboring sisters met in my parlor and decided to organize. I was delegated to call on Sister Eliza R. Snow and ask her to write for us a Constitution and By-laws, and submit them to President Joseph Smith prior to our next Thursday’s meeting. She cheefully responded and when she read them to him he replied that the Constitution and By-laws were the best he had ever seen. “But,” he said, “this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord, and he has something better for them than a written Constitution. I invite them all to meet with me and a few of the brethren in the Masonic Hall over my store next Thursday afternoon, and I will organize the women under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.” He further said, “The Church was never perfectly organized.” He wished to have Sister Emma Smith elected to preside in fulfillment of the revelation which called her an Elect Lady.
In the wandering and persecutions of the Church I have participated, and in the blessings, endowments, and holy anointings and precious promises that I have received. To sorrow I have not been a stranger, but I only write this short sketch to instruct and happily, so I will skip to Salt Lake City, September, 1851, with my two sons, Hiram, and Oliver, my widowed mother, Lydia Dibble Granger, Anna Robbins, a girl that lived with me nine years and married my youngest brother, and my two brothers, Lafayette and Farley B. Granger. My husband was detained in New York City, and had become financially embarassed. The next year he came to me financially ruined and broken in health.
I engaged in school teaching in the 14th Ward to sustain and educate my family. My salary was only $25.00 per month, but that was much to us at that time.
April 1st, 1854, my youngest son was born. I discontinued school three months, then opened school in my home. I taught eight years.
I should have remarked that on arriving here I sold our fit out (team, etc.) for a comfortable little home; this I have always considered providential. The Indian agent gave me a nine years old wild Indian girl, whom I educated and raised. She died at nineteen. I named her Katie.
My mother, who had lived with me 20 years, died in 1861, aged 73.
My husband drowned March 1st, 1863, in the Pacific Ocean by the wreck of the steamer Ida Hancock, off the coast of San Pedro, on his way to the Sandwich Islands, aged 62.
I was elected President of the 15th Ward Relief Society, February 7th, 1857.
In December, 1865, a little girl was brought to me whom I adopted.
November 13, 1868, a silver trowel and mallet were furnished me and, assisted by a master mason and surrounded by an assemblage of people, I had the honor of laying the corner stone of the first Relief Society Building erected in this dispensation.
Sarah M. Kimball
(End of “Auto-biography” as found in the Woman’s Exponent)
All direct quotes in this post were taken from Sarah M. Kimball by Jim Mulvay Derr; Copyright Utah State Historical Society, 1976, and reprinted by permission by Signature Books.