Jenny Reeder is a historian and writer, currently the nineteenth-century women’s history specialist at the Church History Department in the publications division, and was one of the first historians hired to specialize in women’s history. She holds a PhD in American history from George Mason University, specializing in women’s history, religious history, memory, and material culture. She also holds degrees from Brigham Young University, Arizona State University, and New York University. She served a mission in Italy, and has served three times as a ward Relief Society president, including when she was in graduate school and fighting leukemia. Jenny has collaborated on several books about Latter-day Saint women’s history and is the author of First: The Life and Faith of Emma Smith.

Jennifer Reeder


2:50 Writing her book about Emma Smith. Her goal was to write about her as a pillar of the Restoration and a significant founder of the Church with Joseph, and to make her a real woman and show how complicated her life was, her commitment, and her heartbreak.
5:20 So many members of the Church have been influenced to believe she was a fallen person because she did not come west with the other pioneers, but she retained her testimony and hers is a story of redemption.
7:45 Jenny’s experience with cancer while serving as a Relief Society president during her time in graduate school at George Mason

  • Participating in ward council from her hospital bed
  • Visiting with less-active people and learning to receive service
  • Sending emails and physical cards to people as she was prompted
  • Finding her purpose outside of “not dying”

15:15 Serving is an opportunity to learn, serve, and receive revelation in way you haven’t before, and this can be a blessing in a difficult time.
19:00 The goals of RS were to provide relief and save souls. She found relief for herself as she provided relief to others, and came to understand the Atonement on a deeper level.
21:00 Developing relationships that continue: maintaining relationships from her old ward has been powerful for everyone as they have rallied together to support each other through difficult times.
23:00 The Church was never really organized until the Relief Society was organized. Having women involved is significant and they have Priesthood authority in their stewardship. The most beneficial experience is when they are recognized for that leadership and allowed to do what they can.
27:00 Emma’s instructions in Doctrine and Covenants Section 25

  • Emma struggled with her role to teach and had to learn how to lead
  • In Nauvoo Relief Society, you had to apply for membership. It was a step toward being able to participate in temple ordinances.
  • Emma’s role in creating the hymnbook, and being the first woman to receive her endowment
  • She was called to be a support for Joseph: significance of the words “comfort” and “office”, and of leaving her family to go with him and to stay with him

36:50 The Relief Society was told to create offices to expand what they needed
39:00 Speaking up to have your voice heard: It was not normal for women to speak publicly in the 19th century, and even now women can be unaccustomed to speaking and leading

  • Eliza R. Snow was asked to assist bishops and to instruct the sisters, but she was not accustomed to speaking out, but she learned how to do this and taught others how
  • Relief Society was shut down and Eliza became the de facto Relief Society president before she was called by John Taylor, which was also after the death of Emma

46:30 President Nelson has called for women to speak up and speak out

  • Speaking up in discussions as well as in councils
  • Relief Society was previously more discussion-oriented, and then moved more to a lesson/lecture format. The move back to discussion with Come Follow Me works better to involve more people.

52:15 There was a deep commitment to Relief Society that we don’t seem to have today

  • Her favorite Nauvoo Relief Society: Zinah Jacobs Young’s experience becoming a member of Relief Society
  • Eliza’s expansion of that idea as she traveled and taught: Relief Society brings women together and gathers their embers in to a flame of fire
  • 55:15 Eliza’s letter: “May you have a copious refreshment of the Spirit”; they felt the Spirit as a purifying stream

57:30 The Relief Society president is enlarged as she calls on the sisters to do ministering: Eliza instructed them to go into the homes of the people and re-light the fires of the sisters; meet their needs to provide relief to them.
1:00:30 The influence of otherwise-unknown women leaders

  • Jane Lyman’s story and her discourse in At the Pulpit: Charity covers a multitude of sins
  • Talk by unknown Eleanor Georgina Jones, about prayer: “Prayer is the key to the statehouse of our understanding.” “There is no pit so deep, no hole so dark, that you cannot reach out to your Heavenly Father in prayer.”
  • We need the voices of the people on the margins

1:07:45 These women have become her hosts, sitting with her in difficult times and as she has studied them. They can provide depth as our spiritual sisters.


First: The Life and Faith of Emma Smith
A Place to Belong: Reflections from Modern Latter-day Saint Women
The Witness of Women: Firsthand Experiences and Testimonies from the Restoration
At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women
Read the TRANSCRIPT of this podcast

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