Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Your Grandmother’s Nauvoo Monument

Your Grandmother’s Nauvoo Monument

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 08, 2010

Most readers are probably familiar with the Monument to Women – 13 life- or larger-than-life-size bronze sculptures set in a beautifully landscaped garden in Nauvoo, Illinois. One of the sculptures depicts Joseph Smith placing the first charitable donation in the hand of Emma Smith; the other dozen sculptures depict a woman in prayer, in study, in creative activity, and in various family or social roles. Dennis Smith sculpted eleven of the pieces; Florence Hansen sculpted the remaining two. The Monument was sponsored by the women of the Relief Society, and it was dedicated by President Spencer W. Kimball in the summer of 1978.

The monument is beautiful, grand, and meaningful.

It isn’t Nauvoo’s first monument to women, though.

Then-apostle George Albert Smith is credited with initiating the plan to raise a monument to the Relief Society at Nauvoo. Addressing the General Relief Society Conference in October, 1932, he said, “We have been marking the pioneer trails. I may get myself into difficulty by making a recommendation, but I think there is one thing lacking in the City of Nauvoo. There ought to be a monument to the Relief Society in that City.”

Less than a year later, and despite the deepening Depression, the monument was a reality.

General Relief Society President Louise Y. Robison visited Nauvoo in April, 1933. The site she desired for the monument was on the grounds of Joseph Smith’s “red brick store,” the site of the organization of the Relief Society on March 17, 1842. That ground, however, was owned by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now Community of Christ). President Robison and Elder Smith approached Frederick M. Smith, President of the RLDS church and a grandson of Joseph Smith, about the project. On behalf of his own family and his church, President Smith cooperated with the Relief Society. He was particularly pleased with the recognition such a monument would give to his own grandmother, Emma Smith, as first president of the Relief Society. Samuel O. Bennion, LDS mission president in the midwest, also was a major factor in making arrangements for the memorial.

Elias Morris and Sons Co. of Salt Lake City, ordinarily primarily engaged in carving grave markers, undertook the work of securing a suitable stone for the Relief Society monument. They selected a pillar of Tennessee quartzite, harder than granite, and shaped the monument. Salt Lake Stamp Company cast the bronze tablets to be mounted on the stone back. The chief tablet bore an image of the red brick store above these words:

National Woman’s Relief Society

This monument marks the site of the building in the upper room of which the Female Relief Society, now the National Woman’s Relief Society, was organized March 17, 1842, by the Prophet Joseph Smith, First President of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, assisted by John Taylor and Willard Richards.

The charter officers were: Emma Hale Smith, President; Sarah M. Cleveland, First Counselor; Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Second Counselor; Eliza R. Snow, Secretary; Phoebe M. Wheeler, Assistant Secretary; Elvira A. Cowles, Treasurer.

The purposes of the Society were to care for the poor, minister to the sick, comfort the sorrowing, teach righteousness and strengthen the morals of the community.

The original minutes and records were taken by Eliza R. Snow to Utah, where the work of the organization was continued by the Church. Of the eighteen charter members three became Presidents. The seven women who have presided over the organization are: Emma Hale Smith, Eliza R. Snow, Zina D.H. Young, Bathsheba W. Smith, Emmeline B. Wells, Clarissa Smith Williams and Louise Yates Robison. The present membership, in 1933, is 67,000.

Keeping pace with the development of the Church of jesus Christ of Latter-dcay Saints, this society has become potent for benevolence, education and progress among women.

First Counselor
Second Counselor

This monument, erected by the National Woman’s Relief Society, with headquarters at Salt Lake City, Utah, is placed on this site through the courtesy of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, with headquarters at Independence, Missouri, owner of this property.

The monument was shipped to Nauvoo and set in place in time for dedication services on July 26, 1933, although the landscaping had not yet then been completed (later, low shrubs and flower beds surrounded the marker). A large group of LDS officials (leaders of the Relief Society, YMMIA, and Primary), a number of mission presidents, and Elder George Albert Smith, met there. RLDS officials in attendance included President Smith, three of his sisters, and nine other direct descendants of Joseph and Emma Smith. The general population of Nauvoo and the surrounding area were also invited. Illinois Governor Henry Horner sent a personal representative, W.D. Chenery, to read a congratulatory message on behalf of the governor. James L. Ogden, mayor of Nauvoo, took part in the program.


After singing, prayer, speeches from leaders of the various ecclesiastical and political groups, and historical sketches outlining the purpose of the monument, three women released the flag that had covered the monument. Those young women were Bertha A. Hulmes of Grosse Ile, Michigan (a great-granddaughter of Joseph and Emma) and her daughter Barbara Hulmes, and Helen Claire Robison of Boston, Massachusetts, a granddaughter of Louise Yates Robison.



More speeches and singing followed – including “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning” and “Now Let Us Rejoice in the Day of Salvation,” both hymns sung at the 1842 organizational meeting of the Relief Society. The visitors from Salt Lake also laid wreaths on the nearby graves of Joseph, Emma, and Hyrum Smith.

Ladies from the RLDS church served luncheon in the Nauvoo House. The Unity Club of Nauvoo then sponsored a tour for the visitors to several historic homes in Nauvoo, and to nearby Carthage.



Later that evening, many of the same people gathered again at the site for a number of short speeches and community singing

Landscaping was soon completed, and the monument became a regular stop on the Nauvoo tours of visiting Latter-day Saints.



In 1952, the RLDS church requested that the site be cleared – I do not know the background of that request. The monument was relocated to LDS-owned property on the Nauvoo Temple site and stood there until 1988. That year, it was moved to the entrance to the Monument to Women Memorial Gardens, where it remains today.




  1. I had not known of this. I’m glad they preserved the original in connection with the new memorial. I noticed the Relief Society banner (flag/ensign?) in the third b&w picture. I seem to recall seeing banners in other 19th and early 20th century pictures of church events. Were they pretty common?

    I have not been to Nauvoo, but have been pretty familiar with the new monument. My wife’s mother, an accomplished amateur artist, had done a model of the new monument in miniature, with individual clay sculptures about two inches high, complete with trees and shrubs about 25 years ago.

    Comment by kevinf — December 8, 2010 @ 10:08 am

  2. I’ve got a planned post on banners, kevinf, and will have to finish that up for you soon!

    The model sounds fun. The monuments have been done in cross-stitch, too — any other media? And perhaps I should have mentioned that copies of many of the sculptures can be found in Salt Lake, in the plaza behind the Church Office Building and even sponsored by some commercial institutions on Main Street.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 10:17 am

  3. Great story! Had no idea. And enjoyed all the pics, too.

    Comment by David Y. — December 8, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  4. Brownie points to the first one who realizes why I put this post up this morning.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 12:17 pm

  5. Hmm… what could I use brownie points for? : )

    It wasn’t the organization of the Relief Society since that was in March 1842, but my sources note that December 8, 1867, was the day that Brigham Young reorganized the Relief Society in Utah.

    Comment by Researcher — December 8, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

  6. Ah, I didn’t know that, Researcher, so that wasn’t the reason, but you deserve the brownie points anyway.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

  7. I know, I know!!!

    I just read the latest installment of our serial story Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd. It was mentioned there!

    Comment by Coffinberry — December 8, 2010 @ 1:31 pm

  8. Yeah! Now I can add a link from that story to this post.

    Double round of brownie points to Coffinberry!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

  9. Ardis, this is lovely. I’ve visited the Women’s monument in Nauvoo (twice) but never knew this story. Thanks for sharing it!

    Comment by Paul — December 8, 2010 @ 1:41 pm

  10. There’s always more, isn’t there?

    I’m glad this is being enjoyed. The newer monument is certainly lovely and more elaborate, but I think the women of the Relief Society in the ’30s and ’40s valued the original marker just as much. It was our (LDS, in contrast to RLDS) first visible presence in Nauvoo, too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  11. S’whelp me, that new Relief Society history book oughta include a link to Keepa, because so much of Relief Society history has been coming to life for me here.

    Comment by Coffinberry — December 8, 2010 @ 1:48 pm

  12. I was surprised by the name “National Women’s Relief Society” — was the church’s organization so named at the time or was that just for the monument?

    Comment by Paul — December 8, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

  13. That was its name, Paul, sort of a relic, I think, of the independence of the Relief Society (it was an auxiliary, yes, but also an independent entity), as well as of the days from the 1880s on through the 1960s when the Relief Society used to take part in national and international women’s organizations and congresses and conferences.

    Coffinberry, that warms my heart! (And if anybody in the know is reading this, I would soooooo love to be involved in writing that history. I don’t have a clue as to how to break into the golden circle, though, so all I can do is stand here waving my arm and calling “Ask me! Ask me!”)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

  14. December 8 is also the day the Joseph and Hyrum Memorial arrived in Nauvoo. (2003)

    Comment by reed russell — December 8, 2010 @ 4:17 pm

  15. Serendipity (or is it synchronicity?) is dripping from the screen today.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 8, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

  16. I didn’t know about this either, Ardis. Thank you.

    Comment by J. Stapley — December 8, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

  17. B. Pykles’ Excavating Nauvoo book briefly discusses the 1952 request (pp. 49-50), but the lack of footnotes led me to wonder how much of it was conjecture, however plausible.

    Comment by justin — December 8, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

  18. I didn’t know all of this story, either, although I have seen the marker in Nauvoo.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — December 8, 2010 @ 7:41 pm

  19. Awesome! Our ward is having a Nauvoo themed Christmas Activity on Saturday. I wonder how I can introduce this.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — December 9, 2010 @ 9:07 am

  20. Bruce, be sure to point out that the monument is of Tennessee stone!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 9, 2010 @ 9:22 am

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