The town of Kingston, Utah, was settled as a United Order community, whose inhabitants pooled their economic, spiritual, and social resources and attempted to live the law of consecration from 1875 to 1882. Their main business was farming, supplemented by a major dairy operation, the raising of cattle and horses, and operation of a saw mill, grist mill, and woollen factory. They left excellent records in the form of an official Order journal, church minutes, and diaries of individual members.
In 1878, the women of the Order decided they wanted to form a Relief Society, as so many other wards had done, to encourage themselves in charitable works and to unite them more closely as sisters. There was an unexpected snag on the road to Relief Society, however â€“ the goals of the United Order itself.
Kingstonâ€™s founding president was in favor of the Relief Society: â€œSome might say that in the Order there was not so much need of a Relief Society. But it was very requisite.â€ He encouraged the sisters to take care of the sick and distressed, to follow Brigham Youngâ€™s admonition to lay up grain against coming hard times, to learn silk raising and manufacture their own fine clothing, so long as all the sisters fared alike and did not raise one above another.
But the Order president died after only a few months, and his son, the bishop, assumed the Orderâ€™s major leadership roles. He did not endorse the Relief Society as whole-heartedly as had his father. He learned that the sisters had raised a fund to contribute to the building of temples and to aid missionaries. He objected to that fund as an unsanctioned drain on the Order: He â€œthought there was a little difference between the Relief Societies in the Order and those that are not, and if the Relief Society had raised a fund it had come out of the Order. He did not see where else it could come from.â€ If the women wanted credit for temple building, then he would permit the Orderâ€™s contribution (made at his discretion) to be partially credited to the Relief Society â€“ but he disparaged their vanity in wanting to make a name for themselves among the other Societies.
He really didnâ€™t seem to think there was any need for a Relief Society. They couldnâ€™t relieve the wants of the poor, really, because all in the Order were poor together. When the women went into the fields after harvest and gleaned 50 bushels of wheat that would otherwise have been wasted, he insisted it be turned over to him in case the Order needed it.
He wasnâ€™t even sure there was any need for a womenâ€™s organization to take care of the sick â€“ the mandate had been, he insisted, specific to Nauvoo and was now unnecessary: â€œThat was a very sickly locality and the object was to relieve the sick and afflicted, but now the Saints were in different circumstances. They were not sickly now.â€ Still, he grudgingly allowed that if anybody in the Order were to fall ill, it would be okay for the sisters to go do that personâ€™s laundry. Otherwise, the Order â€œwas sadly in need of womenâ€™s help,â€ so they should attend to their home duties and to chores in the communal kitchen.
The Relief Society meetings and minutes consist almost exclusively of testimonies borne, and the women appear to have been amenable to their bishopâ€™s instructions and supportive of the Order. Still, there is a wistful tone to the testimony borne by the Relief Society president a few weeks after the bishopâ€™s visit: â€œWhen she read, in the Exponent, the reports of other Relief Societies and what they were doing toward gathering the poor Saints, building Temples, and storing grain as the Sisters had been called on to do, and thought we were doing nothing, it seemed there must be something wrong.â€
Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether this specific bishop was overstepping his bounds, this incident raises some interesting questions: In a society where members hold all things in common, is there any possibility â€“ or any need â€“ for material charity? Does living a higher law (in this case, the 19th century United Order), excuse you from a prophetâ€™s temporal instructions (in this case, the mandate that women lay up grain)? What role would Relief Society play under the economic structure of a United Order?