Literary DCGD #38: Song of the Sisters of the Relief Society

September 29, 2013 | no comments
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Emily Hill WoodmanseeOften when we discuss the principles of welfare today, we talk as if the whole idea of welfare developed in the 1930s, along with the current program. In reality, before the current program caring for the needy, poor and promoting self-reliance were largely the purview of the Relief Society. And so it is a Song of the Sisters of the Relief Society (familiar today since it is the poem on which the current hymn, As Sisters in Zion, is based — Julie also posted here on Times and Seasons about this poem) that I present below to help us understand the principles of welfare.

Its author, Emily Hill Woodmansee, was an English convert who immigrated to Utah with her sister Julia in the Willie Handcart company and somehow survived the tragedy. In Utah Emily first married William G. Mills, who later denounced the Church and abandoned his families. She then married Joseph Woodmansee in 1864 and turned her talents to raising a family and writing poetry for the Woman’s Exponent and other LDS-oriented publications. As Kaimi pointed out several years ago, eight of Woodmansee’s hymns, (not including the poem below) were included in the 1927 LDS hymnal. Two of these survived in the 1948 hymnal, but none of the eight are in our current hymnal. In that book she is now only represented by As Sisters in Zion, which was re-discovered as the compilers sought a suitable poem about the Relief Society. But for some reason, the compilers substantially re-wrote the poem for the current hymn.

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Song of the Sisters of the Relief Society

by Emily H. Woodmansee

As sisters in Zion, We’ll all pull together,
The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek:
We’ll build up His kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary, and strengthen the weak.

 

We’ll turn from our follies, our pride and our weakness,
The vain, foolish fashions of Babel despise;
We’ll seek for the garments of truth and of meekness,
And learn to be useful and happy and wise.

 

We’ll wear what is sensible, neat and becoming
The daughters of Zion—the angels of light;
We’ll work with a will, while the angels are scanning
Our aims and our actions from morning till night.

 

We’ll bring up our children to be self-sustaining;
To love and to do what is noble and right;
When we rest from our labors, these dear ones remaining,
Will bear off the kingdom and “fight the good fight.”

 

Nor shall our attention be wholly restricted
To training our children or shaping our dress;
The aged, the feeble, the poor and afflicted,
Our labors shall comfort, our efforts shall bless.

 

“The Lord hath established the cities of Zion,
The poor of His people are trusting in Him,”
He makes us a source for His poor to rely on;
Oh! shall we not brighten the eyes that are dim.

 

Oh! shall we not hasten to soothe the condition
Of the humble, the needy, the honest and pure?
Oh! let us remember, whate’er our ambition—
‘Tis our duty, our mission, to comfort the poor.

 

‘Tis the office of angels, conferred upon woman;
And this is a right that, as women, we claim;
To do whatsoever is gentle and human;
To cheer and to bless in humanity’s name.

 

How vast are our labors; how broad is our mission,
If we only fulfill it in spirit and deed;
Oh! naught but the Spirit’s divinest tuition—
Can give us the wisdom to truly succeed.

 

Then, as sisters in Zion, we’ll all pull together;
The blessing of God on our labors we’ll seek;
We’ll build up the kingdom with earnest endeavor;
We’ll comfort the weary and strengtten the weak.

Women’s Exponent, v3 n13, 1 November 1874, p. 98

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I love that the vision of charitable work described here is so complete. Woodmansee discusses self-reliance (called in the poem “”self-sustaining”) and says we teach our children that principle. Then, she also addresses our responsibility to the poor:

The aged, the feeble, the poor and afflicted,
Our labors shall comfort, our efforts shall bless.

And, in case its not clear, Woodmansee emphasizes that this is not merely good to do—helping the poor is an obligation:

Oh! shall we not hasten to soothe the condition
Of the humble, the needy, the honest and pure?
Oh! let us remember, whate’er our ambition—
‘Tis our duty, our mission, to comfort the poor.

May we all catch the vision that Woodmansee describes here.

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