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Uncovering Mormon women's history in Utah County

PROVO — Disguised as a car dealership, a tithing office or even a garden shed, 19th century Relief Society history dots the Utah County landscape. And participants at the Mormon History Association 50th annual conference uncovered these historical treasures on a Mormon Women's History tour of Utah County on June 5.

One such historical landmark, the Lehi Relief Society Hall at 212 W. Main St., is now Car Town, a used car dealership. Participants on the tour could see the gables and stucco building behind the car dealership logo.

Jenny Reeder of the Church History Department explained the importance of early Relief Society Halls where women met to do service, teach church lessons, and socialize: “Because the Relief Society women had space, it legitimized their authority. And the buildings themselves, along with the church buildings, legitimized these burgeoning Utah Valley towns.”

Tour leaders Reeder and Andrea Radke-Moss, a history professor at Brigham Young University-Idaho, stumbled upon the Mapleton Relief Society Hall when they noticed a large brick shed in the back of a Mapleton home at 245 E. Maple. Tour participants were able to walk inside to see an old stove, and LDS Church Assistant Historian Richard Turley explained that while the space looked small, “they could comfortably fit 40 women inside to learn about the gospel.”

Eliza Snow, who served as the second general Relief Society president, traveled from Salt Lake often to help found the Utah Valley Relief Societies in the 1860s. Reeder explained that she brought along the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book to “literally and figuratively guide them to start their Relief Society” in providing an example of how the women should organize and keep records of their experiences. The historic book is online at the Joseph Smith Papers Project website.

An example of an early 20th century Relief Society Hall, the one in Pleasant Grove at 7 S. 300 East, shared space as a tithing office. Reeder explained that a hallmark of these early Utah County Mormon women was that they “bought the materials and built their own halls, or even used someone's home or any other space they could procure. They worked with what they had and made it their own, beautifying and building their communities in the process.”

And glimpses of their work can still be seen today.

Emily W. Jensen enjoys presenting the best from the world of LDS-oriented blog sites. Email: ejensen@deseretnews.com