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Relieving the poor: The Ephraim Relief Society Granary

The Relief Society sisters owned the Ephraim Granary to sell grain, eggs, quilts and to give to the poor

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The Ephraim Relief Society Granary is pictured on April 5, 2020.

The Ephraim Relief Society Granary is pictured on April 5, 2020. Today, the Ephraim Granary is the only Relief Society granary that is open to the public.

Granary arts, Wikimedia Commons

Mormon crickets and grasshoppers nearly decimated the harvest soon after Latter-day Saint pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. After these difficult years, many Latter-day Saints started storing grain to avoid their previous trials, to exercise principles of self-reliance and to feed the poor.

As part of the grain storage efforts, the saints constructed the Ephraim Relief Society Granary between 1872 and 1875. The initial efforts to store grain were unsuccessful, so in 1876, Brigham Young asked Emmeline B. Wells to head the grain storage program.

Wells and the Relief Society soon took charge of the program and began organizing the harvesting and storing of grain. During the formation of the Nauvoo Relief Society, the minutes recorded, “Mov’d by Pres. Smith, that Mrs. Smith proceed to choose her Counsellors, that they may be ordain’d to preside over this Society, in taking care of the poor — administering to their wants, and attending to the various affairs of this Institution.”

Caring for the poor and needy was a central part of the Relief Society. On June 9, 1842, Joseph Smith said that the Relief Society “is not only to relieve the poor, but to save souls.” This ministry to the poor and the afflicted characterized the Relief Society and their efforts with the Ephraim Granary.

The granary was operational from 1872 to 1914. The Relief Society used it to store grain, but it also used the second floor as a hall. There it held community and cultural events, rendering it a gathering place.

The building itself had a chute where workers would slide grain down to storage bins. Sometimes carrying infants on their backs, pioneer women would slide grain down the chute to the basement. The grain stored there was used as food storage as well as for charity.

The Ephraim Relief Society would send chapter representatives to Salt Lake City to annual meetings. There they would coordinate their distribution and management of grain. Ephraim Relief Society President Sarah Peterson’s name appeared on the deeds for the granary.

Florence Peterson Faux wrote, “When it was finally thrashed, Sarah had raised 60 bushels of wheat. This she divided with the settlers — it was their salvation, for by frugal, careful managing, it supplied bread for the little settlement all winter. They called it ‘Salvation Wheat’ and when it was almost gone, Sarah put some in a small bottle to show her husband when he came home from his mission.”

Peterson kept the little bottle of wheat all her life and when her husband was buried, she placed the bottle with him in the casket.

Due to the lack of cash economy in Utah, the granary would collect in-kind donations instead of cash. The Relief Society further mobilized the granary to help the poor. The group would collect donations and store grain to distribute locally to the poor and to sustain church needs. The Ephraim Relief Society would work with tithing offices to help the poor.

In addition to grain, the Ephraim Relief Society also sold handmade items, Sunday eggs, quilts made from wool and dairy products.

As one of only nine Relief Society granaries owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this granary was significant. It provided women a space in the public sphere to manage public affairs.

In a report on the Sanpete County Relief Societies’ success, edited by Wells, they recorded, “The county has been very energetic in storing up wheat, and much of it has been gleaned by the women and children. ... There are quite a number of buildings owned by women in the county, one or two of them quite large and commodious, and in some places, there are stores and millinery establishments managed entirely by the Relief Society.”

In addition to the success of the granary, the Ephraim Relief Society used the building for other business affairs. The “History of the Relief Society in Ephraim” recorded that the women acted as morticians, midwives, nurses and provided food and shelter for the poor. The women also aided in constructing buildings.

The Ephraim Relief Society eventually ceased operations. One of the last charitable efforts the members engaged in was during World War I. The Relief Society collected grain to give to the needy and afflicted during that time. The grain program was the longest running and most successful program in the history of the Relief Society.

While the building was owned in the names of Relief Society women, they eventually sold it to the Ephraim Milling and Elevator Co. in 1915. The granary remained operational for several years until economic hardship hit Ephraim. In 1969, the Ephraim Enterprise newspaper ran a piece about how the granary would be destroyed, but that decision was reversed within two months.

The community rallied together to preserve the pioneer building and it was saved in 1990 when the funds were secured to preserve the building.

Today, the Ephraim Granary is the only Relief Society granary that is open to the public.