“Provoking the Brethren to Good Works”

Susa Young Gates, the Relief Society, and Genealogy



Around the year 1918 Susa Young Gates, one of the Latter-day Saint Church’s most influential women and one sometimes jokingly referred to as the “thirteenth apostle,” was preparing a history of Latter-day Saint women. One chapter indicated that despite male leadership in the Genealogical Society of Utah, it was the women who were most responsible for making genealogy catch on within the Church, for women were doing more of both genealogical research and temple work than were the men. In a witty reminder of the special role she thought women were playing, Susa observed that the old-time motto of the women’s auxiliary committee of the Genealogical Society of Utah ran thus: “Let us provoke the brethren to good works, yet not provoke the brethren while we work.” She may have been indulging in a bit of good-natured sarcasm when she allowed that the men of the priesthood naturally bear off the heavier and more exacting responsibilities of directing, guiding and presiding over the labors performed by women, but there was no denying that it was really the women who were doing the most to bring genealogical work into prominence in Latter-day Saint life. What follows is the story of the early contribution of women, particularly of Susa Young Gates, to genealogical work among the Latter-day Saints. The story is significant not just for what it says about the history of genealogy, but also for what it says about the nature of some Latter-day Saint women in the early twentieth century and their relationship to the Church.


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