Relief Society

Relief Society
Relief Society

Relief Society Seal
Motto "Charity never faileth"
Formation March 17, 1842
Type Non-profit
Purpose/focus gospel instruction, women's/familial support, humanitarian aid
Headquarters Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Membership 6 million women in over 170 countries.[1]
General President Julie B. Beck
Parent organization The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Website Official website

The Relief Society (RS) is a philanthropic and educational women's organization and an official auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). It was founded in 1842 in Nauvoo, Illinois, USA and has approximately 6 million members in over 170 countries and territories. The Relief Society is often referred to by the church and others as "one of the oldest and largest women's organizations in the world."[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]



The motto of the Relief Society, taken from 1 Corinthians 13:8, is "Charity never faileth".[9] The official purpose of Relief Society is to "prepare women for the blessings of eternal life by helping them increase their faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need. Relief Society accomplishes these purposes through Sunday gospel instruction, other Relief Society meetings, visiting teaching, and welfare and compassionate service."[9]


Emma Smith, wife of Joseph Smith, Jr., was the first General President of the Relief Society


In the spring of 1842 Sarah Granger Kimball and her seamstress, Margaret A. Cook, discussed combining their efforts to sew clothing for workers constructing the Latter Day Saints' Nauvoo Temple. They determined to invite their neighbors to assist by creating a Ladies' Society. Kimball asked Eliza R. Snow to write a constitution and by-laws for the organization for submission to Latter Day Saint Church President Joseph Smith for review. After reviewing the documents, Smith called them "the best he had ever seen" but said, "this is not what you want. Tell the sisters their offering is accepted of the Lord , and He has something better for them than a written constitution. . . . I will organize the women under the priesthood after a pattern of the priesthood."[10]

Twenty women gathered on Thursday, March 17, 1842 in the second-story meeting room over Smith's Red Brick Store in Nauvoo. Smith, John Taylor, and Willard Richards sat on the platform at the upper end of the room with the women facing them. "The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning" was sung, and Taylor opened the meeting with prayer. The women in attendance at the initial meeting were: Emma Hale Smith, Sarah M. Cleveland, Phebe Ann Hawkes, Elizabeth Jones, Sophia Packard, Philinda Merrick, Martha Knight, Desdemona Fulmer, Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Leonora Taylor, Bathsheba W. Smith, Phebe M. Wheeler, Elvira A. Coles (Cowles; later Elivira A. C. Holmes), Margaret A. Cook, Athalia Robinson, Sarah Granger Kimball, Eliza R. Snow, Sophia Robinson, Nancy Rigdon and Sophia R. Marks. Additionally, eight other women not present that day were admitted to membership: Sarah Higbee, Thirza Cahoon, Keziah A. Morrison, Marinda N. Hyde, Abigail Allred, Mary Snider, Sarah S. Granger, and Cynthia Ann Eldredge.[11]

Smith stated "the object of the Society—that the Society of Sisters might provoke the brethren to good works in looking to the wants of the poor—searching after objects of charity, and in administering to their wants—to assist; by correcting the morals and strengthening the virtues of the female community, and save the Elders the trouble of rebuking; that they may give their time to other duties, &c., in their public teaching."[12] Smith also proposed that the women elect a presiding officer who would choose two counselors to assist her. Emma Hale Smith was elected unanimously as president. She chose Sarah M. Cleveland and Elizabeth Ann Whitney as her two counselors. John Taylor was appointed to ordain the women and he did so.

It was proposed that the organization go by the name Benevolent Society and with no opposition the vote carried. However, Emma Smith made a point of objection. She convinced the attendees that the term "relief" would better reflect the purpose of the organization, for they were "going to do something extraordinary," distinct from the popular benevolent institutions of the day.[13] After discussion, it was unanimously agreed that the fledgling organization be named The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. Joseph Smith then offered five dollars in gold to commence the funds of the Society and the men left the room. Eliza R. Snow was unanimously elected as secretary of the Society with Phebe M. Wheeler as Assistant Secretary and Elvira A. Coles as Treasurer. Emma Smith remarked that "each member should be ambitious to do good" and seek out and relieve the distressed.[14] Several female members then made donations to the Society. The men returned, and Taylor and Richards also made donations. After singing "Come Let Us Rejoice," the meeting was adjourned to meet on the following Thursday at 10 o'clock. Taylor then gave a closing prayer. Of his experience Joseph Smith recorded: "I attended by request, the Female Relief Society, whose object is the relief of the poor, the destitute, the widow and the orphan, and for the exercise of all benevolent purposes. . . .[W]e feel convinced that with their concentrated efforts, the condition of the suffering poor, of the stranger and the fatherless will be ameliorated"[15]

The new organization was popular and grew so rapidly that finding a meeting place for such a large group proved difficult. Under Emma Smith's direction, the Society was "divided for the purpose of meeting" according to each of the city's four municipal wards.[16] Emma and her counselors continued to preside over the groups. Visiting committees were appointed to determine needs in each ward. Young mother Sarah Pea Rich, wife of Charles C. Rich, recalled, "We then, as a people were united and were more like family than like strangers."[17] By March 1844, membership totaled 1331 women.[18] The last recorded meeting of the Relief Society in Nauvoo was held on March 16, 1844.[19]

Moving west

Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were taken into legal custody and then killed by a mob at Carthage, Illinois on June 27, 1844. After their deaths, local church members focused on completing the Nauvoo Temple and performing ordinances before leaving the city.

When Relief Society secretary Eliza R. Snow joined the Saints in their exodus west in 1846, she carried the Relief Society Book of Records with her. Although they no longer met in an official capacity, women continued to assemble informally; the care and nurture of the needy continued without a formal Relief Society organization.[20]

As Saints established homes in the Great Salt Lake valley and surrounding settlements, formal meetings for women gradually emerged. A Female Council of Health was established in 1851.[21] On January 24, 1854, in response to Brigham Young’s call to Saints to assist neighboring Native Americans, women from several Salt Lake City wards decided to organize "a socity of females for the purpose of makeing clothing for Indian women and children."[22] Two weeks later, February 9, 1854, they formally organized an association remembered as the "Indian Relief Society." Matilda Dudley was elected president and treasurer, Mary Hawkins and Mary Bird as counselors, Louisa R. Taylor as secretary, and Amanda Barnes Smith as assistant secretary. Twelve other women were listed as charter members.[23] Though these Mormon women were poor in material goods, they felt the need of Native Americans exceeded their own. Over the next four months their efforts to clothe Indian women and children continued in earnest. In June 1854 Brigham Young encouraged women to form societies in their individual wards. Members of the first Indian Relief Society disbanded to help establish organizations in their own wards, many of them becoming leaders. Matilda Dudley, for example, became president of the Thirteenth Ward Relief Society with Augusta Cobb and Sarah A. Cook as her counselors and Martha Jane Coray as secretary. Records are limited but show that by 1858 over two dozen organizations had formed in some twelve Salt Lake City wards and in other outlaying settlements such as Ogden, Provo, Spanish Fork, and Manti, Utah. Each Relief Society operated independently within its ward in cooperation with the local bishop. Ward societies apparently were not interconnected by central women’s leadership, though many of them engaged in similar activities such as sewing clothing for Indians, caring for the poor, especially emigrants, and weaving carpets for local meetinghouses.[24]

In 2004, historian Carol Holindrake Nielson documented the organization, activities and membership of the Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward Relief Society. The Fourteenth Ward included Temple Square and eleven residential squares to the south and west. This section contained the homes of many church leaders. Among others, the ward Relief Society roll included the names of Leonora Taylor and Jane B. Taylor, wives of John Taylor; Elizabeth B. Pratt, Kezia D. Pratt and Phoebe Soper Pratt, wives of Parley P. Pratt; and Phebe W. Woodruff, Emma Woodruff, Sarah Woodruff, Sarah Delight Woodruff, Phebe A. Woodruff, Susan C. Woodruff, Bulah Woodruff, wives and daughters of Wilford Woodruff.[25]

Interrupted by the 1858 Utah War, no more than three or four of these independent ward organizations survived the temporary move of much of the Mormon population south of Salt Lake County.[26]


14th Ward Relief Society Hall Circa 1893.

In December 1867 Church President Brigham Young publicly called for the reorganization of Relief Society in every ward. Eliza R. Snow provided a historical account of the society and described its purpose to seek "not only for the relief of the poor, but the accomplishment of every good and noble work."[27] Young again addressed the need to establish local Relief Society units at the church's 1868 April conference, stating: Now, Bishops, you have smart women for wives, many of you. Let them organize Female Relief Societies in the various wards. We have many talented women among us . . . . You will find that the sisters will be the mainspring of the movement.[28] Snow was then assigned to assist local bishops in organizing permanent branches of the Relief Society. Using the minutes recorded in the early Nauvoo meetings as a Constitution, Snow created a standard model for all local wards that united women in purpose and provided a permanent name and structure to their organization. She and nine other sisters began visiting wards and settlements in 1868, and at the end of the year, organizations existed in all twenty Salt Lake City congregations and in congregations in nearly every county in Utah.

Ward branches of the Relief Society performed a variety of functions. Women helped the bishop of the ward assist the poor by collecting and disbursing funds and commodities. They nursed the sick, cleaned homes, sewed carpet rags for local meeting houses, planted and tended gardens, promoted home industry, and shared doctrinal instruction and testimony.

Snow provided central leadership both before and after her call as General President in 1880. She emphasized spirituality and self-sufficiency. The Relief Society sent women to medical school, trained nurses, opened the Deseret Hospital, operated cooperative stores, promoted silk manufacture, saved wheat, and built granaries. In 1872 Snow provided assistance and advice to Louisa Lula Greene (Richards) in the creation of a woman's publication, the Woman's Exponent, which was loosely affiliated with the Relief Society. Emmeline B. Wells succeeded her and continued as editor until its final issue in 1914.

Under Snow's direction, Relief Society sisters nurtured young women and children. Heeding Brigham Young's 1869 call to reform, Snow, Mary Isabella Horne, and others established the Ladies' Cooperative Retrenchment Association from which the Young Ladies' Department of the Ladies' Cooperative Retrenchment was formed (later called the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association and now the Young Women). Snow also worked with Aurelia Spencer Rogers to establish the first ward Primary Association in 1878. By 1888, the Relief Society had more than 22,000 members in 400 local wards and branches.[29]

Early Relief Society meetings were generally held semi-monthly. One meeting per month was devoted to sewing and caring for the needs of the poor. At meetings members might receive instruction, discuss elevating and educational topics, and bear testimony. The women were also encouraged to explore and develop cultural opportunities for their community. Stakes began circulating outlines for lessons in 1902. The first standardized lessons were published by the General Board in 1914 in the Relief Society Bulletin, later renamed the Relief Society Magazine in 1915.

Relief Society in the 20th century

By 1942, membership in the organization was approximately 115,000 women,[30] growing to 300,000 members in 1966.[31] In 2009, the Relief Society had approximately 6 million members in over 170 countries and territories.[1]

Relief Society in the 21st century

In the LDS Church today, every Latter-day Saint woman who is aged 18 or older, married, or a 17-year-old single mother is a member of the organization. There are no fees or membership dues for joining the Relief Society.

In each local congregation of the church, a member of the Relief Society serves as the local President of the organization. The president is permitted to ask two other women from the congregation to assist her as counselors; together the three women make up the local Relief Society Presidency. The Relief Society Presidency acts under the direction of the bishop or branch president in presiding over and serving the women in the congregation. Additionally, stake or district Relief Society presidencies exist to supervise five or more local Relief Society Presidencies.

Relief Society holds weekly meetings every Sunday that last approximately fifty minutes. During these meetings, an educational lesson is presented by a member of the Relief Society Presidency or another woman who has been asked to serve as the Relief Society instructor. Since the 1990s, the curriculum has been composed of Teachings of Presidents of the Church and other materials. The Relief Society also leads the LDS Church's efforts to teach basic literacy skills to those members and non-members that lack them.

Three women are called to serve as the General Relief Society Presidency of the entire LDS Church. Although these women are not considered general authorities, they are considered to be general officers of the church and are among the highest ranking women in the LDS Church's hierarchy. Since April 2007, the General Relief Society Presidency has been composed of Julie Bangerter Beck, President; Silvia Henriquez Allred, First Counselor; and Barbara Thompson, Second Counselor.[32] They are assisted and advised by a Relief Society General Board drawn from women in the church.

Annually in late September, the Relief Society holds a General Relief Society meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, which is broadcast around the world via television, radio, satellite and the Internet. This meeting is an opportunity for the General Relief Society Presidency to address the entire body of the Relief Society. Typically a member of the church's First Presidency also speaks to the women of the church.

Relief Society Building

The Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City, Utah

In Salt Lake City, the Relief Society occupies its own headquarters building known as the Relief Society Building, which is separate from the other administrative offices of the LDS Church. While the Quorum of the Seventy had a building in Nauvoo in the 1840s, the Relief Society is the only auxiliary organization in the LDS Church today which has a completely separate facility. This building is also the closest of any building to the door of the Salt Lake Temple.[33]


Visiting teaching

In every LDS congregation, each member of the Relief Society is paired with another member; this couple is then assigned by the Relief Society Presidency to be the visiting teachers of one or more other members of the Relief Society.[34] Visiting teachers strive to make a monthly contact with the women assigned to them; ideally, this contact is a personal visit in the member's home. If this is not possible, the member may be contacted by telephone, letter, e-mail, or a visit in a location other than the member's home. Visiting teachers are encouraged to look for opportunities to serve the individuals that they "visit teach".

Compassionate service

Along with the bishop or branch president, the Relief Society President is the key person in the ward in ensuring that the temporal and emotional needs of the members of the congregation are met. The Relief Society Presidency is responsible for helping the women of the congregation learn welfare principles such as work, self-reliance, provident living, personal and family preparedness, and compassionate service of others. In many congregations, the Relief Society will ask a woman to serve as the Compassionate Service Leader, who is responsible for organizing service activities and responses to members' needs in times of emergency or hardship.

Extra Relief Society Meetings

An extra Relief Society meeting is usually held quarterly on a week-night in each congregation of the church. At this meeting women learn a variety of skills, with special emphasis on parenting and home-making skills. Local congregations may also choose to hold monthly or weekly meetings for women with similar needs and interests. These extra meetings are less formal than the weekly Sunday meetings and local congregations have a wide discretion in determining what activities will be part of these extra meetings. These meetings were originally called "Homemaking", and on January 1, 2000 the name changed to "Home, Family, and Personal Enrichment",[35] or "Enrichment" for short. In September 2009, due to the complexity of the name and different interpretations of the meeting's purpose, the separate name for the extra weekday meetings was discontinued and all meetings of the Relief Society began to be referred to simply as "Relief Society meetings".[36]


In April 2005, the RS received the American Red Cross "Heroes 2004 Award" for its service in the Greater Salt Lake area.[37]

See also


  1. ^ a b Beck, Julie B, Relief Society General President (2009). "Relief Society: Introduction to Relief Society: Who Participates in Relief Society?". Official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.,17884,4689-1,00.html. Retrieved 14 September 2009. 
  2. ^ Sally H. Barlow and Allen E. Bergin, "Religion and Mental Health from a Mormon Perspective", in Harold George Koenig (ed.) Handbook of Religion and Mental Health (San Diego, Calif.: Academic Press, 1998) pp. 225–244 at 233.
  3. ^ "Churches, others help BelAir Family Center", The Times-Herald [Newnan, Georgia], 2010-01-06.
  4. ^ "What is Relief Society?",
  5. ^ "". Retrieved 22 January 2011. 
  6. ^ Brooke Adams, "LDS women urged to strengthen connections, avoid judging", Salt Lake Tribune, 2010-09-25.
  7. ^ Dirk Smillie, "Mormon Trek Now Has a Global Reach", Christian Science Monitor, 1997-07-23.
  8. ^ Harvey Shepherd, "Mormon growth sparks a building boom in Quebec", Montreal Gazette, 2006-11-25, p. K10.
  9. ^ a b Handbook 2: Administering the Church (Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2010), "Relief Society"
  10. ^ Sarah Granger Kimball, "Auto-Biography," ''Woman's Exponent'' vol. 12, no. 7 (September 1, 1883): 51 [1]; Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery, Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994) [2]
  11. ^ Minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society, 17 March 1842, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, hereafter cited as Church History Library; Richard E. Turley Jr., ed., "Relief Society Minutes, March 1842-March 1844," 17 March 1842, Selected Collections from the Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, vol. 1 (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 2002).
  12. ^ Minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society, 17 March 1842, p. 6, Church History Library; Relief Society, Charity Never Faileth: History of the Relief Society, 1842-1966 (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1967), 18.
  13. ^ Minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society, 17 March 1842, p. 11, Church History Library.
  14. ^ Minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society, 17 March 1842, p. 12, Church History Library.
  15. ^ Joseph Smith,History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B.H. Roberts, vol. 4, rev. ed. (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1972),567-68. See also "Ladies' Relief Society," Times and Seasons, vol. 3, no. 11 (April 1, 1842): 743 [3]; Joseph Smith, 17 March 1842,The Papers of Joseph Smith: Journal, 1832-1842, ed. Dean C. Jessee, vol. 2 (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1992), 371.
  16. ^ Minutes of the Nauvoo Relief Society, 7 July 1843, p. 92, Church History Library.
  17. ^ Rich, Sarah DeArmon Pea (4 July 1885). Journal of Sarah DeArmon Pea Rich 1814-1893. typescript, BYU. Retrieved 14 September 2009.  paragraph 91
  18. ^ Maurine Carr Ward, "'This Institution is a Good One': The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 17 March 1842 to 16 March 1844," Mormon Historical Studies, vol. 3, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 86-203. [4]
  19. ^ Jill Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1992), 62; Barbara W. Winder, "Relief Society in Nauvoo," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, Robert J. Matthews, and Charles D. Tate Jr., et. al. (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 1207-1208 [5]; Jill Mulvay Derr, "Relief Society," in Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History, ed. Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 2000), 992-997.
  20. ^ Richard L. Jensen, "Forgotten Relief Societties, 1844-67," Dialogue, vol. 16, no. 1 (Spring 1983):105-125 [6]; Jill Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1992), 68.
  21. ^ Jensen, "Forgotten Relief Societies," 107 [7].
  22. ^ "Record of the Female Relief Society Organized the 9th of Feby in the City of Great Salt Lake 1854," Louisa R. Taylor Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; Jensen, "Forgotten Relief Societies," 109.
  23. ^ Jensen, "Forgotten Relief Societies," 109 [8].
  24. ^ Jensen, "Forgotten Relief Societies," 109-118 [9].
  25. ^ Carol Holindrake Nielson, The Salt Lake City 14th Ward Album Quilt, 1857 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2004).
  26. ^ William G. Hartley, "Common People: Church Activity During the Brigham Young Era," in Nearly Everything Imaginable: The Everyday Life of Utah's Mormon Pioneers, ed. Ronald W. Walker and Doris R. Dant (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press, 1999), 262.
  27. ^ "Female Relief Society," Deseret News, April 22, 1868
  28. ^ Journal of Discourses, 12:201
  29. ^ "The Women of Utah Represented at the International Council of Women at Washington, D.C.," Woman's Exponent 16 (April 1, 1888): 164-65.
  30. ^ Smith, Barbara B; Cannon, Janath R; Boyer, Marian R; Miltenberger, Mayola R (March). "A Conversation with the General Relief Society Leaders". Ensign: pp. 32. Retrieved 14 September 2009.  paragraph 3
  31. ^ The Relief Society General Board Association, History of Relief Society 1842-1966, 1966
  32. ^ The Sustaining of Church Officers, April 2007 General Conference.
  33. ^ "Relief Society Building". LDS Church.,10634,1883-1-1-1,00.html. Retrieved 12 September 2009. 
  34. ^ "Relief Society: What You Wanted to Know about Visiting Teaching: Question #6". Official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 2009.,17884,6567-1,00.html. Retrieved 10 September 2009. 
  35. ^ Virginia U. Jensen, “Home, Family, and Personal Enrichment,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, p. 95.
  36. ^ Julie B. Beck, “Relief Society: A Sacred Work,” Liahona, Nov. 2009, pp. 110–14.
  37. ^ "Relief Society sisters lauded by Red Cross as 'heroes'". Deseret News. Retrieved 12 September 2009. 

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