In the time since The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in 1830, revelation has come to prophets and apostles a piece at a time. The Church has experienced steady progression as more revelation has been given to prophets little by little.
Because revelation often comes gradually, practices in the Church also evolve slowly. Without proper context, some practices that were once common in the Church can be uncomfortable and can, for some people, lead to doubt.
But a Church led by revelation is bound to experience some changes. One such change, largely unknown to many Church members today, is that women once routinely gave blessings of healing.
What Joseph Smith taught
Significantly, though, these were blessings of healing — not priesthood blessings.
Joseph Smith taught the women of the Relief Society that, “Respecting the female laying on hands … it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith.” He also said, “If the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on” (see “Joseph Smith’s Teachings about Priesthood, Temple, and Women,” Gospel Topics, LDS.org).
What the women did
Most Church members understood this gift as it is mentioned in Doctrine and Covenants 46:20 and as taught in the New Testament. Some women were blessed to exercise this gift and blessed the sick by the prayer of faith, sometimes including the laying on of hands.
However, in 1883, Eliza R. Snow clarified that “Women can administer in the name of Jesus, but not by virtue of the Priesthood” (See Gospel Topics essay for more information).
Why it’s different today
In the 20th century, President Heber J. Grant stated that the First Presidency “do not encourage calling in the sisters to administer to the sick, as the scriptures tell us to call in the elders, who hold the priesthood of God and have the power and authority to administer to the sick in the name of Jesus Christ.” This instruction remains in effect today.