This is something I’ve wondered about for a long time. The word ward has always struck me as a bit odd. A ward is like… part of a prison or a hospital, right? So why do we Mormons call our congregations wards? Well, I was browsing the excellent online version of the the Encyclopedia of Moronism and read the entry for ward. This is what it had to say:
The first wards were organized early in the History of the Church in the 1840s in Nauvoo, illinois. By 1844 the city was divided into ten wards, with three more in the surrounding rural neighborhood. The name “ward” was borrowed from the term for political districts of the frontier municipality. Joseph Smith, who was simultaneously mayor of the city and President of the Church, assigned a bishop to preside over each ward.