Joseph Fielding Smith Would Be 142 Today; Learn More about This Prophet

Contributed By Savannah Hopkinson, Church News staff writer

  • 19 July 2018

President Joseph Fielding Smith.

Article Highlights

  • He was born on July 19, 1876.
  • He became prophet at the age of 93 and served between 1970 and 1972.

President Joseph Fielding Smith holds a special place as the 10th President of the Church, but his family remembers him as a kind and dedicated family man.

President Smith was ordained as prophet of the Church at the age of 93 and served for just two and a half years between 1970 and 1972. During his life he knew every prophet, excluding Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, all the way through Thomas S. Monson.

Born on July 19, 1876, President Smith was the son of Joseph F. Smith, the sixth President of the Church, and Julia Lambson Smith. Not only was his father a President of the Church, but his grandfather, Hyrum Smith, was the brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Joseph Fielding Smith as a young boy.

Joseph Fielding Smith as a young man.

President Joseph F. Smith and his son Joseph Fielding Smith, 1914.

Joseph Fielding Smith in 1923.

President Joseph Fielding Smith.

Even as boy, Joseph Fielding Smith was always said to spend time studying the scriptures.

“From my earliest recollection, from the first time I could read, I have received more pleasure and greater satisfaction out of the study of the scriptures, and reading of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the work that has been accomplished for the salvation of men, than from anything else in all the world,” he recalled years later in an April 1930 conference address.

Joseph and his first wife, Louie Shurtliff, were married in the Salt Lake Temple on April 26, 1898. They were sealed by his father.

Less than a year later, he was called to serve a mission in England by President Lorenzo Snow. During the two years he was out, he didn’t baptize a single convert. He and the other missionaries he was with, however, helped to plant seeds of faith that would lead to future success in the area.

Louie died from illness during a pregnancy in 1908; Joseph married his second wife, Ethel Reynolds, in November 1908, and the two were together until her death in 1937. He then married Jessie Evans, a well-known Mormon Tabernacle Choir soloist, in 1938, who preceded him in death in 1971.

President Smith was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1910 when he was 33. According to LDS.org, the decision was only made after President Joseph F. Smith seriously pondered the idea—the prophet initially felt some hesitancy to call his son due to the fact that several from his family were in leadership positions at the time.

During his service as an Apostle, the younger Smith acted as the unofficial secretary to his father until his death in 1918. He acted as the scribe when his father dictated the vision of the redemption of the dead, now found in Doctrine and Covenants 138.

President Joseph Fielding Smith then served as the Assistant Church Historian and as Church Historian for nearly 50 years. He was also the Salt Lake Temple president, first editor and business manager of the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Church Board of Education, and chairman of the Church Publications Committee.

This work continued until his call as President of the Church in January 1970 following the death of President David O. McKay.

President Smith was known as being straightforward and no-nonsense but also for having a very kind and gentle heart. During one meeting where it was discussed whether or not to take legal action against a street vendor who had accidentally run his cart into a missionary car, President Smith was asked if he agreed with this decision.

“Yes, we could do that,” he said. “And if we press with all vigor, we might even succeed in taking the truck away from the poor man; then how would he make a living?”

President Smith was often perceived as stern, something his children couldn’t fathom. The father they knew would read to them while they sat in his lap, play music on the phonograph while dancing around the room, and come home with big boxes of oranges that he would peel and give them segment by segment.

Throughout his ministry, President Smith stressed the importance of the family.

“Do you spend as much time making your family and home successful as you do in pursuing social and professional success?” he once asked. “Are you devoting your best creative energy to the most important unit in society—the family? Or is your relationship with your family merely a routine, unrewarding part of life? Parent and child must … put family responsibilities first in order to achieve family exaltation.”

Even though Church assignments would take him away from home for long periods, President Smith was remembered as being a dedicated father and husband. Sister Ethel Smith, his second wife, described him as a husband and father “whose greatest ambition in life is to make his family happy.”

President Joseph Fielding Smith spent his entire life dedicated to the work of the Lord. Speaking at the October 1971 general conference, eight months before he passed away on July 2, 1972, he reflected on what he’d learned:

“All my life I have studied and pondered the principles of the gospel and sought to live the laws of the Lord,” he said. “As a result there has come into my heart a great love for Him and His work, and for all those who seek to further His purposes in the earth.”