Lecture Highlights Mary Fielding Smith’s Life of Faith

Contributed By By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 23 April 2014

Audrey M. Godfrey, a historian and author on Utah history subjects, talks about the life of Mary Fielding Smith April 10 in the latest offering of the monthly Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series sponsored by the Church History Library and held at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • Mary Fielding Smith, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s brother Hyrum, lived a full and difficult life of faith, emulated by an illustrious posterity that has included two Church Presidents.

Mary Fielding Smith, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s brother Hyrum, lived a full and difficult life of faith, emulated by an illustrious posterity that has included two Church Presidents.

Her life was highlighted April 10 in the latest offering of the monthly Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series sponsored by the Church History Library and held at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

Audrey M. Godfrey, a historian and author on Utah history subjects, delivered the lecture.

Born in England, the sixth child in a family of 10, Mary immigrated to Canada in 1834, joining her siblings Mercy and Joseph.

There they heard the restored gospel preached by Parley P. Pratt and were baptized, later gathering with the Latter-day Saints to Kirtland, Ohio.

“Mary found friendship and board with Vilate Kimball, wife of Heber C. Kimball, who was … serving in England, and they became lifelong friends,” Sister Godfrey recounted.

“During the summer and fall of 1837, Mary experienced many trials and hardships as well as anxiety and loneliness. She missed her sister [who was sent back to Canada with her husband on a mission]. There was apostasy in Kirtland, and she became nostalgic for her life in England.”

She found solace in the scriptures and was faithful in the Church.

“Her letters are filled with the proceedings of Church meetings,” Sister Godfrey said. “She in essence took minutes at the proceedings and declared over and over her religious fervor.” Others wanting to know what was preached came to Mary, who would check her notes.

This was an era of letter writing, which was something of an art form, one that Mary practiced with a flair. Her letters “were lengthy, full of news and expressions of her faith,” the speaker said.

At age 36, having declined earlier offers for marriage in England, Mary now faced no prospects. But when Hyrum Smith’s wife Jerusha died in 1837, Joseph suggested he marry his friend Mary Fielding.

“With some reluctance, she told Hyrum, ‘I will set a proxy for your wife … and I will be sealed to you for eternity myself, for I never had any other husband. I love you, and I do not want to be separated from you nor be forever alone in the world to come,’” Sister Godfrey related.

They were married on December 24, 1837.

“He needed a wife who was religious, a faithful Church member, and one who would teach his children as she had taught others,” Sister Godfrey said of Hyrum. “And here was Mary who had lived the single life for many years agreeing to instant motherhood.”

In 1838, when Mary was pregnant with their first child, Hyrum and Mary moved with other Church members to Far West, Missouri. Hyrum spent much time visiting Saints in the various settlements in Missouri while Mary cared for the family and her home. But difficulties with mobs arose.

Painting of Mary Fielding Smith, mother of Joseph F. Smith.

“By October 30, with Mary due to deliver soon and members of the family ill, Missouri militia men came for Hyrum,” Sister Godfrey said. “He pleaded with them to allow him to stay and care for his loved ones. Without caring about anything but arresting Hyrum, they did so.”

Hyrum spent five and a half months in jail at Liberty, Missouri, with Joseph Smith and others.

“Hyrum’s father sent word to his son that the baby was born and asked what name should be given,” Sister Godfrey said. “Hyrum responded that at eight days old, the child should be blessed and given the name of Joseph after his brother and Fielding after Mary’s brother Joseph.”

When the baby was 11 weeks old, he and his mother were placed in a wagon with quilts to warm him, and they traveled to Liberty Jail. Their few hours together in the jail solidified the love of Hyrum and Mary for each other “as they looked upon their firstborn child together,” she said.

Painting of Mary Fielding and Joseph F. Smith crossing the plains.

While Mary was in Liberty, the evacuation of the Saints from Missouri under threat of extermination ordered by the governor began. By 1839, the Church members had settled and founded Nauvoo, Illinois.

There, construction of a temple was begun.

“Mary and Mercy wished to start a drive to raise money for the construction. So in December 1843, they composed a letter inviting the British sisters to participate, and the two continents began a sort of competition.”

A sum of $2,000 was eventually contributed for the temple fund.

But threats from mobs beset the Saints generally and Joseph and Hyrum in particular. Events leading eventually to their martyrdom at the jail in Carthage, Illinois, were set in motion.

“During the early morning hours, [Mary’s daughter] Martha Ann sick with measles watched her mother walk the floor. Finally a knock came on the window and a Brother Grant told Mary that Hyrum had been killed. In disbelief, she calmly responded, ‘It cannot be.’ But as she let him into the house, she fell back against the bureau and was placed in a chair.”

Later, when she saw Hyrum’s body, she clasped his head and turned his face to her. “Finally her sorrow burst out as she wailed, ‘Oh Hyrum! Hyrum! Have they shot you? Are you dead?’

With her children and stepchildren, Mary journeyed with the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley. On the last leg of the journey, the company leader did not think she could make it, but she told him she would not ask for help. As it turned out, 16-year-old John, her son, drove their five wagons hitched together into the valley before the wagon master himself arrived.

In the valley, Mary and her children built a home in Salt Lake City on what today is known as Mill Creek.

“The last two years of her life were a time of joy,” Sister Godfrey said. “The beauty of the world that had eluded her during the trek west surrounded her and provided peace. She joyfully moved into a home she and the children had built themselves. She demonstrated her faith in the gospel and commitment to its teachings joyfully.”

In addition to Joseph F. Smith and his son, Joseph Fielding Smith, both of whom became Church Presidents, Mary’s posterity includes Florence Smith Jacobsen, YWMIA president from 1961 to 1972 and Church curator for many historic building restorations, and stepson, John Smith, Patriarch to the Church from 1855 to 1911, Sister Godfrey noted.