Sister Belle S. Spafford, general president of the Relief Society for almost 30 years, presided over her last October conference and was released with a sincere vote of appreciation for her diligent and devoted service.
President Spencer W. Kimball, who officiated at the conference, also released Sister Spafford’s two counselors, Sister Marianne C. Sharp, first counselor since the time of Sister Spafford’s own calling in April 1945, and Sister Louise W. Madsen, second counselor for the past 16 years.
Sister Barbara B. Smith, sustained by the general conference of the Relief Society, thus became the tenth president of the oldest and largest continuous women’s organization in the world. Sister Janath R. Cannon will serve as education counselor, and Sister Marian R. Boyer as homemaking counselor. Sister Mayola Miltenberger was sustained to continue in her position as secretary-treasurer of the Relief Society. The former board was released and a new board was sustained, with many of the former members recalled to continue their service.
The 36 members of the new board are: Belva B. Ashton, Edythe K. Watson, Ellen N. Barnes, Myrtle R. Olson, Alice C. Smith, Elaine B. Curtis, Zelma R. West, Reba O. Aldous, Luella W. Finlinson, Norma B. Ashton, Amy Y. Valentine, Marjorie M. Reeve, Helen G. Lach, Aline R. Pettit, Johna de St. Jeor, Beverly J. Pond, Inez T. Waldron, Anna Jean B. Skidmore, Helen W. Jeppson, Arlene S. Kirton, Sarah M. Grow, Ann S. Reese, Carol T. Hansen, Shirley W. Thomas, Marjorie Y. Nelson, Clara L. Boren, Ruth T. Walker, Elaine L. Jack, Josette B. Ashford, Bonna A. Brinton, Arlene J. Flanders, Kristen R. Theurer, Carol L. Clark, Helen L. Goates, Ramona Barker, and Marion Johnson.
In making the release, President Kimball said, “It is most difficult to find words to express to these sisters our admiration for them and our gratitude to them. Sister Spafford is a beautiful Latter-day Saint wife and mother. Her voice has been heard in places where it has taken insight, courage, and forthrightness at times when she has stood almost alone.” He also paid personal tribute to both of her counselors and to the board as a whole.
Sister Spafford, mother of two, joined the general board in 1935 and served for 10 years before being called as president. She served as vice-president of the National Council of Women for several years before being named its national president in 1968; presently she is an honorary member of the council’s executive committee and chairman of its constitutional revisions committee. She has served twice as vice-president of the American Mothers Committee, Inc., and has been a member of the board of trustees of Brigham Young University.
The new president, Sister Smith, is the third president in the history of the Relief Society not to have served as a counselor. (The other presidents were Eliza R. Snow, 1867–87, and Emmeline B. Wells, 1910–21.) Since March 1971 Sister Smith has served on a number of general board committees: visiting teaching, curriculum planning, and cultural refinement. She has also served as assistant chairman of the adult area of the Instructional Development Committee.
Her husband, Douglas H. Smith, is presently a Regional Representative of the Council of the Twelve for the Blackfoot and Fresno regions. They are the parents of seven children, all of them active in the Church. Their three sons have served missions, and the five children who are married were married in the temple.
Sister Cannon, education counselor, returned to Salt Lake City in July 1974 with her husband, Edwin Q. Cannon, Jr., who was president of the Switzerland Mission for three years. Sister Cannon, the mother of six children, has served on the Adult Correlation Committee, taught in every Church auxiliary, served as a ward Relief Society president, been on the Salt Lake Ensign Stake Relief Society board twice, and sang for 18 years in the Tabernacle Choir.
Sister Boyer, homemaking counselor, has served on the Relief Society general board for five years, during three of which she has been chairman in charge of the annual homemaking exhibit in the Salt Palace. Her husband, Harold R. Boyer, is a Regional Representative of the Twelve for the Rexburg and Rigby regions. They are the parents of five children.
Speaking to the assembled sisters at the end of the first day of meetings, President Kimball praised them for their “devoted and inspired” work.
“We are aware of the great responsibility of your leaders to feed you, and we hope that your cups are running over.” He added, “We hope you will sparkle with a new spirit as you return home, that you will raise the curtains of your home and let the light in even more.”
His short address climaxed a long day of meetings where the sisters received instructions from many leaders. Sister Spafford, delivering the report and annual instructions, gave new guidelines and emphases:
Young Adult and Special Interest women are to be placed on the visiting teaching rolls; those willing and able to serve as visiting teachers should be nominated by the Relief Society president and called by the bishop; time should be reserved in the spiritual living lesson for testimony-bearing; optional lessons are available for the single women’s classes; the Church will participate in the purchase of either one sewing machine costing not more than $325 or two sewing machines Costing approximately $150–$175 each; one counselor will advise the second-session Relief Society and the other counselor will advise the single-women sessions: the homemaking counselor will assist the bishop’s counselor responsible for production, and the education counselor will assist the other bishop’s counselor in personal welfare services.
Brother A. Harold Goodman, chairman of the Church Music Committee, counseled the sisters to teach their children music while they were still babies, to use the Relief Society choir to enhance ward choirs, to draw comfort and consolation from the hymns, and to use preludes to set an inspirational tone for Relief Society services.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Council of the Twelve explained the Melchizedek Priesthood reading program of the Four Gospels and challenged the sisters to “join with the brethren and drink at the fountain of the scriptures.” In addition, he earnestly counseled them to “ponder and pray” about the scriptures, promising that by following this program, “every man, woman, and child can have the absolute knowledge born of the Spirit that Jesus is the Lord.”
Elder Marvin J. Ashton of the Council of the Twelve reminded sisters that “Relief Society functions on the principle of giving. Other women’s organizations will fail if they spend more time in getting. Protect your right to give—it can be lost through selfishness and lack of use. By giving we save souls—including our own.” He also stressed that welfare service is a “basic” part of participation.
President N. Eldon Tanner of the First Presidency delivered a tribute to Sister Spafford, quoting frequently from her writings on the importance of home and family in a woman’s life.
Sister Spafford spoke directly to the often-held belief that Mormon women are “subservient” to men in the Church. “Nothing could be more erroneous,” she stated, citing statements of Church presidents that acknowledged the importance of women. She also pointed out that women had the religious vote three months after the Church was organized—nearly unheard of in 1830—and that Seraph Young, a grand-niece of Brigham Young, is recorded as the first woman in the United Stares to cast a ballot. She also listed the breadth and numbers of leadership positions held by Latter-day Saint women in Church institutions. Praising the continual recognition of Church leaders that men and women have different functions and responsibility in the home and Church, she exclaimed. “Second-class citizens in the Church? Nothing could be more inaccurate!”
Sister Marianne C. Sharp paid a warm and lively tribute to her mother; Sister Madsen spoke on the importance of loving the Lord with all your “heart, might, mind, and strength”; and Sister Miltenberger discussed the value of second-session Relief Society for the widow with a career.
During the sessions to train the stake boards to conduct this year’s regional meetings, the sisters learned about working closely with the priesthood, using music, building ward leadership from the stake level, building cooperation between the ward Young Adult and Special Interest representatives and the Relief Society counselor, visiting teaching, and teaching principles, including those of keeping within the allotted amount of time, individualizing instruction, adhering to the manual, using the questions provided in the lessons, and teaching with variety.
The media display in the Salt Palace showed sample visual aids for each lesson to be presented in each department. For instance, one display on obesity showed a one-pound chunk of suet being regarded by an anxious heart; the heart was asking, “One mile of capillaries? Three extra beats?” The display illustrated homemaking lesson seven. Balloons counseled, “be flexible,” “expand,” and “stretch” for lesson five in the mother education lessons.
At first impression the Relief Society homemaking display appeared to be a Santa Claus workshop, but moving around the large auditorium, the scene changed to a sewing room, furniture store, nursery, candy factory, and many other homemaking settings.
At the short homemaking meeting, general board members, dressed in long pinafores covered with pockets, suggested that sisters with questions check with them because the pockets were full of answers. As it turned out, questions and answers made the entire event a learning experience.
A major purpose of the display was to give ideas on mini-classes. Rug and afghan crocheting were popular, with many participants learning on the spot. Other sewing displays included lingerie, pattern alteration and remaking, wool spinning, making drapes and shades, make-your-own permanent pleats, completing quilts, and many others.
Food displays included chocolate dipping, making pickles, and gingerbread. The idea that gingerbread is just for Christmas houses was quickly forgotten. Gingerbread farms, barns, and zoos, all with varieties of candy trimming, were examples.
“Make them with material you already have,” “save expenses,” “recycle,” “quality products,” and “nutrition” were recurring themes.
Relief Society sisters went home with stuffed notebooks and whirling heads, but also with the well-nourished hearts that come from sharing the inspiration of a beautifully organized Relief Society general conference.