Birth and Childhood
After being blessed with three daughters, Julina Smith desired more than anything to have a son. She promised the Lord that if He would bless her with a son, she would do everything possible to see that he grew up to serve God and be a credit to his father, Joseph Fielding Smith. Her desire was granted on July 19, 1876. Her young son was named for his father, President Joseph Fielding Smith, who was Prophet, Seer and Revelator for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1901-1918. This young boy’s choice heritage did not stop there; he was also the grandson of Hyrum Smith, who died with his brother, the Prophet Joseph Smith at Carthage Jail in 1844. He would later state, “I am…proud to be a descendant of Latter-day Saint parentage… I am also proud to be a grandson of one of the original members of the Church, a man who was faithful to the end, and laid down his life for the truth; and I am glad to know that so many of his descendants are actively engaged in the cause, and are also faithful in the truth.”1
Joseph never questioned the gospel of Jesus Christ, and he always realized the great responsibility he had in defending the truth. He desired at a very young age to know the Lord personally and to walk in His ways. With that desire, he read the Book of Mormon twice before he reached the age of ten. Because of his natural desire to learn and do what the Lord asked, he became one of the greatest gospel scholars the Church has ever known. He would later explain, “From my earliest recollection, from the time I first 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.”2 Bruce R. McConkie, Joseph’s son-in-law, wrote: “Joseph Fielding Smith is the leading gospel scholar and the greatest doctrinal teacher of this generation. Few men in this dispensation have approached him in gospel knowledge or surpassed him in spiritual insight. His is the faith and the knowledge of his father, President Joseph F. Smith, and his grandfather, the Patriarch Hyrum Smith.”
When he was born, his father was a counselor in the First Presidency. Joseph was foreordained to follow in his father’s footsteps as a missionary, historian, apostle, scriptorian, theologian, counselor in the First Presidency, and finally as a Prophet of the Lord. As Bruce R. McConkie put it, “The voice of the father was to become the voice of the son; jointly, their years in the apostleship would span in an unbroken chain of more than a hundred years.”3
Joseph learned early from his father and mother to be disciplined in all aspects of his life. His father taught him to be an early riser – a practice that would last his entire life and acted as a formula for getting things done. This practice served him well even in his later life. He said, “People die in bed, and so does ambition.”
He spent many long hours in the company of his father asking questions, during which his father saw to it that his son was taught in the principles of truth. He recorded, “Among my fondest memories are the hours I have spent by [my father’s side] discussing principles of the gospel and receiving instruction as only he could give. In this way, the foundation for my own knowledge was laid in truth so that I, too, can say I know that my Redeemer lives, and that Joseph Smith is, was, and always will be, a prophet of the living God.”
At the age of ten, Joseph’s job was to assist his mother in her duties as a licensed midwife and obstetrician. Joseph would hitch up the horse to the buggy, whether it be night or day, and drive his mother to the home of the expectant mother. There, he would wait while his mother delivered the baby, or if his mother thought the wait would be too long, she would send him home with instructions for when to return for her. As he grew older, he worked as a cash boy in the wholesale grocery department at Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution in Salt Lake City. The work was extremely hard and exhausting, and the pay was pathetically inadequate. He stated, “I worked like a work horse all day long and was tired out when night came, carrying sacks of flour and sacks of sugar and hams and bacons on my back. I weighed 150 pounds, but I thought nothing of picking up a 200-pound sack and putting it on my shoulders.”4
Marriage and Church Service
When Joseph was eighteen years of age, his parents invited Louie Shurtliff to live in their home while she attended the University of Utah. While there, Joseph and Louie became fast friends who shared their love of learning and their devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Soon their friendship turned into love and a courtship of three and a half years. Joseph recalled that “When she finished and graduated from her school…I did not permit her to go home and stay there, but I persuaded her to change her place of residence, and on the 26th day of April 1898, we went to the Salt Lake Temple and were married for time and all eternity by my father, President Joseph F. Smith.”5
A year after their marriage, Joseph was called to serve a mission to the British Mission. Joseph gladly accepted his call to serve, but was saddened to leave his new bride and family. From his journal, he wrote, “Saturday, May 13, 1899: … at six o’clock I told all the folks goodbye and left for the depot with feelings that I never felt before, because I was never away from home more than one month in my life, and to think of going away for two years or more causes very peculiar feelings to take possession of me.”6
This mission would prove to be very difficult for Joseph. The opposition was great at that time in Great Britain with little receptiveness from the people. But Joseph continued to serve the Lord, handing out over 10,000 pamphlets and visiting over 4,000 homes in one month. While there, he did not baptize one single person.
Following Joseph’s mission, he was hired to work at the Mormon Church’s Historian Office. This would lead to his appointment in 1906 as an Assistant Church Historian, wherein he assisted President Anthon Lund, a counselor in the First Presidency. He was later appointed as the Church Historian. While in that position, he had 24 volumes of his writings and sermons published. In 1910, Joseph was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, where he served as an apostle for sixty years. President Smith also held the position of President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for nineteen years and five years as a counselor in the First Presidency.
In 1908, after being married for nearly ten years, Joseph’s beloved wife Louie became ill during her third pregnancy. After two months, she passed away on March 30, leaving Joseph and their two daughters, Josephine, age five, and Julina, age two. McConkie remarked, “The bereaved father closed down the home that he had built for his bride and moved his little family into the Beehive House where his mother and his sisters Julina and Emily could provide motherly love and care for his two little girls…”7
After receiving counsel from his father and father-in-law, Joseph began prayerfully searching for a wife who could be a loving mother to his daughters. He married Ethel Georgina Reynolds on November 2, 1908, in the Salt Lake Temple. She would bless him with nine more children over the next twenty-eight years. Death took his second wife on August 26, 1937. Before Ethel passed away, she requested that Jessie Evans, a famed contralto soloist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, sing at her funeral service. Miss Evans did sing at the funeral and afterwards received a note of appreciation from Joseph. Jessie Evans responded to the note and a friendship developed between them. They began courting and on April 12, 1938, at the age of sixty-one, Joseph married Jessie in the Salt Lake Temple. Jessie brought much joy and humor to Joseph’s life. “Both Joseph and Jessie enjoyed a colorful cast iron plaque that hung on the kitchen wall of their apartment, stating, ‘Opinions expressed by the husband in this household are not necessarily those of the management.’ One time when she was assisting him in his office, when his secretary was on vacation, he tapped her on the shoulder as she sat at the typewriter, and said, ‘Remember, Mama dear, over here you are not the Speaker of the House!'”8
As the advancing years approached, Joseph’s lifestyle did not change. Throughout his life, he enjoyed swimming, tennis, and basketball, but he loved playing handball. His son Reynolds said that he and his brother played handball against their father, who held one hand behind his back while he proceeded to defeat them. At the age of 80, when most men his age were sitting safely at home, he would be sitting in the rear cockpit of a plane smiling and exclaiming that “this is about as close to heaven as I can get just now.” At the age of 92, he was advanced in the National Guard to the honorary rank of brigadier general. He mentioned that they didn’t want him to fly alone. He limited his flying to commercial jetliners, saying, “The big planes are not so exciting as the T-Bird, but at my age, it’s a real comfort to be able to move faster than sound.”
In April 1970, Joseph Fielding Smith was sustained as Prophet, Seer and Revelator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the age of 93, he was the oldest man to become the President of the Mormon Church.
During his presidency, which would last for two short years, he would see two more temples dedicated – the Oakland California Temple and the Ogden Utah Temple. He admonished the Saints to prepare for the Lord’s Second Coming. He said, “I do not know when He is going to come. No man knows. Even the angels of heaven are in the dark in regard to that great truth. But this I know; that the signs that have been pointed out are here. The earth is full of calamity, of trouble. The hearts of men are failing them. We see the signs as we see the fig tree putting forth her leaves; and knowing this time is near, it behooves me and it behooves you, and all men upon the face of the earth, to pay heed to the words of Christ, to his apostles and watch, for we know not the day nor the hour. But I tell you this, it shall come as a thief in the night, when many of us will not be ready for it.”9
President Smith began a new era in which area conferences were instituted around the world. He began this new era with an area conference being in Manchester, England, in August 1971. He called for a greater emphasis on the Family Home Evening program. President Smith announced that Monday evenings should be the time to gather the family together and teach them the gospel principles. He gave a warning to parents to take their responsibility in this very seriously. He was gravely concerned about the welfare of the youth regarding morality, chastity, and virtue. “We plead with fathers and mothers to teach personal purity by precept and example and to counsel with their children in all such things. We ask parents to set an example of righteousness in their own lives and to gather their children around them and teach them the gospel in their home evenings and at other times.”10
President Joseph Fielding Smith passed away in Salt Lake City on July 2, 1972, at the age of ninety-five. His long life began with travel by horse and buggy and extended to the jet age. He was alive when the Wright Brothers made their first flight and loved the excitement of the supersonic plane. He knew what it meant to serve, to love, and to guide the members of the Church. His example and knowledge of the gospel will be remembered by all. In the words Smith and Stewart, “He died as he lived and has demonstrated to all of us how one can be so honored and so privileged when he has lived so close to the Lord.”11
1 “Conference Report”, Apr 1913, p.99
2 “Conference Report”, Apr 1930, p.91
3 True and Faithful: The Life Story of Joseph Fielding Smith”, McConkie, 1971, p.9, 11
4 “Life of Joseph Fielding Smith”, Smith and Stewart, p.65-66
5 “Life of Joseph Fielding smith”, Smith and Stewart, p. 75
6 “Joseph Fielding Smith: Gospel Scholar, Prophet of God”, Gibbons, 1992, p.75
7 “True and Faithful”, McConkie, p.32
8 “Life of Joseph Fielding Smith”, Smith and Stewart, p.260-61
9 “Doctrines of Salvation”, 3:52-53
10 “Conference Report”, Apr 1970, p.5-6
11 “Life of Joseph Fielding Smith”, Smith and Stewart, p.384
Anita Stansfield began writing at the age of sixteen, and her first novel was published sixteen years later. For more than fifteen years she has been the number-one best-selling author of women’s fiction in the LDS market. Her novels range from historical to contemporary and cover a wide gamut of social and emotional issues that explore the human experience through memorable characters and unpredictable plots. She has received many awards, including a special award for pioneering new ground in LDS fiction, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Whitney Academy for LDS Literature, and also a Lifetime Achievement Award from her publisher, Covenant Communications. She has fifty-six published books. Anita is the mother of five, and has three grandchildren.