Florence Smith Jacobsen was a great Mormon woman leader who influenced young girls and fought for the protection and restoration of historical artifacts and buildings. Florence was a leader for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called the “Mormon Church” by some). The modern prophet David O. McKay asked Florence to help young girls gain a stronger testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. Florence led the female youth of the LDS Church as the president of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA), which is presently called the Young Women’s organization (Caroline H. Benzley, “134 Years Young!”, New Era, November, 2003). Female youth (ages 12-18) are invited worldwide to participate in the Young Women’s organization, which meets during Sundays services for religious education and during the week for activities.
Mormon Woman Influenced Young Women & Church History
For eleven years, Florence served as the sixth Young Women organization’s president with several other LDS women leaders who were called of God. Florence worked closely with her counselors Margaret Romney Jackson Judd (first counselor) and Dorothy Porter Holt (second counselor). Although Lucy Grant Cannon (previous Young Women organization’s president) was no longer the president, Florence looked up to her next door neighbor and her aunt as a role model. (Lavina Fielding, “Florence Smith Jacobsen: In Love with Excellence,” Ensign, June 1977, 25–26). Florence was guided by God to reach out to every girl and remind them of their identity as daughters of God:
It is my prayer that we can be so dedicated that not one single girl in this great Church will be forgotten (“Women, This Is Our Time,” Ensign, Mar. 1972, 39) (Florence Smith Jacobsen).
During her presidency from 1961-1972, Florence was guided by God to bless the lives of many young Mormon women with stronger testimonies of Jesus Christ. Important accomplishments included youth conferences held worldwide, the 1969 YWMIA centennial celebration, the annual Promised Valley presentations and festivals, the restoration of the Beehive House and Lion House, and the publication of the New Era (magazine for youth) (Florence Smith Jacobsen). The New Era magazine is still available worldwide in many languages for youth. This magazine contains messages from modern Mormon leaders written to the audience of youth and uplifting examples of youth worldwide who live and stand up for their beliefs. (See this link to read this month’s issue.)
In the June 1977 Ensign, Lavina Fielding wrote that Florence:
…helped shape the program of social and cultural activities, spiritual lessons, community service, and camping and homemaking skills. With emphasis on individual achievement, the girls kept personal historical journals; planned, prepared, and conducted annual leadership conferences; set personal goals; met in youth councils with the bishops; were called and set apart to serve in class presidencies; and planned their own activities—all part of the new program for Young Women as well.
At least 150,000 girls, about 30,000 leaders, and no-one-knows-how-many… have awards signed personally by Sister Jacobsen. They will also remember the Parent and Youth Nights, which were among the earliest programs to focus attention on the family.
One of her secretaries during that time comments, “Those were difficult years to preside over that organization. Loud rock music, modern dancing, miniskirts, long hair, blue jeans—all of them seemed to happen then and there wasn’t a day when she didn’t answer a letter or a phone call on standards. This was in addition to reviewing manuals, festivals, lessons, and activities personally to be sure that everything was presented with the highest standard of excellence. The Personal Record Books won an award for excellent design and were the first step toward personal histories for many women who are now raising their own families” (“Florence Smith Jacobsen: In Love with Excellence”).
In 1972, Ruth H. Funk took her place as the young women’s president and the following year, the prophet Harold B. Lee asked Florence to serve as the LDS church curator (Florence S. Jacobsen, Wikipedia).
By collecting, preserving, and displaying the art and artifacts of Church history, she… nourish[ed] and strengthen[ed] testimonies and inspire[d] some to investigate the restored gospel of Jesus Christ (Lavina Fielding, “Florence Smith Jacobsen: In Love with Excellence,” Ensign, June 1977, 25–26).
Florence also served as a member of the Church’s Arts and Sites Committee. Florence asked the prophet Spencer W. Kimball for construction of the Church History Museum which displays historical artifacts. She received the Junius F. Wells Award from the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation for her work rescuing, restoring, and preserving historic LDS sites and artifacts such as the Lion House, Beehive House, Manti Utah temple, Brigham Young home, Wilford Woodruff home, EB Grandin Building, and Newell K. Whitney home.
President Packer said…”There’s a saying that excellence does not call attention to itself, and that’s Florence Jacobsen,” he said. “When the Lion House was being renovated, the Florence you see tonight… was scrubbing the floors. And that part of her, in all this time, I think has not been understood.” (See R. Scott Lloyd, “Life of building,” Church News, May 1, 2010.)
Florence not only preserved important church history but she also made her personal home a clean and beautiful place. Florence helped her parents and seven siblings by dusting and making them lunches daily. Quotes by Mormon woman Florence include:
I’ve noticed that my four little grandchildren can tell the difference… When we do not properly set the table or eat in the kitchen they carelessly seem to forget their table manners. When we eat in the dining room with place mats or a linen tablecloth, they carefully display their best manners. I feel the same way. By treating myself and others as worthy of the best that is possible, I find that people become better. And I feel that this principle carries over into every area, including the way we dress. By making our environment as beautiful and as excellent as possible, we become a more excellent people, mentally, visually, physically, and spiritually.
…No woman—and no man either—can fulfill herself by focusing first on her own needs. Serving others fulfills you by making a bond between you and them that you can’t duplicate any other way (Lavina Fielding, “Florence Smith Jacobsen: In Love with Excellence,” Ensign, June 1977, 25–26).
Biography of Mormon woman: Florence S. Jacobsen
Florence grew up in a family that taught her the gospel of Jesus Christ, and from a young age she began following her Savior’s example. Florence Smith Jacobsen was born on April 7, 1913, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Willard Richards Smith and Florance Grant. Both her maternal and paternal grandfathers were prophets of God: Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant (R. Scott Lloyd, “Life of Building,” Church News, May 1, 2010).
In 1935, she started her own family when she married Ted Jacobsen in the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple (a House of God, where couples can be married for eternity by someone who has God’s authority). She raised three boys and later moved to New York, where she was a motherly influence to the missionaries in the Eastern States Mission as her husband served as the mission president (R. Scott Lloyd, “Life of Building,” Church News, May 1, 2010).
Although she graduated from the University of Utah in 1934, Florence remained involved in its community. She served on the advisory council of the Family Living and Consumer Studies department and wrote “vigorous letters protesting television programs and magazine articles she doesn’t approve of.” (Lavina Fielding, “Florence Smith Jacobsen: In Love with Excellence,” Ensign, June 1977, 25–26). The College of Social Work currently bestows students with the Florence Smith Jacobsen Scholarship which focuses on women issues and strengthening families. Lavina Fielding wrote:
There’s more! Sister Jacobsen also serves on the governor’s committee for cultural and historical sites, and has just finished a two-year term as third vice-president for the National Council of Women and is now chairman of the Child and Family Committee. She’s also adviser to the executive committee, adviser to the financial committee, and is serving a three-year term as vice-treasurer of the International Council of Women—an organization that has great impact on social and community action programs through its influence on legislatures and state boards of education. As chairman of the National Council of Women’s Child and Family Committee from 1965 to 1972, she represented the United States at four international conferences. These conferences have, in turn, presented plans to national councils, and she recalls that one of her greatest thrills was “putting a fence at the top of the cliff instead of an ambulance down in the valley.” The majority of the delegates seemed to be in favor of recommending paid-maternity leave and full day-care facilities for working mothers. She opted for a program of teaching responsible parenthood that would begin in the home and be carried on in elementary school and throughout a person’s educational life. Here was a clear choice between a long-range program that would demand years in the interests of excellence rather than a short-term program that would demand an influx of funds for its immediate results. Her program passed. The United States Department of Health, Education, and Welfare has already implemented trial programs on responsible parenthood in selected grade schools—“with great success” ( “Florence Smith Jacobsen: In Love with Excellence,” Ensign, June 1977, 25–26).
Mormon Women Leading Today
I am grateful for the values I was taught as a Mormon youth and the many service opportunities I’ve been involved in. I remember the majority of Young Women activities were service oriented, whether we assembled hygiene kits, quilted, babysat, or cooked meals. I know that we are all children of God and that we each have great potential to bless our families and communities. I’m grateful to Florence’s Christ-like example and feel like I truly relate to her—I also have 7 siblings and am a social worker.
Attend services and free Young Women activities at your local church
Visit the LDS website about “Service to Others”.
Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.