Mary Ellen Smoot was the thirteenth General President of the Relief Society, an official auxiliary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She served from 1997 to 2002.
Early Life of Mary Ellen Smoot
Mary Ellen was born August 19, 1933, in Ogden, Utah. Her parents, Melvin and LaVora Blood Smith Wood, were a Mormon family, descendants of early Mormon pioneers. “Mormon” is a nickname sometimes used to describe members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her parents taught their six daughters to live the gospel and to work hard. They grew their own food and raised animals, all of which Mary Ellen helped with. She also worked in her grandfather’s canning factory. She developed a strong love of genealogy and authored several books on the subject.
As a teenager, Mary Ellen became involved in student government and held a number of volunteer church positions, which gave her experience in leadership. When she and her family attended a local Mormon conference, Harold B. Lee, a future prophet, was presiding. He invited her to come forward, without warning, to share her testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mary Ellen Smoot’s Community Service
Mary Ellen met her husband, Stanley Millard Smoot, while in her freshman year of high school. He served a mission in Hawaii as a young adult and when he returned, they married. Together, they raised seven children and also took in five foster children. While raising this large family, Mary Ellen managed to be involved in a wide range of activities. She served as the president of the PTA, an American organization made up of parents who work to improve the schools their children attend. She headed the Centerville (Utah) Women’s Republican Club. She also hosted a radio program for teenagers.
From 1966 to1971 Mary Ellen Smoot served on the editorial board for a Mormon children’s magazine, The Children’s Friend. She and her husband both served on Church public affairs committees and also directed the Church Hosting for VIPS program from 1993 to1997.
General Relief Society President
During her tenure as General Relief Society President, Mary Ellen spearheaded a project that resulted in providing 350,000 homemade quilts for Kosovo refugees, 50,000 more than had been requested. This allowed them to ship additional quilts to other countries with great need. Mary Ellen Smoot was the keynote speaker at the second World Congress on Families in Rome, Italy, in 1999. She often encouraged women to develop inner strength, to find the good in whatever life they were living, and to become everything they were capable of becoming.
Mary Ellen will likely be best remembered, however, for introducing the Relief Society Declaration, a statement that outlined the role of a Latter-day Saint woman in God’s world. She introduced it at the 1999 conference for Mormon women. It was written to unite all Mormon women around the world who, though living in far-flung places in very different lifestyles and circumstances, would find commonality in their eternal heritage. It began with this bold assertion: “We are beloved spirit daughters of God, and our lives have meaning, purpose, and direction. As a worldwide sisterhood, we are united in our devotion to Jesus Christ, our Savior and Exemplar. We are women of faith, virtue, vision, and charity.”
About Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.