LDS Church News

Mary Fielding Smith's life highlighted in lecture

By R. Scott Lloyd

LDS Church News

Published: Saturday, April 19 2014 12:05 a.m. MDT

Audrey M. Godfrey, speaker at Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series, delivers lecture on Mary Fielding Smith April 10 at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

R. Scott Lloyd, LDS Church News

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Mary Fielding Smith, widow of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s brother, Hyrum, lived a full and difficult life, but one 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 Dec. 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, Mo. 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.

“By Oct. 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, Mo., 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 8 days old, the child should be blessed and given the name of Joseph after his brother and Fielding after Mary’s brother Joseph.”