10 remarkable women in LDS Church history

Published: Wednesday, May 7 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

The Utah State Senate in 1897, Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon standing to the left of center. Cannon, a Democrat, defeated her husband, a Republican, to become the first woman State Senator in the United States. She served two terms in the state legislature.

Utah State Historical Society

When it comes to appreciating the women of our lives, late LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley offered this advice in a 2003 general conference address: “Be kind to the women. They constitute half of the population and are mothers to the other half.”

President Hinckley went on to compliment Latter-day Saint women for gracefully managing their multiple roles, such as companion, home manager, nurse and family chauffeur, among others.

“My dear sisters, you marvelous women … I stand in great admiration for all you do,” President Hinckley said. “I see your hands in everything.”

In honor of "marvelous" mothers and women everywhere, here is a look at 10 remarkable women in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The list includes women of different cultures who endured difficult challenges. They are mothers, wives, activists, physicians, missionaries, professors, writers and politicians. Each one is distinguished in her own way.

“These women leave behind a legacy upon which we can draw inspiration and strength,” said Brittany A. Chapman, a historian in the LDS Church History Department. “When we remember their stories, they become part of our own and help us to live better lives.”

1. Mary Fielding Smith (1801-1852)

Mary Fielding Smith was greatly admired by many in her lifetime. Her son Joseph F. Smith, who became the sixth president of the church, held her in high esteem for all she accomplished amid hardships and trials.

“Do you not think that these things make an impression on my mind? Do you think I can forget the example of my mother? No; her faith and example will ever be bright in my mind,” he said, as recorded in "Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith." “Every breath I breathe, every feeling of my soul rises to God in thankfulness to him that my mother was a saint, that she was a woman of God, pure and faithful.”

Although reluctant to become a stepmother, Mary Fielding accepted the marriage proposal of Hyrum Smith after his first wife died giving birth to their fifth child. Less than a year had passed when Hyrum was arrested and imprisoned with church leaders in Liberty Jail. During his incarceration, she gave birth to Joseph F. and endured many months of poor health, according to a profile of her life in "Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Vol. 1."

Despite the tragedy of her husband’s death with his brother in Carthage Jail, Mary Fielding Smith and her children left Nauvoo in 1846. The captain of her wagon company said she would be a burden on the company. Smith responded to his criticism by vowing to beat him to the Salt Lake Valley, which she did.

Smith was a woman of meager means but raised her children on faith, courage, hard work and prayer. She also relied on the blessings of tithing. Her son related a story in the "Presidents of the Church" Institute of Religion manual that a tithing office clerk once suggested she keep her contributions because she had so little. She scolded the man, saying, “Would you deny me a blessing? If I did not pay my tithing I should expect the Lord to withhold his blessings from me.”

Smith died of pneumonia at the age of 51.

2. Jane Elizabeth Manning James (1822-1908)

Jane Elizabeth Manning James was among the first people of African descent to join the church. She was baptized in Connecticut in 1842. When denied passage on a ship, James and other family members walked more than 800 miles to Nauvoo.

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