Thursday, February 7, 2008

George Albert Smith and His Female Missionary Companion

Pictured are President J. Golden Kimball, Lucy Woodruff Smith, George Albert Smith, and Elias S. Kimball.

George Albert Smith is the only general authority to have served with his own wife while being a proselyting elder not a mission president. On the 25 May 1892 George Albert Smith married Lucy Emily Woodruff, his childhood sweetheart, in the Manti Temple. George Albert Smith was 22. Lucy was 23. Lucy was the daughter of Wilford Woodruff Jr and Emily Jane Smith. Her mother died on 8 May 1878 so she spent her time each day at her grandfather Wilford Woodruff's home. She became very close to her grandparents. George Albert Smith's family were neighbors of the Woodruff family. As a kid he was known to pull her braids. They were both known for their theatrical performances as teenagers. A month after his marriage he was called on his second mission to the Southern States. She was called herself a few months later to the same mission.

Lucy Emily Woodruff costumed for a stage performance of ""Daughter of the Regiment."

"After graduating from the public schools and attending the University of Utah for a year and a half, Lucy Woodruff received clerical training in the office of the city and county surveyor and in the office of the county recorder. She became an expert in record keeping and map making. This training proved valuable for the performance of her assigned duties in the office of the Southern States Mission in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she had been called as a missionary." Lucy received special permission to join her husband in the mission field and became his missionary companion."

She almost didn't marry George Albert Smith. In the the Presidents of the Church manual we learn from Richard Cowan: "She and George Albert Smith had known each other since they were children, and she loved and respected him. But her affections were divided between George Albert Smith and another suitor.

In 1892, the courtship was interrupted when George received a mission call from the First Presidency of the Church to strengthen the young people in the Juab, Millard, Beaver, and Parowan stakes in Southern Utah. One week into his assignment he wrote in his journal: 'The letter I looked for never came.' When George received Lucy's letter the next day, the topic was her possible marriage to her other suitor. George responded by letter expressing his feelings for Lucy and offered the following advice: 'Be prayerful and humble; do not mistake the duty you owe to others. Your first duty is to yourself. I feel that you will be happy and my prayer is that you will.'

Lucy stopped her marriage plans with the other suitor, but her affections still vacillated between the two men. After months of turmoil, she finally broke off the relationship with the other man and married George Albert Smith in the Manti, Utah Temple.

Afterward, as she put the affair in perspective and saw that she had merely been infatuated with a handsome man who lacked substance, Lucy Woodruff Smith exclaimed again and again that she had 'almost made a terrible mistake.'"

Richard O. Cowan in the Church in the Twenty-First Century says about George Albert Smith that he "was born in Salt Lake City in 1870. When he was almost fourteen years of age, a patriarchal blessing gave him an understanding of the direction his life should take: "And thou shalt become a mighty prophet in the midst of the sons of Zion. And the angels of the Lord shall administer unto you, and the choice blessings of heaven shall rest upon you... for thou art destined to become a mighty man before the Lord, for thou shalt become a mighty apostle in the church and kingdom of God upon the earth .... "

One month after their marriage George Albert Smith was called to the Southern States Mission. His first companion was Henry Foster who he served with in Tennessee for a few months.

George Albert Smith in the October 1945 Conference related his remembrance of his first missionary conference: " I remember as a young man and missionary in the Southern States, the first conference I attended. It was out in the woods on a farm in Mississippi. We didn't have comfortable seats to sit on. The brethren had been permitted to cut down a few trees and lay the trunks of those trees across the stumps which were left. We balanced ourselves on those or else sat on the ground.

Our meeting started right after breakfast time, and we didn't even think it was necessary to have anything more to eat until evening. We stayed and enjoyed the inspiration of the Almighty, and we certainly were blessed, notwithstanding the inconveniences and discomforts which surrounded us. At that time there was considerable hostility manifested in Mississippi and other states in the South, but we just felt as if we had walked into the presence of our Heavenly Father, and all fear and anxiety left. That was my first experience in the mission field attending a conference, and from that time until now I have appreciated the fact that the companionship of the spirit of the Lord is an antidote for weariness, for hunger, for fear, and all those things that sometimes overtake us in life."

Cowan says the two missionaries faced great danger "On at least two occasions he was convinced that his life was spared only through divine intervention-once when a hostile mob fired shots into the house where he was sleeping, and again when he was warned on a dark night to stop just short of the edge of a high precipice."

After five months in the field, George Albert was transferred to the office at Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he and his wife became secretaries of the mission. The young couple served under J. Golden Kimball, a member of the First Council of Seventy. Because of his calling and mission duties J. Golden Kimball had to travel a great deal of the time. In the absence of the mission president, Elder Smith was acting president and served in that capacity for sixteen months until his release in June of 1894.

One time when traveling with the mission president J. Golden Kimball he had a close call with a mob almost murdering the pair. The Religion 345 Presidents of the Church Manual says: "As a young missionary, George Albert Smith and his companion, J. Golden Kimball, were preaching in Alabama. “Their preaching in the neighborhood had aroused bitter opposition, which this night turned violent. About midnight, the cabin was surrounded by an angry mob whose leader pounded on the door, demanding in vulgar and profane language that the elders come out or ‘they were going to shoot them.’ When they refused to obey, the mob commenced to fire into the corners of the cabin. ‘Splinters were flying over our heads in every direction,’ Elder Smith wrote of the incident. ‘There were a few moments of quiet, then another volley of shots was fired and more splinters flew.’ He was interested in his reaction to what he considered to be ‘one of the most horrible events,’ in his life. ‘I was very calm as I lay there,’ the missionary wrote later, ‘but I was sure that as long as I was preaching the word of God and following his teachings that the Lord would protect me, and he did.’ The next morning when the elders stepped outside, they found a bundle of heavy hickory sticks of the kind that had been used to beat other missionaries in the south” (Francis M. Gibbons, George Albert Smith: Kind and Caring Christian, Prophet of God [1990], 26–27)."

In 1903 he was called to be a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. In June 1919 George Albert with his wife Lucy and three children left Salt Lake City to preside over the European Mission in Liverpool, England until 1921, so the couple served two missions together. He preached in the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Germany. The couple three children were Emily (Mrs. Robert M. Stewart), Edith (Mrs. George O. Elliott), and George Albert, Jr.

The journals and papers of Lucy Woodruff Smith and George Albert Smith can be found in the Special Collection of the University of Utah.


J. Stapley said...

This is a nice write-up. Thanks.

However, while it might be technically that she was the first woman to serve as a missionary with her husband, before George Q. Cannon announced that women would be officially set apart as missionaries, women often accompanied their husbands on missions (even as far back as the first British Mission, when Phoebe went went Willford). Louisa Barnes Pratt recorded in her diary that Brigham Young blessed her before she and her husband left for the Society Islands.

Such women, organized Relief Societies, strengthened the Church, taught school and administered ritual healings, all common activities for women in the Church at that period.

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Catherine Clark said...

Just a little correction. When President George Albert Smith was called as President of the European Mission, his oldest daughter, Emily was already married so did not go with the family.