Barbara B. Smith

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Barbara Bradshaw Smith, tenth General President of the Relief Society, demonstrated sound judgment and tolerance during a time of intense conflict over women’s issues from 1974 to 1984.

Barbara was often interviewed about her stand against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution. She encouraged Latter-day Saint women to be involved in their communities and represent Church attitudes about women without being combative or divisive. She also emphasized homemaker education and the importance of the family. During her presidency the Relief Society grew to about two million members worldwide.

Family Life

Barbara married Douglas H. Smith, who became president of Beneficial Life Insurance Company. They had seven children, three sons and four daughters. Douglas, a Regional Representative himself, was an active supporter of Barbara's Church service. He described the day Barbara recieved her call like this:

“President Kimball came to our home and said, ‘Barbara, I have come to call you to be the president of the Relief Society of the Church.’ And then he turned to me, and he said, ‘Douglas, would you sustain her in that call?’ At that moment I felt that the President of the Church was giving me a special call, a call to sustain my wife. And that was my call to service. I told President Kimball that Barbara had sustained me for the thirty-five years that I had been involved in Church service, and that it would be an honor for me to sustain her—which I have tried to do.” (JoAnn Jolley, “Barbara Smith: A Call to Service, a Time to Rejoice,” Ensign, Mar. 1981, 17)

Barbara Smith passed away on September 13, 2010, at the age of 88.

Relief Society Challenges The Equal Rights Amendment

During the administration of Barbara B. Smith, the Mormon Church and Relief Society were official and active opponents to Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) proposals. The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposal to amend the United States Constitution adding the provisions: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article." It was assumed by many that the Amendment would be certain to pass. In fact, the Amendment had passed both the US House and Senate with no changes by 1972 and only needed ratification by a two-thirds majority of states to become law.

As the implications of ERA became known, conservative groups, including the Mormon Church, opposed the Amendment on the grounds that it would cause the violation of protections given under current laws to women. While maintaining that "The place of woman in the Church is to walk beside the man, not in front of him nor behind him, " ("Frequently Asked Questions about the Proposed Equal Rights Amendment: A Closer Look," Ensign, Mar. 1980, 5), Church officials raised concerns related to potential effects from the amendment, including women being required to give compulsory military service, homosexual marriage, a male's financial responsibilities for children he fathered, and abortion.

Barbara actively campaigned against ERA and appeared on television (the Phil Donahue show) to promote the Church's official position. Relief Society sisters Church-wide were mobilized to campaign against ERA. Fourteen thousand Mormon women attended the International Women's Year meeting in Salt Lake City and voted down all ERA proposals in June 1977. Similar events occurred in Hawaii and Washington state, where high Mormon attendance at IWY meetings disrupted ERA proposals, also during 1977.

By 1982, not enough states had ratified the Amendment and efforts by the Relief Society to stop its passage ended.

Stake Relief Society Board Restructuring

Stake Relief Society Boards were reorganized during Barbara's term, so that counselors were responsible for program-oriented information, and presidents were responsible for people-oriented information. Members of the board were assigned to supervise many areas that were previously handled by the Relief Society president. Board members were assigned to work on certain areas of responsibility: activation/missionary, curriculum/inservice, homemaking/nursery, leadership training, music/recreation, single adult/transition, welfare, and visiting teaching/compassionate service.

Consolidated Meeting Schedule

Services were combined to a block schedule in March 1980 after pilot programs indicated a 10-15 percent attendance increase at Sacrament Meeting and Relief Society with the new schedule. The consolidated schedule grouped sacrament, Sunday School, Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthood, Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary meetings into a specifically divided three-hour time block with ten minute breaks separating the meetings.

Before this time, Relief Society lessons were given weekly on a night other than Sunday, Homemaking meetings were held on an eight month rotation, and Relief Society was not held during the summer months.

Relief Society lessons were taught on successive weeks in this order: spiritual living (including testimonies), mother education, social relations, and cultural refinement. During months with a fifth Sunday, home management lessons were taught. Homemaking meetings were held on days or evenings other than Sunday or Monday with a 30-minute Visiting Teacher preparation before the Homemaking meeting. Socials to commemorate the Relief Society birthday or other holidays were also scheduled twice a year. Visiting Teaching Workshops were held annually to practice communication skills and to discuss messages for the year. Stakes held one workshop or meeting annually, and could hold a women's fair, cultural arts festival, or other women's meeting if desired. Relief Society was also no longer responsible for Nursery except on Homemaking nights.

Meetings were consolidated to

1. Help every Latter-day Saint home become a place where family members love to be, where they can enrich their lives and find mutual love, support, appreciation, and encouragement.
2. Emphasize home-centered Sabbath activities.
3. Make more flexible a weekday activity program for all members.
4. Reduce the amount of travel by Church members and provide opportunities for family members to travel together and participate in Church activities.
5. Conserve energy resources and reduce the nonessential costs required for members to participate in Church activities.

Stories from the life of Barbara B. Smith

  • On a television show, Barbara was asked if the Church's goals were unattainable and the cause of high depression rates among Mormon women. Barbara did not deny that the Church has high standards, but she encouraged women to take “one step at a time” and to remember that our goals should be “stars to steer by, not sticks to beat ourselves with.” (as told in Sydney Smith Reynolds, "Wife and Mother: A Valid Career Option for the College-Educated Woman," Ensign, Oct. 1979, 67)
  • One of Barbara's sons was interested in athletics, school, and many other things and began questioning if he should serve a mission. After a special experience during that son's patriarchal blessing, Barbara was blessed to know the things she should say to help her son think more seriously about a mission. Of the experience she said, "I think every mother in Zion is entitled to this kind of spiritual help in preparing her sons and daughters for the privilege and the responsibility of missionary service." (Barbara B. Smith, "A Mother's Insight," Tambuli, June 1978, 14
  • Barbara first attended Relief Society on March 17, 1942, for a Relief Society Birthday program. She was expecting a baby, and her mother didn’t want to leave her alone at home. She observed, "That day at Relief Society the hundred years of Relief Society history were reviewed, a meaningful way for me to see what Relief Society was all about and how I could fit into it. I started to attend our ward Relief Society regularly soon after that." (“ ‘Joy in Every Minute’: An Interview with Sister Barbara B. Smith,” Ensign, June 1975, 61)
  • Barbara remembered Belle S. Spafford's request for each member of the Relief Society to donate five dollars to the construction of a new Relief Society building: “I was a young mother at the time they were building it, and we were really struggling. They asked us if we would contribute $5 to it; and that seemed like such a large amount to me at that time. So I complained to my mother. I said, ‘I just can’t imagine them asking us to contribute $5 to the Relief Society building.’ And she said, ‘Oh, my dear, just give it, and don’t give it grudgingly. You will always be glad that you did.’ I want you to know that I never come into this building but I’m glad that I did. I was a hostess to take people through the building when it was brand new; so was my mother. Many of the stakes gave gifts; ours gave a little grandmother’s clock that’s just outside the board room.” (JoAnn Jolley, “Barbara Smith: A Call to Service, a Time to Rejoice,” Ensign, Mar. 1981, 17)
  • “She has a real gift for seeing what’s good,” says daughter Lillian Alldredge. “When I was little, she would take me with her all kinds of places, and she would talk to me so I felt needed and important.” Her loving concern extends to the grandchildren. “The other day,” says Lillian, “I asked my children (the oldest is fourteen) what they would say about Grandma Smith. They said, ‘She takes time to be with us.’ ” (JoAnn Jolley, “Barbara Smith: A Call to Service, a Time to Rejoice,” Ensign, Mar. 1981, 17)

Testimony of Barbara B. Smith

  • Barbara's testimony was recorded during a General Conference at the time of her release:
I am proud to testify today that our prophets and Apostles are men called of God. They will always lead the Church aright by divine direction and by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The women of the Church have an important work to do. That work requires great strength of character, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a pure heart that will be a light unto the world and a bulwark of righteousness against the darkness that covers the earth with contention and evil.
In all humility I declare my ever-expanding love for you. I assure you, too, that I deeply love our newly called and sustained general president of the Relief Society. I know Relief Society is in good hands. It will continue to grow and move forward in countless ways to bless the lives of all of the daughters of God.
I know this is true. I feel it with every fiber of my being, just as I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and our Redeemer.
May we all make the most of every moment of our lives, that somewhere beyond the hills of time we will be with them again, I humbly pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. (Barbara B. Smith, "Warmed By the Fires of Their Lives," Ensign, May 1984, 29)