Ethel Reynolds Smith

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Ethel Georgina Reynolds Smith was the second wife of Joseph Fielding Smith. Soon after the death of his first wife, Louie, Joseph moved into his parents’ home and received much-needed help raising his two young daughters. He realized they needed a mother and sought the Lord’s help with his decision. Both his parents and Louie’s parents were in favor of him remarrying.

He met Ethel Georgina Reynolds at the Church Historian office where she worked as a clerk. He invited her to a picnic with his two young daughters on July 6, 1908. They all had a good time, and ten days later Joseph and Ethel enjoyed a date without the children and soon after were engaged. They were married on November 2, 1908.

Ethel, born October 23, 1889, was just eighteen years old when she met Joseph, but she was the daughter of George Reynolds who was an author and serving in the Church as a Seventy and understood the demands of scholarship and serving in the Church. This quality would be important when shortly after their marriage, Joseph was appointed the first editor and business manager of the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, and less than two years after their marriage, he was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Adding to these pressures was the birth of their first child on August 9, 1909, and their second in November 1910. She eventually bore seven more children and raised a boy who had been orphaned when his father was killed. During her busy child-rearing years, she also served on the Relief Society general board.

As an apostle, President Smith often traveled leaving Ethel and their young children. Her deliveries were not easy, and her ninth child was born prematurely. By 1932, Ethel began to experience mood swings. “These down moods were cyclical, coming and going at irregular intervals and varying in their strength and duration. In time they came with greater frequency and intensity, causing deep feelings of depression and fear that so disturbed Ethel that she was unable to perform her daily tasks.[1] “At other times her mind raced beyond control forcing her exhausted body to do more and more.[1] Today, her condition would probably be diagnosed as a chemical imbalance. But in her day, they could only rely on prayer, priesthood blessings, and medical treatments that had no lasting relief. She died on August 26, 1937. At the time of her death, five children still lived in the home; one daughter would soon be married to Bruce R. McConkie and one son was preparing to serve a full-time mission.

Elder Smith had written to her a few years earlier: “You do not know how often I have thanked the Lord that I made no mistake when I needed a companion. You were sent to me.” Writing of her death, he penned, “A better woman could not be found, or truer wife and mother.”[2]

  1. Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph Fielding Smith: Gospel Scholar, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 263.