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24

We Have Still a Greater Mission

Address in Woman’s Exponent

Salt Lake City, Utah

January 1906


As the fourth Relief Society general president, Bathsheba Wilson Bigler Smith (1822–1910) encouraged Relief Society members to rise up from the past and embrace the future with responsibility and action.1 When she delivered this address in January 1906, she had been associated with Relief Society for sixty-four years, having joined the Nauvoo Relief Society at its first meeting.2 Smith grew up on her parents’ large farm in Virginia. She was remembered as a Southern girl who loved the outdoors and was particularly adept at horse riding. Her mother taught her typical housewifery skills, including carding, spinning, dyeing, and weaving wool, cotton, and flax, as well as fine stitchery and embroidery.3 She also enjoyed music.4

Emmeline B. Wells and Bathsheba W. Smith

Emmeline B. Wells and Bathsheba W. Smith. 1908. Smith (right) was the Relief Society general president from 1901 to 1910. She was the last Relief Society general president who was also a member of the Nauvoo Relief Society. Wells (left) succeeded Smith, serving as Relief Society general president from 1910 to 1921. Photograph by Olsen and Griffith. (Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)

As a young girl, Smith was drawn to religion; she considered herself “somewhat religiously inclined, loved honesty, truthfulness, and integrity. I attended to my secret prayers.”5 When she was fifteen, Latter-day Saint missionaries, including her future husband, George A. Smith, visited her neighborhood. She and her mother were baptized on August 21, 1837, and other family members were baptized around that same time. They joined the Latter-day Saints in Missouri, where they and others were accosted by mobs. She witnessed the death of apostle David W. Patten and the injury of other Mormons. She referred to these experiences in her 1906 address, perhaps seeking to link a younger generation with the rich history and heritage of the church.6

The temple played a central role in Smith’s life. She was present at the laying of the cornerstone of the Nauvoo, Illinois, temple in 1841.7 She participated in temple ordinances in Nauvoo, both in the home of Joseph and Emma Hale Smith and in the red brick store.8 She worked in the temples in Nauvoo and St. George, Logan, and Salt Lake City, Utah, and in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City.9 Soon after the Salt Lake temple was dedicated in 1893, Smith succeeded Zina D. H. Young as temple matron when Young became too ill to work. Smith “presided in the temple over the sisters there and gave four days in the week regularly to the temple work.”10 Smith continued this work until shortly before her death. Lula Greene Richards wrote that Smith “was ever anxious to be in her place in that holy edifice.”11

Smith’s Relief Society participation continued well past Nauvoo. When her husband became the church historian in Salt Lake City, she was the first counselor to Rachel Grant in the Salt Lake City Thirteenth Ward Relief Society. The Smith home doubled as the Church Historian’s Office.12 Eventually, after her husband’s death, Smith moved to a different home and was appointed secretary, treasurer, and president of the Salt Lake City Seventeenth Ward Relief Society, serving in that capacity for eleven years.13 She acted as the treasurer of the Salt Lake Stake Relief Society. Smith was also active in other organizations associated with the Relief Society. She was a counselor to Mary Isabella Horne in the Retrenchment Association and was on the board of directors of the Deseret Hospital.14 In 1888, after the death of Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. H. Young was appointed general president of the Relief Society, and Young selected Smith to be her second counselor. When Young died in 1901, Smith became Relief Society general president, and she presided over a period of growth in the Relief Society.15 She had been president for five years when she presented this address, which was printed in the Woman’s Exponent.

List to the sound—that rolling chime,

Hark! ’tis the busy knell of Time;

The year has gone,

And borne along the hopes and fears,

The smiles and tears of multitudes unknown to song.

E. R. Snow16

The closing year of 1905, which is the hundredth birthday of the Prophet, stirs my mind with a multitude of thoughts.17

In fancy I go back to my childhood and youth in Virginia18—elders come crying, “Repent and be baptized for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,”19 and, as of yore, I am stirred with the glad tidings of the restoration of the gospel of Christ;20 once again I gather with the Saints in Missouri, and hear the horrid yells of the mobbers as Joseph and Hyrum are captured by them.21 I see the wounded and dying; I am driven from Missouri but meet with joy at Quincy, in a conference of the church, Joseph and Hyrum, and the apostles, who are there called to labor in Europe.22

The Prophet I recall and his wondrous spiritual power, intelligence, loving kindness, and great goodness of heart!23 His sermons, sayings, the organization of our own Relief Society in 1842.24 His revelations, persecutions, martyrdom, and the grief of the Saints thereat. There is little left save our homes and families in this world, but the gospel becomes even more to me. Now follows the burning of our homes and the forced exodus from Nauvoo in the dead of winter.25 The elements rage upon and about us, but we are able to endure, to rest at last, though in the shadow of death, as it were, for here we part with a multitude of our loved ones.26 But, rising from our weakness, in obedience to the servants of the Most High, we proceed, crossing trackless plains, fording swollen streams, scaling rugged mountain heights, and descending into “The Valley,” to find rest from persecution and comfort in the desert.27

All the events of those trying years unite today, revealing to me, in the evening of life, the overshadowing importance of the plan of salvation. A comforting message from the Giver of all good seems to give me this sweet assurance that naught that was suffered and naught that was accomplished, no matter how dear the price, was without avail; yea, our wounds were seared over with wisdom, pain gave birth to patience, and our martyred Saints rose, peradventure, our best petitioners in the courts above.28

And I am convinced that it were better to be faithful and enduring to the end, showing worthiness in overmastering self and upholding the standard of truth, than to rest in apathy and ease, forgetful of God and unmindful of the weak, the weary, and desolate.

It is good to reflect on the past, but beyond and above its shades of sorrow and errors, our duty ever rises before us.

Soothe the sad, succor the oppressed,

Visit the widow and the fatherless.29

To go from house to house, seeking out the poor, the cast-down, minister to the sick, lay out the dead, gathering and distributing, as you have done, my sisters, for so many years, gifts and donations for relief.

And yet we have a larger mission—to teach the mother to rear her young in simplicity and in truth and virtue, that happy home circles may abound in our midst.30

And yet we have still a greater mission. We faint not in our efforts to teach others but display a great lack of true religion when our own faults remain unmended. When will we learn that the beam is in our own eye and the mote only disturbs the vision of our neighbor?31

We are called upon by the still small voice, a whispering from our Father, to work out our own salvation.32

Briefly the constructive parts of the plan of salvation are these: What man is, God once was; what God is now, man may be;33 the glory of God is intelligence.34 Nothing can be annihilated and no act lost.35 It is impossible to be saved in ignorance.36 The Spirit of God, which is the Holy Ghost and the Comforter, surrounds us and pervades the universe, and is the medium by which we may receive the inspiration of God toward intelligence and through which it is our right to receive comfort; and finally that faith, hope, and charity are necessary for divine grace, but that the greatest of these is charity!37

Therefore it is plainly necessary that women, as well as men, cease not while life lasts to study diligently for the knowledge which is of greatest worth. To me the best step towards this is for us to throw off the curse of drudgery by learning to do our work so well that we will love to do it and have cause for rejoicing over the achievements of our hands.

Let us learn of the handiwork of God by the study of nature, search out her flowers, her moods, her laws. Let us study to improve our thoughts, reaching up toward our Heavenly Father, praying for the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

Let us improve our language in our homes and among our children, that our words be not idle, complaining, nor vain, but, as nothing can be lost, cheerful, hopeful, intelligent, reflecting a charitable spirit.

Let us open the books of life and salvation and study also the great authors, poets, and painters, that our minds may be clothed with intelligence and our hearts abound with human feeling.

And here I am inclined to offer a thought for the year’s work before us. With our multifarious duties we may not be able to call upon some aged or invalid sister, to cheer her, but we may lend her a book to read at pleasure, and peradventure to the strengthening of her purpose, the cheering of her life, and the edification of her mind. Likewise after reading a good book, pass it to a sister, saying, “I commend this book to you. It has instructed me and may edify you, and when you have read, return, that I may lend again.”

Another thought: Having done your part well, be satisfied to relinquish the load to some stronger woman when you become weary.

And now my sisters, God’s choicest blessings be upon you, and peace be with you.

Footnotes

  1. [1]Smith’s 1906 “annual greeting” was addressed to the “associate workers in all the world.” The Industrial Workers of the World organization was formed the previous year, encouraging the solidarity of workers from various industries.

  2. [2]Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, Mar. 17, 1842, 6, in Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 30.

  3. [3]Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Co., 1901–1936), 1:699; Emmeline B. Wells, “A Loving Tribute,” Woman’s Exponent 39, no. 3 (Sept. 1910): 18; Wells, “Bathsheba W. Smith,” Woman’s Exponent 35, no. 4 (Oct. 1906): 25; Wells, “Bathsheba W. Smith,” Woman’s Exponent 35, no. 9 (May 1907): 65.

  4. [4]Smith sang in a temple choir in Nauvoo. Her children played instruments, sang, and danced. (Bathsheba W. Smith, “Autobiography,” n.d., 84, CHL; Horace G. Whitney, “Music in Early Utah Days,” Young Woman’s Journal 24, no. 7 [July 1913]: 416; Augusta Joyce Crocheron, Representative Women of Deseret, a Book of Biographical Sketches to Accompany the Picture Bearing the Same Title [Salt Lake City: J. C. Graham, 1884], 44.)

  5. [5]Smith, “Autobiography,” 1.

  6. [6]George A. Smith later became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (Smith, “Autobiography,” 2–6; Wells, “A Loving Tribute,” 18.)

  7. [7]Smith, “Autobiography,” 6. The Nauvoo temple cornerstones were laid on April 6, 1841. (“Celebration of the Anniversary of the Church,” Times and Seasons 2, no. 12 [Apr. 15, 1841]: 375–377.)

  8. [8]Bathsheba Smith, “Affidavit,” in Affidavits about Celestial Marriage, 1869–1915, CHL; “Latter-day Temples,” Relief Society Magazine 4, no. 4 (Apr. 1917): 185–186.

  9. [9]Smith, “Autobiography,” 11, 38; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:702; L. L. Greene Richards, “Sister Bathsheba in the House of the Lord,” Woman’s Exponent 39, no. 3 (Sept. 1910): 17.

  10. [10]“In Memoriam: President Bathsheba W. Smith,” Woman’s Exponent 39, no. 3 (Sept. 1910): 20.

  11. [11]Richards, “Sister Bathsheba in the House of the Lord,” 17; Smith, “Autobiography,” 78; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:702. Emmeline B. Wells stated, “There is no woman living that has such a record in this line of work. … She has ministered to thousands and tens of thousands of the daughters of Zion, who rise up and call her blessed.” (Wells, “Bathsheba W. Smith,” Woman’s Exponent 35, no. 9 [May 1907]: 66.)

  12. [12]“In Memoriam,” 20; Smith, “Autobiography,” 38, 83; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:702.

  13. [13]“In Memoriam,” 20; Crocheron, Representative Women of Deseret, 45; Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:702. Smith served as Seventeenth Ward Relief Society president from 1886 to 1897, when she asked to be released so she could devote more time to her temple duties and other Relief Society assignments. (Seventeenth Ward, Salt Lake Stake, Relief Society Minutes, vol. 5, 1871–1886, May 19, 1886, 585; vol. 9, 1886–1907, Feb. 6, 1897, 219, CHL.)

  14. [14]Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:702.

  15. [15]Smith was appointed president on October 31, 1901, and was sustained at a special conference on November 10, 1901. The Relief Society general board reported in 1899 a total of 26,943 members in 566 branches. According to a 1906 article, the Relief Society numbered over 35,000 members. (“In Memoriam,” 20; Relief Society General Board Minutes, vol. 2, 1892–1910, 49, CHL; Wells, “Bathsheba W. Smith,” Woman’s Exponent 35, no. 4 [Oct. 1906]: 25.)

  16. [16]Eliza R. Snow wrote “The Year Has Gone” in 1840, commenting on the persecutions suffered by Latter-day Saints in Missouri. (Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson, eds., Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry [Provo, UT: Brigham Young University Press; Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2009], 105–107.)

  17. [17]Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vermont. As part of the centennial anniversary of his birth, the church dedicated a monument to him at his birthplace. (“A Hundred Years of Progress: The Boy Prophet,” Woman’s Exponent 34, no. 7 [Jan. 1906]: 45–46.)

  18. [18]Shinnston, Harrison County, Virginia (now West Virginia). (“In Memoriam,” 20.)

  19. [19]Doctrine and Covenants 42:7; see also Matthew 3:2; 4:17.

  20. [20]Smith recounted her conversion by remembering that after her baptism and confirmation, “the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I knew that he accepted of me as a member in his kingdom.” (Smith, “Autobiography,” 2.)

  21. [21]Smith here refers to the arrest of Joseph and Hyrum Smith at Far West, Missouri, in late fall 1838. She also remembered seeing “thousands of mobbers arrayed against the Saints, and I heard their shouts and savage yells when our Prophet Joseph and his brethren were taken into their camp. I saw much, very much of the suffering that were brought upon our people by those lawless men. … In these distressing times, the Spirit of the Lord was with us to comfort and sustain us, and we had a sure testimony that we were being persecuted for the gospel’s sake.” (Smith, “Autobiography,” 4–5.)

  22. [22]On July 8, 1838, Joseph Smith dictated a revelation calling the Twelve Apostles to go on a mission “over the great waters” and to depart from “the city Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next [1839].” On April 26, 1839, a majority of the Twelve Apostles returned to Far West from Illinois to comply with this revelation. George A. Smith was an apostle at the time; he left for England on September 21, 1839, returned to Nauvoo in 1841, and then married Bathsheba Smith. (Joseph Smith, Journal, July 8, 1838–A [D&C 118], in Dean C. Jessee, Mark Ashurst-McGee, and Richard L. Jensen, eds., Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839, vol. 1 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman [Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2008], 54; Smith, “Autobiography,” 8–9, 42.)

  23. [23]In Nauvoo, Smith had ample opportunity to become acquainted with Joseph Smith. She remembered, “Here I continued my punctuality in attending meetings, had many opportunities of hearing Joseph Smith preach, and tried to profit by his instructions, and received many testimonies to the truth of the doctrines he taught.” According to Emmeline B. Wells, when George A. Smith died in 1875, he encouraged his wife to “live and bear testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the work of the Lord established through his divine mission.” (Smith, “Autobiography,” 6; Wells, “A Loving Tribute,” 18.)

  24. [24]See Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, Mar. 17, 1842, 6–15, in Derr et al., First Fifty Years, 28–37; Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen, “‘Something Better’ for the Sisters: Joseph Smith and the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo,” in Joseph Smith and the Doctrinal Restoration: The 34th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), 123–143.

  25. [25]In her autobiography, Smith reported that mobbers burned 175 Nauvoo homes. Her husband, George A. Smith, released men from working on the temple to form a posse to disperse the mobs, but the posse was shut down by the state militia. This act, according to Smith, prompted the exodus from Nauvoo. Bathsheba and George A. Smith left Nauvoo with their family in February 1846. (Smith, “Autobiography,” 10–12.)

  26. [26]The Smith family lost multiple family members in Winter Quarters. Bathsheba gave birth to a son, who lived only a few hours, and she remained sick for some months after. Her mother died, as did one of George A. Smith’s plural wives and her child. (Smith, “Autobiography,” 15.)

  27. [27]The Smith family arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in the fall of 1849. (Smith, “Autobiography,” 19, 25.)

  28. [28]Lucy Mack Smith expressed a similar sentiment in her 1845 conference address, “This Gospel of Glad Tidings to All People,” chapter 5 herein.

  29. [29]See James 1:27.

  30. [30]See Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 157–160.

  31. [31]See Matthew 7:3–5; and Luke 6:42.

  32. [32]See Philippians 2:12; and Mormon 9:27.

  33. [33]Smith is paraphrasing a popular teaching from former church president Lorenzo Snow. Building on teachings from Joseph Smith, Snow taught: “As man is now, God once was; as God is now man may be.” In a sermon given at the funeral of church member King Follett on April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith taught, “God himself, who sits enthroned in yonder heavens, is a man like unto one of yourselves. … If you were to see him to-day, you would see him in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion and image of God; Adam received instruction, walked, talked, and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another.” (“President Snow’s Response,” Deseret Evening News, June 15, 1901; “Conference Minutes,” Times and Seasons 5, no. 15 [Aug. 15, 1844]: 613–614.)

  34. [34]Doctrine and Covenants 93:36.

  35. [35]Brigham Young said, “There is no such thing as annihilation, for you cannot destroy the elements of which things are made.” A hymn written by William W. Phelps in 1856 also illustrated this point. This hymn is included in the current Latter-day Saint hymnal as “If You Could Hie to Kolob,” Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985), no. 284. (Brigham Young, “Consecration,” in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool: Various publishers, 1855–1886], 2:302; William W. Phelps, “There Is No End,” Deseret News, Nov. 19, 1856; The Latter-day Saints’ Psalmody: A Collection of Original Tunes [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1896], no. 252.)

  36. [36]Doctrine and Covenants 131:6.

  37. [37]Doctrine and Covenants 130:22; 88:6–13; John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 13:13.