Mary Fielding Smith: The Influence of a Mother
Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii
July 7, 2009
Susan Easton Black
Professor of Religion
You can probably tell I married great. After all of these decades, I have discovered that I married somebody who still adores me. I hope and pray that it can be the same for you.
Today I am going to describe the life of Mary Fielding Smith and the impact it had on her son Joseph F. Smith. But to do so, I begin with the phone call I received from Marcus Martins. Marcus called me and said, “Would you consider coming to BYU–Hawaii?” I did not even have to ask my husband. I said, “We’ll be there.”
I grew up in Long Beach, California, and I like Utah okay. It’s just that Utah doesn’t have a beach.
My favorite tree is the palm tree. There are such varieties of palm trees. They are majestic. They are graceful. There is not a look-a-like palm tree among them. It has been incredible to see the trees each day. Nearly every day I go to the beach. From the time I first arrived, I concluded that it would not be a perfect day on campus unless I’ve made it to the beach. I prefer Temple Beach. One day as I was walking toward the beach I decided to turn around and head the other way. Suddenly I was at the Visitors’ Center and there was the beautiful statue of Christ. As I continued my walk, I found some amazing statues. I really like the statue of Father Lehi blessing Joseph. As I continued the walk, I hope that all of you have taken this walk multiple times, I found myself heading towards the temple.
The word temple in Hebrew means palace. I actually think there is no other temple that looks more like a palace than the Laie Temple. The reason is the walkway leading towards the temple. If you start at the beach, the ocean is the gateway. From there, you move yourself forward. As I got closer to the temple, I found something that captured my attention that day. I suppose that you have seen it many times, too. It says Maternity. I’m not really sure what the artist thought it meant, but it stood out to me. It depicts a mother and her children. The children are by her side and at her feet. She is holding a huge seashell. To me, Maternity represents a mother who has prayed for the blessings of heaven, and the blessings from heaven for her is the rain that now falls. She captures these blessings in her seashell. She has captured so many blessings that it now spills over to the next generation. As it spills over to the next generation, Marcus Martins told me that it represents the blessings that flow from generation to generation.
If you stand just right, it appears that the blessings flow from the mother’s shell to not only her current generation, but to the next and cascades down to the next pool, and to the next, and the next until, finally, it goes out into the ocean and then literally fills the whole earth.
As I thought about this, I asked myself, “Is there any mother I know that has succeeded in doing just that?” I decided to look more into the life of Mary Fielding Smith.
Mary Fielding Smith married well, just like me. But in her case, she waited until she was 36 years old to marry. She was from England. She joined the Church after she emigrated to Canada. She eventually made her way to Kirtland. Who does she marry? A man named Hyrum Smith, whose wife had died.
Hyrum had been told by the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith that his name would be had in remembrance for generation after generation and forever and ever. How do you do that and have your influence go forward? The answer is that he married well.
It was said of Hyrum by his son Joseph F. Smith in a revelation that he was one of the great founders saved to come forth and perform this great latter-day work. Hyrum was martyred along with his brother Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844. Mary Fielding Smith was now a widow. It would be her responsibility to raise their son Joseph F. Smith to bring honor to the name of his father.
What did he need to learn from his mother so that he could live to be a prophet of God? For Joseph F. Smith, his earliest memories revolved around his mother. He recalled at age six, his father returned from Iowa and made the decision that they would go to Carthage. He remembered his father stopping by the home. There was great emotion between his father and mother. Hyrum must have known that he would not see Mary Fielding Smith again. Joseph F. Smith remembered that he went outside and was playing in the dirt when his father came outside of the house and got on his horse. His father lifted him up and put him in front of him on the horse. As they looked each other, Hyrum said, “Never forget me. I will die for the truth.”
Joseph’s next memory was receiving word that his father was dead. Joseph F. Smith described that he spent the night trying to do childish things to make his mother smile, laugh, anything to help her stop crying, but to no avail.
He then described the next day. He went to the Mansion House where the family gathered to see the martyrs. As Mary Fielding Smith entered the room where the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum lay, she was wearing her finest dress. She had also dressed young Joseph F. in his finest outfit. Joseph recalled that his mother took him over to see his father. He saw his father and heard his mother remind him that he was never to forget his father and that as Hyrum had lived for the truth, Joseph was to live his life accordingly.
His next childhood memory was that he was now living with his widowed mother in Nauvoo. Mary Fielding Smith was very involved in Relief Society. She and her sister collected money from other members of the Society—typically two pennies. The pennies were used to purchase glass for the Nauvoo Temple.
Joseph F. described that one day while his mother was sleeping, he passed by a desk in the home and a drawer was open. Inside the drawer, he saw a lot of pennies. He had never seen so much money in his life, and his conclusion was that he wanted to put those pennies in his pocket, at least some of them. He liked to hear the sound of money jingling in his pocket, and perhaps you like that, too. He played with the money for awhile, then forgot about it. However, he did keep the pennies in his pocket.
He went outside to play. One of the members of the Church passed by and saw this young boy and heard the sound of money. He went over to Joseph F. Smith and demanded to see the contents of his pockets. Joseph F., a six-year-old, brought out the contents of his pockets. He had fistfuls of money. At this point, the man wanted to know his name. He also wanted to know who his parents were. Without warning, the man grabbed him by the collar and took him through the streets of Nauvoo shouting, “Come see a thief!”
The man received much notice for his actions before going to the home of Mary Fielding Smith. When she answered the door, he explained to her that he had caught a thief. Mary was puzzled. Her son was a good boy. She wanted to know how this man had the right to accuse him of being a thief. When Joseph emptied the contents of his pockets, he was crying. His mother wanted to know if he had taken the money intending to steal it. When Joseph indicated that he had not taken the pennies to steal them, Mary told the accuser to leave her home. She embraced her son, but not the man who was the accuser.
What can you pick up about Mary? She trusted her son.
The next memory that Joseph F. had was leaving Nauvoo. Apparently there were several who stayed in town that had been part of the mob that had killed his father and uncle Joseph. One such man was a doctor named Robert Foster. Robert Foster owned much property on Mulholland Street. One such property was the building where the Nauvoo Expositor was printed. Robert Foster had been told by several men in Nauvoo that he was no longer welcomed in town. Yet he refused to leave town. That was until Mary Fielding Smith and Leonora Cannon, wife of John Taylor, paid him a visit. Mary informed Doctor Foster that she had heard that the men in town had told him to leave and that he refused. She then told him that she would give him until midnight before she rallied the women in town to escort him from the community. Doctor Foster left town due to her comments.
Is Mary Fielding Smith like the woman holding that seashell? She appears strong to me. As a mother, she wants blessings for her son. She did not want anybody around her son that was going to cause conflict.
When some of the other Smiths chose to stay in Nauvoo, Mary Fielding Smith chose to go west. Her son was now getting older. He was now eight years old. She expected him to act the part of a man, so much so that when he was asked, “What is it like being a child?” he replied, “I really don’t know. I think I was born an adult.”
Mary and her son left Nauvoo and worked their way across the territory of Iowa. They were hoping to go west, but before leaving they needed to find a Captain of Ten. As you read Section 136 in the Doctrine and Covenants, you read about captains of tens, fifties, hundreds, and five hundreds. It was important for Mary to find a captain of ten who would take her family to Zion, which meant the Salt Lake Valley. Mary found a captain of ten who took them only part of the way. He did not want to be responsible for getting them all the way to Zion because he thought they were slowing down the rest of the company. Mary refused to turn around and go back to Iowa or Nebraska. She determined to go on to the valley. She actually arrived in the Salt Lake Valley before that particular captain of ten. She greeted him as he arrived.
She then needed a home and determined that Joseph would help build the home for her. He was ten-years-old at the time. For some of you who were playing video games, watching TV, and waiting for your mom to put that food on the table, please know that ten-year-old Joseph F. was doing a job expected of someone much older than he. He helped build a simple house. It was not a big mansion. It did not have a three-car garage.
His mother only lived four more years. Had she taught him enough about life and the gospel of Jesus Christ. There was still so much for him to learn. One lesson still to learn was the importance of protecting his young sister, Martha.
There was one incident that Joseph F. loved to tell. It was the time that both he and his sister were attending school in a one-room school house. One day the teacher indicated that he would hit Martha so that she could do better in school. If we thought we could get smarter by somebody hitting us, we would all say “beat us—finals are coming.” Obviously, hitting doesn’t make anyone smarter. The teacher wanted Martha to put out her hand and he would then hit her hand with a stick. Joseph reacted. He did not allow the teacher to hit his sister. When the teacher suggested that he would hit Joseph, it appears Joseph hit him first. This led to Joseph and his sister leaving the schoolhouse.
One last remembered experience had to do with the payment of tithing. At the time, many pioneers paid their tithing in kind, which meant paying tithing in some type of produce. Joseph F. Smith enjoyed telling about the time his mother attempted to pay tithing by giving potatoes. He described himself driving a wagon filled with potatoes to give to the bishop at the tithing barn. The bishop refused to accept the potatoes, claiming that Mary Fielding Smith was forgiven of her indebtedness to the Lord due to her poverty conditions. Although initially, Joseph F. Smith thought this a great decision, his mother did not. In fact, she became upset and insisted on going to see the bishop at the tithing barn. She did pay her tithing on that occasion in potatoes. Joseph F. recalled that the bishop who had refused her tithing left the church. He said that he knew his father and mother were in the Celestial Kingdom.
Did she teach him enough? Does he really have the confidence to stand up for himself? Does he know his Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ? Does he know that his father’s name is to continue for generations? Has he figured out that he will be the one that will honor that name? Does he know that to honor his father means to become a man of God?
At age 14, his mother died. Was he ready to go forward and not backward?
Here was the most amazing thing. Joseph F. Smith received a mission call when he was 15 years old. That was pretty amazing. The Lord needed him early in his life. The question was, where do you send a 15-year-old son to learn further lessons of life? Where do you send him to give him the confidence needed so that he won’t be like the waves of the sea that James talked about, tossed to and fro? He needed to become strong in stature and in strength before the Lord. He needed to honor his parents by fulfilling the will of the Lord in his life. Where do you send a 15-year-old young man to give service and to continue learning? The answer was Hawaii of course! Where else would you send him? Send him to Hawaii where people know how to love and how to serve.
No sooner did he arrive here than he became ill. He was ill for three months. During those months, an incredible Hawaiian woman took him in and cared for him. If you haven’t seen the statue of the woman that cared for him located above the temple, go see it. Notice as you begin to read the plaque that it tells about this woman and the care she gave to Joseph F. Smith. The plaque will tell you that when Joseph F. Smith came back to Hawaii he was a prophet of God. At that time, she was an old woman and blind. When he saw her, he called her mama. Did Joseph F. have two great mothers? It appears so. The decisive Mary Fielding Smith passed the baton across the ocean to another woman who continued to care for him. She helped him learn the language and to love the Hawaiian people. She taught him about service and so much more.
The young boy grew up being nurtured by the wonderful Hawaiian people. He went back to Salt Lake City. Other missions would follow, as would marriage and employment. Joseph was employed in the Church Historical Department in a type of secretarial position. While working in that position, he learned much about his uncle Joseph Smith and his father Hyrum. He learned to love both men and the gospel they shared. While still in his twenties, Joseph F. Smith was ordained by Brigham Young to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a member of the First Presidency.
What can we learn about mothers? I think the answer is if you are going to be a mother in this life, do your very best because you never know who is growing up in your home. Perhaps you will be raising someone who will make a great difference in this world like Joseph F. Smith. If you are going to be a father and want your name to be remembered for generations and generations and be forever honored, choose a great woman to be the mother in your home. If you are going to be a father, you want to live such a life that a son of yours will want to honor your name and do the great things that you have done on this earth.
How do I feel about my experience in Hawaii? I actually can’t believe I bought a ticket to go home. It has been wonderful. What is the best part? Has it been the beach? Oh sure. Has it been the trees? Absolutely! What about the temple? I wish it was opened. For now, I am going to settle for that wonderful woman holding the seashell.
What do I hope you have learned? I hope you have learned that being a mom means that you have got to be confident and resolute. You need to know who you are and that the Lord loves you and that he loves your family and that you need pray and to hold out so that those blessings of heaven fall in your seashell. They not only fall on your children but the next generations, too. I hope that you have learned the importance of living a worthy life and that you are motivated to listen to your parents and honor them.
I would like to close with my testimony: I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that our Father in Heaven lives. I know that Joseph Smith was a great prophet of God and that his brother Hyrum was a patriarch. I also know that President Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God. I am so grateful that I married a man that had a mother that was resolute. He had a mother that taught him the gospel. As a result he teaches me and loves me. He loves our children. What an incredible example he is to so many. May you find somebody as wonderful as Harvey Black in your life.
What can you expect in this life? Great joy in this life and in the eternal life yet to come. I bear you this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.