Please see the Introduction to this series for the origins of these lessons, written by Elder A.G. Pack, a missionary to England in 1930.
INTRODUCTION: There were priestesses and prophetesses in early Biblical days but for centuries after women were doomed to lives of social and spiritual obscurity. It seems to have been a mark of the apostasy. When the pall of paganism hung over the minds of men, women were deemed but servants, and held as property to be used or abused at the will of their lords.
With a knowledge of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, women – our mothers of Zion – assumed their rightful and true position as man’s helpmate. In the dramatic founding of God’s kingdom and throughout the varied history of the Church, we find inseparably interwoven the sweet influence of the wives and mothers of those stalwart leaders. In his introduction to the “Women of Mormondom” Edward W. Tullidge, an early writer and biographer, says:
An epic of woman! Not in all the ages has there been one like it.
Fuller of romance than works of fiction are the lives of the Mormon women. So strange and thrilling is their story – so rare in its elements of experience – that neither history nor fable affords a perfect example; yet it is a reality of our own times.
Women with new types of character, antique rather than modern; themes ancient, but transposed to our latter-day experience. Women with their eyes open, and the prophecy of their work and mission in their own utterances, who have dared to enter upon the path of religious empire-founding with as much divine enthusiasm as had the apostles who founded Christendom. Such are the Mormon women – religious empire-founders, in faith and fact. Never till now did woman essay such an extraordinary character; never before did woman rise to the conception of so supreme a mission in her own person and life.
Let us view them purely as prophetic women, who undertook to found their half of a new Christian empire, and we have exactly the conception with which to start the epic story of the Women of Mormondom.
They had been educated by the Hebrew Bible, and their minds cast by its influence, long before they saw the Book of Mormon or heard the Mormon prophet. The examples of the ancient apostles were familiar to them, and they had yearned for the pentacosts of the early days. But most had they been enchanted by the themes of the old Jewish prophets, whose writings had inspired them with faith in the literal renewal of the covenant with Israel, and the “restitution of all things” of Abrahamic promise. This was the case with nearly all of the early disciples of Mormonism – men and women. They were not as sinners converted to Christianity, but as disciples who had been waiting for the “fullness of the everlasting Gospel.” [The Women of Mormondom, p. 1-3.]
We may well be proud of them. It may be truly said that men’s success is often predicated upon the unsung and lofty heroism of their mothers and helpmates.
In the short space afforded us we are able to chronicle but a few of the great events of Church history, hoping that these will give the Sisters of the Relief Society a slight conception of the mighty and glorious events which filled the lives of the Women-Founders of the Church.
THE PROPHET’S ANCESTORS: It is interesting to know that English and Scotch blood contributed to the noble souls who were instrumental in the re-establishment of Christ’s Church on earth. Though they knew not their destiny, they were forerunners in the mighty work of restoration. Through them was given the first prophetic genius of modern days, who wrought manifestations and revealed anew the glorious truths of heaven so long lost. The Prophet Joseph Smith descended from a line of ancestors noted for their fear of God, and to his mother was given the heritage of these faithful and truth-loving souls, which prepared her to be the mother of the latter-day Prophet.
The Prophet’s forebears went from England and Scotland and settled in New England, a section in the north-eastern part of the United States, so named because of its similarity to the mother country. There, as here, the semi-rugged country converges into many sloping valleys, which at first were covered with heavy growths of native timber. Before the land was tillable, this timber had to be removed. Grass everywhere made a native garden, and as the land was slowly redeemed from its wild state, here and there farms began to dot the landscape, making it appear much like the hilly moor areas of England. And in this new, half-conquered wilderness, the forefathers and mothers of the Prophet lived.
Robert Smith, of whose direct ancestry we are uncertain. went from England in the year 1638. From him descended Joseph Smith, the Prophet’s father, who was born in Topsfield, State of Massachusetts, July 12th, 1771.
John Mack, forefather of the Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack, was born in Inverness, Scotland, March 6th, 1653, and went to America about 1680. Solomon Mack, Lucy’s father, was born in Lyme, New London County, State of Connecticut, September 15th, 1732. He married Lydia Gates, a young school teacher, in 1759. Two years later they settled in a locality which Solomon Mack says was “no other than a desolate wilderness … only four families within forty miles.”
Lucy Mack, the Prophet’s mother, was born July 8th, 1776, at Gilsum, Cheshire County, New Hampshire. Her mother taught her an abiding faith in God and imbued her with a longing to become affiliated with the true Church of Christ. In speaking of the teachings of Lucy’s mother, Solomon Mack says: “She … was in the habit of calling them (the children) together both morning and evening, and teaching them to pray, meanwhile urging upon them the necessity of love towards each other as well as devotional feelings towards Him who made them.” [History of the Mormon Church, Vol. I, p. 385.]
HIS PARENTS: During Lucy’s repeated visits to her brother Stephen Mack, who with John Mudget was engaged in the mercantile and tinning business at Tunbridge, she met Joseph Smith, the Prophet’s father. A pretty romance ensued and they were married on January 24th, 1796. They settled at Tunbridge.
With Spartan fortitude, in the midst of primeval nature, they built their home and mustered all its character building forces. Into this humble home, amongst primitive surroundings, were born their first three children, Alvin, Hyrum and Sophronia. The family moved to Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont, where Joseph the Prophet was born December 23rd, 1805. He was surrounded with sweet influences, and learned to love the out-of-doors. The morale of the home made him a truth-lover. Four sons, Samuel Harrison, Ephraim, William and Don Carlos, and two daughters, Catherine and Lucy, later came to grace this humble but loving home. They, too, were tutored and nurtured by the Mother’s God-given faith.
SERIOUS ILLNESS: In 1811 the Smith family moved to Lebanon, New Hampshire, where they hoped for better fortunes on their farm. They had not been there long, however, before sickness overtook the family, and Joseph was stricken with an infection which settled in his leg. The doctors, after vainly endeavouring to check the disease, decided that the limb must be amputated. To this his mother protested, entreating them and finally persuading them to lance the boy’s leg and take away the infected part of the bone. In that day the use of anaesthetics was unknown. Refusing to take alcoholic stimulants to deaden the excessive pain, or to be tied to his bed, Joseph said: “But I will tell you what I will do – I will have father sit on the bed and hold me in his arms …” Then looking at his mother, he said: “Mother, I want you to leave the room, for I know you cannot bear to see me suffer so. … Promise me that you will not stay? The Lord will help me through.” [History of the Prophet Joseph, Lucy Mack Smith, Ch. XVI.] … This, from the son of a brave mother. She repaired to the woods, out of hearing, bowing herself – mother-like – in earnest prayer, later to return to linger near while her son underwent this painful operation. It was successful; her prayers were answered, and Joseph in time was well again.
MOVE TO NEW YORK STATE: But poverty again overtook them. Joseph Smith, Sen., left his family behind and went 300 miles westward to seek new possibilities. To Lucy was given the task of following with the children, but she did not fail – she also was a hardy pioneer. She joined her husband at Palmyra, New York, in 1815, where they settled within a few miles of the Hill Cumorah, which was later to figure so prominently in their history. May we not see the hand of the Lord in guiding these chosen ones to this place? The destinies of extinct nations had decreed that this youth should here accomplish “a marvelous work and a wonder.” His parents must have felt intuitively that they should settle here. It was decided that they should purchase 100 acres of land two miles southward, where Mother Smith desired to establish her own home again.
A NEW HOME: They were a frugal, hard-working family, in dire circumstances; but by thrift and cooperation, they soon had the farm under way. “In a year,” says Lucy Smith, “we made nearly all of the first payment, erected a log house, and commenced clearing.”
The timber taken from the farm was sawed into slabs and used in building the log house of which Mother Smith speaks. It was a humble but comfortable four room dwelling, which was later enlarged by adding bedrooms on the rear. The family, once again independent and happy, lived here while a more commodious home was being erected nearby. They were living in this new home when Joseph received his divine commission.
REARED IN TRUTH AND HONOUR: This noble mother had reared her son to serve the Lord, as she had taught all his brothers and sisters. William Smith, a younger brother, gives an insight into the teachings of their mother. In speaking of Joseph, he said: “He was a truthful boy … I suppose if he had told crooked stories about other things we might have doubted his word about the plates, but Joseph was a truthful boy. That father and mother believed his report and suffered persecution for that belief shows that he was truthful.”
WOMAN’S PARTICIPATION: On the very day of the organization of the Church to the Prophet’s “great joy and consolation,” both his parents were baptized into the Church. And upon Emma Smith, the Prophet’s wife, the Lord conferred a singular honour. through the Prophet He gave her a revelation – the first recorded modern revelation given to a woman – promising this “elect lady” an “inheritance in Zion” if she proved faithful, and commanding:
And it shall be given thee, also, to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my Church. For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads. [Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 25:11-12.]
The Prophet was the means of bringing light to the world in the glorious privileges in which woman as well as man was able to participate. The modern emancipation of the womanhood of the world began when a modern Prophet “turned the key” in her behalf. And Mormon women, instead of being “down-trodden” have been and are the most highly honoured of their sex.
1. – What can you say of the Prophet’s paternal ancestors? Of his maternal ancestors?
2. – What conditions in the new world served to make his forefathers a hardy, faithful people? How did Lucy Mack exercise this heritage?
3. – What were her home conditions after her marriage which prepared her to become the mother of the first modern Prophet? Locate Sharon on the map.
4. – Tell of Joseph’s miraculous healing at Lebanon.
5. – Locate Palmyra, New York. Of what importance was their move there? Cite some Book of Mormon reference to the Hill cumorah.
6. – How did Lucy Smith’s life testify to her faith in Joseph?
7. – Under the new organization what great privilege was extended to womanhood? Why?
8. – For the closing hymn sing “Joseph Smith’s First Prayer.”