On Saturday, March 30th, 2013 the Church broadcast its annual General Young Women’s meeting. In her introductory remarks General Young Women’s President Elaine Dalton mentioned that there was a special guest present, Florence Smith Jacobsen, who served as president of the then-titled “Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association” from 1961 to 1972. Sister Jacobsen was in attendance at the meeting in part to recognize her upcoming 100th birthday. In honor of her 100th birthday I wanted to share some information about Sister Jacobsen and focus in particular on one rather unusual incident that occurred between her and President Henry D. Moyle, First Counselor in the First Presidency, early in her service as President of the Young Women.
Florence Smith was born on April 7, 1913 to Willard Richards Smith and his wife Florence Grant Smith. As Mormons go Sister Jacobsen has a pretty impressive pedigree: her father’s father was Joseph F. Smith and her mother’s father was Heber J. Grant. She is also the niece of Lucy Grant Cannon, who also served as General President of the Young Women from 1937 to 1948.
Florence Smith married Ted Jacobsen in 1935. From 1955 to 1959 Florence and Ted served together while he was president of the Eastern States mission. After her release as Young Women’s President Sister Jacobsen was called by President Harold B. Lee to be the “Church Curator.” She also served a term on the Utah governor’s committee for cultural and historical sites. During her service as Young Women’s President and as Church Curator Sister Jacobsen directed or helped to direct the restoration of many historic Church sites including the interior of the Manti Temple, and restorations of such buildings as the E.B. Grandin building, Brigham Young’s St. George home, Jacob Hamblin’s home in Santa Clara, Newell K. Whitney’s Kirtland, Ohio home, Joseph Smith, Sr’s. home in Palmyra, and Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff’s homes in Nauvoo, Ill. She also played a very key role in the construction of the Museum of Church History and Art, first suggesting that it be built to President Spencer W. Kimball, and then personally collecting many of the items that are in its collection.
In April of 2010 Sister Jacobsen was honored with the Junius F. Wells Award by the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation for her efforts to restore and preserve historic buildings. The award was presented at a dinner in the Joseph Smith memorial building and a story was written up about the event in The Church News in May of 2010. The article noted in part:
Among her accomplishments highlighted in the program were rescuing the Lion House from demolition and spearheading the restoration of it and the adjoining Beehive House … days after receiving her call as YWMIA president, Sister Jacobsen learned the Lion House … was to be demolished to make room for access to the Church Office Building … She recoiled at the news.
To President David O. McKay, she proposed the Lion House be refurbished as part of a plan to make it financially self-sustaining. He authorized temporary use of Church funds for that purpose. The funds were returned within a few years after the building was renovated into a profitable entity.1
The restoration of the Lion and Beehive Houses were particularly important projects to Sister Jacobsen. She remembered visiting her grandfather, Joseph F. Smith, in the Beehive House when he lived there as Church president and had fond memories of her experiences there. The Lion House was important to her in part because for years it was used to house young women as they attended college in Salt Lake City. The above quote from the Church News article on Sister Jacobsen however, only tells part of the story.
The story on Sister Jacobsen from the Church News leaves out two very interesting details. To help tell the story of Sister Jacobsen and the Lion House a few details need to be provided about President Henry D. Moyle. President Moyle was called to be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and ordained an April of 1947. In June of 1959 David O. McKay called him to be second counselor in the First Presidency, and upon the death of J. Reuben Clark in 1961, President Moyle became President McKay’s First Counselor. As an apostle Elder Moyle was involved with many of the Church’s investments and monetary issues. These responsibilities increase when he became a member of the First Presidency. At that time he was also placed in charge of the Church’s building program. In these capacities he played an important role in many of the redevelopment projects that took place in Salt Lake City in the 1950s and early 1960s. Among the projects that he helped to initialize were the expansion of the Z.C.M.I. Mall and the downtown placement of the Federal Building. Several decades before the Conference Center was built he helped propose that the Church build a large church auditorium for General Conferences to replace the too-small Tabernacle. He dropped this plan when the Salt Palace was proposed by community planners. When that project was proposed he suggested to the planners that the proposed 15,000-seat arena was too small and suggested that the capacity be increased 25,000.
When it came to preserving old buildings of historical interest, President Moyle’s opinion was exactly the opposite of President Jacobsen’s. According to his biography President Moyle, “had little empathy” for the cause of historians and preservationists. When it came to historical preservation President Moyle’s attitude seemed to be one of, “progress must progress.” He felt that the current and future needs and concerns of the Church were far more important than saving old buildings. Happily nothing came from President Moyle’s off-hand remark that if Beehive House and Lion House were taken down, a “good building” could be put up on the site. At one point, speaking of the Lion and Beehive Houses, President Moyle is reported to have made a comment that they should be, “taken down, a ‘good building’ could be put up on the site”2
The differing opinions of these two strong willed leaders on the importance of the preserving of these historical buildings lead to a confrontation, the story of which thankfully has been preserved by the interviewing efforts of David O. McKay biographer Greg Prince. While working on his biography “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism” Prince interviewed Florence and Ted Jacobsen. This interview gives us the extra detail of why President Moyle and perhaps other Church leaders felt some motivation to demolish the Lion House in particular, and it preserves for us an unusual story of general Church auxiliary leader standing up to and even defying a member of the First Presidency. After becoming the Young Women president Sister Jacobsen put together a proposal for the restoration of the Lion House. She was told to give her proposal to President Moyle. Speaking of this meeting Sister Jacobsen told Prince that:
I was appointed to go and see, not President McKay, but Henry D. Moyle who was a counselor. And Brother Moyle just said, “No way. We’re going to tear that house down for a driveway from the parking lot underneath”—for the high-rise parking lot. He said, “That’s all planned, Florence. That house is going to go down.” I said, “President Moyle, you just can’t do that.” And he said, “Florence, all it does is remind people of polygamy.” I said, “Well, I’m not ashamed of it. Are you?” And he said, “That’s not a fair question.” I said, “It’s fair in my book.” But he was just adamant that house was going to go down. Well, about five months later he was gone. He died.3
After President Moyle’s death President Jacobsen tried again, this time going straight to President McKay. She proposed to President McKay that they preserve and convert the Lion House into its present form as restaurant and a banquet hall, she told him that, “We’ll maintain the standards of the Church. There will be no smoking or drinking. We won’t serve coffee. We’ll just do what we should do, and it will be a beautiful center. And it will be wonderful for the weddings.” She reported that “President McKay looked up at his counselors and he said, ‘Brethren, I’m all for it. Will you sustain me in this?’ President Tanner was a little reluctant. He said, “I just think we’re preserving too many old buildings’”4 But despite some concerns from President Tanner President Jacobsen had the most important supporter necessary this time, President David O. Mckay. The project was approved, the Lion house was preserved, and within a few years the Church’s monetary investment in the building had been returned.
While I am not recommending or suggesting that it is okay to defy a member of the First Presidency, I find this to be an interesting story about how the pluck and determination of a historically minded woman paid off. In honor of Sister Jacobsen’s 100th birthday, her role as a historical preservationist, and perhaps in honor of her pluck, may I suggest that those who have the chance to do so visit the Lion House in the near future and eat on of their famous “Lion House Rolls” smothered in honey butter? My mouth is watering all ready.
- R. Scott Lloyd. “Life of Building,” LDS Church News, 1 May 2010. [↩]
- Richard D. Poll, Working the Divine Miracle, Signature Books, 1999 [↩]
- Interview of Florence and Ted Jacobsen by Gregory A. Prince, September 24, 1997, copy in my possession [↩]
- Interview of Florence and Ted Jacobsen by Gregory A. Prince, September 24, 1997. [↩]