Women and Children Testify of the Restoration

    By Faye Fischer, Church history specialist, with research assistance from Anne Berryhill, executive services
    2 June 2020

    In this post, Faye Fischer highlights library collections that capture women’s and children’s voices regarding Joseph Smith, his character, and his role in the Restoration.

    Joseph Smith's First Vision and the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ are events that many hold dear to their hearts. This springtime, many members of the Church have felt a renewed testimony of the First Vision as they have followed inspired invitations to study and personalize Joseph’s experience in the Sacred Grove 200 years ago.

    Many of the early voices we hear testifying to the truthfulness of the Restoration and the Prophet Joseph Smith come from the accounts and records of men, but women and children were also there every step of the way, lending their faith and belief to the growth of the Church. Women recognized the added light and enhanced roles available to them as a result of the First Vision and Restoration.

    The women closest to Joseph were given specific roles and responsibilities in the unfolding of the Restoration. Joseph shared many of his sacred experiences with his mother, and his wife, Emma, assisted in the translation of the Book of Mormon.

    Organization of the Relief Society, by Nadine Barton

    Emma Hale Smith spoke often to the Relief Society about the divine mission they were appointed to fulfill at Joseph’s behest. Her husband, the Prophet, gave her authority to establish a pattern of teaching, discussion, and service among the sisters. In minutes of early Relief Society meetings, Emma is recorded encouraging the sisters to “abide the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.”1

    Lucy Mack Smith testified frequently of the Restoration and the role her sons played. As the Saints were preparing to head west, she told the story of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the sacrifices her family made and encouraged the impoverished Saints with her faith: “My family could go to work and get means to print the Book of Mormon. Do not be discouraged and say that you can’t get wagons and things. … If you feel cross you will have trouble.”2

    Prominent female members continued to testify of the divinity of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and the restorative work he instigated. These testimonies began to be widely disseminated through published channels, most notably the Woman’s Exponent (a Utah newspaper staffed and written almost entirely by women). Major commemorations of Joseph Smith’s life inspired women to write their testimonies. In 1905, for example, the Church celebrated Joseph Smith’s 100th birthday. That year and the next, the Woman’s Exponent was filled with tributes and testimonies of the Prophet and the great work of Restoration that had been growing in strength and numbers for 85 years.

    “The truths proclaimed by the Prophet Joseph have permeated the world, … and [have] developed a vast change of sentiment among the children of men, light has come into the world, … and men yet unborn will come to acknowledge the boy Prophet a great benefactor, as well as Seer and Revelator.”3

    An honorary poem by Nellia, or Nellie, Becroft printed in the November 1906 Woman’s Exponent speaks of Joseph Smith’s role in organizing and empowering the women of the Church through the Restoration:

    “Forgetting not his mother’s sex, for womanhood he turned the key;

    Unfettered she arose and grasped the scope of her grand destiny;

    O daughters all of Mother Eve! O womankind where’er you be!

    Know this: the Prophet Joseph Smith this era brought to you and me.”4

    In 2005, another 100 years later, on the Prophet’s 200th birthday, the children of the Sandy Utah Granite South Stake recorded their testimonies of the First Vision and the Restoration. On slips of paper, they wrote their tender feelings or drew pictures of the Prophet conversing with heavenly visitors and translating the Book of Mormon. These are a few of their simple testimonies:

    “I no Joseph Smith is real and I hop you will believe.”
    “My testimony about Joseph Smith is that … he lived a long time ago, he found the gold plates in the ground, he was the 1st lader day prophet.”
    “He was a true prophet and he was one of the best ever.”5

    Though these testimonies do not follow the conventions of grammar and spelling, they speak to the way children understand and embrace Joseph’s sacred experience. The powerful voices of women and children are peppered throughout the records of the Church. You can explore Church periodicals (especially the Woman’s Exponent, the Relief Society Magazine, and the Children’s Friend) and conference reports, or search for journals or personal accounts in the Church History Catalog.

    We invite you to research the statements of their faith during this bicentennial year, when we celebrate the divine truth stated by Clarissa S. Williams (sixth General President of the Relief Society):

    “While he was still a boy he sought the Lord in prayer and found him. As a result he startled the world with the knowledge that God is in the likeness of man, and that he can and will reveal himself to man in answer to prayer.”6

    Top image: The Prophet Joseph Loved Children, by Clark Kelley Price