Understanding Mormonism Rotating Header Image

Joseph F Smith

Joseph F. Smith was the sixth prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon Church. He served in that position for seventeen years.Born on November 13, 1838, to Hyrum (Joseph Smith’s elder brother) and Mary Fielding Smith, he experienced upheaval and hardships early in life. His father was in jail when he was born, and the rest of his family was forced from their home in Far West, Missouri, when he was only a couple of months old. Of his own birth he wrote,

Joseph F Smith MormonThe day was cold, bleak and dreary, a fit and proper anniversary of the dark and trying day of my birth; When my father and his brother were confined in a dungeon [in Richmond] for the Gospel’s sake and the saints were being driven from their homes in Missouri by a merciless mob. The bright sunshine of my soul has never thoroughly dispelled the darkening shadows cast upon it by the lowering gloom of that eventful period. Yet the merciful hand of God and his kindliest providences have ever been extended visibly toward me, even from my childhood, and my days grow better and better thru humility and the pursuit of wisdom and happiness in the kingdom of God.

The family fled to Illinois, and for a time life was peaceful as the family lived in Nauvoo. Then in June of 1844, when Joseph F. Smith was only five years old, his father and his uncle Joseph Smith were martyred. Although he was young, he said, “the image of his uncle’s ‘lifeless body together with that of my father after they were murdered in Carthage jail’ long remained with him.” In the fall of 1846 the family was again forced from their home, and Joseph F. Smith crossed the Missouri River to begin his journey with his mother across the plains to Utah. Joseph, though only seven when their journey began, was in charge of driving an ox team.

In September of 1848, the family finally arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. A few years later, at 13, Joseph F. Smith was baptized as a member of the Mormon Church. Only five months after his baptism, Joseph’s mother passed away. Though he was still relatively young, he “cherished tender memories of his mother’s abiding faith and willingness to sacrifice. During the eight years between Hyrum’s martyrdom in 1844 and Mary’s own death in 1852, she shepherded her family across the plains to the valley of the Great Salt Lake, established a home and farm, and nurtured the faith of her children. President Smith forever revered his mother’s willingness to ‘toil and labor and sacrifice herself day and night, for the temporal comforts and blessings that she could meagerly give . . . to her children.’ In the midst of harsh and trying times, he found great comfort in her conviction: ‘The Lord will open the way.’

At fifteen years old Joseph F. Smith served his first Mormon mission for the Church. He was sent to Hawaii and stayed there preaching until he was nineteen. Of this early experience he wrote,

They [the Hawaiian people] had different habits to anything I had before known, and their food, and dress and houses and everything were new and strange. . . . For three months this seclusion from the world continued, but the history of that short period of my life never can be told. I had ample time to feel after the Lord and to draw near to him with my whole soul (From Prophet to Son: Advice of Joseph F. Smith to His Missionary Sons, compiled by Hyrum M. Smith III and Scott G. Kenney, p.i).

Joseph F. Smith embraced the Hawaiian people and learned the language in just 100 days. In 1857, he returned to Utah and just three years later left again for another mission to England. When he returned in 1863, he was again called on another mission to Hawaii.

In July 1866, at only 27 years old, Joseph F. Smith was ordained as an apostle and served as counselor to President Brigham Young. He also served as the president of the European Mission. Joseph F. Smith served as second counselor to three presidents of the Mormon Church: John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow. Then in October 1901, at 62 years old, he was called as the sixth president of the Mormon Church.

While prophet, President Joseph F. Smith began the Church’s work to maintain church history sites. Under his direction the Mormon Church purchased, Carthage Jail, a part of the temple site in Independence Missouri, Joseph Smith’s birthplace, the Sacred Grove, and the Joseph Smith Sr. family farm. Joseph F. Smith also oversaw the building of more temples, including the Cardston Alberta Temple in Canada and the Laie Hawaii Temple, neither of which were completed before his death. President Smith was also concerned about promoting a good family environment and instituted the weekly home evening program. This zeal for the preservation and teaching of the family came from his own love for his family. He said often that “life everlasting should begin at home.” Joseph F. Smith was also the first President of the Church to visit Europe while prophet. He also received the revelation now found in Doctrine and Covenants section 138 regarding the nature of spirits in the Spirit World.

Joseph F. Smith issued what is known as the “Second Manifesto” in 1904, adding a punishment to finally end polygamy.  This edict stated that anyone in the Mormon Church who entered into or performed a polygamous marriage would be excommunicated.  President Wilford Woodruff had issued a first manifesto in 1890 ending the practice of polygamy, but a few plural marriages were performed after his statement.

In November 1918, at 80 years old, Joseph F. Smith passed away. His son Joseph Fielding Smith, who also became a president of the Mormon Church, remembered his father this way, “His spirit was gentle and kind. A more sympathetic soul, one who suffered with the sufferer, who was more willing to help the helpless to carry his burden, and the downtrodden to regain his feet, could not be found in all the borders of Israel. He was a peace-maker, a lover of peace” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, p.439-440).

Other quotes from Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith