Joseph Fielding Smith was born on July 19, 1876. His father was Joseph F. Smith, and his grandfather was Hyrum Smith, the brother of the Prophet Joseph Smith. He was raised to uphold and recognize the religious contributions of his ancestors, and he felt a powerful kinship to the Prophet Joseph Smith, Hyrum, and his father, Joseph F. Smith. He was an avid reader in his youth and loved to learn about the gospel. By the time he was ten, he had read the Book of Mormon from beginning to end twice.
He married Louie Emily (Emyla) Shurtliff in the Salt Lake Temple on April 26, 1898, and a year later left on a mission to England, where he served for two years. In April of 1906, he became assistant Church Historian. His wife tragically died in March of 1908, leaving behind two young daughters. In November, Joseph Fielding Smith married Ethel Georgina Reynolds, and together they had another five sons and four daughters. Elder Smith was a careful and diligent teacher to his children, and was rewarded by seeing all his sons and daughters remain faithful to the Church. His upstanding posterity is as much an achievement as his prophetic role or the books he authored.
On April 7, 1910, Joseph Fielding Smith was ordained as an Apostle for the Church at 34 years of age. When he was ordained, the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper criticized him and the Church for practicing nepotism, but Joseph Fielding Smith was determined to serve the Church in whatever capacity he was called. The vilification by the newspaper ignored his qualifications for the apostleship. Joseph Fielding Smith was foreordained for his calling as prophet—his mother had received a revelation that her son would become an apostle (Bruce R. McConkie, pp. 24-31). In a patriarchal blessing Elder Smith received at nineteen, he had also been told, "It shall be thy duty to sit in council with thy brethren, and to preside among the people" (John Smith, Patriarchal Blessing to Joseph Fielding Smith, Jan. 19, 1896; copy in LDS Church Historian's Library). 
As an Apostle he gained a reputation for his incredible knowledge of the scriptures. President Heber J. Grant called him “the best posted man on the scriptures of the General Authorities of the Church that we have” (Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph Fielding Smith: Gospel Scholar, Prophet of God, p. 290). He published more books than any other president of the Church, although that was not his intent. Most of them were compilations of talks or answers to questions he had received about the Church. Most of his writings are still used today and are widely referenced.
In 1939 President Smith was touring the European missions when it was decided that the missionaries needed to be evacuated so they would avoid being caught when the brewing-war (World War II) broke out. President Smith worked closely with the mission presidents in organizing the evacuation of missionaries, and he placed local brethren, such as Pieter Vlam in the presidencies of missions (which often did not even exist then, with most mission presidents at that time presiding without counselors) so that the church could continue to operate.
From 1945-1949 President Smith was president of the Salt Lake Temple. This was an appropriate position for a man who had been the head of the Utah Geneological Society and thus closely involved with the preparing of names for temple work for many years. In 1957 his book Elijah The Prophet and His Mission another expression of his close connection to temple work, was published.
On January 23, 1970 Joseph Fielding Smith became President of the Church. He helped reorganize some of the organizations of the Church and consolidated all of the various Church magazines into three magazines. He once said, “our mission is to preach the doctrines of salvation in plainness and simplicity as they are revealed and recorded in the scriptures” (Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph Fielding Smith: Gospel Scholar, Prophet of God, p. 472). President Smith’s teachings certainly live up to this mission. President Smith served for two years until his death on July 2, 1972.
Quotes from President Joseph Fielding Smith
- “We are engaged in the Lord's work; this is His Church; He is the author of the plan of salvation; it is His gospel which we have received by the opening of the heavens in this day; and our desire and whole purpose in life should be to believe the truths He has revealed and to conform our lives to them. No person in or out of the Church should believe any doctrine, advocate any practice, or support any cause that is not in harmony with the Divine Will. Our sole objective where the truths of salvation are concerned should be to find out what the Lord has revealed and then to believe and act accordingly.”
- “Out of the Darkness,” Ensign, June 1971
- "An individual may fall by the wayside, or have views, or give counsel which falls short of what the Lord intends. But the voice of the First Presidency and the united voice of those others who hold with them the keys of the kingdom shall always guide the Saints and the world in those paths where the Lord wants them to be."
- “Eternal Keys and the Right to Preside,” Ensign, July 1972
- “Our mission is to preach the doctrines of salvation in plainness and simplicity as they are revealed and recorded in the scriptures.”
- Conference Report, Oct. 1990
See also Quotes from the Prophets
|Presidents of the Mormon Church|
|Joseph Smith | Brigham Young | John Taylor | Wilford Woodruff | Lorenzo Snow | Joseph F. Smith | Heber J. Grant | George Albert Smith | David O. McKay | Joseph Fielding Smith | Harold B. Lee | Spencer W. Kimball | Ezra Taft Benson | Howard W. Hunter | Gordon B. Hinckley | Thomas S. Monson|