Smith, Bathsheba Bigler

See this page in the original 1992 publication.

Author: Arrington, Harriet Horne

Bathsheba Wilson Bigler Smith (1822-1910) was the fourth general president of the Relief Society, matron of the Salt Lake Temple, woman suffrage leader, and member of the Deseret Hospital Board of Directors.

Bathsheba was the eighth of nine children born to Mark and Susannah Ogden Bigler at Shinnston, Harrison County, Virginia, on May 3, 1822. She was reared in a genteel, upper South culture. The Biglers provided a substantial living for the family on their 300-acre plantation. Bathsheba was trained in management, hospitality, handiwork, and art, and was a cheerful, dignified, and prayerful woman.

At the age of fifteen, Bathsheba and her family joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the missionaries serving in the area, George A. Smith, later to be the youngest member called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, became acquainted with this tall, sophisticated southern belle; before he left Virginia, they pledged that "with the blessings of the Almighty in preserving us, in three years from this time, we will be married."

The Bigler family gathered with the Saints in Nauvoo in 1839. Following his return from a mission in England, George and Bathsheba were married on July 25, 1841. While in Nauvoo, they became parents of two children, George A., Jr., and Bathsheba. Their son was killed in 1860 by Indians while serving a mission.

From the time of her marriage, her life was closely intertwined with the Church's movements and programs. She was one of the twenty founding members of the Female Relief Society. She received the ordinance of anointing from Emma Smith and, with her husband, received the Endowment under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Her relationship with the Smiths provided Bathsheba with a solid conviction of the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith.

Bathsheba was a diversely talented woman. She studied portraiture with William W. Major, a British convert, and carried her paintings of her husband, her parents, and Joseph and Hyrum Smith in a covered wagon to Utah. She was a full participant in the heritage of leadership prescribed to LDS women; she gave blessings to the sick, washed and anointed women in confinement prior to childbirth, and served in leadership positions in the Church and community. A loyal and committed friend, she exchanged names with a childhood girlfriend surnamed Wilson, adding that name to her established signature.

During the early 1870s, Bathsheba made frequent trips with her husband, then first counselor to President Brigham Young, through settlements north and south of Salt Lake City on preaching and pioneering tours. After the death of her husband in 1875, Bathsheba pursued with customary vigor her commitments to civic and ecclesiastical affairs. Representative of such verve, at a women's meeting in 1870 she made the motion "that we demand of the Governor the right of franchise." This proposal was subsequently signed into law, making the Territory of Utah one of the first places in the nation to give women the right to vote.

In addition to her service as a ward and stake Relief Society leader, and as second counselor and later general president of the Relief Society, Bathsheba also officiated in each of the temples constructed during her lifetime: Nauvoo, Logan, Manti, St. George, and Salt Lake. For seventeen years, she also participated with Eliza R. Snow in conducting sacred ceremonies in the Endowment house.

As general president of the Relief Society (1901-1910), President Smith maintained the forward pace of women. She sent representatives to national and international women's meetings, sponsored nurses' training and free services for the poor, and organized lessons for Relief Society classes. She promoted funding for construction of the Women's Building, from which the programs for the women of the Church were directed. It was this building that Church leaders later elected to rename the Bishops' Building, to accommodate the offices of both the Presiding Bishopric and the women's organizations.

Bathsheba Smith died on September 20, 1910, in Salt Lake City. Her funeral was held in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

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