Spafford, Belle Smith
From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Mouritsen, Maren M.
Marion Isabelle (Belle) Sims Smith Spafford (1895-1982) was a gifted administrator and an able assistant and adviser to six Presidents of the Church during her twenty-nine years as General President of the Relief Society (1945-1974).
President Spafford served through the late 1940s, when the Church rallied to rebuild war-weary Saints both physically and emotionally; the 1950s, when the Church endeavored to bridge its tremendous national and international growth; and the 1960s, when the Church correlated its programs and reemphasized the family and selfless service. Commanding in stature, she displayed invaluable energy, stamina, wisdom, and forthrightness during those turbulent decades.
Belle Smith was born October 8, 1895, in Salt Lake City, to Hester Sims and John Gibson Smith. Following her graduation from LDS High School, she completed a two-year degree at the University of Utah. After her marriage to widower Earl Spafford on March 23, 1921, she studied at the BYU Training School, and later, while her children, Mary and Earl, were growing up, she took courses at the University of Utah. A lifelong student, she designated daily study hours during which she was not to be called or disturbed; as a grandmother, she established "scholar night" on which she would study with each of her grandchildren, on a one-to-one basis.
Called early to leadership, Belle Spafford served as president of her ward YWMIA at age seventeen, and she also taught religion classes. She later served as a counselor in her ward Relief Society presidency and on the Relief Society stake board of Salt Lake Belvedere Stake. In 1935 she was called to the Relief Society General Board, and in 1942 she became a counselor to General Relief Society President Amy Brown lyman. She edited the history of Relief Society, A Centenary of Relief Society (1942), and also the Relief Society magazine from 1937 until her call as general president in 1945.
Named as general president of the Relief Society near the end of World War II, Spafford felt an urgent need to aid the members of the Church in Europe who had suffered from the conflict. Within weeks, Relief Society members had gathered and shipped thousands of items of food, clothing, and bedding to the members abroad. In addition to providing for physical needs, President Spafford placed special emphasis in the Relief Society Magazine, as well as in the lesson manuals, on social and spiritual issues of love and tolerance, in an attempt to lessen some of the anger and bitterness that existed as a result of the war. The leadership of the Relief Society organization was restructured to meet local needs worldwide. With increased emphasis on training, members of the Relief Society General Board visited every stake to develop leadership skills in local officers and to establish or reestablish local units.
Amid all the aid and effort aimed at repairing war damage, the Relief Society gained permission and raised money to construct a new Relief Society Building in Salt Lake City. Having their own headquarters building, dedicated on October 3, 1956, gave the Relief Society new cohesion and support. The early 1960s brought new emphasis on music and choirs at the local level and almost every stake in the Church formed a women's chorus called "The Singing Mothers." These groups appeared both nationally and internationally over the next twenty years.
In an effort to solidify the family, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles assigned the Relief Society the responsibility of reemphasizing the Family Home Hour. These efforts grew into the regular Monday night Family Home Evening program in 1964.
In the 1960s, the Relief Society also placed special emphasis on strengthening the community by encouraging women to do volunteer service at the Red Cross, Traveler's Aid, March of Dimes, child-care clinics, and hospitals. A health missionary program was instituted in 1971, using specially trained nurses and others to teach health principles and Welfare concepts to the disadvantaged. Under President Spafford's direction the Social Service and Child Welfare departments provided specialized services, including programs for abused children, unwed mothers, and youth guidance, and established licensed agencies for adoption, foster care, and Indian student placements in Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and Idaho. For her pioneering efforts in social work, the Utah State Conference of Social Work awarded her an honorary life membership, and the University of Utah established the Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chair in Social Work.
President Spafford traveled the world widely and was affiliated with a number of national and international organizations. She served two terms as president of the National Council of Women (1968-1970). Recognized as one of the leading women in the world, she was presented with the National Council of Women's highest honor (1978). She died on February 2, 1982.