From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Bennett, Evalyn Darger
Clarissa Smith Williams (1859-1930) served as the sixth general president of Relief Society from 1921 to 1928, a period in which the Relief Society focused on health care and other social issues. She began her Relief Society activity as a visiting teacher at age sixteen and later served as secretary and president of both the Salt Lake Seventeenth Ward and Salt Lake Stake Relief Societies. In 1901 she was appointed treasurer and a member of the general board. Ten years later she became first counselor to President Emmeline wells. In April 1921, President Heber J. Grant appointed her general president of the Relief Society and editor of its magazine.
Clarissa was born April 21, 1859, in the residential wing of the Church Historian's Office in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was the first of five daughters born to George A. Smith, an apostle and Church historian, and his seventh and last wife, Susan Elizabeth West Smith. This family shared the residential apartment in the Historian's Office with the apostle's first wife, Bathsheba W. Smith, and her children. The polygamist wives and their families lived amicably in their comfortable pioneer residence.
Clarissa and her sisters received the best education available in the territory at that time. In 1875 she received a teaching certificate from the Normal Department of the university of Deseret (later the University of Utah).
Clarissa married William Newjent Williams on July 17, 1877, the day before he left on a mission to Wales. They had eleven children and lived to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary. William was a successful businessman, regent of the University of Utah, and state senator. In spite of their busy schedules, their family was always their first concern.
William supported Clarissa in her Relief Society activities. She later wrote: "After I was married and had seven children, I was asked to be secretary of the Seventeenth Ward Relief Society. I felt that I could not do this with all my little babies. But my husband said, "My dear, you must do it; it is the very thing you need; you need to get away from the babies, and I will help you all I can, either by taking care of the children or making out your reports or copying your minutes, or any other thing I can do"' (Relief Society Magazine 15 [Dec. 1928]:668-69).
As general Relief Society president, Clarissa Williams concentrated on social problems. During her presidency, the Relief Society funded loans for training public health nurses, distributed free milk to infants, provided health examinations for preschool children, and operated summer camps for underprivileged children. She encouraged ward Relief Societies to prepare layettes for new mothers and distribute them according to need. In 1924 under her supervision the Relief Society established the Cottonwood Maternity Hospital, which continued in operation until 1963 (see Hospitals).
A member of the National Council of Women, Clarissa was one of nine U.S. delegates to the International Council of Women in Rome, Italy, in May 1914. She was appointed chairwoman of the Utah Women's Committee of the National Council of Defense during World War I. She died March 8, 1930, at her home in Salt Lake City.