“‘Joy in Every Minute’: An Interview with Sister Barbara B. Smith,” Ensign, June 1975, 61
Ensign: How have these first few months as general president been for you?
Sister Smith: Busy! But can you imagine doing something in which you find great joy every minute? It’s so exciting I can hardly wait for each day to begin. It has been a blessing beyond description to me and my family.
Ensign: What difference does Relief Society make to a woman in the Church?
Sister Smith: It makes such a difference that it’s difficult to fully explain. The Lord can touch every facet of a woman’s life through Relief Society without her being aware of it. My mother is a good example. She devotedly attended Relief Society, listened to the lessons, and tried to incorporate them into her daily life. I can’t remember a time when my mother wasn’t taking care of someone in our home—her sister with a new baby, an aunt with a heart condition, a mistreated child, a married daughter in a complete body cast after an accident. I could go on and on, but my point is this: I’m sure Mother was unconscious of the way her whole life expressed the compassionate service she had been taught in Relief Society, and many reaped the benefits from it.
There are also such things as the rich reward in studying the gospel while associating with other sisters in Relief Society, where you see women at their very best.
Ensign: What was your first experience with Relief Society?
Sister Smith: It was a March 17, 1942, anniversary program. I was expecting our first baby momentarily, and my mother didn’t want to leave me alone. That day at Relief Society the hundred years of Relief Society history were reviewed, a meaningful way for me to see what Relief Society was all about and how I could fit into it. I started to attend our ward Relief Society regularly soon after that.
Ensign: Are there special problems of our times with which the Relief Society can help our sisters?
Sister Smith: Well, let’s see, we have such problems as inflation, shortages, lawlessness, immorality, unemployment, disease, and ignorance, to name a few. Yes, the Relief Society is trying to help women learn to cope with some of these problems and to avoid others. Relief Society helps a woman deal with inflation and shortages by teaching her to prepare food inexpensively, teaching her to store it, and teaching her to sew her family’s clothing—generally making the most of what she has. The Family Health lessons are designed to help her learn prevention against disease. And Mother Education lessons will help mothers train and discipline their children according to the principles of the Church. What greater child guidance training could one receive?
Ensign: Since the role of women in our culture seems to be changing so rapidly, are there any consequences for the Relief Society and the women of the Church?
Sister Smith: I hope the dissatisfaction that some women express is not representative of the majority of women in the Church. Some feel repressed and unfairly treated, but women in the Church have always been recognized and have had responsible roles and a voice in all of the auxiliaries and activities of the Church. We have our own organization with full priesthood support; in turn, we fully support the priesthood. It has been a great privilege to work closely with the priesthood leadership of the Church. I’ll be eternally grateful to them for their time and wise counsel. They are so knowledgeable, and yet they give us freedom to make our own decisions in behalf of the women of the Church.
Ensign: What are some ways that the Relief Society can support the priesthood?
Sister Smith: Let me give you just one example. President Kimball gave an address last year about the expanded missionary program of the Church. Relief Society sisters are encouraged to prepare their children so that they will be worthy for missions. Directions could well be given in a mini-class experience on homemaking day that would help mothers teach their prospective missionaries how to clean their own rooms, iron their shirts, press their suits, and prepare simple, nutritious meals.
In Relief Society every sister can help fellowship each woman convert until she feels included, loved, and wanted; she then naturally becomes an active, interested member. Every sister in the world could be encouraged to prepare the way for missionaries in her own country just by going out of her way to be a good neighbor, living Church standards, and even by understanding the gospel so well that she can discuss it with her friends.
Ensign: How do you feel about Young Adult-Young Special Interest Relief Societies?
Sister Smith: Excited! Young women are a vital part of our sisterhood, as are all sisters. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “The Church was never perfectly organized until the women were thus organized.” (“Story of the Organization of the Relief Society,” Relief Society Magazine, March 1919, p. 129. Italics added.) Relief Society is not a social club. It is an organization given by the Lord to the sisters of the Church and it rightly includes all women. The prophetic direction to enroll each one over 18 years of age—married or unmarried—has eternal benefits.
Ensign: Tell us about your new board.
Sister Smith: Some are linguists. Others are musicians, leaders, skilled homemakers, wives, mothers, social workers. Still others are creative authors, teachers, skilled financiers, etc. Most have broad experience in the branches and districts of the mission field as well as in the wards and stakes of the various areas of the Church. Each goes the second mile to fulfill every assignment. I can’t praise them too highly.
My counselors, Sister Janath R. Cannon and Sister Marian R. Boyer, and Sister Mayola R. Miltenberger, our secretary-treasurer, are noble women. They give selflessly. Each has a heritage deep in Relief Society and a profound testimony of her personal responsibility to help Relief Society bless the lives of women everywhere.
The dedicated officers and teachers in the stakes and districts, wards and branches, are carrying out the approved programs of the Relief Society. We so appreciate their diligence and faithfulness. Bless them all!