They Served: The Richards Legacy in the Church
January 1980

“They Served: The Richards Legacy in the Church,” Ensign, Jan. 1980, 25

They Served:

The Richards Legacy in the Church

Except for a six-and-one-half-year gap, men of the Richards family have served as General Authorities continuously from 1840 to the present. In addition, members of this large Mormon family have made and are making significant contributions in other areas. From the early Richards converts to present-day heirs of that conversion, men and women of the Richards family have demonstrated the kind of faith and dedication to Church, family, and society that can well serve as an example to us all.

The Willard Richards family

Willard Richards (1804–54), son of Joseph and Rhoda Howe Richards, became acquainted with the gospel in 1835 when he received a copy of the Book of Mormon near Boston, Massachusetts. “God or the devil has had a hand in that book,” he said, “for man never wrote it.” After reading the Book of Mormon twice in a ten-day period, however, he was convinced it was of God. Because of illness, Willard was unable to join the Saints in Kirtland until 1836, but once there, he was baptized by his first cousin, Brigham Young.

From 1837 to 1841, Willard served a mission in England. There he married Jennetta Richards, a Protestant minister’s daughter, who was the first person confirmed a member of the LDS Church in England. On 14 April 1840, while still in England, Willard was ordained an apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve in accordance with a revelation given almost two years earlier through Joseph Smith (see D&C 118:6).

Soon after Willard arrived in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1841, he became private secretary to Joseph Smith and remained with the Prophet almost constantly, even in Carthage Jail on 27 June 1844. Just before the mob rushed the jail, Joseph asked Willard if he would accompany him into a room that was supposed to be safer. Willard answered, “Brother Joseph you did not ask me to cross the river with you—you did not ask me to come to Carthage—you did not ask me to come to jail with you—and do you think I would forsake you now? But I will tell you what I will do; if you are condemned to be hung for treason, I will be hung in your stead, and you shall go free.” Moments later, the mob entered the jail, killed Joseph and Hyrum Smith, critically wounded John Taylor, but miraculously failed to injure Willard Richards.

After making the journey to the Salt Lake Valley, Willard was chosen second counselor to President Brigham Young and served until his death on 11 March 1854.1

Willard and Jennetta’s daughter, Rhoda Ann Jennetta Richards (1843–82), demonstrated the same great faith and determination as her parents. After both of her parents had died, her brother, Heber J. Richards, served a mission in England. There he met his mother’s wealthy relatives who, never having been reconciled to the conversion of the Richards family in America to the Latter-day Saint Church, tried to persuade him and his sister to leave the Saints in Utah and come to England where they would be provided with a governess and a college education. Responding to this offer on 1 May 1864, Rhoda Ann Jennetta Richards wrote:

“I scarcely know how to reply to Uncle Roger’s kind and generous offer. I presume you understood the doctrine my Father taught, the system of faith and Worship he believed in and practised as long as he lived and the same my Brother is striving to teach to all who desire to learn. My religion and my faith in the principles of our gospel is and ever will be the same as theirs. You have, I believe held out the greatest inducement that could be offered to make me forget it but even that, great as it is, could not make me swerve for an instant in the course I am now pursuing. If I could have the same Opportunities and advantages here I would embrace them gladly but as it is I can only thank you all kindly and sincerely for the good I feel you desire to do me were it in your power.”2 She married Benjamin F. Knowlton and raised a family in Utah.

One of Willard Richards’s grandsons, President Stephen L Richards (1879–1959), graduated cum laude from the University of Chicago Law School in 1904, and began a successful career in Salt Lake City in law, politics, and business. On 18 January 1917 he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In later years, Stephen L Richards said, “I have often felt that the only reason for my being in the presiding councils of the Church is in the devotion of Willard Richards to the Prophet Joseph Smith. I believe there are councils on the other side. We have had testimonies of them, and while I cannot understand, I can believe that the Prophet, out of consideration for his friend, has had a voice in bringing me into the Council of the Twelve through President Joseph F. Smith, and also in that which has brought me to this position [as counselor in the First Presidency].” After many years of service in company with his fellow apostle David O. McKay, Stephen L Richards was called as first counselor to President McKay on 9 April 1951. He served until his death in 1959.3

Stayner Richards (1885–1953), Stephen L’s brother, was a stake president from 1937 until he was called to preside over the British Mission in 1949. While serving this mission, he was grieved to learn of the sudden death of his oldest son, Robert. Returning to Salt Lake City for the funeral, he was called as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve on 6 October 1951. After completing his mission in England, he returned to serve at Church headquarters, where his brother was first counselor in the First Presidency and his second cousin, LeGrand Richards, was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He died on 28 May 1953. At his funeral, his cousin LeGrand Richards remarked:

“Now as I have gone into the home since Stayner passed, I have found no evidence of protest to the Lord for this thing which has come in taking Stayner away. And I have felt that to them, because of their faith, that it was just about like when Stayner was called to go to Great Britain. Well, it was a call from the Lord and all there was to it was to adjust their affairs and answer the call. Truly this is another call from the Lord.”4

Other descendents of Willard Richards have had successful careers in law, business, medicine, politics, and the arts, along with serving on general boards of Church auxiliary organizations.

The Levi Richards family

Levi Richards (1799–1876), an older brother of Willard Richards, was a physician who often tended the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Prophet once remarked that Levi Richards “is the best physician I have ever been acquainted with.” Levi and his wife Sarah Griffith married late in life—he was forty-four and she was forty-one. When their only child, Levi Willard, was born in 1845 at Nauvoo, the parents naturally felt a special love for him. Therefore, it was a severe test to them when in 1848 President Brigham Young called them both to serve a mission to Great Britain, with the suggestion that they send their only child to Utah. President Young promised them that their child would live if taken to the Salt Lake Valley in their absence, adding that he could not make that promise if they took him with them to England. In a difficult test of their prayers and faith, Levi and Sarah Richards trusted in the Lord and in his prophet and left their three-year-old son Levi W. in the care of his aunt Rhoda Richards Smith. During that time Aunt Rhoda kept their memory alive for the boy by frequently showing him the pictures of his parents, reading their letters to him, and talking to him of them. Levi W. Richards (1845–1914) was finally reunited with his faithful parents after their five-year mission. He also remained devoted to the Church throughout his life, serving as secretary of the Deseret Sunday School General Board from its organization until his death, and as a temple ordinance worker, ward clerk, president of stake priesthood quorums, and patriarch.5

In 1873, Levi W. married Louisa Lulu Greene (1849–1944). Louisa, who at the age of fourteen had been composing poetry and dramatic dialogues, was an accomplished writer whose poetry was printed in various Church publications and in the Church hymn book. When Louisa was twenty-two, President Brigham Young called her to become the first editor of the Woman’s Exponent in 1872, which was one of the first magazines published by and for women west of the Mississippi. The motto on the masthead of the publication was “The Rights of The Women of Zion, and the Rights of the Women of All Nations.” She served as editor for five years, but asked to be released after two of her children were born.

In addition to raising her seven children, Louisa Lulu Greene Richards served as an ordinance worker in the Salt Lake Temple from 1893 to 1943, as a member of the general boards of the Primary and the Sunday School, and as a visiting speaker to the stakes of North America.6

Levi (“Lee”) Greene Richards (1878–1950), son of Levi W. and Lulu Greene Richards, was a portrait artist whose paintings of the General Authorities hang in the Historical Department of the Church and elsewhere. At the annual Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1921, Lee Greene Richards was honored to be the only American and only English-speaking judge of the art competition.

The Phineas Richards family

Phineas Richards, Willard and Levi’s brother, is father of another distinguished Richards line. His son, Franklin Dewey (1821–99), served several short missions prior to his marriage to Jane Snyder in December 1842, but in May 1844 he was called on a mission that required him to leave his young bride in Nauvoo. With heavy heart, Franklin obeyed the call of the prophet. At that time, he wrote: “O God, extend thine arms of love Around the partner of my heart, Since thou has spoken from above And called me with my all to part.” After serving another mission in England from 1846 to 1848, Franklin D. Richards was ordained an apostle on 12 February 1849.

Franklin D. Richards devoted himself to genealogical work as early as 1855. At that time, he assisted in the preparation of a genealogy of the Richards Family in America, continuing this research throughout his life. He was responsible for the baptism of more than four thousand of the deceased members of the Richards, Dewey, Comstock, and Snyder families. When the Genealogical Society of Utah was organized in 1894, Franklin D. Richards was its first president. He died in 1899.7

Franklin D.’s wife, Jane Snyder Richards (1823–1912), was a strong-willed young girl who declined to be baptized into the Church when her parents and all but one of her brothers and sisters were converted in Canada. But after a spiritual impression moved her to accept conversion, not even her ill health and the bitter cold of January 1840 could dissuade her from being baptized immediately. A crowd of three hundred local citizens watched in concern and mounting anger as Jane’s brother cut a hole through ice a foot thick on Lake LaPorte, Indiana, so that she could be baptized. When the crowd threatened to have her brother arrested to prevent him from submerging her in the icy water so soon after her three weeks in a sick bed, Jane told them in a loud voice, “I want to say to all you people who have come out to see me baptized, that I do it of my own free will and choice, and if you interfere with the man who has baptized me, God will interfere with you.”

Jane married Franklin D. Richards in 1842. During the first fifteen years of their marriage, her husband was on Church missions for a total of ten years. The most difficult of these separations occurred in 1846 as Jane was preparing to leave Nauvoo for the West at the same time that her husband was called on a mission to England. While on the pioneer trail in Iowa, Jane delivered a son, Isaac, in July 1846, but he died shortly thereafter. She was still numb from that shock when her two-year-old daughter, Wealthy, died. By this time her husband’s plural wife, Elizabeth McFate Richards, lay seriously ill with tuberculosis, and Jane gave her continuous care until Elizabeth died in March 1847. During this period of severe trial, President Brigham Young told Jane: “It shall be said of you that you have come up through much tribulation.” Although she lost her first two children on the pioneer trail, Jane bore four other children who lived long lives in the Latter-day Saint community.

As a member of the original Relief Society at Nauvoo, Jane S. Richards was very prominent in that organization in Utah. Besides sustaining her husband in his calling to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, she also served as first counselor to the general president of the Relief Society from 1888 to 1901 and was one of Utah’s representatives to the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C., in 1891.8

Sacrifice was also demonstrated in the lives of three of the brothers of Franklin D. Richards. George S. Richards, a fifteen-year-old convert to the Church, was living at Haun’s Mill in Missouri where several Mormon families had gathered in 1838. On 30 October 1838 young George was among those brutally murdered when a mob of anti-Mormons attacked the camp.

Eight years later, another of Franklin D.’s younger brothers, Joseph W. Richards, volunteered to join the Mormon Battalion on its historic march to California during the war between the United States and Mexico. While on that military mission for the Church, in service of the United States government, Joseph became ill and died 19 November 1846 at Pueblo, Colorado.

Similar, though not tragic, devotion was demonstrated by another of Franklin D.’s brothers, Henry P. Richards (1831–1912). Henry’s faithfulness was such that he was ordained an elder in his early youth and endowed in the Nauvoo Temple at the age of fifteen. During his pioneer trip to Utah in 1848, he drove an ox team for a woman whose husband was on a mission for the Church. He supported his parents for several years from his own earnings, married in 1852, and in 1854 went on a three-and-a-half-year mission to Hawaii, just before the birth of his eldest child. Henry served a second mission to Hawaii from 1876 to 1879, during which time he presented Queen Kapiolani with an elegantly bound copy of the Hawaiian translation of the Book of Mormon. He also obtained for Latter-day Saint missionaries there the same privileges of tax exemption and license to perform marriages as provided for missionaries of other religious denominations. Henry P. Richards remained active in civic, business, and Church positions until his death at the age of 81.9

Josephine Richards West (1853–1933), a daughter of Franklin D. Richards and Jane Snyder Richards, served as a counselor to the general president of the Primary from 1896 to 1905, was twice a delegate to Washington, D.C., in the cause of women’s suffrage, and was the first president of Weber County Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. She married Joseph A. West in 1873 and bore six children, one of whom, Franklin L. West, became Church Commissioner of Education from 1935 to 1953.

Emily Sophia Tanner (1850–1929) married one of Franklin D. Richards’s sons—Franklin S., a Church attorney. A daughter of Nathan Tanner and Rachel Winter Smith, she was the mother of five children. Active in women’s affairs, Emily represented the Relief Society and the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association at the first International Council of Women in Washington, D.C., in 1888; was elected an alternate delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1896; and helped organize the League of Women Voters in Utah in 1920. She became a life member of the Woman’s Suffrage Association and led the victorious campaign that put equal suffrage for women in the 1895 state constitution of Utah. She also served on the general board of the Relief Society.10

One of Elder Franklin D. Richards’s sons, George Franklin Richards (1861–1950), was ordained an elder at the age of fifteen, and, at the age of twenty-eight, became second counselor to the stake president of Tooele (Utah) Stake. When he was thirty-one years old, he was ordained a patriarch while continuing to serve as a counselor in the stake presidency. On 22 March 1906, he recorded in his journal: “I dreamed a dream in which I saw the Savior,” and three weeks later, George F. Richards was sustained in general conference as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In 1921, he became president of the Salt Lake Temple, and from 1937 to 1942, he served as Acting Patriarch to the Church. The major focus of his life had always been on spiritual matters, but George F. Richards was also active in business and political affairs until his death in 1950.11

Elder George F. Richards

Elder George F. Richards served as a member of the Council of the Twelve from 1906 to 1950.

His son, LeGrand Richards, was born in 1886. As a young boy, LeGrand had several accidents that could have taken his life: once as a small child he was struck in the head by an ax as he approached his father from behind while his father was chopping wood. A few years later LeGrand was thrown from a wagon by agitated horses, and the wagon wheels passed over his head twice. At the age of nine, he was stricken with a bone disease in his hip that has caused him in later years to use a cane for support.

Sustained by the Lord through a life of Church service, LeGrand served a mission in the Netherlands from 1905 to 1908, was called with his wife to preside over that mission in 1913, served a short-term mission in the Eastern states in 1929, served as president of the Hollywood Stake from 1930–1934, and presided over the Southern States Mission from 1934–1937. He was then called as Presiding Bishop of the Church on 6 April 1938, and on 19 April 1952 became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. His father, George F. Richards, had left that quorum through death one and one half years earlier. Although involved in many temporal and business concerns in his early life and through his call as Presiding Bishop of the Church, Elder LeGrand Richards has been a missionary since the first of his many mission calls in 1905. His book, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, has contributed to the conversion and fellowshipping of thousands, and his sermons on missionary work at general conferences are familiar to the entire Church.12

Elder LeGrand Richards

Elder LeGrand Richards was called as Presiding Bishop of the Church in 1938. In 1952 he was called into the Council of the Twelve.

Another grandson of Apostle Franklin D. Richards and first cousin to Elder LeGrand Richards, is Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Born in 1900, Elder Richards received his LLB degree from the University of Utah Law School in 1923, and after practicing corporate law for a period of time, became an administrator with the federal government. From 1934 to 1952, Elder Richards served with the Federal Housing Administration and then returned to Salt Lake City to lead several loan and investment companies. He served as president of the Northwestern States Mission beginning in January 1960, and then, on 9 October 1960, was called to serve as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. On 1 October 1976, with the reorganization of the First Quorum of Seventy, Franklin D. Richards was called as the senior president of the presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy, which position he continues to magnify.

The lives of these representative men and women of the Richards family give us many examples of the challenges, sacrifices, and opportunities for service that can come in the Lord’s work. Through the generations, the Richards family has created a living heritage of faithfulness, a spiritual birthright for their family that is worthy of emulation by all Latter-day Saints.


  1. Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901–36), 1:53–56; History of the Church, 6:616.

  2. Autobiography of Ezra Clark Knowlton, Part One (Provo, Utah: J. Grant Stevenson, 1967), pp. 65–66.

  3. Gordon B. Hinckley, “President Stephen L. Richards, 1879–1959,” Improvement Era, June 1959, pp. 417, 488–89.

  4. Improvement Era, July 1953, p. 498; Mae Richards Fotheringham, Stayner Richards, Our Father (Stayner Richards family, 1976), p. 143.

  5. Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 3:703–6; History of the Church, 6:366.

  6. Leonard J. Arrington, “Louisa Lulu Greene Richards: Woman Journalist of the Early West,” Improvement Era, May 1969, pp. 28–32.

  7. Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:115–121; Franklin L. West, Life of Franklin D. Richards (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1924), pp. 55, 239–42; Franklin D. Richards journal, Church Hist. Dept. Archives.

  8. Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 4:195; Connie Duncan Cannon, “Jane S. Richards,” in Sister Saints, edited by Vicky Burgess-Olson (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1978), 175–96.

  9. Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 1:813–14.

  10. Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 2:700, 4:194; Maurice Tanner, Descendants of John Tanner (Tanner Family Association, 1942), 96–98.

  11. Jenson LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 4:245; Journal of George F. Richards, Church Hist. Dept. Archives.

  12. LeGrand Richards, Just to Illustrate (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1961), 167–76.

  • D. Michael Quinn, associate professor of history at Brigham Young University, is a high councilor in the Salt Lake Emigration Stake.

Old mission house and store in Laie, Hawaii, where Henry P. Richards, younger brother of the first Franklin D., served as a missionary.

Elder LeGrand Richards.

Elder Willard Richards.

Emily S. Tanner Richards (circled), photographed with other women active in the women’s suffrage movement.

Elder Franklin D. Richards speaking in conference.

Franklin D. Richards was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1849.

Elder Stayner Richards.

President Stephen L Richards, center, with President David O. McKay and President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., the First Presidency from April 1951 until Brother Richards’ death in May 1959.

Elder and Sister George F. Richards.

Watch of Willard Richards.

Elder Franklin D. Richards.

Stayner Richards as president of the Highland Stake in Salt Lake City.

Willard Richards with his wife, Jennetta, and their son, Heber; posing for a daguerreotype in Nauvoo in 1845.

Stephen L Richards was a grandson of Willard Richards.

Louisa Lulu Greene Richards was called by Brigham Young to serve as the first editor of the Woman’s Exponent. The sword [not] shown was carried by the Mormon Battalion, in which Joseph W. Richards, younger brother of the first Franklin D., served.