Bathsheba W. Smith—Witness to History

“Bathsheba W. Smith—Witness to History,” Friend, Apr. 1989, 48

Heroes and Heroines:
Bathsheba W. Smith—
Witness to History

Bathsheba W. Smith had close friends and made secret pacts with some of them. She and her best friend, whose last name was Wilson, “traded” names. Bathsheba was true to this pact and used Wilson as her middle name throughout her life.

Bathsheba’s early life was filled with excitement as she witnessed the beginnings of the restored Church. Born May 3, 1822, in Shinnston, Virginia, to Mark and Susannah (Ogden) Bigler, Bathsheba was a cheerful child, and she loved to spin, weave, and do embroidery with her mother and to go horseback riding with her father on their three-hundred-acre plantation. Religiously inclined, she was careful to say her secret prayers.

She wrote in her autobiography about joining the Church at age fifteen: “Some Latter-day Saint Elders visited our neighborhood. I heard them preach and believed what they taught. I believed the Book of Mormon to be a divine record, and that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. I knew by the spirit of the Lord which I received in answer to prayer, that these things were true.” Bathsheba’s immediate family and her uncle and his family were baptized.

One of her first experiences as a member of the Church was ridicule by her young acquaintances, and when the family decided to join with other Saints in Far West, Missouri, Bathsheba was disappointed that she couldn’t leave immediately with her married sister, Nancy. While pondering this disappointment, she seemed to hear a voice say, “Weep not. You will go this fall.” And her family did leave for Missouri that autumn.

During their journey, they were stopped by men who gathered around their wagon and tried to prevent them from going any farther. But after talking among themselves, the men said, “As you are Virginians, we will let you go on, but we believe you soon will return for you will quickly become convinced of your folly.” But Bathsheba and her family never thought of the gospel as “folly,” and events such as this only caused them to cling more strongly to their beliefs.

In February 1838, Bathsheba left on foot with her family for Nauvoo, where she married George A. Smith, one of the missionaries who had taught her the gospel in West Virginia. He was now the youngest member of the Twelve Apostles, and so she had many occasions to hear the Prophet Joseph preach and to be with his family.

As persecution increased in Nauvoo, Bathsheba and George helped finish building the Nauvoo Temple and were among the first to receive their temple ordinances. Bathsheba was present on that sorrowful day when the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum Smith were brought back to Nauvoo from Carthage Jail, and she, George, and their two children were among the hundreds of Saints who walked across the frozen Mississippi River to Winter Quarters.

Bathsheba and her family left Winter Quarters for the Salt Lake Valley in June 1849. After settling there, she served in the Relief Society and in the temple and traveled with George, who was now a Counselor to President Brigham Young. One of the things that she loved about traveling with her husband was being met by brass bands and children carrying banners. She loved children, and they loved her.

Bathsheba had only two children of her own, so it was with great sadness that she heard that her eighteen-year-old son had been killed. Only two months later, her daughter married and moved away. Fortunately Bathsheba’s niece, Julina Lambson, lived with her. Together they made dolls and doll clothes for Julina, who was like a daughter to Bathsheba. After Julina married Joseph F. Smith (later the sixth President of the Church), she had ten children, who were like grandchildren to Bathsheba. They and her daughter’s fourteen children brought Bathsheba much joy. She knit them mittens, wove them dress fabric, and sewed them clothes. She hid these things in her flowered carpetbag when she went to visit them. After running to hug and kiss her, they eagerly waited to see what gifts were in the carpetbag for them.

Bathsheba became second counselor to Zina D. H. Young, general president of the Relief Society, in 1888 and succeeded her as president after Zina’s death. One of the important contributions that Bathsheba made to the Relief Society was the introduction of “Mothers’ Lessons” and the encouragement of home industry. She died at the age of eighty-eight at the home of her daughter.