Church History
Amy Brown Lyman
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“Amy Brown Lyman,” Church History Topics

“Amy Brown Lyman”

Amy Brown Lyman

As a social worker and progressive reformer, Amy Brown Lyman brought experience and activism into her involvement in the Relief Society, where she served as its eighth General President. Lyman was particularly concerned with improving health for women and children, especially in relation to childbirth and infant mortality. 1 She served in various civic capacities and helped introduce modern, professional methods into many aspects of the Relief Society’s work. In doing so, she became one of the most influential Latter-day Saint women in the 20th century.

Amy B. Lyman

Portrait of Amy Brown Lyman.

Amy Cassandra Brown, a second-generation Latter-day Saint, was born in 1872. She attended Brigham Young Academy from 1888 to 1890 where she met Richard R. Lyman. 2 She taught at the academy from 1890 to 1894 while Richard studied at the University of Michigan. The two were married in the newly completed Salt Lake Temple in 1896 and later moved to the eastern United States with their young son, Wendell, for Richard’s graduate studies in civil engineering. During a summer term in 1902 at the University of Chicago, Amy enrolled in a sociology class that changed the course of her life—she discovered a career in social work and public health advocacy. The following year, the Lymans welcomed a daughter, Margaret, and moved back to Salt Lake City in 1905. 3

Like many in the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, Amy Brown Lyman joined the ranks of reformers who sought to improve society and health outcomes through social work. Lyman’s efforts included organizing milk stations for underserved neighborhoods in Salt Lake City, working with public and private charities as a board member of the Charity Organization Society, coordinating with the Red Cross during World War I to support servicemen and their families, heading the Relief Society’s new Social Service Department, and supervising Relief Society social service training institutes in Utah and Idaho. 4

Lyman’s public career overlapped with her Relief Society service. She was called to the general board of the Relief Society in 1909 and served as secretary-treasurer for 15 years and as a counselor to Louise Y. Robison in the General Presidency from 1928 to 1940. In 1922 Lyman was elected to the Utah State Legislature and chaired the education and public welfare committees. She led state lawmakers in passing legislation to accept funds from the Sheppard-Towner Act, a federal law designed to send national funds to states for social welfare projects. Lyman did not seek reelection, in part because she disliked the political lobbying she had encountered. 5

When Richard was called as president of the European Mission in 1936, the Lymans relocated to England for two years. Upon arriving in London, Amy traveled to Yugoslavia to attend the International Council of Women as a delegate of the National Council of Women of the United States, an organization she had participated in for many years. As the wife of the mission president, she oversaw the Relief Society and other Church organizations for young women and children within the mission. 6

Between 1940 and 1945, Lyman served as General President of the Relief Society. She set to work on aligning the Relief Society’s charity work with the Church’s welfare plan created during the Great Depression and preparing the centennial celebration of the Relief Society in 1942. 7 Under her direction, Relief Society women helped support the Allied war effort through service in the Red Cross and by contributing resources to the Church’s welfare plan. 8

Lyman’s family experienced tragedies in the public eye. Amy found her adult son Wendell lying dead beneath his car in 1933; newspapers reported Wendell had asphyxiated from fumes while working on repairs. His prior substance abuse and financial troubles were no secret. 9 Later during her tenure as General President of the Relief Society, Amy’s husband, Richard, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was excommunicated for “violation of the Christian law of chastity.” 10 The news stunned and devastated Amy. When her counselor Belle Spafford offered support, Amy replied, “Just pray that the depth of my understanding of the gospel will carry me through.” 11 Given her high-profile position in the wake of such a scandal, Amy felt it proper to resign. However, David O. McKay, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency, encouraged her to stay. She continued her work as General President for 17 months until her resignation was accepted in 1945. Amy and Richard remained married, and Richard was rebaptized and his Church membership restored in 1954. 12

After her release, Lyman continued her involvement with the Relief Society as a writer and speaker, as well as a teacher for her local ward. She remained passionate about social issues, public health, and service to her family until her death in 1959. At her funeral, Belle S. Spafford, Lyman’s successor as General President of the Relief Society, quoted Lyman’s tribute to her own mother to describe the kind of leader Lyman had been: “forceful, dynamic, and efficient; wise, far-seeing, and of good judgement. She was a woman’s woman.” 13

Related Topics: Relief Society, Women’s Suffrage, Great Depression, Welfare Programs

Notes

  1. Dave Hall, A Faded Legacy: Amy Brown Lyman and Mormon Women’s Activism, 1872–1959 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2015), 75.

  2. See Topic: Church Academies.

  3. Hall, Faded Legacy, 36–40, 43, 48, 52.

  4. Hall, Faded Legacy, 73, 76–80, 84; Jill Mulvay Derr, “Scholarship, Service, and Sisterhood: Women’s Clubs and Associations, 1877–1977,” in Patricia Lyn Scott and Linda Thatcher, eds., Women in Utah History: Paradigm or Paradox? (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2005), 274. See also Topics: Relief Society, World War I.

  5. Derr, “Scholarship, Service, and Sisterhood,” 274; Hall, Faded Legacy, 90. See also Topics: American Political and Legal Institutions, Utah.

  6. Hall, Faded Legacy, 129, 133.

  7. Interruptions brought by World War II prevented the Relief Society from carrying out this centennial celebration. See Topics: Great Depression, Welfare Programs.

  8. Hall, Faded Legacy, 158–60.

  9. Hall, Faded Legacy, 118–19.

  10. George Albert Smith, Announcement, 13 November 1943, quoted in “LDS Church Officials Remove Apostle,” Salt Lake Telegram (13 Nov. 1943), 11. Richard R. Lyman tried to justify an extramarital relationship as a “potential plural marriage,” despite nearly 40 years having passed since President Joseph F. Smith had issued the statement known as the Second Manifesto, which attached the penalty of excommunication to entering into plural marriage. See Hall, Faded Legacy, 163; “The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage,” Gospel Topics Essays, https://churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics-essays/the-manifesto-and-the-end-of-plural-marriage.

  11. Hall, Faded Legacy, 164.

  12. Hall, Faded Legacy, 165, 169, 237n101. See also Topic: Church Discipline.

  13. Hall, Faded Legacy, 174–76, 182.