“George Albert Smith,” Church History Topics (2022)
“George Albert Smith,” Church History Topics
George Albert Smith served as the eighth President of the Church between 1945 and 1951. Born on April 4, 1870, he grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his mother, Sarah Farr Smith, and his father, John Henry Smith (later an Apostle and a counselor in the First Presidency). As a youth, George worked at a factory and department store in Salt Lake City, earning a position in the company that he credited with building his work ethic. In 1888, he started work as a railway surveyor in the deserts of the western United States and suffered permanent eye damage from sunlight glare. Despite physical discomfort, George responded to a mission call from Church President Wilford Woodruff to visit southern Utah and organize stake chapters of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association.
After returning from this short mission, he courted and soon married his childhood neighbor and sweetheart, Lucy Woodruff. Three weeks before the wedding, George received a mission call to the Southern States Mission, and less than a month into their marriage, the Smiths found themselves living many miles apart. Some months later, Lucy joined him in the mission offices where he served as the mission secretary, and to their delight she soon received a mission call herself to assist him. On two occasions, the mission president, J. Golden Kimball, traveled to Salt Lake City and left administration of the mission to George for a total of 16 months.1 Seventeen months after returning home from their two-year mission, the Smiths welcomed their first child, a daughter named Emily. Lucy gave birth to two others within 10 years: a daughter named Edith and a son named George Albert Jr. Edith remembered her father as deeply affectionate and generous to all members of their family.2
In October 1903, George left his work office in Salt Lake City to attend a session of general conference and, not finding a seat at the Tabernacle, decided to take his daughters to the Utah State Fair but was stunned to learn at home that he had been called as an Apostle at the session he missed.3 He was set apart by Church President Joseph F. Smith and immediately set about fulfilling his duties, despite physical and mental stress. Throughout his apostolic service, Elder Smith suffered from depression and anxiety, which at some points left him shattered and physically weakened. Shortly after pleading with God to let him die, he had several remarkable spiritual experiences that restored his confidence and gave him strength to endure. After taking rest and recuperation in 1909, he resumed his duties in 1912. Depression never fully left him despite his hard-won improvements, but he pressed on to fulfill duties and care for his family.
As an Apostle, he presided over the European Mission between 1919 and 1921, worked closely with the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association and Boy Scouts of America, assisted in preserving Church history sites in New York, and mended some previously tense relationships between extended Smith family members in both the Church and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.4
After the passing of Heber J. Grant in 1945, George Albert Smith was sustained and set apart as the eighth President of the Church.5 During his administration, he championed love and kindness as the signature virtues of living the gospel and demonstrated compassion in healing divisions. He visited Latter-day Saints in Mexico and led the reconciliation of the Third Convention, a splinter movement that had developed within wards and branches there 10 years earlier.6 After his death on his birthday in 1951, George Albert Smith was widely honored for his sincerity and deep love for all people.7
For more information about events and themes in the life of George Albert Smith, see the Prophets of the Restoration videos at history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org or in the Gospel Library app.