Filed Under Education

Lucy Mack Smith Hall (HR14)

Israel A. Smith (Almost) Goes to Provo

In his zeal to make a mass-dedication of new buildings a “fine chapter” of BYU history, Ernest L. Wilkinson unwittingly created a missed encounter between two Smith family cousins who were on difficult terms despite both loving the “Grandmother Smith” Lucy Mack Smith Hall was named after.

BYU president Ernest L. Wilkinson planned for May 26, 1954 to be, in his words, “a very fine chapter to be added to the history of the Institution.” For years BYU had been growing, and there were twenty-two undedicated buildings. To celebrate, BYU hosted a special dedication on May 26. Speakers gave remarks for each building, and David McKay—president of BYU’s sponsor, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS)—offered a prayer dedicating all twenty-two.

Two days later, Wilkinson received an unexpected letter from Israel A. Smith, president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS). In the twentieth century, both the LDS and RLDS Churches claimed to be the sole successor to the nineteenth-century church founded by Joseph Smith. The churches’ relationship vacillated between warmly sharing heritage and icily distrusting one another because they differently interpreted that heritage.

Israel wrote that it was “an honor to be invited” to the dedication of one of BYU’s Heritage Halls dormitories: Lucy Mack Smith Hall, named after Joseph Smith’s mother, also great-grandmother of Israel. Wilkinson had asked his secretary to “send invitations to all known relatives of the women… having Heritage Halls named after them” but apparently had not expected her to invite Israel even though he was, after all, Lucy’s descendant.

Israel did not attend, though. He offered “good wishes for [Wilkinson’s] personal success” but also brought up the LDS Church’s unfortunate history with Lucy. Nearly a century prior, LDS president Brigham Young excoriated a family history Lucy wrote about Joseph. Israel still felt stung by that undeserved rebuke against his ancestor. Still, while the letter seemed intended to ruffle Wilkinson’s feathers, Israel was otherwise polite.

Given Israel’s relatively mild message, Wilkinson’s response may have been an overreaction. On June 14, he forwarded Israel’s letter to the Joseph Fielding Smith, an LDS apostle who was also a great-grandson of Lucy, and asked for Joseph Fielding’s “approval” of a reply to Israel in which he tried to defend Young’s objections to Lucy’s history. Strangely, Joseph Fielding apparently read “bitterness,” as he wrote, into Israel’s letter and claimed Israel “could not answer a letter like a gentleman” even though Israel’s letter was polite. Perhaps Joseph Fielding felt galled by Israel’s implication that he disrespected their common ancestor, whom Joseph Fielding affectionately called “Grandmother Smith.”

Israel and Joseph did not write directly to each other, and since Israel did not attend, the missed encounter became a kind of muddled tragedy. The Smiths were cousins, after all—family—and both had good reason to celebrate a tribute to their ancestor. Rivalry, unfortunately, kept them from understanding one another and coming together. Warmer feelings had to wait for a future generation.

Lucy Mack Smith Hall went on to be a rather ordinary dormitory, though the hall’s residents did win the 1962–1963 year’s homecoming housing sweepstakes. Like the other Heritage Halls, it was demolished in 2015 to make way for a new Heritage Halls complex with building numbers instead of names.

Images

Smith Hall
Smith Hall This photograph depicts Smith Hall near the end of its life; BYU had the entire complex demolished by 2015. Source: “BYU HR14.” GreenwoodKL (pseud.), August 14, 2010. Via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0). https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BYU_HR14.jpg.
Two years young
Two years young BYU finished building the Heritage Halls complex, including Lucy Mack Smith Hall, in 1953. Notice the lettering on the building spelling out “Lucy Mack Smith Hall.” Source: “Annual Catalog Issue, 1955–56,” special issue, Brigham Young University Quarterly 51, no. 4 (May 1, 1955): 28, via Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/annualcataloguei19551956brig.
Dedication program
Dedication program This page describes the general vision of the new Heritage Halls dormitory complex of which Lucy Mack Smith Hall was a part. The program notes that the halls “are being named individually for the outstanding Latter-day Saint women honored in the pages immediately following.” Source: In Dedication and Naming of 22 Buildings (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, May 26, 1954), 25, in folder 3, box 87, Office of the President Records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
Lucy Mack Smith
Lucy Mack Smith The program recounted the life story of each woman commemorated with a Heritage Halls dormitory in a two-page spread in the program. The author calls Lucy “first among the chosen women of the latter-day dispensation,” quoting Edward W. Tullidge’s The Women of Mormondom. Source: In Dedication and Naming of 22 Buildings (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, May 26, 1954), 26–27, in folder 3, box 87, Office of the President Records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
Mary Fielding Smith
Mary Fielding Smith BYU named multiple Heritage Halls buildings after women associated with the Smith family. One bore the name of Mary Fielding Smith, wife of Joseph Jr.’s brother Hyrum Smith as well as grandmother to LDS apostle Joseph Fielding Smith. Source: In Dedication and Naming of 22 Buildings (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, May 26, 1954), 30–31, in folder 3, box 87, Office of the President Records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
Eliza Roxcy Snow Smith Young
Eliza Roxcy Snow Smith Young Though better known by her maiden name “Snow,” the program specifically points out that Eliza R. Snow married Joseph Jr. as a plural wife and Brigham Young after Joseph died, thereby casting her as one of the Smith family women. Source: In Dedication and Naming of 22 Buildings (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, May 26, 1954), 28–29, in folder 3, box 87, Office of the President Records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), University Archives, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
Israel’s answer
Israel’s answer Though Israel does not explicitly decline the invitation, he probably knew the letter would not reach Wilkinson before the dedication the next day, and his mild indignation in the second paragraph combined with the timing seem to imply Israel intentionally declined to attend. Source: Israel A. Smith to Ernest L. Wilkinson, May 25, 1954, folder 3, box 87, Dedication and naming of 22 buildings pamphlet, Office of the President records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
“a photostat of the Millennial Star”
“a photostat of the Millennial Star” In his letter to Wilkinson, Israel claimed to have received with his invitation a photocopy of the October 21, 1865 issue of the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star (a different copy is depicted above). The issue begins with an apostolic call to turn in any copies of Lucy’s history for destruction—precisely the difficult past Israel ruffled Wilkinson about. Israel’s claim is difficult to assess. On the one hand, outright lying seems unlike Israel; he sincerely believed he was right about Church history and Smith family history. Then again, why would Wilkinson’s secretary have included a copy of this issue in an invitation? It would have been meaningless to many potential recipients if included in every invitation, and the only reason to send it to Israel would seem to be to antagonize him. Perhaps this will remain one of the historical record’s mysteries. Source: Brigham Young, et al., “Hearken, O Ye Latter-day Saints, and All Ye Inhabitants of the Earth Who Wish to Be Saints, to Whom this Writing Shall Come,” Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, October 21, 1865, 662–663. Courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University. Via Digital Collections, BYU Library. https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/MStar/id/8487.
Wilkinson’s reaction
Wilkinson’s reaction In this letter to Joseph Fielding Smith, Wilkinson reveals his surprise at Israel’s letter: “Apparently one of these invitations was sent to israel A. Smith” (emphasis added). Source: Ernest L. Wilkinson to Joseph Fielding Smith, June 14, 1954, folder 3, box 87, Dedication and naming of 22 buildings pamphlet, Office of the President records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
Joseph Fielding’s thoughts
Joseph Fielding’s thoughts Wilkinson asked for Joseph Fielding to give his “approval” of a letter response to Israel, but while Joseph refers to the letter (“the letters to Israel A. Smith”), he does not apparently comment on Wilkinson’s writing. One wonders if Joseph Fielding was distracted by his upset feelings; the letter overall feels uncharacteristically harsh and out of proportion to Israel's own letter. Source: Joseph Fielding Smith to Ernest L. Wilkinson, June 16, 1954, folder 3, box 87, Dedication and naming of 22 buildings pamphlet, Office of the President records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
Wilkinson’s reply
Wilkinson’s reply It is unclear why Wilkinson felt the need to ask for Joseph Fielding’s “approval” of this letter, as he had apparently already sent it (June 7) a week before he wrote to Joseph Fielding (June 14). The letter runs onto a second page. Source: Ernest L. Wilkinson to Israel A. Smith, June 7, 1954, folder 3, box 87, Dedication and naming of 22 buildings pamphlet, Office of the President records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
Lucy biographical material
Lucy biographical material This is the first page of a draft for the two-page biography of Lucy Mack Smith in the dedication program. Compare it to the fourth image in this gallery. Source: In folder 3, box 87, Dedication and naming of 22 buildings pamphlet, Office of the President records, 1949–1965 (UA 1086 Series 8), L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/archival_objects/3f12d0f1a24c84f043c4442f985357f6.
The “gentle monarch”
The “gentle monarch” Written six years before he received the 1954 dedication invitation, this letter shows Israel A.’s pastoral side. Biographer Norma Derry Hiles called Israel a “gentle monarch” because of the dignified yet loving way he conducted himself as a leader who could bring the Reorganization together. Source: Israel A. Smith to Frank S. Hawkins, October 14, 1948. In Israel A. Smith letters (MSS SC 2299), L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. https://archives.lib.byu.edu/repositories/ltpsc/resources/upb_msssc2299.
Lucy Mack Smith Hall residents
Lucy Mack Smith Hall residents Regardless of the family tensions surrounding its beginnings, Lucy Mack Smith Hall was still a dormitory for students. These forty-two women students banded together to win the 1962–1963 homecoming housing sweepstakes (see next image). Source: Alan Frazier, ed., Banyan 63 (Provo: Board of Publications for the Associated Students of Brigham Young University, 1963), 238, via Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/banyan1963brig/page/238/.
Housing trophy
Housing trophy Victory in the homecoming housing sweepstakes was apparently earned by “ke[eping] their social slate filled” with hall activities. The officers of “LM Smith Hall” led their residents to victory with culture nights, hall exchange dinners, a slumber party, and more. Source: Alan Frazier, ed., Banyan 63 (Provo: Board of Publications for the Associated Students of Brigham Young University, 1963), 238, via Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/banyan1963brig/page/238/.
Going for the gold
Going for the gold This 1963 Daily Universe blurb helps answer how Lucy Mack Smith Hall won the homecoming housing sweepstakes: “Saturday all the Heritage Halls will hold Open house. Lucy Mack Smith Hall has already sent out engraved invitations to a list of special guests” (emphasis added). Source: “Frantic Preparation Fills Homecoming for Heritage Girls,” Daily Universe, November 1, 1963, via Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/dailyuniverse1630asso/page/n9/mode/.
Another victory
Another victory Three years later, in 1966, Lucy Mack Smith Hall achieved another victory: the housing unit competition award at BYU’s semi-annual blood drive. Presumably, Lucy Mack Smith Hall was the dormitory which had the strongest resident turnout for the drive. Source: “Blood Drive Completed—781 Pints,” Daily Universe, December 16, 1966, via Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/dailyuniverse1965asso/.
“Dorm Council”
“Dorm Council” In her book about burnout, Afton Day recalls spending time at Lucy Mack Smith Hall in “Dorm Councils” where they “tried and sentenced… girls who had missed the 1:00 AM curfew.” Source: Afton Day, Coming up from down in the Dumps (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1986), 21, via Internet Archive. https://archive.org/details/comingupfromdown00daya/page/20.

Location

Lucy Mack Smith Hall’s former location is approximately where the new Heritage Halls Building 3 stands today.

Metadata

Makoto Hunter, Brigham Young University, “Lucy Mack Smith Hall (HR14),” Intermountain Histories, accessed May 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/620.