Spafford, Belle Smith (1895–1982)
Spafford, Belle Smith (1895–1982)
Social work advocate who served as president of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as the National Council of Women and the International Council of Women. Born Marion Isabelle Sims Smith in Salt Lake City, Utah, on October 8, 1895; died of cancer on February 2, 1982, in Salt Lake City; daughter of Hester (Sims) Smith and John Gibson Smith; graduated from LDS High School, Salt Lake City, 1912, and University of Utah Normal School, 1914; attended classes in social work at Brigham Young University; married Willis Earl Spafford (district manager of an insurance company), on March 23, 1921 (died 1963); children: Mary (b. 1923); Earl (b. 1926).
Distinguished Service Award (1951) and honorary Doctor of Humanities (1956) from Brigham Young University; honorary life membership in the Utah State Conference of Social Work; University of Utah Distinguished Alumni Award and Outstanding Woman of the Year Award from Ricks College, Idaho (both 1970); National Council of Women endowed the Belle S. Spafford Archival Research Program Fund at New York University; Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chair in Social Work established at University of Utah (1987); Brigham Young University Distinguished Achievement Award; Distinguished Service Award for the Crusade for Freedom; one of ten outstanding women from Utah cited in Famous Mothers in American History.
Became a member of the general board of the Relief Society (1935); served as editor of Relief Society Magazine (1937–45); was a counselor in the General Relief Society (1942); served as general president of the Relief Society (1945–71); was vice-president of the National Council of Women (1948–56); served as a delegate to triennial meetings of International Council of Women at Philadelphia (1947), Montreal (1957), and Washington, D.C. (1963); was chair of the U.S. delegation to the ICW triennial meetings at Helsinki (1954), Teheran (1966), and Bangkok (1969); served as president of the National Council of Women (1968–70); was a member of National Advisory Committee to the White House Conference on Aging; served as vice-president of the American Mothers Committee; was the first female member of the board of governors of LDS Hospital and of the board of trustees of Brigham Young University; became an officer of the board of directors of the National Association for Practical Nurses; was a special lecturer at the School of Social Work at the University of Utah.
Belle Smith Spafford was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1895, the youngest of seven children in a family which belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her father John Gibson Smith had died a few months before her birth, but income from his business provided well for the family. Her mother Hester Sims Smith , of Scottish ancestry, shared with her children an enthusiasm for music, art, good books and education while training them to be frugal, studious, industrious, and independent. They were provided with music lessons and attended college—Belle graduated from the Normal School of the University of Utah in 1914. Following the practice of most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, they also spent some time on missions for their church.
During the influenza epidemic in 1918, Belle's brother John lost his wife in childbirth, and Belle moved to his home in Provo, Utah, to help care for his children. She also attended classes in social work at Brigham Young University, where she met Willis Earl Spafford, called Earl, who worked as a district manager at a life insurance company. They were married in 1921, and their first child, a daughter Mary, was born in 1923.
Earl encouraged Spafford to pursue her interest in social work, hiring help at home to enable her to take classes at the University of Utah; he would remain supportive of her career throughout their marriage. In 1926, the year her son Earl was born, Belle joined the Relief Society, the largest women's organization within the Mormon Church. From 1937 to 1945, she served as editor of the society's magazine. In 1945, she became the general president of the Relief Society, making her the head of an international organization comprised of some 230,000 women members.
During her presidency of the society, Spafford initiated and administered programs for numerous social service agencies, among them ones focused on unwed mothers (in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Idaho), adoption services, services for battered and abused children and wives, Native American foster care, and youth guidance programs. She also oversaw the construction of the Relief Society Building, the group's headquarters, which was dedicated in October 1956. For more than 20 years Spafford worked with the Department of Social Work at the University of Utah, providing staff and space for the training of its students. She helped to design the university's graduate program in social work, which included both class work and the field work that provided students with practical experience. She also helped to ensure the passage in the Utah legislature of bills providing for university education for social workers; these became the legislative formula followed by a number of other states.
The Relief Society had been a member of both the National Council of Women (NCW) and the International Council of Women (ICW) from the time these organizations were founded in Washington, D.C., in 1888. A longtime member of the NCW, which had a membership of more than 20 million women, Spafford served the council in many capacities over 42 years. From 1968 to 1970, she was president. Her roles in the Relief Society and the NCW also led to many ancillary positions, including chair of the Scholar-ship Committee of the National Association of Practical Nurses, membership in the National Advisory Committee to the White House Conference on Aging, delegate to the Western Regional White House Conference on Traffic safety, and membership on the board of the Women's Advisory Council of the New York World's Fair.
Although her husband, who after 27 years in life insurance had been appointed a collector for the U.S. Treasury Department, died in 1963, Spafford was actively involved with her children and grandchildren. Taking time from her many civic responsibilities, she held individual "scholar's nights" for her ten grandchildren, during which one would have dinner at her house and discuss and write about a subject of the child's choice. Spafford stepped down from the presidency of the Relief Society in 1971, after over 25 years of distinguished service. She received a number of awards in recognition of her work, including an honorary doctorate from Brigham Young University (1956) and the Outstanding Woman of the Year award (1970) from Ricks College in Idaho; she was also the first woman appointed to the board of trustees of Brigham Young University. The day she retired from the presidency of the National Council of Women, October 23, 1979, was designated "Belle Spafford Day" by the council. In her honor, the NCW also endowed a fellowship—the Belle S. Spafford Archival Research Program Fund—at New York University. She died in Salt Lake City a little over two years later, on February 2, 1982. In 1987, the Belle S. Spafford Endowed Chair in Social Work was established at the University of Utah. The following year, the National Council of Women presented a posthumous award for her work in establishing the American Regional Council of the International Council of Women.
Harriet Horne Arrington , freelance biographer, Salt Lake City, Utah