Born on October 8, 1895, in Salt Lake City, Belle Smith Spafford was a wife, mother, teacher, writer, editor, executive, humanitarian, and spiritual leader. She achieved international recognition when she was called to serve as the general president of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1945.
Founded in 1842, the Relief Society is the oldest and largest women’s organization in the world. During Ms. Spafford’s 29-year tenure, Relief Society membership grew from 102,000 – primarily in the western United States – to more than one million in 65 countries in 1974; currently, membership exceeds four million in 160 countries.
A 52-year member of the National Council of Women of the United States, Ms. Spafford also served as its second vice president for eight years and as president from 1968-1970. She was chair of the United States delegation to triennial meetings of the International Council of Women in Helsinki, Finland, in 1954; Tehran, Iran, in 1966; and Bangkok, Thailand, in 1969.
After graduating from Normal School (a teacher training program) at the University of Utah, Ms. Spafford continued her studies at Brigham Young University, where she also taught in the University’s Training School and as a special instructor in remedial work for children with disabilities. As director of the Relief Society Social Work Programs in Utah, Arizona, Idaho, and Nevada, she instituted services for unwed mothers, adoptions, care of deprived and neglected children, youth guidance services, and foster-care educational programs for Native American children.
A well-respected civic leader, Ms. Spafford served as a member of the National Advisory Committee to the White House Conference on Aging, held in January of 1961, chairing two sub-sessions about volunteer service. She also served on the Advisory Committee for the section on “Religion and the Aging” in the Special Concern Division of the White House Conference in 1971.
A long-time editor of the Relief Society Magazine, Ms. Spafford is also the author of two books, Women in Today’s World (1971) and A Woman’s Reach (1974).
Ms. Spafford married Willis Earl Spafford in 1921. They were the parents of two children, Earl Smith Spafford and Mary Spafford Kemp. A life-long Utah resident, she died on February 2, 1982, at the age of 86.