Chronology of Events on Patriarch Joseph Fielding Smith's Homosexuality
Patriarch Joseph Fielding Smith
compiled by Connell O'Donovan, with the generous assistance of D. Michael
Quinn. Posted with permission. © Connell O'Donovan.
ca. 1926 to ca. 1929
Joseph Fielding Smith was in a sexual relationship with Norval Service, a student at the University of Utah. (See Quinn, p. 369)
According to Cynthia Blood's University of Utah transcripts, she took Speech and Drama classes from Joseph F. Smith. In an August 19, 1989 interview I held with her, Cynthia claimed that "everybody on campus knew" that Maud May Babcock and Joseph F. Smith, both from the university's Drama Department, "were queer", but it was pretty much "unspoken". Blood reported that "Professor Smith flitted amongst the boys and Maud flitted amongst us girls. We adored it! I guess we were all a little queer back then." When I asked her what she meant by that, she replied, "Oh, we all had crushes on each other at one time or another." I asked if the boys did too. "I suppose, in their own way - but they didn't call them crushes. I do remember two young men who mooned over each other for several months - I don't remember their names. But they were real handsome boys. Very intelligent, very proper all the time." Drama students? I asked. "Oh yes. Yes they were."
Joseph F. Smith became a member of the general board of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA). This may have prompted the termination of his sexual relationship with Norval Service.
Eldred Gee Smith should have become Patriarch in 1932, at the death of his father. However, Pres. Heber J. Grant was "evidently reticent" to have him be the new Patriarch, so the important ecclesiastical office was left vacant for a decade.
1942 - October 8
Joseph Fielding Smith was ordained "Patriarch to the Church" by LDS President Heber J. Grant. When Eldred's distant cousin, Joseph F. Smith, became the Patriarch, Eldred Gee Smith reportedly "lamented that he had lost the most priceless thing he had hoped for", becoming the next Patriarch. Joseph's ordination also dismayed several Mormons who knew that Smith was having sexual relations with other men. Ralph G. Smith reported that Joseph F. Smith "was known to be a homosexual. My brother, John [Gibbs Smith], was very, very upset because he was Captain of the anti-vice squad at the Salt Lake City Police Department. Why, he says, the man's got a record. He says, we've had many women call in and complain about him molesting their little boys [all over 18] at the school at the University of Utah". (Ralph G. Smith interview, as reported in Quinn, p. 387 n. 23) Winifred Haymond (or "Freda Hammond", 1907-1983, never married), a friend of Norval Service, reported that she was "stunned" at Smith's appointment as Patriarch.
1942 - November
In a biography of the new Patriarch, the Improvement Era concluded with the statement that, "We all feel sure that the new Patriarch will uphold the traditions of the Church, be a credit to his family, and magnify his calling in the spirit of humility, prayer and faith".
1943 — March 11
Some time prior to this date, Byram Dow Browning had an intimate relationship with Patriarch Smith, whether overtly sexual or not is unknown. On this date, Browning entered into military service in the Navy.
1946 — February 26
"Bro Browning called to report visit with Jos F. S." (George Albert Smith diary, "GASD")
1946 — April 10
"Excused myself to Joseph F Smith. regreting [sic] that I am too weary to Dine at his home [--] Bro + Sister Aki were his guests." (GASD)
1946 - April 15
"LeGrand Chandler of St George came [--] called to see me about Joseph F. Patriarch." (GASD)
[LeGrand Chandler was the uncle of Byram Dow Browning. Since Browning was still in Shelton, Virginia in the Navy at this time, presumably he had contacted his family by letter or other means and confessed his relationship with the Patriarch, which led to this meeting between his uncle and the LDS church president.]
1946 - May 1
"Jos Patriarch met Presidency + left for home." (GASD)
1946 — May 3
"Ruth Smith called. Jos ill." (GASD)
1946 - May 4
Seaman First Class Byram Dow Browning was honorably discharged from the Navy in Shelton, Virginia. He had served aboard the USS Bennington and received four medals, including one for good conduct.
1946 - May 27
Diary of Frank Evans, financial secretary to the First Presidency, referred to talking with Ruth Pingree Smith "regarding Joseph's illness", and insisting that she call on Evans (a friend since childhood) if there was anything he could do to assist her.
1946 - May 29
Due to Patriarch Smith's inability to come to his office in Salt Lake City, the First Presidency asked three stake patriarchs to give blessings to people requesting them through the church patriarch's office. (J. Reuben Clark office diary, "COD")
1946 - June 16
"Spoke at Orchard Ward Davis Co[unty] Visited with Jos F. He is not very well". (GASD)
1946 - June 29
Joseph Fielding Smith diary referred to the problems he was having of late as "a recurrence of his old trouble in his back." Smith's back problems were likely psychosomatically related to the stress surrounding his sexuality.
1946 - July 10
"Met in office with Council of Presidency + Twelve [--] Jos Patriarch case considered. bad situation. Am heartsick." (GASD) JFS's diary entry for this date did not mention what the Presidency decided, except that it was a profound "shock" to him.
1946 - July 11
"Met in Church Council room with Presidency and Twelve...Discussed condition of Patriarch Jos F." (GASD)
1946 - July 12
"First Presidency met with Patriarch Smith at 3:00 pm." (COD)
1946 - July 30
COD says Clark met with Patriarch Joseph F. Smith's brother-in-law, Harold Bennett, and "gave him facts" about the Patriarch's case.
1946 - September 6
"Harrold (sic) Bennett drove me to see Patriarch Jos F. Smith. a pitiable case." (GASD)
1946 - September 16
"At office 815. Met with Presidency & Jos F. Patriarch & Ruth[,] Browning & son present. AE Bowen also listened in. Regret that the evidence is not satisfactory." (GASD) "Jos. Patriarch[,] First Presidency[,] Mr. Browning & a boy." (COD) Ruth refers to Ruth Pingree Smith, Mr. Browning is Lorenzo Dow Browning, and the "boy" is his son Byram, recently returned from WWII naval service.
1946 - September 18
"Hyrum Smith and Harold Beecher came to consider Joseph Patriarch's position." (GASD)
1946 - October 3
As reported in both the Improvement Era and the front page of the Deseret News , Patriarch Joseph F. Smith wrote a letter to Pres. George Albert Smith, officially requesting to be released from his position:
Centerville, Utah, 3rd of October, 1946.
President George Albert Smith
47 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
Dear President Smith:
As you know I have been very ill for many months. While I am slowly gaining strength and hope soon again to be able to do some work, I do not know when, if at all, I shall be able to stand the full drain upon my energy incident to the office of Patriarch to the Church.
As you know the duties of the Patriarch entail heavy exhaustion. Since but one man holds that office, if he is measurable incapacitated, its work must in that degree suffer.
I know, of course, that one neither resigns nor asks to be released from such a calling out of personal considerations, any more than one requests appointment or asks for office. My chief desire is that the work of the Lord shall prosper.
Bearing these things in mind, I am writing to say that if you desire me to carry on I shall do my best. If, however, in the circumstances, you should feel that the interests of the Church would be best served by releasing me at this time, I want you to feel at liberty to do that. I am therefore writing this letter to let you know you have my full support for whatever you decide.
I am grateful for the Lord's goodness to me and mine.
Ever praying the Lord's choicest blessings upon you, I am sincerely your brother,
Joseph F. Smith
After quoting this letter in The Improvement Era, The First Presidency made the following formal response:
"After careful and prayerful consideration, and with deep regret and sympathy for his condition, the First Presidency with the expressed assent and approval of the Council of the Twelve, have decided, under all the circumstances, that Brother Joseph F. Smith shall be released from his duties as Patriarch to the Church."
1946 - October 6
"Tabernacle & Assembly hall filled [--] Jos F. Smith released. A sad happening." (GASD)
1946 - October 25
"Orval Adams called to say that Wallace and George Spencer wanted him to speak to the father of 'this boy' and if the father said no, the boy would not need to be spoken to. Pres. Clark agreed with Mr. Adams that he should not do this but that Pres. Smith was the one. Bro. Adams said he would tell Geo. that Bro. Smith would do that." (COD) "Phoned Joseph Patriarch [--] he feels better." (GASD)
1946 - November 29
"Took Jos F Smith to Am Fork to funeral of Irving Llewelyn Pratt [--] Levi C. Snow drove us." (GASD) [Quinn believes this refers to Apostle Joseph F. Smith, as do I]
1947 - January 25
"Talked on Phone to Ruth Smith". (GASD)
1947 - January 31
"Ruth P Smith came in to talk about Joseph." (GASD)
1947 - March 19
George Albert Smith instructed that the ex-patriarch's salary continue to be sent to him monthly until the end of December, when it should stop. (Frank Evans diary)
1947 - April 3
"Voted to sustain…Eldred Smith" as the new Patriarch to the Church. (GASD)
1947 - April 6
"(sustained) Eldred Smith as Patriarch to the Church." (GASD)
1947 - April 10
"(set apart)...Eldred G. Smith Patriarch to the Church." (GASD)
1947 - August 6
"After supper walked and called to see Jos. Fielding." (GASD)
1947 - August 20
"Talked to Ruth Smith on phone". (GASD)
1947 — December 6
While at Honolulu, Apostle George F. Richards noted in his diary that "Pres. Woolley" (Ralph Woolley, the mission president) showed him a First Presidency letter instructing that ex-Patriarch Joseph F. Smith not function in any church capacity. (George F. Richards diary)
1947 — December 31
"Had long interview at 11:00 am with Jos. F. Smith, who flew here from Hawaii to attend the Nat'l Speech Ass'n Convention". (GASD)
1948 - January 3
"at 11:00 am First Presidency had long conference with Jos. Fielding Smith, Mark E Peterson + A.H. Reisler re books + supplies in basement". (GASD) [Quinn believes this refers to Apostle Joseph F. Smith, as do I]
1948 - January 5
"At 9:30 am Jos: F. came in to tell me of death of Alvin + Maxine Smith." (GASD) [Quinn believes this refers to Apostle Joseph F. Smith, as do I]
1948 - January 7
"Interview with...Jos. Fielding Smith at 10:30 am". (GASD) [Quinn believes this refers to Apostle Joseph F. Smith, however I do believe it refers to the former Patriarch]
1948 - March 15
George Albert Smith authorized retroactive payment of ex-Patriarch Smith's monthly allowance up to March 1. This was in response to Joseph's request for this financial assistance. (FED)
1950 - August 16
At Honolulu, "In the afternoon, by prearrangement, Joseph F. Smith, former patriarch of the Church, came to the Woolley home, and he and I stayed up in my room and had a long talk together concerning many things, particularly with reference to his problems." (GASD)
Joseph Fielding and Ruth Smith's tombstone in the Salt Lake City cemetery.
Patriarch Smith's lover Norval M. Service is also buried in the Salt Lake City cemetery.
1952 - 1954
John Reese, a then-closeted Gay Mormon from Utah, lived in the Honolulu Stake with Joseph F. and Ruth Smith and befriended them (especially Ruth). Ruth eventually revealed to John that her husband had been having homosexual affairs and that is why he had been released. John understood that they had been "exiled to Hawaii" by church leaders, to keep Joseph out of the spotlight of scandal. He was told that one of Joseph's sexual partners was a man named Wallace. (A man named Wallace A. G-------, born in 1907 and married in 1931, was a close colleague of Smith's in the Drama Department at the University of Utah for several years. Wallace was the manager of the Drama Club while Joseph was the president.)
1957 - April 10
Jay A. Quealy Jr., president of the Honolulu Stake, asked to restore ex-patriarch Joseph F. Smith to church activity. President David O. McKay answered that his decision "will have to await the outcome of my talking with other people involved in this case." (David O. McKay office diary, "MOD")
[1957? - April]
Typed, undated document, with no explanation except that it's heading is "Joseph F. Smith of Honolulu", found in the 1959 First Presidency files, although it's from 1957:
"The parents L. Dow Browning - 13185 W******** Place, Garden Grove, Calif.
"The boy — Byram Browning - 1102 East N****** - Fullerton, California. married and two children."
1957 - May 9
In a telephone conversation, Pres. McKay gave permission to Pres. Quealy of the Honolulu Stake for Joseph F. Smith to speak at his son's missionary farewell. (MOD)
1957 - July 10
The First Presidency instructed Bishop Lowell Christensen of the Waikiki Ward that Joseph F. Smith may have ward responsibilities because Joseph had already confessed "and has forsaken his sins." Pres. McKay stated that Joseph F. Smith had never been formally disfellowshipped or excommunicated. (MOD)
1957 — December 9
Pres. McKay authorized Pres. Quealy to use his own judgment in allowing Smith to serve in the church, inasmuch as "Joseph F. Smith has recently confessed to his wife and wrote a full confession to the First Presidency." President McKay said that there need not be any formal announcement or action for this reinstatement, since no formal action had ever been taken against him. (MOD) According to Quinn's correspondence with me, Smith soon became a member of the Stake High Council.
1958 - April 13
Ruth Pingree Smith wrote Pres. McKay, expressing appreciation that her husband could now serve actively in the Church. She added, "I know, better than anyone else, the trial our family has been to you and to the authorities." [Ruth P. Smith to McKay letter, also misfiled under 1959]
1979 - October 4
Eldred Gee Smith was placed on emeritus status by the First Presidency and no new Patriarch was called to replace him. At his death, the office of Patriarch to the Church, which once rivaled that of the President of the Church, will cease to exist.
Bergera, Gary J., "Grey Matters", 7th East Press, November 27, 1982, p. 15
Blood, Cynthia, University of Utah transcripts, copy in my possession
Blood, Cynthia, interview with Connell O'Donovan, August 19, 1989, notes in possession
Browning, Byram Dow, Naval records and University of Utah transcripts, copies in my possession
Clark, J. Reuben, Office Diary (COD), transcript from D. Michael Quinn, copy in my possession
Conference Reports, October 3, 1942, p. 17 (quoted in Bergera, "Grey Matters")
Deseret News, October 7, 1946, p. 1
Evans, Frank, Diary, transcript from D. Michael Quinn, copy in my possession
First Presidency papers, transcript from D. Michael Quinn, copy in my possession
Improvement Era, November 1942, p. 738 and November 1946, pp. 685 and 708
McKay, David O., Office Diary (MOD), transcript from D. Michael Quinn, copy in my possession
Richards, George F., Diary, transcript from D. Michael Quinn, copy in my possession
Smith, George Albert Smith, Diary (GASD), Special Collections, Marriott Library; complete xerox copy in my possession
Smith, Joseph Fielding, Diary, transcript from D. Michael Quinn, copy in my possession
Quinn, D. Michael to "Rocky" (Connell) O'Donovan, July 19, 1991
Quinn, D. Michael, Same Sex Dynamics among Nineteenth Century Americans: A Mormon Example (Univ. of Illinois, 1996)