I loved Jeans' youth lesson on previous general relief society presidents over at Beginnings New, and it made me interested in learning even more about these women. I knew very little about Amy Brown Lyman, but became curious about how she led the women in the church during world war II, and did a little research.
Amy Brown Lyman was born in 1872 in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Her parents instilled in her a belief in the importance of education, and the belief that one person can make a difference if they put in the effort. Her mother treated the ill and led many social programs in their community, and Amy followed her mother's example repeatedly throughout her life.
She married Richard Lyman in 1895, and joined him as he pursued graduate studies at Cornell and the University of Chicago. She made a commitment during this period to work to improve the human condition through social work, and she made good on this commitment.
President Joseph F. Smith appointed her as the 1st director of the church's social welfare department in 1919, and she served in this capacity until 1934. Among her many accomplishments here, she trained over 4100 women to work as family social workers. She was also an able politician. She served on the Utah State Legislature in 1922 and helped push through the federal Sheppard-Towner Bill, which provided infant and maternity care nation-wide. She was also pivotal in helping pass a bill which created an institution for the mentally disabled, and served on its board of trustees for over a decade.
As General Relief Society President (1940-1945), she cut spending while increasing welfare. To assist in the war efforts, she focused on self-reliance & war time thrift in her teachings, and the Relief Society provided assistance through assembling first-aid kits & sewing hospital gowns.
In 1943, personal tragedy hit. Her husband, an LDS apostle, was ex-communicated for "cohabiting" with another woman (he was eventually rebaptized over a decade later). In 1945, the strain on her marriage became too great, and she asked to be released as general RS president. However, she did not stop her social work efforts, and worked in a variety of settings for the next fifteen years. While I am sad she felt she needed to be released from her calling, I am impressed at the work she was able to accomplish during that two year period between the news of her husband's affair and her asking to be released. I can't imagine how devastated she felt, but she still recognize that her abilities were needed, and she went to work. She died in 1959.
I love Amy's tireless efforts to improve the world she lived in, and her faith in her ability to do it. She didn't just accept the problems she saw in the world around her - she immediately looked for ways she could help. I hope to be able to emulate that in my own life.
Amy Brown Lyman, lds.org
Relief Society Presidents: Amy Brown Lyman, Nola Redd
Amy B. Lyman, Wikipedia