Relief Society Presidents: Amy Brown Lyman

Born February 7, 1872 in Pleasant Grove, Utah, Amy Brown was the twenty-third of twenty-five children born to her father. Both of Amy’s parents placed a high value on education, a trait that remained with Amy throughout her life. Despite the fact that her mother was partially invalid due to improper care during childbirth, Margaret frequently taught her children that one person filled with initiative can make a difference. For instance, when contagious diseases threatened, Margaret studied a medical book and treated the whole neighborhood. When a midwife innocently transmitted childbed fever that killed six new mothers, including Amy’s half-sister, Margaret found a teacher and organized a class in nursing and obstetrics for the women of Pleasant Grove. In her adult years, Amy followed her mother’s example and organized many social service courses and programs.

Amy attended Brigham Young Academy in Provo, where she met Richard R. Lyman. Wedding plans were delayed while he attended undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan, which only allowed single students to attend. While he was away, Amy took charge of the Primary Department at the Academy following her graduation, and then began teaching at Salt Lake schools until Richard’s graduation in 1895. They were sealed by President Joseph F. Smith in the Salt Lake Temple the following September, and eventually had a son and a daughter.

Richard decided to pursue graduate studies at Cornell University in New York, and took a summer class at the University of Chicago. Amy referred to that time as “one of the very valuable periods of my school life.” She attended a class while there, and became close friends with Jane Addams while she volunteered at Hull House. She also made a commitment to help improve the quality of human life through the social work. While in New York an epidemic of typhoid fever claimed over a thousand lives, further increasing Amy’s resolve to help others.

Believing that Relief Society functioned as a catalyst for human suffering, Amy used her time serving in various capacities to meet her goals. When President Joseph F. Smith established a social welfare department for the church in 1919, he asked Amy to serve as the first director. She remained as such until 1934, while continuing her Relief Society duties. In this capacity, she created a training program in which stake delegates attended classes in family welfare work, then returned to their stakes and taught similar lessons to the members. Over 4,100 women were trained during this process, providing a valuable asset to local officials through the Great Depression. She served in the Utah legislature in 1922 and gained statewide support of the federal Sheppard-Towner Bill, which provided for infant and maternity care around the nation. The Relief Society board supported this bill by urging local wards and branches to prepare ready-to-use layettes and maternity bundles. Two maternity hospitals were also built by the Relief Society, and the interest earned from selling the wheat-storage funds helped build local clinics for maternity care and child health.

Amy also sought humane care for the mentally challenged. Through the Relief Society, she urged women to support the passing of a bill in 1929 that provided an institution for the retarded. She helped select American Fork, Utah, as a site for building a training school, where she served on the board of trustees from 1930 to 1942.

Amy was called to be the eighth Relief Society President on January 1, 1940, at the age of 67. Her immediate goal was to increase aid to those suffering from World War II – many of whom she had seen and met firsthand while serving with her husband on a mission in Continental Europe. She also bore the responsibility for preparing for the Relief Society centennial anniversary in 1942. However, war caused a vast scaling down and simplification in the Relief Society programs. Among other things, the Singing Mothers group was canceled on a general level (although local groups were urged to continue), the Relief Society educational year was shortened, and communication was maintained throughout the stakes through instructional publications rather than visits. Also, the Relief Society introduced a new official seal.

Welfare service was not scaled back; on the contrary, it continued to expand due to wartime suffering. Sisters throughout the church donated clothing to the Central Bishop’s storehouse, knitted clothes for the war effort, sewed hospital gowns, taught Red Cross classes, and assembled first aid kits.

President Heber J. Grant released Amy in the spring of 1945 at her request, due to a number of personal tragedies in her life. She spent the next fifteen years serving in various social services organizations, and continuing the service that so marked her early life. She passed away at the age of 87, on December 5, 1959.

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