Relief Society Presidents: Louise Y. Robison

Although March was the birthday month, these didn’t get posted. Since I know you are just aching to read all about these remarkable women, I decided to go ahead and share them in April! I hope you enjoy!

Called to lead the Relief Society during the depression years, Louise Yates Robison did not seem to be the ideal candidate. Shy and self-effacing, it was difficult for her to go into her son’s office building to pick him up from work. Yet, with the Lord’s help, she was able to overcome this fear and lead the Relief Society for eleven years.

Born in 1866, Louise learned lasting lessons from her parents. Her mother, Elizabeth, taught her to be ladylike in all conditions. She would quote her father’s words: “A lady does not leave home until her gloves are fastened and her veil adjusted.” Belle S. Spafford related that she never saw Louise without a pair of glove in her church. Her mother also taught her to be good because they were gentleborn. Her father, in turn, taught her the value of honesty. Louise grew up with the Relief Society, as her mother served as both ward and then stake Relief Society president.

Louise attended a one-room school as a child, then went on to become a student in the Brigham Young Academy with her sister at the age of fourteen. Her mother insisted the girls learn vocational training, and arranged for Louise to take a course in dressmaking following her graduation.

But Louise’s education was interrupted with her marriage to Joseph Lyman Robison at the age of 17, and though she dearly loved her husband and children, she felt the lack for many years following. She never quit learning, and studied her children’s lessons as they went through school. She was also quite active in the community. Among other things, she taught courses in gauze preparation for the Red Cross during World War I. At this time, she befriended Clarissa Williams, who preceded her as general Relief Society president.

While she attended the October 1828 General Conference, President Heber J. Grant called Clarissa Williams as president and Louise Robison as second counselor. Startled that the new counselor had a name so similar to her own, Louise sustained herself. Later, she said, “I had never heard of her, but I voted for her…When I realized it was myself, I was so upset.” She felt she had neither the ability or the background for the calling. The public speaking required by the calling helped her overcome her shyness, and she came to love the time spent visiting various wards and stakes.

President Grant called Louise as Relief Society general president on October 7, 1928, as the Great Depression reared its head. She focused her concern on those who, like her, lacked both formal education and material wealth. As the financial problems of the Depression forced many women to work, Louise sought ways to help mothers stay at home while earning an income. She helped found the Mormon Handicraft Shop in 1937, an outlet for women to market their home crafts. The Relief Society continued to operate the shop until 1986 when it was decided that it no longer met the needs of a worldwide church. At this point, Deseret Book Company took over the shop.

Louise also helped bring about the Singing Mothers Chorus, the choruses that sang in the wards, stakes, and Relief Society general conferences. The name was inspired by one of Louise’s favorite quotations, “A singing mother makes a happy home.” Louise insisted on uniforms of dark skirts and white blouses, believing most women would own these and not need to purchase new clothes.

Louise also suggested the official adaptation of the Relief Society colors of blue and gold. As far back as 1896, these colors had been referred to as Relief Society colors, but it was not made official until her administration. She participated in the one-hundredeth anniversary of the Church in April 1930, opening the Relief Society jubilee box prepared by Sarah M. Kimball fifty years earlier.

Her service as President was characterized by good humor and gentleness. When reprimands were needed, she always did so with this spirit. When the General Authorities suggested that the women remove their fashionably large hats during church services, many chose to keep them on so as not to disturb their appearance or hair. During a Relief Society conference, Louise announced, “Sisters, we are going to remain seated while we sing our first song. I’m sure you have your books and papers and your hats on your laps, and I’m afraid it would be hard for you to hold all of them if you stand.” Smiles and laughs abounded as the embarrassed ladies removed their hats.

Such love and gentleness – along with humility and practicality – characterized her tenure as Relief Society president. She was released on New Year’s Eve of 1939, after eleven years of service. She moved to California to live with her daughter and son-in-law. Ill for several months, Louise passed away on March 30, 1946 at the age of seventy-nine. Her funeral was held in the Assembly Hall at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Not surprisingly, the Singing Mothers sang during the ceremony.

Related Articles:

Relief Society Presidents: An Introduction

Relief Society Presidents: Emma Hale Smith

Relief Society Presidents: Eliza Roxy Snow

Relief Society Presidents: Zina D. H. Young

Relief Society Presidents: Bathsheba W. Smith