Son of Hyrum Smith and Mary Fielding, Joseph F. (Fielding) Smith was born 13 November 1838 at Far West, Missouri. His early childhood was spent in Nauvoo, Illinois, and Winter Quarters, Nebraska. Orphaned at thirteen, he was called on a church mission to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands at the age of fifteen, and subsequently filled missions to England (1860-63) and Hawaii (1864). He also served as European Mission president (1874-75, 1877).
Smith was called to the Salt Lake Stake High Council in 1859, and in 1864 began service in the Church Historian's Office with recorder responsibilities for the Endowment House, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First Presidency. Ordained an apostle and counselor to Brigham Young in 1866, Smith also served in the First Presidency under John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow.
Ecclesiastical positions were accompanied by political and commercial opportunities: beginning in 1865, Smith served seven terms in the territorial House of Representatives, as well as terms on the Salt Lake City Council and in the territorial Senate; he also served in the presidency of a state constitutional convention in 1882. From 1883 to 1887 Smith was on the underground, mostly in Hawaii, to evade federal anti-polygamy prosecution.
As long as Utah remained a territory under federal supervision, Mormon institutions were in jeopardy; but statehood was impossible without the support of the anti-polygamy Republican party. Following the official discontinuance of new plural marriages in 1890, and the dissolution of the Mormon People's Party in 1891, Smith championed the Republican party in Utah, working for the defeat of popular Democratic candidates such as B.H. Roberts and Moses Thatcher.
Smith became church president in 1901, and with his support, Mormon Apostle Reed Smoot was elected to the U.S. Senate. But the election was contested, and the ensuing investigation again focused national attention on Mormon marriages and political influence. Following his appearance before a Senate panel in 1904, Smith terminated the surreptitious continuation of church plural marriages. The Smith administration also retired church debt, acquired historic sites, constructed numerous meetinghouses, and expanded the church system of academies and universities. Smith also served on the boards of scores of Utah businesses.
Joseph F. Smith died on 19 November 1918. He had six wives and forty-eight children, including apostles Hyrum M. and Joseph Fielding, and David A., a member of the Presiding Bishopric of the Church. Smith's vision concerning the redemption of the dead (1918) is one of the few twentieth-century additions to Mormon scripture (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138).
See: Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith (1969); Francis M. Gibbons, Joseph F. Smith (1984).