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Alice Myrmida Smith Edwards: Reluctant Royal of the Reorganization

By Kourtney Fitzgerald, Salt Lake City Congregation Historian

Alice Smith Edwards always hated to be introduced as “the daughter of” or “the wife of”, and yearned to be Alice in her own right, so before I explain her familial background let me introduce you to Alice Smith Edwards: writer, educator, feminist, advocate, and shaper of Community of Christ history.

Alice was born in Lamoni, Iowa in 1899. Her childhood was heavily influenced by her mother, a Graceland College teacher dedicated to social justice, and her maternal grandmother, who fostered her love of learning. She was described as a precocious and passionate child, and was a bit of a tomboy. When her family moved to Independence, Missouri she resented being told she had to give up her overalls for a dress and stop playing baseball with the boys. Alice served as a driver and mechanic with the Ambulance Corps during WW1, attended Stanford and USC, and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Journalism. She later received a Master’s Degree in English from University of Missouri-Kansas City and made a career in teaching and mentoring veterans.

Full of sarcasm and wit, Alice was also a skilled poet and writer whose work was printed under a variety of pen names. In 1962 she explained to a publisher why she could not publish under her own name or even use her home address in their correspondence. “My husband is a minister”, she said, “and neither he nor the people with whom I associate as his wife would appreciate my doing a book like this.”

The Little Princess

To describe her husband as a “minister” was an understatement. Alice Smith Edwards has been called the “little princess” of the Reorganization. She was the great-granddaughter, granddaughter, and daughter of church presidents. Her husband F. Henry Edwards was an Apostle and a member of the First Presidency for 44 years.  As the granddaughter of Joseph III and the eldest child of President Fred M. Smith and his wife Ruth, Alice spent a lifetime acutely aware that had she been born male, she would have been the president of the church. Instead, Alice served what she described as “40 years hard labor” at the side of her prophet father and apostle husband, acting as hostess and matron for the church.

Alice was proud to call the church hers while simultaneously frustrated with it’s culture and disappointed with its performance. She was known for coming up with excuses to skip Sunday services, and described her duties in attending World Conference as “being stoned to death by popcorn.” Having a liberal personal theology more in line with the modern church than the RLDS doctrines of her day, she did not like adopting firm theological affirmations. She viewed Jesus primarily as a social justice leader, remarked that Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version of the Bible was just a commentary, was known to say of the Book of Mormon “I believe in it, but I don’t believe it.”, and complained that the church’s view of heaven would exclude all of the most interesting people.  She loathed being under constant scrutiny by church members and used her secret pseudonymous writing career as an outlet to engage with the world beyond the confines of her position.

Gave Him Hell At Home

Although largely unrecognized for her efforts, Alice was a major influence on church policy behind the scenes by sharing her opinions with her husband and father. As her son Paul once said, “She never disagreed with daddy in public, but she sure as heavens gave him hell at home.”  Being intimately acquainted with top church leaders, she was dedicated to ensuring that church members did not put them on a pedestal and instead saw them for the flawed men that they were. She was also behind the push for church leaders to have a seminarian education, the church’s position on patriotism and pacifism, and the church’s dedication to social justice.  Often, new revelations and inspired documents would be brought to her for review and editing before being presented to the church and added to the Doctrine and Covenants.

Alice was an advocate for gender equality. She was frustrated that women were not given a voice and that she was to be forever gentry despite her education and birthright. She encouraged the women of the church to recognize what influence they did have, and to use it to keep the priesthood men in check. At one point she organized the wives of all the general officers of the church to request to use the family car on the same day, simply to make sure the impact of women would be recognized. While she loved being a wife and mother, she detested “housewifery” as an expectation placed on women. Her children report that she made no effort to keep up appearances with a clean home and well-behaved children, preferring instead to devote her time to helping others find their voice.

After her children were grown, Alice found more time to dedicate to her writing. What was not published was hidden away to be discovered after her death. Shortly before her passing in 1973, she wrote:

“Sometimes I’ve wondered
    on a day like this
(and only on a day like this)
when snow and spring
are on the ground
and in the air,
I’ve wondered when life has brought me
all that life can bring
and I shall die,
how the snow and springs of future years
shall shape the mound where I will lie…

Can I foretell my death
(on such a day as this)
    and know that there
    against the stone
    I lie beneath
a sheaf of snowdrops will grow
    their burnt lances
    of green and orange
    struggling through
    the dirty snow.”

I wonder if Alice ever considered that in some future year, on a day like today when snow and spring are on the ground and in the air, we would be telling her story, praising her wisdom and wit, and honoring her for the remarkable influence she had on our faith tradition.


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