Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
Jane Hill Leavitt
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Jane (Jennie) Hill Leavitt was born on 18 April 1891 in Cardston, Alberta, Canada, to William Leavitt and Elizabeth Bryce Hill. When Jennie was five year old the family moved to nearby Leavitt where William homesteaded a large farm. Here Jennie attended school, studied music, performed farm chores, and was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 3 June 1899. On 4 October 1911, after a long courtship, she married Willard Lisbon Smith in Salt Lake City; their happy union produced seven children, five of whom survived infancy.
After a few years of married life in Canada, the Smiths received a call from the Church to serve a school teaching mission to Samoa. They accepted this assignment and left San Francisco for the South Pacific on 19 January 1915. When they arrived at Pago Pago, Samoa, Jennie remarked that she “never saw anything so beautiful.”1 Willard and Jennie were assigned to work as schoolteachers at Mapusaga, a Church-owned plantation on the island of Tutuila, and Jennie’s heart was soon “full of love” for the native children that they instructed.2 After a year, however, Willard was called to be mission president of the newly-reopened Tongan Mission, and Jennie accompanied him on this assignment.
The Smiths arrived at Nuku-alofa, Tonga on 11 May 1916, joining the few other missionaries already there, and Willard assumed responsibility of over 450 native members organized into eleven branches of the Church. While Willard fervently set about to organize the new mission, much of Jennie’s time was spent caring for their son De Loy, teaching school, cooking, washing clothes, and cleaning. However, she also diligently studied the Tongan language, preached during Church meetings, and led the Relief Society organization. A typical day in her journal reads: “I did some sewing, ironing, then attended Relief Society. I also spoke again in meeting.”3 After five years away from home Willard and Jennie finally departed from Tonga, arriving home in April 1920. Just before departing Jennie recorded in her journal: “I didn’t want to leave dear old Tonga and the saints.”4
For the next six years the Smith resided in Cardston, Alberta, where Jennie focused on raising her children and keeping house. However, in 1926 Willard received another mission call, this time to serve as president of the Samoan Mission, and Jennie and the children accompanied him. Jennie wrote little about her own activities during their second mission to Samoa, but rather focused her writings on her husband’s efforts to lead the mission. It is likely that she engaged in many of the same duties as she did while in Tonga: teaching school, preaching, caring for her children and the missionaries, and performing domestic chores. After over seven years as president Willard was released to return home and on 14 March 1934 Jennie and Willard left Samoa and returned to Cardston.
In July 1945 Jennie was appointed to be matron of the Alberta Temple while her husband served in the temple presidency, a calling that she held until 7 May 1956. From this time until her death she continued to be an ordinance worker in the temple, a place where, in her own words, “the pure in heart…may by the spirit of God always have rich communion with [God].”5 Jane Hill Leavitt Smith died in Cardston on 8 December 1973 after suffering a severe stroke. She was remembered by her daughter-in-law as possessing a “gentle disposition, staunch faith, wisdom, [and a] keen and discerning mind.”6
1 Jennie L. Smith, “Personal History of Jennie Leavitt Smith,” p. 16. MSS 2260, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
2 Ibid., 19.
3 Smith, “Journal, 1918–1920,” 9 February 1920. MSS 2260, LTPSC.
4 Ibid., 10 March 1920.
5 Smith, “Selections of Jennie’s Talks and Writings on Gospel Themes,” p. 1. MSS 2260, LTPSC.
6 W. De Loy Smith, ed., “The Life Story of Willard Lisbon Smith and his wife Jennie Leavitt Smith,” p. 70. MSS 2260, LTPSC.
Britsch, R. Lanier. Unto the Isles of the Sea. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1986.
Smith, Willard L. “Collection, 1915–1918.” MSS 2260, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.