A builder of faith: Sister Florence S. Jacobsen dies at age 103

Known for her work as a builder — of faith, people and significant structures in the history of the Church — Sister Florence Smith Jacobsen, former Young Women leader and LDS Church curator, died on March 5, just weeks before her 104th birthday.

A simple walk on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City gives Church and community members glimpses of the work Sister Jacobsen did in her various Church assignments. Whether it was saving and then overseeing the restoration of the Lion House and Beehive House, or having the idea for the construction of the Church History Museum, Sister Jacobsen was an integral part of much of what stands today.

Born on April 7, 1913, in Salt Lake City, Florence was the second child of Willard Richards Smith and Florence Grant Smith, and the granddaughter of two Church presidents — President Joseph F. Smith and President Heber J. Grant.

“She was courageous, strong, reliable, loved, opinionated, committed to excellence and dedicated to her beliefs,” her obituary reads. “She loved the gospel of Jesus Christ and bore testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith, Jr.”

She married Theodore “Ted” Jacobsen — in the Salt Lake Temple in 1935 and together they had three sons, Stephen, Alan and Heber. She accompanied her husband as he was called to preside over the Eastern States Mission of the Church, headquartered at the time in New York City.

Sister Jacobsen served as the sixth Young Women general president — then called the Young Women Mutual Improvement Association — from 1961 to 1972. During her tenure the YWMIA celebrated its centennial and launched the New Era magazine for youth in 1971. In 1973, after her release from serving as Young Women general president, President Harold B. Lee invited Sister Jacobsen to become the LDS Church’s curator.

Her talents served her — and the Church — well over her life. After graduating from the University of Utah, Sister Jacobsen worked for the Salt Lake Knitting Works where she designed clothing and made samples of her designs. That was only the beginning of her creativity serving her family, Church and community — especially in the restoration and building of many significant buildings for the Church.

Highlights from work done during her assignment as Church curator include the interior restoration of the Manti Utah Temple, the restoration of the Brigham Young home in St. George, Utah, the Newel K. Whitney home in Kirtland, Ohio, the E.B. Grandin Building in Palmyra, N.Y., and the Jacob Hamblin home in Santa Clara, Utah.

Her proposal to President Spencer W. Kimball to build a museum to house and display the Church’s historic treasures led to the construction of the Museum of Church History and Art (the building now known as the Church History Museum).

Sister Jacobsen was the director of the Arts and Sites Division of the Church Historical Department, which had oversight of the museum when it opened in 1984.

In addition to serving as Young Women general president and Church curator, Sister Jacobsen held many callings within the Church and community. She spent time serving on the Young Women General Board as well as Church delegate to the National Council of Women. She held many titles within that council.

In April 2010, Sister Jacobson accepted the Junius F. Wells Award, given to her from the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, for her work in preserving historical sites and service in the Church.

Sister Jacobsen was preceded in death by her husband, Ted, and her son Alan. She is survived by her two sons, Stephen and Heber, nine grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.

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