Amy Cassandra Brown was born February 7, 1872, in Pleasant Grove, Utah. She would grow up to be the General Relief Society President during a changing world, where she would influence the sisters during WWI, the Great Depression, and WWII.
There was much disease and poor medical care during Amy’s youth; many loved ones died, or became invalid because of this, including Amy’s mother. Margaret received improper care while giving childbirth, suffering the ill effects the rest of her life. Because of this, she read medical books and learned how to treat everyone in their small town. Margaret’s determination influenced Amy to want better care for the individual.
Amy learned to love books through her father. She attended Brigham Young Academy, forming a close association with Karl Maeser, living with his family for a time. She met her husband, Richard Lyman, at school. She continued her studies and taught while Richard attended graduate school in Michigan where no married students were allowed.
Finally, they married and moved to Chicago for continued schooling. While there, Amy took a sociology class and began volunteering at Hull House. She formed a friendship for life with its founder, Jane Addams. Social problems became Amy’s life focus from this time forward.
After finishing Richard’s schooling in Ithaca, New York, they moved back to Salt Lake City. A short time later, she was called to serve on the Relief Society Board where she was introduced to Bathsheba W. Smith, a member of the original Relief Society, and Emmeline B. Wells, noted for her long work with the Women’s Exponent. Amy would become the bridge between the changing generations of Relief Society.
It was Amy who organized the offices of the Relief Society with more staff, improved reporting procedures, and compiling the records of the Relief Society history. She was also involved with creating the first lesson plans that would be published in the Relief Society Bulletin, and later the Magazine, serving as an editor for a few years. She felt education lessons and handicrafts would uplift the soul and add meaning to a woman’s life during these hard times.
During the world wars, Amy was there with her expertise in social welfare, teaching and training. She stated, “Prevention of poverty, disease, and crime is much better and much cheaper than relief or cure. Modern welfare calls for getting at the very roots of the trouble. The suggestive steps in family welfare are relief of existing distress, prevention of new distress, and the raising of human life to its highest level.” She believed Relief Society was at the heart of relieving human suffering.
Called by Pres. Joseph F. Smith, Amy served as the first director of the Church’s newly formed social welfare department. She also served in the Utah legislature, furthering humanitarian social action. It is thanks to her that there is a Mental Hospital in Provo, and a mentally handicapped training school in American Fork.
Her husband was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles while Amy was serving as General Relief Society secretary. While serving as a counselor to Louise Y. Robison, Richard was called to preside over the European Mission, and she was set apart to serve the women and children throughout the mission. Impending war brought them home early, in 1938. In 1940, she was called as Relief Society president.
In 1943, personal tragedy touched Amy’s life when it was discovered that Richard had a second wife, and was illegally trying to live the law of polygamy. He was excommunicated immediately. She struggled through her responsibilities as president, but after serving barely five years, she asked to be released. Here’s the amazing thing: their marriage survived. They worked through it and Richard was eventually rebaptized and his priesthood, restored to him after he died.
It is thanks to Amy Lyman that our Church has a Family and Social Services department, that we have such a close association with the Red Cross, and that Welfare Services has the woman’s touch. It is also thanks to Amy that we have a wonderful example of endurance through hardship and the strength of a testimony.
Information taken from Elect Ladies and Women of Covenant