Frederick M. Smith

Frederick M. Smith
Photo of Fred M. Smith
Prophet–President of the Church
May 5, 1915 (1915-05-05)  March 20, 1946 (1946-03-20)
Predecessor Joseph Smith III
Successor Israel A. Smith
Reason Doctrine of Lineal succession
Counselor in the First Presidency
April 18, 1902 (1902-04-18)  May 5, 1915 (1915-05-05)
Called by Joseph Smith III
Predecessor William W. Blair
Successor Floyd M. McDowell
Reason Death of William W. Blair
End reason Became Prophet–President of the Church
Personal details
Born Frederick Madison Smith
(1874-01-21)January 21, 1874
Plano, Illinois, United States
Died March 20, 1946(1946-03-20) (aged 72)
Independence, Missouri, United States
Cause of death Natural causes
Resting place Mound Grove Cemetery
39°06′43.31″N 94°25′37.05″W / 39.1120306°N 94.4269583°W / 39.1120306; -94.4269583
Education B.A.Graceland College
M.A.University of Kansas
Ph.D.Clark University
Spouse(s) Ruth Lyman Cobb Smith
Parents Joseph Smith III
Bertha Madison Smith
Website Frederick M. Smith

Frederick Madison Smith (January 21, 1874 March 20, 1946), generally known among his followers as "Fred M.", was an American religious leader and author and the third Prophet-President of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (renamed the Community of Christ in 2001), serving from 1915 until his death.

Smith's paternal grandfather was Joseph Smith, Jr., the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, and his father was Joseph Smith III, the first president after the Church's "Reorganization." The first graduate of Graceland University, Fred M. earned a Ph.D. in psychology from Clark University in 1916, setting him apart as one of the most highly educated members of his church at the time.[1]

Smith’s leadership was controversial. One biographer has called him “a man of paradox” [2] and “one of the most controversial figures in Reorganization history.”[3] His presidency saw the church initiate a series of major projects, but it was also marred by the controversy over what became known as “Supreme Directional Control.”[4]


Fred M. was one of nine children of Joseph Smith III and his second wife, Bertha Madison Smith. He was born on Jan 21, 1874, at Plano, Illinois, and baptized on July 20, 1883.

Summary of education:

On August 3, 1897, Smith married Alice Lyman Cobb (died May 4, 1926).

Succession to the Presidency

Fred M. Smith became a counselor in the RLDS Church’s First Presidency in 1902. As his father’s health declined, Fred M. assumed greater and greater responsibilities in the management of the church and its auxiliary institutions. Joseph Smith III died on December 10, 1914, and Fred M. was ordained as the new Prophet-President the following spring on May 5, 1915.[5]

Zion and the Social Gospel

Smith was known for his interests in applying the principles of the newly emerging fields of sociology and social welfare to the Church's thinking on the principles and doctrine of Zion. Smith was influenced by the contemporary Social Gospel movement, which endeavored to apply Christian ethics to societal problems, including social justice, health care, and care for the poor, for orphans, and the elderly. In broad terms, Smith felt the need to address these issues as part of the overall call to “build Zion.” In this way he both embraced and modernized his grandfather Joseph Smith Jr.’s vision to build a literal city of Zion in Independence, Missouri.[6]

In order to fulfill his vision, Smith initiated a number of ambitious programs, including the construction of the Auditorium, expansion of the Independence Sanitarium (later known as Independence Regional Hospital), construction of an old-age home in Independence originally known as “Resthaven” (now “the Groves”), and a planned agricultural cooperative in Atherton, Missouri.

As part of his modernizing program, Smith was an early adopter of radio. In 1924, the RLDS Church’s radio station, known as KFIX (later KLDS), became the first church-owned radio station in the United States to be licensed.[7]

He also presided during the difficult depression years which stalled or halted many of his projects, as the church faced issues of major financial debt.

Supreme Directional Control

He became embroiled in a controversy over Supreme Directional Control of the Church that led to a significant loss in membership. Smith became the first president of the church to submit a notice of resignation. However, the General Conference to which he submitted his resignation, refused to accept it.[8]

He died in 1946, and was succeeded by his brother, Israel Alexander Smith.

The Frederick Madison Smith Library is one of two libraries belonging to Graceland University, and is located on their Lamoni campus. It opened in 1966.


  1. Edwards, Our Legacy of Faith, 207.
  2. Edwards, The Chief, 15.
  3. Edwards, The Chief, 9.
  4. Howard, The Church through the Years, 2:232.
  5. Edwards, Our Legacy of Faith, 313.
  6. Howlett at al., Community of Christ, 41.
  7. Edwards, The Chief, 182.
  8. Howard, The Church Through the Years, 2:227.


Community of Christ titles
Preceded by
Joseph Smith III
May 5, 1915March 20, 1946
Succeeded by
Israel A. Smith
Preceded by
William W. Blair
Counselor in the First Presidency
April 18, 1902May 5, 1915
Succeeded by
Floyd M. McDowell
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