Determination and Devotion: Amy Brown Lyman
by Sarah Hancock Jones
January 17, 2019
Here in Utah, the news can sometimes be as dismal as a gray January day, the inversion is at its worst. From poverty to education to the gender pay gap, we’re often inundated with articles about the serious challenges facing our society. It can be enough to make the average Utahn want to throw in the towel, insisting that the problem is too big! Instead of giving up on making our state better for future generations, we should instead look to the life of Amy Brown Lyman, a Utahn who devoted much of her life to building institutions and systems that would serve people for generations. Despite difficult setbacks, she constantly strove to find common ground with those who saw issues differently, and she collaborated with them to accomplish her goals. She had a vision of what she wanted Utah to become and pushed forward with determination, making life better for average citizens as she did. Here are just a few of her many accomplishments:
- Amy Brown Lyman brought modern social work methods to Utah. She stated that “no work could be more important and satisfying than that of helping to raise human life to its highest level.” Born in 1872 in Pleasant Grove, Amy had a bold manner and as a kid earned the nickname “Ready-aim-fire.” She harnessed used her energy and intelligence to bring modern social work methods to Utah after World War I and the Spanish influenza epidemic. As an officer in the LDS Relief Society, Amy attended a Red Cross training in Denver in the fall of 1917, then returned in November 1918 for more training. Because of her devotion, the stage was set for Utah to be at the forefront in social work.
- Amy Brown Lyman ran for public office, won, and introduced a bill to benefit Utah mothers and children. When policymakers were less attuned to the needs of Utah mothers and children, Amy ran for public office and sponsored a bill to maximize federal funds to assist mothers and infants. She then worked tirelessly to convince her colleagues to vote for the bill, which passed the House and the Senate unanimously! Amy worked with the Relief Society to maximize the funding to build systems of maternal and infant care throughout the state, resulting in an astounding 19 percent drop in infant mortality and 8 percent drop in maternal mortality from 1921 to 1928. Amy’s determination saved lives throughout the state.
- Amy Brown Lyman used her expertise to help Utahns through the Great Depression. Amy had always been attuned to the needs of the poor, having successfully petitioned Salt Lake County officials to commit more resources to fighting poverty in the early 1920s. The challenges of the Great Depression required a person like Amy: aware of the needs, able to jump into action, and willing to work with others. When federal funds became available through Hoover’s Emergency Relief and Reconstruction Act of 1932, Amy quickly gathered evidence to bring funding to Utah. It was used throughout the state to pay for for food, clothing, and fuel for citizens.
As we face today’s challenges in Utah, it’s helpful to keep in mind the many people who have gone before us and faced their own challenges with courage and determination. Amy Brown Lyman had many opportunities to become frustrated, argue over differences, and give up on collaboration. Instead, she pushed forward with enthusiasm, determination, and devotion to the people of Utah. We can all do the same.
Sarah Hancock Jones is an English and reading teacher to some excellent junior high students. She’s passionate about teaching literature, swimming in Utah’s gorgeous lakes and reservoirs, and searching for the most delicious pizza joint.
Loretta Hefner, “The National Women’s Relief Society and the U.S. Sheppard-Towner Act,” Utah Historical Quarterly 50.3 (Summer 1982): 255-267.
David Hall, “Anxiously Engaged: Amy Brown Lyman and Relief Society Charity Work, 1917-45,” Dialogue 27.2 (Spring 1985): 73-91.
David Hall, “A Faded Legacy: Amy Brown Lyman and Mormon Women’s Activism, 1872-1959.” Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2015.