The Church in the Early Twentieth Century

Time Line



Significant Event

25 Jan. 1900

B. H. Roberts was excluded from the U.S. House of Representatives

10 Oct. 1901

Lorenzo Snow died

17 Oct. 1901

Joseph F. Smith set apart as President of the Church

29 Jan. 1903

Reed Smoot elected United States senator

6 Apr. 1904

Second manifesto issued by President Joseph F. Smith

23 Dec. 1905

Joseph Smith Memorial dedicated in Sharon, Vermont

20 Feb. 1907

Vote taken allowing Reed Smoot to retain his Senate seat

After the brief period of comparative goodwill that followed the issuance of the Manifesto and the admission of the state of Utah into the union, the Church again faced serious internal and external problems. As the twentieth century began, the progressive movement was calling the nation’s attention to the wrongs, both alleged and real, in all aspects of American society. During this time, the media focused on the B. H. Roberts case directing the attention of the progressive and national leaders in the country once again upon the Church and its members.

B. H. Roberts

B. H. Roberts (1857–1933), distinguished looking in his mature years, was a fearless defender of the faith. (Additional biographical information accompanies his photograph on page 432 in chapter 33.)

The Case of Brigham H. Roberts of Utah

In the summer of 1896, the First Presidency sent Elder Brigham Henry Roberts, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and one of the finest orators in the Church, and a quartet selected from members of the Tabernacle Choir, on a goodwill mission to the eastern United States. George D. Pyper, an outstanding vocalist, led the quartet as tenor soloist. Elder Roberts visited such eastern cities as St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York. At St. Louis he delivered a series of forty-two lectures, each averaging an hour and a quarter in length and “when the lectures were over, sixty persons had been baptized, forming the nucleus of a flourishing and vital branch of the Church in St. Louis.”1 Because of his love for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his defense of it throughout his lifetime, B. H. Roberts became known as “Defender of the Faith.”

When he returned to Utah, Elder Roberts was asked by some of the state Democratic leaders to run for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. After obtaining the approval of the First Presidency, he consented to run. He received his party’s nomination in September 1898. After a vigorous campaign, Roberts was elected with nearly a six thousand vote plurality. Almost immediately after his victory, however, a group of sectarian ministers joined forces with attorney A. Theodore Schroeder, who was also the editor of the Utah-based anti-Mormon periodical Lucifer’s Lantern, in an attempt to keep Roberts from being seated.2

Schroeder, born and educated in Wisconsin, had come to Utah to practice law so he could “see and study a new religious establishment in the making.” While in Salt Lake City he “helped revamp the Salt Lake Herald as the official organ of the Democratic Party of which he was also one of forty charter organizers in Utah.” He also befriended people in Utah who opposed the Church, and he prosecuted “the case against B. H. Roberts resulting in the exclusion of Roberts from the Congress of the United States.”3

Because Elder Roberts was a polygamist, his opponents were able to collect from throughout the nation over seven million signatures on a petition proposing that he not be allowed to take his congressional seat. This was the largest number ever to sign a petition up to that time in American history. However, President Lorenzo Snow said, “As Roberts later put it, ‘the storm was the equivalent of a mosquito lighting on the moon.’”4

After arriving in Washington, D.C., Representative Roberts found that he would not be allowed to take his seat in Congress until after the petition issue was decided. Meanwhile he prepared to defend himself and his right as a polygamist to be a member of Congress. The debate raged on for fifteen months. The opposition, motivated by a variety of religious, moral, and political reasons, united in their efforts to deny Roberts his congressional seat. Some attacked the Church with the charge that many of its polygamous men were still supporting more than one family, while others charged that Mormons were not supporting their wives and children. They attacked those members who believed plural marriage to be God-given and condemned others for abandoning its practice. Yet another charge they made was that the Church had given up the practice of plural marriage but had not relinquished the belief in it. And finally, Latter-day Saints were accused of both loving and failing to love the children of former polygamous unions.5

The controversy frequently made the front pages of the country’s major newspapers. The women of the nation who believed that plural marriage was demeaning to females also opposed Roberts; some politicians concluded that the pressure exerted by these suffragettes led to his exclusion. Meanwhile, the nation’s cartoonists and satirists featured his caricature so often that he was recognized everywhere he went.

Just before the final balloting, a tired, yet determined Elder Roberts was allowed one last defense. Known in some circles as “the Blacksmith Orator,” because he had been a blacksmith as a youth, he concluded his defense with this declaration:

“Some of the papers in discussing the Roberts case have said, ‘Brand this man with shame and send him back to his people.’ Mr. Speaker, I thank God that the power to brand me with shame is something quite beyond the powers of this House, great as this power is. The power to brand with shame rests with each man and nowhere else. The Almighty God has conferred it upon none else. I have lived up to this day in all good conscience in harmony with the moral teachings of the community in which I was reared, and am sensible of no act of shame in my life. Brand me or expel me, I shall leave this august chamber with head erect and brow undaunted and walk God’s earth as the angels walk the clouds, with no sense of shame upon me.’

“(Applause from the floor, and hisses from the gallery)

“And, if in response to the sectarian clamor that has been invoked against the member from Utah, you violate the Constitution of your country, either in excluding or expelling me, the shame that there is in this case will be left behind me and rest with this House.


In spite of the magnificence of his final speech, two hundred and sixty-eight voted for his exclusion, fifty were against it, and thirty-six abstained from voting. Though Elder Roberts fought valiantly and conducted himself with dignity so that he was a credit to his Church and his country, the House was of the opinion that no man with more than one wife could serve in its chambers. B. H. Roberts never ran for public office again.

President Joseph F. Smith

Just one month before his sixty-third birthday, Joseph F. Smith, who had been a counselor to four Church presidents, was ordained to succeed Lorenzo Snow, who died 10 October 1901. He was a son of the martyred Hyrum Smith and a nephew of Joseph Smith, for whom he was named. His widowed mother, Mary Fielding Smith, was a woman of great faith, who taught him the gospel by example as well as by precept. When only fifteen years old, Joseph F. commenced a successful mission to Hawaii. Ten years later, in 1864, he accompanied Lorenzo Snow to the islands to put a stop to the heresy in the Church caused by Walter Murray Gibson. While they were on the island of Maui, it was revealed to Elder Snow that Joseph F. Smith would some day preside over the Church.7 He was only twenty-eight years old when he was called by Brigham Young to be an Apostle.

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) became the sixth President of the Church in October 1901. He had distinguished himself in Church service for forty-five years since becoming an Apostle as a young man in 1866.

He was an authority on Church doctrine. Selections from his sermons and writings were collected in 1919 in a volume entitled Gospel Doctrine. This has been a standard reference work for Latter-day Saints in the twentieth century.

Joseph F. Smith studied the gospel assiduously and was known for his scriptural understanding, his love of doctrine, and his powerful sermons. He was also a devoted father whose letters to his children are filled with love and sound instruction. At a special solemn assembly held 10 November 1901, he was sustained as Church president. He chose as his counselors John R. Winder, who had served in the Presiding Bishopric of the Church, and Anthon H. Lund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Reed Smoot

Reed Smoot (1862–1941) showed considerable energy and ambition as a young man in Provo’s Cooperative and Woolen Mills. He eventually became a successful businessman who held important positions in a number of Utah businesses. He was also a member of the board of trustees of Brigham Young Academy for years.

In 1900, Lorenzo Snow ordained Reed Smoot an Apostle. For thirty of his forty-one years in the Council of the Twelve, he served as United States Senator from Utah.

Early in his administration, President Smith gave Reed Smoot, who had been called to the apostleship in the spring of 1900 at the age of thirty-eight, permission to campaign for the United States Senate. Prominent in Utah politics and one of the founders of the state’s Republican Party, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1903. His successful quest embroiled the Church and the nation in hearings that lasted almost five years. The news coverage of these hearings once again cast the Church into a glaring spotlight of publicity throughout the nation.

The Reed Smoot Hearings

Upon becoming “dean” of the United States Senate in 1930, Apostle Reed Smoot was, according to the editor of the Salt Lake Telegram, “Utah’s Most Distinguished Native Citizen.” This followed the newspaper’s poll, which found that Senator Smoot was overwhelmingly number one.8 During the thirty years he served in the Senate, he became one of its most influential and powerful members and had the opportunity of associating with the world’s presidents, prime ministers, kings, and queens. His beginning as a member of that august body, however, did not foretell this success.

In 1906, soon after the Smoot hearings, one friend of Joseph F. Smith concluded that Elder Smoot should not be reelected; while traveling from Europe with President Smith, he broached the subject “as cautiously and as adroitly” as he could. President Smith heard him out, then pounded the railing between them, and emphatically said, “If I have ever had the inspiration of the spirit of the Lord given to me forcefully and clearly it has been on this one point concerning Reed Smoot, and that is, instead of his being retired, he should be continued in the United States Senate.”9

Divine approval to seek a seat in the Senate, however, had not guaranteed victory. In 1902 senators were elected by state legislators, not by popular vote; therefore, Elder Smoot began to organize his supporters in the Utah legislature to secure his election. In January 1903 he received forty-six votes in the Republican controlled legislature; his opponents won a total of sixteen. An Apostle was now a United States senator.

Within days of his victory, a group of nineteen Salt Lake citizens protested to the president of the United States against the senator’s election. They charged him with being “one of a self-perpetuating body of fifteen men who, constituting the ruling authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or ‘Mormon’ Church, claim, and by their followers are accorded the right to claim, supreme authority, divinely sanctioned, to shape the belief and control the conduct of those under them in all matters whatsoever, civil and religious, temporal and spiritual.”10 Soon the same groups that had opposed the seating of B. H. Roberts in the House of Representatives four years earlier united again in popular opposition against Senator Smoot. One of the nation’s more sensational newspapers printed the following verse on its front page. This was typical of the sentiment at the time.

“Can’t you get wise to the fact, that you’re not wanted?
Don’t you understand that an apostle would be out of place in
a bunch of politicians?
Don’t you see that you wouldn’t fit?
Washington and the Gentile Roost,
Back, pack your old carpet sack,
And spank your feet on the homeward track,

When Elder Smoot arrived in Washington, D.C., late in February 1903, Senator J. C. Burrows introduced the “Citizen’s Protest” to the committee on privileges and elections. A few days later, John L. Leilich, superintendent of missions of the Utah district of the Methodist Church, brought additional charges against Smoot, including the accusation that he was a polygamist. This was untrue, and Elder Smoot was able to prove it. Unlike B. H. Roberts, Elder Smoot was allowed to take his seat while the investigation ran its course. In March 1903 he received the senatorial oath. As a senator, his administrative skills, wise judgment, and integrity soon became apparent. He also became adroit in parliamentary skills, which proved to be a valuable asset when it came time for the final vote to be taken on his case.

“‘The Smoot Case,’ as it was beginning to be called, stimulated the revival of old anti-Mormon stories and inspired the creation of new ones. The Danites reappeared, the Mountain Meadows Massacre was revived, Brigham Young’s ‘harem’ again became a subject for popular discussion. The New York Herald devoted a full page to the horrors of polygamy.” The New York Commercial Advertizer made the ridiculous charge that Mormon “missionaries were paid by head for their converts, a meager $4.00 for a male, but up to $60 for a girl over 16 whom they could and did place in polygamy.”12

In January 1904, with the help of several non-Mormon lawyers, Senator Smoot filed a formal reply to the charges against him, but the actual hearings did not begin until March. President Joseph F. Smith, the first witness, was interrogated for three days. His honesty and forthrightness in answering the questions won him the grudging respect of many of the senators. Other Church witnesses included James E. Talmage, who clarified points regarding Mormon doctrine; Francis M. Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Andrew Jenson, assistant Church historian; B. H. Roberts; and Moses Thatcher, who had been dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1896. Thatcher’s testimony was particularly helpful in countering the charge that the Church leaders “controlled” the lives of the Saints. The testimonies of these Church leaders made the front page news in the nation’s newspapers.

After more than two years, the hearings finally ended. Those opposing the senator alleged that Church leaders were still practicing plural marriage, that the Church was exerting too much influence in Utah politics, that members were required to take oaths in the temple opposing constitutional principles, and that Church members believed revelation from God was higher than the laws of the land. Senator Fred T. Dubois of Idaho, fighting for his political life, ranted and raved so much against Smoot and other Church leaders that many of the Republicans who controlled the Senate believed that Senator Smoot was as powerful as Dubois declared him to be.

On 20 February 1907 the Republican Party defeated the proposal that Reed Smoot be removed from his seat. The victory was won in part because Republican leaders, including President Theodore Roosevelt, concluded that if Smoot remained in the Senate he would be a significant influence in keeping Utah a Republican state. With this victory finally behind him, Senator Smoot spent the next twenty-six years in the nation’s capital as one of its most influential figures.

The Aftermath of the Smoot Hearings

Through the observations of Senator Smoot and other prominent Latter-day Saints in the East, the First Presidency learned that the general populace of the United States perceived Church leaders as trying to circumvent the law. They were accused of not being serious in their efforts to end plural marriage. On 6 April 1904, after deliberation and prayer and in response to these allegations, President Joseph F. Smith issued a statement that has become known as the “second manifesto.” In the pronouncement, President Smith declared that any officer of the Church who solemnized a plural marriage, as well as the participating couple, would be excommunicated. He stated clearly that this pronouncement applied everywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley, were not in harmony with their fellow leaders regarding the scope and meaning of the original Manifesto, nor were they able to agree with the second pronouncement issued by President Smith. At the commencement of the Smoot hearings, Taylor and Cowley went into seclusion to avoid testifying in Washington, D.C.

Following the Smoot hearings, these two Apostles submitted their resignations from the Quorum of the Twelve. It was widely known that they had performed more than a few plural marriages after the Manifesto was issued. Their resignations from the Twelve did much to symbolize that plural marriage had indeed ended. Six years later John W. Taylor was excommunicated from the Church because he had married another plural wife after his resignation. Elder Cowley, although never reinstated as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, remained faithful to the Church. In the 1930s he served a mission to England. One of his sons, Matthew Cowley, who had served as mission president in New Zealand, was later called as an Apostle.

The Media Attacks the Church

Serving simultaneously with Reed Smoot as the other senator from Utah was the non-Mormon mining tycoon, Thomas Kearns, who had secured his election to the Senate partly because of the support he had received from President Lorenzo Snow. During his first term in office, he was neither effective nor popular with his senatorial colleagues, with the people of Utah, or with the Utah state Senate, which had elected him. Furthermore, the new Church president, Joseph F. Smith, did not believe Kearns should retain his Senate seat. These factors cost him reelection. Bitter and angry, he placed full blame upon the Church. In his final senatorial speech, he delivered a blistering tirade condemning the Church leadership as a “monarchy” that monopolized the business, political, and social life of Utah. He further declared, “This monarchy permits its favorites to enter into polygamy.”13

Thomas Kearns

Thomas Kearns (1862–1918) was born in Canada. As a young boy he moved to Nebraska, where he grew up on a farm. Most of his life was spent mining in the Black Hills of Dakota, in Arizona, and finally in Utah. He made his fortune mining silver in Park City, Utah.

After returning to Utah, Kearns helped form the American political party, which was a revival of the old anti-Mormon Liberal party that had been disbanded in 1893. He also purchased the Salt Lake Tribune and hired Frank J. Cannon, the excommunicated son of President George Q. Cannon, as its editor.14

Cannon’s editorials in the Tribune raged against the Church and its leaders. As his editorials and anti-Mormon articles increased in hate, Cannon’s credibility decreased. He finally moved to Denver, where he continued writing until his death in 1933. Nevertheless, for a time Cannon’s virulent anti-Mormon books and articles greatly affected many people’s perception of the Latter-day Saints. Likewise Kearns’s actions and speeches stimulated other editors and led them to print vicious statements against the Church. Between 1907–11 with the Salt Lake Tribune leading the way, there was an increase in anti-Mormon propaganda that was much more sinister than that of the Roberts and Smoot episodes.

President Smith chose not to respond to such charges but rather declared: “I bear no malice toward any of the children of my Father. But there are enemies to the work of the Lord, as there were enemies to the Son of God. There are those who speak only evil of the Latter-day Saints. There are those—and they abound largely in our midst, who will shut their eyes to every virtue and to every good thing connected with this latter-day work, and will pour out floods of falsehood and misrepresentation against the people of God. I forgive them for this. I leave them in the hand of the just Judge.”15

Four national magazines—Pearson’s, Everybody’s, McClure’s, and Cosmopolitan—viciously attacked the Latter-day Saints. They demonstrated little understanding of the Church and its divine mission. Partly because of his friendship with Senator Smoot, President Theodore Roosevelt came to the defense of the Church and published a letter in Collier’s that refuted many of the false charges being made against Church officials. The president also denied the rising allegations being circulated that he had made political deals with the Mormons. He also strongly proclaimed the virtues and high standards of the Latter-day Saints.16 This letter helped temper the allegations being made against the Church in the United States. The letter was not published in Europe, however, where the Church was also under heavy attack. A dozen or more anti-Mormon books and articles from the American muckraking press had made their way to Europe and were being circulated there.

During the years 1910–14 there were scenes of unparalleled violence against the LDS missionaries in Great Britain. Britain was undergoing great social change during this period, and many people there came to believe that the Church represented a threat to their established ways and traditional moral values. Furthermore, they were convinced that plural marriage was still being practiced and that missionaries were luring away British girls. British popular novelist Winifred Graham (Mrs. Theodore Cory) wrote several anti-Mormon novels; on one occasion she declared, “I found it thrilling to fight with voice and pen this mighty kingdom working for self-interest, a vampire in fact, sucking the blood of Europe with its wolf-like emissaries in sheep’s clothing hot on the heels of British womanhood.”17

As a result of all this propaganda, the British Parliament debated whether or not to expel all Latter-day Saints from English soil. Young Winston Churchill, displaying great courage, helped the Church’s cause by invoking the right of religious freedom. No expulsions took place. Still, there were scenes of violence and mobocracy at Birkenhead, Boothe, Heywood, and eight other cities in England. In the course of these confrontations one elder was tarred and feathered, another was hit in the face, and still another had lime dust thrown into his face, causing temporary blindness. Other missionaries were roughly handled by the infuriated populace who gathered in the streets by the thousands.

In spite of the opposition, miracles did happen. A young, inexperienced elder from Canada named Hugh B. Brown was laboring in Cambridge in 1904. On his arrival in that city, he saw posters in the train station declaring “Beware of the vile deceivers; the Mormons are returning. Drive them out.” For two days he went from house to house leaving tracts where he could and unsuccessfully attempting to engage Britons in gospel conversations.18 One Saturday evening, as he later remembered, a knock came on the door.

“The lady of the house answered the door. I heard a voice say, ‘Is there an Elder Brown lives here?’ I thought, ‘Oh, oh, here it is!’

“She said, ‘Why, yes, he’s in the front room. Come in, please.’

“He came in and said, ‘Are you Elder Brown?’

“I was not surprised that he was surprised. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’

“He said, ‘Did you leave this tract at my door?’

“Well, my name and address were on it. Though I was attempting at that time to get ready to practice law, I didn’t know how to answer it. I said, ‘Yes, sir, I did.’

“He said, ‘Last Sunday there were 17 of us heads of families left the Church of England. We went to my home where I have a rather large room. Each of us has a large family, and we filled the large room with men, women and children. We decided that we would pray all through the week that the Lord would send us a new pastor. When I came home tonight I was discouraged, I thought our prayer had not been answered. But when I found this tract under my door, I knew the Lord had answered our prayer. Will you come tomorrow night and be our new pastor?’

“Now, I hadn’t been in the mission field three days. I didn’t know anything about missionary work, and he wanted me to be their pastor. But I was reckless enough to say, ‘Yes, I’ll come.’ And I repented from then till the time of the meeting.

“He left, and took my appetite with him! I called in the lady of the house and told her I didn’t want any tea [supper]. I went up to my room and prepared for bed. I knelt at my bed. My young brothers and sisters, for the first time in my life I talked with God. I told Him of my predicament. I pleaded for His help. I asked Him to guide me. I pleaded that He would take it off my hands. I got up and went to bed and couldn’t sleep and got out and prayed again, and kept that up all night—but I really talked with God.”

He spent the next day without breakfast or lunch, walking and worrying that he had to be the religious leader for these people.

“Finally it came to the point where the clock said 6:45. I got up and put on my long Prince Albert coat, my stiff hat which I had acquired in Norwich, took my walking cane (which we always carried in those days), my kid gloves, put a Bible under my arm, and dragged myself down to that building, literally. I just made one track all the way.

“Just as I got to the gate the man came out, the man I had seen the night before. He bowed very politely and said, ‘Come in, Reverend, sir.’ I had never been called that before. I went in and saw the room filled with people, and they all stood up to honor their new pastor, and that scared me to death.

“Then I had come to the point where I began to think what I had to do, and I realized I had to say something about singing. I suggested that we sing ‘O My Father.’ I was met with a blank stare. We sang it—it was a terrible cowboy solo. Then I thought, if I could get these people to turn around and kneel by their chairs, they wouldn’t be looking at me while I prayed. I asked them if they would and they responded readily. They all knelt down and I knelt down, and for the second time in my life I talked with God. All fear left me. I didn’t worry any more. I was turning it over to Him.

“I said to Him, among other things, ‘Father in Heaven, these folks have left the Church of England. They have come here tonight to hear the truth. You know that I am not prepared to give them what they want, but Thou art, O God, the one that can; and if I can be an instrument through whom You speak, very well, but please take over.’

“When we arose most of them were weeping, as was I. Wisely I dispensed with the second hymn, and I started to talk. I talked 45 minutes. I don’t know what I said. I didn’t talk—God spoke through me, as subsequent events proved. And He spoke so powerfully to that group that at the close of that meeting they came and put their arms around me, held my hands. They said, ‘This is what we have been waiting for. Thank God you came.’

“I told you I dragged myself down to that meeting. On my way back home that night I only touched ground once, I was so elated that God had taken off my hands an insuperable task for man.

“Within three months every man, woman and child in that audience was baptized a member of the Church.”19

The Temple Square Mission

In an effort to explain to non-Church members the true story of the Latter-day Saint people and to combat adverse publicity, the Church established the Temple Square Mission. As early as 1875, Charles J. Thomas, custodian of the Salt Lake Temple, then under construction, was assigned to meet tourists, show them around Temple Square, and answer their questions. He kept a book in which visitors to Temple Square could sign their names. In subsequent years, many famous people, including two presidents of the United States signed Brother Thomas’s register.20 Several attempts were made during the next twenty-five years to provide guides and information on a continual basis for the visitors.

During the 1880–90s, James Dwyer, a book merchant in Salt Lake City, went to Temple Square daily where he discussed the gospel with tourists and gave each one an Articles of Faith card, which he had had printed. On the reverse side was a picture of the temple and an imprint which stated: “Should you wish any further information concerning Church doctrines, please write James Dwyer, North Temple Street, Salt Lake City.” Because of his efforts, James “was the father of the information movement in Salt Lake City.”21 In July 1901, President Snow’s son LeRoi overheard a hack (cab) driver telling colorful falsehoods regarding the Church. As a result of LeRoi Snow’s efforts, the First Presidency in 1901 requested the seventies of the Church to establish a bureau of information on Temple Square.22

Temple Square information bureau

This small building built on Temple Square for the 1897 jubilee celebration was the first bureau of information. The first mission on Temple Square was not established until 1902.

In March of that year, a small pavilion, from which the Church could dispense correct information, was built for about five hundred dollars. One hundred men and women were called to serve as guides. They were assigned regular schedules to conduct tours of Temple Square and tell the true story of the Latter-day Saints. In addition, organ recitals in the Tabernacle were held twice a day in the summer. Over 150,000 people visited Temple Square that year.

first visitors’ center at Temple Square

The first visitors’ center was built on Temple Square in 1903. A second story was added in 1915. The building served as both a museum and an information bureau until it was replaced by today’s modern visitors’ centers.

The mission was not without its opponents. Local non-LDS groups and the Salt Lake Tribune united their efforts to undermine the positive impact the guides and literature had on tourists. They occasionally posted anti-Mormon “guides” at the entrances to Temple Square in an attempt to give visitors misinformation regarding the Latter-day Saints. By 1904, because of the large number of tourists and the success of the mission, the Church constructed a much larger building of granite and brick. By 1905 the number of visitors swelled to a yearly total of 200,000. In 1915 a second story was added to the bureau building to house the Deseret Museum. Many other changes were made later, but the essential work of the Temple Square Mission has remained an important part of the Church’s missionary program.23

Historic Sites Purchased

Believing that the truths of the Restoration25 could be effectively told through visitors’ centers at various historical sites, the Church, as its means allowed, began acquiring places of historical significance. President Joseph F. Smith’s personal background heightened his interest in Church history, and it was during his administration that many of the sites of early Church history were purchased.

Willard and Rebecca Bean

Early in 1915 newlyweds Willard (1868–1949) and Rebecca (1891–1976) Bean attended a conference in Richfield, Utah, presided over by President Joseph F. Smith. President Smith was looking for the right man to represent the Church and run the Joseph Smith farm in Manchester, New York. President Smith later said that when Willard walked in, “The impression was so strong—it was just like a voice said to me, ‘There’s your man.’”24

Despite severe anti-Mormon prejudice, the Beans persevered and eventually won the respect of the people in the nearby village of Palmyra. Willard was instrumental in helping the Church purchase several other important historical sites in the area. What was expected to be “five years or more” of service in Palmyra turned out to be twenty-five. When the Beans returned to Salt Lake City, they were grandparents.

On 5 November 1903 the first site was acquired: Carthage Jail, where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred. In June 1907 the Church purchased the one-hundred-acre Smith homestead near Palmyra, New York, which included the Sacred Grove, where in 1820 the Prophet received the First Vision. Willard Bean, a former boxer from Utah, and Rebecca, his bride of less than a year, were sent in 1915 to take care of the farm after the former owner moved. They were challenged to preach the gospel and make friends for the Church in that area. They became the first Latter-day Saints to live in Manchester in eighty-four years.26

monument at birthplace of Joseph Smith

Efforts to erect a monument on the centennial date of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s birth at his birthplace in Vermont were led by Junius F. Wells. The granite stones for the monument included a base stone, a shaft stone, and a capstone. The shaft stone was 38 1/2 feet long and was cut from a sixty ton block. To move the shaft stone the six miles from the railhead to the site took twenty days. Through the faith and energy of Brother Wells, the monument was ready for the dedicatory services on 23 December 1905.

Between 1905 and 1907 the Church also obtained, through four separate purchases, title to the Mack family farm near the village of Sharon, Vermont, the site of the Prophet’s birth. A memorial cottage, or small visitors’ center, was constructed on the site, and nearby an imposing monument of polished Vermont granite was erected in honor of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was dedicated by his nephew President Joseph F. Smith on 23 December 1905, the one-hundredth anniversary of the Prophet’s birth. The monument stands 38 1/2 feet high—one foot for each year of his life.

Independence visitors’ center

This beautiful visitors’ center was built in 1971 in Independence, Missouri, on property reacquired by the Church in 1904. President Joseph Fielding Smith, grandson of Hyrum Smith, presided at the dedication. President N. Eldon Tanner offered the dedicatory prayer.

Significant Missouri properties were also acquired during this era. The first was a tract of about twenty acres of land purchased in 1904 in Independence, Missouri. This was part of the original sixty-three acres bought by the Church in 1831. A chapel and a visitors’ center have since been built on this property. The Church also later purchased the temple site at Far West in northern Missouri.

In addition to attracting large numbers of Latter-day Saints interested in the history of their faith, these sites also provided opportunities for the Church to share its message with the world. On several of these sites, bureaus of information, patterned after the successful program on Temple Square, were constructed to facilitate the missionary effort. At others, visitors learned the story of the Latter-day Saints as it pertained to the specific site they were visiting.

The Church Publishes Its Own History

B. H. Roberts read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune reviving the false theory that Solomon Spaulding was the true author of the Book of Mormon. Elder Roberts contacted the editor and asked if he could write a reply. He was informed that the article was a reprint of one written by Theodore Schroeder that had appeared in the New York Historical Magazine.

Elder Roberts sent his rebuttal to the New York Historical Magazine. It was received so favorably that he was invited to write a history of the Church for them. By the time arrangements were completed, the name of the magazine had been changed to Americana, and monographs written by Elder Roberts appeared in it for the next six years. These articles became the basis for his six-volume Comprehensive History of the Church, which was presented as a memorial to the Latter-day Saints for the centennial celebration in 1930.

For years Elder Roberts had collected copies of materials by or about the Prophet Joseph Smith that appeared in various magazines, but largely from Church periodicals. On one occasion he showed his collection to Francis M. Lyman, who enthusiastically suggested to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of which he was a member, that Elder Roberts be commissioned to publish his collection with extensive footnotes, to provide context and clarity to the early documents of Church history. The Twelve accepted Elder Lyman’s suggestion, and B. H. Roberts was asked to submit a cost estimate for the project.

A few weeks later Elder Roberts turned in his estimate. President George Q. Cannon believed that Roberts’s costs were too high and offered to do the same thing at his own expense. Lorenzo Snow accepted President Cannon’s offer. At the outset of the project, however, President Cannon died, and Elder Roberts was asked to finish the work. After reading the documents President Cannon had intended to publish, Elder Roberts went to the First Presidency and told them he wanted to do much more with the material. He was given permission to do the work as he saw fit, and with their approval he started over.

Elder Roberts consulted diaries, printed sources, and remembrances of Church members to prepare a history of the Church that centered mainly on the life of Joseph Smith. Before it was published, Elder Anthon H. Lund and President Joseph F. Smith read and approved the work. The resulting seven volumes, over forty-five-hundred pages, known as the History of the Church has since become a great resource to Church members and historians alike. This multi-volume work, along with his six-volume Comprehensive History of the Church, made B. H. Roberts the foremost Latter-day Saint historian of the first century of the Church’s existence.

Latter-day Saint Women Help Improve the Church’s Image

Acquiring historic sites, constructing visitors’ centers, and publishing its own history helped improve the public image of the Church, but singular honors were coming to Latter-day Saint women as well. Many women in the Church, with the support of the General Authorities, were active in the suffrage movement. As a result they became national figures. The Relief Society had sent delegates to both the National and International Council of Women conventions. During the Chicago world’s fair, Emmeline B. Wells, one of the Church’s delegates to a special women’s conference, was asked by the president of the National Council of Women to speak to the group. She delivered a forceful address entitled “Western Women in Journalism.” She also received the honor of presiding over one of the conference sessions. In 1899, Sister Wells was privileged to speak as an official delegate from the United States at the International Council of Women’s convention in London, where she again displayed her eloquent speaking gifts.

Emmeline B. Wells

Emmeline B. Wells (1828–1921) was converted to the gospel in 1842 and was married the next year at age fifteen and a half. After the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, her husband went to sea and never returned. Staying faithful to the Church, she became a plural wife of Newel K. Whitney in 1845, and after his death she became a plural wife of Daniel H. Wells in 1852.

In 1877, Emmeline became editor of the Woman’s Exponent. She remained at that post until the publication was suspended in 1914. In the late nineteenth century she was heavily involved in the woman’s suffrage movement and attended numerous conferences on women’s issues.

Throughout her life she maintained an interest in education and writing. She served for many years as general secretary to the Relief Society and was called as the fifth general president of the Relief Society in 1910.

In 1910, as she neared the age of eighty-three, Emmeline B. Wells was called to preside over the Relief Society of the Church. Although she was surprised at the call, “no one was better qualified than Emmeline Wells to lead the Relief Society, nor more deserving” to hold this high position. In 1912 this remarkable woman received an honorary doctorate from Brigham Young University, the first woman in the Church’s history to be so honored.27


1. Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts Story (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), p. 233.

2. This paragraph is derived from James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), pp. 438–39).

3. Isley Boone, “He Became an Evolutionary Psychologist,” Evolutionary Psychology, in A. Burt Horsley, “Theodore Schroeder, Mormon Antagonist—Content and Significance of the Theodore Schroeder Collection, New York Public Library,” typescript, pp. 2–3.

4. In Madsen, Defender of the Faith, p. 247.

5. See Madsen, Defender of the Faith, pp. 248–49.

6. Brigham H. Roberts, Defense before Congress and Defiers of the Law (pamphlet of Congressional record and of 1886 Contributor), pp. 12–13.

7. See Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969), p. 216.

8. In Milton R. Merrill, “Reed Smoot, Apostle in Politics,” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1950, p. i.

9. Charles W. Nibley, Reminiscences, 1849–1931 (Salt Lake City: Charles W. Nibley family, 1934), p. 125.

10. In Merrill, “Reed Smoot, Apostle in Politics,” pp. 27–28.

11. San Francisco Call, in Milton R. Merrill, “Reed Smoot, Apostle in Politics,” Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1950, p. 32.

12. Merrill, “Reed Smoot, Apostle in Politics,” p. 45.

13. In B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century One, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 6:405.

14. The previous two paragraphs were written for the Church Educational System; also published in Richard O. Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), p. 34.

15. In Conference Report, Oct. 1907, p. 5.

16. See “Mr. Roosevelt to the ‘Mormons,’” Improvement Era, June 1911, pp. 712, 715, 718.

17. Winifred Graham, That Reminds Me (London: Skeffington and Son, n.d.), p. 59.

18. See Eugene E. Campbell and Richard D. Poll, Hugh B. Brown: His Life and Thought (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1975), pp. 30–31.

19.Father, Are You There?” Brigham Young University fireside address (Provo, 8 Oct. 1967), pp. 13–15.

20. See Preston Nibley, “Charles J. Thomas: Early Guide on Temple Square,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1963, pp. 167, 202–6.

21. Levi Edgar Young, “The Temple Block Mission,” Relief Society Magazine, Nov. 1922, p. 560.

22. See Edward H. Anderson, “The Bureau of Information,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1921, pp. 132–33.

23. See Nibley, “Charles J. Thomas,” pp. 205–6; Young, “Temple Block Mission,” pp. 561–63; Anderson, “Bureau of Information,” pp. 137–39.

24. Vicki Bean Zimmerman, “Willard Bean: Palmyra’s ‘Fighting Parson,’” Ensign, June 1985, p. 27.

25. Section derived from Cowan, Church in the Twentieth Century, pp. 47–49.

26. Zimmerman, “Willard Bean,” p. 26.

27. Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Emmeline B. Wells: Romantic Rebel,” in Donald Q. Cannon and David J. Whittaker, eds., Supporting Saints: Life Stories of Nineteenth-Century Mormons (Provo: Brigham Young University, 1985), pp. 332–34.

Moving Forward into the New Century

Church Administration Building

Church Administration Building, headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1917
Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

Time Line



Significant Event


Primary published the Children’s Friend


Relief Society “Mothers’ Classes” were inaugurated


LDS Hospital opened in Salt Lake City


Sunday School organized classes for adults


Joseph F. Smith was the first Church president to visit Europe


Weekly ward priesthood meetings commenced


The First Presidency issued a statement on the origin of man


Boy Scout program adopted


World War I commenced in Europe


Relief Society Magazine commenced publication


Jesus the Christ was published


The First Presidency urged members to hold regular home evenings


Doctrinal exposition on the Father and the Son was given


Vision of the Redemption of the Dead was revealed to President Joseph F. Smith

A new era1 was beginning for the Church. Many of the challenges of the former century were left behind, and the Church could now turn attention to the opportunities ahead. President Joseph F. Smith guided the Church during most of the twentieth century’s first two decades. His administration moved the Church forward as it reached out to bless the lives of members worldwide.

Progress during an Era of Prosperity

President Smith continued his predecessor’s emphasis on tithing, and the Saints’ faithful response enabled the Church to pay off all its debts by the end of 1906. In the April 1907 general conference he gratefully announced, “Today the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes not a dollar that it cannot pay at once. At last we are in a position that we can pay as we go. We do not have to borrow any more, and we won’t have to if the Latter-day Saints continue to live their religion and observe this law of tithing.”2 Obedience to this law of revenue permitted the Church to begin purchasing historic sites, establish visitors’ centers, and undertake other activities that were not possible under the burden of debt.

The Church’s building program particularly benefited from this era of prosperity. New buildings included many local meetinghouses, as well as several key structures in Salt Lake City. In 1905 the Latter-day Saints Hospital opened, the first in a system of Church-operated hospitals built during the twentieth century.

To help finance its religious program, the Church continued to make selected investments. It maintained or acquired interest in such businesses as the Deseret News, the Beneficial Life Insurance Company, and Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution. One of the Church’s largest investments was in the new Hotel Utah, which opened just east of Temple Square in 1911. President Smith defended the Church’s interest in this venture by quoting from Doctrine and Covenants 124:22–24, 60 and pointing out that the Hotel Utah would fill a function similar to that which the Lord had specified for the Nauvoo House. The hotel would be a place where “the weary traveler” could find rest and “contemplate the glory of Zion.”3 In 1919 a bookstore operated by the Deseret Sunday School Union and one run by the Deseret News combined to form the Deseret Book Company.

Bishop’s Building

Indications of the growth, prosperity, and stability of the Church at the beginning of the twentieth century can be seen with the construction of the Bishop’s Building in 1910 (above) and the Hotel Utah in 1911 (below).

Hotel Utah

The Church badly needed adequate office space. For many years the work of the General Authorities, auxiliaries, and other Church organizations had been conducted from offices scattered throughout downtown Salt Lake City. The new Bishop’s Building, dedicated in 1910 and located behind the Hotel Utah and directly across the street from the Salt Lake Temple, provided offices for the Presiding Bishopric and most of the auxiliary organizations. Seven years later the Church Administration Building was opened at 47 East South Temple Street. This five-story granite structure featured marble and fine woodwork. It symbolized the Church’s strength and stability and provided dignified accommodations for the General Authorities. It also provided badly needed space on its upper three floors for the Church historian’s office and the Genealogical Society.

Auxiliary and Priesthood Expansion

In the early years of the twentieth century a major expansion and reform took place in both priesthood and auxiliary programs. The Church’s auxiliary organizations were greatly affected by these new developments. Although specific changes varied from one organization to another, they generally involved an improvement in teaching specific age groups, and a greater emphasis was placed upon scriptural rather than on secular study materials.

During the nineteenth century the Relief Society sponsored sewing or other projects directly related to assisting the needy. In 1902, however, the Society inaugurated “Mothers’ Classes” Churchwide. At first, local Relief Societies provided their own study materials, but in 1914 the general board issued uniform lessons for these weekly classes. A pattern soon developed of studying theology the first week, followed by homemaking, literature, and social science respectively during the remaining weeks of the month.

David O. McKay, a young returned missionary, college graduate, and professional educator, had a profound impact on the development of the Sunday School during the first part of the twentieth century. He was called to be a member of the Weber Stake Sunday School superintendency in Ogden and was asked to give particular attention to the instruction being taught. After some observation, he introduced some refinements in the teaching methods being used, such as defining the lesson goals, outlining the materials, using teaching aids, and making practical application of the lessons to daily life. A specific course for each age group was developed to be used throughout the stake. In 1906, David O. McKay was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and was also called as a member of the general Sunday School superintendency. In this position he was able to promote similar improvements throughout the Church. Before 1906 the Sunday School had been essentially an organization for children and youth. In that year, however, the first class for adults, the “parents’ class,” was inaugurated Churchwide.4

During the nineteenth century, meetings of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Associations had consisted of both youth and adults. Together they would listen to lectures on theology, science, history, and literature. By 1903, however, the practice of conducting separate junior and senior groups was implemented throughout the Church. In 1911 the Young Men’s organization adopted a Scouting program, which stressed wholesome virtues and physical skills. By 1913 the Church became officially affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America and lowered the age of entry into YMMIA to twelve. The Church eventually became one of the largest sponsors of the Boy Scout movement in the world. In 1915 the young ladies began the Beehive Girls program for the same age group. Later years saw the formation of still other age-group programs designed to better meet the needs of the youth of the Church.

As more and more Latter-day Saints moved into cities, Church leaders emphasized such traditional values as modesty, chastity, and temple marriage. The First Presidency in 1916 organized the Social Advisory Committee, which was assigned to discourage the youth from improper dances, smoking, and immodest dress. Social advisory committees at the ward level sponsored various wholesome recreational activities. The Mutual Improvement Association also expanded recreational and social programs. Church leaders emphasized that efforts be made by the wards to prevent problems such as juvenile delinquency and immorality. Special summer school workshops in 1920 at Brigham Young University provided training for stake leaders in teacher development, social and recreational leadership, charity, and relief work.5

Louie B. Felt

Louie B. Felt (1850–1928) was the first general president of the Primary Association. She was sustained in 1880 and held the position for forty-seven years. She initiated the Children’s Friend magazine in January 1902, established a hospital fund in 1911, and oversaw the building of a hospital for children in 1922.

The Primary Association also enhanced its educational and activity programs for children. Class names and emblems were introduced to increase interest—boys became known as Trail Builders and girls as Home Builders. Like other auxiliaries, the Primary reached out to meet broader social needs and in 1922 opened its own children’s hospital. Louie B. Felt, president of the Primary, and May Anderson, one of her counselors, had seen many crippled children and felt impressed that their organization should do something for such children. They studied the latest methods used in children’s hospitals in the eastern United States before moving ahead with this project. The result was the Primary Children’s Hospital, which is still helping children today.

old Primary Children’s Hospital

For thirty years the Primary Children’s Hospital was located on North Temple Street in downtown Salt Lake City in a home the Church had renovated.

During this rapid expansion of the auxiliaries, President Joseph F. Smith looked forward to a time when priesthood quorums would occupy a position of preeminence in the Church. At the April general conference in 1906 he declared: “We expect to see the day . . . when every council of the Priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will understand its duty, will assume its own responsibility, will magnify its calling. . . . When that day shall come, there will not be so much necessity for work that is now being done by the auxiliary organizations, because it will be done by the regular quorums of the Priesthood. The Lord designed and comprehended it from the beginning, and He has made provision in the Church whereby every need may be met and satisfied through the regular organizations of the Priesthood.”6

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, most priesthood quorums met only monthly, and not all the quorums within a given ward met at the same time. With infrequent and often irregular meetings, quorum effectiveness suffered. The increased emphasis on, or intensification of, priesthood activity started among the seventies under the direction of the First Council of the Seventy. In 1907, President Joseph F. Smith reminded the seventies of their responsibility to be prepared for missionary service. They were told that they should not depend on the auxiliaries or Church schools for a knowledge of the gospel, but should make the seventies quorums “schools of learning and instruction, wherein they may qualify themselves for every labor and duty that may be required at their hands.”7 The resulting lesson manual, entitled The Seventy’s Course in Theology, written by Elder B. H. Roberts, did much to spark an enthusiasm for gospel study throughout the Church.

The First Presidency appointed a General Priesthood Committee, soon headed by Elder David O. McKay. By their recommendation, weekly ward priesthood meetings were inaugurated in 1909. At first these gatherings were held Monday evenings, but Sunday mornings gradually became the preferred time.

The General Priesthood Committee also systematized the ages for ordinations to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. It recommended that deacons be ordained at age twelve, teachers at fifteen, priests at eighteen, and elders at twenty-one. This enabled the committee to more effectively plan a progressive course of study for each quorum. The concept of established ages for ordination of worthy young men has continued, although some of the ages for ordination have at times been modified.

These developments in Church meetings and programs created a need for printed instructions and lesson materials. In contrast to many of the nineteenth century publications, which had been sponsored by private individuals or groups, those dating from the early twentieth century were published mainly by the Church auxiliary organizations. In 1897 the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association launched its own periodical, the Improvement Era. Upon being told that there was no capital for such a venture, Elder B. H. Roberts spearheaded a fund-raising drive. He became the magazine’s first editor, and Elder Heber J. Grant of the Council of the Twelve became the business manager. The magazine became a powerful voice for good among the Saints and provided a forum for the works of Church writers and poets. In 1929 this periodical was merged with the Young Woman’s Journal and became the Church’s leading magazine for adults.

Susa Young Gates

Susa Young Gates (1856–1933), daughter of Brigham Young, was well educated. She attended her father’s private school, as well as the University of Deseret, Brigham Young University, and Harvard University.

She served on the general board of the YWMIA from 1899 to 1911 and the Relief Society from 1911 to 1922.

She was directed by Brigham Young to strengthen the youth through writing. She wrote extensively for local publications all of her life. She founded the Young Woman’s Journal and later edited the Relief Society Magazine from 1914 to 1922. Two years before her death she published The Life Story of Brigham Young.

Sister Gates was also a trustee of Brigham Young University for forty years and was actively involved in the local and national women’s movement. She was the mother of ten sons and three daughters.

In 1900 the Sunday School purchased the Juvenile Instructor from the George Q. Cannon family and made it their official publication. The Primary Association launched its Children’s Friend in 1902. Beginning in 1910, the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine carried helpful articles on research, pedigrees, and local history. In 1914 the Relief Society established its own magazine called the Relief Society Bulletin. In 1915 the name was changed to the Relief Society Magazine. Under the editorship of Susa Young Gates, daughter of Brigham Young, the magazine addressed the needs of Latter-day Saint women, carrying articles on such topics as current events, genealogy, home ethics, gardening, literature, art, and architecture.8

While these programs and publications were developing, the First Presidency also emphasized the central role of the family in gospel teaching. In 1903, President Smith emphasized that the other programs of the Church should be “supplements to our teachings and training in the home. Not one child in a hundred would go astray, if the home environment, example, and training, were in harmony with the truth in the Gospel of Christ,” he promised.9 In 1909 the Granite Stake in Salt Lake City inaugurated a weekly home evening program for families, and President Joseph F. Smith declared that the stake presidency’s action was inspired. Following the success of this stake program, the First Presidency recommended in 1915 that a similar activity be adopted monthly and used Churchwide:

“We advise and urge the inauguration of a ‘Home Evening’ throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. They may thus learn more fully the needs and requirements of their families. . . .

“If the Saints obey this counsel, we promise that great blessings will result. Love at home and obedience to parents will increase. Faith will be developed in the hearts of the youth of Israel, and they will gain power to combat the evil influence and temptations which beset them.”10

Understanding of Gospel Doctrines Clarified

The early twentieth century was a period of heated debate between religious fundamentalists and liberals or modernists. Many asked where the Mormons stood on the various theological controversies of the time. The Latter-day Saints were fortunate to have the leadership of President Joseph F. Smith, an unusually able and inspired exponent of gospel principles. President Smith and his counselors in the First Presidency issued several doctrinal treatises clarifying the Church’s stand on the issues of the day.

Some Latter-day Saints wondered about the relative roles of God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and Michael, or Adam. The First Presidency’s 1916 exposition entitled The Father and the Son explained, “The term ‘Father’ as applied to Deity occurs in sacred writ with plainly different meanings”: God is the father, or literal parent, of our spirits. Jesus Christ is the father, or creator, of this earth. The Savior is also the father of those who receive spiritual rebirth through living the gospel. Jesus may be called father as he represents Elohim here on earth “in power and authority.” Nevertheless, “Jesus Christ is not the Father of the spirits who have taken or yet shall take bodies upon this earth, for He is one of them.”11

President Smith also answered a related question in connection with the Godhead. Although the terms “Holy Ghost” and “Spirit of the Lord” were often used interchangeably, he explained that “the Holy Ghost is a personage in the Godhead,” while the light of Christ, or the spirit of the Lord, “is the Spirit of God which proceeds through Christ to the world, that enlightens every man that comes into the world, and that strives with the children of men, and will continue to strive with them, until it brings them to a knowledge of the truth and the possession of the greater light and testimony of the Holy Ghost.”12 Church members can also look to Joseph F. Smith’s book, Gospel Doctrine, which is a compilation of his sermons and writings, for more helpful definitions and information about basic gospel concepts.

James E. Talmage

James E. Talmage (1862–1933) was born in England and immigrated to the United States with his family in May 1876. The family arrived in Salt Lake City on 14 June 1876. Brother Talmage completed a four-year course at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in one year and went on to do advanced work at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.

Upon his return to Utah, he taught chemistry and geology at Brigham Young Academy in Provo from 1884–88. Later he served as the president of the University of Utah from 1894–97.

In 1911, when Charles W. Penrose was called to be a counselor in the First Presidency, Brother Talmage was called to fill the resulting vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He had an exceptional command of the English language and was a noted lecturer and author.

During these years, a further contribution to gospel understanding was made by a group of capable Latter-day Saint scholars. One of these was James E. Talmage, who had taught science at Brigham Young Academy and who had also served as president of the University of Utah.

As early as 1891 the First Presidency discussed the desirability of publishing a work on theology that could be used in the Church schools as well as religion classes generally. Dr. Talmage was asked by Church leaders to write this book. Before writing the requested work, Elder Talmage prepared and gave a series of lectures on the Articles of Faith. So many people attended the first meeting, and so many others had to be turned away, that the classes were moved to the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Attendance reached almost thirteen hundred. These lectures were first published in the Juvenile Instructor. A reading committee, which included two members of the Twelve plus Karl G. Maeser and others, reviewed the manuscript and suggested a few changes. This material was published in book form under the direction of the First Presidency in 1899. Talmage’s The Articles of Faith has since gone through more than fifty editions in English, and has been translated into more than a dozen other languages. This book, still used today by Church members, represents the first officially approved serious study of the theology of the Restoration.

Two other important works followed Elder Talmage’s call to the Twelve in 1911: The House of the Lord, published in 1912, and Jesus the Christ, published in 1915. The first of these was prompted by unique circumstances. A non-Mormon using unethical practices secured interior photographs of the Salt Lake Temple and attempted to sell them to the Church for forty thousand dollars. Otherwise he threatened to peddle them to magazines in the East, who would be glad to print them to discredit the Church. Rather than succumbing to this attempted blackmail, President Joseph F. Smith accepted Elder Talmage’s recommendation that a book be written discussing in general terms what took place in Latter-day Saint temples. It was to be illustrated with photographs from the interior of the Salt Lake Temple. This volume, written by Elder Talmage, not only thwarted the blackmail but became a valuable resource for Latter-day Saints.

The First Presidency asked James E. Talmage to compile a series of lectures he had given a decade earlier on the life of the Savior into another book that could be used by the general membership of the Church. Elder Talmage began in earnest to work on the manuscript, but he still had to squeeze the actual writing between his other duties. He was spared many of his stake conference assignments, however, and wrote most of the book in the Salt Lake Temple. He seldom returned home before midnight, and the marvelous book Jesus the Christ was completed in just seven months.

On 19 April 1915, Elder Talmage wrote in his journal: “Finished the actual writing on the book ‘Jesus the Christ,’ to which I have devoted every spare hour since settling down to the work of composition on September 14th last [1914]. Had it not been that I was privileged to do this work in the Temple it would be at present far from completion. I have felt the inspiration of the place and have appreciated the privacy and quietness incident thereto. I hope to proceed with the work of revision without delay.”13

During eighteen separate sessions over a two-month period, Elder Talmage read the chapters to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for their input and approval. This book is still widely read and is a monument to Elder Talmage’s scholarship and inspiration.

Responding to the Age of Science

For several decades, the world had seen a growing interest in the emerging discoveries and theories of modern science. As the twentieth century dawned, the pace of technological development was quickening, and important inventions, such as the gasoline-powered automobile and the Wright brothers’ airplane flight, had a far-reaching impact on everyday life. These developments also further heightened the interest in science. This, in turn, increasingly led people to look to human intellect rather than to theology for an understanding of the nature of the universe and of society.

Scholars took a hard look at the Bible during this new age of science; they began questioning the meaning and even the authenticity of the scriptures. This so-called “higher criticism” was directed at the Latter-day Saint scriptures as well. In 1912, Reverend F. S. Spalding, Episcopal Bishop of Utah, published a pamphlet entitled Joseph Smith, Jr., As a Translator. The brochure contrasted the interpretations of eight Egyptologists with the explanations of Joseph Smith concerning the facsimiles in the book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price. Although most Latter-day Saints accepted the truthfulness of the scriptures as a matter of faith, the Church still recognized a need to respond to such criticism. From February through September 1913 a series of articles appeared almost every month in the Improvement Era providing possible answers.

Perhaps the most heated and prolonged discussions during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries centered on the creation of the earth and the theories of organic evolution. In the midst of these controversies the First Presidency asked Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to draft a statement that would convey the Church’s official position on the origin of man. Elder Whitney’s statement was subsequently approved and signed by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and published in 1909 as an official declaration of the Church. This statement affirmed that:

“All men and women are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity. . . .

“. . . Man, as a spirit, was begotten and born of heavenly parents, and reared to maturity in the eternal mansions of the Father, prior to coming upon the earth in a temporal body to undergo an experience in mortality. . . .

“It is held by some that Adam was not the first man upon this earth, and that the original human being was a development from lower orders of the animal creation. These, however, are the theories of men. The word of the Lord declares that Adam was ‘the first man of all men’ (Moses 1:34), and we are therefore in duty bound to regard him as the primal parent of our race. . . . Man began life as a human being, in the likeness of our heavenly Father.”14

President Joseph F. Smith was concerned that discussions of the theory of evolution only left the young people of the Church “in an unsettled frame of mind. They are not old enough and learned enough to discriminate, or put proper limitations upon a theory which we believe is more or less a fallacy. . . . In reaching the conclusion that evolution would be best left out of discussions in our Church schools we are deciding a question of propriety and are not undertaking to say how much of evolution is true, or how much is false. The Church itself has no philosophy about the modus operandi employed by the Lord in His creation of the world. . . . God has revealed to us a simple and effectual way of serving Him.”15

The Saints in Other Lands

Beginning in the 1890s Church leaders encouraged the Saints to remain in their homelands and build up the Church. As a result, Latter-day Saint missions and branches abroad expanded. This growth was reflected in Joseph F. Smith’s becoming the first Church president to visit Europe. For about two months in 1906, he visited missions in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France, and England. His visit did much to strengthen the Church in these lands. Inspirational events strengthened the faith of the Saints. Through President Joseph F. Smith, the Lord restored the sight of a faithful eleven-year-old boy in Rotterdam, Holland. The boy had told his mother that he believed “the Prophet has the most power of any missionary on earth. If you will take me with you to meeting and he will look into my eyes I believe they will be healed.”16

During his visit to Europe, President Smith made an important prophetic statement. At a 1906 conference in Bern, Switzerland, he stretched out his hands and declared: “The time will come when this land will be dotted with temples, where you can go and redeem your dead.”17 He also explained that “Temples of God . . . will be reared in diverse countries of the world.”18 The first Latter-day Saint temple in Europe was dedicated nearly a half century later in a suburb of the city where President Smith had made his prophecy.

President Smith recognized the need for temples to bless Church members living outside of Utah: “They need the same privileges that we do, and that we enjoy, but these are out of their power. They are poor, and they can’t gather means to come up here to be endowed, and sealed for time and eternity, for their living and their dead.”19 The first of these new temples was located in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. President Joseph F. Smith dedicated the site in 1913. In 1915 he dedicated a site for a temple in Laie, Hawaii, where he had served as a missionary many years before. Both temples were dedicated following his death.

During the same period, events in Mexico had a far-reaching impact on the future of the Church in that land and in adjoining sections of the United States. By 1901 conditions seemed right for reopening the mission in Mexico. The Latter-day Saint colonies in Chihuahua were prospering; the young people there who could speak Spanish fluently and were familiar with the Mexican culture were available for proselyting missions. During the next ten years the missionary force increased to twenty, and the local Latter-day Saint men and women were called and trained as leaders. They received great strength from Rey L. Pratt who became the mission president in 1907 and presided for nearly a quarter of a century. Many new converts were added to the Church, so that by 1911 membership in the mission exceeded one thousand people.

Nevertheless, by this time revolutions and counter-revolutions swept the country, and missionary work became increasingly difficult. These conditions were complicated by a growing nationalistic, anti-America sentiment. By August 1913 it was again necessary to evacuate the missionaries.

Rafael Monroy

Rafael Monroy was branch president of the San Marcos branch. He was killed for refusing to deny the faith.

The Mexican Saints were left in a large part to care for themselves. In San Marcos, about fifty miles northwest of Mexico City, for example, Rafael Monroy, a comparatively recent convert, was given the responsibility of serving as branch president. In 1915, however, just two years after the departure of the missionaries, the brutal forces of revolutionary conflict and religious prejudice resulted in the execution of President Monroy and his cousin Vincente Morales. They were killed because they were accused of being members of a rival revolutionary group and because they would not deny their testimony of the gospel.

In 1912 the same forces that disrupted missionary work also brought trouble to the colonists in northern Mexico. When rebels confiscated some of the weapons belonging to the Saints, Mormon leaders responded by ordering an evacuation of the colonies by 26 July. Women and children, with a few men as escorts, journeyed 180 miles to El Paso on a crowded train. The majority of the men followed a few days later in a wagon and horse caravan that stretched for a mile. By the end of the month, more than thirteen hundred refugee Saints were in El Paso. Many of them had left beautiful homes and farms and were now forced to live in a deserted lumber yard with no more than a roof overhead and rough boards under their feet. Another group of refugees was housed in the upper floor of an old building. This structure was covered with corrugated iron and became stifling under the burning rays of the sun. Some observers confessed that they wept when they witnessed such living conditions. By February 1913 some of the Saints returned to Mexico even though the revolution raged for several more years. Others remained permanently in the United States.

Anson B. Owen Call

Anson B. Owen Call (1863–1958) was born in Bountiful, Utah. In 1890 he moved to Mexico. He served as the bishop of the Dublan Ward in the Juarez Stake for twenty-nine years.

The Mormon colonists, however, repeatedly experienced divine protection. Bishop Anson Call of Colonia Dublan was taken from his home by rebels who falsely accused him of giving information that had led to the death of one of their comrades. Two days after his arrest, Bishop Call stood before a firing squad with rifles ready to fire. The executioner stopped the execution at the last second in exchange for a promise of being paid two hundred pesos. Bishop Call, attended by his captors, was able to raise the money from the Saints at Colonia Juarez. The incident fulfilled a prophetic promise to him from Elder Anthony Ivins of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “They may rob you of all you possess and put you to every test that the enemy of righteousness can imagine, but they shall not have power to take your life.”20

During later years the colonists’ superior schools and advanced agricultural methods attracted favorable attention for the Church in Mexico. Furthermore, when the Mexican government began enforcing laws prohibiting foreign clergy from serving in Mexico, most of the Latter-day Saint missionaries, almost all of the mission presidents, and the leaders in the Church’s growing school system came from these colonists who had become Mexican citizens. In this way, the Mormon colonies provided the strength that eventually enabled the Church to grow throughout Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Rey L. Pratt

Rey L. Pratt (1878–1931) went to Mexico with his family in 1887. In 1906 he was called on a mission, and late in 1907 he became president of the Mexican Mission. He served in this capacity until 1931. In 1925 he was chosen to become a member of the First Council of the Seventy.

The difficulties in Mexico also led to Church expansion in the southwestern United States. Many of the exiled families provided new vitality and leadership to Latter-day Saint congregations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. In 1915 the First Presidency assigned Rey L. Pratt to direct the proselyting among the Spanish-speaking people in the United States. This later became an important missionary field.

The Saints and World War I

World War I broke out in Europe in 1914. The Saints overseas responded patriotically to the calls of their own countries. In England, a local newspaper reported that Saints in the Pudsey Branch had “a record of patriotism which will be hard to beat, as every man of military age, with the exception of those engaged in government and munition work has enlisted. Whatever we may say about the so-called ‘Mormons,’ we must admit that they are certainly, ‘very patriotic at Pudsey.’”21 Also in Germany, Latter-day Saints fought for their fatherland; about seventy-five of these soldiers gave their lives in the conflict.

The United States did not officially enter the conflict until three years later. Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States, declared that it was a war for the purpose of preserving democracy, liberty, and peace. Since this agreed with long-expressed feelings of the Church, members found no religious conflict in responding quickly to the call to arms.

Since Utah was still the home of most Latter-day Saints, the response of its citizens reflected the attitude of the Saints in general toward the war. A total of 24,382 men enlisted, far exceeding the state’s quota. Six of President Joseph F. Smith’s own sons served in the military forces. The Red Cross asked for $350,000 for aid from Utah and received $520,000. When the government began to sell liberty bonds, the people of Utah were given the quota of $6,500,000; instead they purchased bonds worth $9,400,000. The Church, as an institution, participated officially by purchasing $850,000 in liberty bonds. In addition, auxiliary organizations purchased bonds from their own funds amounting to nearly $600,000; and women of the Relief Society actively participated with the Red Cross.

It was the custom for each state to raise a volunteer military unit. Utah provided the 145th Field Artillery Regiment. An overwhelming majority of its approximately fifteen hundred officers and men were members of the Church. The unit’s chaplain was Elder B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy. Six hundred of this modern “Mormon Battalion” saw duty overseas.

The Church was uniquely prepared to help provide food for the starving peoples of war-torn Europe. For years the Relief Society had stored wheat in preparation for just such an emergency. They sold over two hundred thousand bushels to the United States government and put the proceeds into a special wheat fund for future charitable purposes. The prompt response of the Church and its members to the war emergency was effective evidence of the Saints’ loyalty and patriotism. The American press praised their actions, reducing any negative impressions that may have lingered from the anti-Mormon magazine crusade of earlier years.

The Church’s April general conference was in session when the United States officially entered the war in 1917. The attitude of the Church toward war was well expressed in President Joseph F. Smith’s opening address. He reminded the Saints that even in the face of conflict, the spirit of the gospel must be maintained. He declared that even in war the people should maintain “the spirit of humanity, of love, and of peace-making.” He instructed prospective soldiers to remember that they were “ministers of life and not of death; and when they go forth, they may go forth in the spirit of defending the liberties of mankind rather than for the purpose of destroying the enemy.”22

Vision of the Redemption of the Dead

On 23 January 1918, Hyrum M. Smith, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the eldest son of President Joseph F. Smith, died. His death was a blow to his father, who was in poor health himself. “In his grief he cried: ‘My soul is rent asunder. My heart is broken, and flutters for life! O my sweet son, my joy, my hope! . . . He was indeed a prince among men. Never in his life did he displease me or give me cause to doubt him. I loved him through and through. He has thrilled my soul by his power of speech, as no other man ever did. Perhaps this was because he was my son, and he was filled with the fire of the Holy Ghost. And now, what can I do! O what can I do! My soul is rent, my heart is broken! O God, help me!’”23

Eight months later a glorious revelation was given to President Joseph F. Smith concerning the labors of the righteous in the world of spirits. On 3 October 1918, while President Smith was pondering the atonement of Jesus Christ, he opened his Bible and read in 1 Peter 3:18–20 and 4:6 about the Savior’s preaching to the spirits in prison. While he was meditating on these passages, the Spirit of the Lord rested upon him, and he saw in vision the “hosts of the dead” who were gathered in the spirit world. He saw the Savior appear among them and preach the gospel to the righteous. He was shown that the Lord had commissioned others to continue this work of preaching, and that the faithful elders in the present dispensation would also preach to the dead after leaving mortality. Thus all of the dead may be redeemed.

This “Vision of the Redemption of the Dead” was presented by President Smith to the First Presidency and the Twelve, who unanimously accepted it as revelation. In 1976 this revelation was officially added to the standard works of the Church and soon afterward designated as section 138 in the Doctrine and Covenants.

The opening decades of the twentieth century saw the Church move forward in several important ways. A period of prosperity enabled the Church to erect badly-needed chapels and temples and allowed the prophet to travel and bless the Saints in faraway lands. Priesthood and auxiliary classes, First Presidency doctrinal expositions, and President Smith’s significant 1918 revelation all helped expand the Saints’ understanding of certain gospel principles. Meanwhile, the Church met with characteristic vigor the challenges posed by radical scientific theories, revolutions in Mexico, and the horrors of a world war.


1. This chapter was written for the Church Educational System; also published in Richard O. Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), pp. 50–62, 70–79.

2. In Conference Report, Apr. 1907, p. 7; punctuation standardized.

3. In Conference Report, Oct. 1911, pp. 129–30.

4. See James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), p. 461.

5. See Thomas G. Alexander, “Between Revivalism and the Social Gospel: The Latter-day Saint Social Advisory Committee, 1916–1922,” Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1983, pp. 24–37.

6. In Conference Report, Apr. 1906, p. 3.

7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1907, pp. 5–6.

8. See Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 461, 478–80.

9. Joseph F. Smith, “Worship in the Home,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1903, p. 138.

10. In James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75), 4:338–39.

11. In Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 5:26, 32, 34.

12. Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939), pp. 67–68.

13. James E. Talmage Journals (typed copy), 19 Apr. 1915, Brigham Young University Archives, Provo, p. 19; spelling standardized.

14. “The Origin of Man,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1909, pp. 78, 80; Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 4:203, 205.

15. “Philosophy and the Church Schools,” Juvenile Instructor, Apr. 1911, p. 209.

16. See Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Life of Joseph F. Smith, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1969), p. 397.

17. Serge F. Ballif, in Conference Report, Oct. 1920, p. 90.

18. “Das Evangelium des Tuns” [“The Gospel of Deeds”], Der Stern, 1 Nov. 1906, p. 332; translated from German.

19. In Conference Report, Oct. 1915, p. 8.

20. In Thomas Cottam Romney, The Mormon Colonies in Mexico (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938), p. 227.

21. In “Messages from the Missions,” Improvement Era, Feb. 1916, p. 369.

22. In Conference Report, Apr. 1917, p. 3.

23. Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, p. 474.

Change and Consistency

Time Line



Significant Event

23 Nov. 1918

Heber J. Grant was ordained and set apart as seventh President of the Church

Dec. 1920

David O. McKay and Hugh J. Cannon left on world tour


Corporation of the President established

6 May 1922

President Grant gave the first broadcast over KZN (later KSL) Radio in Salt Lake City


Mission home opened in Salt Lake City

Fall 1926

First institute of religion opened in Moscow, Idaho


The Church purchased Hill Cumorah

Apr. 1930

Centennial celebration of the organization of the Church

The decade of the 1920s was in many ways a comparatively peaceful era in the Church’s history. Following World War I, many Latter-day Saints left Utah to find employment in California and other states. An increasing number of Church members remained in the lands of their births, as instructed, and helped strengthen the branches and districts in many areas of the world. In a dramatic symbol of their interest in all of the earth’s peoples, the First Presidency sent Elder David O. McKay and Hugh J. Cannon on a world tour of the missions. Also during the twenties the Church established seminaries and inaugurated the first institute of religion program. Utah’s first radio station, KZN, began transmitting gospel messages, and a new Church president was sustained who would lead the Church for almost three decades.

The Reorganization of the First Presidency

Even as he lay dying, President Joseph F. Smith’s thoughts turned to the man who would succeed him as prophet, seer, and revelator. Elder Heber J. Grant was told the stricken president wanted to see him. Taking President Smith’s hand, Elder Grant felt his spiritual power and strength. He was then given a special blessing by his terminally ill leader. President Smith told him that the Lord makes no mistake in choosing someone to lead his Church. With tear-filled eyes and a heart full of love, Elder Grant left the room with the prophet’s last words echoing in his ears, “The Lord bless you, my boy, the Lord bless you.”1

On 23 November 1918, four days after the death of President Joseph F. Smith, the Twelve convened in the Salt Lake Temple. There they ordained and set apart Heber J. Grant as the seventh President of the Church. He was the first native Utahan to be president. President Grant, who had served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since 1882, was known for his determination. He loved to relate in his talks how he had overcome personal limitations and excelled despite them. His favorite saying came from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the thing has changed but our ability to do it has increased.”

Heber J. Grant

Heber J. Grant (1856–1945) became the seventh President of the Church at age sixty-two, having served as an Apostle since 1882. He was set apart as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1916.

President Grant greatly influenced the Church in the twentieth century. He served as a General Authority longer than any other man except David O. McKay. His twenty-seven years of service as President of the Church marked the second longest administration, exceeded only by Brigham Young’s.

President Grant was a very spiritual man. It was reported in several meetings, including one held in the temple, that President Grant’s countenance when he spoke resembled that of the deceased Joseph F. Smith.2 Because of the worldwide flu epidemic, which eliminated all large public meetings, President Grant was not sustained as Church president until June 1919. He chose Elders Anthon H. Lund and Charles W. Penrose, respectively, as his first and second counselors.

The death of President Smith and the reorganization of the First Presidency had left a vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Many of the Apostles thought President Grant would call his good friend and faithful Church member Richard W. Young to that position. President Grant intended, with the consent of his two counselors, to call Richard Young to the apostleship. He began to reflect and pray about the vacancy. When the First Presidency met with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Grant reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper with Richard W. Young’s name written on it, fully intending to present it for approval. Instead, he found himself saying that the Lord wanted Melvin J. Ballard, the Northwestern States mission president, to fill the vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. President Grant later testified that he learned from this experience that the Lord does indeed inspire the President of the Church.3

Prior to Elder Ballard’s birth, his mother had learned in a remarkable way that the baby she was carrying would become an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.4 This spiritual experience was confirmed when Elder Ballard was told in his patriarchal blessing that he would be one of the Lord’s special witnesses.

In 1921, President Anthon H. Lund died, and President Grant chose Anthony W. Ivins as a counselor in the First Presidency. John A. Widtsoe, president of the University of Utah, was called to fill the vacancy in the Council of the Twelve Apostles created by Elder Ivins’s call. Four years later when Charles W. Penrose passed away, Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley became a member of the First Presidency. He and President Ivins served as President Grant’s counselors for the remainder of the decade. Joseph Fielding Smith, son of Joseph F. Smith, replaced President Lund as Church historian and served in that position for more than half of a century.

Soon after being set apart as Church president, Heber J. Grant instituted several administrative changes and procedures that would have a lasting impact on the Church. First he announced that the First Presidency would no longer serve as presidents of the various auxiliary organizations as they had heretofore done with other General Authorities as their assistants. Second, early in 1922, the Corporation of the President was organized to hold and administer the ecclesiastical property of the Church. This corporation was designed to administer the Church’s tax-free properties. At the same time, Zion’s Securities Corporation was founded to manage property considered strictly investment and revenue producing. On these holdings the Church voluntarily paid taxes, although it could generally claim nonprofit status.

The Church and the League of Nations

With the end of the First World War, United States president Woodrow Wilson presented plans to establish permanent world peace. His goals included a league of nations that would, by discussion and parliamentary procedures, solve the conflicts that might arise among the world’s countries. Since the farewell address of George Washington, the United States had refrained as much as possible from entanglements with foreign nations, especially those in Europe. Wilson’s plans reflected a departure from traditional United States foreign policy. When the president sought to have his treaty ratified in the United States Senate, a partisan battle ensued. Many Republican senators, including Apostle Reed Smoot, only favored the league if amendments were added to the charter to preserve American sovereignty. Others vigorously opposed the league altogether.

In February 1919, in an effort to promote the treaty, the Mountain Congress of the League to Enforce Peace held its convention in Salt Lake City. Former U.S. President William Howard Taft attended, and President Heber J. Grant conducted some of the sessions. In July, President Ivins, representing the First Presidency, spoke out in favor of the league, and several more of the Brethren also spoke in support of it at stake conferences that summer.

In spite of the efforts of those who supported the Wilson treaty, it suffered a crushing defeat in the United States Congress. That some Church members had vigorously opposed the league, while others had favored it, caused some divisions within the Church. Therefore, in the October general conference following the Senate defeat, President Grant reminded the congregation of what had happened the year before and expressed regret at the bitterness the controversy had caused. He made a plea for the spirit of forgiveness to permeate among the Latter-day Saints. He then referred to the advice he had received from President John Taylor when President Grant was a young Apostle, “My boy, never forget that when you are in the line of your duty your heart will be full of love and forgiveness.”

That no hard feelings were in President Grant’s heart is evidenced by the fact that he remained a great friend and admirer of Reed Smoot, and that those of the Brethren who had opposed the League of Nations—Charles W. Nibley, J. Reuben Clark, and David O. McKay—subsequently became his counselors in the First Presidency of the Church.5 Yet there was still another political problem, this one deemed a moral issue, that waited to be resolved.

The Word of Wisdom and the Repeal of Prohibition

During this era some people in the United States joined in a movement to stamp out many of the nation’s evils and injustices. An essential part of this movement, centered in evangelical Protestant groups, involved prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages. The Church and its leaders supported this great moral effort. Soon the Utah Prohibition League was organized and led by President Heber J. Grant. Some Church leaders, including Senator Reed Smoot, preferred a local option on Prohibition rather than a nationwide ban on the sale of liquor. Others saw the ban as an infringement upon their freedom and urged Church members to continue to be taught the evils and consequences of consuming liquor, but be left to choose what course they wanted to pursue. The forces favoring outlawing the sale of alcohol, however, were so strong that the Eighteenth Amendment passed, making Prohibition a national law.6

During the 1920s bishops interviewing members who wanted to enter the temple were asked to encourage them to comply with the principles in the Word of Wisdom. The Church also used its publications, especially the Improvement Era, to campaign against the use of tobacco. Many articles appealed to both scientific authority and Church doctrine to promote abstinence from both liquor and tobacco. Church leaders also urged anti-tobacco legislation, including the banning of advertising cigarettes on billboards. President Grant frequently preached against smoking and the consumption of liquor and firmly supported strict enforcement of the law. He even insisted that the Deseret News officially support Prohibition enforcement. Moreover, the Church provided financial aid to the Prohibition League.

During those years when Prohibition was in effect, there were strong forces working for its repeal. In spite of the vigorous support of the Church and public knowledge that President Grant stood unalterably behind Prohibition, Utah became the thirty-sixth state to vote for the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Ironically, it was this affirmative vote that ended Prohibition. President Grant publicly expressed his disappointment that Church members had not followed his lead nor his counsel. Had they done so, he insisted, much of the suffering, sorrow, spiritual degeneration, and deterioration of physical health that accompany the consumption of liquor and tobacco, could have been avoided. Elder George Albert Smith later spoke on the consequence that had resulted and would continue because of the foolishness of those who had not heeded the counsel of the living prophet:

“There are those among us today who have been blinded by the philosophies and foolishness of men. There are those who reject the advice and counsel of the man that God has placed at the head of this Church.

“I am grieved as I stand here and think of the way we rejected the counsel of President Grant. And I don’t want to be counted among that ‘we’ for I was not—but there were those among us who rejected the advice of the President of this Church and voted to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment and approved of bringing intoxicating liquor back into our community and legalizing it. That action has increased our accidents and murders and thousands of the sons and daughters of America are losing themselves and are being debauched beyond the possibility of recovery.

“Had we listened to the man who stands at our head and done our duty we would not in this valley and other places be suffering from the distresses that have come upon us, at least, we would not be responsible for them.

“People who haven’t very much information suddenly come along with a bright idea, and they suggest ‘this is the way’ or ‘that is the way,’ and although it is in conflict with the advice of the Lord some are persuaded to try it. The Lord has given safe advice and appointed the President of his Church to interpret that advice. If we ignore what he advises, as the President of the Church, we may discover that we have made a serious mistake.”7

Continual Emphasis on Missionary Work

Following World War I the Church had some difficulty securing permission for missionaries to reenter several European countries. However, European mission president George F. Richards, working closely with his successor Elder George Albert Smith and with Senator Reed Smoot, finally obtained permission for missionaries to proselyte in Holland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It was the fall of 1920 when the gospel was again preached in Germany and the spring of 1921 when South Africa was reopened.

Hugh J. Cannon and David O. McKay

The world tour of David O. McKay (right) and his companion, Hugh J. Cannon (left), fulfilled the directions of President Heber J. Grant to gather information so that during their deliberations, Church leaders would have someone familiar with the conditions Latter-day Saints were living under.

For the remainder of his life, Elder McKay had his finger on the pulse of the world and the Church. As an Apostle he traveled widely, and he continued to do so into the early years of his administration as President of the Church. Under his leadership the Church became a worldwide institution.

In an effort to obtain firsthand information regarding Latter-day Saints in all parts of the world and to dramatize the scriptural injunction that the gospel be proclaimed to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, President Grant sent Elder David O. McKay and Hugh J. Cannon, editor of the Improvement Era, around the world. The Deseret News noted that Elder McKay would tour the missions under the title of Commissioner of Education so that he would be officially welcomed by the world’s leaders. In his charge to Elder McKay, President Grant told him, “Make a general survey of the missions, study conditions there, gather data concerning them, and in short obtain general information in order that there may be some one in the deliberations of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve thoroughly familiar with actual conditions.”8

The two ambassadors departed on 4 December 1920, accompanied by the good wishes of Church leaders, family, and friends. Traveling to Japan on the Empress of Japan, President McKay was sick much of the time. In describing his seasickness he wrote: “Good-bye last night’s dinner! Good-bye yesterday’s Rotary luncheon! And during the next sixty hours, good-bye everything I had ever eaten since I was a babe on mother’s knee. I’m not sure I didn’t even cross the threshold into the pre-existent state.”9

After meeting with the missionaries in Japan, they traveled to China via Korea and Manchuria. In Peking, they wandered the streets searching for a suitable place to dedicate the land. At length they walked to the walls of the Forbidden City, the former home of emperors. There they entered the gate and moved to a grove of cypress trees, which symbolized for the Chinese sorrow and sadness. Elder McKay sensed that this was a peculiarly fitting place in which to invoke the blessing of heaven upon this oppressed and sorrowing people. With bowed head, the modern witness for Christ quietly prayed to turn the key that unlocked the door for authorized servants of God to enter into China to preach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

After traveling to Hawaii, Elders McKay and Cannon inspected the Church school at Laie and then visited the other islands. Elder Cannon particularly requested they visit Pulehu on Maui where his father, George Q. Cannon, had baptized the first Hawaiian in July 1851. Thirty-four years later, President McKay recalled the events of their visit to Maui.

“So we came up here, and this is where I was [pointing to a spot where a pepper tree had been], and as we looked at an old frame house that stood there then, he said, ‘That is probably the old chapel.’ It seemed to me it was over in the distance. Nothing else was here. We said ‘Well, probably that is the place. We are probably standing on the spot upon which your father, George Q. Cannon, and Judge Napela addressed those people.’ We became very much impressed with the surroundings, association, and spiritual significance of the occasion; as we had also been with the manifestations we had had on our trip to the Orient and thus far in Hawaii. I said, ‘I think we should have a word of prayer.’ . . .

“I offered the prayer. We all had our eyes closed, and it was a very inspirational gathering. As we started to walk away at the conclusion of the prayer, Brother Keola Kailimai took Brother E. Wesley Smith to the side and very earnestly began talking to him in Hawaiian. As we walked along, the rest of us dropped back. They continued walking, and Brother Kailimai very seriously told in Hawaiian what he had seen during the prayer. They stopped right over there [pointing a short distance away] and Brother E. Wesley Smith said, ‘Brother McKay, do you know what Brother Kailimai has told me?’ I answered, ‘No.’ ‘Brother Kailimai said that while you were praying, and we all had our eyes closed, he saw two men who he thought were Hugh J. Cannon and E. Wesley Smith step out of line in front of us and shake hands with someone, and he wondered why Brother Cannon and Brother Smith were shaking hands while we were praying. He opened his eyes and there stood those two men still in line, with their eyes closed just as they had been. He quickly closed his eyes because he knew he had seen a vision.’

“Now Brother Hugh J. Cannon greatly resembled Brother George Q. Cannon, his father. I spoke during the trip of his resemblance. Of course, E. Wesley Smith has the Smith attribute just as President Joseph Fielding Smith has it. Naturally, Brother Keola Kailimai would think that these two men were there. I said, ‘I think it was George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, two former missionaries to Hawaii, whom that spiritual-minded man saw.’

“We walked a few steps farther and I said, ‘Brother Kailimai, I do not understand the significance of your vision, but I do know that the veil between us and those former missionaries was very thin.’ Brother Hugh J. Cannon who was by my side, with tears rolling down his cheeks, said ‘Brother McKay, there was no veil.’”10

From Hawaii the two men sailed to San Francisco in anticipation of making better connections for their journey to the South Pacific. There they were met by President Heber J. Grant and their wives. Hearing of the death of President Grant’s counselor, Anthon H. Lund, they decided to return briefly to Salt Lake City. They were back in San Francisco by late March prepared to begin a twelve-day voyage to Tahiti. They arrived there on 12 April, but were unable to contact the mission president, who was touring the mission. From Tahiti they sailed to Rarotonga and then on to Wellington, New Zealand, where they had their first scheduled appointment. They spent nine days visiting with the missionaries and the Saints of New Zealand. It was the first time an Apostle in this dispensation had been in New Zealand.

Leaving Auckland on 30 April 1921 they sailed for Samoa. Arriving aboard the S. S. Tofua they were greeted in Samoa with songs and shouts of glee by a huge throng of Church members. They spent more than a month traveling from island to island and holding meetings with the Saints and governmental officials. At each stop Elder McKay would speak to large congregations—at times as many as fifteen hundred natives, officials, and visitors. When speaking to these groups he used an interpreter. On one occasion, however, he stopped the interpreter and continued speaking, realizing that the members were able to understand him. The entire congregation had received the gift to interpret tongues.

By their demeanor and their testimonies Elder David O. McKay and Hugh J. Cannon won a place in the hearts of the Samoan people. When the time came to leave, there were tears and appeals for the men to stay. Under the promptings of the Spirit, Elder McKay turned back, slipped from his horse, made known what he was about to do, and then with hands raised aloft pronounced upon them blessings in the authority and power of the apostleship and priesthood. It was a splendid end to a perfect farewell, and quickly turning away, they left while the Saints waved good-bye with white handkerchiefs. The Samoan people later placed a monument to honor the spot where Elder McKay had prayed.

Because of an epidemic of measles in Tonga, anyone entering the country had to undergo a quarantine of twelve days. Elder McKay decided to visit the area anyway but sent Elder Cannon to New Zealand to avoid the quarantine.

From Tonga he returned to New Zealand for an additional two weeks, visiting Auckland and Hastings. On 2 August 1921 the two travelers sailed for Sydney, Australia. In contrast to the multitudes who had gathered at other places, the numbers of Saints in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane were small. The brethren, however, detected deep spirituality among the people.

From Australia they moved through Southeast Asia into lands overflowing with hungry and haggard faces, exemplified by the beggar who died near where Elder McKay was standing on a street in India. The hot, sticky boat ride from India to Egypt provided time for the two missionaries to think of home and family. One evening Elder McKay sat on deck next to a lady who was exhausted from jostling her little boy to keep him from crying. Elder McKay smiled at her, then asked if he could hold the child while she rested. She gladly consented, and soon the boy was asleep in the Apostle’s arms.

Joseph Wilford Booth

Joseph Wilford Booth (1866–1928) labored most of his life as a missionary in the Middle East. His first mission in the Middle East was to Turkey in 1898. He later served twice as president of the Turkish Mission in 1903–9 and 1921–24.

He dedicated Greece for the preaching of the gospel while on Mars Hill in Athens in 1905. The name of the Turkish Mission was changed to the Armenian Mission, and he presided over it from 1924 to 1928. He died and was buried at Aleppo, Syria, just before the news came of his release.

In the Holy Land they were to meet President J. Wilford Booth, the new president of the Armenian Mission, and travel with him among the small branches in the region. When they arrived in Jerusalem, however, they did not know where President Booth would be joining them. After several days of visiting the shrines and other historic locations, they determined to leave for Haifa, a seaport town north of Jerusalem along the Mediterranean coast, en route to Aleppo in the northwest corner of Syria. Originally they had planned to travel by car through Samaria, but Elder McKay was impressed to go by train instead.

They arrived in Haifa not knowing where they would stay, and while Elder McKay went to inquire regarding a suitable hotel, Brother Cannon took care of their luggage. Ten minutes later, Elder McKay returned with a runner for a prominent hotel. About to exit through the large door of the train station, Elder McKay felt a tap on his shoulder, and someone asked, “Isn’t this Brother McKay?” Elder McKay whirled about and saw President Booth. Had the two elders gone by car, or had they remembered to seek advice on a hotel before leaving Jerusalem, or had they remained there longer, they would not have met President Booth. As it turned out, they held many spiritual meetings with the Saints and distributed the funds collected during a special fast in Utah, which greatly blessed Church members on that part of the world.

They concluded the world tour with a visit to the missions of Europe. After traveling sixty-two thousand miles in five months, the two elders arrived home on Christmas Eve, 1921. In the April 1922 general conference, Elder McKay reported their successful mission and bore a powerful testimony that “Christ is ever ready to give you help in time of need, and comfort and strength, [if] you would approach Him in purity, simplicity, and faith.”11

Shortly after returning home, David O. McKay was called as the Church’s European mission president. He was charged with improving the public’s view of the Church, especially in Great Britain. Then an opportunity came for Senator Reed Smoot, accompanied by Elder John A. Widtsoe, to travel to Europe. In London, Senator Smoot met with the owners of the leading British newspapers. When the owners learned that much of the material their newspapers had printed about the Latter-day Saints was untrue, they agreed not to accept any anti-Mormon material. Senator Smoot also met with Denmark’s director general of the ministry of foreign affairs, Sweden’s prime minister, and the king of Norway.

Melvin J. Ballard and others at site of South America dedication

This is the exact spot where Elder Melvin J. Ballard (1873–1939), a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated South America for the preaching of the gospel on 25 December 1925 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This photo was taken June 1926.

Left to right: President Reinholdt Stoof, president of the South American Mission; his wife, Sister Ella Stoof; Elder Melvin J. Ballard; President Rey L. Pratt; and James Vernon Sharp.

Soon relationships for the Church improved in other parts of the world as well, and missions were either opened or reopened in France, Czechoslovakia, and Bavaria. In 1925, Melvin J. Ballard reopened the South American Mission. His dedicatory prayer, given in Buenos Aires, Argentina, included the following prophecy: “The work of the Lord will grow slowly for a time here just as an oak grows from an acorn. It will not shoot up in a day as does the sunflower that grows quickly and then dies. But thousands will join the Church here. It will be divided into more than one mission and will be one of the strongest in the Church. . . . The day will come when the Lamanites in this land will be a power in the Church.”12

Symbolic of the commitment by Church members to missionary work was the example of Percy D. McArthur. Percy, a gifted runner who observed the Word of Wisdom, was the California champion in the 440-yard race. He often prayed before he ran, not that he would win but that he would do his best. He represented the Los Angeles Athletic Club at the national track meet held in 1927 in Lincoln, Nebraska, and tied with two others in a dead heat. Speaking of the 1928 Olympic team, he said, “I was confident I could make the team—was all primed and in trim, when I received my call to fill a mission. That meant more to me than any race.” Soon he was laboring in the Mexican Mission.13 He was neither the first nor the last great athlete to put the Church first in life. He turned his back on fame, and perhaps fortune, to proclaim to a humble people that the gospel was once more on the earth.

Mission Home

For many years most newly called missionaries traveled to Salt Lake City to be given instruction, receive their temple endowment, and be set apart for their labors. In 1924 approval was given to establish a home for missionaries during their stay. A home was purchased and remodeled in 1925, and President Lorenzo Snow’s son LeRoi was named director.

Gradually the training program initiated there increased to two weeks and came to include seventy-one classes in such subjects as gospel instruction, Church organization, English and language instruction, personal health and hygiene, physical fitness, table etiquette and manners, personal appearance, and punctuality.

In an effort to send better trained missionaries into the field, Church leaders established a missionary training center in Salt Lake City with LeRoi C. Snow as its first director. The missionaries received two weeks of intensive instruction regarding such things as manners, punctuality, and missionary methods. They also heard instruction from General Authorities on gospel principles. The Mission Home, as it was called, was dedicated on 3 February 1925 by President Heber J. Grant, and its first class numbered only five elders. By 1927, however, nearly three thousand young men and women had been instructed.14 The increase in the number of missionaries trained was due in part to President Grant’s announcement in the October 1925 general conference of the need for one thousand additional missionaries.

It was also during this time that several innovative methods were tried to better facilitate the preaching of the gospel. A young elder in the California Mission, Gustive O. Larson, produced a series of illustrated lectures, which he delivered with his mission president’s approval, all over the state. The slides and the dialogue centered on three themes: ancient American civilization, the history of the Mormons, and Latter-day Saint temples and temple work. Thousands of nonmembers came to see the slides and hear Elder Larson. Meanwhile, President B. H. Roberts, newly called leader of the Eastern States Mission, trained his missionaries in the fundamentals of proselyting and encouraged them to organize and teach the gospel message in a sequential manner and to make better use of the Book of Mormon. He also frequently called them into mission headquarters where he delivered lectures on the principles of the gospel.

Missionary work in Japan suffered a temporary setback during the 1920s. After twenty-three years of effort and sacrifice on the part of missionaries, President Grant, who had opened the Japanese mission, closed proselyting work there. A number of factors were involved in making the painful decision to withdraw the missionaries. Difficulties with the language and culture and the failure of the Church to attract converts all played an important role in the decision. Additional reasons included the Tokyo earthquake of 1923 and the Japanese exclusion law of 1924.

The earthquake was so devastating that missionary work completely stopped as the few missionaries who were there helped in the reconstruction effort. The Japanese exclusion law, which was passed in the United States in July 1924, prevented the Japanese people from immigrating to the United States. This caused bitterness toward all Americans living in Japan. Because of these factors, the First Presidency, after prayer and careful consideration, announced the mission closure in August 1924. It was not until after the Second World War that the restored gospel would attract thousands of Japanese converts.15

New Directions in Church Education

Prior to World War I, Latter-day Saints realized that they could not continue to support two systems of education. The Church could not build enough Church schools, then called academies, for all the children of member families. Members found it burdensome to support the legally required public schools and at the same time provide funds for the operation of local Church schools. So, beginning in 1920, most of the academies were transformed into public schools or converted into community junior colleges and normal schools.

Granite Seminary

In the school year of 1912–13, the Granite Seminary in Salt Lake City housed the Church’s first “released-time” seminary classes, with seventy students attending. The next year Guy C. Wilson was hired as a full-time teacher.

Although begun as an experimental program, the seminary idea spread rapidly because of its success. A decade later almost five thousand students were enrolled in seminary, and that figure more than doubled by the time the first institute of religion, located in Moscow, Idaho, was created in 1926–27. By 1997, over 379,000 students were enrolled in seminary.

To ensure that Latter-day Saint youth would have some means of receiving daily religious instruction, the Church established seminaries adjacent to public high schools, beginning in 1912 with Granite High School in Salt Lake City. Some local school districts granted released time, and buildings separate from the high schools were erected. Qualified teachers were hired, and the entire system was supervised by a general Church board of education and a Church-appointed commissioner. Thus, the Church’s great seminary system was initiated.

With increasing numbers of Latter-day Saints attending colleges and universities in the 1920s, some Church members became concerned about how students would integrate secular learning with their religion. The early twenties were marked by the rising reputation of science and a decline in the influence and power of the churches. One popular work at the time was entitled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, written by Andrew Dickson White, a distinguished professor of history and president of Cornell University. He vigorously attacked fundamental Christian doctrines, which he called “a menace to the whole normal evolution of society.”16 His book was considered a standard to help students of science understand the philosophical war between science and Christianity.

Moscow institute of religion

The Moscow institute building in Moscow, Idaho, was dedicated on 25 September 1928 by Charles W. Nibley, a member of the First Presidency.

During this period of ferment and challenge, a group of Latter-day Saints at the University of Idaho sought help from the First Presidency because of the large number of Mormon students there without access to Church education to supplement their secular training. The First Presidency responded to their appeal and sent the recently released South African Mission president, J. Wyley Sessions and his wife Magdeline, to Moscow, Idaho, with authority to organize a program for those Latter-day Saint students. Working closely with university officials, Brother Sessions soon developed a social organization and taught scriptural and ethics classes in a Church environment for which the students received university credit.

The first classes were held in the fall of 1926 with fifty-seven students enrolled. A large building was constructed near the university. Soon institutes were organized and buildings constructed adjacent to Utah State Agricultural College in Logan, Idaho State University in Pocatello, and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

It was also during the early twenties that Brigham Young University administrators established the first adult-oriented Education Week. Originally these classes were designed to train stake and ward leaders and were taught by the First Presidency and other General Authorities. Because of demands upon their time, the General Authorities later instructed university officials to use university teachers as instructors and to open the classes to the public. Education Weeks now involve thousands of Latter-day Saints across the United States and Canada, with more than twenty-five thousand people attending the instruction held annually on Brigham Young University campus in Provo.

Further Church Expansion

During the twenties, many Latter-day Saints left Utah and settled in other areas, such as southern California. Missionary work brought in many converts and added to the large number of Church members residing in that part of the United States. In January 1923, President Heber J. Grant, his first counselor, Charles W. Penrose, and other General Authorities assembled with three thousand California members and organized the Los Angeles Stake, the Church’s eighty-eighth stake, which covered all of southern California. Creation of this stake symbolized that the Church was no longer just a Utah organization but was beginning to expand into every corner of the nation. Because of early colonization efforts, there were also sufficient Church members to justify erection of temples in Cardston, Alberta, Canada in 1923 and in Mesa, Arizona in 1927. Both of these sacred edifices were dedicated by President Grant.

Heber J. Grant radio broadcast

President Heber J. Grant began the first radio broadcast over KZN (later KSL), the Deseret News–sponsored radio station in Salt Lake City, on 6 May 1922. Pictured left to right are Nathan O. Fullmer, Anthony W. Ivins, George Albert Smith, not identified, not identified, Augusta Winters Grant, Heber J. Grant, C. Clarence Neslen, and George J. Cannon.

On 6 May 1922 the prophet dedicated the new Deseret News radio station, KZN and, for the first time in the Church’s history, delivered a message over the airways. In his talk, the Church president bore his testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of the true and living God. Two years later the station began broadcasting sessions of general conference. Thousands of Church members as well as nonmembers were able to hear the inspired messages of the General Authorities. During the summer of 1924 the station’s call letters were changed to KSL.

On 15 July 1929 the Tabernacle Choir began its first broadcast. The “Spoken Word,” a message of inspiration and hope, created by Richard L. Evans, also became a regular part of the program. Over the years thousands of people have come into the Church after hearing the choir’s inspiring singing and the eloquent and spiritual Spoken Word. Thousands more have received additional comfort and hope from choir broadcasts.

Centennial Celebration and Increasing Interest in Church History

Believing that the Church needed17 a one-volume, easy-to-read history that would tell the story of the Restoration, the First Presidency asked Joseph Fielding Smith to write such a book. The finished work, entitled Essentials in Church History, was first published in 1922. This volume, which was used in the early twenties as a manual for the Melchizedek Priesthood, subsequently went through nearly thirty editions.

Andrew Jenson, assistant Church historian, spent much of the decade traveling the world in his assignment to gather historical records from the wards and branches. It is because of his interest, perseverance, and efforts that historians today have the material in which to research the history of the Church.

Also during the twenties, the Church marked the centennial of the appearance of the Father and the Son and of the Angel Moroni to Joseph Smith with special cantatas and ceremonies in Palmyra, New York. On Sunday morning, 6 April 1930, thousands of Church members packed the Salt Lake Tabernacle to participate in a solemn assembly where Church leaders were sustained by quorum vote, and the impressive hosanna shout was majestically rendered. B. H. Roberts wrote, “It seemed, as the mighty shout was given, to vibrate waves of emotion which were sustained by the choir’s rendition, at this point, of Handel’s ever glorious and joyous chorus, ‘Hallelujah,’ from ‘The Messiah.’”18

It was also during this conference that the Salt Lake Temple was first illuminated by giant floodlights, and a centennial pageant, “The Message of the Ages,” was presented on a special stage constructed in the Tabernacle. Newly written for this celebration, the pageant depicted the various dispensations of the gospel. Admission was free, and the pageant was so enthusiastically received that performances were continued for more than a month. Elder B. H. Roberts also presented his monumental six-volume A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the membership as a fitting climax to the centennial celebrations.

As a further evidence of the Church’s interest in its history, leaders announced in April 1928 that they had completed the purchase of the Hill Cumorah. Soon this location became one of the sites most frequently visited by Latter-day Saints traveling in the eastern United States. Many non-Mormons also visited the hill, and a visitors’ center was established at its base.

The twenties were a time in the Church’s history when its roots became better established. It was a decade of comparative peace, a time when bitterness and attacks for the most part had subsided. In this relatively tranquil decade, the Church slowly yet steadily grew in numbers and strengthened programs, and its members increased in their faith.


1. Heber J. Grant, in Conference Report, Apr. 1941, p. 4.

2. See Journal of Anthon H. Lund, 25 May 1919, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, pp. 49–50; Charles W. Penrose, Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1 June 1919, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City.

3. See Francis M. Gibbons, Heber J. Grant: Man of Steel, Prophet of God (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979) pp. 174–76.

4. See Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin Joseph Ballard (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1949), p. 23.

5. In James B. Allen, “Personal Faith and Public Policy: Some Timely Observations on the League of Nations Controversy in Utah,” Brigham Young University Studies, Autumn 1973, p. 97; see also James B. Allen, “J. Reuben Clark, Jr., on American Sovereignty and International Organization,” Brigham Young University Studies, Spring 1973, pp. 347–72.

6. This section was written for the Church Educational System; also published in Richard O. Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), p. 129.

7. In Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 75.

8. “Two Church Workers Will Tour Missions of Pacific Islands,” Deseret News, 15 Oct. 1920, p. 5.

9. Llewelyn R. McKay, comp., Home Memories of President David O. McKay (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1956), p. 41.

10. David O. McKay, Cherished Experiences. Rev. and enl. Compiled by Clare Middlemiss (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), pp. 115–16.

11. In Conference Report, Apr. 1922, p. 69; see also pp. 62–68.

12. In “Prophecies for Children of Lehi Are Being Fulfilled,” Church News, 26 Feb. 1984, p. 10.

13. M. C. Morris, “Olympic Games or a Mission?” Improvement Era, Mar. 1929, p. 382; see also pp. 378–83.

14. See LeRoi C. Snow, “The Missionary Home,” Improvement Era, May 1928, pp. 552–54.

15. See R. Lanier Britsch, “The Closing of the Early Japan Mission,” Brigham Young University Studies, Winter 1975, pp. 171–90.

16. Andrew Dickson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1897), 1:vi.

17. Section written for the Church Educational System; also published in Cowan, Church in the Twentieth Century, pp. 102–4.

18. B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century One, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 6:540.

The Church during the Great Depression

Time Line



Significant Event

29 Oct. 1929

Stock market crash led to the Great Depression


Pioneer Stake storehouse was established by stake president Harold B. Lee

Fall 1933

Churchwide program was developed to reactivate Aaronic Priesthood adults

20 Apr. 1935

Harold B. Lee was called to formulate Churchwide welfare program

Apr. 1936

Welfare program was launched, regions were organized, and stake missions were organized Churchwide

Apr. 1937

Members were challenged to store a year’s supply of food

8 Aug. 1938

J. Reuben Clark, Jr. set forth the Charted Course for Church educators

Sept. 1938

Deseret Industries opened it doors

Apr. 1941

Assistants to the Twelve called

Few external events1 have influenced the course of Church history more than the Great Depression of the 1930s. On 29 October 1929, known as Black Tuesday, the bottom fell out of the New York stock market, ruining millions of investors. People stopped buying unnecessary goods, and many businesses soon failed. The impact of the Great Depression was quite severe in the Mountain West, where most Latter-day Saints lived. In 1932 unemployment in Utah reached 35.9 percent, and per capita income fell by 48.6 percent.2 Heads of families had to swallow their pride and wait in long lines for handouts of bread or other foods. In rural areas, families lost their farms when they could not meet mortgage payments.

Along with its individual members, the Church organization felt the depression. Expenditures from tithes, the Church’s major source of income, dropped from $4 million in 1927 to only $2.4 million in 1933, resulting in many activities being curtailed.3

Early Efforts to Relieve Suffering

In 1933, in the midst of the depression, the United States government under President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted a series of sweeping measures popularly known as the New Deal. Although these programs were supported by most Latter-day Saints, Church leaders were concerned that some Saints could succumb to a “dole mentality.” President Grant sadly acknowledged:

“Many people have said, . . . ‘Well, others are getting some [government relief], why should not I get some of it?’

“I believe that there is a growing disposition among the people to try to get something from the government of the United States with little hope of ever paying it back. I think this is all wrong.”4

As Church leaders sought to counsel the Saints and meet their needs during the depression, they found guidance in the scriptures. From the beginning the Lord has commanded, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18), a principle which the Apostle James designated as “the royal law” (James 2:8). When the Lord gave this commandment to the children of Israel, he also instructed them to provide for the poor (see Leviticus 19:10). He has vigorously condemned those who are able to but refuse to help their less fortunate brethren (see Mosiah 4:16–27; D&C 56:16; 104:14–18).

The Church had a welfare program even before the depression. During the 1920s the Presiding Bishopric and the Relief Society General Board were active in finding employment, maintaining a storehouse, and in other ways helping the needy. Therefore, as economic conditions grew worse following the stock market crash, the Church was able to build on existing foundations.

Sylvester Quayle Cannon

Sylvester Quayle Cannon (1877–1943), son of George Q. Cannon, twice served as president of the Netherlands Belgium Mission. He also served as President of the Pioneer Stake.

In 1925 he was called to be the Presiding Bishop of the Church. At the October 1939 general conference he was sustained as an Apostle.

In 1930, Presiding Bishop Sylvester Q. Cannon insisted bishoprics were responsible “to see to it that none of the active members of the Church suffers for the necessities of life. . . . The effort of the Church . . . is to help people to help themselves. The policy is to aid them to become independent, . . . rather than to have to depend upon the Church for assistance.”5 Local leaders developed innovative solutions to the economic distress of members. The Granite Stake in Salt Lake County put the unemployed to work on various stake projects, operated a sewing shop where donated clothing was renovated, and secured food for the needy through cooperative arrangements with nearby farmers. The Pioneer Stake, in an even less prosperous area, was especially hard hit by the depression. Under the leadership of its young stake president, Harold B. Lee, a storehouse was stocked with goods produced on stake projects or donated by Church members. Through local Church units the General Authorities gave encouragement, counsel, and support to these efforts to help meet the emergency.

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

Joshua Reuben Clark, Jr. (1871–1961) was born of pioneer heritage in Grantsville, Utah. He served for many years in the Department of State for the United States government, where he became recognized as a leading authority in international law. In 1930 he was named United States ambassador to Mexico.

In 1933, while still in Mexico, J. Reuben Clark was called by President Heber J. Grant to serve as a counselor in the First Presidency of the Church. President Clark served for twenty-eight years as a member of the First Presidency, laboring with Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, and David O. McKay.

He was a prolific writer and gifted speaker. His conference talks were often centered on unity, the Constitution, and care of the poor.

Particularly influential in the early development of Churchwide welfare activities was J. Reuben Clark, Jr., who became a counselor to President Grant in 1933. Before receiving this call, President Clark had a distinguished career in international law and diplomacy, having served as under secretary of state and as the United States’ ambassador to Mexico. President Grant instructed his new counselor to formulate a plan for assisting the Saints.

In July 1933 the First Presidency set forth fundamental principles and for the first time outlined specific relief measures that could be carried out Churchwide. “Our able-bodied members must not, except as a last resort, be put under the embarrassment of accepting something for nothing. . . . Church officials administering relief must devise ways and means by which all able-bodied Church members who are in need, may make compensation for aid given them by rendering some sort of service.” In compensation for help received, individual wards were asked to be prepared to meet the needs of their own members and then to give assistance to other units requiring help. The Presidency concluded its message by encouraging the Saints to remember the “paramount necessity of living righteously, of avoiding extravagance, of cultivating habits of thrift, economy, and industry, of living strictly within their incomes, and of laying aside something, however small the amount may be, for the times of greater stress that may come to us.”6

Launching the Welfare Program Churchwide

A significant step in developing the Church’s welfare program took place in 1935. At this time the federal government was considering shifting to the states the burden of providing relief, a load which hard-hit Utah was not in a position to assume. On 20 April of that year the First Presidency assigned stake president Harold B. Lee to introduce the welfare program Churchwide. He later recalled, “I was astounded to learn that for years there had been before them [Church leaders], as a result of their thinking and planning and as the result of the inspiration of Almighty God, the genius of the very plan that is being carried out and was in waiting and in preparation for a time when in their judgment the faith of the Latter-day Saints was such that they were willing to follow the counsel of the men who lead and preside in this Church.”7

At the conclusion of his meeting with the First Presidency, Harold B. Lee drove up to the head of nearby City Creek Canyon and walked into the trees where he could pray about the organization that might need to be set up. He later recounted, “My spiritual understanding was opened, and I was given a comprehension of the grandeur of the organization of the Church and the Kingdom of God, the likes of which I had never contemplated before. The significant truth which was impressed upon me was that there was no need for any new organization to do what the Presidency had counseled us to do. It was as though the Lord was saying: ‘All in the world that you have to do is to put to work the organization which I have already given.’”8

For the next year Harold B. Lee and other Church leaders met repeatedly to formulate the program for the entire Church. President David O. McKay, who had become President Grant’s second counselor in 1934, played a key administrative role in this planning phase. The committee felt assured that their deliberations were guided by inspiration and their decisions received divine approval.

Welfare Square

Welfare Square, located in west Salt Lake City, covers an area of ten acres. It contains an administration building and a canning center, root storage facility, milk processing plant, grain elevator, maintenance shop, and visitors’ center.

On Monday, 6 April 1936, following the close of the final regular general conference session, a special meeting for stake presidencies and ward bishoprics convened in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. The First Presidency reported the distressing fact that about one-sixth of all Church members were being supported by public relief and many of them were not being required to work for what they received. The Presidency appealed to local leaders “to build again within the ranks of the Latter-day Saints a feeling of financial independence.” Church leaders declared: “The Lord has given us, within our Church, the government, organization and leadership to accomplish this great purpose and if we fail we stand condemned.” An immediate goal was to provide sufficient food and clothing for all the needy in the Church. Ward teachers (later known as home teachers) were to work closely with the Relief Society in “discovering and appraising the wants of the needy of the ward.” The Saints were challenged to increase their fast offerings in order to provide funds for relief efforts. The First Presidency concluded with the admonition that the program’s success depended on the faithfulness of the Saints.9

The First Presidency appointed a Church Relief Committee to help the Presiding Bishopric with the details of administration. This committee included Elder Melvin J. Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Harold B. Lee. Their assignment was to motivate and coordinate the welfare activities of local Church units. A new level of Church administration, the region, was created to coordinate the functioning of the welfare program. Each region, consisting of from four to sixteen stakes, was to have a storehouse where surpluses from its own stakes or from other regions could be exchanged.

In May 1936, Elder Ballard was invited to Washington, D.C., to explain the Church’s “security” program (as the welfare plan was known at first) to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The president knew of and was pleased with the Church’s efforts. He and Elder Ballard each pledged full cooperation with the other’s efforts to meet the continuing challenges of the depression. President Roosevelt said that he hoped the Church’s success would inspire other groups to launch similar programs of their own.10

At the October 1936 general conference, the First Presidency reviewed basic principles underlying the welfare plan, stating, “Our primary purpose was to set up, in so far as it might be possible, a system under which the curse of idleness would be done away with, the evils of a dole abolished, and independence, industry, thrift and self respect be once more established amongst our people. The aim of the Church is to help the people help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle of the lives of our Church membership.”11

Speaking for the First Presidency at the April 1937 general conference, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., exhorted the Saints to live within their means:

“Let us avoid debt as we would avoid a plague. . . .

“Let every head of every household see to it that he has on hand enough food and clothing, and, where possible, fuel also, for at least a year ahead. . . . Let every head of household aim to own his own home, free from mortgage.

“Let us again clothe ourselves with these proved and sterling virtues—honesty, truthfulness, chastity, sobriety, temperance, industry and thrift; let us discard all covetousness and greed.”12

Statistics during the later 1930s reflect a quickened pace in providing relief for the economically distressed. Church expenditures for welfare increased by more than one-third between 1935 and 1936. The output of welfare projects in the latter year included 37,661 bottles of fruit, 175,621 cans of fruit or vegetables, 134,425 pounds of fresh vegetables, 105,000 pounds of flour, 1,393 quilts, and 363,640 items of clothing. Fast offerings, the major source of cash for the welfare program, also increased. The gains were substantial in both the number of people paying and in the size of the offerings. Wards and stakes continued to acquire farms, canneries, and other projects to produce food, clothing, and other items required to help those in need. The Co-operative Securities Corporation was created in 1937 to hold title to welfare program properties and to coordinate its finances. This corporation also made loans to individuals who could not borrow from banks or through other ordinary channels.

Deseret Industries

Deseret Industries opened its doors in September 1938 with Stuart B. Eccles as its first manager. The aim of Deseret Industries at the time was fourfold: “First, those who have will be given another type of opportunity to help those who have not. Second, waste will be reduced by keeping our possessions in use as long as possible. Third, the work of renovation will employ many now unemployed. Fourth, articles in common use, of good quality, will be available at a low cost.”13

Although Latter-day Saints believed in the importance of self-reliance, many who wanted to work could not find jobs because of age or physical, mental, or emotional handicaps. Consequently, in 1938 Church leaders initiated the Deseret Industries program. Members donated clothing, furniture, appliances, newspapers, magazines, or other items they no longer needed. Employees sorted, cleaned, and repaired these materials. They were then sold at thrifty prices in the Deseret Industries’ own retail stores. Proceeds paid the employees’ wages and covered operating expenses. Modest salaries could be supplemented with help from the bishops’ storehouse if necessary. The program was consistent with the Church’s welfare philosophy. Members were off the dole, performed worthwhile work, and achieved a sense of self-reliance.

The Relief Society continued to play a vital role in helping families to help themselves. In 1937, with the encouragement of the First Presidency, the sisters sponsored courses in sewing, baking, and food preservation. Individual instruction was provided in the home, and group classes convened at welfare canning or sewing centers.

Elder Harold B. Lee regarded the welfare program as a fulfillment of prophecy. He reminded the Church that in 1894 President Wilford Woodruff had anticipated the time when “we shall see the necessity of making our own shoes and our own clothing, and providing our own foodstuffs, and uniting together to carry out the purposes of the Lord.”14

President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., was convinced that the welfare plan had a purpose beyond providing help to the poor. He pointed out that although this program was not the same as the law of consecration, “when the Welfare Plan gets thoroughly into operation—it is not so yet—we shall not be so very far from carrying out the great fundamentals of the United Order.”15

Elder Marion G. Romney, a key participant in directing the welfare program of the Church, also gave his testimony: “The welfare program was a direct revelation from the Lord to President Heber J. Grant. I heard President (J. Reuben) Clark tell that to a group of stake presidents at a meeting in Orem.”16

Enriching Lives through Increased Church Activity

During the decade of the Great Depression, Church leaders were concerned not only with temporal needs but also with the importance of blessing the lives of both members and nonmembers in other ways. For example, they gave considerable thought to how Church programs could better work together in meeting the needs of young men and preparing them for missionary service. As a result the Aaronic Priesthood Correlation Plan was introduced at the April 1931 general conference. Quorums trained their members in priesthood responsibilities, encouraged worthiness and activity, and promoted feelings of brotherhood. The Sunday School provided instruction in gospel principles and ordinances, while the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association taught proper application of these principles in the physical, social, cultural, and spiritual dimensions of life. The roles of these organizations were not redefined, but their work was correlated more closely than ever before. Under the direction of the bishop, officers and teachers came together monthly to consider the welfare of the young men.17

To involve the youth more completely in Church activity, the Presiding Bishopric announced the goal for 1935 of having one million “priesthood assignments” performed, emphasizing that every boy should fulfill at least one assignment. Certificates of achievement were provided for local quorums meeting specified standards. This was the beginning of group and individual awards programs that would be important in Church activity during the following decades.

Church leaders emphasized that the increasing number of inactive young men growing to maturity without receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood should not be neglected. Much of the credit for developing a successful means of reaching them belongs to A. P. A. Glad, bishop of the Salt Lake Twenty-eighth Ward. He realized that these inactive men needed a separate class where they could feel comfortable. In 1932 he called a group of enthusiastic and devoted leaders to give their full attention to these brethren. Group members helped plan their own activities. One of Bishop Glad’s slogans was, “We learn to do by doing.”18

After eight months of persistent effort, forty men were brought into activity. One member of the original group recalled how he had been rousted out of bed to attend the class. For him this began a pattern of regular Church activity, which led to his receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood and serving as a high priests group leader, bishop, and high councilor.19 Bishop Glad’s work became the basis of a similar Adult Aaronic program introduced throughout the Church during the fall of 1933.

Missionary Work during the Depression

The Church continued to emphasize missionary work despite the problems caused by the depression. Because many families needed their sons to work at home and could not afford to send them on missions, the number of missionaries entering the field fell sharply as the effects of the depression spread. In 1932 only 399, or 5 percent of the potential missionaries were able to serve. Despite this missionary shortage, missionary work continued, with notable success in some places. Missionaries developed more innovative and systematic methods in order to maintain productivity. In 1937, LeGrand Richards, president of the Southern States Mission, issued “The Message of Mormonism,” outlining twenty-four weekly presentations of gospel topics. This outline, published as A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, became the basis of many subsequent proselyting plans.

LeGrand Richards

LeGrand Richards (1886–1983) was one of the greatest missionaries this dispensation has produced. He served four missions and presided over two missions.

Elder Richards served as the Presiding Bishop of the Church from 1938–52 and as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1952 until his death in 1983. His father, George F. Richards, and his grandfather, Franklin D. Richards, had also served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Missionaries employed various techniques to reach interested persons: A missionary chorus attracted favorable attention in England and Ireland. A missionary basketball team made friends in Czechoslovakia, and in Germany four elders were recruited as basketball judges for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Lectures on ancient America featuring color slides were particularly productive in making contacts. The Church Radio, Publicity, and Mission Literature Committee was organized in 1935 to supply materials for these illustrated lectures. With Gordon B. Hinckley, who had recently returned from a mission to Britain, as executive secretary, the committee directed the preparation of tracts, other mission literature, and scripts for radio programs.

One beneficial by-product of the depression was a greater involvement of local members in missionary work. In California, missionaries lived in members’ homes to reduce expenses. Alabama Saints traveled long distances in order to take investigators to district conferences. In many areas members provided referrals, enabling missionaries to reduce time spent in less productive door-to-door tracting. The missionary force around the world was expanded by local members who donated several hours weekly to work with the full-time missionaries or accepted special short-term mission calls. In many areas congregations had been led by missionaries, but during the depression local Saints assumed more responsibility for their own affairs. This not only freed the missionaries’ time for proselyting, it also fostered the Saints’ pride in their own branches. President Grant concluded that the shortage of missionaries “has probably been a blessing in disguise, because it has forced us to make greater use of the local saints.”20

Hundreds of people were converted as a result of the missionary efforts that were organized in the stakes of Zion.21 At April general conference in 1936 all stakes were instructed to organize a mission, and supervision of these missions was assigned to the First Council of the Seventy.22 As a result, hundreds of converts were baptized each year, and the spirituality of the Saints seemed to increase. One ward reported that there was a 50 percent increase in overall activity among its members as a result of local missionary work.23

During the depression the Church adopted a variety of other methods to supplement the work being done by its increasingly scarce proselyting missionaries. The continuing success of the weekly Tabernacle Choir broadcasts prompted the Church to expand its use of radio. Several wards and stakes as well as missionary groups produced programs for local stations. A portion of general conference was broadcast to Europe via international shortwave radio on 5 April 1936. Partly as a result of the Tabernacle Choir’s increasing popularity, Temple Square continued to be an effective missionary tool. Many visitors went miles out of their way to attend choir broadcasts or noon organ recitals. Temple Square attracted even more visitors than popular national parks in the area.

Temple Square

Temple Square

The Church also began more regular participation in national and international fairs and exhibitions. An estimated 2.3 million people visited the Church’s booth at the Chicago Century of Progress exposition in 1933–34. The Church’s new positive image was apparent as Elder B. H. Roberts, who had been denied the opportunity to speak at Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition, was well received as he spoke at the Congress of Religions held in conjunction with the 1933 Chicago exposition. At the California-Pacific International Exposition held in San Diego during 1935–36, the Church erected its first exhibit building. The Golden Gate International Exposition was held on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay in 1939–40. Capitalizing on the Tabernacle Choir’s popularity, the Church designed its exhibit building in the form of a miniature Tabernacle with a fifty-seat auditorium in which missionaries could present illustrated lectures on the history and beliefs of the Church.

Begun in 1937, the Hill Cumorah Pageant became one of the Church’s most successful public relations ventures. Featuring a cast composed mostly of missionaries serving in the area, “America’s Witness for Christ” was presented on three large stages constructed on the slopes of the hill. It depicted scenes from the Book of Mormon, culminating with the Savior’s visit to the ancient inhabitants of America. Just a month before the first pageant was presented, Elder Harold I. Hansen, who had just received his bachelor’s degree in drama, entered the Eastern States Mission. He was immediately assigned to help with the final preparations and rehearsals. Elder Hansen was convinced that his call to this particular mission at this time resulted from divine guidance. He would continue to be associated with the annual pageant for the next forty years, most of this time as its director. Over the years additional stages, lighting, and other technical effects were added.

Giving Direction to Church Education

As the depression’s impact eased, the Church expanded its educational programs. During the later 1930s the number of campuses served by institutes of religion grew to seventeen, including all the major schools in the mountain west and in California. A companion program, the Deseret Club, began in 1933 when a group of southern California Latter-day Saints felt the need to bring students together for intellectual and social activities within the influence of Church ideals and standards. In 1936, while visiting in the Los Angeles area, Elder John A. Widtsoe recognized the value of Deseret Club activities in the lives of students and helped bring this program under the sponsorship of the Church Board of Education. Deseret Clubs were organized on campuses where there were not enough Church members to justify a full institute program. Eventually they were replaced by the organization of the Latter-day Saint Student Association.

Church educational leaders placed greater emphasis on adequate professional training for college-level faculty members, especially in religion. Noted scholars offered summer workshops at BYU, and promising graduate students were encouraged to attend various theological seminaries.

By the mid-1930s, however, an increasing number of Church members and leaders were concerned over religion teachers being trained by non-Latter-day Saint scholars. They felt that “higher criticism” of the scriptures (the scientific investigation into the origin and authenticity of biblical texts) and other humanistic ideas were creeping into the curriculum. These concerns led the General Authorities to give closer supervision to the Church’s educational system, especially to religious instruction. By this time, David O. McKay, with his rich background in Church education, had become a counselor in the First Presidency. Both Presidents Clark and McKay exerted a powerful influence over the Church’s educational program.

In 1938, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., was assigned to set forth the mission of the Church’s education program and to outline the qualifications and duties of those employed to teach in the Church’s schools, institutes of religion, and seminaries. His address, The Charted Course of the Church in Education, was delivered on 8 August at a summer gathering of these teachers at Aspen Grove in Provo Canyon near the BYU campus and has become an oft-quoted classic. President Clark insisted that two fundamental truths must be proclaimed fearlessly and cannot be explained away:

“First: That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, . . . that He was crucified; that His spirit left His body; that He died; that He was laid away in the tomb; that on the third day His spirit was reunited with His body, which again became a living being; that He was raised from the tomb a resurrected being, a perfect Being, the First Fruits of the Resurrection; that He later ascended to the Father; and that because of His death and by and through His resurrection every man born into the world since the beginning will be likewise literally resurrected. . . .

“The second of the two things to which we must all give full faith is: That the Father and the Son actually and in truth and very deed appeared to the Prophet Joseph in a vision in the woods; that other heavenly visions followed to Joseph and to others; that the Gospel and the holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God were in truth and fact restored to the earth from which they were lost by the apostasy of the Primitive Church; that the Lord again set up His Church, through the agency of Joseph Smith; that the Book of Mormon is just what it professes to be; that to the Prophet came numerous revelations for the guidance, upbuilding, organization, and encouragement of the Church and its members; that the Prophet’s successors [are] likewise called of God.”

President Clark then reminded teachers that the youth of the Church are hungry for these truths to be taught in a straightforward manner, and he warned teachers that doubt must never be sown in the hearts of trusting students. He concluded by charging his listeners to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ from the standard works and from the words of latter day prophets.24

Because of their interest in the spiritual growth of LDS youth, the General Authorities desired to be involved personally in the direction of Church schools. Brigham Young University, Ricks College, and the LDS Business College had each been under a separate board of trustees. To achieve a more centralized control, these local boards were released in 1938, and all units were brought under the direct supervision of the General Church Board of Education, which consisted of General Authorities and a few others.

Latter-day Saints understandably pointed with pride to their educational attainments in the decade of the depression. Census data in 1940 indicated that Utah, where the majority of the population were Church members, had the highest level of educational attainment of any state in the Union: young adults in Utah completed an average of 11.7 years of school compared to 11.3 in the next two highest states, and the national median was 10.3 years.25 Church magazines proudly reported the results of studies conducted by E. L. Thorndike of Columbia University who found that Utah had the highest proportion of persons listed in Who’s Who and American Men of Science. Thorndike concluded that “the production of superior men is surely not an accident, that it has only a slight affiliation with income, that it is closely related to the kind of persons.”26

Meeting the Administrative Challenge

The expansion of Church activities during the 1930s increased demands on the time and financial resources of the Saints. To lessen this load, the General Authorities undertook a new study of all Church programs with the goal of correlation and simplification where possible.

At the beginning of 1939, the First Presidency wanted the work of the auxiliary and other organizations to be “coordinated, unified, and standardized to avoid duplication and overlapping.” They therefore appointed a Committee of Correlation and Coordination, headed by three members of the Twelve. The First Presidency affirmed that the real reason for all Church organizations “is to instruct the people in the Gospel, to lead them to a testimony of the Truth, to care for those in need, to carry on the work entrusted to us by the Lord.”27

In 1940, President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., instructed a group of Church executives that “the home is the basis of a righteous life, that no other instrumentality can take its place nor fulfil its essential functions, and that the utmost the Auxiliaries can do is to aid the home in its problems, giving special aid and succor where such is necessary.”28

A tangible step toward greater simplification was discontinuing weekly genealogy meetings in 1940 and incorporating genealogical instruction into the curriculum of the Sunday School. At the same time, the Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, published since 1910, was discontinued and its function assumed by the Improvement Era.

During the 1930s the Church continued to grow throughout North America and abroad. This expansion was reflected in two extended overseas trips by General Authorities. During three months of 1937, President Heber J. Grant and other Church leaders visited the missions of Europe. Everywhere he went President Grant encouraged the Saints to stay where they were and build up the Church. Large public meetings and extensive press coverage helped build goodwill for the Mormons in areas where they had been unknown or misunderstood. When President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., joined President Grant to commemorate the British Mission’s centennial, this marked the first occasion when two members of the First Presidency were in Europe at the same time.

During the first one hundred years of this key mission’s existence, over 125,000 converts had been baptized. Approximately half of these had emigrated, providing strength to the Church in the West. In 1938, Elder George Albert Smith of the Council of the Twelve spent six months visiting the Pacific missions, where he was warmly received by the Saints. A high point was his participation in the Maori Saints’ annual “hui tau,” or conference. As President Grant had done in Europe the year before, Elder Smith strengthened Church members in the Pacific and also encouraged more favorable attitudes toward the Church through giving interviews with the press, speaking on the radio, and meeting with government officials.

Continued Church growth and the multiplication of stakes and missions around the world placed a heavier administrative load on the shoulders of the General Authorities. Not only did this mean a greater number of conferences to conduct, but it also involved more travel, as during the 1930s the Saints increasingly moved to scattered areas, and stakes were organized in such distant cities as New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, and Honolulu.

This was the setting for the decision to create a new group of General Authorities to help shoulder the increased load. At the April 1941 general conference the First Presidency announced the appointment of “Assistants to the Twelve, who shall be High Priests, who shall be set apart to act under the direction of the Twelve in the performance of such work as the First Presidency and the Twelve may place upon them.”29 Initially, five men were called—Marion G. Romney, Thomas E. McKay, Clifford E. Young, Alma Sonne, and Nicholas G. Smith. As the administrative burden continued to increase, additional members were added.

The decade of the 1930s is best known for the formation of the welfare plan, but many other important and far-reaching strides were made in enlarging and refining Church programs. A stronger and more confident Church emerged from the depression years. Nevertheless, while the Church was successfully coping with problems caused by the depression, the threat of war began to pose new challenges.


1. This chapter was written for the Church Educational System; also published in Richard O. Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), pp. 114–18, 121–22, 133–34, 138, 140–44, 146–47, 149, 151–52, 158–70, 172–73.

2. University of Utah School of Business, “Measures of Economic Changes in Utah, 1847–1947,” Utah Economic and Business Review, Dec. 1947, p. 23.

3. See Conference Report, Apr. 1928, pp. 3–4; Conference Report, Apr. 1934, pp. 4–5.

4. In Conference Report, Oct. 1933, p. 5.

5. In Conference Report, Oct. 1930, p. 103.

6. In James R. Clark, comp. Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75), 5:332–34.

7. In Conference Report, Apr. 1941, p. 121; see also Conference Report, Oct. 1972, p. 124; or Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 104.

8. “An Enlarged Vision of Church Organization and Its Purposes,” Church News, 26 Aug. 1961, p. 8.

9. In “Launching of a Greater Church Objective,” Church News, 25 Apr. 1936, p. 1; see also Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 6:10–13.

10. See “Church Security Program Indorsed by President Roosevelt,” Deseret News, 9 June 1936, p. 1.

11. Heber J. Grant, in Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3.

12. In Conference Report, Apr. 1937, p. 26.

13. John A. Widtsoe, “Deseret Industries,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1938, p. 544.

14. In Conference Report, Apr. 1943, p. 126.

15. In Conference Report, Oct. 1942, p. 57.

16. In “New Storehouse Is Dedicated at Welfare Square Complex,” Church News, 29 May 1976, p. 4.

17. Minutes of the Aaronic Priesthood Convention Held in the Assembly Hall, 4 Apr. 1931, Presiding Bishopric, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, pp. 2–4, 10.

18. “An Opportunity for Adult Members,” Church News, 6 June 1936, p. 4; see also Instructor’s Manual and Lesson Outline for Adult Aaronic Priesthood Classes, 1936, pp. 7–8; “Adult Aaronic Priesthood Class Outstanding Success,” Improvement Era, Nov. 1933, p. 812.

19. See “Fifty Years Ago, Adult Aaronic Program Started,” Church News, 18 Sept. 1982, p. 10.

20. Letter from J. Reuben Clark, Jr., to Leah D. Widtsoe, 13 Oct. 1933, First Presidency Letterpress copybooks, 1877–1949, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 867.

21. See letter from J. Golden Kimball to the Seventies, 31 Jan. 1934, First Council of the Seventy, Circular letters, 1860–1985, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 1.

22. See letter from Rudger Clawson to stake presidents, 24 Apr. 1936, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City.

23. See “Stake Mission Program Accomplishments Reported,” Deseret News, 17 July 1937, p. 7.

24. The Charted Course of the Church in Education, reprint ed., 1980, pp. 2–3; see also Charge to Religious Educators, 2d ed. (1982), p. 3.

25. See United States government 1940 census data, in Utah Economic and Business Review, Dec. 1947, p. 58.

26. E. L. Thorndike, “The Origin of Superior Men,” Scientific Monthly, May 1943, p. 430; see also “Utah Holds High Rank as Birthplace of Scientists,” Improvement Era, Oct. 1940, p. 606.

27. Letter from J. Reuben Clark, Jr., and David O. McKay to Elders Joseph Fielding Smith, Stephen L Richards, and Albert E. Bowen, 19 Jan. 1939, First Presidency Letterpress copybooks, 1877–1949, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, pp. 635–36.

28. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., “Memorandum of Suggestions,” 29 Mar. 1940, Papers, 1933–61, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City, p. 3.

29. J. Reuben Clark, Jr., in Conference Report, Apr. 1941, p. 95.

The Saints during World War II

Time Line



Significant Event

24 Aug. 1939

The First Presidency ordered evacuation of missionaries from Europe

1 Sept. 1939

Hitler’s invasion of Poland marked the beginning of World War II in Europe


Hugh B. Brown named as LDS servicemen’s coordinator


Missionaries evacuated from the Pacific and South Africa

7 Dec. 1941

Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor led United States to declare war

Apr. 1942

First Presidency declared Church’s position on war

Oct. 1942

Servicemen’s Committee was organized

14 Aug. 1945

World War II ended

The world was1 still recovering from the effects of the Great Depression when World War II broke out in Europe. Under Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, Germany was enlarging its boundaries. At the same time Japan was also expanding its empire into the Pacific in quest of political domination, raw materials, and new markets for her industries. Before long most of the world was engulfed in the war. Just as the depression significantly affected the Latter-day Saints during the 1930s, World War II and its aftermath exerted a powerful impact on the Church and its members during the succeeding decade.

The Church and the Third Reich

During the 1920–30s the German missions of the Church experienced unprecedented success, particularly in the eastern provinces. When the National Socialists, or Nazis, gained control of Germany in 1933, Church members had to become increasingly circumspect. Gestapo agents frequently observed Church meetings, and most branch and mission leaders were thoroughly interrogated by the police about Mormon doctrines, beliefs, and practices, and were warned to stay out of political matters. By the mid-1930s, Latter-day Saint meetings were often canceled during Nazi rallies, and the Church was forced to drop its Scouting program because of the Hitler Youth Movement.

Gospel teachings about Israel were out of harmony with the Nazi’s anti-Jewish policies, so copies of Elder James E. Talmage’s popular doctrinal work The Articles of Faith with its references to Israel and Zion were confiscated. In one town, police ripped all hymns referring to these topics out of the hymnbooks. Uneasy and concerned because of these conditions, some Church members ceased attending Church to avoid trouble with the police. Other German Saints felt an intensified interest in emigrating from the country.

The Church was never officially banned in Germany as some other small religious groups were. In fact, the Church received favorable publicity when the Nazi government invited Mormon elders to help coach some of the German basketball teams and to assist them at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Furthermore, because the Nazis emphasized racial purity, they promoted genealogical research. Government officials, who had earlier regarded the Mormons as an unpopular sect and thus denied them access to vital records, now respected them because of their interest in genealogy.2 Nevertheless, the situation for the Church and its missionaries became much more difficult during the late 1930s.

The rise of the Nazis in Germany also affected Church activity in South America where there were large colonies of German immigrants. In Brazil the government, fearing a subversive threat from Nazi sympathizers, banned the speaking of German in public meetings and the distribution of literature in that language. During their first decade in Brazil, Latter-day Saint missionaries had worked almost exclusively among the German-speaking minority, so most branch meetings were conducted in their language. Under pressure from the government, the local police in one area even forced the Saints to turn over their German scriptures, which were then burned in a public bonfire. In the face of such conditions during the late 1930s, missionaries shifted their emphasis to the Portuguese-speaking majority, thus laying the foundation for the great growth of later decades.

The Evacuation of Missionaries

As early as autumn 1937, Adolf Hitler vowed to expand his domain by annexing the German-speaking peoples in Austria and Western Czechoslovakia.

In March 1938, Germany succeeded in annexing Austria, and by September, Hitler accused the Czechs of persecuting the German minority in their country, and he insisted on his right to intervene. As troops massed on both sides of the German-Czech border, war seemed inevitable. As tensions grew in Europe, the General Authorities became increasingly concerned about the safety of the missionaries serving there. On 14 September 1938 the First Presidency ordered the evacuation of all missionaries from these two countries. At a meeting in Munich, Germany, Great Britain and France agreed to Hitler’s annexation of Western Czechoslovakia on the condition that he commit no further aggression. War was temporarily averted, and the First Presidency permitted the evacuated missionaries to return to their fields of labor.

The agreement at Munich, however, did not bring lasting peace. In 1939, Hitler turned his attention to Poland, demanding greater access through the Polish Corridor to German-populated East Prussia. Echoing the charges he had brought against Czechoslovakia a year earlier, Hitler now sought to justify military intervention by accusing Poland of mistreating its German minority. As tension increased, President J. Reuben Clark’s diplomatic background proved valuable to the Church. Through his contacts at the State Department, he kept Church leaders apprised of the developments in Europe on an almost hourly basis. Finally, on Thursday, 24 August 1939 the First Presidency, for the second time, ordered the evacuation of all missionaries from Germany and Czechoslovakia. They instructed Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, who was in Europe conducting the annual tour of missions, to take charge.

map of 1938 European missions

European missions, 1938

[click for scalable version]

The evacuation of the missionaries, particularly from the West German Mission, posed great challenges and provided the setting for some remarkable examples of divine assistance.

The First Presidency’s telegram arrived in Germany on Friday morning, 25 August. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith and M. Douglas Wood, mission president, were conducting conferences in Hanover, but President Wood and his wife immediately returned to mission headquarters in Frankfurt. By Friday afternoon they had telegraphed all missionaries, directing them to leave for Holland at once. On Saturday morning, a missionary called from the border to tell them that the Netherlands had closed its borders to almost all foreigners fearing that the influx of thousands of refugees would seriously deplete the already short food supply. Meanwhile, bulletins on German radio warned that by Sunday night all railroads would be under military control and no further guarantees could be made for civilian travel.

When the Dutch closed their border, the resulting crisis challenged the resourcefulness of President Wood and his missionaries. Knowing that they could not take German currency out of the country, almost all of the missionaries had used their excess funds to purchase cameras or other goods that they could take with them. Therefore, they did not have enough money to buy tickets to Copenhagen, Denmark, the alternate point of evacuation, leaving several groups of missionaries stranded at the Netherlands border.

Norman George Seibold

Norman George Seibold was born 18 October 1915 and is currently (1989) living in Rupert, Idaho.

In Frankfurt, President Wood gave one of his missionaries, Elder Norman George Seibold, a former football player from Idaho, a special assignment:

“I said: ‘Elder, we have 31 missionaries lost somewhere between here and the Dutch border. It will be your mission to find them and see that they get out.’ . . .

“After four hours on the train he arrived at Cologne, which is about half way to the Dutch border. We had told him to follow his impressions entirely as we had no idea what towns these 31 Elders would be in. Cologne was not his destination, but he felt impressed to get off the train there. It is a very large station, and was then filled with thousands of people. . . . This Elder stepped into this station and whistled our missionary whistle—‘Do What is Right, Let the Consequence Follow.’” Thereby he located eight missionaries.3

In some towns Elder Seibold remained on board the train, but at others he was impressed to get off. In one small community he recalled, “I had a premonition to go outside the station and out into the town. It seemed silly to me at the time. But we had a short wait and so I went. I passed a Gasthaus, a restaurant there, and I went inside and there were two missionaries there. It was fantastic, in that they both knew me and of course they were quite happy to see me. . . . As surely as if someone had taken me by the hand, I was guided there.” In Copenhagen on Monday, 28 August, President Wood learned that fourteen of the thirty-one missing missionaries had entered Holland safely. That afternoon he received a telegram from Elder Seibold stating that the remaining seventeen would arrive in Denmark that evening.4

Wallace F. Toronto

Wallace F. Toronto (1907–1968) was called to the German-Austrian Mission in 1928. In July of 1929, Elder John A. Widtsoe dedicated Czechoslovakia as a mission of the Church. He traveled there in company with six missionaries, one of whom was Wallace Toronto. Elder Toronto was then asked to labor in the new mission.

In 1936, Elder Toronto was called back to Europe as president of the Czechoslovakia Mission along with his wife, Martha. They labored there until World War II broke out. In 1946, President Toronto was asked to return to Czechoslovakia and resume duties as mission president.

While the West German missionaries struggled to reach Denmark, quite a different drama unfolded in Czechoslovakia. On 11 July four missionaries were arrested by the German Gestapo and thrown in Pankrac Prison where political prisoners were held. For the next six weeks their mission president, Wallace Toronto, worked persistently for their release. He did not succeed until 23 August 1939, the day before the Czech Mission received the directive to evacuate. Most of the missionaries, as well as Sister Toronto and the Toronto children, left promptly for Denmark. But President Toronto remained behind to help the elders who had been in prison recover their passports and other possessions.

As Hitler’s armies massed for the invasion of Poland, communications with Czechoslovakia were cut off. Sister Toronto explained, “Seeing that I was very worried and getting more upset by the minute, President [Joseph Fielding] Smith came over to me, put his protecting arm around my shoulders and said, ‘Sister Toronto, this war will not start until Brother Toronto and his missionaries arrive in this land of Denmark.’”

In Czechoslovakia, President Toronto and his missionaries concluded their business by Thursday, 31 August. Just before leaving, however, one of the missionaries was rearrested and again thrown into prison. Quick and inspired action on the part of President Toronto enabled him to show the German authorities that it was a case of mistaken identity, and the elder was promptly released. That night the group boarded a special train sent to evacuate the British delegation; it was the last train to leave Czechoslovakia. They passed through Berlin early the next day and that afternoon boarded the last ferry to cross from Germany to Denmark.5 Germany invaded Poland that same day, the event that is generally regarded as the beginning of World War II. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith’s prophetic promise to Sister Toronto was fulfilled precisely.

In Salt Lake City the First Presidency closely monitored the mounting crisis and soon ordered the evacuation of all missionaries from Europe. Most missionaries crossed the Atlantic Ocean on cargo ships with makeshift accommodations for several hundred passengers each. Typically, these ships’ holds were filled with bunks, with only a curtain separating the men’s and women’s areas. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., regarded the successful evacuation of missionaries as truly miraculous:

“The entire group was evacuated from Europe in three months, at a time when tens of thousands of Americans were besieging the ticket offices of the great steamship companies for passage, and the Elders had no reservations. Every time a group was ready to embark there was available the necessary space, even though efforts to reserve space a few hours before had failed. . . .

“Truly the blessings of the Lord attended this great enterprise.”6

In 1940 more countries were drawn into the rapidly expanding war. Belgium, Holland, and France quickly fell to the Germans, and Britain prepared to fight for its life. As a result the overseas colonies of these countries were vulnerable to attack. In September 1940 Japan signed a ten-year mutual assistance treaty with Germany and Italy and began occupying French Indochina.

These developments prompted the First Presidency to withdraw all Latter-day Saint missionaries from the South Pacific and South Africa the following month. Communications between these areas and Church headquarters in America were not cut off as they had been in Europe, and mission presidents were permitted to remain in their areas. Missionaries were not evacuated from South America, but after 1941 no new missionaries were sent to that continent, and by 1943 none remained there. By that time proselyting by the regular full-time missionaries was limited to North America and Hawaii. Even in these areas the number of missionaries was drastically reduced as more and more young men were drafted into military service.

European Saints Carry On

When the missionaries and their leaders were withdrawn, the European Saints were left on their own, often in isolated circumstances. Many of them personally witnessed destruction and death. Even outside the combat zone, preoccupation with war was demoralizing and tended to diminish interest in spiritual concerns. Another problem faced the Saints in the occupied countries and in Germany. While some felt that the wisest course was to cooperate with the Nazis, others were convinced that their patriotic duty was to resist. Helmuth Hubener, a teenaged member of the Church in Hamburg, for example, dared to distribute copies of news he had picked up by shortwave radio from the British Broadcasting Corporation presenting a view contrary to Nazi propaganda. For these actions, he was eventually beheaded in a Gestapo prison.7

Helmuth Hubener

Helmuth Hubener (1925–42) was a German Latter-day Saint who lost his life during Hitler’s regime.

The evacuated missionaries were encouraged to write letters of faith and hope to members where they had served, and the mission presidents were given special assignments to keep in touch through correspondence with the local leaders whom they had left in charge. Unfortunately, however, the war disrupted the mail, and even from neutral Switzerland no letters were received for two years. In these circumstances local leaders learned to depend on personal revelation for guidance.

Although there were some isolated exceptions, most European Saints’ faithful adherence to Church doctrines and procedures grew during the war. In several areas, tithes, fast offerings, and attendance at Church meetings increased. In Switzerland local member missionaries spent two evenings per week proselyting and baptized more converts than the full-time missionaries had just before the outbreak of the war. During the prewar years mission presidents had actively prepared the Saints for the isolation they were to experience. Time and again during his 1937 visit to Europe, President Heber J. Grant, with prophetic insight, urged members to assume their own responsibilities and not to lean so much on the elders from America. Max Zimmer, who headed the Swiss Mission during the war, is a good example of one of these capable leaders. He conducted effective training programs for local priesthood and auxiliary leaders and distributed Church periodicals to the Saints.

Numerous German male members, both single and married, were drafted into the armed forces of their country. This depleted the priesthood strength of the branches, which in many areas had grown quite strong during the late 1930s. Many of the brethren left wives and children behind. In the early months of the war most of the German Saints felt they were fighting a just war, but as the war lengthened and atrocities heightened, more and more members of the Church began hoping and praying for an Allied victory. On the eastern front, the suffering and killing were especially bad as the Russian army marched ruthlessly into Germany. Several Latter-day Saint soldiers returned to their families only after many years of being in the prison camps, and some never returned to their families at all.

One notable Saint who died in the war was Herbert Klopfer, who had been called as the president of the East German Mission in 1940. That same year Brother Klopfer was also called into military service and stationed in Berlin. He was thus able to conduct mission business from his military office. Three years later he was ordered to the Western front. He left the mission affairs in the hands of his two counselors, who also took care of his family. He then spent a short time in Denmark, where he visited some Danish Saints. The Danes feared him at first because of his German uniform, but they came to trust him as he bore witness to them of the truthfulness of the gospel. In July 1944, Herbert Klopfer was listed as missing in action on the Eastern front. Following the war, it was learned that he had died in March 1945 in a Russian hospital.

Another young Latter-day Saint soldier, Hermann Moessner from Stuttgart, had experiences of a different sort during the war. While fighting in Western Europe, he was taken captive by the British, transported to England, and placed in a prison camp. With little else to do, Brother Moessner began sharing the gospel with fellow prisoners. Four men accepted his message and requested baptism. Elder Moessner wrote to Church headquarters in London for advice on what to do. Soon Elder Hugh B. Brown visited young Moessner in the camp and authorized him to baptize the converts. Many years later Hermann Moessner was called to serve as the president of the Stuttgart Stake in Germany.

Even German Saints who were not in the military suffered, especially in areas being bombed. Local leaders felt they were often inspired as they carried out their responsibilities amid these trying conditions. For example, Hamburg was bombed 104 times during a ten-day period in 1943. During Church meetings it was necessary to monitor the radio for information about air raids. One Sunday the branch president had not heard anything about a raid, but he felt impressed to close the meeting abruptly and immediately send his congregation to the nearest shelter, a ten-minute walk. Branch members had just reached the shelter when bombs hit the area.8

When regular meeting places were destroyed, the Saints held religious services in their homes. In one mission, however, 95 percent of the members lost their homes. Local leaders initiated a variety of self-help programs to meet this emergency. They directed their members to bring food, clothing, and household supplies to branch meeting places to be stockpiled. The Saints willingly responded, agreeing that all people should share alike in whatever was available. “Family after family brought their entire stores and shared them with their brothers and sisters who were destitute.” Everyone contributed to a fund that the Relief Society used to purchase material to patch or remake old clothing or to sew new.9 Members in Hamburg also participated “in Loeffelspende (spoon contributions), which meant they were each to bring one spoonful of sugar or flour to every meeting they attended. This small amount seemed almost ridiculous to members at first, but soon ‘this one spoon multiplied by 200 was sufficient to bake a cake for a young couple for their wedding, or to give a mother who was expecting or nursing a baby.’”10

The Church Responds to War

Japan launched an attack against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941. When the United States responded the following day by declaring war on Japan and then on Germany, many Latter-day Saints became directly involved in the hostilities. Once again the Saints had to examine their feelings about war. They were guided by the Book of Mormon’s teachings which denounced offensive war but condoned fighting “even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary” in defense of home, country, freedom, or religion (Alma 48:14; see also 43:45–47). In their annual Christmas message, issued less than a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the First Presidency stated that only through living the gospel of Jesus Christ would enduring peace come to the world. Echoing the counsel given by President Joseph F. Smith at the outbreak of World War I, the Presidency exhorted members in the armed forces to keep “all cruelty, hate, and murder” out of their hearts even during battle.11

These same principles were incorporated in the First Presidency’s official statement read at the April 1942 general conference. This declaration was a comprehensive and authoritative review of the Church’s attitude on war and was widely distributed in pamphlet form. The Saints were told that although “hate can have no place in the souls of the righteous,” the Saints “are part of the body politic” and must loyally obey those in authority over them. The Presidency continued, “The members of the Church have always felt under obligation to come to the defense of their country when a call to arms was made.” If in the course of combat servicemen “shall take the lives of those who fight against them, that will not make of them murderers, nor subject them to the penalty that God has prescribed for those who kill. . . . For it would be a cruel God that would punish His children as moral sinners for acts done by them as the innocent instrumentalities of a sovereign whom He had told them to obey and whose will they were powerless to resist. . . .

“. . . This Church is a worldwide Church. Its devoted members are in both camps,” the message affirmed. The Presidency also promised those servicemen who lived clean lives, kept the commandments, and prayed constantly that the Lord would be with them and nothing would happen to them that would not be to the honor and glory of God and to their salvation and exaltation.12 Heeding the counsel of their Church leaders, Latter-day Saints responded when called into military service.

The Saints in Uniform

Even though LDS servicemen’s groups had been organized during the Spanish-American War and Elder B. H. Roberts had served as a chaplain during World War I, the complete development of the Church’s programs for LDS servicemen did not come into existence until World War II.

In April 1941, just nine months before the United States officially entered World War II, the First Presidency announced the appointment of Hugh B. Brown to serve as servicemen’s coordinator. Having attained the rank of major in the Canadian army during World War I, he capitalized on this title in making contact with military authorities. Elder Brown traveled extensively during the war meeting with LDS servicemen and giving them encouragement. His warm personality and deep spirituality made him particularly well-suited for this assignment.

Hugh B. Brown

During World War II, Hugh B. Brown (1883–1975) served as the servicemen’s coordinator for the entire Church. He was an officer in the Canadian armed forces, a lawyer, an educator, an orator, and an ecclesiastical leader.

Elder Brown was called to be a General Authority in 1953. He served as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and as a member of the First Presidency of the Church.

A Church Servicemen’s Committee was organized in October 1942, with Elder Harold B. Lee, a new member of the Twelve, as chairman. The committee worked with United States military officials to secure the appointments of Latter-day Saint chaplains. This was a formidable challenge. Army and navy officials were reluctant to appoint chaplains who did not meet the usual requirements of being professional clergymen. Nevertheless, the Army Chief of Chaplains favorably remembered how a local Mormon bishop had cared for the spiritual well-being of the servicemen in his area. As a result, military officials gradually approved the appointment of LDS chaplains, and by the end of World War II forty-six had served or were serving as such.13

To supplement the work of these chaplains, the Servicemen’s Committee appointed approximately one thousand “group leaders.” Once set apart, these men officiated anywhere their services might be needed. Each received a certificate identifying him as “an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that he is as an authorized Group Leader of the Mutual Improvement Association of said Church to serve among his fellow Latter-day Saint members in the armed services. He is empowered, after first obtaining permission of the proper military officials, to conduct study classes and other worshipping assemblies.”14

The Church sponsored several other measures to benefit members in the service. Homes were opened in Salt Lake City and California where servicemen could stay in a wholesome environment while traveling to and from assignments. “Budget cards” became passports to wholesome Church-sponsored social and recreational activities for servicemen away from home. Members entering military service were given pocket-sized copies of the Book of Mormon and a Church publication entitled Principles of the Gospel. They also received a miniature version of the Church News, which carried messages of inspiration, reports of servicemen’s activities, and other important announcements.

Many of the Latter-day Saint servicemen set outstanding examples of faith and devotion. Military officials were frequently astonished at the initiative and ability of the Mormon soldiers to conduct their own worship services without the need of a professional clergymen. On the island of Saipan, L. Tom Perry (later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) and other LDS marines had no place to meet, so they set to work building a chapel. Latter-day Saint German soldiers during the occupation of Norway shared their rations with needy members in that land. Similarly, American soldiers helped their fellow Saints in Germany to rebuild as the war drew to a close. Always eager to share the gospel, Church members took advantage of opportunities even under wartime conditions. Elder Ezra Taft Benson lamented the drop in the number of full-time missionaries, but was convinced that Latter-day Saint servicemen were responsible for “more total missionary work today than we have ever done in the history of the Church. . . .

“. . . One of [the servicemen] said, ‘Brother Benson, it is just like being on another mission. Conditions are different, but we have opportunities to preach the gospel, and we are taking advantage of it.’”15

Numerous servicemen were influenced by the worthy examples of their Mormon buddies. The life of nineteen-year-old Neal A. Maxwell, who served in the armed forces in Okinawa, was a sermon to his fellow servicemen. One friend in particular remembered the example Neal set in a foxhole in Okinawa. Neal A. Maxwell later became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. While in a German prison camp, one Dutch member shared the gospel with fellow prisoner of war Jay Paul Jongkees. His interested friend joined the Church and later became the first stake president in their native country.

Latter-day Saint servicemen were also responsible for introducing the gospel into new areas of the world. For example, they provided the Church’s first contact with the Philippine Islands.16

By the war’s end, the number of Latter-day Saints in military service approached one hundred thousand. This was about one out of every ten Church members. While some appeared to be miraculously protected, the lives of all were not spared. Elder Harold B. Lee sought to comfort those who lost a loved one in the war. He said, “It is my conviction that the present devastating scourge of war in which hundreds of thousands are being slain, many of whom are no more responsible for the causes of the war than are our own boys, is making necessary an increase of missionary activity in the spirit world and that many of our boys who bear the Holy Priesthood and are worthy to do so will be called to that missionary service after they have departed this life.”17

Impact on the Church in North America

While the Saints in North America did not suffer as their European counterparts did, the war had a substantial impact on Church members and programs there also. As World War II began, shipyards, aircraft plants, and other defense industries created many new jobs on the U.S. west coast. These economic opportunities drew many families from the intermountain area to the Pacific coast. The establishment of defense industries in Utah and surrounding areas, however, later led many Saints to return.

These war-stimulated population shifts created several challenges for the Church. Single Mormon youth were among those employed in the defense industry. Hence, by the end of the war an increasing number of young people were living away from the stabilizing influence of their home and family.18 The General Authorities encouraged Church leaders in the areas where these young men and women were going to take a special interest in them. The coming of new industries to predominantly Mormon areas also resulted in a sudden influx of non-LDS residents into certain Utah communities. While some of the long time residents of these communities were concerned about the introduction of such a large “outside element,” Church leaders encouraged the Saints to fellowship the newcomers and to share the gospel with them whenever possible. This created a fertile field for the stake missions that had been established in the 1930s.

Wartime conditions affected programs sponsored by the Church in still other ways. In January 1942, just a month after the United States entered World War II, the First Presidency announced that all stake leadership meetings would be suspended immediately for the duration of the war. This cutback in leadership instruction came at the very time when Church activities had to become more effective than ever before to reach the growing numbers of members cut free from the guiding and sustaining influence of the family. The First Presidency stressed, “This action places increased responsibility upon the ward and branch auxiliary organizations to see that their work not only does not suffer, but is increased in intensity, improved in quality, and in general made more effective.” Auxiliary general boards kept in touch with local workers and gave direction by mail, and the home was stressed more as the key to preserving the faith among the youth.19

The First Presidency also limited attendance at general conferences to specifically invited priesthood leaders. The Tabernacle was closed to the public since the weekly Tabernacle Choir programs were broadcast without live audiences. Observances of the Relief Society’s 1942 centennial had to be postponed, and the annual Hill Cumorah pageant was canceled for the duration of the war.

On 27 April 1942, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of the need for increased taxes, wage and price controls, gasoline rationing, and rationing of other strategic materials. Latter-day Saint leaders had already taken steps to adapt Church programs.

Elder Harold B. Lee was convinced that the timing of the Church’s precautions was the result of revelation. Referring to the Church’s January 1942 restrictions on auxiliary meetings and travel, he declared: “When you remember that all this happened from eight months to nearly a year before the tire and gas rationing took place, you may well understand if you will only take thought that here again was the voice of the Lord to this people, trying to prepare them for the conservation program that within a year was forced upon them. No one at that time could surely foresee that the countries that had been producing certain essential commodities were to be overrun and we thereby be forced into a shortage.”

Furthermore, Elder Lee was convinced that Church leaders had been inspired when, beginning in 1937, they counseled the Saints to produce and store a year’s supply of food. He believed that this helped prepare Church members for rationing and scarcity and anticipated the government’s emphasis on victory gardens.20

Because of the war effort “Church activities were hampered in yet other ways. As building supplies were diverted to military use, construction of meetinghouses and even of the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple came to a halt. Perhaps no Church activity felt the impact of the war more than did the missionary program. In 1942 the Church agreed not to call young men of draft age on missions. Hence the number of missionaries serving plummeted. While 1,257 new full-time missionaries had been called in 1941, only 261 were called two years later. Before the war, five-sixths of all missionaries were young men holding the offices of elder or seventy; by 1945, most new missionaries were women or high priests. Members living in mission fields again assumed more responsibilities, just as they had done when the number of missionaries dropped during the Great Depression a decade earlier. Throughout North America these Saints accepted calls as local part time missionaries and assumed greater roles in district or branch organizations.

“The Church sponsored special wartime programs and in other ways encouraged its members to patriotically support the war effort. The first Sunday in 1942 was designated as a special day of fasting and prayer. As they had done during World War I, the General Authorities again commended the Saints for their generous contributions to the Red Cross and other charitable funds. Women in the Relief Society put together first aid kits for home use and prepared bandages and other supplies for the Red Cross. During the winter of 1942–43 the Church’s twelve- and thirteen-year-old Beehive Girls donated 228,000 hours, collecting scrap metal, fats, and other needed materials, making scrapbooks or baking cookies for soldiers, and tending children for mothers working in defense industries. A special ‘Honor Bee’ award was offered for such service. Then in 1943, Mutual Improvement Association youth in the United States and Canada raised more than three million dollars to purchase fifty-five badly needed rescue boats to save the lives of downed airmen.”21

While Latter-day Saints, at home and in military service and on both sides of the conflict, labored patriotically to support the cause of their respective nations, all longed for a return to peace. Even though some activities advanced during the war, the major effort of the conflict hindered the Church’s work. Only with the longed-for cessation of hostilities in 1945 could the Church resume its progress.


1. This chapter was written for the Church Educational System; also published in Richard O. Cowan, The Church in the Twentieth Century (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), pp. 175–76, 178–92.

2. See Gilbert W. Scharffs, Mormonism in Germany (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1970), pp. 86–88.

3. M. Douglas Wood, in Conference Report, Apr. 1940, pp. 79–80.

4. David F. Boone, “The Worldwide Evacuation of Latter-day Saint Missionaries at the Beginning of World War II,” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1981, pp. 39–40; see also pp. 35–43.

5. Martha Toronto Anderson, A Cherry Tree behind the Iron Curtain: The Autobiography of Martha Toronto Anderson (Salt Lake City: Martha Toronto Anderson, 1977), pp. 31–32.

6. In Conference Report, Apr. 1940, p. 20.

7. See Scharffs, Mormonism in Germany, pp. 102–3.

8. See Scharffs, Mormonism in Germany, pp. 104–10.

9. See Frederick W. Babbel, On Wings of Faith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1972), pp. 110–11.

10. In Scharffs, Mormonism in Germany, p. 111.

11. In James R. Clark, comp. Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–75), 6:141.

12. In Conference Report, Apr. 1942, pp. 90, 92–95.

13. See Joseph F. Boone, “The Roles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Relation to the United States Military, 1900–1975,” Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1975, pp. 548–52.

14. Boone, “Roles of the Church,” pp. 698–99.

15. In Conference Report, Apr. 1945, pp. 108–9.

16. See Lowell E. Call, “Latter-day Saint Servicemen in the Philippine Islands,” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1955, pp. 98, 103.

17. In Conference Report, Oct. 1942, p. 73.

18. See report from Lee A. Palmer to the Presiding Bishopric, 21 Sept. 1944, Subject files of LeGrand Richards, 1937–47, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City.

19. See First Presidency notice to Church officers, 17 Jan. 1942, Circular letters, 1889–1985, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City.

20. In Conference Report, Apr. 1943, p. 128; see also p. 126.

21. Cowan, Church in the Twentieth Century, pp. 186–87.