The decade before the death of President John Taylor in 1887 was turbulent and marked with persecution. The following decade became an era of reconciliation. Wilford Woodruff became President of the Church, the antipolygamy crusade ended, Utah became a state, the Salt Lake Temple was finally completed and dedicated, and the Latter-day Saints looked to the new century with greater hope and optimism.
During the “underground” era, Wilford Woodruff, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, lived in exile in St. George and surrounding areas. Friends there protected him from searching marshals. When Elder Woodruff learned from President George Q. Cannon that President Taylor’s condition afforded no hope of recovery, Elder Woodruff set out for Salt Lake City. Informed en route of President Taylor’s death, Wilford Woodruff recorded the following in his journal:
“Thus another President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has passed away. President John Taylor is twice a martyr. At the death of the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Carthage Jail he was shot with four balls and mingled his blood with the martyred Prophet. This was in 1844. Now in 1887 … he is driven into exile by the United States officers for his religion until through his confinement and suffering he lays down his life and suffers death. …
“President John Taylor died to day at 5 minutes to 8 o’clock which lays the responsibility and the care of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints upon my shoulders. As President of the Church or President of the Twelve Apostles, which is the presiding authority of the Church in the absence of the First Presidency, this places me in a very peculiar situation, a position I have never looked for during my life, but in the providence of God it is laid upon me.”1
Wilford Woodruff was then eighty years old. He had joined the Church in 1833 in his native Connecticut. He accompanied Joseph Smith on Zion’s Camp in 1834 and spent the next five years in dedicated and fruitful missionary service. Following his ordination to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1839, Elder Woodruff and his fellow Apostles experienced remarkable success in England. For over sixty years he meticulously kept a daily journal, which has become a source of much of the history of the Church. He ceaselessly labored all his days for the salvation of both the living and the dead.
President Woodruff was in Salt Lake City during the funeral of John Taylor but did not attend for fear of being arrested. Immediately after the services he met with the Twelve and began leading the Church, but continued to avoid any public appearances. On 9 October 1887, however, President Woodruff entered the Tabernacle for the afternoon session of general conference in company with Lorenzo Snow and Franklin D. Richards. As the Saints recognized their leader, they greeted him with applause. President Woodruff addressed them and then left before the singing, again to avoid arrest.2
The government’s crusade was by no means ended. During the next several months President Woodruff quietly conducted Church business at his home, consulting often with the other Apostles, particularly George Q. Cannon, who had been so closely associated with President Taylor. These were difficult days for President Woodruff. Church property was confiscated by the government, and some private individuals were enriching themselves at the expense of the Church.
A major event in 1888 was the dedication of the Manti Utah Temple. In 1877 President Brigham Young had dedicated the site and broken the ground for the temple. The construction of the beautiful edifice of cream-colored limestone was delayed somewhat by the government’s crusade, but the building was completed in the spring of 1888. President Woodruff noted that it “is the finest temple, best finished, and most costly of any building the Latter Day Saints have ever built since the organization of the Church.”3
Church leaders gathered in the new temple on 17 May 1888 for a private dedication, at which Wilford Woodruff offered the dedicatory prayer. Later that day he recorded in his journal: “I felt to thank God that I had lived on the earth to once more have the privilege of dedicating another temple in the Rocky Mountains unto the Most High God and I pray God, my Eternal Father, that He will protect the Manti Temple and all other temples we have built … unto His holy name that they may never go into the hands of the Gentiles, our enemies, to be defiled by them.”4 Elder Lorenzo Snow conducted public dedicatory services on 21–23 May, reading the prayer originally offered by President Woodruff. Daniel H. Wells was set apart as the first president of the Manti Utah Temple.
Two years after the death of John Taylor, the First Presidency was again reorganized. At a solemn assembly held during the April general conference of 1889, President Woodruff was sustained as the fourth President of the Church. George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith, who had served as counselors to President Taylor, were once again sustained as counselors in the First Presidency.5
From 1887 to 1890 the relationship6 between the Latter-day Saints and the United States government and its citizens continued to deteriorate. President Wilford Woodruff wrote concerning this on New Year’s Eve 1889: “Thus ends the year 1889 and the word of the Prophet Joseph Smith is beginning to be fulfilled that the whole nation would turn against Zion and make war upon the Saints. The nation has never been filled so full of lies against the Saints as to day.”7
The Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 included provisions aimed at destroying the Church as a political and economic entity. The law officially dissolved The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a legal corporation and required the Church to forfeit to the government all property in excess of fifty thousand dollars. Government officials set out immediately to confiscate Church holdings. For example, the buildings on Temple Square and other Church offices were placed in receivership and then rented back to the Church. In an attempt to stop the flow of European converts, the government dissolved the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, the chief agency for immigration. More and more Saints were stripped of their voting rights. Schools were placed under the direction of the federally appointed territorial supreme court. U.S. marshals arrested more men who were then nearly automatically sentenced to prison. Among them was President George Q. Cannon.
Although arrests and imprisonments caused families to suffer, the greatest problem for the Church was its inability to acquire and hold the funds necessary to build temples, do missionary work, publish material, and provide for the welfare of the Saints. Church leaders succeeded in getting their case before the United States Supreme Court, arguing that the confiscation of Church property under the Edmunds-Tucker Act was unconstitutional. But in May 1890 the Court upheld, in a five-to-four decision, the constitutionality of all the government had done under the Edmunds-Tucker Law. Though disappointed by the decision, there was little the Saints could do to ward off the impending economic destruction of the Church.
The gradual loss of voting rights added to the distress of the Church. The Edmunds-Tucker Act provided for the disfranchisement of anyone convicted of polygamy or unwilling to pledge obedience to antipolygamy laws. By 1890 some twelve thousand Utah citizens had been deprived of their right to vote. In Idaho, where there were several communities of Saints in the southeast portion of the state, the legislature disfranchised all believing members of the Church by requiring voters to swear that they did not belong to a church that believed in plural marriage. In February 1890 the United States Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this Idaho test oath. This decision encouraged the Saints’ opponents in Utah, who sent representatives to Washington to lobby for a similar oath for Utah citizens. The Cullom-Strubble Bill was thus introduced, and by the spring of 1890 it appeared likely to pass. This bill would have deprived all members of the Church anywhere in the nation of the basic rights of citizenship.
Throughout this difficult period, the Church had several influential advocates in the nation’s capital. These included John T. Caine, Utah’s delegate to Congress; John W. Young, former member of the First Presidency and now a railroad promoter; Franklin S. Richards, the Church’s chief attorney and son of Elder Franklin D. Richards; and George Ticknor Curtis, a non-Mormon. On occasion George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith of the First Presidency and other Church authorities also labored with politicians in Washington. Among other things, these men struggled to obtain statehood for Utah. President Grover Cleveland and his fellow Democrats were somewhat agreeable to the proposition, but their efforts were not enough to give Utah statehood before they lost power to the Republican Party in the national election of 1888.
In Utah the Liberal Party was gaining influence as many members of the Church lost their voting rights. The Liberal Party’s political crusade matched the severity of the crusade of the federal officials. Using some illegal voting tactics, the Liberal Party succeeded in gaining control of the Ogden city government in 1889. Then they turned their attention to campaigning in Salt Lake City, where an election was scheduled for February 1890. The nonmembers were helped by the decision of a United States judge that no Latter-day Saint immigrants were worthy of becoming U.S. citizens or of having the right to vote. Many Gentile (nonmember) registrars also unfairly prevented members of the Church from registering to vote.
Church leaders sought in vain to convince government officials that the charge of Mormons being disloyal to the United States was false. Church members were asked to fast on Sunday, 23 December 1889, the anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith, to implore the help of Almighty God during this crisis. In January 1890 the People’s Party, the Church’s political organization, held a rousing rally to gain support for its candidates. Nevertheless, the non-Mormons gained control over the government in Salt Lake City in the February balloting.
After this disappointing loss and the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court against them, Church leaders in the spring of 1890 searched harder than ever to find influential friends in Washington, D.C. For the previous forty years the Democratic Party had been more lenient toward the Church than had the Republicans, but the Republicans were now in power, and the Church needed friends in that party to achieve a change in government policy and avoid disaster in Utah. Through Isaac Trumbo, a prominent businessman and lobbyist from California who had been a longtime friend to the Church, the First Presidency cultivated close ties with several Republicans—Leland Stanford, senator of California; Morris M. Estee, the chairman of the Republican national convention in 1888; and James S. Clarkson, chairman of the Republican national committee. All four of these men helped the lobbying effort of the Saints in 1890.8
President George Q. Cannon made two trips to Washington, D.C., in the spring and summer of 1890. There he found several leading Republicans who were willing to cooperate with the Saints. Among these was the powerful Secretary of State, James G. Blaine, who had befriended Elder Cannon years before when Cannon was Utah’s delegate to Congress. When President Cannon returned from his second trip in June, he confided that prospects were brighter for Utah than they had been for many years.
Because so many Latter-day Saints were barred from voting, the anti-Mormon party won the Salt Lake City school election in July 1890, and with it control of secular education in the territorial capital. Before July ended, the Supreme Court ruled that children from polygamist marriages could not inherit their father’s estate. In the first week in August the anti-Mormon party won most of the elected offices in Salt Lake and Weber counties. Finally, Church leaders learned that the U.S. attorney for Utah was conducting an investigation as to whether Church property, especially the temples in St. George, Logan, Manti, and Salt Lake City, were being properly escheated as had been directed by the United States Congress. It was the end of August when President Woodruff received confirmation that the U.S. government, in spite of an 1888 agreement promising that temples would not be disturbed, was going to confiscate them.
President Woodruff, learning that he and his counselors were to be subpoenaed to testify in court regarding plural marriage, went to California to avoid confrontation. There he met with political leaders and found that, although the politicians were willing to exert what influence they could, they were ineffective when faced with the forces determined to eradicate plural marriage among the Saints.
President Woodruff wrote in his journal, within a week of his return to Salt Lake City, that after much anguish, prayer, and discussion with his counselors, he was prepared to act “for the temporal salvation of the Church.”9
President Woodruff said later that the Lord had shown him by revelation exactly what would take place if plural marriage did not cease. He was shown that the Church would suffer the “confiscation and loss of all the Temples, and the stopping of all the ordinances therein, both for the living and the dead, and the imprisonment of the First Presidency and Twelve and the heads of families in the Church, and the confiscation of personal property of the people (all of which of themselves would stop the practice); or, after doing and suffering what we have through our adherence to this principle to cease the practice and submit to the law, and through doing so leave the Prophets, Apostles and fathers at home, so that they can instruct the people and attend to the duties of the Church, and also leave the Temples in the hands of the Saints, so that they can attend to the ordinances of the Gospel, both for the living and the dead” (Official Declaration 1, Excerpts from Three Addresses by President Wilford Woodruff Regarding the Manifesto).
As the Church president entered his office the morning of 24 September 1890, he told Bishop John R. Winder and President George Q. Cannon that he had not slept much the night before. He had been “struggling all night with the Lord about what should be done under the existing circumstances of the Church. And, he said, laying some papers upon the table, ‘here is the result.’ Upon these was written what, with the exception of some slight changes, is known as the manifesto.”10 He then showed the Brethren assembled before him the document he had written. After they had approved it and prepared it for publication, President Woodruff declared that the Lord had made it plain to him what he was to do and that it was the right thing. In the Manifesto, as it was called, he stated that the Church was no longer teaching plural marriage nor permitting any person to enter into it. He expressed his intent to obey the laws of the land, which forbade plural marriage, and to use his influence with Church members to do likewise. In closing he wrote, “I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land” (Official Declaration 1).
The Manifesto was released to the nation’s newspapers the next day. It even appeared in the Washington Post, having been given to that newspaper by Utah’s territorial delegate, John T. Caine.
In the first week of October, delegate Caine informed the First Presidency in a telegram that the Secretary of the Interior had told him the government would not recognize the official declaration unless it was formally accepted by the Church’s general conference.
General conference convened Saturday morning, 4 October 1890, and lasted three days. It was on the third day of the conference that President George Q. Cannon mentioned the Manifesto and then asked Orson F. Whitney, then bishop of the Salt Lake City 18th Ward, to read the document. President Lorenzo Snow then proposed that because the Saints recognized Wilford Woodruff as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as the one who held the sealing keys, that they support the Manifesto as it had been issued by him. The vote was unanimous.
President Cannon then gave a lengthy discourse laying before the Saints the position of the Church concerning the doctrine of plural marriage. He explained that the Church had accepted plural marriage as a revelation from God binding upon them as a people and that they had endeavored to show that the law of 1862, which stopped the practice, was unconstitutional and in conflict with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. He further testified that in this view they had been sustained by some of the best legal minds in the country. President Cannon reminded the Saints of the persecution they had endured, with upwards of thirteen hundred men in the Church having gone to prison as a result of their obedience to the commandment. Even with all the pressure from government leaders, as well as some members of the Church, they had obeyed the law of God until he sent the revelation directing that the practice of plural marriage be stopped.
President Cannon concluded his remarks by testifying that the Manifesto was from God and was supported by the General Authorities. He challenged the Saints that if their faith was tried because of the Manifesto, they must do as their leaders had done, which was to go to their Heavenly Father in prayer so they might have a testimony for themselves.11
President Wilford Woodruff then closed the conference bearing testimony of the revelation that had come to him: “I want to say to all Israel that the step which I have taken in issuing this manifesto has not been done without earnest prayer before the Lord. I am about to go into the spirit world, like other men of my age. I expect to meet the face of my heavenly Father—the Father of my spirit; I expect to meet the face of Joseph Smith, of Brigham Young, of John Taylor, and of the apostles, and for me to have taken a stand in anything which is not pleasing in the sight of God, or before the heavens, I would rather have gone out and been shot. My life is no better than other men’s. I am not ignorant of the feelings that have been engendered through the course I have pursued. But I have done my duty, and the nation of which we form a part must be responsible for that which has been done in relation to this principle.”12 As President Woodruff closed his remarks, he made the following promise: “I say to Israel, the Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as president of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”13
Issuing the Manifesto14 was the important first step toward achieving reconciliation between the Latter-day Saints and the United States government. A new era of understanding began. Chief Justice Charles Zane, heretofore a harsh opponent of polygamy, adopted a more lenient attitude toward those brought before his court. Hence the raids against men with more than one wife came to an end. It was also generally understood that husbands would not be required to reject their wives or their children. After much petitioning, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison granted a limited pardon to all Mormon men who had lived in compliance with the antipolygamy laws since 1890, and in September 1894, President Grover Cleveland issued a more general amnesty. In 1893 Congress passed a law allowing the escheated property to return to the Church. The quest for Utah statehood was also renewed. Before Congress would allow this to happen, however, it required the Church to relinquish participation in politics. The Church’s party—the People’s Party—would have to be disbanded, and Utah’s citizens would have to align themselves with national political parties. The First Presidency publicly supported all these actions. Accordingly, in June 1891 the People’s Party was formally dissolved and, after some contention, the anti-Mormon Liberal Party disbanded two years later.
Establishing the national Democratic and Republican parties in Utah proved exceedingly difficult. Traditionally the Saints had leaned toward the Democratic Party because the Republicans, who had been in power most of the time since 1861, had promoted and enforced the antipolygamy legislation. Furthermore, the Democratic-appointed officials of 1885–89 had been more lenient with the Saints. Considering the political tendency of Church members and the fact that most nonmembers in Utah were Republican oriented, the First Presidency wanted to avoid the Democrats becoming another Church party.
Meetings were held with stake presidents and bishops where they were instructed to encourage more Latter-day Saints to vote Republican. This would demonstrate to national party leaders that a viable two-party system could exist in Utah. Local leaders, however, were also urged to use good sense and caution in their encouragement. Church members who were known to have strong Democratic convictions were not asked to switch parties, but those whose commitment was not particularly strong were encouraged to change. This method was effective, and by 1892 the Republican Party was strong in Utah politics.
Delicate negotiations continued for Utah statehood in both houses of Congress. Of importance to most congressmen was an assurance that the Church was sincere about stopping the practice of plural marriage and staying out of the political process. By means of astute political moves by lobbyists, primarily non-Mormon Isaac Trumbo and Bishop Hiram B. Clawson, the Utah Enabling Act was finally passed in July 1894. Throughout the rest of 1894 and in 1895, Utahns, both in and out of the Church, cooperated to produce a state constitution that achieved Congress’s acceptance. The constitution specifically prohibited plural marriage and ensured the complete separation of church and state.
On 4 January 1896, Utah finally became a state, with Heber M. Wells, son of Daniel H. Wells, as its first governor.
Throughout this arduous process of reconciliation, disagreements and misunderstandings over political matters continued among Church members. Even some General Authorities were affected as some campaigned for Democratic candidates and policies and others for the Republicans. The political issue came to a head in 1895 when Elder Moses Thatcher of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party for senator from Utah and Elder B. H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy ran for Congress from the same party. They were disciplined for accepting nominations without first consulting their Church leaders. Neither man was elected.
In April 1896 the General Authorities issued a formal statement, known as the political rule of the Church or the Political Manifesto. It emphasized the separation of church and state and the Church’s intention not to encroach upon the political rights of any citizens. The statement also added that for peace and goodwill to continue in Utah, it was inadvisable for high Church leaders “to accept political office or enter into any vocation that would distract or remove them from the religious duties resting upon them, without first consulting and obtaining the approval of their associates and those who preside over them.”15
At first, B. H. Roberts, who felt that the document abridged his political rights, refused to sign. After being reasoned with, prayed with, and worked with by his Brethren among the General Authorities, he finally signed. Elder Moses Thatcher, in spite of similar efforts in his behalf, still refused to add his signature to the document. Therefore, he was released from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, although he retained his membership in the Church. The Political Manifesto has continued to be the standard that governs the actions of the General Authorities with respect to politics.
Another important development during this period of reconciliation was the change of some of the Church’s economic policies. Most Church-owned concerns were sold to private interests or were operated under the competitive policies of private enterprise as income-producing ventures, thus fitting into the national economic pattern. Throughout the 1890s the Church continued to suffer severe economic distress owing both to temporary divestiture of Church property to the government and to the nationwide financial panic of 1893.
President Young laid the cornerstones of the Salt Lake Temple in a solemn ceremony on 6 April 1853, not quite six years after seeing the temple in vision.16 He sensed that he would not live long enough to attend its dedication. President Young had insisted on only the best materials and craftsmanship in the temple’s construction. Forty years later, after the hard work and dedication of thousands of Latter-day Saints, President Wilford Woodruff prepared himself and the Church for the dedication ceremonies.
Construction of the Salt Lake Temple had been delayed many times, but since the late 1880s the full resources of the Church were consecrated to its completion. In April 1892, President Woodruff directed the laying of the capstone in connection with general conference. The audience of fifty thousand Saints (the largest assembly to that time) filled Temple Square and adjoining streets. A march was played, after which a special temple anthem was sung by the Tabernacle Choir. A prayer was offered by President Joseph F. Smith, and the choir then sang, “Grant Us Peace.” As noon approached, President Woodruff stepped to the platform, pressed an electric button, and the capstone was lowered into position. The congregation then shouted, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna to God and the Lamb. Amen, amen, amen.” This was repeated three times, accompanied by the waving of white handkerchiefs. Then everyone sang “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning.”
The next month the Saints held a special fast, and the money saved was sent to the First Presidency to help finish the temple by 6 April 1893, the fortieth anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone. Church leaders urged the members to discipline their thoughts and lives, to disregard partisan political feelings, and to make themselves pure in all things so they would be ready to participate in the temple dedication.
As the temple with its striking architecture neared completion, it engendered considerable curiosity in Utah and throughout the nation. Prior to the dedication more than a thousand government officials and prominent businessmen and their wives were taken on a tour of the temple. Such courtesy on the part of Church leaders helped continue the good feelings that had prevailed since the issuance of the Manifesto.
On 6 April 1893, dedicatory ceremonies commenced. President Woodruff saw in the events of the day the fulfillment of a prophetic dream. He told the Saints that many years before in a nocturnal visitation Brigham Young had given him the keys of the temple and had told him to dedicate it to the Lord. In his opening remarks President Woodruff prophesied that from that time the power of Satan would be broken and his power over the Saints diminished, and there would be an increased interest in the gospel message.17
Workmen had labored day and night for weeks to prepare the edifice in time. It had been decided that dedicatory sessions would be held twice daily until every worthy member of the Church who wished to could attend. Andrew Jenson, who attended all the sessions as a recommend examiner, wrote that on the first day of the dedication “the prince of the air, as if displeased with what was going on, opened a terrible wind storm, accompanied with hail and sleet; and while the glorious services were going on inside the building, the elements outside roared with such violence and force that the like was not remembered by the oldest inhabitants of Utah. Several buildings were blown down in the vicinity of the city and much damage done throughout the valley.”18 In spite of the stormy weather, a spirit of love and harmony was felt at the first dedicatory session and at subsequent sessions held for twenty-two days and attended by more than seventy-five thousand people. Even Sunday School children were invited to a special session.
The prophet noted in his journal, “The spirit and power of God rested upon us. The spirit of prophecy and revelation was upon us and the hearts of the people were melted and many things were unfolded to us.”19 Some saw angels, while others viewed past Presidents of the Church and deceased Apostles.20 One unusual event occurred when Emma Bennett from Provo gave birth to a baby boy in the temple. A week later the child was blessed in the temple by President Joseph F. Smith and given the name Joseph Temple Bennett.21
If the dedicatory services had a theme, it was unity. Over and over speakers stressed the value of being one in the fold of the Master. Having lived through decades of bitter attacks upon the Church, anti-Mormon legislation, and partisan political conflicts, the Saints looked with anticipation toward an era of peace and harmony. Members and leaders alike had worked hard and had fasted and prayed to be able to attend the dedicatory ceremonies with bitter feelings resolved. They were successful, and said often in their sermons that the Church was now more unified than it had ever been.
The Salt Lake Temple became the symbol of the Church in many ways. Forty years of sacrifice and work, some of it the finest workmanship the Church could produce, went into the structure. Earlier Church leaders had sent Latter-day Saint artists on art missions to France where they studied under the world’s best artists so that the inside walls of the temple could be properly adorned. The Saints were now firmly convinced that their efforts had not been in vain and that the “mountain of the Lord’s house” was now raised in the tops of the mountains.
Much of the rest of President Woodruff’s life was dedicated to one of his greatest ambitions: promoting the salvation of the dead. A visionary man, he had numerous dreams about this work. In March 1894 he saw Benjamin Franklin, for whom he had been baptized and confirmed in 1877 in the St. George Utah Temple. This distinguished patriot sought further ordinances through President Woodruff, which the prophet promptly saw to in the temple. This appearance of Benjamin Franklin satisfied President Woodruff that Franklin at least had joyfully received the blessings that had come to him earlier.22
President Woodruff also prayerfully considered the ordinance of “adoption,” which had been performed for many years in the Church. It had been the custom for many members to have themselves and their families sealed to prominent Church leaders, such as Joseph Smith or Brigham Young, with the thought of being attached to these righteous families in the hereafter. In April 1894 general conference, President Woodruff announced that he had received a revelation on the subject. He was careful to point out that the revelation was consistent with principles taught by Joseph Smith. He began his talk by having President George Q. Cannon read Doctrine and Covenants 128:9–21, in which the Prophet wrote of the need for a welding link between the generations of the human family.
President Woodruff announced that it was the will of the Lord for the Saints “from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers,” thus uniting the generations through temple ordinances. Reassuringly, he then referred to Joseph Smith’s teaching that all who would have received the gospel in this life, had they heard it, would go to the celestial kingdom. He added, “So it will be with your fathers. There will be very few, if any, who will not accept the Gospel.”23
The results of this new revelation were impressive. Previously the Saints had done little genealogical work and had performed relatively few sealing ordinances. With the prophet’s urging, the Saints began tracing their genealogies as far as they could. That same year the Church established the Genealogical Society of Utah. Thus was launched one of the Church’s most enduring and productive enterprises.24
During times25 of both stress and reconciliation, the Church continued to move forward. Missionary work continued to expand, areas of settlement were widened, many new stakes and wards were organized, auxiliary programs were augmented and refined, some doctrines were clarified, increasing attention was paid to education, and anniversary celebrations were held to commemorate significant events.
Ever interested in the dissemination of the gospel, President Woodruff expanded missionary work by opening eleven new missions, some of them in the United States. Nearly three times as many missionaries were called in the 1890s as had been during the previous decade. Much of the new activity centered in the South Pacific. The Samoan Mission was formally organized in 1888, and missionaries entered Tonga in 1891. At the same time, elders were finding success among the Maori people of New Zealand, and by 1898 the New Zealand Mission was separated from the Australian Mission. Numerous South Sea islanders began emigrating to Zion. The colony of Iosepa (Hawaiian for Joseph), in western Utah’s Skull Valley, was opened in 1889 for Hawaiian members of the Church who had migrated to Utah to be near the Salt Lake Temple.
The Church also continued its missionary labors in its organized European missions, and there was some emigration, although much less than before due to the dissolution of the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company in 1887. Another telling factor in the decline of immigration to Utah was the lessening of economic opportunities in the Mormon colonies. The original purpose of immigration, to fill the region with Latter-day Saints so the kingdom could not be shaken loose again, had been fulfilled. Even with fewer immigrants, new colonies were added in western Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Alberta, Canada.
The auxiliaries of the Church continued to assess their programs and improve their efficiency as the Church expanded. In 1889 annual conferences were begun in Salt Lake City for Relief Society and Primary workers, which significantly reduced the amount of travel required of general board members. Stake representatives could now carry instructions back directly from the conferences. The Deseret Sunday School Union also convened its own annual conference, and in 1893 added Sunday School conferences in each stake. Sunday School leaders also promoted teacher training classes held at Brigham Young Academy in Provo and LDS College in Salt Lake City.
The growth of cities and the subsequent increase in the number of Saints employed outside of agriculture necessitated a reexamination of the long-standing practice of having fast day and testimony meeting the first Thursday of the month. In 1896 the First Presidency issued instructions that henceforth the Saints would observe fast day on the first Sunday of each month, following the pattern already established by the Saints in Great Britain.
Church leaders also discontinued the long-standing practice of rebaptism. Oftentimes Latter-day Saints had been rebaptized in conjunction with important milestones, such as marriage or entering the United Order or sometimes for improvement of health. These rebaptisms were recorded on Church membership records. The First Presidency grew concerned that some members were substituting rebaptism for true repentance. In 1893, stake presidents were instructed not to require rebaptism of Saints wishing to attend the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, and in 1897 the practice of rebaptism was discontinued altogether. As President George Q. Cannon explained, “It is repentance from sin that will save you, not rebaptism.”26
As the Church lost its influence over Utah’s public schools during this period, it established a program of religion classes in various ward meetinghouses after school, where religious training could take place without violating the laws governing separation of church and state. In 1888 President Woodruff directed the formation of the Church Board of Education to oversee all educational enterprises of the Church. Between 1888 and 1891 over thirty academies were started in the larger settlements of Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Canada, and Mexico. These academies provided secondary education, which emphasized classical and vocational training as well as religious instruction. One of the largest academies was Brigham Young Academy, started in 1875, which became Brigham Young University.
The year 1897 saw two significant anniversary celebrations. The first was for the ninetieth birthday of the Church’s greatly respected prophet, President Wilford Woodruff. On Sunday, 28 February 1897, the day before President Woodruff’s birthday, over ten thousand Sunday School children crowded into the beautifully decorated Tabernacle, filling even the aisles, to honor the prophet. This experience deeply touched President Woodruff. As he spoke, he told the children about when he was ten years old and attended Sunday School and read in the New Testament of apostles and prophets. He said he remembered praying that he might live to see prophets and apostles like those in the New Testament. Then he testified to the children—“sons and daughters of prophets, patriarchs and men of Israel”—that he had seen many times over the fulfillment of his humble youthful prayer.27 The next day, on the prophet’s actual birthday, celebrations were once again held in his honor, this time for the general public. Seldom had members of the Church seen such an overpowering expression of love for a leader.
The week of 24 July 1897 was set aside as a special jubilee celebration, the fiftieth anniversary of the Saints’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. This was an opportunity for the new state of Utah to display herself to the world, and enthusiasm and patriotism marked every feature of the celebration. The festivities opened with the unveiling of the Brigham Young monument before an estimated crowd of fifty thousand people. Sculptured by Cyrus E. Dallin and cast in bronze, the monument weighed over twenty tons. It still stands in the center of Salt Lake City.
The surviving twenty-four members of the original pioneer company, including Wilford Woodruff, were honored in the Tabernacle, and each of them received an inscribed gold medallion. Several parades with gorgeous floats and thousands of excited children marked the occasion, while the finest products of Utah agriculture, mining, and industry were also displayed.
In 1898, following what had become a yearly tradition, President Woodruff, accompanied by President Cannon and others, escaped the summer heat of Utah for a vacation in California. The prophet’s health, however, totally failed him, and on 2 September he passed away in his sleep in the home of Isaac Trumbo in San Francisco, California. At his funeral in Salt Lake City a few days later, President George Q. Cannon declared, “President Woodruff was a man of God. He had finished the fight and had been called hence to mingle with his brethren, and to receive his well-earned reward. He was a heavenly being. It was heaven to be in his company, and his departure from this sphere of action, robs the community of a great and good man, and one who fully merited all the blessings promised to those who remain true and steadfast unto the end.”28