Historians Meet, Share Research
July 1978

“Historians Meet, Share Research,” Ensign, July 1978, 80

Historians Meet, Share Research

About 450 fans of Church history recently flocked to Logan in northern Utah, undaunted by May snow and chilly winds, to attend the Mormon History Association’s annual meeting.

Among the many sessions—some held at Brigham City, others at Logan—was a presentation by Carol Cornwall Madsen on a gallery of Cache Valley’s “unknown” women, who quietly helped others through “the rituals of daily living, including birth and death.”

Sister Madsen also described the sisters’ whole-hearted support of Brigham Young’s call for home industry—Eliza R. Snow asked the sisters in one Relief Society congregation to rise if they were wearing homemade hats. To her delight, almost everyone was. Some studied medicine and served their sisters as obstetricians; others helped build Relief Society halls and sold handmade items in commission stores.

In another session Ronald W. Walker of the Church Historical Department, in a carefully researched paper, described the tense circumstances that threatened the Church during the nationwide Panic of 1893. The Church was deeply in debt for the Salt Lake Temple, and most of its funds were distributed between Mormon finance companies and banks so interlocked that the failure of one would pull down the others. Short-term loans at high interest were coming due soon. Cash donations to the Church almost stopped during June of 1893. On July 1, the Church could not meet its payroll. At one point that summer, the main bank handling the Church accounts had only $20,000 on hand, less than three percent of its deposits. Banks officers reported that they could probably stay open only two more days.

Heber J. Grant, then a young member of the Council of the Twelve, was able to obtain financial assistance that kept the Church functioning.

Another interesting paper examined the impact on Missouri’s 1830–33 non-Mormon communities when the Saints began arriving. Thomas P. Dunning of Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia, identified two effects: (1) the inhabitants had to articulate their self-image, now being challenged by the “outsiders,” and (2) they had to “admit their unacknowledged inner tensions.”

A paper by Douglas D. Alder of Utah State University examined a basic Latter-day Saint institution, the ward. It discussed the Mormon ward as a direct descendant of the Mormon village, that nineteenth-century community that fused “the sacred and the secular” and that still provides “instant communities” wherever they exist for Mormons newly arrived to the area or for new converts.

As part of his paper, Brother Alder traced the development of the ward from Nauvoo, where it was set up to oversee the temporal welfare of the people, to the current system of over 6,000 wards that now meet both temporal and spiritual needs.

Douglas F. Tobler of Brigham Young University’s History Department presented a “status report” of the Church in this epoch, which he termed “the age of the Universal Church.” He described it: “Immigration has ceased; colonies have been replaced by ‘multiple Zions’; conferences and leadership reflect a more cosmopolitan scene.”

“In short,” summarized Brother Tobler, “the long years in the wilderness of academic and international obscurity are drawing to a close, … giving way to a serious study of how and why Mormons in a modern world are different.”

He contrasted the vitality of the Church with the “well-known process of worldwide secularization” which has “successfully emptied cathedrals and souls,” Despite the problems and imperfections visible among Church members, Brother Tobler still sees “a sense of quiet confidence about the reality and efficacy of certain transcendent truths: that God does exist, that man has some kind of special relationship with him; that there is a timeless validity of his laws and Word; and that his larger will may be discerned in the prophetic voice.”