Leader and Role Development
Chapter Two: The Charted Course, 1936–1952

“Chapter Two: The Charted Course, 1936–1952,” By Study and Also by Faith—One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (2015)

“Chapter Two,” By Study and Also by Faith

Chapter Two

The Charted Course



As a counselor in the First Presidency, J. Reuben Clark Jr. played a key role in defining the work of religious education within the Church.

During the late 1930s the seminary and institute programs continued to grow and spread. They had overcome several challenges in the preceding years, including a threat to the legality of seminaries in 1930 and the difficult days of the Great Depression. Seminaries and institutes had become the primary vehicles for Church education, but questions still remained about the nature of these programs and their place within the Church. For example, what was the role of a corps of paid religion teachers in a Church led by prophets and apostles? Finding the right balance of faith and reason caused growing pains. Seminaries and institutes also faced the challenge of expanding along with Church membership into the wider world beyond Mormonism’s traditional mountain home. As in Church education’s infant days, the right leaders and teachers came forward to overcome each obstacle. Following in the footsteps of Joseph F. Merrill, John A. Widtsoe, Adam S. Bennion, and others, this new generation forged ahead in the face of economic crisis, rising secularism, and a world at war.

Commissioner Franklin L. West

Franklin L. West, former commissioner of Church Education in 1936.

Left to right: Elder Stephen L Richards, Commissioner Franklin L. West, and two assistant supervisors, J. Karl Wood and Joy Dunyon

When Commissioner John A. Widtsoe was released because of other responsibilities as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Dr. Franklin L. West was named his replacement on September 10, 1935. Brother West, former dean of the faculty at the Utah State Agriculture College, had served as assistant commissioner for the preceding two months and had also been the second counselor in the general superintendency of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association. Raised in Ogden, Utah, he had received a bachelor’s degree from the Utah State Agricultural College, a master’s degree from Stanford University, and a PhD in physics from the University of Chicago.1 He was described as a brilliant, dynamic man with an excellent memory.2

As the new commissioner, Brother West began his service supervising 4 institutes with 887 students and 84 seminaries with 16,848 students.3 Commissioner West and other Church Educational System leaders wanted to build students’ faith and increase their capacity to live gospel principles and understand the doctrines of the Church. In order to do this, they made a concerted effort to hire good teachers and to provide them with a strong, vibrant support system.

New Assistants

In October 1935 Commissioner West was given an assistant when M. Lynn Bennion was appointed supervisor of seminaries. Brother Bennion was a veteran seminary teacher with eight years in the classroom and was fresh from completion of a doctoral program at University of California—Berkeley. During his interview for the position, Brother Bennion had outlined some of his ideas for Commissioner West: “I told him that I would like to change the curriculum to what I called a ‘problematic’ approach to more directly relate the scriptures to the lives of the students and the kinds of problems, ideas, and concerns they were facing today. Second, I wanted to make the Old and New Testament courses nonsectarian in their teaching.”4 Under the direction of this new supervisor, “a program of student-centered instruction” was initiated and several committees worked to improve teaching procedures by experimenting with different methods. In one such experiment, “students’ desks were replaced with tables so students could work together on projects and as committees. This experiment did not prove entirely successful, and most teachers returned to using individual desks. Student committee work, however, continued, and classwork never completely reverted to the formal instruction that previously prevailed.”5

Another influential leader during the time was J. Karl Wood. In June 1940 Brother Wood accepted the appointment as acting supervisor during a leave of absence for Brother Bennion. Later Brother Wood was asked to serve as an assistant supervisor. “He brought a new dimension to instruction in the program—the use of dramatization, theme music, and special phonograph reproductions of speeches and plays.” For a time, teachers used this variety of art forms in their lessons, but in later years they were discouraged from doing so because it often distracted students from studying the scriptures.6

Improving Curriculum

In the October 1939 Relief Society Magazine, Supervisor Bennion published an article titled “The Life-Centered Approach to Religious Education,” in which he insisted that “the teaching of … our seminaries and institutes, if properly done, should be reflected in the home, school, and leisure-time experiences of youth. … There must be the right combination of discussion and doing to be effective.” He pointed out that students must see the relationship between lessons and life and said that “blessed is the teacher who can … awaken and stimulate divine forces in his students.”7 Dr. Bennion also suggested that good teachers strive to be like Christ, who “provoked [students] to think for themselves.” He remarked:

The test of our teaching … is not what an individual has learned or the theories he has evolved for himself, but what he has become through the application of truth. … Teachers in all of the educational activities of the Church should repeatedly ask themselves the questions: What is my objective in teaching this particular lesson? What is it that I would have my pupils do, or do differently than before? What information and what activities will best contribute toward the change I wish to make? … Subject matter enters the teaching process not as an end in itself but as a means of furthering and enriching present individual and social life. The first and last concern of religious teaching is the growing life of the boy or the girl.8

The scriptures had always played a pivotal role in the development of Church Educational System curriculum, and students were urged not only to master the scriptures but to let their lives reflect the principles therein. General Authorities and those appointed to lead the seminaries and institutes agreed that students should be taught doctrines and principles from the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants, as well as from Church history. The Pearl of Great Price was, for the most part, included in institute offerings but left out of seminary study. The four standard works, it could be said, were the core curriculum, and other courses were supplementary. While there was a substantial degree of unity regarding what was to be taught, educators were less certain on how best to teach the courses in order to reach their objective that each student learn the scriptures and develop sound faith.

When the numbers of seminaries and institutes were few, teachers had been given considerable latitude in developing their own lesson plans and in motivating those they taught to become true Latter-day Saints. Courses of study, as well as teacher and student texts, were created largely by the teachers with little if any input from administrators. At times secular philosophies on education were adopted, and many classes, especially those taught in institutes of religion, reflected the courses offered at the University of Chicago and other theological schools. The most influential scholars of biblical and Christian history were quoted and used for their insights and commentary on scriptural passages.

Scripture-based textbooks written by selected teachers and approved by the Board of Education were provided early in CES history, which for the most part kept everyone teaching the same material. Some of the Church’s most gifted and effective writers were teachers in the Church Educational System; Lowell L. Bennion, T. Edgar Lyon, Sidney B. Sperry, and many others wrote textbooks that proved useful for a number of years.9

In the summer of 1937 Commissioner West invited his authors to spend time at a cabin he owned in Logan Canyon. There, free from distractions, they brainstormed, composed their books, and critiqued each other’s chapters, and then late in the afternoon and evening they fished, hiked, or walked along the river. T. Edgar Lyon remembered, “Those were strenuous days. But we had a lot of fun and we did that brainstorming [and writing] for a couple or three summers.”10 Commissioner West wanted to have a course outline and a text in the hands of every teacher, which he believed would assist them in teaching only accepted Church doctrine and principles.

In 1944 the Board passed a motion that teachers who were asked to write textbooks be compensated for their work.11

Connecting the System

Week-Day Religious Education May 1937

Week-Day Religious Education was produced by the Church education department from 1937 to 1939 and featured articles on theology and pedagogy and updates on teacher assignments.

Under Commissioner West’s leadership, in 1937 seminaries and institutes began publishing a periodical called Week-Day Religious Education. In announcing the purpose of the journal, Commissioner West wrote: “It is highly desirable that the best thought and experience … should come to the attention of our teachers. In addition, this periodical should be an avenue for the exchange of ideas and experiences of our seminary men and women who are doing creative work on our curriculum and program.”12

The result was an eclectic mixture of articles covering teaching ideas, theological and historical topics, and practical concerns for seminary and institute teachers. For example, the first issue contained articles titled “Fragments on Social and Ethical Teachings of the Book of Mormon” and “Recently Discovered Poems of Eliza R. Snow,” a discussion of the pros and cons of each seminary operating its own newspaper, and an explanation on how Deseret Clubs functioned.13 The journal featured news articles about activities at different seminaries, and at the end of each school year it gave a list of all moves and new hires in the system. Teachers wrote the majority of the articles, and one section was dedicated to book and article reviews.

A Rising Tide of Secularism

One of the most troubling issues Brother West faced during his time as commissioner occurred during the latter part of the 1930s. The legal attacks on the system, higher criticism of the Bible, and changing educational philosophies during the early 1930s had begun a trend to secularize the curriculum, particularly in the courses that offered school credit. Commissioner West’s predecessors had worked tirelessly on training teachers and increasing their professionalism. Within a few years, however, the growing influence of secular approaches to religious education began to alarm Church leaders.

One example of this influence occurred during a presentation given at an institute director convention. The presenter, an institute teacher and director, “publicly questioned the historicity of the book of Jonah and the traditional authorship of the later chapters of the book of Isaiah.”14 He stated, “We ought to be governed in our judgments in internal evidence of the books themselves, and by such external evidence as may exist, rather than by mere tradition.”15 Upon hearing of the presentation, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, wrote to Commissioner West, “If the views of these men become dominant in the Church, then we may just as well close up shop and say to the world that Mormonism is a failure.”16

Leading the charge to curb the rising secularism was President J. Reuben Clark Jr., a young and energetic counselor in the First Presidency. President Clark brought a lifetime of educational and intellectual experience to the office as the first member of the First Presidency to have earned a graduate degree.17 Also, his professional background provided him with a unique perspective on the development of Church education. He had served as an assistant to James E. Talmage during the latter’s term as president of the University of Utah. Later he served as the director of the College of Southern Utah and as a member of the law faculty at George Washington University. He had also served with distinction as solicitor general of the Department of State in Washington, D.C., as undersecretary of state during the administration of Calvin Coolidge, and as the United States ambassador to Mexico from 1930 to 1933. During his years in government service, President Clark himself had wrestled with the challenges of maintaining his testimony in a secular environment.18 Coming from this background, he brought a special sensitivity regarding the dangers of emphasizing too strongly the academic side of gospel study while neglecting the Spirit.

Upon assuming his duties in the First Presidency, President Clark began, as time permitted, to make “a thorough review of curriculum materials being used in the Church schools, institutes, and seminaries. Fearing the influence of secularization,” he marked problematic phrases that seemed to weaken the divine nature of Christ.19 He also marked up his copy of the General Church Board of Education minutes, writing on an outline of religion courses that it was guilty of “fitting Jesus into modern concept, instead of making concept fit into Jesus.”20

President Clark took steps to correct the course he felt the Church educational program was following. One of his first statements came in 1937, when he spoke to a graduating class at BYU about some of the dangerous ideas circulating in society. President Clark told the students he was not concerned that “you here are infected with these ideas. … But I shall [speak of these ideas] merely by way of inoculating you against future contagion or infection. I shall do it with such soberness as an old man can muster, who has had some experience, some disillusionment, but who stands in a faith which strengthens day by day, with some vision of the beauties and glories of the Gospel and of its eternal principles.”21

J. Reuben Clark and the “Charted Course”

In 1938 President Clark delivered what has become the most influential address to seminary and institute teachers in the history of Church education. That year he accepted an invitation to speak to more than 90 seminary, institute, and BYU religion teachers who had gathered at Aspen Grove for their annual summer workshop.22 He began his message by explaining that he was addressing concerns “not newly born” but harbored for more than five years and said that he hoped to light the way that would cure “the situation which [had] developed.”23

In his address President Clark clearly identified the essential fundamentals underlying Church education. First, “the Church is the organized priesthood of God. The priesthood can exist without the Church, but the Church cannot exist without the priesthood.” Second, the Church, led by the priesthood, “is to maintain, teach, encourage, and protect, temporally and spiritually, the membership as a group in its living of the gospel. Thirdly, the Church is militantly to proclaim the truth.” This third point meant that each Church member, including seminary and institute teachers, must hold the convictions that Jesus is the Christ, 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 “the Book of Mormon is just what it professes to be,” that Church leaders receive and will continue to receive revelation from God, and that “foundation beliefs” of the Church are found in the Articles of Faith.24

President Clark insisted that “the youth of the Church, your students, are in great majority sound in thought and in spirit” and want to gain testimonies of the truth. They want to believe in the ordinances of the gospel and understand its principles and doctrines. “These students already know that they must be ‘honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and [do] good to all men’ … (Articles of Faith 1:13)—these things they have been taught from very birth. … They do not need to have a year’s course of instruction to make them believe and know them.”25 He said, “There is neither reason nor is there excuse for our Church religious teaching and training facilities and institutions unless the youth are to be taught and trained in the principles of the gospel.” President Clark also asserted, “You do not have to sneak up behind this spiritually experienced youth and whisper religion in his ears; you can come right out, face to face, and talk with him. You do not need to disguise religious truths with a cloak of worldly things; you can bring these truths to him openly.”26

In speaking about the kind of teacher needed in the Church’s educational system, President Clark expressed his belief that “no amount of learning, no amount of study, and no number of scholastic degrees can take the place of this testimony” that Jesus is the Christ and Joseph Smith is God’s prophet. “No teacher who does not have [such faith and testimony] has any place in the Church school system [and] should at once resign.” He explained that teachers must also have the moral courage to declare their testimony to the students. Each teacher must have “the courage to affirm principles, beliefs, and faith that may not always be considered as harmonizing with such knowledge, scientific or otherwise, as the teacher or his educational colleagues may believe they possess.”27 A teacher’s sole duty is “to teach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as that has been revealed in these latter days … using … the standard works of the Church and the words of those whom God has called to lead His people in these last days.”28

President Clark’s address provoked strong reactions among the teachers present. Following his discourse, he received “numerous letters of praise, gratitude, and agreement,” although a few Church educators bristled and called the address detrimental to religious freedom.29 One teacher reported a fireside conversation in which the address was called “an expression of medieval theology.”30 President Clark acknowledged the criticism himself, noting, “There has been not a little rather severe fault-finding on the part of certain groups because of the things which I said at Aspen Grove. We expect to follow through on this matter and to try to bring our Church education institutions in line therewith.”31

Seminaries and Institutes Summer Training

Most of the seminary and institute teachers in the system. Photo taken at Aspen Grove in Utah, near the time that President J. Reuben Clark Jr. delivered The Charted Course of the Church in Education.

To the vice president of the Deseret News Publishing Company, President Clark wrote, “I said a good many things … that I had been thinking for a long time, and wishing to say.”32 After reading his talk, Elder Joseph Fielding Smith wrote President Clark a letter in which he said, “I have been hoping and praying for a long time for something of this kind to happen.”33 The speech was also prominently featured in Church publications, appearing in the Deseret News, in the Improvement Era, and in pamphlet form.34

Course Corrections

President Clark’s address was only the beginning of an attempt to remedy the growing problems he discerned within the seminaries and institutes. Within a few months after President Clark’s address at Aspen Grove, Commissioner West moved to bring the seminary and institute system more into line with the teachings of the leaders of the Church. In a 1938 letter to President Clark he wrote, “I promise you that you will see marked and rapid improvement along the lines you have in mind. … I am anxious to carry forward the work as nearly as I can exactly as you would have it.”35

In January 1939 President Clark recorded in his journal a conversation with Commissioner West over the problems troubling the system:

In the course of his [Commissioner West’s] observations he spoke of the fact that as a body the institute and seminary teachers had real testimonies of the truthfulness of the Gospel. I told Brother West that I had never had a serious doubt but that the bulk of those teachers did have a testimony. I said that my own view was that their real difficulty was that they could not bring themselves to teach the doctrines of the Church because of what their non-Church member colleagues [in their academic pursuits] would say about them. I said in my judgment the real difficulty was lack of courage. I emphasized this several times during the conversation.36

Commissioner West reviewed the curriculum and on March 3, 1939, delivered to President Clark a “Preliminary Outline of Courses in Religion for Church Colleges and Institutes.” These new outlines emphasized scripture and doctrinal study and expunged such classes as social dancing, the psychology of religion, and the sociology of religion.37

In February 1940 President Clark wrote to Commissioner West on behalf of the First Presidency and addressed the concern that false doctrines were still being taught. He insisted:

Teachers will do well to give up indoctrinating themselves in the sectarianism of the modern “Divinity School Theology.” If they do not, they will probably bring themselves to a frame of mind where they will be no longer useful in our system. …

The Gospel should be spoken of as the Gospel, God’s revealed truth; it is not and must never be spoken of or treated as a “history and evolution of human ideas.” … Cumulative evidence coming to us leaves us with no alternative but to believe that some teachers (too many of them) are doubt sowers.38

The same letter said in part, “Institutes and Seminaries will hereafter confine themselves exclusively to the following work. … Fostering and promoting the work of the auxiliary organizations of the Church [and] teaching the principles of the Gospel as set out in the doctrines of the Church.” Teachers were to use the four standard works of the Church as their texts, and the First Presidency stated that “in their teaching, the teachers will use verbiage and terminology which have become classic in the Church. … Furthermore, teachers will not advance their own theories about the Gospel or Gospel principles.”39

During this time President Clark held multiple conversations with Elders John A. Widtsoe and Joseph F. Merrill, the two Apostles most involved in religious education. Following a prayer meeting in the Salt Lake Temple on March 21, 1940, he took Elders Widtsoe and Merrill aside to speak privately. President Clark’s notes from the meeting record, “Told them all the Presidency want is the gospel.40 This led to two meetings in President Clark’s office a few days later. Clark’s notes from one of these meetings with the two Apostles records the brief entry “schools—seminaries and institutes—must be brought into line.”41

The First Presidency also expressed worries that a few teachers were not living the tenets of the gospel. On April 21, 1942, the First Presidency sent a letter to the Board of Education that “culminated ten years of concern over the fact that some Church educators were not paying a full tithe.” In this missive three major principles that governed Church-paid service were explained: “First, the chief compensatory element is the opportunity of working for the cause of the Church; second, there is a permanency and security of tenure in Church-paid service; and third, financial sacrifice is always expected of one in Church-paid service.” All prospective teachers were required to have an interview with a member of the executive committee of the Church Board of Education, and it was made clear that teachers must have a firm testimony of the gospel.42

The reforms started with President Clark’s “Charted Course” helped bring religious education onto safer ground and established an important standard for future teachers and administrators. Decades later, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency emphasized the continuing importance of the address when he said, “The place I would always begin … would be to read President J. Reuben Clark Jr.’s talk ‘The Charted Course of the Church in Education.’ … He saw our time and beyond, with prophetic insight. The principles he taught, of how to see our students and thus how to teach them, will always apply in our classrooms and in the homes and families of our students and even the children of our students.”43

Growth of the Institutes of Religion

At the same time of the vital efforts led by Commissioner West, President Clark, and others to define the course of Church education, the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion program continued to grow and expand. With three successful institutes operating in Moscow, Logan, and Pocatello, education leaders looked with some anticipation to increasing that number. Under the direction of Commissioner West, the institute program became a permanent feature of the Church’s educational program near colleges and universities with large numbers of Latter-day Saint students. Institutes were financed 100 percent from general Church funds and would typically be constructed, with Board approval, when enrollment reached 90 students or more. The commissioner himself traveled throughout the Church selecting sites for institute buildings and making sure Board policies were upheld.44

In 1936 Newell K. Young was sent to Ephraim, Utah, to establish an institute for Latter-day Saints attending Snow College. Meeting in a chapel, Brother Young offered classes and watched as work progressed on a new building. He served only a year in Ephraim, and a new director, Roy A. Welker, just released as president of the German-Austrian Mission, succeeded him. President George Albert Smith, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, traveled to Ephraim and dedicated the new building there, which people immediately started using for Church, school, and community events, including wedding receptions. Seminary classes were also held in the institute. A courtship and marriage class was introduced into the curriculum and eventually was adopted for use in all the institutes of the Church. Brother Welker worked to establish a good relationship with Snow College. On one occasion several prominent non-LDS educators visiting Snow College were invited to tour and learn about the institute. According to Brother Welker, they were very impressed with what they saw and spent time discussing the scripture “the glory of God is intelligence,” which was inscribed on the institute wall.45

Beginning in 1936, Commissioner West launched efforts to establish an institute adjacent to the University of Arizona in Tucson. Alando B. Ballantyne, who was a son-in-law of Elder Joseph F. Merrill of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and a member of the faculty of the University of Arizona in Tucson, worked with Commissioner West to purchase land and raise funds to build an institute.46 In the summer of 1937, Salt Lake institute director Lowell L. Bennion was surprised by a visit from Commissioner West, who asked him to go to Tucson and open a new institute there. T. Edgar Lyon, just returning from presiding over the Church’s mission in the Netherlands, replaced Brother Bennion as director of the Salt Lake institute.47

After the Bennions arrived in Tucson, President Heber J. Grant dedicated the new building before an audience of 700 people.48 Brother Bennion said that the building, the first religious center associated with the University of Arizona, “created a good image for the Church” and was sophisticated enough to appeal to “high quality students,” many of whom “came from out of state to attend the law school.”49 Brother Bennion also taught the classes Survey of World Religions and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.50 He conducted a Sunday School, held a Mutual program, and taught a courtship and marriage class for the Mutual group, after which the young people usually danced. Soon after his arrival, at his insistence, a chapter of Lambda Delta Sigma was created, and it flourished.51 The institute building was also used by Quakers, Methodists, and the First Church of Christ. Rabbi Gumbiner offered a course in modern Jewish history there as well.52

Tuscon Arizona Institute Building

The first institute building in Tuscon, Arizona, was dedicated in 1937.

Latter-day Saint students attending college in Flagstaff were at first invited to participate in religious discussions led by A. C. Peterson, head of the school’s social science department. His pioneering efforts were so successful that in June of that same year ground was broken for an institute building that featured a chapel, lounge, library, classroom, and office.53 The courses taught there included Introduction to Mormonism, Theory and Practice in Character Education, History of the Religions of the World, and History of Christian Thought.54

The institute at Flagstaff became so popular that the director of the Newman Club, a Catholic priest, complained that the Mormons were taking over the school. Latter-day Saints held multiple student leadership positions, and four of the starters on the basketball team were members of the Church. So the institute director offered the priest the use of the building to hold classes. Eventually, the Arizona State Teachers College of Flagstaff developed a school of religion consisting of religious education programs from different churches. All of the classes were held in the Flagstaff Institute of Religion. The school of religion adopted as its motto “Cooperation without compromise.” The churches participating included the Church of the Nativity, the Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Federated Community Church, and of course, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Classes offered ranged from Courtship and Marriage, taught by the institute director, to the Making of the English Bible, taught by an Episcopal reverend. Each church representative also taught a noncredit course on the history of his individual church.55

The Thatcher institute was established in 1937. Church leaders sent Spencer L. Taggart to Thatcher, Arizona, where he served as the first director of the institute, established near Gila College, which had formerly been a Church-owned academy. Courses were offered in New Testament, Comparative Religions, Mormonism and the Modern World, and Courtship and Marriage.56 In addition, Brother Taggart organized a Latter-day Saint student choir. He also secured a spot on the local radio station, KGLU, and produced a weekly program featuring his choir and the spoken word.57

In 1938 the institute in Laramie, Wyoming, received national news coverage—perhaps the program’s first. Daryl Chase, the institute’s second director, entertained a correspondent for the Christian Century magazine, who wrote a very flattering article about the institute titled “Religion Returns to the Campus.”58 Brother Chase also organized a chapter of Lambda Delta Sigma on campus and invited the president of the University of Wyoming to be the principal speaker at the initiation ceremonies. Representatives of the various churches in Laramie were also invited. The installation banquet was followed by a dance, and one reporter wrote, “No one present went home that evening believing … that religion is dead among American university students.”59

Commissioner West announced on April 23, 1941, that Asahel D. Woodruff had been appointed director of a new institute in Ogden, Utah, and that a new building was being constructed. Classes began in the fall of 1941 and were held in Weber College classrooms while the colonial-style building was being finished.60 By 1950 the Ogden program had grown so rapidly that construction began on a new building. The construction was briefly delayed when Utah governor J. Bracken Lee proposed a bill that would transfer Weber College from state control back to the Church, but it continued when the bill failed to pass. The new building was completed in 1956.61

In 1931 Church leaders had assigned Vernon F. Larson to supervise an institute program at LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, staffed by part-time instructors who taught only one or two classes a day. The program grew, and in 1942 William E. Berrett took over as the director of religious studies at the college and had more than 200 students enrolled in his classes. By 1948 there were enough students to require a full-time director.62 Alfred C. Nielsen was appointed to that position, though he continued to teach accounting part-time at the school.63

In 1937 when Commissioner West received a petition signed by 102 students requesting the establishment of an institute at Arizona State University in Tempe, he directed the establishment of a Deseret Club at the university and authorized a teacher at the nearby Mesa seminary to begin teaching several religion classes in 1939. The institute was permanently established in 1945, when George A. Boyd arrived as its first director. Brother Boyd introduced Lambda Delta Sigma to the institute and combined it with the Deseret Club. Without a building, he taught classes wherever he could find a suitable location.64 After a search, Church leaders located a piece of property where an aging local businessman operated a “beer garden,” or outdoor bar. Church leaders quickly purchased the lot, in spite of what they saw as an exorbitant price. Commissioner West later wrote about the location, “The initial price was high, but I feel that the value of an institute in this location in the years to come will be priceless.”65 A completed institute building opened in 1950 and was dedicated by President Joseph Fielding Smith.66

Throughout the remainder of Commissioner West’s tenure, more institute programs were launched. In 1946 an institute was started at Berkeley, California, near the University of California, and a languishing Deseret Club was reorganized. Following the war, more than 150 Latter-day Saint students studied at the University of California at Berkeley. The Grigsby Mansion, purchased from the mother of famous newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, was renovated to serve as the institute. President Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated the building on October 14, 1946.67 A chapter of Lambda Delta Sigma became an integral part of the institute when the two programs merged in 1965. Social highlights of that year included a scenic cruiser ride in San Francisco Bay, a leadership conference, a fall formal, and a “spiritual conference on Temple Hill.” The institute also created a lecture series featuring noted Mormon scholars.68

Student Organizations

Besides the study of religion, institutes provided opportunities for social interaction, service activities, and talent development. For many years singing groups had been an integral part of the institute program. As early as the late 1940s a choir was organized at the Logan, Utah, institute with Elbert Johnson as director. W. H. Terry, a local music teacher, led this choir from 1951 to 1953.69 Beginning in 1950, John Marlowe Nielsen directed a 50-voice chorus at the Salt Lake City institute.70

Delta Phi Fraternity

In 1937 Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles became the national president of the Delta Phi fraternity, taking the place of Levi Edgar Young of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Under Elder Widtsoe’s leadership, the organization’s constitution and membership ceremonies were revised and an attractive handbook was published.71 An effort to give greater attention to rules and goals and to provide written direction for accepting and initiating members resulted in more consistency in the various units. As outlined in the 1938 constitution, the purposes of the organization were “to keep ever paramount in lives of members ‘the high and worthy ideals of manhood which become a servant of the Master,’” “to promote educational, cultural and social developments of members,” and “to uphold ideals and promote interests of the schools which harbor its chapters.”72

The process of joining the group was outlined, which included giving at least six months of Christian missionary service, attending college for at least one quarter, being of a “congenial disposition,” and having a “sense of responsibility.” After nomination by an active member, prospective members were voted on by secret ballot and only those who were unanimously accepted were allowed to join. To continue as members, individuals had to pay dues and have good conduct, and if they missed three meetings in a row they could be suspended. Members were to greet each other as “Brother” and show allegiance to the fraternity by wearing their pins in the prescribed place.73

In 1939 Delta Phi began a tradition of choosing an annual “Dream Girl.” To choose the first dream girl, the BYU chapter allowed the entire campus to vote. The students chose Ruth Stout, a student from Moab. The event started a tradition that soon spread to other chapters.74

From 1943 through 1944, on occasion some “A” chapter Delta Phis from Utah State Agricultural College stepped in as substitutes for seminary teachers. They were also known for other good works such as promoting enrollment at the institutes. A lot of teasing and good times followed Delta Phi members on campus. They were recognized for their derby hats and Phi Kappa ties and for swinging their canes. Their Texas drawls, receding hairlines, and frequent visits to the institute also marked their identities.75 At BYU, Crawford Gates, a musician from California who would become a noted composer of LDS music, directed a Delta Phi chorus of 30 voices that performed in a number of school assemblies, campus functions, and sacrament meetings.76

Students associated with LDS Student Organizations

A group of students associated with the LDS student organizations at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, 1944

The organization now called itself a national fraternity and had officers who presided over all units. The Ricks, Weber, and Cedar institutes organized chapters, and a holding company was created so the chapters could own property.77 Arizona State’s group was nicknamed the “T” chapter for Tempe, the town where the university was located. Occasionally, chapters tried to bring campus practices up to their ideals. For instance, tired of breathing secondhand smoke, the “I” chapter proposed a ban on smoking in college classrooms at Idaho State. The university trustees passed the measure, but the administration vetoed it. The “I” chapter also assisted in maintaining the institute grounds.78

In 1951 the first national convention was held for the nine chapters in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona. Forty-one officers and delegates gathered in Salt Lake City. After the meetings a dinner and dance were held in the Saltair Resort Pavilion on the shore of the Great Salt Lake.79

Lambda Delta Sigma

The LDS fraternities and sororities under the banner of Lambda Delta Sigma continued to serve and build strong leaders. With many of the young men drafted during the Second World War, the girls did their part by “‘knittin’ for Britain,’ roll[ing] bandages at the Red Cross, or [dancing] with soldiers at the USO” in the University of Utah fieldhouse. They joined work parties that “cleaned and painted houses for needy neighbors” and sewed nightgowns for patients in the Primary Children’s Hospital.80 By 1947 membership of Lambda Delta Sigma had reached 2,500.81

Lamba Delta Sigma Installation Ceremony

This photo shows a Lamba Delta Sigma installation ceremony held January 22, 1939.

Deseret Clubs

In the 1930s a number of Deseret Clubs were organized, including a few at high schools. In 1932 a Deseret Club was organized at the University of California at Los Angeles. After they learned of the success of Deseret Clubs in Southern California, in 1936 John A. Widtsoe and Commissioner West created a Deseret Club for the Latter-day Saint students attending the University of California at Berkeley as well. Deseret Clubs also flourished on the campuses of the University of Southern California and a few junior colleges in the area. In many ways the Deseret Clubs were the forerunners of institute work in California.82

Growth of the Seminary Program

While the growth of the institute program remained fairly steady, the 1930s and ’40s contained ups and downs for the seminary program. During the 1930s seventeen new seminaries opened, but five seminaries closed because of the inability to find qualified teachers during the Depression and war years.83 In 1939 three new seminaries—in Idaho Falls, Idaho; St. George, Utah; and Mesa, Arizona—were dedicated by Elder Charles A. Callis, President Heber J. Grant, and Elder Melvin J. Ballard, respectively. These one-story structures each had two classrooms, two offices, and a reception-library area.84

In the same year, as it was the responsibility of ward members to fund local seminaries, members in Murray, Utah, representing the First, Second, and Grant Wards, joined together to raise money to construct a seminary that would serve students attending Murray High School. A day-long fundraiser celebration on August 9 featured a parade, an election of a queen, a flag ceremony, a band concert, and sporting events, all under the slogan “The pioneers built an empire; we can build a seminary.”85 Then in March of 1940, students in Parowan, Utah, gathered to listen to Elder John A. Widtsoe, former Commissioner of Education, as he dedicated their new seminary the same day he dedicated the Cedar City, Utah, institute.86 The immediate postwar years saw another surge in the growth of the seminaries, with 17 new seminaries opened during the decade, bringing the total number to 109.87

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion in Hawaii

As the number of seminaries grew in the Intermountain West, Church leaders began to look for ways to expand the program to reach youth living elsewhere. The first seminary program started outside the continental United States began in the U.S. territory of Hawaii and grew from local demand for more religious instruction for youth. The political climate in Hawaii was favorable to weekday religious instruction: the territorial legislature had already stipulated that released time from school be allowed one hour per week for “religious education classes taught by the denomination of [students’] choice.”88

The first record of Latter-day Saint missionaries holding classes under this law was in the school year of 1938–39 on the islands of Hawaii and Maui. Missionaries from the Hawaiian and Japanese missions and volunteers from the Oahu Stake started 31 religion classes in Hawaii in the fall of 1940. The number increased to 85 by the end of the school year with an average overall attendance of 1,468 students, about half of which were not then members of the Church. Officials of the Oahu Stake and the two Hawaii missions urged Church officials visiting the islands to appoint a full-time director of religious education for the territory of Hawaii.89

In August 1941 the Church Board of Education approved Commissioner West’s recommendation that an official seminary program be started in the Hawaiian Islands to give supervision to existing religion classes. In November of that year Alfred C. Nielsen was approved to direct the institute of religion near the University of Hawaii and to supervise other educational programs in the islands. Unfortunately, two weeks after Nielsen’s arrival, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor caused schools to close until February 1942 and threw the religious education program into disarray.90 The war took away many of the missionaries used as teachers in the program, but Nielsen somehow filled most of the teacher slots with volunteers. In the summer of 1945, Brother Nielsen was replaced by Frank McGhie, who continued the supervision of all religion classes.91

In 1948 the United States Supreme Court, in the famous McCollum case, struck down using schoolrooms for religious education and granting released time for religion classes when public school facilities were used or public funds were involved. Almost immediately after this decision, the commissioners of Hawaii’s schools moved to end all religious education classes associated with public schools. The commissioners eventually compromised, allowing the use of school classrooms for thirty minutes at the end of each school day, but many students chose to leave for home rather than stay after for classes, and the seminary program was seriously curtailed. The decision effectively brought released time in Hawaii to an end, and Brother McGhie was recalled to the mainland. He returned in 1953 to launch the early-morning seminary program in Hawaii.92

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion in Canada

The first seminary class in Canada began in 1948 in the small Latter-day Saint community of Cardston, Alberta. W. S. Redd, a World War II veteran, was asked to serve as the first principal and teacher and spent the summer before the program opened studying in Provo in preparation. Commissioner West personally visited Cardston to make the necessary arrangements for the class with the local leadership.93 Because they lacked a seminary building, classes were held in the library of the local high school.94

A local newspaper complimented the students the following year, writing, “The outstanding factor in this success has been the determination of the students of Cardston High School to find out for themselves, what is contained in the stories of the scriptures. They have sought to apply the principles involved to present day living. They have attempted to train themselves for service and have found joy therein.”95 With seminary off to a successful start in Cardston, the following year seminary classes began in the nearby communities of Glenwood and Hillspring. At the same time, the first early-morning seminary class in Canada began in Mountain View with Julia Nelson as the teacher.96

In 1952 the first institute outside the United States was started at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This institute came about as a result of a group of LDS students at the University of Alberta forming a club in order to play intramural basketball. The group, which initially had 30 members, held regular study classes. With encouragement from several members of the community, including branch president N. Eldon Tanner (who later became a member of the First Presidency), approval was given to begin construction of an institute. The first classes began in October 1952, before the building was completed. The institute was dedicated a year later by President Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The LDS club was appointed to carry out the institute’s social program and immediately faced a challenge: the ratio of men to women at the University of Alberta was seven to one. To remedy the situation, the institute’s constitution was amended to allow local noncollege women to participate in institute programs.97

American Indian Seminary

Formal Latter-day Saint seminaries for American Indian students began at the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah, in 1949, though the desire to bring religious education to American Indians stretched back to the beginnings of the Church. As early as 1828, a revelation was given to Joseph Smith reminding him of the importance of the Book of Mormon to the Lamanites and the need for it to be taught to them: “And for this very purpose are these plates preserved … that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers, and that they might know the promises of the Lord, and that they may believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ.”98

After World War II, the United States government decided to convert the Bushnell General Hospital in Brigham City, Utah, into an off-reservation dormitory school for young American Indians. The first year, 600 Navajo students attended, of which only 6 were members of the Church. The next year the number of Latter-day Saints increased to 17. Not concerned about the small number of prospective students, priesthood leaders assigned J. Edwin Baird of the Box Elder Stake presidency and Boyd K. Packer, a seminary teacher and high councilor from the North Box Elder Stake (who later became a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and eventually President of the Quorum of the Twelve), to develop a program to address the spiritual needs of these young people.99 President Packer remembered a meeting in Brigham City in which President George Albert Smith had spoken on the need to help the American Indian people. President Smith had called on the gathered listeners to reach out to the newly arrived students, stating, “You now have an opportunity to make another development on your own part by reaching out and doing what you can to help these children who are coming among you, and to do what you can to help them grow up to be good men and women. … That is your opportunity and the Lord will bless you for it.”100

President Smith’s speech electrified Boyd K. Packer, who was sitting in the audience.101 The Indian seminary program grew out of the efforts of Brothers Baird and Packer, who worked to bring religious education to young American Indian Church members throughout the United States. Over the next decade, 16 different Indian seminaries opened across the country.102

The Beginnings of Early-Morning Seminary

Although the law in Hawaii had provided an opening for the seminary program there, Commissioner West still struggled to find a way to take seminary to the Latter-day Saint populations in other areas outside the Intermountain West. Ironically, he was also struggling to bring seminary to the youth closest to Church headquarters. Released time for seminary was not allowed in Salt Lake City, delaying the establishment of programs there. Finally, in 1929, the first seminary in Salt Lake City limits began at East High School, with classes held early in the morning before school began.103 Throughout the 1930s local Church members continually made attempts to persuade the Salt Lake school board to allow released time in the city schools. By the early 1940s a fierce political battle raged in Salt Lake City over students’ right to be released from school for seminary. In 1943 the Salt Lake City Board of Education passed a resolution permitting released time for religious instruction. An advertisement appearing in both the Salt Lake Tribune and the Salt Lake Telegram in June 1943 urged “all clear-thinking American citizens, whether Mormon, Catholic, Jew, Protestant, or any other religious group” to attend a meeting of the Salt Lake school board and “PROTEST! PROTEST! PROTEST!” a new law authorizing released time within the school district.104

This resolution was of little consequence anyway: the board required 18 credits for graduation from Salt Lake City high schools. Because the schools had only six periods per day for each of the three high school years and because no credit was given for seminary classes, students could not take seminary classes during regular school hours and fulfill graduation requirements. Therefore, classes continued to be held before school began. Ironically, the lack of released time in the Salt Lake district eventually set the pattern for taking the seminary program to the rest of the nation.105

While Commissioner West took steps to bring seminary to new areas, he also cautioned teachers to be careful not to cross the boundaries between church and state. On March 31, 1948, Commissioner West sent a circular to all seminary personnel noting that an Illinois high school principal (not a Latter-day Saint) had gotten into legal difficulties for using a school classroom during school hours to give students religious instruction. In an effort to protect teachers and the Church’s educational system from lawsuits, administrators in the 1940s warned teachers to avoid entanglements with the public schools.106


An early-morning seminary class held at West High in Salt Lake City, Utah, circa 1942

Commissioner West also reminded the seminary teachers of the rules that had been approved. Seminary teachers, he wrote, were not allowed to join any high school committees. They could attend faculty meetings only if invited but were not allowed to vote, participate in discussions, or express opinions unless the principal of the high school asked them to do so. Photographs of seminary activities were not permitted in yearbooks or on the pages of the school newspaper, nor could classes be listed in the school catalog. Seminary teachers could not recruit seminary students on school grounds, and no seminary classes could be held in the high school. Truancy from seminary was to be worked out with students’ parents, not with school officials. Seminary teachers were not to request students’ time other than for their individual released-time classes. The seminary was not to sponsor high school assemblies nor Christmas or Easter programs if they were held on school property. Seminary graduation exercises were not to be conducted in high school auditoriums or gyms. Seminary teachers were required by contract and their own integrity to maintain the separation of church and state.107

Parents were to submit signed requests for released-time privileges to the high school principal each year, and any flagrant violations of these privileges were to be discussed with school officials, who could legally suspend a student’s right to leave the campus and attend seminary.108

Early-Morning Seminary in Southern California

By 1940, Church membership on the Pacific Coast of the United States was increasing, and Church leaders considered providing seminary classes there similar to the ones in Utah. On December 18, 1941, G. Byron Done, the institute director at the University of Southern California, wrote to Commissioner West to tell him that several high schools in Southern California had enough Latter-day Saints to justify opening seminaries. The key issue was whether the students could receive released time for seminary, and until that issue was settled, they could only continue to participate in Deseret Clubs at high schools where the principals allowed the Church to use the buildings. Throughout the 1940s Church leaders attempted to gain state approval for released-time programs but with little success. By 1950 the local leadership, recognizing the need for a seminary program, decided to appeal directly to Church headquarters for a solution.109


Marion D. Hanks, a young attorney, taught early-morning seminary in Salt Lake City, Utah, pioneering the use of the Book of Mormon. He was later called as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.

During the April 1950 general conference, 10 stake presidents from the Los Angeles area met with Elder Joseph Fielding Smith to discuss the possibility of establishing some kind of seminary program for the youth in their areas. E. Garrett Barlow, president of the Inglewood Stake, recalled, “We were acquainted with seminary on a released-time basis, … and out of our experience came a desire to do something. … Our young people were scattered all over the area. They were in many high schools … in the minority … and needed something that they could rally to, more than Sunday services.”110

Subsequently, the board discussed the possibilities of seminaries in California with Commissioner West, who was aware that early-morning classes at Salt Lake City high schools had been offered over the years with varying degrees of success. One very successful class at West High School in Salt Lake City, taught by a young University of Utah law school graduate named Marion D. Hanks, had more than 60 participating students. Brother Hanks’s class, which used the Book of Mormon as the text, proved to be very popular with the students. Commissioner West went to Brother Hanks’s office and asked him what he was doing. “He told him he was teaching an early morning [seminary] class. ‘How many come?’ asked West. ‘Sixty,’ said Brother Hanks. ‘What do you teach them?’ asked West. ‘Book of Mormon,’ Brother Hanks said. ‘How do you teach it?’ West asked. ‘I just open up the book, we read and discuss what we read.’ ‘How many come each day?’ asked West. ‘All of them,’ Brother Hanks said.” The commissioner left, carrying his amazement with him. In the early spring he asked Marion D. Hanks to move to Southern California and establish an early-morning seminary program there.111

Ray L. Jones

Ray L. Jones pioneered the first early-morning seminary programs outside the Intermountain West.

When Brother Hanks was unable to accept because he had prior commitments, Commissioner West asked Ray L. Jones, a seminary principal in Logan, if he would consider traveling to California to start the program. Comfortable in his current assignment and settling into a newly purchased home, Brother Jones also expressed doubt that he should be the man to start the program. Commissioner West was anxious for him to accept the assignment and suggested that Brother Jones might leave his family in Logan and simply “commute” periodically to Los Angeles. Brother Jones finally consented to pray about the question. After spending some time in contemplation, Brother Jones decided to give up his home in Logan and move permanently to Los Angeles to launch the program.112

Brother Jones next sought guidance from Commissioner West about how to carry out his duties. His recollection of their conversation highlights the highly experimental nature of the program:

In what areas are classes to be organized? His response: I don’t know, you’ll have to determine that after you get to Southern California.

Where will the classes be held? His response: I don’t know, perhaps in the living room of a private home, in rented halls or if you find the need we could provide a mobile classroom that could be moved from campus to campus.

Who will teach these classes? His response: I don’t know, you’ll have to make that decision after you get acquainted with the area and the people.

When should the classes be held? His response: I don’t know. Many high schools are on double session and you may have to settle for getting students together for twenty to thirty minutes in the morning, or for a half hour after school in the afternoon.113

With only a vague notion of how to launch the new venture, Ray L. Jones embarked for Southern California.

The Church did not provide funds for his travel, so Brother Jones secured transport to Southern California by hiring on as a “drover” on a cattle train transporting livestock from Utah to California. His only wages were a ride to California and a ride back to Utah. He made the first of several trips to California in May 1950. His first two trips produced few results because he was unable to meet with the majority of the stake presidents, who were caught up in negotiations over the purchase of a new Church welfare farm. Frustrated, Brother Jones called Commissioner West for reinforcement.114

Commissioner West used his leadership connections to solicit aid from Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who was in Los Angeles to announce the purchase of the welfare farm. In the meeting to announce the purchase, Elder Lee took five minutes to forcefully encourage the implementation of the seminary program. “Unless we teach our youth the principles of the gospel,” he stated, “there will be no need for Welfare work and other Church activities.”115 With the assistance of the institute director, G. Byron Done, Brother Jones was able to secure some sites where classrooms could be rented.116

The rest of the summer of 1950 found Brother Jones engaged in frantic preparations for the program’s initiation. He moved his family to Los Angeles, met with local leaders to sell the program, and worked out the numerous details before the launch in September. The first step was to organize a board of education with Pasadena stake president Howard W. Hunter (who later became President of the Church) as its presiding officer. The new regional board of education identified potential seminary classes in six stakes: Los Angeles, Inglewood, South Los Angeles, Pasadena, San Fernando, and East Los Angeles.117 Since only a comparative few Latter-day Saint students were attending any one high school or junior high school, classes would have to be established to serve students from several schools. To work out the logistics, Brother Jones began meeting with parents and leaders. When speaking about these meetings, he noted the following: “As we met with parents we talked about the different problems. One of them was, when can we meet? As we looked at the schedule the only time when we could get the students and teachers together, since we were using teachers who were regularly employed, would have been early in the morning or late evening. … So the only time that was really reasonable was before school in the morning.”

When Brother Jones presented the idea of holding seminary in the early hours of the morning, his proposal was met with skepticism. “When we talked about that with the parents, they just shook their heads and said, ‘It will never work. We can’t get our kids to school on time at 8 o’clock in the morning. And you want us to get them there at 6:30 or 6:00 in the morning! It will never work!’”118 Still, Brother Jones pressed ahead.

Faced with difficulty in teacher selection, location, and student recruitment, Brother Jones found innovative solutions to each of his problems. He chose not to have individuals simply called by local bishops to teach the classes, feeling that such a practice might result in those who lacked sufficient interest or ability filling the positions. Instead, positions were filled through recruitment and local advertising, allowing qualified Church members to apply and compete for positions. Brother Jones interviewed each applicant, but local priesthood leaders made the final decisions and appointments. At first only two qualified teachers could be found, with Brother Jones and Church education employees taking the rest of the classes. One of the local stake presidents, E. Garrett Barlow, noted the struggle to find good teachers: “It was very important that we had the right teachers. It wasn’t a matter of paying. … It had to be a person who would have done it joyfully, without money. … We had to find those dedicated types of people. This was a very challenging thing in some areas. But very successfully met … in most cases.” Teachers received a small salary, differentiating the positions from regular, nonpaid Church assignments.119

Early Morning Seminary Class San Diego California 1955

An early-morning seminary class in San Diego, California

Next, classroom space was found in local Church meetinghouses. Brother Jones insisted that the classes be held in the Relief Society rooms, generally the nicest room in the building. When some members protested, Brother Jones responded, “What are you communicating to your kids? … I think we need an image that seminary is important. It is equally important, if not more important than high school.”120 Brother Jones took the same attitude toward the curriculum and designed it to be as thorough and vigorous as the students’ high school courses. He noted, “We started out with the understanding that the students would be expected to study Church History just as thoroughly as they would any other high school subject. It would be just as rigorous. They would have periodic examinations, they would have class assignments, and would be expected to meet our criteria.”121 Some members voiced opposition to this, feeling that the classes should be easier to allow students to devote their time to their high school studies. Jones noted, “This feeling was primarily among the parents. The students voiced no objection to it. Yes, it added an additional burden to them, additional time to their school day, but there were not any complaints from students that I can recall.”122

When the program launched in September 1950, just five months after the stake presidents had met with Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, it had an enrollment of 195 students in seven classes. In general the students responded enthusiastically to the program. Ina Easton, a local member, recalled, “It wasn’t the teacher. It was the attitude and the beauty of the young people. They wanted seminary to be good, and it was good. … Most parents and Priesthood leaders were very supportive, but the kids really carried the program.”123

Priesthood leaders gave the program high marks as well. Stake President Barlow spoke about the benefits to not just his own family but his entire stake:

I knew what it was doing to my own family, and I had a testimony of the greatness of it from the very beginning. … I feel in my own feelings, I’ve always felt, that the seminary program was inspired of the Lord, and the early morning program that fit into the only way we could do it down here, was given to us. We wondered how to do it; this idea came and it worked because of the dedication of hundreds of parents and a great group of dedicated teachers and high councilors, bishops and Priesthood bearers. … It created an identity for the LDS students on the campuses of high schools. It gave them a little strength to say “yes” and “no,” and know why they were doing it.124

Evaluating the success of early-morning seminaries at the end of its first year, Brother Jones wrote to Commissioner West, “We have operated the program this year on an experimental basis and I believe have satisfactorily demonstrated that the Seminary program can be carried on very successfully in this area. As I have indicated to you in previous letters there seems to be every indication that we could place 50 or more teachers in this area next year and still hardly scratch the surface of future possibilities.” He was right about the potential of the program. By the end of five years, the program had grown to include almost 2,500 students in 90 classes.125

The following table shows how seminary grew in Southern California from 1950 to 1954:126


Number of Classes

Total Enrollment

Percent Average Attendance

















The early-morning program in Southern California established a whole new model for Latter-day Saint education. Previous ventures into early-morning religion classes were seen as only temporary deviations from the standard of released-time seminary. The work of Ray L. Jones and his colleagues in Southern California established a seminary model that could be adapted to meet the needs of LDS students wherever enough of them lived, even if there weren’t enough at any one high school to justify a released-time program. Youth from several different schools could meet together. From simple beginnings in the six stakes of the Los Angeles area, the program spread to become one of the most important delivery methods for Church education today.

Improving Teacher Benefits

Another effort undertaken by Commissioner West and his assistants was to increase the professionalism of the teachers. Along with this push to increase the scholarship of the teachers, Commissioner West also worked to improve their financial situation. While the economic conditions of the Church had improved with the end of the Great Depression, teaching seminary or institute was still a great sacrifice for many. President Boyd K. Packer, who began teaching full-time in 1949, remembered, “During the early days of this program there were great spiritual opportunities but little material security. There was virtually no provision for retirement. For instance, the salaries in those very early days of the seminary program were on a bare subsistence level. … There were times when [the teachers] couldn’t expect to receive their pay on time. The fringe benefits then were all spiritual.”127

These difficulties were addressed by Abel S. Rich, a principal who had been involved with the seminary program almost from its beginning and who at this point had a distinguished teaching career. He was also a leading citizen in the community of Brigham City, Utah, serving as president of South Box Elder Stake, as the town mayor (twice), as a county commissioner, and as a school board member.128 On one occasion Brother Rich encountered a fellow teacher who had retired from seminary several years earlier and was working as a janitor in a saloon. “He did that,” President Packer recalled, “to accommodate a basic, physical frailty: he needed to eat three meals a day! He was doing the best he could with really nothing to live on.” Concerned over his friend’s plight, Brother Rich arranged for his wife to take his classes for the day and traveled to Church headquarters. President Packer remembered, “Brother Rich himself needed no retirement funds because he had developed some land into a prosperous dry farm. He was the one man free to speak about adequate retirement without appearing to be self-serving.”129

Abel S. Rich, one of the earliest seminary teachers.

Abel S. Rich was one of the first seminary teachers, serving at Box Elder seminary in Brigham City, Utah, beginning in 1915. Before he retired he trained a young teacher named Boyd K. Packer.

When Brother Rich arrived in Salt Lake, he went directly to Elder Joseph F. Merrill, former Commissioner of Education and longtime advocate of the seminary program. Elder Merrill listened carefully. When he asked Brother Rich about his retirement package, Brother Rich responded that if he could get all of his retirement in a lump sum and spend it all at once, he might be able to buy his wife a nice box of chocolates. Elder Merrill phoned Commissioner West, telling him, “Brother Rich is in my office. … I’m going to send him over to see you, and I want you to listen to him.”130

Spurred on by Brother Rich’s request and the pleas of others, Commissioner West looked for ways to improve retirement benefits.131 With the encouragement of his staff, he laid the groundwork for teachers to participate in the federal government’s social security program. On February 16, 1951, the Church Board of Education passed his proposal regarding social security and sent it on to the First Presidency. Not content, Commissioner West went directly to President David O. McKay and won his personal approval. He also received approval for an annuity program, which greatly enhanced the retirement package of both teachers and administrators.132

The Highest Peak in Education

As the Church reached the middle of the twentieth century, the Latter-day Saint seminaries and institutes were, for the most part, “localized institution[s] in the west.”133 Under the leadership of Commissioner Franklin L. West, enrollment grew to 34,467 seminary students and 4,555 institute students.134 While most of these students lived in Utah, with the launch of early-morning seminaries in Southern California the way was being prepared for a major expansion of the programs beyond Utah’s borders in the coming decade.

Perhaps even more important, during this period religious education within the Church began to discover its own unique voice. President J. Reuben Clark’s “Charted Course” address and the standards set up by Commissioner West would guide the teachers and administrators in the system forward. Challenges remained, but those involved with the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion program now had a stronger sense of its mission in the Church and the world. President Clark’s words illuminated the purpose of religious education as it moved into the future:

You teachers have a great mission. As teachers you stand upon the highest peak in education, for what teaching can compare in priceless value and in far-reaching effect with that which deals with man as he was in the eternity of yesterday, as he is in the mortality of today, and as he will be in the forever of tomorrow. Not only time but eternity is your field. Salvation of yourself not only, but of those who come within the purlieus of your temple is the blessing you seek, and which, doing your duty, you will gain. How brilliant will be your crown of glory, with each soul saved an encrusted jewel thereon.135Notes

  1. See “Dr. Frank L. West Chosen Church Commissioner of Education,” Deseret News, Sept. 10, 1935, 1.

  2. See Roy A. West, interview by William G. Hartley, Mar. 26, 1974, 11, James Moyle Oral History Program, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  3. See “Dr. Frank L. West Chosen Church Commissioner,” 1, 3.

  4. Recollections of a School Man: The Autobiography of M. Lynn Bennion (1987), 95.

  5. William E. Berrett, A Miracle in Weekday Religious Education (1988), 63.

  6. Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 63.

  7. M. Lynn Bennion, “The Life-Centered Approach to Religious Education,” Relief Society Magazine, Oct. 1939, 657–58.

  8. Bennion, “Life-Centered Approach to Religious Education,” 658–60.

  9. See T. Edgar Lyon, interview by Davis Bitton, Jan. 13, 1975, 142, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  10. Lyon interview, 143.

  11. See West interview, 25.

  12. Franklin L. West, “The Purpose of ‘Week-Day Religious Education,’” Week-Day Religious Education, vol. 1, no. 3 (Dec. 1937), 1.

  13. See Week-Day Religious Education, vol. 1, no. 1 (Mar. 1937), 1, 3, 6, 7.

  14. Casey Paul Griffiths, “The Chicago Experiment: Finding the Voice and Charting the Course of Religious Education in the Church,” BYU Studies, vol. 49, no. 4 (2010), 106.

  15. “Criteria for Interpreting the Old Testament to College Youth,” Through the Years: Occasional Writings of Heber C. Snell (1969), 95–97, in Griffiths, “The Chicago Experiment,” 106.

  16. Joseph Fielding Smith letter to Franklin West, Mar. 11, 1937, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, in Richard Sherlock, “Faith and History: The Snell Controversy,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 12, no. 1 (Spring 1979), 27.

  17. See Scott C. Esplin, “Charting the Course: President Clark’s Charge to Religious Educators,” The Religious Educator, vol. 7, no. 1 (2006), 103–5.

  18. See Frank W. Fox, J. Reuben Clark: The Public Years (1980), 429–35.

  19. Ernest L. Wilkinson, ed., Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 4 vols. (1975), 2:243.

  20. J. Reuben Clark Jr., Church Schools Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in Wilkinson, Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 2:243.

  21. J. Reuben Clark Jr., “A Pertinent Message to Youth,” Deseret News, June 19, 1937, in Wilkinson, Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 2:244.

  22. See Esplin, “Charting the Course,” 105.

  23. J. Reuben Clark Jr. letter to N. L. Nelson, Oct. 27, 1938, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in Esplin, “Charting the Course,” 106. The “situation” to which President Clark referred was that many teachers, in his opinion, were paying too much attention to incorporating into their lessons ideas that they had been exposed to in secular universities. Many were not anchoring their lessons in the scriptures, the teachings of living prophets, and the doctrines of the restored Church. (See Griffiths, “Chicago Experiment.”)

  24. J. Reuben Clark Jr., The Charted Course of the Church in Education, rev. ed. (updated 2004), 1–2.

  25. Clark, Charted Course, 2, 4.

  26. Clark, Charted Course,” 6, 9.

  27. Clark, Charted Course, 6, 7.

  28. Clark, Charted Course, 10.

  29. Esplin, “Charting the Course,” 108.

  30. N. L. Nelson letter to J. Reuben Clark Jr., Sept. 2, 1938, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in Esplin, “Charting the Course,” 107.

  31. J. Reuben Clark Jr. letter to William T. Tew, Sept. 22, 1938, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

  32. J. Reuben Clark Jr. letter to Samuel O. Bennion, Aug. 20, 1938, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in Esplin, “Charting the Course,” 106.

  33. Joseph Fielding Smith letter to J. Reuben Clark Jr., Aug. 15, 1938, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in Esplin, “Charting the Course,” 106.

  34. See Wilkinson, Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 2:246, footnote.

  35. Franklin L. West letter to J. Reuben Clark Jr., Sept. 4, 1938, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in Esplin, “Charting the Course,” 108.

  36. J. Reuben Clark Office Journal, Jan. 23, 1939, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, 62, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

  37. See Esplin, “Charting the Course,” 109–10.

  38. In Noel B. Reynolds, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,” BYU Studies, vol. 38, no. 2 (1999), 24; see also James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. (1965–75), 6:209.

  39. In Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 6:208–9.

  40. Clark Office Journal, Mar. 21, 1940, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; italics in original.

  41. Clark Office Journal, Mar. 29, 1940, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

  42. In Wilkinson, Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years, 2:386.

  43. Henry B. Eyring, “The Lord Will Multiply the Harvest” (evening with a General Authority, Feb. 6, 1998), 2, si.lds.org.

  44. See West interview, 26.

  45. Doctrine and Covenants 93:36; see A. Gary Anderson, “A Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1926–1966” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1968), 180–84.

  46. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 257.

  47. See Mary Lythgoe Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion: Teacher, Counselor, Humanitarian (1995), 76.

  48. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 258.

  49. In Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 261.

  50. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 261.

  51. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 262.

  52. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 267.

  53. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 233–34.

  54. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 236–37.

  55. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 238–39.

  56. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 247; Casey Paul Griffiths, “Joseph F. Merrill: Latter-day Saint Commissioner of Education, 1928–1933” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2007), 10, 88–90.

  57. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 247–49.

  58. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 85–86.

  59. “The News in Brief,” Week-Day Religious Education, vol. 1, no. 3 (Dec. 1937), 10, in Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 83.

  60. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 211.

  61. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 211–13.

  62. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 138–39.

  63. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 141–43.

  64. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 274–75.

  65. In “History of the Tempe LDS Institute,” Tempe Institute File, 2, as cited in Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 277.

  66. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 280.

  67. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 412.

  68. Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 413–14.

  69. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 136–37.

  70. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 154–55.

  71. See William G. Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, A History: 1869–1978 (1990), 69.

  72. Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 77–79.

  73. Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 80–81.

  74. Grand Council Minutes, Feb. 15, 1941; Banyan, 1942; Delta Phi Clarion, Nov. and Dec. 1941; in Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 77–78.

  75. See Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 111–16.

  76. See Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 129.

  77. See Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 135–39.

  78. See Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 155–56.

  79. See Hartley, Delta Pi Kappa Fraternity, 145–46.

  80. Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion, 88.

  81. See Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion, 90.

  82. See “University Religious Training and the Latter-day Saints Deseret Clubs,” Week-Day Religious Education, vol. 1, no. 1 (Mar. 1937), 1–2.

  83. See A. Theodore Tuttle, “Released Time Religious Education Program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (master’s thesis, Stanford University, 1949), 71–73, 76.

  84. See “Seminary Dedicated at Idaho Falls,” Improvement Era, Mar. 1939, 161; “St. George Seminary-Institute Dedicated,” Improvement Era, July 1939, 419.

  85. “Community Unites to Build Seminary,” Improvement Era, Sept. 1939, 543.

  86. See “New Institutes, Chapels Dedicated,” Improvement Era, May 1940, 287.

  87. See A. Theodore Tuttle, “Released Time Religious Education Program,” 71–73.

  88. R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea (1986), 179; see also R. Lanier Britsch, Moramona: The Mormons in Hawaii (1989), 173–74.

  89. See Britsch, Moramona, 173.

  90. See Britsch, Moramona, 173–74.

  91. See Britsch, Moramona, 174–75.

  92. See Britsch, Moramona, 174.

  93. See “W. S. Redd,” Cardston News, June 17, 1948, 1.

  94. See “Church Seminary,” Cardston News, June 10, 1948, 1; A History of the Mormon Church in Canada (1968), 97.

  95. “Seminary Students Plan Recognition Program,” Cardston News, May 19, 1949, 1.

  96. See History of the Mormon Church in Canada, 97.

  97. See Anderson, “Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion,” 488–91.

  98. Doctrine and Covenants 3:19–20.

  99. See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 104.

  100. George Albert Smith, remarks, trans. D. Arthur Haycock, June 3, 1949, 4, courtesy of Brett D. Dowdle.

  101. See George Durrant, interview by Leland H. Gentry, June 14, 1991, Church Educational System central office interviews, 1991–1993, 8, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  102. See Boyd K. Packer, “History of the Indian Seminaries,” William E. Berrett Collection, 43, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah .

  103. See A. Theodore Tuttle, “Released Time Religious Education Program,” 73. The Granite seminary was outside Salt Lake City limits, so even though it was the first seminary in the Church, it was not the first seminary in Salt Lake City.

  104. In Frederick S. Buchanan, “Masons and Mormons: Released-Time Politics in Salt Lake City, 1930–56,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 19, no. 1 (Spring 1993), 95–96. The man whose name appeared on the advertisement as its sponsor, David W. Saunders, later admitted he misunderstood what released time meant and what it was for. A transplant from Indiana a year earlier, Saunders didn’t even know what LDS stood for. Saunders stated that the advertisement was paid for by disaffected Church members; he didn’t even attend the board meeting mentioned in the ad to protest. Throughout the remainder of the 1940s and ’50s, released-time seminary was phased in gradually in the Salt Lake district. (See Buchanan, “Masons and Mormons,” 94, 96–102.)

  105. See Buchanan, “Masons and Mormons,” 101–2.

  106. See Franklin L. West letter to all seminary faculty members, March 31, 1948, Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Department memoranda and policy letters, 1948 and 1953–1972, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.

  107. See West, “High School–Seminary Relationships” (handout, March 31, 1948), 1–3, enclosed with West letter to all seminary faculty members, March 31, 1948.

  108. See West, “High School–Seminary Relationships” (handout, March 31, 1948), 1–2, enclosed with West letter to all seminary faculty members, March 31, 1948.

  109. See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 66–67.

  110. In David B. Rimington, Vistas on Visions: A Golden Anniversary History of Church Education in Southern California (1988), 21.

  111. Kenneth W. Godfrey, Mar. 17, 1986, 595, in Rimington, Vistas on Visions, 22.

  112. See Dennis A. Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles: The Beginning of the Early Morning Seminary Program,” in Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History: California, ed. David F. Boone, Robert C. Freeman, Andrew H. Hedges, and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (1998), 225.

  113. Ray L. Jones, interview by David B. Rimington, June 1985, transcript in Church Educational System Southern California Area Office, Long Beach, California, in Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles,” 225.

  114. See Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles,” 226.

  115. Harold B. Lee, undated newspaper clipping in Ray L. Jones’s Scrapbook 1950–51, 2, in Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles,” 226; see also Rimington, Vistas on Visions, 26.

  116. See Rimington, Vistas on Visions, 26–27.

  117. See Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles,” 227; Rimington, Vistas on Visions, 26–28.

  118. In Rimington, Vistas on Visions, 27–28.

  119. E. Garrett Barlow, interview by David B. Rimington, July 1985, 2, transcript in Church Educational System Southern California Area Office, Long Beach, California, in Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles,” 227–28.

  120. Jones interview, 8, in Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles,” 228–29.

  121. In Rimington, Vistas on Visions, 29–30.

  122. n Rimington, Vistas on Visions, 30.

  123. Ina Easton, interview by David B. Rimington, July 1985, 3, transcript in Church Educational System Southern California Area Office, Long Beach, California, in Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles,” 229–30.

  124. In Rimington, Vistas on Visions, 32–33.

  125. Ray L. Jones letter to Frank L. West, Feb. 3, 1951, Ray L. Jones File 1950–52, Church Educational System Southern California Area Office, Long Beach, California, in Wright, “Good Morning Los Angeles,” 233.

  126. Table reproduced from Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 68. By 2013 the number of students enrolled in early-morning programs (now referred to as “seminary daily students”) reached 240,227 (see Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Annual Report for 2013 [2013], 2, Mormon Newsroom, www.mormonnewsroom.org).

  127. Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Scriptures” (address to Church Educational System religious educators, Oct. 14, 1977), 1–2, si.lds.org.

  128. See Lucile C. Tate, Boyd K. Packer: A Watchman on the Tower (1995), 98.

  129. Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Scriptures,” 2.

  130. In Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Scriptures,” 2.

  131. See West interview, 11, 14.

  132. See West interview, 13–14.

  133. Boyd K. Packer, address at Brigham Young University, July 1, 1964, in Leon Hartshorn, “Mormon Education in the Bold Years” (EdD diss., Stanford University, 1965), 116.

  134. See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 245.

  135. Clark, Charted Course, 9–10.