“Chapter Thirty-Five: The Church at the Turn of the Century,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 451–64
“Chapter Thirty-Five,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 451–64
Church members, now secure in the Great Basin, anticipated the twentieth century with confidence that the restored Church would be more than equal to any challenges. With the death of their respected leader, Wilford Woodruff, the prophetic mantle fell on the equally seasoned eighty-five-year-old Lorenzo Snow. No previous Church president had entered this office at such an advanced age.
Only five feet six inches tall, and weighing barely 130 pounds at the time he became President of the Church, Lorenzo Snow was the last of the General Authorities to have been personally acquainted with the Prophet Joseph Smith. In a November 1900 discourse delivered in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, President Snow told the Saints that he had often visited the Prophet Joseph and his family, dined at his table, had private interviews with him, and knew that he was an honorable, moral man who was greatly respected. He feelingly declared that “the Lord has shown me most clearly and completely that he was a Prophet of God.”1
President Snow had many experiences that prepared him for his prophetic calling. As a youth in Ohio, Lorenzo had obtained some academic training at Oberlin College and had gone on to teach school. Having become acquainted with the Prophet Joseph Smith and motivated by his sister Eliza, Lorenzo was baptized in 1836. Always a great missionary, he first served in Ohio in 1837 and in subsequent years also preached the gospel in Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois. In 1840 he was called on a mission to Great Britain, where he labored under the direction of the Twelve Apostles. As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles he directed the first preaching of the gospel in Italy and Switzerland in 1849–51. In 1853 he was called to preside over the settlements in Box Elder County of northern Utah, where he named the principal settlement Brigham City in honor of President Young. For the next forty years his main residence was in that region, and he was greatly beloved of the Saints there. Under his direction the community developed a series of cooperative enterprises that brought prosperity to the area and acclaim to the Church.2
One of Lorenzo Snow’s great contributions was his elucidation of the doctrine that man might one day become like God. As President of the Church he gave a discourse titled “The Grand Destiny of Man.” He related how as a young man he had been inspired by one of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s sermons about the manifestations of God and Jesus Christ to him. Two and one-half years later, after a patriarchal blessing meeting, Joseph Smith, Sr., had promised Lorenzo that he could become as great as God himself. Two and one-half years after that, while Lorenzo listened to an explanation of the scriptures, the Lord inspired him to compose this couplet: “As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may be.” President Snow stated, “Nothing was ever revealed more distinctly than that was to me.”3 Shortly before Joseph Smith’s death, Lorenzo heard him teach the same doctrine. Thereafter Elder Snow made this doctrine one of the subjects of his own discourses.
Almost six years before his death Wilford Woodruff asked Lorenzo Snow, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, to speak with him privately after a meeting with other Church leaders. With much feeling and energy, President Woodruff told President Snow that if he should die before President Snow, he was not to delay but was to organize the First Presidency immediately and take George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith as his counselors. He wished Lorenzo to regard this as a revelation.4
In 1898, as President Woodruff’s health deteriorated, Lorenzo visited him at his home nearly every evening. One night, shortly after the leader had been taken to California in an attempt to improve his physical condition, President Snow went into the Salt Lake Temple, of which he was president, and implored the Lord to extend the prophet’s life beyond his so that he would not have the burden of Church leadership. “Yet he promised the Lord that he would devotedly perform any duty required at his hands.”
Traveling to Brigham City, President Snow took care of some personal obligations. On 2 September 1898, President Snow was informed in Brigham City that Wilford Woodruff had passed away. Reaching Salt Lake City that evening, he again retired to the Salt Lake Temple and “poured out his heart to the Lord. He reminded the Lord how he had plead for President Woodruff’s life. … ‘Nevertheless, … Thy will be done. … I now present myself before Thee for Thy guidance and instruction. I ask that Thou show me what Thou wouldst have me do.’
“After finishing his prayer he expected a reply, some special manifestation from the Lord. So he waited—and waited—and waited. There was no reply, no voice, no visitation, no manifestation.” President Snow left the room greatly disappointed. As he was walking through one of the temple hallways, he saw before him, standing above the floor, the Savior of the world. He was told that he was to be President Woodruff’s successor. He was again instructed “to go right ahead and reorganize the First Presidency of the Church at once and not wait as had been done after the death of the previous presidents.”5
The day following President Woodruff’s funeral, the Apostles met in the Salt Lake Temple. President Snow, in apparent deference to the principles of agency and common consent, without disclosing to his brethren his conversation with the Savior, volunteered to step down from the leadership of the Quorum and yield to anyone his fellow Apostles might designate. His long service as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his brilliant leadership of that body for almost a decade had given his brethren a great love and admiration for him. The Twelve therefore, acting under inspiration, quickly sustained Lorenzo Snow as President of their Quorum.6 Later they met again in the President’s office. There Elder Francis M. Lyman reminded them that President Woodruff had left instructions that when he died, the First Presidency should be reorganized without delay. Only a little discussion followed before Lorenzo Snow was unanimously sustained as President of the Church.
President Snow then told his brethren that the Lord had revealed to him several days previously that this step should be taken and that George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith should be his counselors. “I have not mentioned this matter to any person, either man or woman. I, wanted to see what the feelings of the brethren were. I wanted to see if the same spirit which the Lord manifested to me was in you. I had confidence in you that the Lord would indicate to you that this was proper and according to his mind and will.” George Q. Cannon and Joseph F. Smith were then sustained as his counselors (both men had served as counselors to Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff), and Franklin D. Richards became the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.7 Rudger Clawson, Brigham City stake president, was called a month later to fill the vacancy in the Quorum.
When Elder Franklin D. Richards, President of the Twelve, died in 1899, the First Presidency did not replace him with a quorum president, since George Q. Cannon, who was next in line, was serving in the First Presidency. There also arose a question whether Brigham Young, Jr., or Joseph F. Smith was next in line after President Cannon. Both men had been ordained Apostles by Brigham Young for an extended period of time before they had been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Brigham Young, Jr., was the first to be ordained to the apostleship, but Joseph F. Smith had been the first to enter the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
On 5 April 1900, at a meeting held in the Salt Lake Temple, the First Presidency and the Twelve unanimously decided that the time an Apostle entered the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles established his position in the quorum. Furthermore, it was ruled that when the First Presidency was dissolved upon the death of the President, the counselors who were ordained Apostles in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles would resume their places in the Quorum according to seniority.8 Hence Joseph F. Smith ranked ahead of Brigham Young, Jr. This turned out to be a crucial factor in 1901, when the next president was selected.
Only four days after his ordination, President Snow called a special meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to discuss the serious financial difficulties facing the Church. The Church went about $300,000 in debt as a direct result of the Edmunds-Tucker Act. It had also undertaken the care of the families of men incarcerated for plural marriage, as well as their legal fees and court costs and its own legal expenses. The building of the Salt Lake Temple, the increased needs of Church education and welfare expenditures, and start-up costs of various industries added to the large debt.
While the Church’s financial obligations had increased, tithing revenues had declined in the 1880s because members had been reluctant to contribute when the federal government was confiscating the money. Furthermore, hostile writers and speech makers so effectively spread the idea that tithing was compulsory that the words voluntary offering were printed on tithing certificates. Thus, Latter-day Saint leaders were forced to borrow large sums of money from various financial institutions during the 1890s, until the interest payments alone totaled $100,000 annually. “By July 1898 the church owed $935,000 to banks (about half was owed to banks outside Utah), more than $100,000 to business houses in Salt Lake City, and more than $200,000 to individual Latter-day Saints.”9
Frank J. Cannon, who had negotiated with financiers in the East for a $1,500,000 loan before President Woodruff’s death, was invited by the First Presidency to explain the status of his negotiations. Troubled by what he heard in this meeting, President Snow continued to study, ponder, and pray about the Church’s financial troubles. He was seriously concerned at the financial involvement of the Church in so many purely business ventures. He concluded that if half the means used for business enterprises had been devoted to spreading the gospel, a great work could have been accomplished. Therefore, he quietly announced to his fellow General Authorities that the Church would no longer borrow money from eastern financial institutions; it would, for the time being at least, follow a definite policy of financial retrenchment and free itself from debt as quickly as possible. The Church then proceeded to divest itself of such holdings as the Deseret Telegraph System, the Utah Sugar Company, the Utah Light and Railway Company, its Saltair holdings, and some of its mining property.
President Snow authorized the issuance of short-term 6 percent bonds in the amount of $1,000,000 instead of the $1,500,000 for which Frank J. Cannon had been negotiating. In spite of these measures, by the spring of 1899 no completely satisfactory answer to the complex problems of church finances had been found.
Following the April 1899 sessions of general conference, President Snow felt impelled to again seek the Lord in earnest prayer for wisdom in solving the Church’s financial problems. He received no immediate answer. He was nevertheless impressed that he and other General Authorities should visit St. George and other settlements in southern Utah. At least sixteen of the Brethren, including President Joseph F. Smith, and their wives accompanied him. At the time of their visit the settlements of southern Utah were experiencing a severe drought.
On Wednesday, 17 May 1899, at the opening session of the conference in the St. George Tabernacle, President Snow told the Saints that “we are in your midst because the Lord directed me to come; but the purpose of our coming is not clearly known at the present, but this will be made known to me during our sojourn among you.”10
LeRoi C. Snow, son of the President, who was reporting the conference for the Deseret News, recalled what happened: “All at once father paused in his discourse. Complete stillness filled the room. I shall never forget the thrill as long as I live. When he commenced to speak again his voice strengthened and the inspiration of God seemed to come over him, as well as over the entire assembly. His eyes seemed to brighten and his countenance to shine. He was filled with unusual power. Then he revealed to the Latter-day Saints the vision that was before him.”11
President Snow told the Saints that he could see that the people had neglected the law of tithing and that the Church would be relieved of debt if members would pay a full and honest tithing. He then said that the Lord was displeased with the Saints for failing to pay their tithing and promised them that if they would pay their tithes the drought would be removed and they would have a bounteous harvest.
Following the conference session, President Snow was again impressed that the solution to the Church’s financial problems lay in the payment of tithing. In meetings held at Leeds, Cedar City, Beaver, and Juab, other southern Utah communities, he delivered powerful discourses relative to this gospel principle. In Nephi, in central Utah, a remarkable meeting was held where President Snow mentioned the revelation he had received on the law of tithing and “commissioned every one present to be his special witness to the fact that the Lord had given this revelation to him.”12
At Church headquarters, President Snow again spoke powerfully about tithing at the Mutual Improvement Association conference in June. Elder B. H. Roberts then made a motion, which was unanimously adopted, that the Saints accept the doctrine of tithing now presented. Visibly moved, President Snow stood up and declared, “Every man who is here, who has made this promise, will be saved in the Celestial Kingdom.”13
Tithing was preached in all the stake conferences, and a year later President Snow reported that the Saints had contributed twice as much tithing during the past year as they had paid the previous two years. Under inspiration, he had set in motion the program that would, by 1907, completely free the Church from debt. Many Saints testified that not only were the windows of heaven opened to save the Church, but those who followed this divine law were spiritually and temporally blessed as well.
President Snow also took measures to control more tightly the disbursements of Church funds. He created a comprehensive plan for the expenditure of those monies. Some financial experts recommended that there be a diffusion of authority relative to the spending of tithing. President Snow notified those involved that he did not intend to carry out such a plan, but rather would keep such power vested in the First Presidency as the Lord intended (see D&C 120).
Three months after being sustained as the Church’s president, President Snow brought the Deseret News back under Church control. Since 1892 the newspaper had been leased to George Q. Cannon and his sons. President Snow called Charles W. Penrose as editor, and the newspaper again became the official organ of the Church. Brother Penrose, a seasoned newspaperman with years of missionary service, was a few years later called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and, still later, became a member of the First Presidency.
An innovative development in missionary work was announced at a reception the general board of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association held for the general board of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association in 1898. In the course of his talk to the two groups, President Cannon announced, “It has been decided to call some of our wise and prudent women into the missionary field.”14 In the past a few sisters, such as Louisa Barnes Pratt and Caroline Crosby, had accompanied their husbands who were serving as missionaries, but never before had the Church officially called and set apart sisters as ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Elizabeth Claridge McCune laid the foundation for the First Presidency’s decision. In the winter of 1897–98, before leaving for a tour of Europe with her family, Sister McCune went to Lorenzo Snow for a blessing. Among other things, he blessed her that “thy mind shall be as clear as an angel’s when explaining the principles of the Gospel.” This blessing was remarkably fulfilled in many gospel conversations abroad, and one day she told her daughter of her belief that it would not be very long before young women would be called to serve missions.15 Upon returning home, she told President Snow of her experiences in explaining gospel principles to nonmembers all over Europe. She told him, further, that her teachings were instrumental in bringing some members of her English family into the Church. It was shortly after this that President Cannon made his announcement in behalf of the First Presidency.
“The very first sister to be set apart and formally commissioned as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was Harriet Maria Horsepool Nye, wife of President E. H. Nye of the California Mission. She was set apart at San Francisco, March 27, 1898, by Apostle Brigham Young.
“Shortly after this Bishop Joseph B. Keeler of the Fourth Ward, Provo, conferred with the stake presidency in regard to calling two young women of that ward on a mission to Europe.” As a result, Lucy Jane Brimhall and Inez Knight were called as full-time missionaries to the British Mission.16 Both sisters were well educated, gifted teachers and well versed in the principles of the gospel.
After the sisters’ arrival in the mission field, several issues of the Young Woman’s Journal carried articles or letters regarding their proselyting activities. President George Q. Cannon even published an article in the Juvenile Instructor titled “Women as Missionaries,” later printed in the Millennial Star, in which he quoted a letter praising their performance.17 These sisters energetically involved themselves in missionary work, tracting door-to-door, taking part in street meetings, and even drawing large crowds. In the face of the degrading images painted on the pages of the English anti-Mormon press, it was a novelty for the British people to see two Mormon women who were not only attractive but intelligent, forceful speakers as well.
In a published letter, they reported, “We take part frequently in street meetings and have thus far been listened to attentively, with no interruptions. Having accepted many invitations to call upon people at their homes to talk upon Utah and her people, also the Gospel, as a result we already have some dear friends in Bristol.”18 The sisters’ presence in the mission was publicly acknowledged when their first mission priesthood meeting was renamed a “missionary meeting” for their sake.19
Gaining experience, they wrote that sometimes unkind things were said to them; in general their letters reflect the same kind of successes and disappointments that are characteristic of the elders’ epistles. By January 1899 an anti-Mormon league had been founded in Bristol and was attempting to hinder the work of the missionaries.20 Other parts of Great Britain also saw opposition to the efforts of the young men and women proclaiming the restored gospel. Sister Knight, in a letter, reported: “Although we do not always have clear sailing and have even been forced to seek protection from mob violence in a police station, receiving the slurs of the mob and even spat upon by the enemy, together with rocks and sticks from their hands, yet we rejoice in the work.”21 Inez Knight and Lucy Brimhall were only the first of thousands of women to valiantly proclaim the gospel in missions all over the world.
The Church’s emphasis upon missionary work during the decade of 1890 to 1900 is reflected in the fact that the number of missionaries doubled. The number of missions and the number of missionaries would consistently rise throughout the decades to come.
As the world looked forward to a new century, Church members were also filled with anticipation. President Snow prepared a proclamation titled Greeting to the World, in which he clearly described the kind of world that the Church was trying to build. He hoped the twentieth century would be an “age of peace, of greater progress, of the universal adoption of the golden rule. … War with its horrors should be but a memory. The aim of nations should be fraternity and mutual greatness. The welfare of humanity should be studied instead of the enrichment of a race of the extension of an empire. Awake, ye monarchs of the earth and rulers among nations, and gaze upon the scene which the early rays of the rising Millennial day gild the morn of the twentieth century! … Disband your armies; turn your weapons of strife into implements of industry; take the yoke from the necks of the people.” He bore his testimony that God, his Son, and holy angels had spoken to men and that God called upon all people to repent and come unto him. President Snow, then in his eighty-seventh year, concluded by invoking the blessing of heaven upon the earth’s inhabitants, and wished them peace.22
To usher in the new year and the new century, special services were held in the Tabernacle on 31 December 1900 commencing at 11:00 p.m. Five thousand Saints gathered and saw the famed organ pipes illuminated with a cluster of electric lights fashioned into the words, “Welcome, 1901, Utah.” A devotional spirit pervaded the meeting, which was conducted by Salt Lake Stake President Angus Cannon. No doubt many in the audience contemplated the growth and accomplishments of the Church as it now boldly faced a new century. There were, at the end of 1900, forty-three stakes, twenty missions, and 967 wards and branches in the stakes and missions. The Church had 283,765 members, most of whom lived in the Intermountain West. Four temples were in operation in Utah—St. George, Manti, Logan, and Salt Lake City. In 1900, 796 new missionaries had been set apart to preach the gospel among the nations of the earth.23
With the increase in the number of missionaries being called, Church leaders recognized the need of training the missionaries more completely for their service. The First Council of the Seventy, in conjunction with the General Church Board of Education, agreed in 1900 to open missionary training courses at Brigham Young Academy in Provo, the Latter-day Saints University in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young College in Logan, and the Latter-day Saints Academy in Thatcher, Arizona. Prospective missionaries were taught theology, religious history, and teaching methods from the scriptures in a six-month curriculum. The Church schools charged no tuition for the class, and stake presidents were expected to provide for board and lodging for their students.
Church members participated each Sunday in a two-hour afternoon sacrament meeting. Once a month a fast and testimony meeting was held, usually following the Sabbath morning Sunday School. During the winter months, young men and young women meetings were held during the week, often on Thursday nights. The Relief Society met during the day each Tuesday, and Primary for the children was held each Wednesday after school. Priesthood quorum meetings were conducted either on Monday evening or on Sunday morning and were discontinued during the summer months because most Church members were busy farming.
Ward conferences presided over by stake officials were convened once a year, beginning in 1892, where members had the privilege of sustaining their leaders and receiving instruction and motivation from their presiding officials. Many wards sponsored social outings under the direction of the Sunday School, where members presented programs in the morning, held children’s parties in the afternoon, and danced away the evening. Each spring, wards sponsored old people’s parties, which were usually climaxed by a “grand” evening dinner in a splendidly decorated hall.
At the turn of the century, the Church’s young women, in their official periodical, Young Woman’s Journal, read articles about Longfellow’s home, how to obtain a testimony of the truth, and ethics for young girls. They were also introduced to the Apostle Paul and the reminiscences of Elder Heber J. Grant. Women leaders wrote material that would not only deepen the young ladies’ understanding of the gospel but would also acquaint them with the world’s best literature. In addition they were instructed in quilting, basting, hemming, and buttonholing.
In January 1900 the Juvenile Instructor, which was designed to be read by all Church members, began a series titled “Lives of Our Leaders—The Apostles.” In each subsequent issue there was a biographical essay on one of the General Authorities of the Church. Latter-day Saints also read short stories and became acquainted with such places as Alaska, Belgium, and Ireland through the series of articles titled “History of the Nations.” Sunday School conferences were held in the stakes of the Church each year, at which reports were made and instructions given by general board members and General Authorities. Songs were sung by children’s choruses, and in-service training was conducted to improve the quality of teaching. Stakes were large. The Utah Stake, for example, had forty-nine Sunday Schools organized with a total enrollment of eleven thousand Saints.
The Improvement Era, which replaced the Contributor as the publication of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, published articles regarding the translation of the Book of Mormon, sermons of General Authorities, and responses to attacks by ministers and anti-Mormon writers. The Young Men and the Young Women organizations held annual general conferences that were attended by thousands of youth. In these gatherings the General Authorities gave instruction, and the people held dances, presented plays, and highlighted programs for the new year.
As the twentieth century began, Utah was a state, the Church was on a secure financial basis, and the Saints, for the most part, no longer feared being driven from their homes by mobs. They had made the desert blossom and were looking forward with anticipation to the fulfillment of the prophecies about the latter days.
As the twentieth century dawned and it became obvious that the pioneering period in the Intermountain West was over, President Lorenzo Snow became most concerned with the necessity of taking the gospel to all the world. The duty of such an undertaking rested with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Under President Snow’s direction the Apostles laid plans to open new areas of the world for missionary work.
In 1901, President George Q. Cannon, speaking for the First Presidency, announced that a mission would be opened in Japan. As he said these words, Elder Heber J. Grant received a very strong impression, as plainly as though a voice had spoken to him, informing him that he would be called to preside there. Twenty-five minutes later, President Cannon announced that Elder Grant had been selected to go to Japan. Although he was greatly in debt, he decided that he would not use that as an excuse but would go as called. The First Presidency gave him a year to put his affairs in order and prepare for his mission.
Elder John W. Taylor, who knew Heber’s true financial condition and sacrifice, prophesied privately: “You shall be blessed of the Lord and make enough money to go to Japan a free man financially.” Elder Grant went home immediately and prayed to the Lord for help in dealing with his financial challenges. By a series of resourceful moves, all of which Elder Grant testified were inspired by God, and through other blessings, he was out of debt within four months.24 Elder Heber J. Grant called three others—Louis A. Kelsch, former president of the Northern States Mission, twenty-nine-year-old Horace S. Ensign, and eighteen-year-old Alma O. Taylor—to assist him in Japan. They left Salt Lake City on Pioneer Day, 24 July 1901, and arrived in Yokohama Harbor, after a turbulent ocean crossing, on 12 August.
Upon arriving in the city of Yokohama, the missionaries began making contacts. They made tentative arrangements for translation and publication of some Church literature and began to seek permanent lodgings. They experienced much opposition, inspired largely by the ministers of other Christian sects who had learned of their coming and, being misled by false reports about the Church, were determined that it would not get a foothold.
The missionaries, however, were equally determined that the gospel would go forth. On 21 September 1901 they found a secluded spot in the woods outside Yokohama where they knelt, and Elder Grant offered up the dedicatory prayer. His tongue was loosed, and the Spirit rested mightily upon him—so much so that he recounted feeling that angels of God were near.
Elder Grant also prepared an “‘Address to the Great and Progressive Nation of Japan,’ which tells in plain and positive terms the reason why the ‘Mormon’ missionaries are there. …
“‘… We do not come to you for the purpose of trying to deprive you of any truth in which you believe, or any light that you have been privileged to enjoy. We bring to you greater light, more truth and advanced knowledge, which we offer you freely. …
“‘By His authority we turn the divine key which opens the kingdom of heaven to the inhabitants of Japan.’” He signed his letter, “Your servant for Christ’s sake.”25
After touring Japan, Elder Grant began a series of articles in the pages of the Japan Mail, one of the most influential newspapers in Tokyo, trying to counter the libelous attacks on the Church made by other Christian denominations.
Elder Grant returned to Utah after two years, but the other missionaries remained. Elder Taylor stayed for nine years, during which time he translated the Book of Mormon into Japanese. Due to the policy called “Japan for the Japanese,” which the Japanese government began during the 1890s to minimize the westernization that had crept into their country, the Latter-day Saints and other Christian religions met with little success at this time. The Japanese Mission was finally closed in 1924. The great success that later attended missionary work in Japan came after 1945 and the end of World War II.
After Elder Grant left for Japan in 1901, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve discussed taking the gospel to South America, the Austrian Empire, and Russia. The mission to Mexico was reopened in 1901 as a first step into Latin America. Elder Ammon M. Tenney was able to reestablish several former branches in Mexico. But due to insurmountable political problems, no further action was taken during this period.26
Throughout the summer and early fall of 1901, which proved to be the last months of President Snow’s life, the Spirit brooded upon the venerable prophet. Often in council meetings of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, President Snow referred to the duty of the Apostles and Seventies to preach to the nations of the earth before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He bemoaned the fact that the Apostles and the Seven Presidents of Seventy were spending so much of their time on matters that should be attended to by local priesthood leaders. Even though he had been afflicted for weeks with a severe cold and hacking cough, President Snow was anxious to deliver an important address on this subject in the October general conference.
The prophet was excused from all the early sessions of conference because of his health, but he appeared in the Tabernacle to speak in the concluding Sunday session on 6 October 1901. These were his last public words to the Saints. President Joseph F. Smith noted a month later, “While it was plain to be seen then that he was feeble, yet it was generally remarked how clear he was in his mind and with what emphasis and freedom his words flowed from him.”27
As he proceeded into this monumental address, President Snow explained, “This Church is now nearly seventy-two years of age, and we are not expected to do the work of the days of our youth, but to do greater, larger and more extensive work.” The prophet then urged the stake presidents to regard the Saints in their charge as their own family and to look after their interests as they would those of their own sons and daughters. He continued, “Do not lay this duty upon the shoulders of the Apostles. … There is a certain channel by and through which the Lord intends to exalt His sons and daughters, to remove wickedness from the earth and to establish righteousness, and that channel is the Priesthood. … The Apostles and the Seventies, it is their business by the appointment of the Almighty, to look after the interests of the world. The Seventies and the Twelve Apostles are special witnesses unto the nations of the earth.”28 To channel the work of the Twelve in this direction, the First Presidency released them from all their administrative duties in the stakes.
Regarding President Snow’s last charge to the General Authorities and the Saints, President Joseph F. Smith stated: “We accept what is contained therein on the duties of the Twelve, and presiding Priesthood, as the word of the Lord to us all. It is so plain and so convincing as to leave no room for doubt; and there remains but one thing for us to do, and that is to zealously and arduously labor to successfully accomplish all that is required at our hands.”29
During the three years that President Snow presided over the Church, several important Church leaders passed away. In some respects their passing was indicative that an era was coming to an end and a new leadership would guide the expanding kingdom. The periodicals of the Church noted with pictures and bold headlines the death of Karl G. Maeser, who at the time was serving in the superintendency of the general Sunday School of the Church and was one of the Church’s most illustrious educators. Elder Franklin D. Richards, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, died in Salt Lake City on 9 December 1899. His loss was deeply felt in all parts of Zion, and the Millennial Star especially noted his passing.30
On 12 April 1901, Church members learned of the death of Elder George Q. Cannon. At the time of his death he was serving as the First Counselor in the First Presidency and as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He had served four Church Presidents as a counselor and left his imprint upon the Church through the pages of the Juvenile Instructor, a magazine he had founded and had edited for more than three decades. His public discourses were masterpieces and filled volumes. He was an astute politician who had represented the Utah Territory in Congress for more than a decade and was very influential in obtaining statehood for Utah.
Zina Huntington Young, who had succeeded Eliza R. Snow as the Church’s general Relief Society president, died at her Salt Lake home on 28 August 1901. She was a wife of President Brigham Young and had been a delegate to the National Women’s Conference in Buffalo, New York. She had also served as president of the Deseret Hospital for more than a decade.
President Snow had heeded his family’s and physician’s advice and attended only the last session of general conference because of a severe chest cold. But the strain of projecting his voice so he could be heard by the vast audience in the Tabernacle returned him to his sickbed. On 10 October 1901, he quietly passed away. After a large funeral, his body was interred in the Brigham City Cemetery.
President Lorenzo Snow placed his apostolic calling above all else. He taught the Latter-day Saints how to live a life of culture and refinement, despite their poverty and desert environment. He also taught them how to convert the commonplace into something of uncommon beauty. He lived with poise and dignity and gave God the credit for his power. He clearly taught the Saints what they could become if they followed the teachings they had received through their prophets.
The three years Lorenzo Snow presided over the Church were significant ones. He made sound decisions that placed the Church once more on the road to financial solvency. He died as he lived, firm in the faith he had embraced when just a young man in Mantua, Ohio.