Chapter Thirty-Seven: Moving Forward into the New Century

“Chapter Thirty-Seven: Moving Forward into the New Century,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 481–94

“Chapter Thirty-Seven,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 481–94

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Moving Forward into the New Century

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

Progress during an Era of Prosperity

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

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

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

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

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

Church Administration Building, headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1917

Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

Auxiliary and Priesthood Expansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understanding of Gospel Doctrines Clarified

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Responding to the Age of Science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Saints in Other Lands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Saints and World War I

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vision of the Redemption of the Dead

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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