“Chapter Thirty-Six: The Church in the Early Twentieth Century,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 465–79
“Chapter Thirty-Six,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 465–79
After the brief period of comparative goodwill that followed the issuance of the Manifesto and the admission of the state of Utah into the union, the Church again faced serious internal and external problems. As the twentieth century began, the progressive movement was calling the nation’s attention to the wrongs, both alleged and real, in all aspects of American society. During this time, the media focused on the B. H. Roberts case, directing the attention of the progressive and national leaders in the country once again upon the Church and its members.
In the summer of 1896, the First Presidency sent Elder Brigham Henry Roberts, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy and one of the finest orators in the Church, and a quartet selected from members of the Tabernacle Choir on a goodwill mission to the eastern United States. George D. Pyper, an outstanding vocalist, led the quartet as tenor soloist. Elder Roberts visited such eastern cities as St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York. At St. Louis he delivered a series of forty-two lectures, each averaging an hour and a quarter in length, and “when the lectures were over, sixty persons had been baptized, forming the nucleus of a flourishing and vital branch of the Church in St. Louis.”1 Because of his love for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his defense of it throughout his lifetime, B. H. Roberts became known as “Defender of the Faith.”
When he returned to Utah, Elder Roberts was asked by some of the state Democratic leaders to run for a seat in the United States House of Representatives. After obtaining the approval of the First Presidency, he consented to run. He received his party’s nomination in September 1898. After a vigorous campaign, Roberts was elected with nearly a six thousand vote plurality. Almost immediately after his victory, however, a group of sectarian ministers joined forces with attorney A. Theodore Schroeder, who was also the editor of the Utah-based anti-Mormon periodical Lucifer’s Lantern, in an attempt to keep Roberts from being seated.2
Schroeder, born and educated in Wisconsin, had come to Utah to practice law so he could “see and study a new religious establishment in the making.” While in Salt Lake City he “helped revamp the Salt Lake Herald as the official organ of the Democratic Party of which he was also one of forty charter organizers in Utah.” He also befriended people in Utah who opposed the Church, and he prosecuted “the case against B. H. Roberts resulting in the exclusion of Roberts from the Congress of the United States.”3
Because Elder Roberts was a polygamist, his opponents were able to collect from throughout the nation over seven million signatures on a petition proposing that he not be allowed to take his congressional seat. This was the largest number ever to sign a petition up to that time in American history. However, President Lorenzo Snow said, “As Roberts later put it, ‘the storm was the equivalent of a mosquito lighting on the moon.’”4
After arriving in Washington, D.C., Representative Roberts found that he would not be allowed to take his seat in Congress until after the petition issue was decided. Meanwhile he prepared to defend himself and his right as a polygamist to be a member of Congress. The debate raged on for fifteen months. The opposition, motivated by a variety of religious, moral, and political reasons, united in their efforts to deny Roberts his congressional seat. Some attacked the Church with the charge that many of its polygamous men were still supporting more than one family, while others charged that Mormons were not supporting their wives and children. They attacked those members who believed plural marriage to be God-given and condemned others for abandoning its practice. Yet another charge they made was that the Church had given up the practice of plural marriage but had not relinquished the belief in it. And finally, Latter-day Saints were accused of both loving and failing to love the children of former polygamous unions.5
The controversy frequently made the front pages of the country’s major newspapers. The women of the nation who believed that plural marriage was demeaning to females also opposed Roberts; some politicians concluded that the pressure exerted by these suffragettes led to his exclusion. Meanwhile, the nation’s cartoonists and satirists featured his caricature so often that he was recognized everywhere he went.
Just before the final balloting, a tired, yet determined Elder Roberts was allowed one last defense. Known in some circles as “the Blacksmith Orator,” because he had been a blacksmith as a youth, he concluded his defense with this declaration:
“Some of the papers in discussing the Roberts case have said, ‘Brand this man with shame and send him back to his people.’ Mr. Speaker, I thank God that the power to brand me with shame is something quite beyond the powers of this House, great as this power is. The power to brand with shame rests with each man and nowhere else. The Almighty God has conferred it upon none else. I have lived up to this day in all good conscience in harmony with the moral teachings of the community in which I was reared, and am sensible of no act of shame in my life. Brand me or expel me, I shall leave this august chamber with head erect and brow undaunted and walk God’s earth as the angels walk the clouds, with no sense of shame upon me.’
“(Applause from the floor, and hisses from the gallery)
“And, if in response to the sectarian clamor that has been invoked against the member from Utah, you violate the Constitution of your country, either in excluding or expelling me, the shame that there is in this case will be left behind me and rest with this House.
In spite of the magnificence of his final speech, two hundred and sixty-eight voted for his exclusion, fifty were against it, and thirty-six abstained from voting. Though Elder Roberts fought valiantly and conducted himself with dignity so that he was a credit to his Church and his country, the House was of the opinion that no man with more than one wife could serve in its chambers. B. H. Roberts never ran for public office again.
Just one month before his sixty-third birthday, Joseph F. Smith, who had been a counselor to four Church Presidents, was ordained to succeed Lorenzo Snow, who died 10 October 1901. He was a son of the martyred Hyrum Smith and a nephew of Joseph Smith, for whom he was named. His widowed mother, Mary Fielding Smith, was a woman of great faith, who taught him the gospel by example as well as by precept. When only fifteen years old, Joseph F. commenced a successful mission to Hawaii. Ten years later, in 1864, he accompanied Lorenzo Snow to the islands to put a stop to the heresy in the Church caused by Walter Murray Gibson. While they were on the island of Maui, it was revealed to Elder Snow that Joseph F. Smith would some day preside over the Church.7 He was only twenty-eight years old when he was called by Brigham Young to be an Apostle.
Joseph F. Smith studied the gospel assiduously and was known for his scriptural understanding, his love of doctrine, and his powerful sermons. He was also a devoted father whose letters to his children are filled with love and sound instruction. At a special solemn assembly held 10 November 1901, he was sustained as Church President. He chose as his counselors John R. Winder, who had served in the Presiding Bishopric of the Church, and Anthon H. Lund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Early in his administration, President Smith gave Reed Smoot, who had been called to the apostleship in the spring of 1900 at the age of thirty-eight, permission to campaign for the United States Senate. Prominent in Utah politics and one of the founders of the state’s Republican Party, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1903. His successful quest embroiled the Church and the nation in hearings that lasted almost five years. The news coverage of these hearings once again cast the Church into a glaring spotlight of publicity throughout the nation.
Upon becoming “dean” of the United States Senate in 1930, Apostle Reed Smoot was, according to the editor of the Salt Lake Telegram, “Utah’s Most Distinguished Native Citizen.” This followed the newspaper’s poll, which found that Senator Smoot was overwhelmingly number one.8 During the thirty years he served in the Senate, he became one of its most influential and powerful members and had the opportunity of associating with the world’s presidents, prime ministers, kings, and queens. His beginning as a member of that august body, however, did not foretell this success.
In 1906, soon after the Smoot hearings, one friend of Joseph F. Smith concluded that Elder Smoot should not be reelected; while traveling from Europe with President Smith, he broached the subject “as cautiously and as adroitly” as he could. President Smith heard him out, then pounded the railing between them, and emphatically said, “If I have ever had the inspiration of the spirit of the Lord given to me forcefully and clearly it has been on this one point concerning Reed Smoot, and that is, instead of his being retired, he should be continued in the United States Senate.”9
Divine approval to seek a seat in the Senate, however, had not guaranteed victory. In 1902 senators were elected by state legislators, not by popular vote; therefore, Elder Smoot began to organize his supporters in the Utah legislature to secure his election. In January 1903 he received forty-six votes in the Republican-controlled legislature; his opponents won a total of sixteen. An Apostle was now a United States senator.
Within days of his victory, a group of nineteen Salt Lake citizens protested to the president of the United States against the senator’s election. They charged him with being “one of a self-perpetuating body of fifteen men who, constituting the ruling authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or ‘Mormon’ Church, claim, and by their followers are accorded the right to claim, supreme authority, divinely sanctioned, to shape the belief and control the conduct of those under them in all matters whatsoever, civil and religious, temporal and spiritual.”10 Soon the same groups that had opposed the seating of B. H. Roberts in the House of Representatives four years earlier united again in popular opposition against Senator Smoot. One of the nation’s more sensational newspapers printed the following verse on its front page. This was typical of the sentiment at the time.
“Can’t you get wise to the fact, that you’re not wanted?
Don’t you understand that an apostle would be out of place in
a bunch of politicians?
Don’t you see that you wouldn’t fit?
Washington and the Gentile Roost,
Back, pack your old carpet sack,
And spank your feet on the homeward track,
When Elder Smoot arrived in Washington, D.C., late in February 1903, Senator J. C. Burrows introduced the “Citizen’s Protest” to the committee on privileges and elections. A few days later, John L. Leilich, superintendent of missions of the Utah district of the Methodist Church, brought additional charges against Smoot, including the accusation that he was a polygamist. This was untrue, and Elder Smoot was able to prove it. Unlike B. H. Roberts, Elder Smoot was allowed to take his seat while the investigation ran its course. In March 1903 he received the senatorial oath. As a senator, his administrative skills, wise judgment, and integrity soon became apparent. He also became adroit in parliamentary skills, which proved to be a valuable asset when it came time for the final vote to be taken on his case.
“‘The Smoot Case,’ as it was beginning to be called, stimulated the revival of old anti-Mormon stories and inspired the creation of new ones. The Danites reappeared, the Mountain Meadows Massacre was revived, Brigham Young’s ‘harem’ again became a subject for popular discussion. The New York Herald devoted a full page to the horrors of polygamy.” The New York Commercial Advertizer made the ridiculous charge that Mormon “missionaries were paid by head for their converts, a meager $4.00 for a male, but up to $60 for a girl over 16 whom they could and did place in polygamy.”12
In January 1904, with the help of several non-Mormon lawyers, Senator Smoot filed a formal reply to the charges against him, but the actual hearings did not begin until March. President Joseph F. Smith, the first witness, was interrogated for three days. His honesty and forthrightness in answering the questions won him the grudging respect of many of the senators. Other Church witnesses included James E. Talmage, who clarified points regarding Mormon doctrine; Francis M. Lyman, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Andrew Jenson, assistant Church historian; B. H. Roberts; and Moses Thatcher, who had been dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1896. Thatcher’s testimony was particularly helpful in countering the charge that the Church leaders “controlled” the lives of the Saints. The testimonies of these Church leaders made the front page news in the nation’s newspapers.
After more than two years, the hearings finally ended. Those opposing the senator alleged that Church leaders were still practicing plural marriage, that the Church was exerting too much influence in Utah politics, that members were required to take oaths in the temple opposing constitutional principles, and that Church members believed revelation from God was higher than the laws of the land. Senator Fred T. Dubois of Idaho, fighting for his political life, ranted and raved so much against Smoot and other Church leaders that many of the Republicans who controlled the Senate believed that Senator Smoot was as powerful as Dubois declared him to be.
On 20 February 1907 the Republican Party defeated the proposal that Reed Smoot be removed from his seat. The victory was won in part because Republican leaders, including President Theodore Roosevelt, concluded that if Smoot remained in the Senate he would be a significant influence in keeping Utah a Republican state. With this victory finally behind him, Senator Smoot spent the next twenty-six years in the nation’s capital as one of its most influential figures.
Through the observations of Senator Smoot and other prominent Latter-day Saints in the East, the First Presidency learned that the general populace of the United States perceived Church leaders as trying to circumvent the law. They were accused of not being serious in their efforts to end plural marriage. On 6 April 1904, after deliberation and prayer and in response to these allegations, President Joseph F. Smith issued a statement that has become known as the “second manifesto.” In the pronouncement, President Smith declared that any officer of the Church who solemnized a plural marriage, as well as the participating couple, would be excommunicated. He stated clearly that this pronouncement applied everywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, John W. Taylor and Matthias F. Cowley, were not in harmony with their fellow leaders regarding the scope and meaning of the original Manifesto, nor were they able to agree with the second pronouncement issued by President Smith. At the commencement of the Smoot hearings, Taylor and Cowley went into seclusion to avoid testifying in Washington, D.C.
Following the Smoot hearings, these two Apostles submitted their resignations from the Quorum of the Twelve. It was widely known that they had performed more than a few plural marriages after the Manifesto was issued. Their resignations from the Twelve did much to symbolize that plural marriage had indeed ended. Six years later John W. Taylor was excommunicated from the Church because he had married another plural wife after his resignation. Elder Cowley, although never reinstated as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, remained faithful to the Church. In the 1930s he served a mission to England. One of his sons, Matthew Cowley, who had served as mission president in New Zealand, was later called as an Apostle.
Serving simultaneously with Reed Smoot as the other senator from Utah was the non-Mormon mining tycoon Thomas Kearns, who had secured his election to the Senate partly because of the support he had received from President Lorenzo Snow. During his first term in office, he was neither effective nor popular with his senatorial colleagues, with the people of Utah, or with the Utah state senate, which had elected him. Furthermore, the new Church President, Joseph F. Smith, did not believe Kearns should retain his Senate seat. These factors cost him reelection. Bitter and angry, he placed full blame upon the Church. In his final senatorial speech, he delivered a blistering tirade condemning the Church leadership as a “monarchy” that monopolized the business, political, and social life of Utah. He further declared, “This monarchy permits its favorites to enter into polygamy.”13
After returning to Utah, Kearns helped form the American Political Party, which was a revival of the old anti-Mormon Liberal Party, which had been disbanded in 1893. He also purchased the Salt Lake Tribune and hired Frank J. Cannon, the excommunicated son of President George Q. Cannon, as its editor.14
Cannon’s editorials in the Tribune raged against the Church and its leaders. As his editorials and anti-Mormon articles increased in hate, Cannon’s credibility decreased. He finally moved to Denver, where he continued writing until his death in 1933. Nevertheless, for a time Cannon’s virulent anti-Mormon books and articles greatly affected many people’s perception of the Latter-day Saints. Likewise, Kearns’s actions and speeches stimulated other editors and led them to print vicious statements against the Church. Between 1907–11, with the Salt Lake Tribune leading the way, there was an increase in anti-Mormon propaganda that was much more sinister than that of the Roberts and Smoot episodes.
President Smith chose not to respond to such charges but rather declared: “I bear no malice toward any of the children of my Father. But there are enemies to the work of the Lord, as there were enemies to the Son of God. There are those who speak only evil of the Latter-day Saints. There are those—and they abound largely in our midst, who will shut their eyes to every virtue and to every good thing connected with this latter-day work, and will pour out floods of falsehood and misrepresentation against the people of God. I forgive them for this. I leave them in the hand of the just Judge.”15
Four national magazines— Pearson’s, Everybody’s, McClure’s, and Cosmopolitan —viciously attacked the Latter-day Saints. They demonstrated little understanding of the Church and its divine mission. Partly because of his friendship with Senator Smoot, President Theodore Roosevelt came to the defense of the Church and published a letter in Collier’s that refuted many of the false charges being made against Church officials. The president also denied the rising allegations being circulated that he had made political deals with the Mormons. He also strongly proclaimed the virtues and high standards of the Latter-day Saints.16 This letter helped temper the allegations being made against the Church in the United States. The letter was not published in Europe, however, where the Church was also under heavy attack. A dozen or more anti-Mormon books and articles from the American muckraking press had made their way to Europe and were being circulated there.
During the years 1910–14 there were scenes of unparalleled violence against the LDS missionaries in Great Britain. Britain was undergoing great social change during this period, and many people there came to believe that the Church represented a threat to their established ways and traditional moral values. Furthermore, they were convinced that plural marriage was still being practiced and that missionaries were luring away British girls. British popular novelist Winifred Graham (Mrs. Theodore Cory) wrote several anti-Mormon novels; on one occasion she declared, “I found it thrilling to fight with voice and pen this mighty kingdom working for self-interest, a vampire in fact, sucking the blood of Europe with its wolf-like emissaries in sheep’s clothing hot on the heels of British womanhood.”17
As a result of all this propaganda, the British Parliament debated whether or not to expel all Latter-day Saints from English soil. Young Winston Churchill, displaying great courage, helped the Church’s cause by invoking the right of religious freedom. No expulsions took place. Still, there were scenes of violence and mobocracy at Birkenhead, Boothe, Heywood, and eight other cities in England. In the course of these confrontations one elder was tarred and feathered, another was hit in the face, and still another had lime dust thrown into his face, causing temporary blindness. Other missionaries were roughly handled by the infuriated populace who gathered in the streets by the thousands.
In spite of the opposition, miracles did happen. A young, inexperienced elder from Canada named Hugh B. Brown was laboring in Cambridge in 1904. On his arrival in that city, he saw posters in the train station declaring “Beware of the vile deceivers; the Mormons are returning. Drive them out.” For two days he went from house to house leaving tracts where he could and unsuccessfully attempting to engage Britons in gospel conversations.18 One Saturday evening, as he later remembered, a knock came on the door.
“The lady of the house answered the door. I heard a voice say, ‘Is there an Elder Brown lives here?’ I thought, ‘Oh, oh, here it is!’
“She said, ‘Why, yes, he’s in the front room. Come in, please.’
“He came in and said, ‘Are you Elder Brown?’
“I was not surprised that he was surprised. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’
“He said, ‘Did you leave this tract at my door?’
“Well, my name and address were on it. Though I was attempting at that time to get ready to practice law, I didn’t know how to answer it. I said, ‘Yes, sir, I did.’
“He said, ‘Last Sunday there were 17 of us heads of families left the Church of England. We went to my home where I have a rather large room. Each of us has a large family, and we filled the large room with men, women and children. We decided that we would pray all through the week that the Lord would send us a new pastor. When I came home tonight I was discouraged, I thought our prayer had not been answered. But when I found this tract under my door, I knew the Lord had answered our prayer. Will you come tomorrow night and be our new pastor?’
“Now, I hadn’t been in the mission field three days. I didn’t know anything about missionary work, and he wanted me to be their pastor. But I was reckless enough to say, ‘Yes, I’ll come.’ And I repented from then till the time of the meeting.
“He left, and took my appetite with him! I called in the lady of the house and told her I didn’t want any tea [supper]. I went up to my room and prepared for bed. I knelt at my bed. My young brothers and sisters, for the first time in my life I talked with God. I told Him of my predicament. I pleaded for His help. I asked Him to guide me. I pleaded that He would take it off my hands. I got up and went to bed and couldn’t sleep and got out and prayed again, and kept that up all night—but I really talked with God.”
He spent the next day without breakfast or lunch, walking and worrying that he had to be the religious leader for these people.
“Finally it came to the point where the clock said 6:45. I got up and put on my long Prince Albert coat, my stiff hat which I had acquired in Norwich, took my walking cane (which we always carried in those days), my kid gloves, put a Bible under my arm, and dragged myself down to that building, literally. I just made one track all the way.
“Just as I got to the gate the man came out, the man I had seen the night before. He bowed very politely and said, ‘Come in, Reverend, sir.’ I had never been called that before. I went in and saw the room filled with people, and they all stood up to honor their new pastor, and that scared me to death.
“Then I had come to the point where I began to think what I had to do, and I realized I had to say something about singing. I suggested that we sing ‘O My Father.’ I was met with a blank stare. We sang it—it was a terrible cowboy solo. Then I thought, if I could get these people to turn around and kneel by their chairs, they wouldn’t be looking at me while I prayed. I asked them if they would and they responded readily. They all knelt down and I knelt down, and for the second time in my life I talked with God. All fear left me. I didn’t worry any more. I was turning it over to Him.
“I said to Him, among other things, ‘Father in Heaven, these folks have left the Church of England. They have come here tonight to hear the truth. You know that I am not prepared to give them what they want, but Thou art, O God, the one that can; and if I can be an instrument through whom You speak, very well, but please take over.’
“When we arose most of them were weeping, as was I. Wisely I dispensed with the second hymn, and I started to talk. I talked 45 minutes. I don’t know what I said. I didn’t talk—God spoke through me, as subsequent events proved. And He spoke so powerfully to that group that at the close of that meeting they came and put their arms around me, held my hands. They said, ‘This is what we have been waiting for. Thank God you came.’
“I told you I dragged myself down to that meeting. On my way back home that night I only touched ground once, I was so elated that God had taken off my hands an insuperable task for man.
“Within three months every man, woman and child in that audience was baptized a member of the Church.”19
In an effort to explain to non-Church members the true story of the Latter-day Saint people and to combat adverse publicity, the Church established the Temple Square Mission. As early as 1875, Charles J. Thomas, custodian of the Salt Lake Temple, then under construction, was assigned to meet tourists, show them around Temple Square, and answer their questions. He kept a book in which visitors to Temple Square could sign their names. In subsequent years, many famous people, including two presidents of the United States signed Brother Thomas’s register.20 Several attempts were made during the next twenty-five years to provide guides and information on a continual basis for the visitors.
During the 1880–90s, James Dwyer, a book merchant in Salt Lake City, went to Temple Square daily, where he discussed the gospel with tourists and gave each one an Articles of Faith card, which he had had printed. On the reverse side was a picture of the temple and an imprint which stated: “Should you wish any further information concerning Church doctrines, please write James Dwyer, North Temple Street, Salt Lake City.” Because of his efforts, James “was the father of the information movement in Salt Lake City.”21 In July 1901, President Snow’s son LeRoi overheard a hack (cab) driver telling colorful falsehoods regarding the Church. As a result of LeRoi Snow’s efforts, the First Presidency in 1901 requested the seventies of the Church to establish a bureau of information on Temple Square.22
In March of that year, a small pavilion, from which the Church could dispense correct information, was built for about five hundred dollars. One hundred men and women were called to serve as guides. They were assigned regular schedules to conduct tours of Temple Square and tell the true story of the Latter-day Saints. In addition, organ recitals in the Tabernacle were held twice a day in the summer. Over 150,000 people visited Temple Square that year.
The mission was not without its opponents. Local non-LDS groups and the Salt Lake Tribune united their efforts to undermine the positive impact the guides and literature had on tourists. They occasionally posted anti-Mormon “guides” at the entrances to Temple Square in an attempt to give visitors misinformation regarding the Latter-day Saints. By 1904, because of the large number of tourists and the success of the mission, the Church constructed a much larger building of granite and brick. By 1905 the number of visitors swelled to a yearly total of 200,000. In 1915 a second story was added to the bureau building to house the Deseret Museum. Many other changes were made later, but the essential work of the Temple Square Mission has remained an important part of the Church’s missionary program.23
Believing that the truths of the Restoration25 could be effectively told through visitors’ centers at various historical sites, the Church, as its means allowed, began acquiring places of historical significance. President Joseph F. Smith’s personal background heightened his interest in Church history, and it was during his administration that many of the sites of early Church history were purchased.
On 5 November 1903 the first site was acquired: Carthage Jail, where Joseph and Hyrum Smith were martyred. In June 1907 the Church purchased the one-hundred-acre Smith homestead near Palmyra, New York, which included the Sacred Grove, where in 1820 the Prophet received the First Vision. Willard Bean, a former boxer from Utah, and Rebecca, his bride of less than a year, were sent in 1915 to take care of the farm after the former owner moved. They were challenged to preach the gospel and make friends for the Church in that area. They became the first Latter-day Saints to live in Manchester in eighty-four years.26
Between 1905 and 1907 the Church also obtained, through four separate purchases, title to the Mack family farm near the village of Sharon, Vermont, the site of the Prophet’s birth. A memorial cottage, or small visitors’ center, was constructed on the site, and nearby an imposing monument of polished Vermont granite was erected in honor of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It was dedicated by his nephew President Joseph F. Smith on 23 December 1905, the one-hundredth anniversary of the Prophet’s birth. The monument stands 38 1/2 feet high—one foot for each year of his life.
Significant Missouri properties were also acquired during this era. The first was a tract of about twenty acres of land purchased in 1904 in Independence, Missouri. This was part of the original sixty-three acres bought by the Church in 1831. A chapel and a visitors’ center have since been built on this property. The Church also later purchased the temple site at Far West in northern Missouri.
In addition to attracting large numbers of Latter-day Saints interested in the history of their faith, these sites also provided opportunities for the Church to share its message with the world. On several of these sites, bureaus of information, patterned after the successful program on Temple Square, were constructed to facilitate the missionary effort. At others, visitors learned the story of the Latter-day Saints as it pertained to the specific site they were visiting.
B. H. Roberts read an article in the Salt Lake Tribune reviving the false theory that Solomon Spaulding was the true author of the Book of Mormon. Elder Roberts contacted the editor and asked if he could write a reply. He was informed that the article was a reprint of one written by Theodore Schroeder that had appeared in the New York Historical Magazine.
Elder Roberts sent his rebuttal to the New York Historical Magazine. It was received so favorably that he was invited to write a history of the Church for them. By the time arrangements were completed, the name of the magazine had been changed to Americana, and monographs written by Elder Roberts appeared in it for the next six years. These articles became the basis for his six-volume Comprehensive History of the Church, which was presented as a memorial to the Latter-day Saints for the centennial celebration in 1930.
For years Elder Roberts had collected copies of materials by or about the Prophet Joseph Smith that appeared in various magazines, but largely from Church periodicals. On one occasion he showed his collection to Francis M. Lyman, who enthusiastically suggested to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of which he was a member, that Elder Roberts be commissioned to publish his collection with extensive footnotes, to provide context and clarity to the early documents of Church history. The Twelve accepted Elder Lyman’s suggestion, and B. H. Roberts was asked to submit a cost estimate for the project.
A few weeks later Elder Roberts turned in his estimate. President George Q. Cannon believed that Roberts’s costs were too high and offered to do the same thing at his own expense. Lorenzo Snow accepted President Cannon’s offer. At the outset of the project, however, President Cannon died, and Elder Roberts was asked to finish the work. After reading the documents President Cannon had intended to publish, Elder Roberts went to the First Presidency and told them he wanted to do much more with the material. He was given permission to do the work as he saw fit, and with their approval he started over.
Elder Roberts consulted diaries, printed sources, and remembrances of Church members to prepare a history of the Church that centered mainly on the life of Joseph Smith. Before it was published, Elder Anthon H. Lund and President Joseph F. Smith read and approved the work. The resulting seven volumes, over forty-five-hundred pages, known as the History of the Church, has since become a great resource to Church members and historians alike. This multivolume work, along with his six-volume Comprehensive History of the Church, made B. H. Roberts the foremost Latter-day Saint historian of the first century of the Church’s existence.
Acquiring historic sites, constructing visitors’ centers, and publishing its own history helped improve the public image of the Church, but singular honors were coming to Latter-day Saint women as well. Many women in the Church, with the support of the General Authorities, were active in the suffrage movement. As a result they became national figures. The Relief Society had sent delegates to both the National and International Council of Women conventions. During the Chicago world’s fair, Emmeline B. Wells, one of the Church’s delegates to a special women’s conference, was asked by the president of the National Council of Women to speak to the group. She delivered a forceful address titled “Western Women in Journalism.” She also received the honor of presiding over one of the conference sessions. In 1899, Sister Wells was privileged to speak as an official delegate from the United States at the International Council of Women’s convention in London, where she again displayed her eloquent speaking gifts.
In 1910, as she neared the age of eighty-three, Emmeline B. Wells was called to preside over the Relief Society of the Church. Although she was surprised at the call, “no one was better qualified than Emmeline Wells to lead the Relief Society, nor more deserving” to hold this high position. In 1912 this remarkable woman received an honorary doctorate from Brigham Young University, the first woman in the Church’s history to be so honored.27