As the second decade of the twentieth century dawned, Church members continued to support two school systems—one sponsored by the state and the other by the Church. Prominent Latter-day Saints were in the majority on local school boards and, though bound by law to maintain a separation of church and state, continued to support rules, regulations, and curricula that reflected community values. Thus Church members had few concerns as they enrolled their children in tax-supported free public schools. In fact, the percentage of students enrolled in Church schools declined from a high of just over half of the secondary school–age students in the state of Utah in 1905 to less than 10 percent by 1924.1 As early as 1890, President George Q. Cannon of the First Presidency suggested that a partnership with the district school system be explored because public schools were supported by Latter-day Saint tax dollars. President Cannon did not want the Church to be perceived as opposed to public education.2
In 1899 George M. Cannon, the president of the Utah State Senate and a nephew of President George Q. Cannon, proposed a plan to turn the LDS College in Salt Lake City into a “purely theological institution” and allow students to attend during their free time. He felt the plan would provide “the greatest good to the greatest number with the least burden upon the people” while helping to heal the rifts with the non-Mormon community. The plan was turned down by the Church Board of Education, but it may have planted seeds that would blossom into the seminary program just over a decade later.3
As the number of public high schools in Utah and other western states grew, Church leaders explored ways to legally provide religious training for Latter-day Saint students who were taking advantage of free public education. Religion Classes and Primary were designed to meet the needs of elementary school children, but public high school students were left without religious instruction. It was clear that a new direction was needed to provide for their spiritual development.
Beginnings: The Joseph F. Merrill Family
The answer to the dilemma began not in the circles of Church government but in the humble setting of a family meeting in the home of Joseph F. Merrill. Brother Merrill, the son of Apostle Marriner W. Merrill, had earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1893 and then received his PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1899 before returning to Utah and beginning a teaching career at the University of Utah.4 In late August 1911 Brother Merrill accepted a call to serve as second counselor in the Granite Stake presidency with President Frank Y. Taylor, who informed him that with his new calling came a seat on the stake board of education.5 Brother Merrill received inspiration on how to magnify this part of his calling by reflecting on his children’s experiences in evenings at home with their family, during which his wife, Annie Laura Hyde Merrill, entertained and instructed them by telling “Bible and Book of Mormon stories, one after the other without end. Brother Merrill asked his wife where she had learned all of these stories, and she explained that she had learned them in James E. Talmage’s theology class at the Salt Lake Academy.”6
Pondering his wife’s inspiring educational experiences and the experience his children were having learning from the scriptures, Brother Merrill concluded that all Latter-day Saint youth should have these opportunities. Thus began “the idea of supplementing public high school with religious education.”7
In an October 1911 Granite Stake presidency meeting, Brother Merrill discussed the idea of establishing a seminary that would offer courses in the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and Church history and doctrine. President Taylor asked him to confer with the superintendent of the Granite School District, B. W. Ashton, and see if he and the Granite Board of Education would support a Latter-day Saint seminary. Ashton “was favorable,” Brother Merrill remembered, as was the school board. The board thought it would be wise for President Merrill to consult the State Board of Education and the state superintendent of schools, A. O. Nelson, from whom he also won approval.8
The First Presidency endorsed the idea “as a Stake enterprise.”9 President Frank Y. Taylor of the Granite Stake borrowed $2,500 from Zion’s Savings Bank in the name of the Granite Stake to purchase land and construct a seminary building directly across the street from Granite High School, with the intent to conform to a separation of church and state.10 The finished structure consisted of three rooms: an office, a cloak room, and a classroom.11 It is significant to note that, unlike the Religion Classes program (discussed in the prologue), “seminary was not organized as a Church auxiliary; rather it was established as an educational program with a professional faculty.”12
The First Seminary Teacher
In April 1912 President Merrill wrote to Superintendent of Church Schools Horace H. Cummings requesting that the Church Board of Education recommend a suitable teacher for the new seminary. He explained his request as follows:
It is the desire of the Presidency of the Stake to have a strong young man who is properly qualified to do the work in a most satisfactory manner. By young we do not necessarily mean a teacher young in years, but a man who is young in his feelings, who loves young people, who delights in their company, who can sympathize strongly with them and who can command their respect and admiration and exercise a great influence over them. We want a man who can enjoy student sports and activities as well as one who is a good teacher. We want a man who is a thorough student, one who will not teach in a perfunctory way but who will enliven his instructions with a strong, winning personality and give evidence of thorough understanding of and scholarship in the things he teaches.
It is desired that this school be thoroughly successful and a teacher is wanted who is a leader and who will be universally regarded as the inferior to no teacher in the High School.13
Thomas J. Yates, a graduate of Cornell University in engineering and a member of the Granite Stake high council, became the seminary teacher.14 His salary was set at $100 a month. The approved curriculum was the same as that of the religion courses taught in the Church’s academies,15 but the Granite seminary “had no organic connection with the Religion Class.”16 Granite school officials agreed to release the students for one period on each of the three days classes were held. This practice later became known as “released-time seminary.”17 Further, Granite officials dictated that the Bible history classes Brother Yates offered “should be devoid of the teaching of pronounced sectarian dogmas.” President Merrill remembered that “the work was to be as highly spiritual as feasible and designed to make the broadest appeal possible to the better instincts of the boys and girls.” The Bible, he also recalled, “was to be studied in the senior seminary for its historical, moral, and spiritual values rather than for its support of any special sectarian doctrines.”18 One-half credit for each of the Bible courses would count toward high school graduation requirements.19
Each day in the fall of 1912, Brother Yates, as he was called by his students, left his job supervising construction at the Murray power plant at noon and rode his horse approximately three and a half miles to the Granite seminary to teach classes in the afternoon. His only textbooks were the scriptures.20 Seventy students enrolled for classes that first year. Later Brother Yates remembered his seminary teaching experiences: “Students were asked to prepare a whole chapter in the Bible and then report to the class. Then the class would discuss it. … There were no parties, no dances, no … recreation. … They had no officers. … All students had to keep a complete notebook on all material given in class. These were checked regularly, and tests were given. … The seminary classes were much on the order of the Sunday School class. A general opening session, and then the classwork.”21
Neither Brother Yates nor his initial students were fully aware that they were participating in the start of something that would eventually spread across the globe.
Nearly a century later, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency commented on the impact of the first class at Granite seminary:
When I began service as deputy commissioner of education [in 1977], the number of students in seminary had grown from the first 70 in 1912 to 192,000. …
My assignment to help such a vast number of teachers seemed overwhelming until someone handed me a small roll book. It was for the first class of seminary taught in the Church. It was for the school year 1912–13. …
In that roll book was the name of Mildred Bennion. She was 16 years old that year. … She would become my mother. She was the daughter of a man we would today call “less active.” Her mother was left a widow the fall of the year after that first seminary class began. She raised and supported my mother and five other children alone on a small farm. Somehow that one seminary teacher cared enough about her and prayed fervently enough over that young girl that the Spirit put the gospel down into her heart.
That one teacher blessed tens of thousands because he taught just one girl in a crowd of 70.22
Thomas Yates taught for only one year. President Taylor asked him to return for the second year, but his engineering job was demanding more of his time and he declined. As his replacement, Brother Yates recommended Guy C. Wilson, a professional educator who had recently moved to Salt Lake City from Mexico.23
Growth of the Seminary Program
The Granite seminary continued under the steady leadership of Guy C. Wilson. As student enrollment increased, Brother Wilson became the first full-time seminary teacher in the Church. A gifted teacher, Brother Wilson had been informed by Church leaders that he could “take [his] choice” of the Church schools,24 but he had chosen the new seminary in the Granite Stake. “The Church General Board of Education appropriated $1,500 for his salary with the understanding that the program was still experimental and that no precedent or policy was established.”25 Brother Wilson made significant contributions as he built the faith of his students and traveled to speak regarding the new program. During his tenure Brother Wilson urged bishops and stake presidents to let his students speak to their congregations about the virtues of the seminary program. At the same time, he had a profound effect on his students, in at least one instance even assisting in the conversion of a nonmember.26 Eighty students enrolled the second year and 90 the next.27 Church leaders on both the local and the general level expressed their satisfaction with the program the Granite Stake had established. In 1915 Brother Wilson left the Granite seminary when he was appointed principal of Latter-day Saints’ University in Salt Lake City.28
At Brother Wilson’s departure, John M. Whitaker took his place as instructor at the Granite seminary. He taught at the seminary from 1915 through 1929 and continued efforts to develop a curriculum that would build faith and strengthen moral character.29 Commenting on the future of the seminary program, Brother Whitaker wrote, “I look to see the day when throughout the Church, splendid seminaries will rise as a blessing and salvation to the young men and women of high school age.”30
The second full-time seminary opened in Brigham City in 1915, with Abel S. Rich as principal.31 In January of 1916 the Utah State Board of Education officially approved high school credit for Old and New Testament studies in the seminaries.32 At the beginning of the 1916 academic year, seminaries had been established in Salt Lake City, Brigham City, and Mount Pleasant, Utah, and the Church Board of Education had received more requests for seminaries. During the 1918–19 school year, 13 seminaries with a combined enrollment of 1,528 students were in operation.33 In August 1919 the responsibility for the seminaries was transferred from the General Board of Religion Classes to the Church Board of Education.34
The first seminaries were much more than religion classes. Each seminary called or elected student officers, and seminaries provided occasional sacrament meeting programs for the wards from which students were drawn. Seminaries sponsored service projects as well as dramas and pageants that helped students develop speaking and musical skills. Recreational activities included hikes, picnics, swimming, skating, and dancing. Students visited historical and cultural sites, performed baptisms for the dead, and participated in firesides and devotionals.35
Seminaries were associated with and operated by local wards, so each building was constructed and paid for by the local Church members. After a building was dedicated, stake officials provided the funds for operating costs, maintenance, heating, and electricity, and also student supplies and library upkeep. The Church Board of Education paid for teacher salaries, teacher travel expenses, secretarial help, library books, and substitute teachers.36 It cost the Church between $17.39 and $23.40 annually for every student enrolled in seminary, a much lower cost than operating academies.37 In 1920, President David O. McKay, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Church Commissioner of Education, expressed his opinion that at that time seminary had “not been made a successful substitute for the Church School” but that it could be if the program were “properly conducted.”38
Experiences of Early Teachers
As the seminary program spread, new teachers found themselves teaching in a wide variety of circumstances. The majority served in small, rural communities primarily throughout Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Arizona. President Boyd K. Packer related the account of one such teacher, Elijah M. Hicken, who met “a very rough crowd” in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin when he opened the first seminary there: “A group threatened his life. The patriarch came with a blessing and a promise that his life would be protected. On the strength of that blessing, Brother Hicken took off the six-shooter he had worn to class each day.”39 Most teachers did not receive death threats, but all knew the challenge of getting both the student into the seminary and seminary into the student.
An illustration of some of the other challenges faced by early seminary teachers is found in the experiences of Samuel D. Moore Jr., who in 1918 was hired as the principal and teacher of the first seminary in Pleasant Grove, Utah.40 Brother Moore had no teacher outlines developed by the Church but was expected to provide an intensive course of study in order for the high school to grant his students credit. He held classes in the Pleasant Grove Tabernacle, which was outfitted with “furniture, blackboards, library books, maps and other equipment,” including a coal stove to provide heat. The history of the schools of Pleasant Grove states, “The room was too small, the classes were often disturbed by Relief Society, Primary meetings and by funerals held in other parts of the building, but the classes were interesting and the Spirit of the Lord was there.”41
As seminaries spread through Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, the demand for qualified teachers increased. T. Edgar Lyon, for example, was recruited to “take over the seminary out at Midway” in the Rigby Idaho Stake when the local stake president, John W. Hart, promised him better pay than he would receive from the public school teaching position he was planning to accept in the Salt Lake area. President Hart then traveled to Salt Lake City himself and there convinced Commissioner Merrill to hire Brother Lyon on the assurance that there was not a better man for the Midway seminary. Brother Lyon served happily in the Church Educational System for more than four decades.42
Vernon Israelsen got his start in the Church Educational System because he caught the attention of Guy C. Wilson while taking graduate classes at BYU during the summer of 1929. Brother Wilson was head of BYU’s religion department at the time and believed Brother Israelsen would be able to attract students, keep them from dropping out, and restore the reputation of a struggling seminary in Monroe, Utah. Brother Israelsen signed a $2,040 contract late that summer to teach at the Monroe seminary, and when the fall semester began, he greeted 154 students, the highest number to enroll in years. His students agreed with Guy Wilson that Brother Israelsen was “one of the best new seminary teachers in the Church.”43 The year he left the Monroe seminary, Brother Israelsen took with him a copy of the 1936 South Sevier High School yearbook, which included a page about the seminary with the words, “Mr. Israelsen, the present instructor, is the ideal of seminary students. He is capable, alert, kind, considerate, and always helpful to students who go to him for advice. He is our example of intelligent living.”44 Like many other seminary teachers, Brother Israelsen left his mark on the students and the community as well.
Organizing the System: Adam S. Bennion
In 1919 Adam S. Bennion was appointed superintendent of Church schools. Serving under the direction of Elder David O. McKay, the Church Commissioner of Education, Superintendent Bennion brought many changes and sought to upgrade the teaching of the Church educational program. In 1920 Superintendent Bennion made a sweeping proposal that the Church no longer compete with the public schools in secondary education. He pointed out that only 8 percent of all Mormon high school students were attending Church schools and academies and that the cost of operating the academies was an inefficient utilization of Church funds. He recommended that eight academies be closed: Emery, Murdock, St. John’s, Cassia, Uintah, Gila, Snowflake, and Oneida. He also recommended that two-year normal colleges, or teacher training schools, be established at six schools: Brigham Young University, Brigham Young College, Snow College, Ricks College, Weber College, and Dixie College. These teacher training programs would help ensure that Utah’s public schools employed well-qualified LDS teachers.45
Superintendent Bennion also believed it would be wise to extend seminary to include all public high schools where there were sufficient numbers of Latter-day Saint students, and he proposed adding to the requirements for graduation. Not only would students have to successfully complete their theological studies, but they would also be required to make “certain attainments in regard to personal habits” and give “definite service in the quorums of the priesthood and auxiliary organizations of the Church”46 “Under our present system,” he insisted, “our seminary work is too theoretical. Indeed it is practically all instruction and no action—no application.”47 On March 15, 1920, the superintendent’s proposals were adopted by the Board.48 At that time there were 19 seminaries in operation, serving 3,000 students.49 Beginning in 1920 Brother Bennion required all religion instructors to gather in the summer for group seminars. Working together, the teachers standardized courses and agreed upon textbooks. They discussed how to best tie seminary work with Church work as well as how to improve course outlines. During the summer of 1921 teachers received theological training by Apostles James E. Talmage, Melvin J. Ballard, Joseph Fielding Smith, George F. Richards, and Anthony W. Ivins and by David A. Smith, a counselor in the Presiding Bishopric.50 Teachers also presented lessons for peer critique and evaluation in the hope that each instructor might become more effective. Sidney B. Sperry, one of the participants, explained that “all of this was to make of the Church seminaries more than just a Sunday School.”51
Classwork in the seminaries now included scripture reading, memorization, and recitations as well as short talks by students. In 1921 Superintendent Bennion reported the following: “The seminary aims not only to teach the facts of scripture but endeavors to stimulate students to form habits of religious life and service that make for character.” He further noted that “seminary students participate frequently in public religious meetings” and, as in the past, presented entire sacrament meeting programs “in the various wards of the Church.”52
Also in 1920, Brother Bennion instituted administrative changes to further assure the quality of the teaching in the seminaries. The new policy required all seminary principals to be approved by the central office in Salt Lake City and required stake boards of education to consult the superintendent before selecting teachers.53 Superintendent Bennion, with Board approval, sought to employ only the very best teachers and hoped to pay them “more than the average public school teacher.” He required that all instructors be morally clean, obey the Word of Wisdom, and live their religion. He particularly sought out teachers “whose spiritual glow” would “enkindle religious enthusiasm on the part of those instructed.”54
From the very beginning, teachers were selected from the ranks of Latter-day Saints who had received college training in such varied disciplines as engineering, psychology, agriculture, history, sociology, English, business, and law. While academic interests varied, the devotion of these teachers to the restored gospel and the scriptures created an impressive bond of unity.
After attending graduation ceremonies at Brigham Young University and realizing that many of the faculty held PhDs while he held only a master’s degree, Brother Bennion secured a leave of absence and enrolled in graduate school to pursue a PhD.55 In the fall of 1921 he began his studies at the University of California–Berkley to complete his doctorate.
As Brother Bennion was preparing to leave for California, Elder McKay was about to complete a worldwide tour, visiting the members and teaching the mission of the Church.56 Shortly after Elder McKay’s return in December 1921, he was called as the European Mission president, where he served from 1922 to 1924. On January 26, 1922, a motion was made in a Church Board of Education meeting that Elder John A. Widtsoe, who had been called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in March, 1921, fill Elder McKay’s vacated role of Commissioner.57 The motion was approved and Elder Widtsoe started what would be the first of two terms as Commissioner.
When Superintendent Bennion returned from California in December 1923, he studied the growth of the Church and the finances that would be required to meet the future religious education needs of LDS high school students. Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah, and Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, had each requested permission to offer an additional two years of college courses, which would increase costs, and a growing Brigham Young University required additional money each year. Five other colleges faced building needs demanding attention.58
In a paper he submitted to the Church Board of Education on February 3, 1926, titled “An Inquiry into Our Church School Policy,” Superintendent Bennion noted that the cost per capita for operating a Church school in 1925 had been $204.97, whereas seminaries had required only $23.73 per capita.59 In concluding his essay, he asked general Church officers to consider three options for the coming school year: (1) hold all schools at the present level of funding but establish new seminaries as requested at a cost of $800,000; (2) expand Brigham Young College and Ricks College to offer four years of study each, which would require expenditures of $1,000,000; or (3) “withdraw from the field of academic instruction altogether and center our educational efforts in a promotion of a strictly religious education program.” The third option, Superintendent Bennion noted, “could be financed at a cost greatly under the expenditure involved in our academic program.”60
After studying the superintendent’s paper for a month, the Church Board of Education met again on March 3, 1926. President Charles W. Nibley opened the subject by saying, “The whole question in a few words is: Shall the Church continue to compete with the State in education and duplicate the work being done by the State or shall it step out and attend strictly to religious education?”61 President Rudger Clawson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles moved that Superintendent Bennion study the question again and “make concrete recommendations.” Fifteen days later, on March 18, 1926, Brother Bennion recommended that the Church “withdraw from the academic field and center upon religious education.”62 A vigorous and extended discussion followed. Finally the Board agreed to forward the superintendent’s recommendations on to the First Presidency for a final decision. President Heber J. Grant and his counselors, Anthony W. Ivins and Charles W. Nibley, accepted Superintendent Bennion’s proposal, and it became policy.63
As a result, several Church schools closed but were soon replaced by seminary programs.64
By 1926 Superintendent Bennion reported that the Church was operating 59 seminaries with a combined enrollment of 9,231 students, and by the end of the decade 67 seminaries were offering classes to over 25,000 students.65
Even in Salt Lake City, where the school board stubbornly refused to allow students to participate in seminary during the school day, daily instead of released-time seminaries were begun in 1929. Sites or buildings were obtained near East High School, West High School, and South High School and were prepared or remodeled for classroom use as necessary.66
In the beginning, classes were held before and after the regular high school hours, but the afternoon classes were eventually dropped because of lack of attendance. The daily seminaries in Salt Lake City were successful for those who enrolled; the percentage of students enrolled, however, was far below that in the released-time seminaries. Seminary enrollment in the Salt Lake District remained near 10 percent, compared to 70 percent in most other areas with released-time seminary.67
In 1927 Brother Bennion worked with all the teachers during the summer workshop to outline the objectives of the seminary program. Knowledge objectives included “an intimate acquaintance with the word of the Lord as contained in the standard works of the Church,” “an acquaintance with its geographical, historical and social backgrounds,” and “a comprehensive understanding of the principles of the gospel and of Church organization.”68 Seminary, the teachers concluded, also existed to help students learn the blessings of living righteously and learn how to be happy. Teachers were encouraged to teach faith that led to prayer, ambition that led to righteous achievement, sympathy for the ills of others, tolerance for different opinions, openness toward new truth, cheerfulness, a cooperative spirit, and “a wholesome attitude toward all honest work.” If the seminary program was successful, it would help students develop habits of prayer, worship, service, “clean and dynamic living,” “right thinking,” wholesome recreation, vigorous study, “mingling with stimulating people,” and self-examination. Seminary was to foster these “ideals in a generation which tomorrow will be our leaders.”69
In the summer of 1928, seminars were held south of Salt Lake City at a camp in the mountains near Alpine, Utah. Prior to its start, a memorandum was sent to all teachers with instructions that they were to ponder how the seminary teacher related to the Church Board of Education, the public school, public service, and the home, and many other aspects of their jobs.70 When the teachers met there was time set apart for recreation and fellowshipping. One instructor remembered, “It was a glorious, inspiring summer. We were exploring, adventuring, trying to write the gospel in our own lives in our own way.”71 Participants left the mountains with the challenge of Superintendent Bennion still ringing in their ears: “In the towns and villages of the Church: Put on such a program that boys can’t afford the time to loaf on the grocery corner, the garage concrete, or the pool hall cafeteria. … You have a call wherever a boy or girl squanders hours aimlessly. The fellow who needs you most is the one who is [furthest] from looking you up.”72
Superintendent Bennion strengthened unity among the Church’s seminary teachers, developed clear objectives, fostered scholarship, and improved teaching skills. With his guidance, the teachers also developed specific objectives for each of the three courses of study: Old Testament, New Testament, and Church History.73 They agreed, too, that instructors were to know each of their students and were to help shape their lives for good.74 During the 1920s the seminary curriculum was revamped to “ensure the spiritual character of the classes and to bring greater uniformity to the program.” Efforts were made to increase focus on the Book of Mormon, “which had been largely neglected to that point” because the program focused on the for-credit Bible courses.75
Much to the surprise of many Latter-day Saint educators, Adam S. Bennion resigned as superintendent of Church schools on December 15, 1927, to accept a position as vice president of the Utah Power and Light Company. In his letter of resignation to the Church Board of Education, he expressed his appreciation for them and the joy that he had experienced in working with so many wonderful teachers and students. The Board accepted his resignation and then appointed him as a member of the Board, a position he held for the rest of his life. The teachers were disappointed that he left, and one remarked that when he heard the news he lost his appetite and felt like a rudderless ship.76
Brother Bennion continued to serve faithfully in the Church. On April 9, 1953, over 20 years after his resignation, Church members sustained him as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.77
A New Church Commissioner of Education: Joseph F. Merrill
Joseph F. Merrill, the man largely responsible for founding the Church’s first seminary, was appointed to succeed Superintendent Bennion in 1928. Though Brother Merrill assumed Brother Bennion’s duties, the title of the position was changed from “Superintendent of Church Schools” to “Commissioner.” Prior to this time the title of commissioner had been used to refer to the General Authority overseeing the program, and the head of the education department was designated as the superintendent. On the recommendation of the Church Board of Education, the title of commissioner was deemed more appropriate because the title of superintendent “was not broad enough to cover the administration of the other fields of the department.” The First Presidency appointed Elders Stephen L. Richards and Richard R. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Adam S. Bennion to serve as an advisory committee to Commissioner Merrill.78 To serve in the post, Brother Merrill left behind a career of over 30 years in the University of Utah’s School of Mines and Engineering. Despite the sacrifice, Brother Merrill embraced his new role, stating in general conference, “I believe that I have been called to the finest and the best educational position in America.”79
Commissioner Merrill faced a number of daunting challenges in his new position. Almost as soon as he was appointed he was charged with the task of closing Church schools “as fast as circumstances would permit.”80
Not long after his appointment, Commissioner Merrill noted that a Church survey revealed that the Primary and the Religion Classes were duplicating efforts. This duplication led some stake presidents and bishops to raise the concern that the Church had too many organizations.81 The majority of the children, the commissioner explained to the board, did not belong to both—they would belong to one or the other. In 1929 the Religion Classes of the elementary grades, K–6, were consolidated with and carried on by the Primary. The seminaries carried forward the weekday religious training for high school students.82
In the late 1920s, Church leaders began offering junior high students the opportunity of attending junior seminary classes.83 Some of these were held in ward meetinghouses, and a stake superintendent selected teachers and gave them instructions.84 Commissioner Merrill explained junior seminary thus:
What is the junior seminary? It is only Religion Class under a new name for grades 7, 8 and 9 of the public schools. Heretofore Religion Class work has ended with the eighth grade. … Most of the ninth grade students in Utah, as well as a large portion in Idaho, do not go to senior high school at all, and as we have been previously operating, there was in the ninth grade what one of our teachers called the tragic gap. In this city [Salt Lake] there are 25,000 junior high school students, few of whom our organizations are reaching, and so it was felt that if we can so organize that we can carry forward this work as effectively as ever, the [seminaries], by including the ninth grade, will be doing more than ever before.85
The junior seminary program was designed to begin where the Primary left off: Primary reached students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and junior seminary reached students in seventh through ninth grades. In areas where children were bused to and from school, arrangements were made to have students released from class one period a day so they could receive religious instruction in a seminary building adjacent to the school. Commissioner Merrill noted, “As means will permit, this seminary work will extend until it reaches every high school and college, junior and senior, where our people attend in sufficient numbers to warrant the establishment of an institution.” The commissioner was confident that with the support of good, faithful parents, this relatively new program would succeed.86
The decision would eventually be made in 1955 to discontinue the junior seminaries, although in some areas they continued until 1960.87
The growing storm clouds of the Great Depression led Church leaders to move more quickly toward the more economical program of seminaries. In a 1929 meeting of the Church Board of Education, the decision was made to transfer to state control or close all of the remaining Church colleges, with the exception of Brigham Young University.88
The Seminary Program Comes under Attack
Discussions surrounding the future of the Church schools were overshadowed in January 1930 by a serious threat to the legality of the seminary program. A report from the state inspector of high schools, Isaac L. Williamson, gave a scathing public critique of the relationship between Utah high schools and seminaries.89 Commissioner Merrill had attempted to meet with Williamson’s committee before it made its report to the State Board of Education, but the board had refused the meeting.90 When the report was delivered, Church leaders, Commissioner Merrill included, quickly organized themselves to issue a response.
Over the next few months, Commissioner Merrill and other Church leaders led a campaign to preserve the seminary system. The conflict climaxed with Commissioner Merrill appearing before the Utah State Board of Education to defend the seminary in person. In a letter sent to the state board that captures the core of his arguments, he wrote: “The adoption of the Committee’s suggestions means the death of the seminary, and the enemies of the seminary all know it. But why do they want to kill something that every high school principal and school superintendent of experience says is good, being one of the most effective agencies in character training and good citizenship that influences the students? Is religious prejudice trying to mask in legal sheep’s clothing for the purpose of stabbing the seminary, this agency that has had such a wonderful influence in bringing a united support to the public schools?”91 Commissioner Merrill’s defense sent a clear message to the state board that the Church was willing to fight for its seminaries and had compelling legal reasons to believe it would win if the question came to a court decision.
Even after Commissioner Merrill’s rebuttal, the antagonistic members of the State Board of Education showed little inclination to back down, though they now had to consider the consequences of legal action if they did move to end credit and released time. In June 1930, the state board considered the possibility of a “friendly lawsuit” to answer the constitutional questions raised by the Williamson report and initiated a search to find a taxpayer who would bring the lawsuit.92
Commissioner Merrill also expected that the fate of seminary might ultimately be decided in court and readied himself for the challenge. In July 1930 he told a gathering of BYU students that the Church would fight to save its seminaries and intimated that the controversy might eventually end up in the Supreme Court.93
Fortunately, such measures were unnecessary. In September 1931 the State Board of Education voted six to three in favor of retention of credit and released time. Williamson argued passionately before the state board several times against the seminaries, but his efforts appear to have been ineffective.94 The conflict did serve as an uncomfortable reminder of the religious rift that still existed in the state of Utah. All six of the board members who voted in favor of retention were Latter-day Saints, while the three dissenters were not.95 Minor skirmishes continued over the seminary issue in the ensuing decades. At a 1932 meeting of Utah educators, one school principal called the seminaries “an evil more subtle, farther reaching, more dangerous and more unwise than the cigaret evil.”96
The lawsuit desired by the state board never materialized, although newspaper articles in 1934, 1943, 1948, 1950, and 1956 indicate that people had attempted or considered embarking on judicial proceedings to test the legality of the released-time seminary system.97 The legality of released-time religious education also became the subject of two cases presented before the U.S. Supreme Court: McCollum v. Board of Education (1948) and Zorach v. Clauson (1952). Both trials involved non-LDS released-time programs. The two Supreme Court cases had slightly contradictory rulings over the legality of released-time programs, but “reconciliation between the two rulings came with” a third case, Lemon v. Kurtzman (1972). In that case, the decision ruled that released-time was legal so long as the programs did not entail “excessive government entanglement with religion [Scott Hansen, “Released Time Religious Instruction Revisited,” Unpublished paper, Brigham Young University, 1986, 10; Lemon v. Kurtzman, 402 U.S. 602 (1971)].”98
The battle over the seminary system caused significant reverberations through Church education. Williamson had raised some legitimate concerns over the way the system operated, and the following administrative changes were initiated to comply with the wishes of the state board: “Registration was to be carried out in separate buildings, seminary photos and activities were not to appear in high school yearbooks, and seminary teachers were forbidden any gratuities or privileges from the high school that were not equally extended to any citizen of the respective community.”99
Commissioner Merrill met several times with state officials to iron out the details of ensuring that the seminary program remained legal. He “agreed to closer supervision of the courses of study used for Old and New Testament courses so that such instruction would be confined to material contained in the Bible.” This meant rewriting the teaching materials to remove all references to the other standard works of the Church. Commissioner Merrill also instructed faculty members to teach only one subject each year, which mixed the various age groups in each class.100
Aftermath of the 1930–31 Seminary Crisis
In large measure the conflict with the state board in 1930–31 came about because seminary teachers were not adequately trained. “Many seminary teachers at the time didn’t even have a high school teacher’s certificate,” a problem because some of the courses they taught offered high school credit. Commissioner Merrill “had already seen this as a potential problem. One of his first actions as commissioner was to send a general letter to all seminary teachers, suggesting that they obtain a teaching certificate as soon as possible.”101
Maintaining programs begun by Superintendent Bennion, Commissioner Merrill encouraged seminary teachers to earn higher degrees at some of the nation’s finest universities. He invited scholars with worldwide reputations in biblical studies to instruct the Church’s religion teachers for six weeks in successive summers, including Edgar J. Goodspeed, William C. Graham, John T. McNeill, and William C. Bower.102 Brother Lyon, a teacher in attendance, remembered that it “was a revelation to see a man of the caliber of Goodspeed, a gentleman, a tremendous scholar, who had published not too much earlier his American Translation of the New Testament.”103 The majority of the outside teachers came from the University of Chicago Divinity School, considered to be among the most liberal schools in America.104
The young teachers in the system were enraptured by the scholarship of Goodspeed and his cohorts. Brother Lyon said that Goodspeed’s lectures were “the most exciting class I’ve ever had up to that time,” and he said, “I learned more in Goodspeed’s one hour lectures … for six weeks than I would have learned in a Sunday school class in a hundred years because the individual had his subject matter and knew how to present it. And he didn’t have any people sleeping in his class. He was a scintillating lecturer.” Brother Lyon also recalled that after several General Authorities attended one of Goodspeed’s lectures, they invited him to deliver a Sunday afternoon sermon in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, which was packed with eager listeners.105
Commissioner Merrill wanted the Church’s institute and seminary teachers to reach the same level as these outside scholars had and thus invited several promising young teachers to attend the University of Chicago Divinity School.106 Among these men were several who later became key leaders in the developing religious education programs of the Church. In total, 11 men107 earned advanced degrees at Chicago during this period, including Sidney B. Sperry, T. Edgar Lyon, Russel B. Swensen, Daryl Chase, George S. Tanner, and Heber C. Snell.
During their studies in Chicago, some of the teachers began to be troubled as they delved further into the modernist approach to the scriptures favored by the university’s scholars. In a letter to his parents, T. Edgar Lyon outlined some of his concerns:
I fail to see how a young man can come here to school, and then go out after graduation as a minister of a church, and still preach what we call Christianity. The U. of Chicago is noted as being the most liberal (and that means Modernism) school in America. All religion is taught as product of social growth and development, and anything supernatural is looked upon as merely a betrayal of one’s own ignorance and primitive mind. They make no attempt to harmonize science and the Bible—they merely throw the Bible away, and teach scientific “truths” as the only thing to follow.108
Lyon felt that though the professors feigned enlightenment, they could be just as dogmatic in their views as the most ardent fundamentalist. He continued:
Their God, here at this University, is “the cosmic force of the Universe,” “the personality producing force of the cosmos,” the “in all and all” and a few more phrases just as unintelligible and meaningless. I readily see why the modern preachers talk about psychology, sociology, astronomy, prison reform, etc., in their churches on Sunday—that is all there is left to talk about after they have finished robbing Jesus of His Divinity, and miracles, and resurrection. … The more I see and hear of it, the more it makes me appreciate the simple truths and teachings of … “Mormonism,” even though we are called primitive. I am able to see so many places in the lectures each day that seem to me to be so obviously clear and simple for us to accept, yet these “learned men” pass right over them and can not see anything but their own view. I think they are just as narrow-minded in their interpretations as they claim that we are in ours.109
When the men sent to Chicago returned, they resumed their positions in the religious education programs of the Church. As the influence of the Chicago school spread, Church leaders began to see some of the harmful effects of introducing worldly scholarship into the study of the scriptures. Decades later, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave this assessment of these teachers: “Some who went never returned. And some of them who returned never came back. They had followed, they supposed, the scriptural injunction: ‘Seek learning, even by study and also by faith.’ (D&C 88:118.) But somehow the mix had been wrong. For they had sought learning out of the best books, even by study, but with too little faith. They found themselves in conflict with the simple things of the gospel. One by one they found their way outside the field of teaching religion, outside Church activity, and a few of them outside the Church itself.”110
When the Chicago teachers returned, they immediately began to make an impact within the system. Some began to produce strong apologetic works for the Church, while others felt that their training curtailed them from teaching in a faith-building manner. One of the teachers, assigned to teach at a high school seminary, wrote to a colleague, “I used to think that I knew how to teach Old Testament to high school students but after my work at the University of Chicago, I discovered what an impossible task it was to teach the Old Testament as it actually is, and at the same time feed the religious life of young boys and girls. For that reason I persuaded my associate teachers to relieve me of all Old Testament duties.”111
The experience with the Chicago divinity school marked one of the earliest introductions of modern biblical interpretation into Latter-day Saint classrooms. While for the most part this resulted in an increase in the professionalism and scholarship of the system, it also began to introduce a creeping sense of secularism that would eventually alarm the leaders of the Church and require correction.
Early Seminary Curriculum
Not only did administrators encourage the Church’s religion teachers to acquire more education, they also selected gifted writers to work on student textbooks. Ezra C. Dalby, who had a master’s degree and served as principal of the West Seminary in Salt Lake City, wrote a text for Old Testament classes titled Land and Leaders of Israel. The book’s objectives, according to Guy C. Wilson, were “to invite a spirit of worship and a desire to emulate the noble qualities of the great characters of the Bible … to avoid all controversial questions as to the authenticity and historicity of the incidents and biographies of the Bible … [and] to deal with the characters and incidents of the Bible in such a sympathetic and intimate way as to give the students a new incentive for reading it.”112 Brother Dalby’s text, using the words of A. Theodore Tuttle, “went through the Old Testament and pulled out men and made each one of those men a hero.”113 Brother Dalby told his readers, “The Bible Text, which is a source of every lesson, must be read in addition to the lesson,” and he also encouraged students to “memorize as many of the Memory Gems as possible.”114
John Henry Evans was appointed to write a book that emphasized a clear understanding of the message and mission of the Church. His volume, The Heart of Mormonism, introduced important events in Church history, such as the First Vision, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the exodus of the Saints to the Salt Lake Valley, and tried to express the spirit behind those events. In the preface to the book, Brother Evans wrote, “That ‘Mormonism’ has existed now for a full century in organized form and meantime gradually increased in size and importance, is evidence that it has within it the element of truth. What is that element, that spirit, that heart of truth? It is the aim of this book to reveal it … that those who belong to the Church, especially the younger members of it, may learn to discriminate between what is essential and what is not.”115
Commissioner Merrill asked Obert C. Tanner to author a book that could be used as the text for the New Testament course of study. Individual chapters (lessons) were sent to all teachers for their criticism and suggestions. The published book was titled New Testament Studies and was later revised and renamed The New Testament Speaks.
As changes were suggested in the core content of the Church History and Doctrine course of study, leaders asked William E. Berrett to author a text. In the resulting book, titled The Restored Church and published in 1943, Brother Berrett successfully combined history and doctrine with the most important sections of the Doctrine and Covenants into one grand whole. Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the Seventy believed Brother Berrett’s book, written at Church headquarters, was the finest Church history book written up to that time.116 For decades it remained the approved text for the seminary course taken by high school seniors.
As the Great Depression continued, Commissioner Merrill, with the approval of the Church Board of Education, announced with great reluctance that the salaries of teachers would be reduced by 10 percent for the 1932–33 school year. “The income of the Church,” he wrote, “demands this action.”117 Hoping further decreases in salary would not be necessary, Commissioner Merrill later advised the teachers to “be as thrifty as possible and spend your money as sparingly as possible. … Avoid making any expenditure,” he admonished, “that can be postponed.”118 In 1933, with the economic situation no better, “the Board was forced to scale ninth grade seminaries back from daily to weekly programs, closing small classes altogether.”119
John A. Widtsoe
Joseph F. Merrill was called as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1931. For two years he continued to serve as Church Commissioner of Education. In 1933 Elder Merrill received a call to serve as the president of the European Mission, replacing Elder John A. Widtsoe, who upon his return home was asked to serve as commissioner.120 Commissioner Widtsoe had previously served as commissioner from 1921 to 1924.121 One of the first decisions Commissioner Widtsoe faced regarded seminary curriculum and the “practice of teaching the same subject in all the seminary classes in any one year, the so called rotation system.” After conducting a survey, he found “a very large majority” of teachers wanted to “return to the old method of teaching the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Church history and doctrine concurrently.”122 The old system was readopted.123
As education leaders made decisions on the general level that affected all teachers, local teachers continued their efforts to influence for good the students and the community. Joseph Fish, principal of the Lovell, Wyoming, seminary, delivered a talk broadcast over a Billings, Montana, radio station, titled “Our Religion’s Contribution to the Nation’s Temporal Salvation.” G. Byron Done of the Blackfoot, Idaho, seminary taught a two-month genealogy course to his Church History and Doctrine students and then took them to the Logan Temple to perform baptisms for the dead. Seminary students in Ephraim, Utah, completed more than 1,000 baptisms in the Manti Temple on one temple trip. Roy A. West, who led the Gunnison, Utah, seminary, organized an “Our Clean Life League.” His students made a commitment to listen to only good radio programs, read only the best literature, spend time in the library, and perform good deeds.124
Junior seminaries were intended to assist students to grow in faith during what some considered were the most challenging years in a young person’s life. The textbook for seventh graders was titled Looking in on Greatness. Eighth graders studied from the text Problems of Youth, and in the ninth grade the text was Balance Wheels. Classes included a song, a prayer, a “memory exercise,” the lesson, class discussion, questions, and a closing prayer.125
1934 Summer School
A year before his release as Commissioner, Elder Widtsoe announced that all seminary teachers would be expected to attend a 1934 summer school session, which he would instruct. In a missive to all teachers he wrote: “The purpose of this summer school is a definite one. Most of you have been studying the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the history of the Christian Church. You have had a wealth of information given you. … But during that time you have had very little direct consideration of the Gospel, and the purpose of this convention or summer school is to discuss Gospel problems. … In other words, we want to apply the Gospel to academic learning.”126 The teachers met on the campus of Brigham Young University and at the Church Administration Building from June 12 through July 13. General Authorities who lectured them included President Heber J. Grant, President Anthony W. Ivins, and Elders Richard R. Lyman and Charles A. Callis of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Commissioner Widtsoe himself taught four classes: “Man and the Gospel,” “The Truth of Mormonism,” “Seminary Problems,” and “Questions and Answers.” On at least six occasions classes were held “in the upper rooms of the Salt Lake Temple, where the endowment and other matters were discussed.”127 G. Byron Done, representing the teachers, told Elder Widtsoe, “You have not only fed our minds, you have inspired us. … You have won our hearts and our love as a great teacher.”128 A year after this remarkable summer school, Elder Widtsoe was released as commissioner to teach courses in religion at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Beginnings of the Institutes of Religion
As the seminary program proved its usefulness on the level of secondary education, some leaders began to wonder if the same principles and practices could be applied on the collegiate level. The institutes of religion grew out of the time period of heated political and philosophical debates characteristic of the 1920s. High profile incidents such as the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” which addressed the issue of teaching the theory of evolution in public schools, became hallmarks of an era “marked by the rising reputation of science and a decline in the influence and power of the churches.” As one historian noted, “Scientists were taking over the study and interpretation of the Bible by means of the ‘Higher Criticism,’” and “behavioristic psychology was replacing sacred and philosophical literature in the study of man.”129
As the Church grew, many members left Utah and established homes in America’s large cities, and as their children graduated from high school these children often attended universities close to home. Furthermore, some Latter-day Saints still residing in Utah sent their children to state-supported colleges or private universities throughout America. By the late 1920s, Church leaders became concerned about meeting the spiritual needs of these bright young college students.
Many complex forces led to the creation of the institutes of religion, but in a smaller sense the program began, like the seminaries, with the influence of a single family. Sisters Norma and Zola Geddes enrolled at the University of Idaho in Moscow in the fall of 1925 and faithfully attended the small local branch of the Church. When their father, William, visited that semester and went to church with them in a “smelly, dismal hall, rented by the Church for Sabbath meetings,” he was “appalled by the facility [and] felt that his daughters should not have to put up with such conditions,” which included helping to clean up cigarette butts and whiskey bottles each week before Church meetings could begin. William contacted his longtime friend Preston Nibley about the matter and soon had a meeting with Preston’s father, Charles W. Nibley of the First Presidency. “At this meeting, William explained that LDS students deserved a strong Church presence at the University.” His pleas joined the repeated calls of William J. Wilde and George L. Luke, two LDS members of the university faculty who had been working to establish an LDS student center near the campus.130
It was evident that action was necessary to assist not just the Geddes girls in Moscow but the growing number of young Latter-day Saints attending colleges and universities throughout the region. Suggestions to adapt the seminary program to meet the needs of college students had reached the Church Board of Education as early as 1912. At first some felt that students were already overloaded with their university coursework and that studying theology as well would be too burdensome.131 However, concerns still lingered and Church Superintendent of Schools Horace H. Cummings had begun to take steps to meet the needs of LDS college students. In 1914 the Church Board had asked Joseph F. Merrill, then a professor at the University of Utah, to chair a committee to look after students at the university. Superintendent Cummings wrote to Brother Merrill instructing him that “students should be located in the respective wards where they live and their bishops urged to keep them active in a church way.”132
In 1915 Superintendent Cummings again stressed the concerns about students at the University of Utah and their need for religious education. Cummings noted requests from the president of the university and several faculty members urging Church leaders to construct a building near the campus to provide religious education.133 Superintendent Cummings presented a report to the Church Board of Education, which was received favorably, but for unknown reasons the matter was not discussed again for another ten years.134
Recalling his own experiences as a college student, Church Superintendent Adam S. Bennion saw the need for a program with strong spiritual mentors to help young students navigate the often treacherous shoals of college academics. He suggested a new program of “collegiate seminaries” and spoke of the need for “a strong man who could draw students to him and whom they could consult personally and counsel with.” In Superintendent Bennion’s opinion, “such a man would be of infinite value.”135 With a recognized need for a new program, the search began for the right man to launch it.
The First Institute Director
While the Church Board wrestled with the best answer to this plea for help from the Church leaders in Moscow, J. Wyley and Magdalen Sessions arrived in Salt Lake City fresh from a seven-year stint serving as president of the South African mission. Brother Sessions, physically exhausted and near financial destitution from his extensive missionary service, received a call to meet with the First Presidency as soon as possible. Brother Sessions arrived at the meeting fully expecting to receive a managerial assignment in the Utah-Idaho Sugar Company.136
As Brother Sessions received his final instructions from the First Presidency, President Charles W. Nibley “suddenly stopped, looked at President Grant, and said, ‘Heber, we are making a mistake.’ President Grant replied, ‘Yes, I am afraid we are; I have not felt just right about assigning Brother Sessions to the sugar business.’” President Nibley then looked at Wyley and said, “Brother Sessions, you are the man to go to Moscow to take care of our students at the University.” Brother Sessions, to use his own words, said, “‘No, no; are you calling us on another mission?’ President Grant chuckled and said, ‘Of course not; we are giving you … a fine professional opportunity for yourself.’ Sensing my disappointment, President Nibley arose and put his arm around me and said, ‘Don’t be disturbed, Brother Sessions. This is what the Lord wants you to do. God bless you!’”137
Laying the Foundations: Moscow, Idaho
In many ways, Brother Sessions’s assignment in Moscow was closer to missionary work than it was to traditional religious education. An Idaho native, Brother Sessions was aware of the cultural issues that sometimes divided the areas with large Latter-day Saint populations from the rest of the state. Moscow was located in northern Idaho, far from Mormon centers of strength, and the First Presidency had become deeply concerned about the spiritual apathy that seemed to be developing among the students there.138
While the members of the Church in the city welcomed Brother Sessions and his family, some factions of the community viewed them with suspicion. The imprecise nature of his assignment in Moscow raised the level of distrust. The local ministerial association, some members of the university faculty, and several local business people even appointed a committee to keep an eye on him and make sure that he didn’t “Mormonize” the university.139 Realizing he needed community support in the new venture, Brother Sessions set out to become a part of the community. He joined the local Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club, and both he and his wife, Magdalen, enrolled in graduate courses at the university.140 Brother Sessions used his affiliation with these organizations to reach out to people who otherwise wouldn’t have been willing to talk to him. At a series of biweekly dinners held by the Chamber of Commerce, he made efforts to sit next to Fred Fulton, head of the committee appointed to oppose his work. At one of these dinners, Fulton said, “You son-of-a-gun, you’re the darndest fellow. I was appointed on a committee to keep you out of Moscow and every time I see you, you come in here so darn friendly that I like you better all the time.” Brother Sessions replied, “I’m the same way. We just as well be friends.” Brother Sessions later recalled that Fred Fulton became one of his best friends during his stay in Moscow.141
Not all nonmembers in Moscow opposed Brother Sessions’s arrival. In fact, a few become instrumental in helping him launch the institute. One of them, Jay G. Eldridge, a professor of German language and literature,142 even came up with the name for the new venture. Meeting Brother Sessions as he walked past the construction site of the new building, Eldridge asked him what he planned to name the new structure. In most official correspondence to that point, the new program was referred to as “collegiate seminaries.” When Brother Sessions responded that he didn’t quite know what it would be called, Dr. Eldridge replied, “I’ll tell you what the name is. What you see up there is the Latter-day Saint institute of religion at the University of Idaho north campus.” He then pointed out that when his church built a similar structure it would be called the Methodist institute of religion, and so on with other churches.143 The suggestion was forwarded to Joseph F. Merrill, still the Church Commissioner of Education, who sent back a letter addressed “To the Director of the Latter-day Saint Institute of Religion—Moscow, Idaho.” When other institutes were founded, the name remained.144
Another nonmember who played a key role in the creation of the institute was C. W. Chenoweth, head of University of Idaho’s department of philosophy. Chenoweth, a tall, pipe-smoking professor, was one of the most popular and respected leaders on campus.145 He warned Brother Sessions, “If you’re coming on to this campus with a religious program, you had better be prepared to meet the competition of the university.” Intensely interested in the developing program, Chenoweth offered his assistance, and together they studied the problems associated with launching a religion program adjacent to a university.146
Developing the Philosophy of Institute
Winning over the community was only part of Brother Sessions’s challenge. He had been asked to create a new kind of religious education almost entirely from scratch. Anxious to receive some guidance in the venture, he wrote to Brigham Young University, Illinois University, and several others. Worried over what the curriculum should be, he wrote to Commissioner Merrill seeking advice: “I have been working on a plan for the organization for our Institute and the courses we should offer in our weekday classes. I confess that the building of a curriculum for such an institution has worried me a lot and it is a job that I feel unqualified for.”
Commissioner Merrill’s reply two days later became a foundational pillar for the institute program. In Commissioner Merrill’s mind, the objective of institute was to “enable our young people attending the colleges to make the necessary adjustments between the things they have been taught in the Church and the things they are learning in the university, to enable them to become firmly settled in their faith as members of the Church.” He continued, “You know that when our young people go to college and study science and philosophy in all their branches, that they are inclined to become materialistic, to forget God, and to believe that the knowledge of men is all-sufficient. … Can the truths of science and philosophy be reconciled with religious truths?” Commissioner Merrill, a scientist by profession, wanted institute to be designed specifically to allow the reconciliation of faith and reason. To this end, he concluded, “Personally, I am convinced that religion is as reasonable as science; that religious truths and scientific truths nowhere are in conflict; that there is one great unifying purpose extending throughout all creation; that we are living in a wonderful, though at the present time deeply mysterious, world; and that there is an all-wise, all-powerful Creator back of it all. Can this same faith be developed in the minds of all our collegiate and university students? Our collegiate institutes are established as means to this end.”147
In constructing the institute curriculum, Brother Sessions freely admitted that he gathered ideas from several universities. Some of those who helped him organize the courses were members of English, education, and philosophy departments of the University of Idaho faculty, who were just as eager to see how the new program would come into being. They sought out textbooks and outlines, assisting Brother Sessions as he constructed several courses in biblical studies and religious history. Through an arrangement with the university, college credit was granted for each of the courses.148 This arrangement meant that Brother Sessions’s classes were occasionally visited by officials from the university. Speaking of this, he would later recall, “If you think this fellow who had been teaching agriculture was not frightened, you’re mistaken!”149 With the curriculum in place and with the support of the university, Brother Sessions began teaching the first classes in the fall of 1927, roughly one year after his arrival. His total enrollment was 57 students.150
In devising the institute program, Brother Sessions was not just interested in offering religion classes. College-level religion courses for Latter-day Saints had already been taught experimentally by Andrew M. Anderson and Gustive O. Larsen at the College of Southern Utah, beginning in 1925.151 What distinguished Brother Sessions’s efforts were his intentions to launch an entire program designed to meet the spiritual, intellectual, and social needs of his students. To assist him in this endeavor, Sessions enlisted the help of Magdalen, who “devised a varied program of social and cultural activities.”152 Under the supervision of Brother and Sister Sessions, the institute became an all-out effort to form the scattered students into their own community at the university.
Reflecting on the role his wife played, Brother Sessions later remarked, “If religion is anything, it’s beautiful, which is the philosophy that Magdalen worked with. … Nothing [is] more lovely than the teaching of Jesus, and Magdalen was putting religion to work. If religion is anything, it ought to serve us here and now. It ought to make our lives more beautiful, in more harmony. Now what did she do? She put the life and the vitality and the beauty into the basic thing of religious education.”153 Sister Sessions would play a key role not only in institute social programs but also in the décor and furnishing of each institute Brother and Sister Sessions supervised.154
Magdalen’s efforts fit in well with her husband’s philosophy of religious education. He wrote, “Religion is practical in life and living. It is not theory, but is absolutely necessary to a complete and well-rounded education. There can be no complete education without religious training. It must not, therefore, be crowded out, but a place for it must be left or made in an educational program and it must be kept alive, healthy, and growing.”155 To Brother Sessions, religion was not something that could be compartmentalized. It needed to be a fully integrated part of everyday existence.
Moscow Institute: The First Institute Building
Brother Sessions’s philosophy was reflected not only in the educational and social programs of the institute but also in the design of the building itself. Not just a classroom building, it also featured a reception room, a chapel, a ballroom, a library, and a serving kitchen. The second floor of the building held 11 nicely furnished dormitory rooms capable of accommodating 22 male students. The exterior of the building featured the Tudor Gothic style of architecture, corresponding with the other buildings at the university.156
It was a minor miracle that Brother Sessions was able to secure the funds to build such a structure. Meeting with President Heber J. Grant, Brother Sessions said, “President Grant, I cannot go back to Moscow and build a little shanty at the University of Idaho.” President Grant cautiously replied, “If we give you $40,000, you will return and ask for $49,000 or $50,000.” Brother Sessions then wryly commented, “President Grant, I promise I will not ask you for $45,000 or $50,000, but I will not promise that I will not ask for $55,000 to $60,000.” Smiling, President Grant answered, “Of course, the Moscow building must be nice.” A budget of $60,000 was allotted for the construction of the building. When the structure was completed, $5,000 was returned to President Grant, who remarked incredulously, “I did not think it possible or that I should live to see this occur.”157
Brother Sessions wanted even the physical appearance of the institute to teach about the Latter-day Saints. He took as his motto, “If it’s the LDS institute, it’s the best thing on the campus.”158 He later reflected that he wanted the building to “foster the idea that beauty is a good environment for religious stimulation, association, and general education.” He declared with pride that “the buildings are used daily, almost hourly, by the students who enjoy and respect the privilege. An atmosphere seems to be cultivated which is often mentioned by even a casual visitor.”159
The Moscow Institute of Religion building was dedicated on September 25, 1928, by President Charles W. Nibley.160 It was fitting that President Nibley dedicated the building, since it was his inspiration that had sent Brother Sessions to Moscow nearly two years earlier. The program started by Brother and Sister Sessions began a tradition of excellence, and in just a few short years the institute came to be widely respected on the campus. During the 1930s, students living at the institute “won the University scholarship cup so often that they were finally excluded from competition.”161 The institute was visited by others hoping to follow a similar pattern. Ernest O. Holland, president of Washington State College, visited the building “several times and told various gatherings of educators that the Mormon Institute had come nearer to a solution of the problem of religious education for college students than had any other with which he was acquainted.”162
In 1929, [Brother] Sessions was asked to leave to start a new institute in Pocatello, Idaho, while Sidney B. Sperry filled his position in Moscow. The decision appears to have caused a minor uproar in Moscow, prompting Commissioner Merrill to write to George Luke, a university professor and counselor in the branch presidency, to soothe his feelings. “Our request that Brother Sessions go to Pocatello is the highest compliment we can pay him. There is an extremely difficult situation there and we believe he is better qualified to solve it than any other man we have in our system” [Joseph F. Merrill to G. L. Luke, Salt Lake City, May 22, 1929, Sessions Collection, Box 2, Folder 5, BYU Special Collections].
Luke wrote back, “I want to say candidly that I am not yet convinced that the move is a wise one.” He wasn’t concerned with Sperry’s coming as much as Sessions’s going. Before [Brother and Sister Sessions] left, a community celebration was held in their honor. Several hundred people attended, among them the mayor, all the officials from the university, and scores of local citizens [Sessions 1972 oral history, 9]. In four years, Sessions had gone from being viewed as a possible community menace to being one of the most beloved residents of Moscow. [According to historian Thomas G. Alexander, Brother Sperry did experience some difficulty establishing himself at the institute in Moscow (see Alexander, Mormonism in Transition, 169).]163
Logan, Utah, was the home of two institutions of higher learning for almost four decades—Brigham Young College and Utah State Agricultural College (USAC, later Utah State University). Residents were surprised in 1926 when Church leaders announced the closure of Brigham Young College. Their disappointment was somewhat assuaged when they learned that not only would a seminary be constructed adjacent to Logan High School but an institute of religion, only the second in the Church, would be built on private land close to the agricultural college.
Former Brigham Young College president W. W. Henderson, who had accepted a position as professor of zoology at USAC, agreed to serve as the new institute director while he was on leave for one year. He “created two classes on Bible Literature and Moral Philosophy.” For students who could not attend regular classes, he provided “reading circles,” and he also organized a Sunday School for students of various religious affiliations. Under his administration a Friars’ Club (discussed later in this chapter) was formed, which attracted returned missionaries and met the needs of young men drawn to fraternity life.164
Work progressed quickly on the new building, which included a library, a lounge, a chapel, classrooms, and offices for teachers. On March 31, 1929, Easter morning, a little more than a year after groundbreaking ceremonies, the building was dedicated by President Heber J. Grant. President Grant returned to Logan on Mother’s Day and addressed a student audience that already more than filled the new chapel. Six years later he spoke at the very first institute commencement, also held in the chapel, on May 26, 1935.
With the building completed by the end of the institute’s first year, Dr. Henderson returned to his college professorship.165
Church Educational System leaders in 1929 chose 52-year-old Thomas C. Romney, who had a PhD in history from the University of California at Berkeley, as the institute’s second director. Brother Romney had previously presided over two academies and taught at Brigham Young University. For seven years he served alone at the Logan institute, teaching all the classes, including Bible and world religions, both college credit courses. He also directed the social programs and oversaw Sunday services, where classes were directed by Franklin L. West, who was the dean of faculty at the Utah Agricultural College.
J. Wyley Sessions had received his assignment change and left the Moscow institute charged with opening the Church’s third institute, adjacent to Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho. On May 7, 1929, the First Presidency announced the construction of an institute building, which had a Spanish design and was on the corner of South Eighth and Terry in Pocatello. This building, which also included a chapel, was constructed in about five months and was dedicated by President Heber J. Grant on October 27, 1929. In the first year, 83 students signed up for classes.166
Salt Lake Institute
Lowell L. Bennion graduated from the University of Utah in 1928 and married his wife, Merle, that same year before leaving six weeks later to serve in the Swiss-German mission of the Church. After Brother Bennion’s two-year-eight-month mission, Sister Bennion joined him in Europe and he began his graduate studies at the University of Strasbourg, eventually earning a PhD in 1933.167 Upon Brother Bennion’s return, Commissioner John A. Widtsoe offered him a position at the Moscow institute. Having been away from Utah and their family for so long, however, the Bennions were reluctant to move away again. Commissioner Widtsoe, understanding their reluctance, “countered with a more tempting offer,” asking Brother Bennion to “found a new institute at the University of Utah.”168
At the time, “relations between Mormons and non-Mormons on campus were prickly,” and University of Utah President George Thomas “was determined to keep relations on an even keel; therefore, he had little desire to see an institute for Mormon students that would give religious affiliation a higher profile than it already had.” Brother Bennion’s father, Milton, who served as dean of the College of Education, advised his son “not to seek university credit for institute courses.” In effect, unlike the other institutes already functioning, this institute program would have “no campus standing and no on-campus advertising privileges.” He prepared “an inviting brochure to be posted on Church bulletin boards and mailed to out-of-town students.” This brochure outlined the purposes of institute, as Brother Bennion sought “to create a program that would be a ‘magnet not a net’ [Douglas D. Alder, “Lowell L. Bennion: The Things That Matter Most,” in Teachers Who Touch Lives: Methods of the Masters, comp. Philip L. Barlow (1988), 27].”169 The three courses he taught were titled Comparative Religions, the Position of Mormonism in the Religious Thought of Western Civilization, and Religion and the Rise of Our Modern Economic Order. At the end of one day of registration 65 students were enrolled, and by the end of the next day 140 had signed up. Featured outside speakers that first quarter were Apostles John A. Widtsoe, Stephen L Richards, Melvin J. Ballard, and Charles A. Callis, as well as Levi Edgar Young (one of the seven Presidents of the Seventy), John Henry Evans (a noted author), and Father Dwyer of St. Mary’s of the Wasatch School.170 Two hundred and fifty students registered for the first quarter, “although not all of these followed through with the classwork.”171
During the summer of 1935, Brother Bennion met with the Church’s three other institute directors to develop a curriculum designed for college students. This first unified effort led to a correlated course offering, which included Mormon Doctrine and Philosophy, the Nature and Mission of the Church, and Joseph Smith and the Restoration. Brother Bennion was also able to write outlines for future classes titled Courtship and Marriage, World Religions, Marriage and Family Life, the Book of Mormon, and Building a Philosophy of Life. In the fall of 1935 Brother Bennion also offered a class titled The Teachings of Jesus.172
The Spread of Institutes
Other institutes were also being established in the United States, as the Church and the country struggled to crawl out of the Great Depression. Roy A. West established an institute in St. George to support Dixie College students in 1936. Classes were held in the basement of the tabernacle, with 90 students enrolled the first quarter, and two years later a new building was ready for use. The new institute building also served the needs of seminary classes. The building included two classrooms, two offices, restrooms, and a library with a fireplace.173
As the seminaries and institutes continued to grow, Church President Heber J. Grant gave a clear reminder as to their purpose in a July 1934 address. He said that Church funds were being used for education so that the teachers could “sow the seed of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ … into the hearts and minds and souls of those who come into your classes.”174
Latter-day Saint Student Organizations
Alongside the efforts made by teachers and administrators in the Church, there was also a lively increase in the efforts of Latter-day Saint students to create a number of student organizations. In these organizations young LDS students found a fellowship where they could develop friendships as well as have opportunities to provide service to the world around them. These organizations came into being at times independent of Church supervision and at other times with the assistance of institute teachers. Whatever the origin, they were welcomed into the system and became a vibrant part of Church education.
In 1920, a group of “returned missionaries attending the University of Utah felt a need … to meet together to reaffirm their religious ideals.”175 The Friars’ Club began in November 1920 as a social club for returned missionaries. At first women were allowed to join, but after the first year they were excluded because the membership felt there were too few returned lady missionaries on campus to merit their inclusion and because “their presence in the club restricted activities.”176 The exclusivity of the club at the University of Utah was altered somewhat when the board of regents ruled that missionaries of all faiths should be included.177 At the U of U the group, which “usually numbered more than fifty each year,” became a significant factor in campus organizations. John A. Widtsoe, who became president of the university in 1916, had helped the Friars organize, and he continued to be a staunch supporter and adviser through the years. The club received some resistance from a campus group calling themselves the Fryer’s Club, which had been organized to “neutralize” their influence. When the university board of regents “demanded … a complete stenographic report of all ‘discussions’ of all future meetings,” the challengers disbanded.178
Chapters of the Friars’ Club spread to other colleges. Brigham Young University’s chapter began in January 1929. The university’s 1929 course catalog said “the Friars existed to foster fellowship, missionary ideals and sociability.”179 Working with the LDS institute, the Logan chapter was challenged to make “the college Sunday School and the entire institute effort popular among the students.”180
Taking the example of similar fraternal organizations, initiations resembled medieval pageantry filled with symbolism representing faith, loyalty, and love. The color black, blindfolded initiates were told, absorbs all color just as Friars absorb all that is good and praiseworthy. After blindfolds were removed, the students were told to raise their right arms and pledge to uphold the club’s ideals. They were then given a pin of social significance, which was to be worn directly over the heart. However, a mother, sister, or the girl “you honestly intend to marry” could also wear it.181
Delta Phi Fraternity
The end of the Friars under that name drew near as Church officials objected to their nomenclature and to fraternity-type activities such as “black-balling nominees for membership.”182 To remedy these issues, it was decided that with a few changes the group could take up the name of Delta Phi and begin a new life as an entity of the Church Educational System. The name Delta Phi was derived from an earlier fraternity formed in the late 1860s at the University of Deseret.183 On April 3, 1931, a formal ceremony consolidated the Friars with the old Delta Phi fraternity, and Delta Phi was reborn. The keynote address at the ceremony was given by Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who distinguished the organization, telling them it was “essentially different than a fraternity.” Elder Widtsoe delivered a call to serve, telling the members, “The farther you drift from the spirit of service and sacrifice the weaker will the organization become. Stand for a more solid, sound purpose than social fraternities do and God bless your future.”184
In this new era, Delta Phi enjoyed increasing support from Church leaders. In 1934 Levi Edgar Young, one of the seven Presidents of the First Council of the Seventy became the national president.185 Elder Young was the first in a distinguished line of Church leaders who served as grand presidents of Delta Phi’s national council. The list includes Milton Bennion, Matthew Cowley, Milton R. Hunter, A. Theodore Tuttle, and J. Wyley Sessions. Elder John A. Widtsoe served as grand president for 15 years. He was so beloved in the organization that upon his death in 1952 “the Delta Phi fraternity created a foundation” in his honor designed “to foster his ideals and his memory by assisting outstanding returned missionaries and members of Delta Phi to pursue their scholastic work.”186
Lambda Delta Sigma
Lambda Delta Sigma, a student organization for men and women, was created in 1936. When classes at the University of Utah began in the fall of the 1936–37 school year, several male students approached Lowell L. Bennion and said they “wanted ‘more than classwork’ to help them ‘be brothers’” while they earned degrees. At the Bennion home they “hammer[ed] out spiritual, intellectual, and social goals,” which were then framed into a constitution. They called their unofficial fraternity the Alpha Chapter, and “in deliberate distinction from Greek fraternities, which had stung too many students with their emphasis on snobbery and materialism,” they “pledged themselves to accept any male student who promised ‘to promote LDS ideals and purposes, to develop the institute, to promote intellectuality, fellowship, leadership, and culture’ [Institute Record, 11 Oct. 1936, 66].”187 Only a month passed before the institute women formed the Omega Chapter sorority and adopted the men’s constitution.
A student named Ardith Moore “suggested that the two chapters jointly call themselves Lambda Delta Sigma, to create the acronym LDS.” Lambda Delta Sigma provided both young men and young women opportunities to serve, grow spiritually, and deepen their bonds of Christian fellowship. The students enlisted an art teacher at the university to design a pin “using the Egyptian ankh or crux ansata, the symbol of eternal life, with the five ideals of Lambda Delta Sigma—truth and light, eternal progress, revelation, (sacred) knowledge, and priesthood—symbolized by a cross bar of pearls.” Brother Bennion later commented on the value of the new organization. “Lambda Delta Sigma became a laboratory for a lot of things. Service projects, leadership experience, real brotherhood and sisterhood. … It was a marvelous thing to have these men and women chapters together in the same organization.”188
Not all LDS students attended colleges in Utah and Idaho. For young Latter-day Saints who lived too far away to attend a seminary or an institute, Deseret Clubs were founded. These clubs aimed to increase Church participation, build testimonies, unify the Latter-day Saints on campus, and promote social activities that were conducted according to Church standards.189 While most Deseret Clubs consisted of college-age students, some programs were formed for high school students.190
The first Deseret Club began at the University of California in Los Angeles in 1932. A small group of about a dozen LDS students who gathered at the noon organ concerts given by Alexander Schreiner felt they needed a more permanent organization. The club fostered social and cultural experiences and promoted Latter-day Saint standards. A constitution written by Preston D. Richards, a prominent Los Angeles Latter-day Saint attorney, was ratified at the second meeting.191 These clubs were priesthood directed, and no classes were associated with them.
Classes on Mormonism at USC
In 1935 the University of Southern California launched an initiative to invite different religions to provide classes on their campus.192 In order to act on an opportunity to reach out to other churches and bolster the faith of the LDS students attending the school, the First Presidency assigned Elder John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, also serving as Church Commissioner of Education at the time, to go to USC to teach a course and help launch a program of religion classes there. Elder Widtsoe and his wife, Leah, promptly moved to California, and Elder Widtsoe began teaching his course.193 In announcing Elder Widtsoe’s appointment, the Deseret News noted that it was a “distinct compliment to be invited to join the other groups in the presentation of the course at a school of such acknowledged high rating.”194 Elder Widtsoe sent a letter to the stake presidents in the Los Angeles area inviting them to advertise the class and encourage LDS students on other campuses to attend the course he would teach. He was pleased when the class appeared in the official college course offerings and was even more encouraged when 75 students enrolled.
Elder Widtsoe titled the course “The Program of the Church,” and his lectures and class notes were later compiled into a book that was used as a textbook in the institutes and at Brigham Young University.195 The first lectures he gave focused on the purpose of the Church, while the practices were detailed in the second series. A third series explained Church organization and priesthood responsibilities. In his fourth series he talked about the “unity and contents of the universe, the mystery of origin, the plan of salvation, laws of progression, functions of the Church, universal salvation, filling God’s plan, and the Articles of Faith.” Then he lectured on the origin of the Church, the Restoration, settlement in the Intermountain West, and the Church’s recent history.196
Elder Widtsoe also taught an evening class, which drew students from a number of colleges as well as those who belonged to Deseret Clubs.197 Los Angeles Stake president David H. Cannon believed that “Dr. Widtsoe has lightened up the whole outlook of the Church in California, especially at the USC among both students and professors.” His Doctrine and Covenants class, with more than 90 registered students, was the largest class at the university.198 After a nine-month stay in Los Angeles, Elder Widtsoe returned to Salt Lake City and recommended that office space be secured at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for the advisor of the Deseret Club, who led more than 30 members. Additional Deseret Clubs were established in the fall of 1936 at the University of Southern California (USC) and at Pasadena City College. These and other Deseret Clubs were later brought under the umbrella of the Church Educational System.199
By Small and Simple Things
In the early decades of the twentieth century, seminary grew from a small, grassroots program in a single stake to a widespread institution serving thousands of young Latter-day Saints. The launch of the institutes of religion in the 1920s brought religious education to thousands of college-age Latter-day Saints, helping to strengthen and fortify them against the philosophies and temptations of the world. The transition from Church schools to seminaries and institutes was a difficult but necessary change in the approach to Church education. The decision to focus on providing religious education for all the youth in the Church laid the groundwork for expanding outside of the Intermountain West and spreading throughout the world with the growth of the Church. These programs were created by a dedicated group of parents, teachers, and Church leaders, all of whom contributed to the programs’ success. What began in a simple family home evening in the home of Joseph F. Merrill eventually grew into a system of gospel teaching and learning that now reaches into hundreds of different nations and touches millions of individual lives. The early growth of the seminary and institute programs proved that “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.”200
See Milton Lynn Bennion, Mormonism and Education (1939), 176–77.
See John D. Monnet Jr., “The Mormon Church and Its Private School System in Utah: The Emergence of the Academies, 1880–1892” (PhD diss., University of Utah, 1984), 84.
Brett David Dowdle, “‘A New Policy in Church School Work’: The Founding of the Mormon Supplementary Religious Education Movement” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2011), 85–86.
See History of South [High School] L.D.S. Seminary, 1931–1937, 6, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
See William E. Berrett, A Miracle in Weekday Religious Education: A History of the Church Educational System (1988), 28.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 28. Annie Laura Hyde Merrill was a granddaughter of President John Taylor and Elder Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (see Descendants of Joseph F. Merrill and Annie Laura Hyde Merrill , 6).
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 28. Joseph Merrill was also inspired by the religious seminaries he had seen during his graduate studies at the University of Chicago (see Thomas G. Alexander, Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930 , 168). In his letters from the period, Joseph Merrill mentioned attending vesper services while he was at the university (see Joseph F. Merrill to Annie Laura Hyde, Sept. 13, 1896, Joseph F. Merrill Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah).
See History of South [High School] L.D.S. Seminary, 8; Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 28–29.
History of South [High School] L.D.S. Seminary, 8.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 28–30.
See History of Granite Seminary, 1933, comp., Charles Coleman and Dwight Jones, unpublished manuscript, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 128–29.
In Church Board of Education Minutes, May 29, 1912, Church History Library, Salt Lake City. As early as the 1890s the Salt Lake Stake sponsored an 18th Ward and a Central Mill Creek Ward seminary. Though these units were called seminaries, they were in reality schools that offered a variety of courses of study, not just scripture-based classes, and should not be confused with the seminaries that were established beginning in 1912. (See Church Board of Education Minutes, Salt Lake Stake Board of Education Files, 1893–1896, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.)
See Casey Paul Griffiths, “The First Seminary Teacher,” The Religious Educator, vol. 9, no. 3 (2008), 122, rsc.byu.edu.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 30.
History of South [High School] L.D.S. Seminary, 9.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 30.
History of South [High School] L.D.S. Seminary, 11.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 29.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 30.
Griffiths, “The First Seminary Teacher,” 124.
Henry B. Eyring, “To Know and to Love God” (evening with a General Authority, Feb. 26, 2010), 5, si.lds.org.
See Thomas Jarvis Yates, “Autobiography and Biography of Thomas Jarvis Yates,” 81, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
Guy C. Wilson letter to Anna Lowrie Ivins Wilson, Mar. 8, 1913, Guy C. Wilson Correspondence, 1912–1913, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 31.
See Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 146–47.
See Scott C. Esplin, “Education in Transition: Church and State Relationships in Utah Education, 1888–1933” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 2006), 139.
See History of Granite Seminary, 8–9; Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 145; “Former Resident of Fairview Passes Away,” Mt. Pleasant Pyramid, Jan. 30, 1942, 1. The Latter-day Saints’ University was established in 1886 as the Salt Lake Academy. The school expanded in 1893 and became the LDS University. (See M. Lynn Bennion, Mormonism and Education , 161–62.)
See History of Granite Seminary, 10–11.
In Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 153.
See Albert Theodore Tuttle, “Released Time Religious Education Program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Master’s thesis, Stanford University, 1949), 71; Boyd K. Packer, “The One Pure Defense” (evening with a General Authority, Feb. 6, 2004), 2, si.lds.org.
See Minutes of the Utah State Board of Education, Jan. 5, 1916, in Tuttle, “Released Time Religious Education Program,” 65–66.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 31.
See Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 172–74.
See Bennion, Mormonism and Education, 217.
See Bennion, Mormonism and Education, 219–22. Local funds were usually provided by fundraisers.
See Bennion, Mormonism and Education, 226.
Church Commission of Education Minutes, Feb. 24, 1920, in Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 177.
Boyd K. Packer, “The One Pure Defense,” 2. Brother Hicken established Wyoming’s first seminary in the city of Cowley, in 1924 (see Tuttle, “Released Time Religious Education Program,” 72).
Samuel D. Moore, Jr., “Autobiography of Samuel Drollinger Moore Jr.,” 15, Seminaries and Institutes of Religion archive, Salt Lake City.
History of the schools of Pleasant Grove, in Moore, “Autobiography,” 15.
Thomas E. Lyon, interview by Davis Bitton, Jan. 13, 1975, Thomas E. Lyon interview, 1974–1975, 81–82, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; see also T. Edgar Lyon Jr., T. Edgar Lyon: A Teacher in Zion (2002), 107.
Boyd P. Israelsen, The Caring Economist: Vernon L. Israelsen (2005), 45.
Israelsen, The Caring Economist, 58.
See Kenneth G. Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion: Superintendent of L.D.S. Education, 1919 to 1928” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1969), 51–54.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 53–54.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 53.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 55.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 245.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 77.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 77–78.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 70–71.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 59.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 71.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 60.
When meeting with leaders around the globe, Elder McKay found the title Commissioner of Education very useful (see Hugh J. Cannon, To the Peripheries of Mormondom: The Apostolic Around-the-World Journey of David O. McKay, 1920–1921, ed. Reid L. Neilson ).
See Alan K. Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography (2003), 357; Hugh J. Cannon, To the Peripheries of Mormondom.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 82–84.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 81, 84.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 82, 85.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 87.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 87, 90.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 91.
See Arnold K. Garr, “A History of Brigham Young College, Logan, Utah” (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1973), 70–76; Church Board of Education Minutes, February 1, 1928, 191.
See J. Gordon Daines III, “Charting the Future of Brigham Young University: Franklin S. Harris and the Changing Landscape of the Church’s Educational Network, 1921–1926,” BYU Studies, vol. 45, no. 4 (2006), 87; Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 245.
See History of South [High School] L.D.S. Seminary, 21–25.
See James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, 2nd ed. (1992), 504.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 72.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 73–74.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 78–79.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 80.
In Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 81.
During this time high school credit was offered to students for Old and New Testament studies. High school seniors were allowed to enroll in a non-credit course on Church history. The Church history course partially covered the Book of Mormon, dealing mostly with its origins but not extensively with its content. The Book of Mormon became an official course in CES curriculum in 1961. (See Joe J. Christensen, “Abiding by Its Precepts,” in Living the Book of Mormon: Abiding by Its Precepts, ed. Gaye Strathearn and Charles Swift , 2–3; Noel B. Reynolds, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,” BYU Studies, vol. 38, no. 2 .) For an example of seminary curriculum from this time, see John Paul Evans, The Heart of Mormonism (1930).
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 75.
Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 179–180.
See Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 96–98.
See Lawrence R. Flake, Mighty Men of Zion: General Authorities of the Last Dispensation (1974), 279–80.
Church Board of Education Minutes, Mar. 22, 1928, 193.
Joseph F. Merrill, in Conference Report, Apr. 1928, 37.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 91. Shortly after Joseph F. Merrill’s appointment, the Church Board of Education passed a motion to consider the closure of all Church schools, including the junior colleges and Brigham Young University. Over the next few years several Church schools closed, including Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah, and Latter-day Saints’ University in Salt Lake City. Several other schools, including Weber, Snow, Gila, and Dixie Colleges, were successfully transferred to state control. Merrill, along with several other members of the Church Board, reconsidered the closure of BYU and worked to keep it as part of the Church system. A transfer of Ricks College (later BYU–Idaho) to the control of the state of Idaho was rejected several times, and the school remained under Church control. (See Casey Paul Griffiths, “Joseph F. Merrill and the Transformation of Church Education,” in A Firm Foundation: Church Organization and Administration, ed. David J. Whitaker and Arnold K. Garr , 386–91.)
See Heber J. Grant, “The Place of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations in the Church,” Improvement Era, Aug. 1912, 871, in Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 127.
See Church Board of Education Minutes, Mar. 26, 1929, 213, 223.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 42.
See Bennion, Mormonism and Education, 228–29.
Joseph F. Merrill, “Address,” Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1930, 15.
Merrill, “Address,” 16.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 42.
The junior colleges operated by the Church at this time were Weber, Snow, and Dixie Colleges in Utah, Gila College in Arizona, and Ricks College in Idaho. All of these schools were transferred to state control with the exception of Ricks College. The state of Idaho declined to take over the school, so the Church retained control. The Church also operated Latter-day Saints’ University in Salt Lake City, which taught mostly high school students but included some collegiate work. LDS University was closed, though the business department of the school continued to operate and eventually became LDS Business College. (See Casey P. Griffiths, “Joseph F. Merrill: Latter-day Saint Commissioner of Education, 1928–1933” [master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2007], 60–88.)
See Frederick S. Buchanan, “Masons and Mormons: Released-Time Politics in Salt Lake City, 1930–56,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 19, no. 1 (1993), 77.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 43.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Department of Education, “A Reply to Inspector Williamson’s Report to the State Board of Education on the Existing Relationship Between Religious Seminaries and Public High Schools in the State of Utah and Comments Thereon by a Special Committee of the Board,” issued as a letter to the Utah State Board of Education, May 3, 1930, 23–24, Buchanan Collection, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City. While it is likely several people authored this report, it was sent under Merrill’s signature and he should be considered, if not its sole creator, at least responsible for it. A complete copy of this document may be found in Casey Paul Griffiths, “Joseph F. Merrill: Latter-day Saint Commissioner of Education, 1928–1933” (master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 2007).
“Status of Church Seminaries Seek Court Decision,” Deseret News, June 28, 1930.
See “L.D.S. Church to Wage Seminary Fight to Finish,” Salt Lake Telegram, July 3, 1930, 6.
See Utah State Board Minutes, June 28, 1930, Utah State School Board Offices, Salt Lake City; Buchanan, “Masons and Mormons,” 80.
See Buchanan, “Masons and Mormons,” 80.
“Teacher Flays Seminaries at U. E. A. Sessions,” Deseret News, Oct. 29, 1932, 1.
See James R. Clark, “Church and State Relationships in Education in Utah,” (EdD dissertation, Utah State University, 1958), 327.
Casey Paul Griffiths, “The Seminary System on Trial: The 1978 Lanner v. Wimmer Lawsuit,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011), 151–52.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 45.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 44–45.
Casey Paul Griffiths, “The Chicago Experiment: Finding the Voice and Charting the Course of Religious Education in the Church,” BYU Studies, vol. 49, no. 4 (2010), 97.
See Griffiths, “Joseph F. Merrill,” 135–138.
T. Edgar Lyon interview, Jan. 13, 1975, 83.
See Lyon, A Teacher in Zion, 131.
T. Edgar Lyon, interview by Frederick S. Buchanan and Marshal B. Poulson, Feb. 7, 1973, 13–14, 28, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in Griffiths, “The Chicago Experiment,” 95.
See Griffiths, “The Chicago Experiment,” 96–98; Russel B. Swensen, “Mormons at the University of Chicago Divinity School: A Personal Reminiscence,” Dialogue, vol. 7, no. 2 (Summer 1972).
The participants in the Chicago experience were Anthony S. Cannon, Daryl Chase, Carl J. Furr, Therald N. Jensen, Vernon Larson, Wesley P. Lloyd, T. Edgar Lyon, Heber C. Snell, Sidney B. Sperry, Russel B. Swensen, and George S. Tanner (see Lyon, A Teacher in Zion, 143, note 30).
T. Edgar Lyon letter to parents, Aug. 21, 1931, T. Edgar Lyon Collection, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, in Lyon, A Teacher in Zion, 131.
Lyon letter to parents, in Lyon, A Teacher in Zion, 131.
“That All May Be Edified”: Talks, Sermons, and Commentary by Boyd K. Packer (1982), 43.
Daryl Chase letter to T. Edgar Lyon, Feb. 18, 1933, T. Edgar Lyon Collection, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in Griffiths, “The Chicago Experiment,” 105–6.
Joseph F. Merrill, “Introductory Preface,” in Ezra C. Dalby, Land and Leaders of Israel: Lessons in the Old Testament (1933), iii.
A. Theodore Tuttle, interview by Gary L. Shumway and Gordon Irving, 1972, 1977, The James Moyle Oral History Program, 13, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
Dalby, Land and Leaders of Israel, ix.
John Henry Evans, The Heart of Mormonism (1930), v–x.
See Tuttle interview, 115.
Quoted in Esplin, “Education in Transition,” 197.
Quoted in Esplin, “Education in Transition,” 198.
Esplin, “Education in Transition,” 197–98.
See Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 357.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, xv.
See Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 373.
See Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 374.
See Church section, Deseret News, Mar. 17, 1934, 3, 7. Later, Roy A. West wrote the course of study used in the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums of the Church titled Message of the Early Apostles (1959).
See “Church Department of Education Issues Instructions on Junior Seminary Work,” Church section, Deseret News, Sept. 7, 1935, 8.
In Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 375.
Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 375–76.
Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 379.
Leonard J. Arrington, “The Founding of the L.D.S. Institutes of Religion,” Dialogue, vol. 2 (Summer 1967), 139. The most extensive examination of the forces leading to the creation of the Institutes of Religion is found in Terry Lyn Tomlinson, “A History of the Founding of the Institutes of Religion, 1926–1936” (PhD diss., University of California, Riverside, 2011). Higher criticism sought to study biblical writings to determine their literary history, historical accuracy, and the authors’ intended meaning. Behavioristic psychology is based on observable aspects of behavior at the exclusion of subjective values such as emotions and motives.
Dennis A. Wright, “The Beginnings of the First LDS Institute of Religion at Moscow, Idaho,” Mormon Historical Studies, vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 2009), 69–70.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 47.
Horace H. Cummings letter to Joseph F. Merrill, Oct. 20, 1915, Joseph F. Merrill Collection, Box 2, Folder 12, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
Church Board of Education Minutes, Sept. 15, 1915, 317–18.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 47–48.
Bell, “Adam Samuel Bennion,” 87, 90.
Arrington, “The Founding of the L.D.S. Institutes of Religion,” 140.
Arrington, “The Founding of the L.D.S. Institutes of Religion,” 140.
See J. Wyley and Magdalen Sessions Oral History, interview by Richard O. Cowan, June 29, 1965, 9, transcript in Seminaries & Institutes of Religion archive, Salt Lake City.
Sessions Oral History, 1965, 13.
See Ward H. Magleby, “1926, Another Beginning, Moscow, Idaho,” Impact (Winter 1968), 23.
James Wyley Sessions Oral History, interview by Gary L. Shumway and Gordon Irving, Aug. 12, 1972, 5, The James Moyle Oral History Program, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Sessions Oral History, 1965, 13.
See Moscow Institute of Religion, Sixty Years of Institute (1986), 4, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
Sessions Oral History, 1965, 12.
Magleby, “1926, Another Beginning,” 27.
See Rafe Gibbs, Beacon for Mountain and Plain: Story of the University of Idaho (1962), 143.
Sessions Oral History, 1965, 11.
Magleby, “1926, Another Beginning,” 31–32. As one of the first native Utahns to obtain a PhD, Commissioner Merrill was intimately familiar with the struggles of reconciling faith with reason that he described in his letter. He had experienced them himself as a young man attending Johns Hopkins University. (See Griffiths, “Joseph F. Merrill: Latter-day Saint Commissioner of Education,” 24–30; Joseph F. Merrill, “The Lord Overrules,” Improvement Era, July 1934, 413, 447.)
The arrangements in full may be found in J. Wyley Sessions, “The Latter-day Saint Institutes,” Improvement Era, July 1935, 412–13. Among the arrangements was a provision that “no instruction either sectarian in religion or partisan in politics” be taught in the courses. With similar arrangements made for other early institutes, this may help explain why such prominent LDS subjects as the Book of Mormon were not taught in the early days of the institute program. (See Reynolds, “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon,” 28–29.)
Sessions Oral History, 1965, 12.
See Sixty Years of Institute, 5.
See A. Gary Anderson, “A Historical Survey of the Full-time Institutes of Religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1926–1966” (EdD thesis, Brigham Young University, 1968), 44, 163.
Sixty Years of Institute, 5.
Sessions Oral History, 1965, 16.
See Sessions Oral History, 1965, 14.
Sessions, “The Latter-day Saint Institutes,” 412.
See Sessions, “The Latter-day Saint Institutes,” 414.
Magleby, “1926, Another Beginning,” 23.
Sessions Oral History, 1965, 11.
Sessions, “The Latter-day Saint Institutes,” 415.
See Magleby, “1926, Another Beginning,” 32.
Sixty Years of Institute, 5.
Arrington, “The Founding of the L.D.S. Institutes of Religion,” 143.
Casey Paul Griffiths, “The First Institute Teacher,” Religious Educator, vol. 11, no. 2 (2010), 187, rsc.byu.edu.
John L. Fowles “Brief Historical Sketch of the Logan L.D.S. Institute of Religion,” ed. Thomas M. Cherrington, 1.
See John L. Fowles “Brief Historical Sketch of the Logan L.D.S. Institute of Religion,” 1.
See Anderson, “A Historical Survey,” 63–64, 71.
See Mary Lythgoe Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion: Teacher, Counselor, Humanitarian (1995), 32, 45, 53.
Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion, 55–56.
Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion, 64–66.
See Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion, 66–67.
Anderson, “A Historical Survey,” 145.
See Anderson, “A Historical Survey,” 146–48.
See Anderson, “A Historical Survey,” 193–94.
Heber J. Grant, “Teach That Which Encourages Faith: Address by President Heber J. Grant to Seminary Teachers, July 13, 1934,” Deseret News, Sept. 8, 1934, in Dowdle, “A New Policy in Church School Work,” 192.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 133.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 133.
See William G. Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, A History, 1869–1978 (1990), 19.
Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 20–21.
Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 30–32.
Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 25.
Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 27.
Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 34–35. To “black-ball” means to vote against admitting someone to membership in an organization.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 133.
Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 37–38.
See Hartley, Delta Phi Kappa Fraternity, 61.
Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 134. Other grand presidents of Delta Phi listed by Berrett include Avard Booth, Harold H. Smith, Wendell O. Rich, William W. Carlson, Paul Cracroft, N. Keith Carroll, Henry D. Taylor, and D’Mont Coombs.
Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion, 73.
Bradford, Lowell L. Bennion, 73.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 59.
See Berrett, Miracle in Weekday Religious Education, 66.
See David B. Rimington, Vistas on Visions: A Golden Anniversary History of Church Education in Southern California (1988), xiii–xiv.
See Rimington, Vistas on Visions, xvi.
See Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 535–37.
Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 536.
See Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 541.
Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 543.
See Rimington, Vistas on Visions, xviii.
In “Religious Courses Get Fine Support,” Deseret News, Apr. 4, 1936, in Parrish, John A. Widtsoe: A Biography, 544. This class was offered during the second quarter.
See Rimington, Vistas on Visions, xviii.