Review of At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women

Review by R. Devan Jensen

R. Devan Jensen is executive editor at the Religious Studies Center.

At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women is well conceived, compiled, and edited by Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook, using the high standards of the Church Historian’s Press. It is also timely, being released for the 175th anniversary of the Relief Society. All of the historical introductions offer insight to the period. The nineteenth-century “discourses” do strain the definition and are sometimes shorter than their accompanying introductions, but the Relief Society material throughout is well done. Where this book really shines is the collection of twentieth- and twenty-first-century speeches, including classic addresses by Linda K. Burton, Julie B. Beck, and Sheri L. Dew. The global church is well represented with talks by Jutta B. Busche, Chieko N. Okazaki, Irina Kratzer, and Gladys N. Sitati (who is both wise and hilarious).

In my honest opinion, Francine R. Bennion’s Women’s Conference address of March 28, 1986, “A Latter-day Saint Theology of Suffering,” is, by itself, worth the price of the book. Bennion begins with paradoxical couplets such as Proverbs 3:13 (“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding”) and “Ecclesiastes 1:18 (“In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow”). How do we reconcile these paradoxes? “Theology,” she writes, “provides a framework that binds diversity and complexity into a more simple net with which we can make some sense even of things we don’t fully understand” (215).

Citing incidents of suffering worldwide, Bennion writes, “Good theology makes sense of what is possible but also of what is presently real and probable. . . . It is not enough that theology be either rational or faith promoting. It must be both. It is not enough that satisfying theology be mastered by a few expert scholars, teachers, and leaders. It must be comfortable carried out by ordinary people. It is not enough that theology help me to understand God. It must also help me to understand myself and the world” (216-17).

She quotes the story of Jephthah’s vow and consequent sacrifice of his daughter. She then asks, “What do you think about Jephthaw, his vow, and his God? Your answer will depend in part upon your own version of theology” (219). Complex, intriguing, and open ended!

Bennion then quotes a BYU Honors student’s conception of the celestial kingdom in connection with Voltaire’s “best of all possible worlds.” What is the celestial kingdom like? she asks. “Well, there won’t be any problems,” he replies, saying that “everyone will be–happy. There wont be any unkindness. No one there will be rejected or abused, or laughed at, or ignored.”

“Oh,” Bennion said, “Are you suggesting that God experiences none of these things now?” Silence. Bennion then wrote, “In wanting to get to the celestial kingdom, these students had more awareness of traditional struggle-free utopias than of our own God and our own world” (221). Thus, our theology embraces the world as it is and our struggle to make sense of it.

“At the Pulpit” certainly complements “The Witness of Women,” by Janiece Johnson and Jennifer Reeder. This latter book provides incredibly insightful nineteenth-century writings and speeches that can supplement the existing Gospel Doctrine manuals.

Review of Conversations with Mormon Historians

Review by Spencer W. McBride

Spencer W. McBride is the author of Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America (University of Virginia Press, 2017) and a historian and documentary editor with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, Salt Lake City, Utah.

At the core, Conversations with Mormon Historians, is a book that features historians speaking to historians about being historians. While books featuring discussions of historiography and the personal histories of historians are rarely found atop bestseller lists, for those pursuing a career researching and writing about the Mormon past, this book is an important resource for understanding how the field became what it is today.

Conversations with Mormon Historians spotlights sixteen scholars who have spent decades working in the academic field of Mormon history, including Thomas Alexander, Claudia Bushman, Richard Bushman, Kenneth Godfrey, Dean Jessee, Carol Cornwall Madsen, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Each of the interviews is conducted by an early- or mid-career scholar. After each historian answers questions about his or her personal history, the recorded interactions delve into fascinating discussions of the field’s development, its highs and lows, its boons and obstacles, and its triumphs and defeats.

Consider, for instance, the interview of Richard Bushman in which he discusses with Jed Woodworth the popular reaction to Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling. It was welcomed by many as a humanized portrait of a complex man but critics—often Latter-day Saints—claimed that Bushman “sold out to the world by not coming down stronger on the Mormon side” and bearing testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet (191). Similarly, Claudia Bushman reflects in her interview with Kristine Wardle Frederickson on the challenge of being a Latter-day Saint in academia. Bushman states, “People will always know you are a Mormon. It goes before you; it precedes you. People are suspicious of you and doubt that you can be trusted, . . . so you just have to rise above the suspicion” (176). Historians concerned with the ecclesiastical perceptions and ramifications of total transparency in writing about the Mormon past will be interested in Kenneth Godfrey’s reminiscence in his interview with Matthew C. Godfrey. The former recalls that when he was invited to join the original board of editors for Dialogue, two of his church leaders were uncomfortable with the idea, believing he would experience difficulties if the articles published in that journal were not “just right” (252). Add to this the bewilderment Laurel Thatcher Ulrich expresses in her interview with Nathan H. Williams over the mysterious circumstances that led to her inclusion on a list of scholars prohibited from speaking at BYU—a ban that has since been lifted (555–56). Readers are presented with multiple first-person accounts of the professional telling of its past and the past of its members.

Beyond the challenges of writing about the Mormon past as professional historians, several of the interviews in this volume illuminate the origins of now-prominent initiatives, projects, and organizations. For instance, Carol Cornwall Madsen recalls in her interview with Sheree Maxwell Bench the start and subsequent progress of the Mormon Women’s History Initiative (372–76). Similarly, Dean C. Jessee, in his discussion with Robin Scott Jensen, recounts how his work on the personal writings of Joseph Smith led to the creation of the Joseph Smith Papers Project (298–301). In addition, Thomas Alexander describes in his conversation with Dave Hall the formation of the Mormon History Association and the professional recognition and rigor Alexander and others hoped the organization would lend to the burgeoning field of Mormon history (13–17).

It would be easy for the casual reader to dismiss this book as historian navel-gazing, but it would be a mistake for professional historians to do the same. The history of our field, and the men and women who built it, is essential knowledge if we are to chart a course that moves the study of the Mormon past forward into new territory and present it to a more expansive audience than previously. Toward such an effort, Conversations with Mormon Historians makes a valuable contribution.



Review of Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism

Review by Daniel H. Olsen

Daniel H. Olsen is an associate professor, Department of Geography, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

When I was asked to read and review Michael MacKay’s Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism, I was expecting to read a straightforward history of Fayette, New York, the story of founding of Mormonism in Fayette, and the efforts of the LDS Church to purchase and restore the Peter Whitmer Sr. home where, church members have been told, was the location of the organization of the church on April 6, 1830. However, I was quite surprised, as I would imagine most church members would be, to read that the location of the establishment of Mormonism is highly contested within some Mormon history circles. Some historians, following the work of Michael Marquardt and Wesley Walters in their book Inventing Mormonism, believe that the church was organized in Manchester, New York, at Hyrum Smith’s log home. Other historians, as well as LDS General Authorities, claim that Fayette is the correct location of the founding of the church. The purpose of MacKay’s book then, is to “address historical claims that the church was not established in Fayette by taking a close look at what the existing documents tell us” (18) by “revisit[ing] and reinterpret[ing] the source material” (17) used in this Manchester-Fayette historical debate in light of new documentation from the ongoing Joseph Smith Papers Project. In other words, MacKay attempts to defend the argument for Fayette being the location of the formal organization of the LDS Church.

In the introductory section of the book, MacKay in essence asks the question, “Why does this debate about the location of the founding of the Church matter?” To answer this question, MacKay looks at the importance of sacred places in Latter-day Saint thought and practice. In addition to temples, the LDS Church has purchased many historical sites related to the founding of the church, as has the Community of Christ. These sites play an important role in the church’s cultural memory and in the development of individual and collective religious identities. Indeed, thousands of members of the LDS Church and the Community of Christ undertake informal pilgrimages to these “theologically significant spaces” (1) to learn more about the establishment of the Mormon movement and to be in the places where the events of the Restoration took place. In the context of this book, the LDS Church, through its Historic Sites Division, has been very particular in terms of historical and archaeological accuracy when it comes to identifying, restoring, maintaining, and interpreting its historical sites. Sacred places that serve as the primal origin of a religion are an important part of a religion’s identity and helps to validate faith (12), and as Douglas Davies has observed, “there are many Mormons for whom the primal story of the Restoration does constitute the truth: a basic epistemology that furnishes a template for history and for the stories of family life.”1 As such, the Manchester-Fayette debate is an important one to consider, for if the official position of the church is that the Restoration took place in Fayette, but the actual meeting took place in Manchester, this fact can potentially “undermine the Church’s claim to truth and disrupt its divinely guided origin” (17).

In chapter 1 MacKay gives a quick overview of the establishment of the Church, outlining the events leading up to the April 6, 1830, organizational meeting and the ordination of Joseph Smith to be “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1). While the heading of Doctrine and Covenants section 20 states that this revelation was received “at or near Fayette,” the crux of MacKay’s arguments, as he articulates in later chapters, is that Joseph Smith’s call to be a seer, translator, prophet, apostle, and elder was given on April 6, 1830, at the Whitmer farm in Manchester, and his official ordination on that day, as outlined in other historical documents, by Oliver Cowdery, “was a founding event even within itself” (35). MacKay delves into this in more detail in chapter 2 where he reviews the historical documentation related to the church’s establishment. While the when of the church’s inauguration is well documented, MacKay notes that “confirming where Smith organized the Church of Christ” is not a simple task (40), in part because there is a lack of legal documentation showing the formal incorporation of the church and also because there are no minutes of the organizational meeting and no existing contemporary accounts of the meeting in existing journals or letter (41). Even trying to track Joseph Smith’s movements in the days preceding and following the April 6 meeting, as MacKay does in this chapter, still adds ambiguity as to where this meeting was held.

In chapter 3 MacKay reviews three documents attributed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey where Fayette is listed as the location of the organizational meeting: a copy of conference minutes that Smith presided over on May 3, 1834, printed in The Evening and Morning Star, two deeds Crowdery signed for Smith in 1834, and drafts of Smith’s history (58). According to MacKay, “these three sources demonstrate firsthand what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught and recorded privately about where the Church was established” (59–60). As well, in chapter 4 MacKay looks at Revelation Book 1, where Oliver Cowdery seemed to change dates and locations of section 21 as Fayette. So why did official Church materials state that the organizational meeting of the church was in Manchester? MacKay traces this to potential editorial errors by W.W. Phelps, who may have listed all the revelations received around April 6 as having been received in the Manchester region of New York. This error was the perpetuated into other church materials.

Michael Marquardt, who recently reviewed MacKay’s book, suggests that this “little book is a propaganda piece based upon emotion rather than history. The author is more interested in his sacred space than in what the historical record brings to the story of the Restoration. . . . Most readers will not be taken in by this short book built upon emotion.”2 I apparently am not “most readers,” as I found this book to be rigorous in its scholarship and, in agreeance with Richard Bushman (quoted on the back cover, found MacKay’s findings and arguments plausible and persuasive. As well, MacKay writes in a clear and succinct manner that makes it easy for a general reader to navigate the tedium of historiography and document analysis. This “little book” is an important read for church members who not only want to learn more about the establishment of the Mormon movement but who also ground their faith in the Restoration and its attendant sacred places in “rigorous research and [a] careful examination of historical records” (18).

  1. Douglas, The Mormon Culture of Salvation (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000), 12–13.
  2. Michael Marquardt, “Review of Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism,”

An Epic Year at the RSC!

An Epic Year at the RSC

By Devan Jensen

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks during program for 40th anniversary of BYU’s Religious Studies Center. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News.

Here is a brief video introduction to the Religious Studies Center (RSC). Established by Jeffrey R. Holland in 1975, the RSC is a vital research and publications arm of Religious Education. It exists to seek out, encourage, and publish faithful gospel scholarship through sponsoring symposia and seminars; awarding research grants; and producing and disseminating high quality, peer-reviewed works. These include monographs, journals, compilations, and other publications in print and electronic formats pertaining to the content and context of Latter-day Saint scripture, the doctrines and history of the Restoration, and the restored Church including its relationship to other cultures, religions, and the behavioral sciences. The RSC also seeks to further improve gospel instruction by publishing pedagogically related books and articles.

Over the years, each publications director from the faculty has added his stamp of excellence to the RSC. In 2001 Richard D. Draper, the faculty publications director, recruited Richard Neitzel Holzapfel as editor of the Religious Educator and then Devan Jensen as executive editor. Our team increased annual production from two books to eight, and we have kept the pace going strong ever since, including posting over 3,000 articles or chapters on our website, We hired Joany O. Pinegar as an administrative assistant/publications coordinator and Brent R. Nordgren as a production supervisor. Thomas A. Wayment, our current publications director, has been working carefully with authors to produce quality manuscript submissions. For more about the RSC and our award-winning books, click here.

We had a particularly epic year in 2016. We hired or mentored six student editors (Leah Welker, Kimball Gardner, Tyler Balli, Jessica Neilson, Allyson Jones, and Shannon Taylor) and two publicity interns (Felix Lara and Angela Lee). Training them and helping them succeed in their chosen careers is a vital part of our mission. BYU immortalized our team in this fun video (see my Forrest Gump bench scene), which was created in connection with the President’s Appreciation Award. Last year two interns (Leah Welker and Angela Lee) were appointed to board positions with LDS Publishing Professionals, and they worked with a professional board to plan and publicize a major conference with speakers such as Brandon Mull and Brad Wilcox (see summary). Five of our students (Felix Lara, Alison Brimley, Shanna D’Avila, Hadley Griggs, and Leah Welker) scored competitive internships with Church publications, and they are preparing for promising careers.

As a team, we made big strides in building the RSC brand and community. We learned publicity techniques from leading social media expert Fauzia Burke. We worked with our media specialist, Deseret News, Maxwell Institute, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and LDS Perspectives Podcast to cross-promote RSC products. We helped increase our outreach and sales through Facebook and Twitter. The team achieved two Deseret Book best sellers in 2016.

Our small team juggled complex projects, including the BYU Religious Education Review (two issues), Religious Educator (three issues of a peer-reviewed journal), our e-Newsletter (12), Studia Antiqua (a peer-reviewed journal), and twenty-five books: The Worldwide Church: Mormonism as a Global Religion; Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism; A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History; A Historian in Zion: The Autobiography of Andrew Jenson (800 pages; three-month publishing schedule); Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones; Foundations of the Restoration; A Bible Reader’s History of the Ancient World (many maps); BYU Religious Education Student Symposium, 2017; LDPPA Conference Program (with ads); Mormons in the Piazza (600 pages); Kalaupapa: The Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community; Zion’s Trumpet: 1856 & 1857 Welsh Mormon Periodical (1,000 pages); His Majesty and Mission (three-month schedule); Pioneer Women of Arizona; No Other Success: The Parenting Practices of David O. McKay; Religious Freedom: Building Faith, Family, and Society; The Field Is White: Harvest in the Three Counties of England; The Voice of the Saints in Taiwan;  An Introduction to the Book of Abraham; Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith: Two Nineteenth-Century Restorationists; Dixie Saints: Laborers in the Field; In Their Footsteps: Pioneers of Faith; Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective (ebook); The Keystone Scripture (ebook); and Sacred and Historical Places: Hawai‘i (I moonlighted for this one).

On a personal note, last year I pursued my writing passion, making several presentations: “Decolonizing Micronesia after the Pacific War” (Pacific History Association in Guam); “Magazines and Journals: Seven Steps in the Thousand-Mile Journey” (Independent Book Publishers Association national conference in Salt Lake City); “Line upon Line: Joseph Smith’s Growing Understanding of Families and Heaven” (MHA Conference, mentioned in Church News); “Cynthia Jane Stowell: Wife of a Utah War POW” (Utah State Historical Society); and “‘We Rang the Bell’: Olonzo D. Merrill & the Introduction of Nineteenth-Century Mormon Missionary Work in Tonga” (Mormon Pacific Historical Society, mentioned in Church News). I published four papers in peer-reviewed journals or magazines: “Micronesia’s Coming of Age,” Pacific Asia Inquiry (University of Guam), December 2016; “Mormons Who Guided Micronesia’s Return to Self-Rule,” Mormon Historical Studies, Fall 2016; “Keeping Faith Afloat,” New Era, December 2016; and “The RSC as a Training Ground,” BYU Religious Education Review, Fall 2016, 26–27.

This year at the RSC promises to be just as challenging and productive, as we have completed about half our books already! To keep with our progress, sign up for our e-Newsletter at (bottom of that page).

Review of Mormons in the Piazza

Review of Toronto, James A., Eric R Dursteler, and Michael W. Homer. Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017. 599 pp. Photographs, maps, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. ISBN 978-1-9443-9410-3. $34.99

Review by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel

Richard Neitzel Holzapfel is a professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.

Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy is a tour de force and has immediately become a model for future histories written about Latter-day Saints living, working, serving, and struggling to find a place in nations outside the United States.

Toronto, Dursteler, and Homer have given an invaluable gift to those who served LDS missions in Italy; LDS men and women who worked for private companies, US military, and various governmental agencies in Italy; immigrants who encountered and joined the Church in Italy; and most importantly, the Italian Latter-day Saint converts and their descendants. Additionally, the authors have provided a compelling and well-crafted narrative for non-Latter-day Saint Italians, especially religious studies scholars and academics who are interested in “Italy’s transition from a monolithically Catholic country to a condition of modern religious pluralism” (back jacket blurb).

The nearly six-hundred-page book covers the period from when Mormon missionaries first turned their attention to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1849–51 (Italian unification did not occur until 1861) until the “Mormon Moment” in the twenty-first century. One expects a book written by three different authors to be somewhat uneven, but the authors and the editorial staff at BYU’s Religious Studies Center have done a remarkable job to even out the differences in tone, writing style, and depth of analysis by each author.

The book is a superb example of the historian’s craft even though only one of the authors is a university historian (Eric R Dursteler, PhD in history from Brown University). The other two authors are independent historians with impressive publication on a number of historical topics (James A. Toronto, PhD in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard and Michael W. Homer, JD from University of Nebraska at Lincoln).

Using a wide array of sources, including non-LDS sources in Italy, the authors have written a compelling and nuanced story of the Mormon experience in Italy. That story actually began in the United States when the Second Great Awakening, a period of intense religious excitement and activity, was waning in the 1850s. At this same moment, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints witnessed a greatly expanded missionary effort beyond the United States, Canada, and the British Isles, which had been its focus from 1830 until 1849.

In a bold move, Brigham Young and other Church leaders announced a major missionary effort in 1849 that included non-English-language missions. They hoped to establish the Church around the world, primarily in continental Europe. Specifically, Church leaders hoped to establish a base of operations in the Apennine or Italian Peninsula that would allow them to expand their missionary effort to the Middle East and as far away as the Indian subcontinent.

This proselytizing effort was based on the “Great Commission,” as it is known by New Testament scholars. The “Great Commission” is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19–20). From the very beginning, Mormons had taken the “Great Commission” very seriously. LDS Apostle Lorenzo Snow and his missionary companions believed they were fulfilling this commission when they “opened the Italian Mission in the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1850” (1).

The authors outline those efforts, which included spreading the restored gospel among the people of the Italian peninsula and eventually to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, through well-organized, written, and brilliantly argued chapters. Of course, Mormons in the Piazza is not the first effort to tell the story of LDS missionary efforts beyond North America. However, it is the best book-length treatment, building upon significant articles, chapters, and books that cover similar themes. Generally, such histories have usually been told from the perspective of the LDS missionary and LDS mission leaders. In this case, the authors make sure those important voices are heard, but they have also included the voices of others, including some of those who “dropped out” (see chapter 13, “Why Some Dropped Out: Challenges to Church Growth,” 453–87).

Although every chapter adds to our understanding, Mormons in the Piazza makes several critical and important contributions to our understanding of the emergence of Mormonism in Italy. First, the book places Mormonism in a larger scholarly conversation about the “emerging portents of a ‘new religious tradition’” (ix). Although the Restoration is considered unique in its message, authority, and history, it is also one among many new religious movements to emerge in the recent past. As Rodney Stark suggests, therefore, Mormonism provides historians and sociologists an opportunity to examine why some new religious movements succeed and why others fail (see Rodney Stark, “Preface,” and “The Basis of Mormon Success,” in The Rise of Mormonism, ed. Reid L. Neilson [New York: Columbia University Press, 2005], ix, 114–38).

Second, the book considers LDS missionary work at the macro and micro levels. The authors go well beyond sources readily available at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, sources that often focus on the perspective of the missionaries, generally North Americans, to “examine the personal experiences of the converts themselves” (xi).

Third, the authors also survey carefully the “strategies, methods, and challenges of missions since the mid-twentieth century” (xi). This brilliant study is one of the few that examines issues such as “organization, policies, immigration, and conversion/retention over an extensive time period” (xi).

Fourth, although this book cannot be a “comprehensive account and thorough analysis of the people, events, and issues, related to” the history of the LDS Church in Italy, the authors “fill [a] gap in [LDS] literature by presenting historical information and analysis concerning the growth of Mormonism in Italy, issues surround the internationalization of the church, the emergence of new religious movements in Europe’s evolving religious marketplace, and conversation and retention of faith communities that aggressively purpose missionary outreach” (x).

Chapter 1, “From the Great Basin Kingdom to the Kingdom Sardinia, 1849–51” (1–44); chapter 2, “Expansion and Opposition, 1851–52” (45–80); chapter 3, “Strife, Despair, and a Spirit of Emigration, 1852–55” (81–104); chapter 4, “Outreach to Catholics and Dwindling Mormon Presence, 1855–67” (105–36); and chapter 5, “Emigrating to the ‘Land of Ephraim’” (137–76)

cover the early beginnings and end of the very first missionary push in Italy. Much of these chapters draw heavily upon Michael Homer’s and James Toronto’s earlier work (see “Bibliography,” 564–65 and 574–75). Nevertheless, these chapters provide new insights, mature thinking about specific topics that can only occur after dozens of years researching, writing, and publishing on a specific topic. These chapters are fresh, crisp, and nuanced.

The authors argue that the timing of the arrival of Latter-day Saints missionaries was perfect to win numerous converts because “three positive factors converged: political reforms in the Kingdom of Sardinia, socioreligious ferment and spiritual seeking in the Waldensian communities [in the Cottian Alps] and renewed evangelical enthusiasm within the Mormon community [in the Great Basin, USA] following the migration westward” (530).

Chapter 6, “Retreat or Return: Mormons and Italy, 1867–1945” (177–212), is a bridge to help connect the first successful missionary effort in the 1850s with the next successful missionary effort beginning in the late 1960s. Based on Dursteler’s important essay “One Hundred Years of Solitude: Mormonism in Italy, 1867–1964,” published in the International Journal of Mormon Studies in 2011, this chapter carefully outlines the various factors that prevented the Church in making Italy a focus of its missionary effort during a long period.

Some of those factors originated in Utah with the Church and others in Italy itself. As the authors opine about the last phase of the retreat, “From 1929 on [because of Italian Fascism’s suspicion of protestant groups and its alliance with Catholicism], the door for the Mormons to return to Italy was effectively closed, and it would not reopen unto the years following World War II” (211).

Chapter 7, “Prelude to a Second Mission: The Postwar Period in Italy, 1945–65”; chapter 8, “Reopening the Italian Mission, 1965–71” (259–314); chapter 9, “Struggling to Take Root: Organizational, Media, and Social Challenges” (315–50); chapter 10, “The Golden Age of Church Expansion, 1971–85” (351–82); and chapter 11, “Increasing Maturation and Acceptance in Public Life, 1985–2012” (383–422) cover the second successful missionary effort during the second half of the twentieth century until the present day.

The authors argue again that timing for the second missionary effort was perfect to win numerous converts because post–Second World War “social dislocation, economic upheaval, and political” changes provided an opportunity for minority religions to prosper. However, the authors argue the Church “missed a golden opportunity . . . that could have provided deeper and stronger roots to nurture growth during the second mission” by delaying direct missionary efforts in Italy after the war by twenty years.

Richard Lyman Bushman noted, “The art of the historian is to extract useful information from original sources where negative or positive” (“Foreword,” in Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon [Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; and Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015], vi).

Toronto, Dursteler, and Homer have not shied away from doing that kind of historical spade work among the sources, and as a result, they have produced two insightful chapters about conversion and deconversion among Italian Latter-day Saint converts: chapter 12, “Why They Joined” (423–52) and chapter 13, “Why Some Dropped Out: Challenges to Church Growth” (453–88).

These chapters are informative, candid, careful, and cautious. The questions raised and the observations made in these two important chapters seem particularly relevant today as many Latter-day Saints deal with conversion and deconversion of family, friends, and associates—people they deeply care for and love.

It is not surprising for any Italian returned missionary—all three authors served as young missionaries in Italy—to discover that “moral drift and lack of clear values in [Italian] society” and “disaffection with the Catholic Church” explain why some early converts joined the Church. Like in any country, “personal crisis and the search for existential meaning” and “seeking alternative paths to spiritual fulfillment” opened the door for many missionaries in Italy. The authors also identify the importance of LDS doctrine, worship, community and practice, including spiritual experiences, as important factors in why people joined the Church.

In discussing why some dropped out, the authors identify challenges that any faith community will experience in an increasing secular world. Toronto recently served as a mission president in Italy and certainly thought about “real growth,” an important discussion and contribution of the book (455–59). While many would attribute inactivity to a lack of testimony, the authors correctly observe that this idea “oversimplifies and distorts the complex reality surrounding religious change” (486). Thoughtfully, the authors note, “A constellation of personal motives, social forces, and internal church dynamics are at play as spiritual seeker weigh options in the religious marketplace, and most converts make a multifaceted decision based on innate human needs for meaning in life, group affiliation, and physical and economic well-being” (486–87).

In the penultimate chapter, chapter 14, “The ‘Mormon Moment’ in Italy: An Intesa and a Temple” (489–528), the authors argue the hard-won Intesa (full religious status and rights to religious communities given by the Italian government) and the building of a LDS temple on the outskirts of Rome have been significant benchmarks in the history of the Church in Italy—part of the “Mormon Moment.” From an individual perspective, these two events provided many Italian Latter-day Saints a sense of vindication—validation for their individual sacrifices in joining the Church. Nevertheless, the authors observe, the Latter-day Saint story “reminds us that, in Italy as elsewhere, a declaration of civil rights is a far cry from the realization of civil rights” (527).

Toronto, Dursteler, and Homer provide an important analysis and synthesis of their study of the rise of Mormonism in Italy as the final chapter of the book, chapter 15, “Reflection on the Rise of Mormonism in Italy” (529–42). Most importantly, the authors point to their contribution to “understand the nature, challenges, and outcomes of Mormon expansion in Italy” (529) as a mean of understanding the nature, challenges, and outcomes of Mormon expansion into other international areas. Such insights make this book more valuable than a country history of the Church, but a lens by which one could look at any land where Mormonism has and is attempting to make a permanent community of believers.

Mormons in the Piazza is certain to become the seminal work, not just of the history of the Latter-day Saints in Italy but also of “how new religious movements arise, expand, and take root in societies around the world” (530).

For more about the book, click here.

RSC Books in Early 2017

Copublished by the RSC and Deseret Book in Early 2017

Mormons in the Piazza

Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy

By James A. TorontoEric R Dursteler and Michael W. Homer

From the day Lorenzo Snow stepped out of a carriage onto Italian soil in 1850 to the day that Thomas S. Monson turned a shovel of Italian soil to break ground for a temple in 2010, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made evangelization in Italy a high priority. Mormon missionary work unfolded against a backdrop of historical forces—political upheaval, world wars, social change, and internal Church dynamics—that presented both obstacles and opportunities for growth. Over the span of a century and a half, the Church managed to establish a small but significant and enduring presence in Italy.

This research on Church history and religious change among Italian Mormons is intended to help provide a comprehensive account and thorough analysis of the people, events, and issues related to this important chapter in Church history.

This volume highlights the human drama associated with the encounters between foreign missionaries and local spiritual seekers, discussing the tensions and adjustments that result at both the individual and institutional levels, and explores the implications of religious growth across obstacles of faith, geography, and culture.

$34.99 Purchase online or eBook version

ISBN: 978-1-9443-9410-3

Release: January 2, 2017

Kalaupapa, the Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community

Kalaupapa: The Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community

By Fred E. Woods

In the nineteenth century, leprosy (known as Hansen’s disease today) spread through the Hawaiian Islands, causing the king of Hawai‘i to sanction an act that exiled all people afflicted with this disease to Kalaupapa, a peninsula on the island of Moloka‘i. Kalaupapa was separated from the rest of the world, with sheer cliffs on one side, the ocean on the other three, and limited contact with anyone, even loved ones. In Kalaupapa, the author delves into the untold history of Kalaupapa and its inhabitants, recounting the patients’ experience on the peninsula and emphasizing the Mormon connection to it. By so doing, he brings to light inspiring stories of love, courage, sacrifice, and community.


ISBN: 978-1-9443-9413-4

Release: January 31, 2017



Zion's Trumpet 1856 and 1857 Welsh Mormon Periodical

Zion’s Trumpet: 1856 & 1857 Welsh Mormon Periodical

Edited by Ronald D. Dennis

During 1856 and 1857, fifty-two issues of Udgorn Seion (Zions Trumpet) were published to deliver guidance and information to the Latter-Day Saints all over Wales from their leaders in Swansea. Emigration was the principal focus of the first few 1856 issues. Today these publications give us a glimpse into the lives of the Welsh Saints, five hundred of whom set sail on the S. Curling in April of that year. Half of this group then crossed the plains with the Edward Bunker handcart company. Daniel Daniels, the new editor of the periodical, was pleased to publish periodic reports from his predecessor Dan Jones about the emigration. During his second year as editor of Zion’s Trumpet, a worried Daniels also published reports about Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston’s Utah Expedition, which was advancing toward Salt Lake City, where his wife and children lived. In this last book of the series, translator and editor Ronald D. Dennis maintains the format and character of the original Welsh publication, giving readers a fascinating look into this little-known period of Church history. After thirty-five years of teaching Welsh and Portuguese at Brigham Young University, Ronald D. Dennis has now completed translating Zion’s Trumpet. During his three decades at Brigham Young University, Professor Dennis amassed an extensive collection of biographies, journals, and pictures of the early Welsh Latter-day Saints.

$35.99 Purchase online

ISBN: 978-1-9443-9411-0

Release: February 27, 2017


His Majesty and Mission

Edited by Nicholas J. Frederick and Keith J. Wilson

Christianity rises or falls based on the reality of the Resurrection. Christian religious leaders of all walks have commented on the importance of the Resurrection. Accordingly, this volume is organized to enhance our celebration of the miracle of the Resurrection. The essays published in this volume represent the talks presented at the annual Brigham Young University Easter Conferences in 2016 and 2017 by Sheri Dew, Eric D. Huntsman, Daniel K Judd, Camille Fronk Olson, Hank R. Smith, and Elder Kevin J Worthen.


ISBN: 978-1-9443-9412-7

Release: March 2017



Pioneer Women of Arizona, Second Edition

By Roberta Flake ClaytonCatherine H. Ellis and David F. Boone

These are two hundred life stories of Mormon girls, young women, mothers, and grandmothers who traveled to Arizona by covered wagons and by train. These women drove teams and knitted socks while their men trailed the cattle. They settled the Arizona Strip and along the Little Colorado, San Pedro, Gila, and Salt Rivers.


ISBN: 978-1-9443-9409-7

Release: Spring 2017




No Other Success: The Parenting Practices of David O. McKay

By Mark D. Ogletree

“No other success can compensate for failure in the home” is a statement made famous by President David O. McKay, who taught Church members the importance of focusing on the family. At the age of thirty-two, he magnified his responsibilities as a newly called Apostle. He had to learn to juggle world travel, heavy Church assignments, and duties with his small but growing family. Later, as a member of the First Presidency, he spent a lot of time teaching and fostering both his children and grandchildren.


ISBN: 978-1-9443-9414-1

Release: June 15, 2017


Review of Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835


Godfrey, Matthew C., Brenden W. Rensink, Alex D. Smith, Max H Parkin, and Alexander L. Baugh, eds. Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835. Vol. 4 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Ronald K. Esplin and Matthew J. Grow. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016. ix, 668 pp. Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, appendices, index. ISBN 978-1629721743. $54.95

Review by J. Stuart

J. Stuart is a PhD student in history at the University of Utah.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project has revolutionized the way that historians and educators can study and teach the life of the LDS Church’s first prophet. The fourth volume of the Documents series provides introductions and transcripts of its documents to help readers better understand each source. Documents, Volume 4 contains several important documents produced between April 1834–September 1835, including a sales receipt for the purchase of Egyptian artifacts that included the Book of Abraham, early documents related to the publication of the Book of Commandments (Doctrine and Covenants), and the promise of an endowment of power in the Kirtland Temple. Although Documents, Volume 4 has fewer revelations than the first three volumes of the Documents series, that should not prevent historians and researchers from engaging with the volume for research and classroom use.

Some documents are more valuable than others for specific lessons and approaches to teaching Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants (every person’s teaching approach can benefit by including material from Documents, Volume 4). With this in mind, throughout this review I articulate several key areas of the volume that educators can use to employ the documents in their gospel teaching. Specifically, I suggest ways that teachers can better explain the pragmatic aspects of Joseph Smith’s prophetic leadership, the importance of the Camp of Israel (also known as Zion’s Camp), and how the Camp of Israel prepared Latter-day Saints for callings within the early Church.

Throughout 1834–35, Joseph Smith engaged in many Church-related duties that we do not traditionally emphasize in Sunday School, seminary, or institute classes. Documents, Volume 4 presents readers with several dozen documents related to the ways that Joseph Smith and others governed the early Church. These documents will help students to see the ways that Joseph Smith and other priesthood leaders collaborated on matters both practical and spiritual. For instance, some High Council meetings address matters of Church discipline, some relate to raising volunteers for the Camp of Israel, and others give specific direction to Church members in their callings. These types of meetings reveal the ways that early Church leaders made decisions and operated, providing a glimpse into the decision-making processes that we need our students to learn in order to serve in their own callings. They also highlight the “busyness” of Joseph Smith’s life. He participated in scores of meetings, corresponded with many people, preached, led the Church through financial struggles, and oversaw the publication and spread of his teachings. Using these documents, teachers can help their students recognize the weight of Joseph Smith’s day-to-day duties as they help their audience understand his religious teachings.

Documents, Volume 4 also contains letters written to Emma Smith that shed light on the familial responsibilities that Joseph did his best to tend to while doing all that he could to lead the Church (48–59). These documents portray a very human side to Joseph, a valuable counterbalance to hagiographic narratives that downplay the parts of the Prophet’s life not directly related to Church governance or doctrine. These sources also allow educators to introduce students to the Smiths’ marital relationship, which faced the highs and lows that every marriage faces (with the additional stresses of Joseph’s frequent absence on Church business). Joseph Smith spent a lot of time doing things other than receiving revelations or pondering the topic of his next sermon. Like Latter-day Saints today, he balanced family responsibilities and other concerns outside of Church governance.

Even within his Church responsibilities, Joseph Smith grappled with leading the Saints through events like the Camp of Israel. The sources in Documents, Volume 4 remind readers that Joseph Smith was not perfect, nor did he operate in ideal conditions. He argued with his fellow Saints over petty matters like the presence of a dog in the camp. Cholera swept through the camp, and more than a dozen participants passed away as a result. However, the Camp of Israel’s failure to win back Jackson County through military means reveals important traits of Mormonism’s first prophet. Joseph Smith possessed the humility to disband the camp even though it went against what he wanted to do personally. The Camp of Israel demonstrates how Joseph Smith received “refined” revelation when the Saints’ circumstances required.

Documents, Volume 4 also invites readers to consider why the Lord would ask the Saints to march to Zion despite their failure to recover their land and property. Teachers could ask students to consider that many of those who accepted both the revelation to redeem Zion as well as the Lord’s instruction to disband the Camp of Israel became leaders of the Church in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere. In fact, Joseph Smith specifically said that the Camp of Israel proved the Apostles’ faithfulness and capacity for leadership (221, see 219–34 for more on the calling of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Educators could organize a lesson around the idea that Latter-day Saints have always had to serve in the face of frustration and disappointment—and why those who persevere in times of trouble (a trait belonging to model disciples) might be seen as especially ready to lead other Saints.

Sources in Documents, Volume 4 also help to explain the expansion of priesthood quorums and the evolution of Church government from April 1834–April 1835. Using letters, meeting minutes, revelations, and other documents available in this volume of The Joseph Smith Papers will undoubtedly help teachers to better answer student questions about priesthood organization and the evolving responsibilities of Church leaders. Teachers can use the meeting minutes, letters, and revelations in Documents, Volume 4 to discuss the practical reasons why the early Church’s governing structures changed. Joseph Smith could not manage the minutiae of everyday Church governance without help; the Lord provided other leaders to assist in leading a Church experiencing rapid growth.

Educators should also be sure to teach their students about the participation of women and children in the Camp of Israel. While teaching about the importance of women’s contributions, educators should point out that a woman, Jane Clark, gave the second-largest financial donation to the Camp of Israel—fifty dollars (148). Unfortunately, because of record-keeping practices in the nineteenth century, we know much less about female participation in the early Church than male participation. As educators, we can do much more to teach the history of women in Mormonism—this document provides a great opportunity to include their faithful actions.

The sources in Documents, Volume 4 reveal the ways that Joseph led the early Saints, and how the Lord proved the faithfulness of many early leaders of the Church. The documents also provide material that educators can use to teach about Joseph Smith’s personal life and the ways that it affected his Church duties. Teachers can and will glean important information for teaching Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants from Documents, Volume 4. I wholeheartedly recommend that teachers use the documents from the Joseph Smith Papers Project to add variety and detail to their lessons and to increase their own gospel knowledge.



Review of By Study and Also by Faith


By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015. Notes, black-and-white illustrations, 654 pp. with index. ISBN-13: 978-1-4651-1878-3, US $33.50.

Review by Scott C. Esplin

Scott C. Esplin is an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

“In the history of the Church,” President Boyd K. Packer taught, “there is no better illustration of the prophetic preparation of this people than the beginnings of the seminary and institute program. These programs were started when they were nice but were not critically needed. They were granted a season to flourish and to grow into a bulwark for the Church. They now become a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel.”[1] Seeking to chronicle this history, the recent volume, By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, captures the system’s rise from a humble beginning of seventy students in 1912 to become a worldwide organization that provides religious education to over 700,000 students a year.

In the volume’s foreword, Elder Paul V. Johnson, former Commissioner of the Church Educational System, outlines the book’s purpose: “We were in danger of losing a great deal of knowledge of our history. Some other organizations cut their connections to their roots and begin to drift. This organization could not afford this,” he warned. “Our history doesn’t limit us, but like a plant’s roots it anchors and nourishes us and is crucial for growth. Our history helps us grasp our identity and protects us” (viii).

The prologue adeptly overviews the foundation of education in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Drawing from the words of modern revelation and the practices of the early Saints, it outlines the groundwork laid for Seminaries and Institutes by educational endeavors in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. Importantly, the prologue connects the Church’s earlier academies and religion classes to the modern Church Educational System, helping the reader recognize that the seminary and institute programs were the continuation of larger efforts to nurture faith in the hearts of youth and young adults. While some readers might wish this and later parts of the book were strengthened by a discussion of religious instruction beyond Mormonism or a deeper examination of the alternatives to released-time religious education, the prologue nicely places the formation of the seminary and institute system within a larger Church context.[2]

Following the prologue, the book focuses its remaining nearly six hundred pages specifically on the history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. In chapters that are as long as one hundred pages each, the book details the operations of programs that grew beyond their Wasatch Front beginnings to their current reach around the world.

The authors, who, it appears from the acknowledgments, all have backgrounds in Church education, seem to grapple with a challenge faced by every teacher: too much material to cover and a reluctance to leave anything out. As one who has tried to talk more quickly in a class in order to teach more material, I resonate with the difficulty, or even the reluctance, they faced to “reduce and simplify.” However, the words of Elder Packer quoted earlier regarding the history of the program might apply to the volume specifically. From a reader’s perspective, some of the information the book contains is “nice but . . . not critically needed.” For example, a general readership likely does not need details of the Alpine summer school from 1927 and 1928 (48–50), a listing of extracurricular activities by teachers and students in the 1930s (62), the development of choirs at the Logan and Salt Lake City institutes in the 1940s and ’50s (111), a reference to William E. Berrett constructing a coffin for his deceased child (141), or the listing of computer reporting programs in the 1990s (418–19). The challenge of too much detail is especially evident in the latter half of the volume, where the authors write about events that they and some of their readers personally experienced. Of course, this difficulty is faced by anyone who attempts to write in an historical way about events of the recent past involving living subjects. The challenge increases when the writing is done by committee. Though the volume is well researched and seeks to be exhaustive, some of its information might better be placed in a footnote or in a separate collection altogether.

Admittedly, the book maintains its detailed focus on the seminary and institute systems. Therefore, beyond the prologue, which touches on other Church education endeavors that were foundational to the programs in question, the bulk of the book makes little mention of related religious education programs like those at BYU, BYU–Idaho, and BYU–Hawaii. To the authors’ credit, when the other Church universities are mentioned, it is always in the context of their connection to the history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. This is the case with the discussion of BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, as his role as chancellor of the Unified Church School System is emphasized, and with the overview of BYU–Idaho’s Pathways Program, as the book draws connections to the larger Institute of Religion system.

As an institutional history, the book is heavily organized around people. This may be appropriate because teaching is, first and foremost, a people-oriented profession. From the beginning of each chapter, which, with the exception of the prologue, starts with a full-page picture of a person central to the story (Thomas J. Yates, first seminary teacher; President Henry B. Eyring, two-time commissioner of the Church Educational System; Stanley A. Peterson, associate commissioner/administrator of religious education and Church schools; and so forth), to appendix 7, which contains twenty-three pages of administrator biographies, the book is people-dominated. Page after page contains interesting pictures of people important to the history. Even when the expansion of the program internationally is discussed, it is in conjunction with people. For example, when the first international programs are examined, they are introduced with headings that include both a location and a person: Great Britain—John M. Madsen, Australia—J. L. Jaussi, and New Zealand—Rhett James (184–91). This pattern of discussing a building, program, or country in conjunction with people important to the story is consistent throughout the text.

The focus on people comes at a cost, however—one that Elder Johnson acknowledges in his foreword. “Despite this volume’s relatively large size, it cannot be comprehensive. There are too many people, too many powerful accounts, and too many miracles and blessings to squeeze into one volume” (ix). Therefore, the emphasis on certain people, most often those with connections to central administration, exacerbates a challenge, especially for a program that is no longer limited to the Wasatch Front. The problem of selectivity is especially evident in the aforementioned appendix of administrator biographies, as the book does not clearly identify the criteria used for determining inclusion. With more than 3,000 current employees and over 44,000 volunteers worldwide, prominent people are going to be missed, even in a book of over six hundred pages. For example, Joseph M. Tanner is only mentioned in a passing sentence as a bridge between Karl G. Maeser and Horace H. Cummings, though Tanner served as superintendent of Church schools for five pivotal years (25). Additionally, a personal introduction in the text to nearly every central-office administrator, coupled with detailed biographies of these leaders in an appendix, subtly brands the book as an institutional production, though system-wide non-administrators and volunteers outnumber full-time administrators dramatically. Therefore, thousands of current and former full-time employees and volunteers who dedicated many years to the work of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion may feel their history was neglected. While the book will resonate with those who know and love the leadership of the Seminary and Institute systems, much remains to be written from the perspectives of women (443–47), students (453–56), and volunteers (456–59). In fact, institutionally, as many pages are dedicated to employment practices including compensation and contracts (541–44) as are specifically dedicated to the voices of women, students, and volunteers.[3] Furthermore, perspectives from non-English-speaking areas of the world are limited.

These observations are not intended to be criticisms of what is a remarkable product. In fact, President Packer’s observation that the program had become “a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel” is also evident in the history. The tone of the volume is admittedly and unapologetically positive, as a volume dealing with this topic and published by the Church should be. “The history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion is one of faith, sacrifice, and devotion,” writes Chad H Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. “It is a history of commitment to and love for our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ. It is a history of love for the sacred word of God, of love for youth and young adults and of lives dedicated to teaching, lifting, preparing, and protecting them” (xi–xii).

While the book outlines challenges faced by Seminaries and Institutes of Religion over time, it openly asserts that God’s hand coupled with the sacrifice of loyal employees advanced the program. For example, describing the challenges faced in expanding beyond Mormonism’s traditional intermountain region, the book concludes, “As in Church education’s infant days, the right leaders and teachers came forward to overcome each obstacle” (93). This volume ascribes to the perspective voiced by President Joseph F. Smith: “The hand of the Lord may not be visible to all. There may be many who cannot discern the workings of God’s will in the progress and development of this great latter-day work, but there are those who see in every hour and in every moment of the existence of the Church, from its beginning until now, the overruling, almighty hand of Him who sent His Only Begotten Son.”[4] While not flawless, By Study and also By Faith succeeds in chronicling the divine hand in the history of Seminaries and Institutes.


[1] Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Scriptures” (address to Church Educational System religious educators, 1977), 4.

[2] For example, additional detail could be added to clarify Elder David O. McKay’s initial opposition to the seminary program (41).

[3] These voices do emerge occasionally in other portions of the book, but not as separate sections.

[4] Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1904, 2.

Ties That Linked the Rails

Ties That Linked the Rails: Utah’s Role in the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the Benefits

Keynote address by BYU Professor Fred E. Woods

May 10, 2016, Promontory, Utah

Fred Woods, Promontory, Golden Spike

Fred E. Woods at Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Utah. Photos courtesy of Fred E. Woods.

I feel honored to have been selected to provide some remarks at this annual celebration. I keenly sense my responsibility as a keynote speaker to address this vibrant topic. As a boy living in Southern California, I received an electric train set one Christmas which brought me more excitement than I can possibly articulate. I approach this occasion with that same enthusiasm.

Leonard J. Arrington argued, “More than any other single agency the railroad converted a nation of diverse sections into ‘one nation, indivisible.’”[1] Today we are now at the crossroads where a monumental task was completed involving an abundance of iron rails and wooden ties. This colossal enterprise stands as a testament to a catalytic transportation transformation. It seems appropriate it would take place in Utah Territory. Here, Utahans completed the transcontinental telegraph and later assisted in the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Reenactment of Golden Spike ceremony, May 10, 2016.

Reenactment of Golden Spike ceremony, May 10, 2016.

When the telegraph was completed in Salt Lake City, October 1861, Brigham Young sent a clear signal to President Lincoln, “Utah has not seceded, but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country.” Less than eight years later, on May 10, 1869, hundreds gathered at Promontory to witness another coast to coast completion. The driving of the last spike of the transcontinental railroad reverberated continuity to a once broken nation.[2]

Railroad enthusiast Asa Whitney had strongly asserted that the Pacific Railroad would bring the nation “all together as one family, but with one interest – the common good of all.”[3] Promontory was selected to be the place of convergence ending an intense rivalry between the UP and the CP. What Appomattox had been to the North and South, Promontory became to the East and West. Both places were catalytic in binding a nation, now tied together in each cardinal direction.

Engine 119 heading to the Golden Spike anniversary celebration!

Engine 119 heading to the Golden Spike anniversary celebration!

The moment the final spike was struck, telegraph wires transmitted the simple but momentous communication, D-O-N-E. Instantly news of the completion spread across a nation erupting in celebration. Cannons boomed in cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In Salt Lake City, 7,000 gathered in the Tabernacle for the celebration. Promontory enjoyed bands from Fort Douglas and the Salt Lake City 10th Ward.[4]

As the nationwide celebrations faded, America entered an era of new prosperity with the expansion of commercial ventures. As with our transforming informational age, the uniting of the rails from the Pacific to the Atlantic suddenly brought the world much closer. Soon the first transcontinental freight train left California bound for the east coast transporting Asian teas as well as regular passenger service. Travelers could now cross the continent in a week instead of six months. Previously exorbitant overland travel costs were reduced to a mere $70.00 for emigrant rail passage.[5] Gone were the days of treacherous ocean travel via the Panama route that ended the life of railroad enthusiast Theodore Judah and others.[6] The new rail connection made America’s future promising.

Intercontinental trade began to grow extensively. Within a decade of completion, the transcontinental railroad managed to transport $50 million worth of freight across America annually. The connected rails also unlocked markets of the west coast and Asia in the east, (only 5% from Asia and 95% locally),[7] and also carried eastern goods to a blossoming west beyond the rolling waters of Old Man River. Just as the railroad promoted the expansion of commerce in America, it also stimulated intellectual life, a transfer of cosmopolitan culture, and stirred public discourse. Passengers and freight not only traveled faster, but as with the telegraph, it was a pathway for ideas and intellectual stimulation.[8]

Such benefits however, came at a costly price. Constructing the transcontinental railroad required vision, muscle, brains, sweat, and undeviating doggedness. General Wm. Sherman called it a “work of giants.” Most of all it demanded tenacious teamwork and many believed the end result would be worth it. As early as 1866, the Rocky Mountain News proclaimed, “The one moral, the one remedy for every evil, social, political, financial, and industrial . . . need of the entire Republic, is the Pacific Railroad.”[9]

The building of the railroad completed largely by manual labor. It is hard to imagine the completion of Pacific railroad without the efforts of the Chinese laborers. Charlie Crocker, in an attempt to justify why he wanted to bring Chinese workers on the construction line of the Central Pacific, simply stated, “They built the Great Wall of China, didn’t they?”  Further, the CP set a record of laying 10 miles of track in one day with a workforce of 90% Chinese!

Not everyone benefitted from the transformative tracks. For the Native Americans, the Iron Horse led to another trail of tears: encroachment, intrusion, and infringement. Abundant buffalo herds were slaughtered by invading whites, ancestral lands lost, and thousands of Natives were thrust onto unwanted reservations. A penetrating statement spoken by a Native American in Dee Brown’s classis book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, captures the resentment of a deceived people: “the only promise the white men ever kept was to take our land, and he did.”

Nevertheless, in the name of “manifest destiny,” the train rolled on, and along with it, promises to yield big dividends. The Central Pacific leadership was made up of the big four: Crocker, Hopkins, Stanford, and Huntington, whose combined business experience was both impressive and influential. For the UP, there was Sherman, Dodge, and the Casement brothers; all former Union generals. Engineers and foreman were also Civil War veterans overseeing many Irish and German immigrants as well as ex-soldiers from both the union and confederate armies. Ambrose argued this enterprise, “could not have been done without the Civil War veterans and their experience. It was the war that taught them how to think big, how to organize grand projects, how to persevere.” The work force was made up mostly of Chinese on the CP and Irish on the UP, but critical to both were the Mormon graders under the direction of the American Moses, Brigham Young.[10]

The impact of Utah’s contribution in building the transcontinental railroad and her subsequent territorial benefits is a subject that merits attention. Keep in mind that in 1869 Mormons made up 98% of Utah’s total population.[11] In this same year, Samuel Bowles, editor and publisher of the Springfield, MA. Republican, observed, “but for the pioneership of the Mormons, discovering the pathway, and feeding those who came out upon it, all this central region of our great West would now be many years behind its present development, and the railroad instead of being finished, would hardly be begun.”[12] Further, in his book, History of Utah, Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote, “It was acknowledged by all railroad men that nowhere on the line could the grading compare in completeness and finish with the work done by the people of Utah.”[13]

The Mormon grading was not only superior, but their construction camps were conducted in stark contrast to the notorious “hell on wheels” encampments. Instead of boisterousness induced of whiskey, gambling, and soiled doves; the Mormon camp sites operated under orderly and peaceful religious governance. “Twice daily, workers and their families assembled for prayers and on Sundays they attended religious services. . . . Neither swearing nor drunkenness characterized their construction camps.”[14] Clarence Reeder, summarized the Mormon efforts to construct the railroad: “A people working together in harmony under the guidance of their religious leaders to accomplish a temporal task which they treated as though it were divinely inspired.”[15]

Music in the Mormon camps along the Union Pacific was sometimes provided by the “Rocky Mountain Glee Club,” comprised of the laborers. Home spun songs were sung by Latter-day Saints around the campfires, including this one written by Mormon grader, James Crane:

At the head of great Echo

The railway’s begun

The Mormons are cutting

And grading like fun.

They say they’ll stick to it

Till it is complete,

When friends and relations

They’re longing to meet.”[16]


Reenactment of the original Golden Spike ceremony.

Reenactment of the original Golden Spike ceremony.

Another preferred Latter-day Saint song was:


Hurrah, hurrah, the railroad’s begun.

Three cheers for the contractor, his name Brigham Young.

Hurrah, hurrah, we are faithful and true

And if we stick to it, it’s bound to go through.[17]

Gathering at Golden Spike National Historic Site.

Gathering at Golden Spike National Historic Site.

An estimated five thousand Utahans did “stick to it,” laboring for both the UP and the CP, whose supervisors were complimentary of the grading, trestlework, bridge-building, tunneling, and furnishing of ties completed in Utah.[18]

John J. Stewart wrote, “No state nor people figures more prominently in the story of the Pacific Railroad than do Utah and Utahans, particularly the Mormons. Mormon pioneers blazed the trail for much of the route of the railroad. The Mormon empire in the Great Basin provided much of the incentive for construction of the railroad. Mormons were among the first to petition Congress to construct the railroad. Brigham Young was one of the very first to subscribe to Union Pacific stock. Mormons provided much of the labor and capital in construction of the railroad, doing some of the surveying on Union Pacific and the grading on both Central Pacific and Union Pacific through Utah.

It was in Utah that the railroad was completed. Ogden, Utah, became the terminal point and the junction for the two railroad companies. Utah was site of one of the first branch lines on the Pacific Railroad.” The Utah Central ran 37 miles from Ogden to Salt Lake City. The last spike, driven by the American Moses, Brigham Young, had inscribed upon it (along with the mallet he used) “holiness to the Lord.” Stewart continues, “And Utah was to a peculiar degree both benefactor and beneficiary of the railroad, both as to passenger service and freight, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints utilized the railroad greatly with its missionary and immigration programs, and the mining industry could be developed extensively only with the aid of railroad facilities.”[19]

Some argued that Latter-day Saints did not want a railroad coming into Utah, the Mormon Mecca in the West, as it would disturb their cultural isolation. According to Samuel Bowles, Brigham Young was quick to respond to this claim: “It must indeed be a damned poor religion if it cannot stand one railroad.”[20] Utah’s consensus was that the benefits would outweigh the potential challenges. National newspapers boasted that Mormons would be crushed by gentile influence when the railroad reached Utah. Utah’s citizens soon recognized they would no longer be isolated, so they created programs to insulate their people. This was done through a variety of LDS church programs: a school of the prophets, the women’s Relief Society re-emerged, and agricultural and manufacturing cooperatives, enabling increased self-sufficient. In addition, the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) was established to handle the purchase and distribution of wholesale items to shore up the city of the Saints.[21]

LDS Church leader, John Taylor stated, “It has been thought and charged by some that we are averse to improvements, and that we disliked the approach of the railroad. Never was a greater mistake. We have been cradled in the cities of the new and old worlds, where we have built locomotives, steamboats, gas works, and telegraph lines. . . . We have always been the advocates of improvement of the arts, science, literature, and general progress; and whilst we abjure evils, the follies, the crimes, and many of the lamentable adjuncts of civilization, we are always first and foremost in everything that tends to ennoble and exalt mankind. . . . We meet in friendly conclave with distinguished gentlemen connected with the eastern and western divisions of the railroad. . . . We hail these gentlemen as brothers in art, science, progress and civilization. . . . We will bare our arms and nerve our muscles to aid in the completion of this great cord of brotherhood which is already reaching our borders.”[22]

LDS leader, George A. Smith noted, “We started from Nauvoo in February, 1846, to make a road to the Rocky Mountains. A portion of our work was to hunt for the railroad. We located a road to Council Bluffs, bridging the streams, and I believe it has been pretty nearly followed by the railroad. In April 1847, President Young and one hundred and forty-three pioneers left Council Bluffs, and located and made the road to the site of this city [Salt Lake City]. A portion of our labor was to seek out the way for a railroad across the continent, and every place we found that seemed difficult for laying the rails we searched out a way for the road to go around or through it.”[23]

Mormon pioneer Jacob Weiler noted, “In April, 1847, I was chosen to be one of the hundred and forty four men and three women with Brigham Young as our leader . . . . Many times when gathered around the camp fire we would plan and talk over the future of our dreary wastes through which we were traveling.  I remember more than once the possibility of a railroad to the Pacific was spoken of as being in the near future.”[24]

Brigham Young stated, “I do not suppose we traveled one day from the Missouri here, but what we looked for a track where the rails could be laid with success, for a railroad through this Territory to the Pacific Ocean. This was long before the gold was found, when this Territory belonged to Mexico. We never went through the canyons or worked our way over the dividing ridges without asking where the rails could be laid. When we came here over the hills and plains in 1847 we made our calculations for a railroad across the country. . . . We want the benefits of the railroad for our emigrants so that after they land in New York they may get on board the cars and never leave them again until they reach this city.”[25]

Golden Spike Anniversary Celebration, Promontory Summit.

Golden Spike Anniversary Celebration, Promontory Summit.

The thousands of European converts gathering to an American Zion in weeks, rather than months, was chief among the railroad benefits. With the transportation revolution of steam power, instead of a 54 day voyage from Liverpool to New Orleans or 38 days of ocean travel to New York, the passage across the Atlantic was reduced to only eleven days and over America in just a week.

Initially, employment on the railroad provided Utah an immediate solution to a devastating problem. In 1868, Mormons first contracted to work for the Pacific railroad at a time when an insect infestation had brought the Saints to their knees. Crops were ruined, farmers were out of work, families need to be fed, and there was a shortage of cash. Work on the railroad was a God-send.

Lewis Barney wrote, “The grasshoppers put in their appearance and destroyed our Crops it seemed that every avenue was Closed And the saints Cut off from supplies But the Lord who had brought them safe through all their troubles had not forsaken them For at this Critical time President Young was requested to take a heavy contract on the union pacific Railroad which he accepted this gave the Saints Labor for which they got Cash Clothing and provisions.”[26] In late May of 1868, Orson Pratt writing to Brigham Young stated, “Much of our wheat in this settlement is eaten off by the grasshoppers; consequently several are ready to go to work on the rail road.”[27]

In addition, Milando Pratt recalled, “The grasshoppers had eaten up my crop. . . . These pestilential migrators were no respecters of alighting places when night overtook them, for they would settle down upon the Great Salt Lake which pickled them in its briny waters by the hundreds of thousands of tons and then cast their carcases ashore until a great wall from 2 to 5 ft. in depth and from 3 to 9 or 10 ft. in width of these inanimate pests was formed for miles around the lake’s shore. And oh what a stench did this lifeless mass make. . . . Great clouds of grasshoppers flew over these Intermountain vallies, and would darken the sun like a misty fog, and when night overtook them, they would alight upon the ground and devour the crops wherever within their reach. This grasshopper plague was the incentive cause . . . to cease farming and go to railroad work.”[28]

Along with employment, there was the hope of an expanded market to transport local goods to a national market. Further, steel tracks could transport large granite stones for the Latter-day Saint temple, a distance of 20 miles from Little Cottonwood Canyon to Salt Lake City. Instead of taking several days to carry a load of stone from the quarry, it took about an hour. In addition, with increased visitors to Utah, the Mormons hoped that prejudices would soften towards the City of the Saints.[29]

Hope was realized when Mrs. Frank Leslie (wife of the famed New York publisher) took a trip by rail to Utah the following decade. Leslie perceived the impressive industry of the Saints that made the desert blossom as the rose and observed that Utah’s citizens were “‘better fed, better dressed, and better mannered’ than other Westerners, and lived in neater cottage, amid flowers and garden produce in profusion.” Although she could not yet come to grips with the practice of polygamy, Leslie admitted, “roses are better than sage-brush, and potatoes and peas preferable as a diet to buffalo grass. Also schoolhouses, with cleanly and comfortable troops of children about them, are a symptom of more advanced civilization than lonely shanties with only fever-and-ague and whisky therein.”[30]

But the transcontinental railroad was larger than a window to the Mormon Mecca or to benefit Utah’s inhabitants alone. It was built with the aim of producing more opportunities for all Americans to profit thereby and with the hope of generating greater national unity.  Providentially, the words engraved upon the golden spike read: “May God continue the unity of our country as this railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.”

On the day of dedication, Reverend J. Todd of Pittsfield, Massachusetts offered a prayer stating, “Our Father and God . . . we have assembled here, this day, upon the height of the continent from varied sections of our country, to do homage to Thy wonderful name, in that Thou hast brought this mighty enterprise, combining the commerce of the east with the gold of the west to so glorious a completion. . . . We here consecrate this great highway for the good of Thy people. O God, we implore Thy blessing upon it . . .  that this mighty enterprise may be unto us as the Atlantic of Thy strength and the Pacific of Thy love.”[31]

I conclude with a hope that we remember the immense price paid by a large body of men to complete this enormous undertaking. I pay tribute to the collective calloused hands, aching arms, strained backs, and blistered feet of the men who leveled the path and laid the rails under unrelenting circumstances. Regardless of size or strength, these diverse human beings linked rails that tied the nation together and prospered the whole.  As we walk in the diversity of our daily lives, may we too leave tracks and form ties with the aim of benefitting the greater whole. Remembering our common humanity will keep our nation united and lay the rails for generations to come.


[1] Leonard J. Arrington, “The Transcontinental Railroad and the Development of the West,” Utah Historical Quarterly vol. 37, no. 1 (Winter 1969), 4.

[2] Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 368, notes, coincidentally that Theodore Judah, the railroad visionary, and his wife Ann Ferona, commenced their wedding union on this same day.

[3] David Howard Bain, Empire Express: Building the Transcontinental Railroad (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 14.

[4] Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 363, 366.

[5] Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 369.


[7] Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 371.

[8] See also which notes reduced time to travel and cost.

[9] Rocky Mountain News, 1866, cited in

[10] Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 18-19.

[11] Leonard J. Arrington, “The Transcontinental Railroad and the Mormon Economic Policy,” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 20, no. 2 (May, 1951), 157, put the LDS population for the year 1869 at about 75,000.

[12] John J. Stewart, The Iron Trail to the Golden Spike (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 176.

[13] Hubert Howe Bancroft History of Utah (San Francisco: History Company, 1890), 754.


[15] Clarence Reeder, “A History of Utah’s Railroads,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Utah (1959), cited in Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 287.

[16] Wesley S. A. Griswold, A Work of Giants: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962), 270

[17] Cited in Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 286.

[18] Leonard J. Arrington, “The Transcontinental Railroad and the Development of the West,” Utah Historical Quarterly vol. 37, no. 1 (Winter 1969), 10.


[19] Stewart, The Iron Trail to the Golden Spike (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 175.

[20] Samuel Bowles, Our New West (Hartford, CT, 1869), 260.

[21] Stewart, The Iron Trail to the Golden Spike (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 184.

[22] Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, vol. 2, 238-239.

[23] Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, vol. 2, 239.

[24] Autobiographical sketch of life and labors of Jacob Weiler, cited in, 3-4.

[25] Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, vol. 2, 240-41.

[26] Autobiography and Diary of Lewis Barney.

[27] Letter of Orson Hyde to Brigham Young, May 27, 1868, CR 1234/1, Reel 53, box 40, fd 6, CHL.

[28] Milando Pratt [Autobiographical Sketch], pp. 7-8, 12, Utah State Historical Society.


[30] Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, paperback ed. 1966), 239.

[31] “The Proceedings at Promontory Summit,” Deseret News, May 10, 1869.

Craig L. Foster’s Review of “Conversations with Mormon Historians”

Conversation with Mormon_Historians_COVER_Front 2

Review of Alexander L. Baugh and Reid L. Neilson, eds., Conversations with Mormon Historians, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2015. pp.580 + xv, including index. $34.99.

Abstract: Conversations with Mormon Historians is a compilation of interviews with sixteen Latter-day Saint scholars. The book reveals why they went into their chosen professions, their rise to prominence as historians, and their thoughts regarding important topics such as the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Part of understanding history is to understand the historians who wrote it. In other words, to truly grasp historical interpretations and perspectives, we need to know the historians behind the works of historical writing. Only then can we recognize how and why various historical events and people are being portrayed. . . .

See the full review here.

To buy the book, visit here.