A Book of Mormons
by Richard S. Van Wagoner and Steven C. Walker
1828. January 16: Born Karl Gottfried Maeser in Vorbrucke, Meissen, Germany. In 1854 he married Anna Meith in Germany, and twenty-one years later wed plural wife Emilie Damke. He was the father of nine children.
With private tutoring, Maeser became proficient in French, Italian, and Latin, in addition to his native German. Musically gifted, he played the piano and organ, and conducted choral and orchestral music. He studied two years at the Krenz Schule in Dresden before graduating with honors from the Friederich Stadt normal school. At the age of twenty he taught in the Dresden schools, later serving as a private tutor in Bohemia.
First Mormon Convert in Saxony
1855. “Scepticism had undermined religious impressions of my childhood days, and infidelity, now known by its modern name of agnosticism, was exercising its disintegrating influence upon me.”
Maeser was amused by the “inaccuracies and the poverty of language” he found in Mormon pamphlets. “But as I read on I came to be convinced that ‘Mormonism’ was a bigger thing than I had anticipated it to be. The humble but straightforward statements of testimony, the mistakes and the meagerness of the language used in the exposition of the wonderful truths that I could see back of it all, brought such uneasiness to me that I could not resist; my soul was on fire, as it were, and I therefore expressed a desire to have an Elder sent to me.”
Taught the gospel by William Budge, Franklin D. Richards, and William H. Kimball, Maeser and seven family members and friends were baptized in the Elbe River—the first Mormon converts in Saxony.
Maeser was made president of the small Dresden branch.
[p.179]1856. The Dresden branch emigrated to Utah, first stopping in England, where Maeser served a short mission to Scotland. When they arrived in America, the Maesers had only enough money to reach Philadelphia. Called on a mission to Virginia, Karl Maeser taught music to the children of ex-President John Tyler and others, earning enough money to complete the trip to Utah.
1860. In Salt Lake City, Maeser announced in the Deseret News, “The undersigned begs to inform the Public that he intends opening Evening Classes, both for ladies and gentlemen, for English, German, French, Italian, Latin, Greek, Drawing, Bookkeeping, Mathematics, and all the branches of a sound and practical education.” The Fifteenth Ward school was established.
Brigham Young placed Maeser in charge of Salt Lake’s Union Academy in 1861. In 1864 he became the private tutor of Brigham Young’s children. He was also organist for the Tabernacle Choir.
1867. At general conference Maeser heard his name announced for a mission to Germany and Switzerland. He gave his last fifty-cent piece to his wife Anna, who said she would return it when he returned.
1870. Anna met him at the door, where Maeser noticed “a new stove, carpet, lace curtains, furniture, all paid for furnished the front room.” She gave him his fifty-cent piece and “another one besides.”
Father of Brigham Young University
1870. Maeser opened a teacher training school in the Salt Lake Twentieth Ward.
[p.180]1876. April 5: A munitions explosion in the hills north of Salt Lake damaged Maeser’s schoolhouse. When he complained to Brigham Young that he would be unable to teach until the building was repaired, Young replied, “I want to give you a mission to teach at the Brigham Young Academy in Provo. … I want you to remember that you ought not to teach even the alphabet or the multiplication tables without the Spirit of God.” Nineteen days later, Maeser began a two-month experimental term of the Brigham Young Academy.
August 27: Sixty-seven students attended the opening of the Brigham Young Academy on Center Street in Provo, Utah. The school house was “a grim non-descript structure without beauty or grace or any other aesthetic feature calculated to invite a second look. The lower floor was made up of two large rooms at the front, and two small ones at the back. The upper floor had been designed for use as a theater. It consisted of one large room and a stage—both so utterly bare and gloomy as to make inappropriate any form of entertainment except tragedy.”
1884. Tragedy struck when the school burned to the ground. Classes reconvened in the ZCMI warehouse, which was used until 1892, when Education Hall was dedicated on University Avenue.
Among Maeser’s students were Reed Smoot, George H. Brimhall, Annie Clark Tanner, Joseph M. Tanner, James E. Talmage, and Susa Young Gates.
He guided the lives of his students by memorable sermonettes:
“Everyone’s life is an object lesson to others.”
“There is a Mount Sinai for every child of God, if he only knows how to climb it.””Every one of us sooner or later must stand at the forks of the road and choose between personal interest and some principle of right.””The truly educated man will always speak to the understanding of the most unlearned of his audience.””Whatever you do, don’t do nothing. Whatever you be, don’t be a scrub.”
1888. Wilford Woodruff called Maeser to be the first general superintendent of Church schools. In 1889 the Church Board of Education conferred on him the degree of doctor of letters and didactics, and one year later released him from his Brigham Young Academy responsibilities so that he could devote more time to establishing Church schools in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Canada, and Mexico.
1894. Appointed second assistant to George Q. Cannon in the superintendency of the Deseret Sunday School Union. In 1899 he was ordained a patriarch.
1898. To express his philosophy of education, Maeser wrote School and Fireside. “Discover and evaluate the worth of each individual,” he advised. “Teacher’s plans should be varied and flexible to allow for student differences. … Discover the sphere of action for which any given child is adapted and turn its thoughts and energies in that direction. … Teachers and parents should be living examples of what they teach.”
1901. February 14: Died of cardiac insufficiency in Salt Lake City. Buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
1912. The Maeser Memorial Building was erected at Brigham Young University.
Gates, Susa Young. “Dr. Karl G. Maeser.” Young Woman’s Journal 3 (August, 1892):481-486.
Maeser, Reinhard. Karl G. Maeser. Provo: Brigham Young University, 1928.
Pardoe, T. Earl. The Sons of Brigham. Provo: Brigham Young University Alumni, 1969.
Wilkinson, Ernest L. Brigham Young University: The First One Hundred Years. 4 vols. Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1975.
1799. November 1: Born Thomas Baldwin Marsh in Acton, Massachusetts. He married Elizabeth Godkin on his twenty-seventh birthday in 1826.
First President of the Quorum of the Twelve
1830. Marsh was baptized by David Whitmer and appointed by revelation to be a “physician to the Church” (D&C 31:10). Sections 31 and 112 of the Doctrine and Covenants are addressed to him, and he is mentioned in sections 52 and 56.
1835. Called to be a member of the original Quorum of the Twelve by the Three Witnesses. Seniority was determined by age; Marsh at thirty-six was the eldest, and therefore became the first Quorum president.
1838. After David Whitmer, Church leader in Far West, Missouri, was deposed, Marsh became “President Pro Tern of the Church in Missouri” with Brigham Young and David Patten as counselors.
Later that year, a Church court ruled against his wife in a dispute over milk strippings. According to George A. Smith, “The wife of Marsh and Sister Harris [wife of George Washington Harris] agreed to exchange milk, in order to enable each of them to make a larger cheese than they could do separately. Each was to take the other the ‘strippings’ as well as the rest of the milk. Mrs. Harris performed her part of the agreement, but Mrs. Marsh kept a pint of ‘strippings’ from each cow. When this became known the matter was brought before the Teachers, and these decided against Mrs. Marsh. … [Marsh] appealed to the Bishop. He sustained the Teachers. … [Marsh] appealed to the High Council … that body confirmed the Bishop’s decision. … [Marsh] appealed to the First Presidency. … They approved the finding of the High [p.184]Council. Was Marsh satisfied then? No. With the persistency of Lucifer himself, he declared that he would uphold the character of his wife, ‘even if he had to go to hell for it.'”
1839. Marsh and Orson Hyde were excommunicated for signing an affidavit that the Mormons “had a company called ‘Danites’ organized for the purpose of murdering ‘enemies.’ … [They] have taken an oath to support the heads of the Church in all things that they say or do, whether right or wrong. … They appointed a company of twelve, by the name of the ‘Destruction Company,’ for the purpose of burning and destroying.”
Marsh went into hiding in Howard County, Missouri, “afraid the ‘Mormons’ would kill him; and he durst not let them know where he was.”
“Chief of the Twelve”
1856. During six weeks of paralysis from a massive stroke, Marsh experienced a change of heart and sent a “revelation” to President Brigham Young:
“Behold I say unto thee Brigham Young! Where is the servant of the Lord, Thomas Marsh, Chief of the 12 to whom the Lord gave the keys of the kingdom? from whom they have not been taken, who was driven out from among you because of the iniquity of his brethren who hunted for his blood. … Now if ye would prosper in the land which the Lord, thy god hath given thee ye shale spedily take with thee two wise & faithful servants of the Lord and go to the land of Missouri and inquire in the County Howard for his son Edward Marsh, who will, if ye are prudent direct you to his father; but if ye act not discretely he will fear lest ye seek the life of his father, and withhold from thee the desired information. Behold ye shale take with you means for his conveyance … confer with him in a kind and friendly manner and he shall rejoice and be glad to see you … he will accompany you and ye shale bring him to this land even to your chief City.”
[p.185]“The Fruits of Apostasy”
1856. After his wife died, Marsh traveled through Missouri teaching biblical geography to raise money for a trip to Council Bluffs, Iowa. On the day of his arrival he suffered another stroke.
“Look at me,” he said to the Saints in Winter Quarters, “and see the result of apostasy; had I been faithful to my calling as the President of the Twelve, I would now occupy the position that Brigham Young does, as President of the Church.”
Marsh was rebaptized in Papyo Creek on the journey west.
“Decrepid, Broken Down Old Man”
1857. Standing before the Saints in Salt Lake City, Marsh must have been an impressive sight to those who believed his broken condition was the result of divine chastisement. John Taylor described him as “a poor decrepid, broken down old man… one of his arms hangs down.”
Brigham Young could not resist the opportunity to compare himself physically with Marsh: “He has told you that he is an old man. Do you think I am an old man? I could prove to this congregation that I am young; for I could find more girls who would choose me for a husband than any of the young men What do you think the difference is between his age and mine? One year and seven months to a day.”
Marsh pleaded with the Saints for acceptance and fellowship. Brigham Young was skeptical: “A man that will be fooled by the Devil—a man that has not sense to discern between steel grey mixed and iron grey mixed, when one is dyed with logwood and the other with indigo, may be deceived again.”
1858. After visiting Salt Lake, Marsh moved to Springville, Utah, then to Spanish Fork, where he taught history and geography. His contact with Brigham Young was minimal, [p.186]but occasionally he asked the president for shirts, summer pants, a coat, and white flannel for his temple garments.
In 1863 he moved to Ogden, Utah. He died in 1868, at the age of sixty-three. For many years the only grave marker of the first president of the Quorum of the Twelve in the Ogden City Cemetery was a weather beaten board marked: “T.B.M.”
Journal of Discourses, 5:116, 206-210.
History of the Church, 3:167.
Roberts, B. H. Comprehensive History 1:429.
Salt Lake City, Utah. LDS Church Archives. Wandle Mace Journal: 1809-1890.
_____. Brigham Young Letter Collection.
Smith, Hyrum M., and Sjodahl, James M. Doctrine and Covenants Commentary. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1951.
Van Wagoner, Richard, and Walker, Steven C. “The Return of Thomas B. Marsh.” Sunstone, 6 (July 1981):28-30.
1873. September 8: Born David Oman McKay in Huntsville, Utah. In 1901 he married Emma Ray Riggs; they had seven children.
1893. Principal of the Huntsville schools at the age of twenty.
1897. Graduated from the University of Utah and went on a mission to Scotland. At the university McKay played guard on the school’s first football team, played the piano at dances, was student body president and valedictorian of his class.
1899. Taught at the Church-owned Weber Academy in Ogden, Utah.
1901. Called to the Weber Stake Sunday School Superintendency, where he introduced course outlines and preparation meetings—innovations later adopted churchwide.
1906. Called to the Quorum of the Twelve by Joseph F. Smith after the resignations of John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley. During the next forty-five years, he served as a counselor and as superintendent of the general Sunday Schools.
Served as Church commissioner of education for ten years, then as president of the European Mission (1922-24).
He was second counselor to Presidents Heber J. Grant (1934-45) and George Albert Smith (1945-51), and became president of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1950.
A lover of the outdoors, President McKay frequently [p.189]returned to his boyhood home. “The air is better at Huntsville,” he often commented; “That’s what keeps me young.”
Ninth President of the Church
1951. April 9: Set apart as the ninth president of the Church, with Stephen L. Richards and J. Reuben Clark as counselors. Other counselors in his administration were Henry D. Moyle (1959-63), Hugh B. Brown (1961-70), and N. Eldon Tanner (1963-70). Four others were called as additional counselors to the First Presidency: Hugh B. Brown (June-October 1961), Thorpe B. Isaacson (1965-70), Joseph Fielding Smith (1965-70), and Alvin R. Dyer (1968- 70). The precedent for additional counselors in the First Presidency was set in 1843 when Joseph Smith moved Amasa Lyman into the First Presidency and reinstated Orson Pratt in the Quorum of the Twelve.
Only Brigham Young and Heber J. Grant served as president of the Church longer than his nearly nineteen years. His service of sixty-four years as a general authority is longest in the history of the Church, his thirty-six years in the First Presidency second only to the thirty-eight served by Joseph F. Smith.
At 6’1″, President McKay was the tallest Church president and the first since Joseph Smith not to wear a beard. His ninety-six years overlapped the lives of every Church president preceding him except Joseph Smith. The transcontinental railroad was completed shortly after his birth; man reached the moon shortly before his death.
During his life David O. McKay journeyed more than two million miles, making him the most-traveled general authority in the history of the Church.
During President McKay’s administration, Mormonism became recognized as an international religion rather than merely a western United States church. Asked to describe his greatest accomplishment in life when he was [p.190]nearly eighty years old, he responded: “Making the church a worldwide organization.”
Between 1951 and 1971 the number of missionaries grew from 2,000 to 13,000, and the number of missions doubled. His vision of missionary work was far-reaching: “It is generally understood that every member of the Church should be a missionary.”
The number of stakes increased from 184 to 500 on the day of his death in 1970. Church membership in the period expanded from 1,111,000 to 2,931,000. At his death, more than half the Church members had never known another Church president.
Under his leadership, the Church completed more than 3,700 buildings, including the Swiss, Los Angeles, New Zealand, London, and Oakland temples.
The Church president became chairman of the boards of all Church businesses and full time management personnel were assigned to the presidency of each business. Supportive departments, such as legal services, building, communications, and accounting departments saw unprecedented growth.
Love and Home
Mormons remember President McKay most for his emphasis on family. In a 1964 conference he declared: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home. … I know of no other place where happiness abides more securely than in the home. It is possible to make home a bit of heaven. Indeed, I picture heaven as a continuation of the ideal home.”
His “love affair” with Emma became legendary. To David O. McKay love was a “tender flower, the roots of which are in the human heart. It thrives in the element of confidence and trust, as the rose thrives in the sunshine and morning dew. … Fidelity and constancy are to that little flower of the soul what the sun is to the rose.”
More than a dozen books have been compiled from his sermons, including Stepping Stones to an Abundant Life, Treasures of Life, Secrets to a Happy Life, True to the Faith, Man May Know for Himself, Highlights in the Life of David O. McKay, Ancient Apostles, Gospel Ideals, Cherished Experiences, and Home Memories of President David O. McKay.
His writings reflect his love for mankind and his positive outlook: “Every noble impulse, every unselfish expression of love, every brave suffering for the right, every surrender of self to something higher than self, every loyalty to an ideal, every unselfish devotion to principle, every helpfulness to humanity, every act of self-control, every fine courage of the soul, undefeated by pretense or policy, but by being, doing, and living the good for the very good’s sake—that is spirituality.”
Despite his age, President McKay remained remarkably vigorous. On one occasion, climbing a platform to speak, he tripped on the stairs. Waving help aside, he quipped, “It’s awful to grow old, but I prefer it to the alternative.”
1970. Died at the age of ninety-six in Salt Lake City of congestive heart failure; buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Conference Reports, April 1964.
Hinckley, Bryant S. “David O. McKay.” Improvement Era, May 1932, pp. 391-443.
McKay, David O. Home Memories of President David O. McKay. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1956.
Nibley, Preston. The Presidents of the Church. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1971.
West, Emerson R. Profiles of the Presidents. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1973.