Memories and Reflections
Edited by Scott G. Kenney

Chapter 4
A Philosopher Among the Priests, 1922-35

Edna was called to the general board of the LDS children’s Primary Association in 1920, and I was called to the general board of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association in 1922. Had my state of mind been fully understood at the time, I probably would not have been chosen for so high a position. Two people of influence were probably responsible for the mistake, if it was that—Dr. Richard R. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife Amy Brown Lyman, the general secretary of the Relief Society. I was associated with Dr. Lyman on the university faculty and had written lessons for the women’s Relief Society at the request of Mrs. Lyman.1

[p.84] In September my thesis was published. I had paid the University of Chicago Press $300 to print a few hundred copies. No effort was made at advertising, but to my surprise and satisfaction, the printing sold out within a few months.2

The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life was remarkably well received outside of Zion,3 although many of my friends [p.85] among the Saints did not relish criticism of the church. Dr. Andrew Neff, professor of history at the University of Utah, questioned my motives and called my treatment of Mormonism unjust and unreliable. And Dr. John A. Widtsoe, who criticized my book before the BYU faculty, declared it historically and scientifically unsound.

Joseph Peterson wrote,

Did you really expect men like Widtsoe to praise your book? If so then you have other things to learn yet about group attitudes. To be scientific from Widtsoe’s standpoint a book would have to be partial to the side he is interested in just as did the book ‘Joseph Smith the Scientist’ by him. That shows his conception of science. He has no conception of what the term really means when applied to social problems, especially Mormon problems. Your book is not only eminently fair and objective in treatment and general point of view, but it is in a large way and in eventual results more beneficial to the Mormon people than is a treatment such as Widtsoe, Lyman and others would want.… Don’t let their depreciation dishearten you, but [p.86] go right ahead with your fine work of teaching and writing. You have a real mission there and in time will be recognized, as you are now by many, as a real constructive agent in Utah problems. The Mormon people are well meaning and liberal in many things; it is your right to fight for their future good and intellectual freedom.

The first major MIA assignment given me was that of chairman of the joint Young Men’s and Young Women’s Recreation Committee.4 When Superintendent George Albert Smith told me of this, I declined on grounds of my lack of experience on the board and also because of the time and effort required. I was willing to serve as a member of the committee but not as chairman. His response was sympathetic, and I concluded that the request would end at that. But after a few days he again presented the request. Again I declined. Now, however, he became more determined, insisting that I was called to the board for this very job. I began to weaken and finally, but reluctantly, accepted the assignment.

It was to my great advantage that Mrs. George Albert Smith became my co-chairman. She proved to be most helpful and friendly. Her judgment was sound—never once did she disagree with me. She also assumed responsibility for details which I did not like and was therefore sure to neglect. More significant was her service as mediator between the committee and the superintendency, or, more probably, between me and her husband.

Our committee quickly grew in size and importance.5 In fact, we [p.87] were accused of attempting to create the philosophy, determine the policy, and fix the program of the board. We went too fast to please the more conservative folk. “A testimony of the gospel is the purpose of this organization, not marble playing.… You are permitting the tail to wag the dog,” were typical expressions. But we had the superintendency on our side, and we continued.

I always felt that I had a mission to perform for the young people of my church, and now that opportunity had come. I would not only serve as chairman of fifteen or twenty bright and sincere men and women on the committee, but I would also visit stakes and wards to express my philosophy of recreation as a spiritual agency. I was introduced at the annual MIA conventions as chairman of the recreation program and occasionally, much to my embarrassment, as chairman of the recreation of the church.

Actually, I was not a recreational leader but merely one who philosophized about recreation. It was my purpose to attach education and moral objectives to the leisure activities that were already being conducted. One of my associates, Mr. Heber C. Iverson, said our purpose was “to take the ‘rec’ out of recreation.” Most of the serious errors of youth are committed during leisure hours that are poorly supervised. It is not pleasure, happiness, play, or mingling together that is responsible for misconduct, but the misinterpretation of values and the absence of a sense of responsibility. Our efforts were to protect youth by educating them in various fields of wholesome leisure time and recreational activities.

[p.88] I published a number of articles in church magazines and MIA recreation bulletins during this period. I also wrote chapters in manuals, most of which dealt with recreation. Our 1928 handbook contained the entire program of MIA recreation and elaborately treated the psychology and philosophy of recreation. This occasioned many complimentary remarks among recreational leaders. For example, one of my associates wrote a letter to a national recreational organization, asking for sources of information on recreation and leisure time activities from a religious and educational point of view. The reply was most gratifying: “We refer you to the publications on recreation by the Mormon Church. We know of nothing better.”

During the summers of 1928 and 1929 I taught philosophy at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.6 My entire family joined me in this novel and enriching experience. We all piled into the old Dodge for the cross-country trip. Occupants:

Father Ephraim, at the wheel and holding the wallet, 46.

Mother Edna, holding the Boston brown bag, 38.

Stanford, driving now and then, 16-17.

Sheldon, spotting the number of passing cars, 15.

Gordon, counting the white horses, 11.

Margaret, protecting rabbits on the way, 7.

Howard, singing “We Are Happy as Can Be,” 5.

The Ericksensx 1928 trip to Virginia, showing Ephraim, Gordon, Margaret, Howard, Stanford, and Sheldon.The Dodge was equipped with two tents, two folding steel beds, two army cots, one gas camping stove, and a cabinet built on the running board containing all the utensils for a family of seven. We traveled twenty-five to thirty miles per hour. Every little town and hamlet bid us welcome [p.89] and provided ample camping space and fresh water for fifty cents or a dollar per night.

Teaching at William and Mary, the second oldest college in America, was a great experience for me. Chartered in 1695, this was the college in which many of the founders of the nation received their education—Jefferson, Harrison, Braxton, Nelson, and Wythe, five signers of the Declaration of Independence; Edmund Randolph, member of the first Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention; and many others prominent in revolutionary history. Edna studied voice at the college and was soloist at the old Bruton Parish Church.7

After six weeks at Williamsburg, we headed south. We all enjoyed watching the workers and mules lugging tobacco from the fields into the barns, drying, separating, and preparing the leaves for the factory. Negroes and whites, men and women, would smoke their pipes and chew their tobacco, spitting juice in unison. This was great entertainment for the Utah family. We also saw houses built on pegs with glassless windows. These were primitive folk living in the United States in the third decade of the century.

At the filling stations Negroes called me boss and I addressed them with the same term. I wanted to be friendly and sociable, but my family would not stand for it. Six weeks with the white aristocracy at Williamsburg was beginning to have its effect on my otherwise democratic family.

We passed through North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia before landing at a Florida beach, where we joined the rich and retired for two days. We did nothing but eat, sleep, and lounge on the sandy beach, acting the part of those who have nothing to do but watch the waves come and splash and the tides rise and fall.

[p.90] In Washington, D.C., Senator Reed Smoot of Utah arranged for a meeting with President Calvin Coolidge. I was advised that he was a man of few words and would indulge in no frivolity, so, of course, we were on our best behavior. But to our delight, Cal was most genial. “At-a-boy,” he exclaimed, extending his hand to Howard. To each of us he said, “How do you do,” making us feel that he was really pleased to see us. And he smiled at us in such a way that we were almost ready to vote Republican in the coming election.

At the Library of Congress I put in a call for Ericksen’s Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life. Sure enough here it came. I was proud and delighted to be one of thousands thus honored in this historic library. It was a little book of just a hundred pages, but it represented ten years of intense effort. It embodied my best thinking about my religious community, and I wanted the country to know about it. I felt then as I do now, that I will probably never distinguish myself as an author, but I believed that I had ideas that ought to be expressed and it was part of my life’s calling to put them on paper.

From Washington we drove to New York City and visited Coney Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Columbia University, where John Dewey was teaching. We rode up the Hudson River and drove down 5th Avenue. In Boston we visited Bunker Hill and other historic sites. Then it was up through Maine and across Vermont into Canada.

Vermont was important to us, for here were born America’s greatest philosopher, John Dewey, and her greatest prophet, Joseph Smith. Philosophers speak of Dewey as an empiricist, one who thinks that knowledge comes from observation and experimentation. Joseph Smith they would regard as a mystic, one who believes that knowledge comes from sources other than verifiable experience—from dreams, visions, and divine revelations. These two types, when strictly adhered to, mutually exclude each other. How then can I accept both John Dewey and Joseph Smith? [p.91] Only by recognizing the distinct role of each. A prophet is to inspire, to bring a new moral and spiritual message to contemporary problems. A philosopher is to think objectively and impartially, judging all religions by their fruits rather than by their origin.

Since reading William James and John Dewey, I have been obsessed with the idea that in order to be a good American philosopher I must be something of a prophet and [emphasis added] think in terms of consequences. I had the advantage of learning about and being instructed by both Joseph and John and therefore became a sort of religious-philosophical hybrid—a prophet in that I thought I had a new message for my people whereby they might meet the new moral and religious problems confronting them; a pragmatic philosopher in that I believed ideas are to be tested by their consequences.

In Canada we camped at a beautiful site by the St. Lawrence River. Prohibition had been instituted in the United States, but Stanford and Sheldon had made up their minds before we left home that when we got to Canada they would buy an “Old Scotch” and carry it home as evidence of their having been “abroad.” They insisted on going into a nearby saloon to “see what they could see” and, of course, buy something. This was a problem for Dad and Mom. Should we let them go or stand our ground as Latter-day Saints and as Americans? Had we forbidden it, they probably would have obeyed us but been greatly disappointed. After some deliberation, I said, “If they are to go to hell, Dad must go there, too.” So we went in.

It was an old-time saloon, as I had known in my childhood days in Preston. The room was filled with men—some very happy, singing and delivering speeches; others engaged in intense argument; still others dead drunk on the floor. Our boys got their eyes and nostrils filled. We all felt well paid for our “moral sacrifice.”

[p.92] The following day we reached the bridge over which we were to cross from Canada to America. It was unlawful to carry liquor from Canada to the United States. Many suggestions came to the boys’ minds as to where to put it. But in each case they had difficulty either with the law or with their consciences. They remembered the MIA slogan, “We stand for the non-use of intoxicating liquor and for the law that prohibits it!” That settled the problem. The contents of the bottle were poured onto Canadian soil. The bottle, however, was retained so that Jim Wilding might smell its “sweet aroma.”

With clear conscience we crossed the bridge and were on our way to Manchester, New York, the home of the prophet Joseph Smith. We now felt prepared to enter the “Sacred Grove.” There the young boy had received his first and most remarkable revelation. We also visited the room in which the Angel Moroni appeared and informed him of the golden plates and the hill in which they were deposited. This was the most impressive experience of the entire trip. The five children, all at a responsive age, were emotionally receptive.

From New York we travelled to Independence, where I presented my family to the William G. Danielsen family. My kids were delighted by the humor of their great uncle and the nonsense displayed by the whole raft of second cousins. We were also introduced to some of the relatives of Joseph the Prophet. President Frederick Smith, grandson of the Prophet, and I had exchanged books. He gave me his The Second Breath and I sent him my Mormon Group Life. We congratulated each other.

At Nauvoo we saw the buildings in which the prophet lived and the room in which he and Hyrum lay after their martyrdom, as well as the place where their bodies are supposed to be buried. Of course, like all other good Saints we had to go to Carthage Jail to see the blood stains on [p.93] the floor, the hole in the door, and the window through which the prophet fell to his death.

What was the justification for our having dragged our young children through this long, sad story? I confess I do not feel entirely justified. It was one of the great tragedies in the history of our people—a mob action, infused by hate, ignorance, and superstition—and my children were not old enough to fully understand its meaning. They felt the wickedness of the act but failed to comprehend the causes. Feeling without thought is not good moral education.

We visited the Ford auto plant in Detroit and the university campus in Chicago and then continued on to Utah.

In the summer of 1929 we made our second trip to Williamsburg. This one was less eventful, for Stanford and Sheldon did not come, although Edna’s niece Ruth was with us.

From 1928 to 1933 I was active on the general board preparing outlines for recreational studies and manuals. I also collected material for my university class on social ethics and organized a syllabus for student use. Much of it also constituted a portion of the MIA manuals.

These were years during which I gave many lectures throughout the state, both in the interests of the MIA and of the university extension program. My energy seemed to have no limits, and I possessed a high degree of optimism and self-confidence. My philosophy classes increased in size; my associates had faith in me, I thought; and university president George Thomas made use of me on important campus committees.

In 1932 Elsie Talmage Brandley and I wrote a manual for the Senior Department of the MIA entitled Challenging Problems of the Twentieth Century.8 It contained twenty-two short chapters with extensive lists of [p.94] recommended readings. The problems treated the entire field of social problems of the day: industrial changes, employment and standards of living, community health and control, educational demands, leisure time, parent and child relations, international problems, and the Mormon social response to these problems.

Unfortunately, people were not accustomed to hearing the gospel taught as a social and recreational program without a “spiritual” accompaniment. There was little of the divine, of the supernatural, in my talks. Nor did I bear my testimony. I defined the spiritual life as “living in the presence of ideals,” which of course meant to some people spirituality without God. I tried to make clear that my idea of the religious life did not preclude God, immortality, or freedom. What I tried to do was to lift the human, the natural, to a higher level. But this was not enough for some. In addition to wholesome social and moral living, many people require the supernatural and the miraculous, and that I did not deliver. I was a high priest and a member of the general board, but I was also a professor, and my double role occasionally gave me trouble. I was a professor in church and preacher at the university.9

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.[p.95] The close of this thirteen years of service came as I had expected, but the men who took the initiative were men whom I would have least expected to play the role—Dr. John A. Widtsoe and J. Reuben Clark.10 They were educated men, distinguished not only as high church officials but as a former president of the University of Utah and former United States ambassador to Mexico. After World War I, Clark had served the Republican Party and I the Democratic. I was for the League of Nations, he opposed it.11 I had found university faculty members almost unanimously favorable to the league and circulated a petition among them in its support. My report was read to a Democratic rally. This Reuben did not like. After one of his rallies opposing the League, he was asked by [p.96] Utah’s Republican governor Charles Mabey about the university response. He replied, “Nothing at all, but have that man Ericksen fired for dragging that institution into politics.” Fortunately, President George Thomas, my good friend, said, “Nothing can be done. Ericksen has a perfect right to do what he did, although he may not have used good judgment.”

Brother Clark became what he was by virtue of his theological and legalistic training. However, it is not the theory of God or law that causes one’s mind to become petrified. President Clark is one of the many good men in my church and community who want to do right but do not know how. This is why he made faces at liberal political parties, social economy, and progressive education. I will forgive him until he and I meet in the presence of Saint Peter and John Dewey and join hands as friends.

Dr. John A. Widtsoe, according to his mother-in-law Susa Young Gates, was the “best educated man in the church” and “probably in the world.” He was a well educated man, I admit. He secured his doctorate in chemistry from Harvard. According to John’s autobiography, he and Joseph F. Merrill were the first two Ph.D.s in the church. Before his death, Widtsoe produced much of the recent LDS literature. His style was simple, clear, and effective. Few men on the board rendered more service than he. I reluctantly undertake to tell my unhappy experience with him. Yet it must be told if my story is to be complete. Before doing so, let me note that while he was president of the university our professional relations were, in the main, pleasant.

Widtsoe returned from presiding over the European Mission in November 1933. He was “full of the gospel.” He had been preaching to the common folk and now spoke of the truth as being very “simple.” He confessed that he came home to a “much changed community.” He told the board members that in our lessons and publications we must return to the simple message of the gospel. He said that President Clark felt the same, adding, “President Clark has a way of saying the right thing, and [p.97] I agree with what he has said.” That was the moment of the “return to the gospel” trend. The entire board appeared to nod assent. For me that was the beginning of the end. I just could not follow the old road.

To redirect the emphasis from the social and recreational to religious and faith promoting, the superintendency appointed a committee to restate the objectives and do whatever was necessary to get onto a more sound spiritual program. Widtsoe was made chairman with about a half dozen persons under him. Unfortunately, I was made a member of that committee.12 Knowing what I do now, I should have declined to serve. But I accepted the call as I did every request made of me through those years.

Dr. Widtsoe took over. He prepared the entire document, presenting it for approval part by part at different meetings of the committee. I attended all the meetings and did what I could to salvage some of the things that seemed most dear to me but received no support as I recall from other members. The Young Ladies’ board was represented by the presidency and a few others. The “sisters” happily approved every item. For reasons best known to themselves, the Young Men’s representatives, other than myself and one other, did not attend the meetings regularly. Dr. Widtsoe worked hard to satisfy what he thought were the needs of the youth of Zion. The sisters were equally faithful in their uplifted hands. The man who sat by my side said little or nothing, as I recall. I played the lone role as dissenting spokesman. I should have known better.

A few days later, the document was presented to the joint boards as the committee’s unanimous recommendation. That is when I really hit the ceiling. I did not directly call the apostle of the Lord a liar, but I said [p.98] very nearly that. To characterize the recommendation as unanimous after the position I had taken throughout was more than I could take. Either Widtsoe falsified or I was asleep when the vote was taken.

What I said at that meeting, and what the board said and did, I should like to forget. I am not particularly proud of what I said and am deeply disappointed and disillusioned with my friends. Only one person stood by me, Harrison Merrill, an old boyhood friend and a teacher at BYU.13 He is now dead, but I owe him an everlasting debt of gratitude. The other good people—and I am sincere in calling them good people—felt it their duty to vote for what Brother Widtsoe had recommended. But on that occasion I told them that I thought a report of this kind should be the result of the deliberations of the entire committee. It was not that. It was the work of Dr. Widtsoe, the committee merely serving as a rubber stamp. This was true but might as well have been left unsaid. The greater offense was, of course, the obvious implication that a high church official had falsified in calling the report “unanimous.”

I said much more, but it must not have been too important because I can only recall the last sentence. I said, “This is my swan song.” At the close of the meeting, some of the board members said some nice things to me but on the quiet. In the meeting they were on the Lord’s side; afterwards, they were on mine. Dr. Franklin S. Harris, president of BYU, told me that I should not have used the term “swan song.” But I meant just that. I left the board room that evening with the full intention of never returning. Why should I continue to serve in an organization that [p.99] does not really want what I have to give? Were my friends really sincere when they praised me through the years, had accepted my recommendations, and published everything I had written? Does an authoritative church really believe in the cooperative effort of its members? I asked myself these and other questions again and again.

To impugn a man’s motives is dangerous and may be most unjust. We must always allow for misunderstandings. A man may not be a liar because he fails to tell the truth. He may feel that social values and religious faith are at stake. He should not be called a coward if he feels that loyalty to one’s church is more important than following the leadership of a university professor. The problem of relative values and of group loyalty, of faith in one’s church leadership, may have led my friends to do what they did. One man practically confessed that I was in the right but then asked, “Brother Ericksen, what would you do if you were in my place?” This man was in the employ of the church and was a leader in the MIA for nearly a quarter of a century.

In religious circles the term intellectual integrity means little. In my church the ideals of faith, testimony, firm conviction, and loyalty to the priesthood are more important than the desire to follow a line of investigation, impartially drawing conclusions on factual evidences. The latter belongs to the university but not particularly to the church.

In his defense of Mormonism, Dr. Widtsoe had much to say about the importance of distinguishing between facts and theory—a distinction which no thinking man would want to ignore. But he impressed me as being incapable of distinguishing between scientific facts and theological dogmas. Nor did he give theory its significant place in religious and ethical thinking. His religious writings were invariably in defense of his beliefs. The youth of the church were told what to believe but nothing about how these beliefs may be scientifically obtained. No one would question Dr. Widtsoe’s eminence in the field of agriculture, and his [p.100] knowledge of chemistry may be sound, but many honest and informed people did raise questions about his religious thinking and his intellectual integrity in that field.

Two or three weeks passed without anything being done or said by the superintendency or myself. Finally one evening Oscar A. Kirkham14 called at my home to tell me that he and the superintendency, George Albert Smith, Richard R. Lyman, and Melvin J. Ballard, felt that I should by all means return and take up my duties as a board member.15 We had a very friendly and frank talk about the whole matter. Kirkham, being the executive secretary of the YMMIA, was in a position to speak for the superintendency and the entire board. He and I had been most friendly and enjoyed a complete understanding. I went back and at the first meeting with one of the committees was told that the YLMIA presidency had been praying for my return, and there I was, in response to prayer. Subsequent events lead me to doubt whether the Lord had anything to do with it, however.

I was told that Dr. Widtsoe had kept President Heber J. Grant fully informed about what was taking place. Dr. Widtsoe was writing the life of President Grant and was consequently in daily communication with him. I was told by one who was present that at a meeting in which the First Presidency and the YMMIA superintendency were present, President Grant expressed indignation at the superintendency for not getting rid of three board members: Ephraim Ericksen, Arthur Beeley, and Herbert Maw.16 In response, President Ivins said, “Heber, Heber, Heber, [p.101] I object to any man being tried without his being present to hear the charge.”17 Later, we were informed that the board would be reorganized. It was, and these three men were left off.18

I knew that I was not indispensable, but I was deeply disappointed. This was the church for which my parents had made great sacrifices all their lives. It was the church, too, which I had been brought up to believe embraced all truth and noble values, excluding nothing of importance. Yet here I was with ideas I thought to be of great value but was prevented from delivering them. Either I or my church had some very [p.102] serious limitations. At one moment it was I who did not measure up to the church’s requirements, at other moments it was the church that was becoming static and stale. The conflict deeply depressed me.

Herbert B. Maw, chairman of the M Men’s committee, had developed a self-sufficient organization in which young men were encouraged to plan their own course and direct their own activities. Dr. Beeley, chairman of the Adult Committee, had also gone his own way, developing in his group a sense of community criticism. And I, chairman of the senior committee, had been more interested in making liberal minded citizens than faithful Latter-day Saints. We were present at all the meetings; we wrote manuals; we inspired earnest effort on the part of other board members; we attended conventions, and the people in the stakes of Zion seemed to enjoy our visits. But we did not bear “testimonies”; we did not tell our associates that “this is the true church.” We did say that this was probably the most “effective church” in advancing the interests of its young people, but that was not enough.

In retrospect, my reaction was more intense than justified. When I really began to think the matter through, it became clear that it was the only thing that could be done. It was not in the interests of the church or in my own to have continued in that capacity.19 Morally and socially I [p.103] was orthodox and quite capable of cooperating with church leadership, but on questions of theological beliefs I was decidedly unorthodox. I had insisted that the only beliefs worthy of respect were those that concerned our moral and social relations and that the only deserving authority was that chosen by the people on the basis of intelligence, education, personality, and a high sense of social justice.

But the problem is complex. There are good, intelligent people in my church—and I count my parents among these—who believe, sincerely, that their leaders are prophets who speak for God. There are church leaders who just as sincerely believe that God has called them to preach that doctrine. These assumptions are unjustifiable in an age calling for concrete justification on the basis of common sense or scientific observation and experience. I believe my people to be good people, moral and socially minded, but uncritical. I think this is likewise true of the majority of church leaders. But to destroy this fundamental belief, at least to do so abruptly, would cause tremendous internal confusion with consequent moral and social waste.

Beeley, Maw, and I were unable to make the slightest dent in the theological beliefs or the prerogatives of the “constituted authority.” We expected too much too soon. A change is inevitable but not in my generation. It may come within the lives of my children’s children’s children. And it will come through the efforts of the schools—the high schools and the colleges—not through the initiative of the self-perpetuating ecclesiastical authorities of the church. A deficiency of education (moral and philosophical), selfishness, and a sense of self-importance are inhibiting factors. The education of the people is sure to put pressure on the leaders to choose the more qualified to join their ranks. Thus change will come from the people rather than from the leaders.

We still have some good Mormon scholars in Utah who keep the pot boiling, but they are few. Most of the scientifically minded men, for [p.104] reasons of their own, follow highly specialized fields and leave religion to run its own course. Avoidance saves a lot of trouble and strain on the nerves. But religion, like every other vital concern, requires critical analysis in order to free it from ancient beliefs that are neither scientifically nor socially justified. Psychology, philosophy, biology, anthropology, history, and every field of intellectual interest having a human bearing are as much needed now as in the days of the Petersons and the Chamberlins who pioneered the struggle.

After being released from the general board, I received a kind letter from the proper authorities thanking me and the others for our faithful service. There was a farewell party, and then I was free to turn my attention to teaching philosophy and working on Social Ethics. For a number of years, from 1936 to 41, I also served as chairman of the Citizens’ Committee of the Utah State Employment Service, preparing standards and examining applicants for government service.20 It required two or three hours per month and I received ten dollars for each meeting.

This was during the Great Depression. American industry and business reached their lowest ebb. The very bottom of the economy had fallen out. Men were out of jobs and walking the streets looking for work. Stanford and Sheldon were old enough to do a man’s work but had difficulty finding anything suitable. Sheldon went out day after day looking for something only to return in the evening with the report that everywhere there were more men than jobs. Once, he even asked, “Dad, why did you bring me into the world? There are too many people here now.” Another time, when I called him early in the morning, he complained, “Dad, why did you call me so early? I dreamed I had a job.”

Although jobs were scarce, our family was not hit as hard as many [p.105] others. My university salary continued with only a slight reduction.21 One summer Gordon lived and worked with my folks at Preston. Sheldon spent a profitable summer working with Uncle Porter Clark on his big ranch at Star Valley. Stanford worked one summer with his Uncle Elwin, serving as a hog carrier. Every weekend he brought home his earnings and gave it to his mother. Mayor Bowman hired him one summer to guard the fresh water streams from human contamination. He rode a motorcycle up and down the canyons checking the violators or offering suggestions. He also rode a horse over the hills looking for forest fires. When he reached college age, he also worked as a truck driver on road construction. During one or more of their summer vacations, all three secured jobs on Nevada ranches thanks to my sister, Annie Ericksen Nuttall, who seemed to know all the ranchers there.[p.107]


1. Richard R. Lyman (1870-1963), son of Apostle Francis M. Lyman; student, BYU; B.S., University of Michigan (1895); M.C.E., Cornell (1903); professor, civil engineering, University of Utah (1896-1922); LDS apostle (1918-43); president, LDS European Mission (1936-38); excommunicated (1943); rebaptized (1954).

Amy Brown Lyman (1872-1959), student, BYU, University of Utah, University of Chicago, University of Colorado; general secretary (1911-28), counselor (1928-40), president (1940-44), LDS Primary Association; secretary (1925-27), auditor (1927-29), vice-president (1929-33), National Council of Women.

On 31 May 1922, B. H. Roberts was released as first assistant to YMMIA superintendent George Albert Smith. Second assistant Richard R. Lyman became first assistant with Melvin J. Ballard as second assistant. Seven new members, including E. E. Ericksen, were called. During his YMMIA years, Ericksen served with one future president of the church (George Albert Smith), one counselor in the First Presidency (J. Reuben Clark), four apostles (Richard R. Lyman, Melvin J. Ballard, John A. Widtsoe, George Q. Morris), two presiding patriarchs (Hyrum G. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith III), five of the First Council of Seventy (Rulon S. Wells, Joseph W. McMurrin, Charles H. Hart, John H. Taylor, Levi Edgar Young), one assistant to the twelve apostles (Nicholas G. Smith), two BYU presidents (George H. Brimhall, Franklin S. Harris), two Utah governors (Charles R. Mabey, Herbert B. Maw), one Salt Lake City mayor (John F. Bowman), and assorted department heads and deans from the University of Utah, BYU, and the Agricultural College in Logan.

2. Edna reported that one day a friend called to say the book had arrived at the Deseret Bookstore. She hurried downtown only to be told that it was not available. After several telephone calls over the next few days she learned it had been pulled from the shelves after just a few hours and returned to the press (ECE, 1975 interview). Nevertheless, sales were brisk in other stores.

3. Ericksen included several reviews of Mormon Group Life and Social Ethics in the original version of his autobiography. From the American Journal of Sociology (Jan. 1925): “The study [Mormon Group Life] is free from emotionalism and gives insight into the factors which cause a religious group to isolate and develop mores and sentiments independently of those of the nation.” From the London Times (15 Feb. 1923): “It [Mormon Group Life] is a scientific presentment of one of the great dramas of civilization [and is the product of one] highly trained in contemporary methods and applied psychology. He has produced an acute and nearly objective study of the shaping of a people.” From George W. Middleton:

It [Mormon Group Life] is the most refreshing thing that I have read about Utah affairs for a long time. So much wholesome flattery is indulged in that one is whipped into the line by the expectancy of church officials … When anybody says an unkind thing about us as a church, we immediately draw the conclusion that he is in league with the enemies of all righteousness and do not take to ourselves the admonition that we might get from wholesome criticism.… I admire very much your frankness in stating the case of your thesis and your great ability in handling the complex thing (Letter to EEE, 9 March 1923).

From James Tufts:

Your Social Ethics reached me yesterday, … and I have already read it through and must write you at once. I suspect that the reason why I was able to read it so rapidly was that I found nothing to disagree with and so much to please. The general position that ethics should concern itself, within college teaching, with vital problems…

You have succeeded, I think, in the difficult task of raising fundamental problems, and at the same time of offering sane suggestions toward wise thinking without “preaching.”…

For a time, when anything disturbed our peace in the nineties and opening years of this century we tried to satisfy ourselves by charging it to some wicked individual; moral standards were all right, if only men would live up to them. I think that we are now beginning to see that it is not so much a question of this or that individual sinner against the light as it is a question of confusion in the midst of conflicting values and of means to ends. I judge that this is your view.…

In any case I hail your book as a good one, and trust it may have a large use (Letter to EEE, 25 June 1937).

Ericksen reported that he found “only one negative criticism, by a Mr. Larrabee in the International Journal of Ethics. He took a broad sideswipe at Social Ethics, as one may at any text book, writing, ‘It is without sufficient empirical data and theoretical clarity.’ I wish I could have done a better job, but I presume everyone who has written a text in ethics feels as I do about his own book, for had Mr. Larrabee read carefully my statement of objectives in the Preface, he probably would not have made this point. Supporting data is important in all philosophical discussions, but less so when ‘the main interest is pedagological, to stimulate students to create their own hypotheses and do their own thinking.'”

4. On 7 June, Ericksen was assigned to the new Senior Department for young men seventeen to twenty-one years old, chaired by Apostle John A. Widtsoe. Formation of the Recreation Committee was announced on 18 October; Ericksen was named chair on 3 January 1923 (“YMMIA Minutes”).

5. Committee members listed in the 1928 Hand Book included: E. E. Ericksen, Nicholas G. Morgan, Heber C. Iverson, James Gunn McKay, W. O. Robinson, Martha G. Smith, Emily C. Adams, Charlotte Stewart, Ellen Wallace, Elsie T. Brandley, Vida F. Clawson, and Elva Moss. By May 1929 five subcommittees had been formed with Joseph F. Smith III and Elsie Brandley in charge of dramatics, John H. Taylor and Elva M. Moss over dance, Iverson and Adams reviewing motion pictures, and Don C. Wood and Vida F. Clawson developing home recreation. Ericksen also chaired a committee made up of the heads of four other committees (Community Activity, Adult department, M Men, and Gleaners) to coordinate recreation among the departments.

6. The 1928 summer session Bulletin of the college lists Ericksen teaching courses in ethics and the evolution of morality.

7. Bruton Parish was founded in 1674. The church building in which Edna sang has been in continuous use since 1715.

8. On 8 April 1931 Ericksen was named chairman of the new YM-YLMIA Senior Department, for men and women aged twenty-three to thirty-five, and was released from the Community Activity Committee. Rose W. Bennett, mother of Utah senator (1951-75) Wallace F. Bennett, headed the YLMIA contingent, which included Ann Cannon, Grace C. Nelson, and Martha G. Smith. YMMIA representatives were Louis T. Cannon, John H. Taylor, Nicholas G. Smith, Lyman L. Daines, and Oscar W. Carlson.

Elsie Talmage Brandley (1896-1935), daughter of Apostle James E. Talmage; graduate, BYU (1917); associate editor, Young Woman’s Journal (1923-29); and YLMIA general board member (1924-35) also served on the Recreation Committee with Ericksen. Brandley and Ericksen co-authored the 1931-32 experimental manual of the same title and format. She requested that Ephraim speak at her funeral, which he did in 1935 (ECE to ACL, 6 Aug. 1935).

9. University of Utah president (1922-32) George Thomas once accosted Ericksen on campus and said, according to Edna, “‘Well, good morning, Ericksen. How’s the MIA coming?’ My husband looked at him, startled, and said, ‘Well, fine. Yes, I …,’ Thomas said, ‘You know, things would go quite far if you were spending as much time and energy and concern about the university as you do about the church'” (ECE, 1975 interview).

10. J. Reuben Clark (1871-1961), graduate, University of Utah (1898) and Columbia Law School (1906); seven years, Solicitor’s office, U.S. State Department; ten years, private practice, Washington, D.C.; five years, Judge Advocate General’s office, U.S. Army; two years, Special Counsel, State Department; named to the YMMIA General Board (1925); legal representative in Mexico, State Department (1926-30); U.S. Ambassador to Mexico (1930-33); second counselor (1933-34) and first counselor (1934-45) to LDS president Heber J. Grant; first counselor to President George Albert Smith (1945-51); second counselor to President David O. McKay (1959-61).

John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952), born in Norway and migrated to Utah with his mother and younger brother (1884); graduate, BYC (1891) and Harvard (1894); professor of chemistry, Utah Agricultural College, four years; Ph.D., University of Goettingen (1899); director, UAC experiment station (1900-05); director, BYU agriculture department (1905-07); president, UAC (1907-16); president, University of Utah (1916-21); called to YMMIA General Board (1906); apostle (1921-52); named LDS church commissioner of education (1921); president, LDS British Mission (1927-28) and LDS European Mission (1929-33).

11. Ericksen, Leroy Cowles, and Levi Edgar Young were among the faculty advisors to the University Club for the Promotion of the League of Nations approved by President John A. Widtsoe in 1919. Widtsoe and Levi Edgar Young had been delegates to the Mountain States Congress supporting the League in the preceding month. George Albert Smith was also active in promoting the cause in Utah. In March 1920, Widtsoe wrote Ericksen, editor of the university’s Utah High School Journal, “wondering whether there is any justification” for continuing to discuss the league in the publication when the U.S. Senate could not agree on the proposal and events were moving so fast (Widtsoe Papers, 13 March 1919).

The episode described above must have taken place after May 1921 when George Thomas was installed as president of the University of Utah.

12. Other committee members were Arthur L. Beeley, Axel A. Madsen, George Q. Morris, George R. Hill, Oscar A. Kirkham, Herbert B. Maw, Ruth May Fox, Lucy Grant Cannon, Clarissa A. Beesley, Rachel G. Taylor, Grace C. Nelsen, Elsie T. Brandley, Rose W. Bennett, and Elsie Hogan.

13. Harrison R. Merrill (1884-1938), student, Oneida Stake Academy, University of Idaho (1906-07); teacher, Oneida Academy (1912-20); bishop, Preston third ward; first counselor, Oneida stake presidency; graduate, USAC (1920); instructor, assistant professor, professor of English and journalism, BYU (1921-38); student, Northwestern University (1927); M.A., Columbia (1930); managing editor, Improvement Era (1931-35); member, YMMIA General Board (1932-36); chair, Arts and Letters section, Utah Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.

14. Oscar A. Kirkham (1880-1958), graduate, BYU; studied music in Berlin; executive secretary, YMMIA (1909-?); official, Boy Scouts of America.

15. Superintendent George Albert Smith may have felt a personal loyalty to Ericksen because of Edna’s defense of Smith’s daughter, Emily, on the Primary General Board. See Appendix B.

16. Arthur L. Beeley (1890-1973), migrated to Utah from England (1908); A.B., BYU (1913); A.M. (1918), Ph.D. (1925), University of Chicago; student, University of London (1932-33); principal, Emery Academy (1917-18); assistant professor of psychology, University of Utah (1919-21); Illinois state criminologist (1924-25); assistant professor of social economy, University of Chicago (1925-26); professor of sociology and director, Bureau of Student Council, University of Utah (1927-56); dean, graduate school of social work, University of Utah (1937-56); member, YMMIA General Board (1920-35); member, executive board, National Conference on Bail and Criminal Justice (1964-69). In 1911 Beeley was one of the BYU students protesting the treatment of the Petersons and Chamberlins. He completed his master’s degree at Chicago the same year Ericksen completed his Ph.D., and their wives served together on the Primary General Board.

Herbert B. Maw (b. 1892), B.S., University of Utah (1923); M.A., J.D., Northwestern University (1927); instructor, LDS Business College (1916-17, 1919-23); chaplain (1918-19); professor of speech (1923-40), dean of men, University of Utah; member, YMMIA General Board (1928-35); called to LDS Sunday School General Board (1935); state senator (1928-38); Utah governor (1941-49); attorney (to present).

17. Ericksen heard of the incident from Ivins shortly before Ivins’s death on 23 September 1934. The Ericksens, another couple, and Ivins had been invited to dinner at the home of Ivins’s son-in-law, Gordon Hyde. Near the end of the meal, Ivins related the story; afterward, he walked the Ericksens out to their car, “and he held my husband’s arm, and looked him square, and said, ‘Brother Ericksen, you’re a great man. You will make a contribution wherever you go. I want you to know I ask for no higher or better place in the hereafter than the place where you go'” (ECE, 1975 interview).

Anthony W. Ivins (1852-1934), missionary to Mexico (1875 and 1882), to the Navajo and Pueblo Indians (1878); member, St. George high council and stake presidency; president Juarez Stake (1895-1907); LDS apostle (1907-21); member, YMMIA General Board (1909-19); general superintendent, YMMIA (1919-21); second counselor (1921-25) and first counselor to LDS president Heber J. Grant. Edna Ericksen’s sister, Avery, lived with the Ivins family in 1904.

18. Seventeen board members were not invited back to the reorganized board, sixteen were reinstated, and four were added.

19. On 9 April 1935 Edna wrote to Avery, “I guess you have noticed by conference news that A E Bowen & councelors of the YMMIA have chosen their board & left EE & Dr. Beeley & Dr. Maw off, also many old men. It’s the influence mainly of Dr. Widtsoe. He dislikes EE & all other progressive thinkers. He is a generally accepted disappointment since returning from his 6 yrs away in mission field.”

Edna could also see Widtsoe’s point of view. She believed that Widtsoe was sincere in thinking that the three intellectuals would not make loyalty to the MIA their primary concern. In 1975 she recalled her words to Ephraim:

Well, to tell you the truth, my dear, if I were the superintendent of the MIA, I wouldn’t have you on the board. He said, “You wouldn’t?” and I said, No. I said, “I am a little of the opinion that when you are on a board you’re there and have given them the faith that you will help to strengthen their cause, and they are conscientiously feeling that you are not. And that is the reason why if I were the superintendent of the MIA, I wouldn’t have you on the board” (ECE, 1975 interview).

20. Ericksen also chaired Utah’s Joint Merit System Council (1942-47).

21. For Edna’s somewhat different perspective, see Appendix B.