Memories and Reflections
Edited by Scott G. Kenney
A Voice in the Wilderness, 1935-54
My course in social ethics convinced me that first- and second-year college students were interested in social problems of an ethical character. So I decided to write something practical, less offensive than my first book yet supported by the best thinkers of our country. My first effort was a 1936 syllabus, “Creative Morals,” containing nineteen problems of community life. Each chapter included quotations from American authors of distinction and a number of problems and readings. The students appeared to like not only the contents but the method as well. The classes grew larger and new sections were added. I became convinced that it should be put into book form and proceeded to write Social Ethics, published by Doubleday, Doran and Company in 1937.1
This was my first opportunity to get the attention of ethics teachers throughout the country. With the exception of a few short papers for the [p.108] Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association,2 my efforts and influence up to this time had been confined to the University of Utah, my church, and state.
I continued to attend to my church duties at the University Ward. I had five children and believed sincerely that they required the moral and social influence of the church. They were either in or near the teenage years and faced all the problems that come during that period of life. The treatment I had received from church authorities had already affected the three older ones negatively, but they continued to serve as Scout leaders and Sunday school teachers. I remained a good layman. But ward officials, interpreting my faithfulness as orthodoxy and not wanting “good material to go to waste,” asked me to teach the high priests’ class. I accepted the call reluctantly, at the age of fifty-seven.
I am especially interested that the following document, which I am inserting at this point in my autobiography, be read carefully and understood.3 It was written only a few days after the events took place. The titles attached to the participating individuals are not important. All else is factual and as nearly correct as my memory could make it. The object was, wisely or unwisely, to report the incidents to my children.4 [p.109]
(Gentle Without, Ravaging Within)
Ericksen ……………………………………………………..………………………………The Heretic
Winslow Smith, Oscar W. McConkie, George J. Cannon5…..………The Stake Presidency and Inquisitors
D. B. Stewart, J. L. Firmage, R. E. Hammond…………………………The Bishopric and Silent Executors
Walter Wright…………………President of the High Priests’ Quorum and Public Executioner or Hang Man
Time: November 12 to January 14, the Year of Our Lord 1939-1940.6
Place: The University Ward, the Ensign Stake, the Land of Zion. Souls solely and exclusively concerned: The House of Ephraim.
On Saturday evening, November 11, 1939, Bishop Stewart telephoned E. E. Ericksen, requesting that he accompany him the following morning to the office of the stake presidency, with the explanation that the presidency wanted to talk certain matters over with him and other brethren of the ward.
[p.110] On Sunday morning Bishop Stewart took Brother Ericksen, Brother Wright, and Brother Moore in his car and journeyed to the appointed place, the stake office, where they met President Winslow F. Smith, his two counsellors, Brother Oscar McConkie and Brother George J. Cannon, and the ward clerk. The brethren entered and met the stake presidency in friendly greetings and all were seated.
President Smith: You brethren probably understand that our inviting you here is a usual procedure when people are called to important positions in the stake. And the questions we ask are the questions put to all who are called into important service. President McConkie is in charge of the priesthood work in the stake and will ask certain questions of you brethren.
President McConkie: Brother Wright, do you believe the gospel is true?
Brother Wright: I do.
President McConkie: Do you believe that God is a person? Brother Wright: I do.
President McConkie: Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and the Savior of the world?
Brother Wright: I do.
President McConkie: Do you believe Joseph Smith was a prophet?
Brother Wright: I do.
President McConkie: Do you believe that the Book of Mormon is what it pretends to be—a record of the ancient American people and of God’s dealings with them?
Brother Wright: I do.
President McConkie: Brother Moore, you have heard these questions asked of Brother Wright. Do you subscribe to them as well?
Brother Moore: I do.
[p.111] (The very same questions were then asked of Brother Moore that were asked of Brother Wright and with the same affirmative answers.) President McConkie: Now, Brother Ericksen, how do you feel?
Brother Ericksen: Very well, but before you begin to ask me questions, may I make a brief statement? I am, of course, pleased to have this opportunity of expressing frankly to you brethren my religious views, for I believe that much of our difficulties and criticisms come from not clearly understanding each other. Please bear in mind that for nearly a quarter of a century I have been engaged in teaching philosophy to college people and in so doing have acquired certain professional standards, ideals with respect to the intellectual and moral life that prevent my expressing assurance on matters that cannot be fully justified in experience. The most important standard in the field of philosophy, that is, among those who teach philosophy, is that of intellectual integrity. I have therefore become conditioned in intellectual caution, which is sometimes interpreted as a lack of faith, but for me and my friends it is a basal virtue.
President McConkie: But Brother Ericksen, do you believe in God?
Brother Ericksen: I do.
President McConkie: Do you believe he is a personal being?
Brother Ericksen: I do.
President McConkie: Do you believe that God has a body as man has?
Brother Ericksen: Now that I do not know. I believe that God possesses certain spiritual attributes that are of the nature of human ideals. He is the embodiment of truth, of beauty, and of goodness. When I pray to him—and be assured, brethren, that I do pray—I think of him as a perfected man. I cannot imagine him in any other way; this is probably because of my early education. I sincerely believe that God does play a [p.112] part in my life and in the work in which I live. And I attach my faith to him.
President McConkie: But you are not sure that he is like a man with a body?
Brother Ericksen: No, I cannot say as to that.
President McConkie: Brother Ericksen, do you accept Jesus as literally the Son of God and the Savior of the world?
Brother Ericksen: I believe Jesus is the truest revelation of God to man. And as a great spiritual leader he has set the ideal for humanity. In this sense he has become the savior of mankind.
President McConkie: But you are not sure that he was miraculously conceived and is therefore the literal Son of God, and that he was crucified and resurrected from the dead and so became the savior of the world?
Brother Ericksen: No, Brother McConkie, I confess I am not inclined to accept this without question. These accounts of Jesus originated in an unscientific age and were transmitted in tradition and recorded by those who placed no check on their imagination. I therefore regard them to be hardly reliable as the foundation of religious faith.
President McConkie: Brother Ericksen, do you believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet? Brother Ericksen: I do.
President McConkie: Do you believe that God the Father and his son appeared to Joseph Smith and that the Angel Moroni also appeared to him?
Brother Ericksen: That I do not know. These events may be psychologically explained as dreams or hallucinations. But I believe that if there ever were prophets, Joseph Smith was a prophet in the sense of one who initiated a great spiritual program and inspired worthy ideals. In this sense Joseph Smith was not only a prophet but a great prophet.
[p.113] President McConkie: But Brother Ericksen, do you believe that Joseph Smith received the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated?
Brother Ericksen: That, Brother McConkie, I must answer as I did the other questions. I am not sure about these details. Joseph Smith, living in western New York, was not scientifically trained and probably was not able to interpret his own experiences in a reliable way. Nor were those with whom he associated carefully trained in the examination of their own experiences.
President Cannon: Brother Ericksen, don’t you think that you are overdoing this so-called intellectual caution?
Brother Ericksen: Probably so.
President Cannon: Brother Ericksen, if you made up your mind to believe and cultivated the habit of believing, don’t you think you could develop faith in the same manner?
Brother Ericksen: Probably so, but Brother Cannon, I confess that I am afraid to take such an attitude, knowing that it is possible, in this way, to cultivate beliefs that have no ground in reality. To do this sort of thing is to be unfaithful to my profession.
President Cannon: Brother Ericksen, how do you feel about working in the church in view of your frame of mind?
Brother Ericksen: Do you mean by this whether or not I should serve in the church?
President Cannon: Yes.
Brother Ericksen: As to this question, may I, without seeming unduly presumptuous or even facetious, relate an incident that occurred in the last hours of the life of the first great philosopher, Socrates, who, as you probably know, was accused of disturbing the faith of the youth. He was convicted in the Greek tribunal. But the Greek officials, recognizing Socrates to be a good man, did not wish to see him executed but were [p.114] compelled to do so under the regulation of the law. One of the officials, therefore, asked Socrates what he would do were he to pronounce judgment on himself. Socrates replied, “Since I have rendered service to the people of Athens, I believe a just reward would be to keep me at public expense.” (General laughter.)
Brother Cannon, I believe that I should work in the church. I believe my people need me, or at least people of my particular frame of mind. I confess that when I was dismissed from the MIA I was broken-hearted. I felt I was deprived of a great opportunity to render service among the youth of the church. I believe that I possess an insight into the spiritual needs of youth, a need which is not clearly recognized by my associates in the church. I hope that this may not seem unduly presumptuous. However, if it does I can’t help it, for this is the way I feel. My service in the University Ward is, of course, much less important, for I work with older men and in a very small group.
President McConkie: Are these all the questions you have, Brother Cannon?
President Cannon: Yes.
President McConkie: Do any of you brethren have anything to say?
Brother Wright: Maybe I was too sure about myself, but I confess I have never had any occasion to doubt these matters.
Brother Moore: I also must confess that I have never had any occasion to doubt my religious beliefs, but I want to say also that I have enjoyed Brother Ericksen’s teachings in the priesthood class in the University Ward, and that his teachings have actually strengthened my faith. I have never been in a class where I have been so pleased with the association and the ideas expressed. Now if Brother Ericksen should get off the track, there are always Brother Toronto and myself to put him straight. I don’t think that he has done us any harm.
[p.115] Brother Ericksen: I appreciate what Brother Moore has said. I believe that I am a man of faith and of a deep religious nature. As I define faith, it is not a set of beliefs in dogma but in possibilities of a better and finer moral world, in a universe that has meaning and purpose far beyond anything that anybody has been able to express thus far.
I further regard myself to be a true product of Mormonism. You may be interested to note that in Professor Taeusch’s review of my Social Ethics, he referred to it as a true expression of the religion of the people of Utah. It stresses the social life and the spiritual life and the spiritual needs of young people.
At this point the meeting ended and all parted in good spirit, with congenial feelings toward each other. Two weeks later, when Brother Ericksen was on his way to church meetings at the University Ward, he was hailed by Brother Wright, who was coming in haste from the direction of the Union Building. He appeared much perturbed.
Brother Wright: Brother Ericksen, I tried to get you the other evening, but you were not home. I’ve also talked to the bishop. I am very much hurt and am as sorry as I can be. They called me up (presumably those in charge of the high priests’ quorum of the stake) and told me that you must not be selected as one of my counselors. I was very sorry to hear this.
Brother Ericksen: Well, Brother Wright, that’s interesting, but you need not be worried. What seems to be the trouble?
Brother Wright: I don’t know, but I thought I should have to tell you. (Upon entering the chapel, Bishop Stewart approached Brother Ericksen.)
Bishop Stewart: Brother Ericksen, the bishopric would like to talk to you in the office.
(In the office were present Bishop Stewart and counselors Firmage and Hammond.)
[p.116] Bishop Stewart: Brother Ericksen, I am very sorry over the meeting at the stake president’s office and desire to assure you that we, as the bishopric, were entirely innocent of the occurrence. We did not know what the inquiry was going to be. And we want you to understand that we hold you in highest esteem and have no fault to find with your teaching.
Brother Ericksen: Well, Brother Stewart, I am glad to hear this. I wish to assure you that I have no criticism of you or of the presidency of the stake. It is not a personal matter. But permit me to say that in my judgment the inquisition was, in another respect, really a very serious matter. For it was an evaluation, not simply of me, but of all that I stand for as an educator at the University of Utah. The cultural values, science, philosophy, spirituality in a higher sense, were judged and evaluated in terms of traditional dogmas.
It is conceivable, Brother Stewart, that my church should exclude from its system those values and methods developed in the higher institutions of education. For this reason it affects me deeply when my brethren implied that the spirit which I represent is out of harmony with the church for which my parents sacrificed and which has done so much for me in my life. What does this all mean? Does it mean that the church does not want me any longer as a class leader?
Bishop Stewart: Well, I don’t know about that, that’s left with them.
Brother Ericksen: With whom?
Bishop Stewart: With the officers in charge of the high priests’ quorum.
Brother Ericksen: But, Brother Stewart, I was called to teach this class by Bishop Richards.
Bishop Stewart: Yes, but at the recommendation of the presiding officer of the quorum.
Brother Ericksen: I take it that the responsibility for any changes will come from you and from no one else in authority.
[p.117] Bishop Stewart: Of course, I don’t know about that.
In a later meeting, held in the University Ward, three stake officers, with Brother Winter presiding and representing the stake high council, came into our class and reorganized the presidency of our group. Brother Wright was made president with Brother Moore and Brother LeRoy Taylor as his counselors. Brother Winter did what he could to avoid any unpleasant controversy.
Brother Winter: We have found it desirable to reorganize the high priests’ quorum. Certain matters have been neglected due to the inability of Brother Sorensen and his associates to give it their attention. We propose, therefore, that these brethren be released.
(There were released with a vote of thanks, and the new officers were unanimously sustained.)
Brother Heber J. Sears: I don’t understand what this is all about. Does it mean that we shall have a new teacher for this class?
Brother Winter: I do not know. That is a matter for the new officers to determine.
(The reorganization was completed in a short time, as were a few words of general instruction. Time was left for further discussion.)
Bishop Stewart: There is a little time left if Brother Ericksen would like to say something.
Brother Winter: The time is too short.
There were no priesthood meetings held for three or four weeks, as ward conferences and other meetings interfered. Brother Ericksen was away one Sunday on account of the flu and another time when he was in Seattle attending a philosophical convention. But on Sunday, January 7, after Sunday School, Brother Wright speaks to Brother Ericksen.
Brother Wright: Brother Ericksen, what do you think about the work for next year?
Brother Ericksen: What do you mean?
[p.118] Brother Wright: Who’s going to be the teacher?
Brother Ericksen: Well, now, Brother Wright, that is for you to decide. I prefer to leave such matters in the hands of those in charge.
Brother Wright: Then I think we should change the teacher since we have a new text.
Brother Ericksen: If that is your judgment, Brother Wright, that is perfectly satisfactory with me. But, Brother Wright, may I ask what is the reason for the change?
Brother Wright: I thought you might not be interested in the book we are to use.
Brother Ericksen: The book may be difficult to teach, but may I ask if somebody of higher authority didn’t suggest a change of teachers?
Brother Wright: I had a meeting with my counselors, and it is our judgment that we should probably change teachers.
(The following Sunday Brother Wright occupied the teacher’s chair.)
Brother Wright (to the class): You won’t like what I am going to do, but Brother Smith will now be the teacher. (Joseph F. Smith, church patriarch and former professor of speech at the University of Utah.)7
In the past twenty years, the church and I have become quite well established in our ways of thinking and behaving. Together we sing, “Yet no changes.” Are we in complete harmony? Yes, in our behavior, for we claim to be Christian and live at peace. But in our way of thinking we seem to be growing further apart.8
[p.119] I attend my high priest quorum meetings faithfully but without much faith. I like the company of the members and they seem to enjoy mine. We seem to be more tolerant of each other, “mellowed by age,” I hear. That may be the reason, but I think not. I think that I understand why these men think as they do. They have never been really challenged to think religiously; I feel that challenge stronger now than ever, but I reason more and fight less. My brethren want to hear what I have to say about the origin of Mormonism, the character and menial life of the prophet Joseph, and the Book of Mormon. I speak freely, employing social psychology, pragmatic philosophy, and Christian ethics. My brethren oppose me at every turn of the well-beaten road. They say that they love to hear me talk but “prefer to remain on the Lord’s side.” It is possible, of course, that since I enter the classroom on crutches, they might have a feeling of sympathy toward me. I hope not. Or it may be that they are trying to save my soul. And that is not so bad.
Every year we have extensive reports on the growth of church membership, missionaries in the field, money spent for schools, temples, chapels, and charitable purposes. In these terms my church is a marvelously growing religion. But here lies the fallacy of attempting to measure quality in terms of quantity. In religion we want to measure the direction of [p.120] the inner life. Are the members moving toward a better understanding of life’s values? Are the interests of life placed in true perspective? Are the rituals more beautiful and attached to the higher and more enduring values? Do members share in the creation of standards and institutions? Are the finer elements of the Christian religion replacing the older beliefs and customs of the ancient Hebrews in thought and behavior?
In these matters I observe progressive change that to a degree reflects what is taking place throughout our country. But it is a very slow process and there is no evidence that Mormonism is pointing the way as its adherents so frequently claim. The ancient religious literature with its mythology and group morality, used authoritatively, is still as much a handicap to progressive change now as it has been for more than a hundred years.
However, Mormonism has taught my children a wholesome way of life, good habits, clean living, and high ideals. That to me is the major function of religious institutions and the obligation clearly grasped and effectively advanced by my church. Mormonism will probably continue to live and grow as a crusade for better living rather than as a consolation for what may come after death.
Charity toward the needy while maintaining self-respect and personal dignity among those receiving assistance has been important throughout Mormon history. During the last twenty years it has become an especially major issue. The Welfare Program of the church had its origin in the 1930s shortly after the New Deal was put into action. The church movement was intended to offset certain evils that some felt accompanied the New Deal. The New Deal, said the critics, made some people dependent upon government dole. The criticism was justified but smacked somewhat of political prejudice. There was a tendency on the part of the Republican-minded church men to condemn as wasteful and vicious the entire Democratic effort to give relief.
[p.121] There is a deeply rooted tradition in Mormonism that work is a virtue and cooperation is the ideal policy. The Welfare Program has proven to be helpful to members who are regarded as the “worthy poor,” who are poor for no fault of their own and are willing to work when opportunities are presented. The organization has done much to create such opportunities in hundreds of Mormon communities. Like the tithing system, the Relief Society, and fast offerings, it is above human criticism. It has come down from “above,” from those who speak for God. It is democratic in the sense of being “for the people,” but it is not “of” or “by” the people. It needs to be objectively and critically examined.
The period between the depth of the Depression and the Second World War permitted our three oldest sons to complete college but left them, as well as Margaret’s husband, Mont G. Kenney, of draft age. Sheldon and Mont were sent to the Pacific, Gordon to Africa, and Stanford to Texas. All were in uniform, except Gordon who was in charge of certain welfare aspects of his camp. The other three were commissioned officers, captains before the end of the war. Edna and I experienced intense fear and pride increased by the fact that Bertha, Sheldon’s wife, and Margaret lived with us during the war years. Mail service being difficult through the early months of the war, many weeks sometimes passed without a word from Sheldon. And when word did come it had been censored so that all we knew was that he was alive. Gordon was not married, but Stanford and his wife Jane had two children with them most of the time. Howard, in poor health some of the time, worked at a military installation and then in the post office. Edna was in charge of all household matters, preparing our food and keeping us all in good spirits.
Edna had served in the Utah State House of Representatives in 1933. She made herself conspicuous in her opposition to the repeal of the state’s prohibition law. All the church organizations were opposed to the repeal, yet Edna insisted that it was not the church that had influenced [p.122] her thinking but her husband. Well, I will take the blame, and without apology. I was then a member of the MIA, and we all fought repeal. In 1941 Governor Maw appointed her to serve the unexpired term of Senator Weggland, and in the following election she was elected by an overwhelming majority. Her record as state senator, especially in the second term, was remarkable, having sponsored more bills into law than any other senator. Her major interests were those of education and welfare.
In 1941 I was elected president of the American Philosophical Association, Pacific Division. This recognition came as a happy surprise since I had not been present at the convention in which I was chosen. There were also presidents of the other divisions. As soon as I was notified of my election I got busy on the presidential address and worked as if my life depended on it. It was published in the 1942 Philosophical Review as “Materialism in Democracy—Democracy in Culture.”
H. A. Overstreet wrote, “You have thrown out a challenge that should not go unheard.” And John Dewey wrote, “Just a word to express my appreciation for your Presidential Address. I should have written before but [am] spending the winter in Flor[ida]. I have only just seen the March Philosophical Review. Thank you for your article and not just for your personal references.” Dewey wrote this letter while in his eighties. My attitude toward John Dewey was near reverential, and his note, penned by his own hand, is prized most highly. I know of no other philosopher who has shown greater faith in the common folk. Of the truly great thinkers of America, he is the most unpretentious of all. And yet, he is also the most courageous and independent in this thinking. John Dewey had many followers among the American philosophers, but no one yet has risen to his position of leadership. When he died at the age of ninety-two, a star went out, one that shined by its own light.
I was made dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Utah in 1941. Roy Cowles was made president and since I had [p.123] been his friend of many years, he probably felt obligated to select me for that “high office” as a reward for my loyalty.9 I think that Edna may have had something to do with it too, as well as Lyman Dairies and other friends who thought they were doing me a favor. I thought so too until I got into it. The deanship at that time did not carry any important administrative responsibility. The president, under the board of regents, ruled supreme. All I could do was act as an unofficial advisor to my friend. That was not a happy role, for Roy soon began to feel that I underestimated his judgment and expressed some resentment. I do not think I will go down in history as a great educational statesman. Those were war years, not the time to “rock the boat.” An even keel was thought to be the wise course. But we did have real problems to solve, and novel situations did arise requiring new approaches. Unfortunately, when I felt a need for change, Roy’s characteristic reply was, “Eph, we’d better let it ride.” And we did.
I served as dean from December 1941 to July 1946, when I was replaced by Meredith Wilson. I had then reached the retirement age but was retained as professor and head of the department of philosophy for 1947-48. I influenced the administration of the university mainly through the Administrative Council of which I was a member during most of my years at the university. In that council we were encouraged to express our views freely, and I never failed to take advantage of the opportunity.
[p.124] The council was composed of elected faculty members and deans. The deans and the president were no more important than an assistant professor who had been elected by the faculty. The action of the council was submitted to the board of regents for approval, which routinely accepted the council’s recommendations. Our main function was to approve or disapprove of new members recommended to the faculty and pass judgment on promotion, demotion, and dismissal. This was the university’s method of democratic procedure.
On three occasions I was elected by the faculty to serve on a committee assisting the regents in the search for a new president. With Drs. Robert Bradford and George Shoddy I participated in the 1921 evaluation of George Thomas; with Drs. Orin Tugman and Robert S. Lewis, I served when Dr. Cowles was elected in 1941; and with Tugman, William Leary, and Sydney Angleman when A. Ray Olpin was chosen as president in 1945. The decision was made by the board of regents, but our judgment was, in the main, given careful consideration.
In the selection of teachers and executives, two schools of thought were in evidence during the three decades of my observation. One stressed scholarship; the other good teaching. The one was especially interested in degrees obtained, universities from which they were obtained, and record of academic achievement. The other was interested mainly in the personality of the applicants. For many years James L. Gibson, dean of arts and sciences from 1915 to 1941, believed it his duty to champion scholarship; Milton Bennion, dean of education from 1913 to 1941, teaching. Each had a following in the faculty, and in meeting after meeting the two camps were locked in mortal combat. Some of the faculty entered into the fight in dead earnest; others merely enjoyed it as sport. To me, it was a waste of energy. Since both are essential, how can we say that one is more essential than the other? It was almost like asking which blade is the more important in a pair of scissors. I endeavored to [p.125] overcome this difficulty but was only partly successful because President Cowles, whose professional interest was education, always championed good teaching rather than scholarship.
The saddest experience of our lives came with the passing of Howard on 23 March 1945. He was the youngest of our five children, the one who was to remain with us to add comfort and joy to our lives now that the other four had married. Although his heart was in a critical condition, he had the spirit of youth and a love of life. I can see him now standing with a group of friends at the doors of the liberal arts building intensely absorbed in conversation. As I pass, he throws up his long arm and in a happy voice gives me a “Hi, Doc!” Before his death, when I felt depressed, which was not uncommon in my early sixties, he would say to his mother, “What are we going to do about Dad? He is not happy.” He was his mother’s chum and confidant. He radiated almost continually a spirit of cheer. He died as he had lived, playing happily the game of life. He passed away while playing ping-pong with his friends at his fraternity house.
God is good and supremely wise and will not permit to be sacrificed a personality that embodies so much of life’s higher values. If the universe is meaningful it conserves its highest values. What could be finer than Howard’s personality? We can say very little of the world in which Howard may now be, but Howard has not been completely taken away from us. He lives with us as long as our memories last and will be an inspiration to our lives. For Howard’s personal qualities we share with God.
The greatest joy in my life has been my family. It has been my happy lot to have received throughout my life the appreciation and love of every member of my family. Any effort that I have made for them has never gone unrewarded. Every year new observations and experiences [p.126] of them have enriched my life and deepened my affection for each of them.
Winning the heart of an intelligent, lovable, healthy, and dynamic young woman was the first and most important step of my family life. Edna has been the stabilizer of our family unit and an inspiration to me and to our children. She functioned at the foundation of the family structure; it was for me to build firmly on this and provide direction in the education of our children.
Believing that teaching youth is life’s greatest calling, I set out to make college professors of my boys. Each accepted this calling and its essential qualifying requirement, the Ph.D., as a matter of course.10 Margaret was willing to go part way with this program but insisted that the Ph.D. was not for her. She would earn the B.S. and teach a year or so as preparation for wife and mother, but the Ph.D., she insisted, might make an “old maid” of her and she would have none of that. Her objective was clear and convincingly presented. I was compelled to yield. She went after the degree she wanted and the man she wanted. In both, she succeeded.
In the spring of 1948 I received a letter from President A. Ray Olpin of the University of Utah informing me that the board of regents had placed me on emeritus status. In other words, I was told politely that I had reached the age when I should retire with dignity. I knew this was coming, of course, but like most professors, I did not think of myself as having reached the stage when I was no longer of value to the university.
[p.127] Soon after receiving the letter, President John O. Moseley of the University of Nevada telephoned to ask if I would be interested in taking the charge of the department of philosophy at that institution. “Yes,” said I, “indeed I would.” This was a happy relief from a feeling that life was closing in on me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and began to reprimand myself for letting go of life’s interests so soon.
Our four years at Nevada were the easiest of my professional life. The teaching load was light, as were my administrative duties. I was free to teach the subjects I thought should be offered and courses, too, that I enjoyed. I brought with me Frank Hinman, a graduate student from the University of Utah, to teach most of the introductory courses. He was a good teacher and most helpful.
With six years of experience as a dean and thirty-three as a professor at the University of Utah, I could not avoid comparing the methods employed by the University of Nevada administrators. Dean Bennion and President Thomas were the ideals by which I judged my new associates. This was not altogether fair, since the two Utah men had created the pattern for my evaluation. Bennion was progressive; Dean Wood, loyal to the established order. Wood was willing to let me follow my own ideas but reminded me of university rules; Bennion would had taken time to convince me that my proposed policies might not be just to all concerned. Bennion was my confidant and friend. Wood was a friend but not as close.
President Moseley was a man of culture, a southern gentleman trained in the classics. He was courteous and friendly but seemed to avoid intimacy with his faculty. And faculty members did not like it. They wanted a president with whom they could communicate. I was accustomed to associate on an equal basis with the Utah presidents, and they seemed always to have time to talk and counsel with me. Moseley always had to be doing something else while I was talking to him. Eventually he became [p.128] so unpopular with the faculty that the board of regents decided he must go.
Edna impressed the president, the deans, and the faculty at our very introduction, and I continued to capitalize on her personality and speaking abilities whenever the opportunity presented itself. When I spoke at the university, Edna was very much in evidence and made me more important by her presence. She taught ward Relief Society lessons now and then, and when I was asked to speak in one of the wards, I insisted that Sister Ericksen share the responsibility.11 The bishops gladly accepted my suggestion, and she nearly always stole the show, but never to my disadvantage. Edna also spoke to women’s clubs at the university and to the combined church clubs of Reno.
She also had Brigham Young to take care of. I have always been her problem boy. But putting me in my place was less difficult than getting Brigham positioned properly, even after he was dead. For Edna was chairman of Utah’s legislative committee to place the statue of Brigham Young in Statuary Hall at Washington, D.C., a position of tremendous responsibility and endless detail. It required the selection of a sculptor whose work would please the Young family as well as the church leaders and interested citizens of the state. Throughout these four years she made many trips to Salt Lake City.
During our first year at Reno, I returned to Salt Lake to attend the celebration of my departure from the University of Utah. Plato suggested a nice way of ridding Athens of undesirables who had committed no offense except to practice an unpopular profession: honor them with a celebration, decorate them, and then escort them out of the city. Plato [p.129] had certain poets in mind whom he thought were unreliable as teachers of citizenship. Well, my friends or foes would not criticize me for any poetic tendency, but many of them did not like my philosophy and chose this method of saving their community from error. They succeeded, for I went out smiling—although the portrait of me that Dean Bennion presented to the university did not smile. It remained loyal to reality. Since I left Salt Lake City, my portrait has been on display at art exhibits in many places in Utah. The reason for this I do not understand unless it has been to show people what might happen to a philosopher who does not behave right.
The second highlight of 1948-49 was my role as president of the Utah Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Letters, an organization which serves men and women of the state engaged in research and creative literature. I have been connected with this association for many years and prize most highly the opportunities it affords. Through the years, I had presented a number of critical papers on various phases of community life in Utah. I always got a rebound as sharp as I handed out. My presidential address, “Education and Utah’s Religious Philosophy,” was my most vigorous criticism of local conditions. Unfortunately, I had been too busy to put it into written form and it was not published. Neglecting to put some of my best talks into shape for publication is chronic with me. I seem not to be able to do a written job to my own satisfaction. Yet I am working at it endlessly.12
[p.130] In our second year at Nevada I devoted myself to class work and to my study of economic justice. This was quite a change from my routine at the University of Utah. The quip that a dean is a man who does not know enough to be a professor and too much to be a president is not without a point. A successful teacher is ever searching for new ideas and better methods. Administrative activities often lead to superficial teaching. The four years at Nevada resulted in more real professional growth than the six years as dean at the University of Utah.
I entered my classroom at 7 a.m. and had two hours of study before my students arrived. Here I did the best writing of my life. I had vigor of mind and body. I hope someday to put those ideas into book form. The university provided a splendid typist. By the time I left Reno eighteen chapters were in fair shape, but I just cannot reach the point where they are ready for the press. Fortunately, “Memories and Reflections” will be completed soon, and I shall then return to my book.
In my third year at Reno, the university began to extend its influence. I urged that interested faculty members be encouraged to deliver public lectures throughout the state. But some administrators felt the cost would be too great. I pointed out various ways in which it could be done, supporting my ideas with what the University of Utah had done, but they held back. Later, President Love was able to convince the regents. He was thinking of service rather than costs. Every community of fair size was told of the availability of university men, and we went out to preach the gospel of education. Our expenses were met by fees charged those who came out to hear us. The project was successful and I enjoyed it very much.
Although I taught at the University of Nevada for only four years, the administration honored me at the June 1952 commencement by conferring the degree Lecturer Emeritus. Following commencement Edna [p.131] and I turned our attention eastward to our homeland. As we drove along we put together the following lines:
Hal-le-luiah, I’m a bum; hal-le-luiah, bum again.
Hal-le-luiah, give me a hand out to revive me again.
The time is far spent, there little remaining to publish glad tidings by land and by sea.
Well and faithfully done, enter into my joy and sit down by my side.
We don’t work for a living; we get along nicely without.
We don’t work by the day—I guess it’s because we are not built that way.
Oh Babylon, oh Babylon, we bid thee farewell,
We’re going to the Mountains of Ephraim to dwell.
Oh Babylon, oh Babylon, we bid thee farewell,
We’re going to the Mountains of Ephraim to dwell.
The first year after returning home was filled with social and religious activities and in efforts to learn something about the economic and ethical tradition of the country. The happy days of doing what we had really wanted to do were now here. I was going to finish the manuscript on economic justice and write my father’s biography. Then, in July 1953 I met with an accident which put a stop to all this happy living for many months. I did the foolish thing of walking in the dark, taking a false step, and landing at the foot of the basement stairs. It put me in the hospital for eight weeks and left me crippled.
[p.132] From this experience I learned that it is not the fall that counts but the getting up. I am still working on that principle. Thank God I have two legs and crutches that carry me from room to room. I have also two fingers which, by using this machine, I can tell my story. I have eyes that can see and ears that hear. I also have a head and a heart that continue to function somewhat.
I had long since become aware of my own limitations, and the Fall made me realize I may not reach the age of the centennial. I was in difficulty, to be sure, but I was not ready to let go. My family, Edna in particular, was most considerate and helpful, as were my university associates. My friends in philosophy seemed especially interested in having me write my own history. I concluded to proceed with (1) my article, “W. H. Chamberlin, Pioneer Mormon Philosopher”; (2) the biography of my father Bendt Jensen Ericksen; (3) “Memories and Reflections”; and (4) “Economic Justice in American Democracy.” The first and second I have now completed. The third will very soon be off my hands. I shall then turn my attention to the fourth, my life’s greatest intellectual effort. How valuable these projects are, I cannot say, but they hold my attention and keep me going.
The preparation of the Chamberlin paper was not an easy matter. I had not recovered from the fall, but thanks to the help of Edna and Professor W. P. Read, I succeeded in getting it ready for Dr. Read to read to the social science division of the Utah Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters at BYU. Edna and I were present. The response was most gratifying. Dr. Joseph A. Geddes of the Utah State Agricultural College wrote, “I must read, and no doubt will reread, your paper many times. I was tickled pink with it.” Dean Milton R. Merrill, also of the USAC, wrote, “You not only made him live (and how much we need men of his caliber today), but you gave us so much of your own profound understanding of man’s place and responsibility in the universe.” Hugh Bennion, [p.133] dean of the faculty at Ricks College, wrote, “I hope the sacrifice of those who attempt to keep our doctrine and thinking from becoming too narrow and out of contact with reality will ultimately be rewarded.” I also received commendation from Chauncy D. Harris, dean of social sciences at the University of Chicago; A. Ray Olpin, president of the University of Utah; G. Homer Durham, vice-president of the University of Utah; and Charles Monson, of the University of Nevada.
The biography of Bendt Jensen Ericksen was written for his descendants. The content, spirit, and style were determined by this fact. It was not intended for the public. It is simple and void of embellishments. Had I taken more time and not been handicapped by infernal infirmities (punishment for the fall), it might have been one of my best efforts. But as it was I let Bendt win the arguments altogether too frequently. I was too generous with him and too considerate of the beliefs of many of his children’s children. With Bendt, and now perhaps also with his son, I did not depart from the truth, but failed to check his dogmatism.
1. Ericksen was working on the manuscript as early as 1932. It was rejected by the American Book Company in 1934. According to Edna, “they don’t want to publish a book just now so different in its point of view etc. but it is good, etc.” (ECE to ACL, 8 Oct. 1932; to Stan, 27 Sept. 1934).
2. Except for his 1941 presidential address, no known copies of Ericksen’s APA speeches are extant. He addressed the San Francisco convention of the Pacific Division in 1932, 1934, and 1939, and the Los Angeles convention in 1947. Following his 1934 paper he wrote to Edna, “I went over big. The comments afterwards were like, ‘Yours was a very fine survey of Dewey’s philosophy.’ The secretary of the Division said, ‘It was really a remarkable paper, etc. etc.'” (EEE to ECE, 27 Dec. 1934).
4. The following note to Stanford, Sheldon, Gordon, Margaret, and Howard, dated 24 January 1940, immediately precedes “The Inquisition” in the manuscript: “The incident here related is neither comedy nor tragedy. It is not fiction. It is an event in my life, written the week following its occurrence. It is as near a reproduction of what took place as my memory was able to make. It is written as it was experienced, with charity to all and malice toward none. Affectionately, Dad.”
5. Winslow Farr Smith (1881-1966), son of LDS apostle John Henry Smith and brother of George Albert Smith; president, LDS Northern States Mission (1919-23); president, Salt Lake City Ensign Stake (1924-41); member, Sunday School General Board; vice-president, Equitable Life Insurance Company.
Oscar W. McConkie (1887-1966), Third District Court Judge (1928-40) and Salt Lake City commissioner; member, Sunday School General Board; president, LDS California Mission; father, LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie.
George J. Cannon (1879-1965), son of LDS apostle Abraham H. Cannon; married Lucy Grant, daughter of Heber J. Grant and YLMIA General Board member; former private secretary to Senator Frank J. Cannon; member, YMMIA General Board (1904-1922); twenty years as executive vice-president of Beneficial Life; president, Heber J. Grant Company (1958-65).
6. Ericksen may have erred in the date of the first meeting. The Ensign Stake Presidency minutes contain the following note for 3 November 1939, “It was quite apparent that brother Ericksen was not orthodox in his belief.” For a possible context, see J. Reuben Clark’s 1938 pronouncement on the qualifications of church teachers, appearing in the Church News section of the Deseret News on 13 August 1938.
I have a sincere desire, and so has your mother, that all of our children will express that loyalty to the church and the people, that is in harmony with the dignity of the highest spiritual purpose. In so doing we need not unduly compromise ourselves. We do not need to claim things we in reality do not believe. We do not need to support ideas and standards to which we cannot loyally subscribe. But after all is said, Mormonism does contain the choisest idealism and the finest 1oyalties. I have no apologies to make for my heritage (18 Oct. 1945).
In his unedited autobiography, Ericksen also addressed the following to his children:
I hope and pray earnestly that my sons and daughter will not permit this experience of their father’s to interfere in any way with their loyalty and devotion to the finer ideals which Mormonism stands for. I pray also that in the near future the leadership of Mormonism will recognize the need for greater tolerance and will include within its system all the finer things that higher education stands for. For surely, true spirituality must be open minded, tolerant, and critical, seeking truth from all sources. Mormonism today needs the loyal devotion of all men and women of education more than ever before.
Do not forsake the cause. A brighter day may yet come, even in my generation. Faith, hope and charity–these three–and the greatest of these is charity.
LeRoy Cowles was selected as U of U Pres. not by choice but as a compromise. There was a deadlock. Adam Bennion vs. Lowery Nelson. Many are now telling us that EE would have been choice of faculty over Cowles. I agree he would have been Best. But you see EE was chairman of committee & couldn’t allow his own name to appear on the list (however it was mentioned over & over). Oh well, EE will have time to do his writing & I expect a deanship for him as soon as Cowles returns from trip east & gets things going anew (ECE to ACL, 23 Oct. 1941: also EEE to Gordon, 13 Oct. 1941).
10. Ephraim, said Stan, “was a pure and dedicated philosopher; a man who taught his children to say ‘See life steadily and see it whole’ before they learned to say ‘ice cream and candy.’ … Dad’s mind was usually on Big Thoughts about ethical principles, and he liked to talk with his children at this level of discourse. A concrete item had to be quite attractive, e.g., buttermilk, to bring his thinking down the abstraction ladder” (Stanford Ericksen, 3-4).
11. The Ericksens were often invited to sit on the stand at stake conferences in Reno by visiting authorities such as Joseph F. Merrill, S. Dilworth Young, Oscar A. Kirkham, and others (ECE, 1975 interview).
12. For example, by May 1945 Ericksen had finished the last chapter of “Expanding Democracy in America: Industrial and Cultural,” although there were “edges to be cut off and some refinements to be made” (EEE to Mont, 7 May 1945). In 1946 he worked two to three hours a day on the manuscript and continued to work on it in Reno and after his return to Salt Lake but never submitted it to a publisher. Intended as a replacement for Social Ethics, which was no longer in print, its last title was “Economic Justice in American Democracy.”