Memories and Reflections
Edited by Scott G. Kenney
Beaver, Utah, was founded in 1856 and the Beaver Stake in 1869. A brief outbreak of Ute Indian violence in 1872 prompted the establishment of a military post (later named Ft. Cameron) with 181 soldiers, 1.5 miles east of town at the mouth of Beaver Canyon. During the fort’s eleven-year history, a two-story barrack, hospital, commissary, guard house, and officers’ quarters were constructed of black volcanic rock hauled from the canyon. The post was abandoned in 1882 and the property sold to John R. Murdock and Philo T. Farnsworth. The buildings stood empty for fifteen years (Alexander and Christy, 107-08; “Beaver Academy”).
In 1886 an LDS stake academy opened in rooms rented above the co-op store in Beaver. The school later met in the basement of the stake tabernacle and, by 1890, in a two-story pink sandstone school building that was soon turned over to the public school district as an elementary school (“Beaver Academy”).
[p.160] Beginning in 1888, with the establishment of the Church Board of Education, the academy received an annual appropriation from the church—$500 the first year. Demand for more academies escalated quickly. By 1895 the superintendent of all LDS church schools, Karl G. Maeser, reported that forty schools had been instituted but that appropriations had been slashed to help meet the church’s financial crisis and only fifteen were then operative. Beaver had been one of the casualties.
In 1898 Stake President John R. Murdock and P. T. Farnsworth offered to donate the abandoned fort and its 240 acres if the church Board of Education would establish a branch of the Brigham Young Academy at Beaver. The stake pledged $1,200 per year for ten years, which, combined with tuition and housing rents, would, they projected, yield sufficient income for “a first-class high school.” LDS church leader Joseph F. Smith approved the plan.
The hospital was refurbished as an office and classroom building. The commissary became a bookstore. Barracks were converted for use as an assembly hall, dormitory, gymnasium, and industrial arts class building. Officers’ quarters became faculty and student apartments (“Beaver Academy”).
The campus was dedicated in September 1898 by LDS apostles Francis M. Lyman and George Teasdale. Twenty-eight students registered for the opening session under Ernest D. Partridge, principal. By the third year, enrollment had climbed to 215 (Wilkinson, 247, 251).
In 1908 the Beaver Branch separated from Brigham Young University and became Murdock Academy. Stake priesthood members voted to raise $50,000 for a new pink sandstone building if nearby stakes would assist. The church Board of Education created a district including the Beaver, Parowan, Panguitch, and Millard stakes and agreed to provide $15,000 for the new facility if $35,000 were raised locally (see also Kelly, 190-91.) The academy’s regular appropriation from the Mormon [p.161] church that year was $12,500, while most other academies received $4,000-$9,000. By 1910, $42,000 had been spent on the new building, but it was only half complete. Construction projects were also under way at BYU and ten other academies, with plans for three more. Funds were scarce.
When Ericksen became principal, the campus consisted of eighteen stone buildings, plus barns and workshops. The center of campus was a ten-acre drill ground surrounded by streets lined on both sides with shade trees. The library boasted 3,000 bound volumes. Registration cost $12, with an additional $.50 to $5.00 per class. Room and board was between $3.00 to $3.75 per week. Courses included theology, English, mathematics, German, art, vocal and instrumental music, botany, zoology, elocution, history, physiology, chemistry, psychology, sociology, physics, education, economics, woodwork and ironwork; farm management, horticulture, irrigation and arid farming, and other agricultural courses; history of foods and methods of cooking, hand and machine sewing, principles of cookery and serving, home economics, dressmaking, art needle work, and other homemaking courses; and a two-year missionary course for those who had received mission calls from the First Presidency (Murdock, 1912-13). According to the Board of Education there were ten faculty members, though the school’s bulletin listed only eight. Only Snow Academy (with fourteen teachers) and Ricks Academy (with twelve teachers) had larger faculties. Beaver continued to receive $10,000 annually in church appropriations, even though work on the new building had long since ceased. Members of the stake presidency and high council had borrowed $4,000 to meet Beaver Stake’s obligation; the other stakes lagged behind in payments.
In February 1912 Ericksen and J. T. Tanner of the stake presidency met with the church Board of Education. Ericksen submitted a report approved by the local board, warning that if dramatic changes [p.162] were not made soon, Murdock would have to close its doors. The old facilities were “repugnant” to the students, prospects for completing the new building were dim, and the recent establishment of an academy in Fillmore, plus the competition for students from Cedar City and St. George, made it difficult to maintain an adequate student population. In order to overcome these obstacles Ericksen recommended that the academy specialize in agricultural studies and other schools in the region be restricted from that area and that the “industrial work of the southern Utah schools be consolidated as far as practicable in the Murdock Academy.”
A report from the stake presidency stated that the school could not maintain its current level “unless better facilities and greater inducements were afforded.” Tanner estimated completion of the new building would require another $40,000, which the stake could not afford. He reminded the board that Beaver Stake had fulfilled its commitment to the project, and Ericksen expressed his opinion that if Murdock were permitted to become the agricultural school for the area, the other stakes would have an incentive to raise funds.
Willard Young, president of LDS University, pointed out that the proposal to make Murdock an agricultural school would be contrary to the board’s policy of operating academies as high schools. After a lengthy discussion, the board decided “that there is not the slightest objection to the Murdock Academy emphasizing agricultural training as part of its regular courses, since its situation was so peculiarly adapted for that line of work; but it was felt that to make a complete change such as proposed was too serious a matter to be decided upon without thorough investigation.”
Young moved that the academy “be instructed to proceed with the necessary steps for carrying on the school next year with the means already appropriated, and do the very best they can with it.” The motion was [p.163] seconded by George Brimhall, president of Brigham Young University. “But before it was put [to a vote] the brethren from Beaver urged their case still more earnestly. It was pointed out to them, however, that the appropriation for the coming year had been fixed along with the rest of the schools, and that the best thing for them to do was to proceed with it and work to the best advantage. In the meantime the other matters could be investigated by superintendent of church schools Horace H. Cummings, or by a committee if necessary, so that the board could act more intelligently upon them.” Church president Joseph F. Smith added that “perhaps the First Presidency could do something towards helping to get the delinquent stakes in the district to pay up what they had promised.”
Two months later, Cummings reported a visit to Murdock. Attendance stood at 216, and the local board was thinking of eliminating the missionary course to cut costs. On the motion of Willard Young, Cummings was instructed to notify Murdock not to eliminate the course until the board could investigate.
On 27 September 1912 Cummings informed the board that “the details of the school and the premises are now being looked after more carefully.” It was “trying to maintain too many departments for the size of its enrollment and appropriation.” The walls of the new building were up to the second story but “labor on it was suspended long ago.” The debt on the structure “is quite discouraging to some of the patrons, while the leaky incommodious school rooms and dwellings used by the students prove to be a serious handicap, when competing schools offer accomodations that are so much better.… This school, at present, is struggling with several very discouraging conditions which ought to be removed as soon as possible, if the progress of the school is to continue.”
It had taken seven months to confirm Ericksen’s assessment. This time the board offered more financial assistance: when the academy paid [p.164] its $3,800 debt at the Beaver bank, the church would pay the $2,000 the school owed to Deseret National.
In December President Tolton wrote that his stake had raised another $2,000 and that Parowan had contributed $500, but Panguitch and Kanab had donated nothing. Would the board consider their efforts and pay the Deseret National loans now? On motion of Anthon H. Lund the appropriation was approved and the academy’s debt was cut to only $1,300.
Academies were gradually being replaced with tax-funded public high schools. Seminary classes were offered to supplement public education, and 1913 academy appropriations were cut by 10 percent.
In June 1913 one of the Murdock buildings burned to the ground. Cummings visited Beaver and “urged the citizens to remove the school into town,” but they had invested too much in Murdock to give up that easily. Instead, they proposed to finish off the second story of the “new” building at an estimated cost of $33,000 if the church would provide two-thirds of the funds. In July the board approved the plan—but it would be another three and a half years before the structure was finally dedicated.
In 1915, Ericksen’s final year, enrollment at Murdock was at 168. That year six principals of the church’s twenty-five academies resigned. Murdock Academy was closed in 1922, one of the last to be replaced by public education.
In his memoirs Ericksen paid tribute to the faculty members he worked with:
There were teachers of wisdom on the Murdock campus. Reinhard Maeser, son of Utah’s premier educator Karl G. Maeser, had taught English at the academy from its inception. He was in his fities when I became principal and was the wisest person on the campus next to Mrs. Maeser. These [p.165] two and their eight children lived in the woods not far from school. They were near enough to campus to see and hear what was going on but far enough away from its disturbing elements. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of every teacher. His only weaknesses were being the son of Karl G. and wanting to be principal. The first was no fault of his and the second was due to the fact that his friends—and some who were not his friends—were forever telling him that he should be principal. He did eventually become the principal and had the honor of going down with the boat. In this he unfortunately showed a lack of wisdom, and I was compelled to tell him so.…
Our next door neighbor was Alfred Durham of the music department. He was called Professor Durham presumably because of his being a musician but probably also because of his dignified bearing and lofty character. He always talked and behaved like a gentleman. He accepted without a moment’s doubt the theological beliefs and moral standards of his church. He was president of the Murdock Academy Branch and was in charge of all the singing and dancing of the community. I was his first counselor in the branch presidency and George Luke was his second.
George Luke, teacher of physics and mathematics, was also a man of principles and fine character. He did not maintain the silent dignity of the two men previously mentioned, for which I was grateful. From him I learned about the things that went wrong as well as the things that deserved commendation. He became my advisor on administrative matters and my personal friend. He was also the campus handyman, taking care of the plumbing and repairs in general. If anything went wrong we always called George.
Miss Mamie Olerton, who recommended me for the position, was most anxious that I make good and seemed not to be disappointed. She said little but did advise the dismissal of John McQuarrie—a good man, former president of the Eastern States Mission, and friend of Josiah Hickman, but totally unqualified to teach English.
Another loyal friend was Miss Hettie White, teacher of home economics. She, like Mamie Olerton, was a veteran of the academy and looked [p.166] upon it as dear and as sacred as the church. She believed what she said and said what she believed. She believed me to be an honest man and a good principal and that no polygamist should head that institution. So I became, by comparison, a better man than Hickman. She was one of those rare persons who could teach any subject in the high school and do it well. Murdock Academy and its interests were in her mind first, last, and always. Her love for her students and friends was as intense as her dislike for those who, she was sure, were undermining the work of her friends and the school she loved.
Randall Jones, whom I hired to teach wood work, was artistic in temperament and spent much time in photography. He had the spirit of the school but soon went into the service of the Union Pacific Railroad, advertising the scenic values of southern Utah. In this field he distinguished himself to the extent that a small stone marker was placed in Cedar City in his honor.
Mr. A. J. Knapp was hired the year after Jones. His work was highly practical, and he also became our director of athletics. He developed a strong basketball team and maintained our fine reputation in track and field. Sherwin and Beatrice Maeser, son and daughter of Reinhard Maeser, were also with us one or two years. Sherwin later became professor of chemistry at the Utah State Agricultural College. In English it was Miss Irene Tolton, later Mrs. Hammond, who left a lasting impression on her associates. She was there only two years but so impressed the local board that they made a serious effort to secure her services as principal. She later became a teacher at the university.
As I remember, the men who followed me as principal were: Professor Horn for one year; Dr. Willard Gardner, two; Reinhard Maeser, two; and Howard Maughn, one or two years. The school was then permanently closed.[p.167]
With the increase in commercial entertainment and recreational activities following World War I, the First Presidency asked the general board of the Mutual Improvement Association to develop less worldly alternatives for church youth. The 1928 combined M.I.A. Hand Book and Official Guide for the Leisure-time Program expressed the church’s concern for “the preservation of the young men and the young women from the evils that come in commercialized fields that are today allowing all classes [of people] to mingle together, where exist dangers and corrupting influences that seek to destroy the ideals that are established through religious teachings.” According to the Hand Book, “There is little danger of men acquiring bad habits when they are hard at work … but when they are at play there is a greater tendency to form habits that are hurtful and detrimental. It is said that more than seventy-five percent of all our crime in the United States is committed after working hours [p.168] during the leisure time period.… Men and women do not reveal their true characters until they are at play” (pp. 7-10).
The Hand Book bears the unmistakable imprint of Ericksen’s philosophy. The church, he wrote, intended to address
the complete development of the human being, supplying all his needs, and letting the young people of the Church feel that they belong to the most generous, the most kind and considerate and sympathetic organization there is in the world, that denies them no human expression in righteousness, but encourages them in the fields of endeavor, to develop complete living, that men may indeed have joy in the fullness of life and have it abundantly (Hand Book, 11).
Under the 1928 “Priesthood-MIA” plan, Ericksen and his colleagues had ample opportunity to implement their ambitious programs. MIA and Priesthood met every Tuesday evening for a devotional followed by forty-five minutes of quorum/YLMIA course work, concluding with an hour of MIA activities. Friday evenings were also devoted to MIA recreation (Hand Book, 22-23). Though most wards soon opted for a Sunday Priesthood meeting, the impression was created that Sunday School and Priesthood were responsible for theological instruction, while YMMIA was to be concerned with social and recreational activities.
Ericksen defined a two-fold responsibility of leadership as educating the community as to the true meaning and function of recreation and constructing a recreational program based on “native tendencies.” Recreation should not be viewed simply as “harmless enjoyment” but “an educational agency for the development of a finer type of manhood and womanhood.” Athletics, dance, and music, “neither morally good nor morally bad in themselves, may become religiously sacred by giving them just such a turn, such application, as will enable them to perform their sacred mission of developing finer types of personality” (29-33).
[p.169] The Hand Book detailed a host of activities: public speaking, drama (including stage set instructions), ward reunions, fathers and sons outings, Mothers and Daughters Day, Pioneer Day celebration, ward carnival, Christmas ball, New Year’s party, Gold and Green Ball, road shows, reading courses, summer camps, operas, cycloramas, recreation in the home, home playgrounds, M Men basketball, debate, dramatic readings, Scouting, and various party games.
Churchwide competitions were initiated, and by 1926 thousands of young men and women converged at the annual MIA June Conference to vie for prizes in poetry and essay writing, vocal quartets and choruses, orchestra, band, drama, ballroom dancing, folk dancing, instrumental and vocal solos, fife and drum, debate, retold story, declamation, field and track, music memory, and basketball. The program continued to grow until the Great Depression put an end to costly travel.
On 7 May 1930 Apostle Melvin J. Ballard, who was also a member of the YMMIA Superintendency, was named chairman of the Community Activity Committee, but Ericksen continued as the operational chairman and also became a member of the M Men department. In February 1931 he presented a three-year plan which called for more activity time on Tuesday evenings, elimination of contests, emphasis on mass participation, greater local autonomy, and a three-year leadership course of study in psychology, pedagogy, and philosophy of recreation.
In March 1931 the general board discussed the advisability of creating a new Senior Department for men and women between twenty-three and thirty-five years old. On 8 April, Ericksen was named chairman and released from the Community Activity Committee.
The first Ericksen-Brandley manual, Challenging Problems of the Twentieth Century (1931-32), departed radically from traditional manuals. Rather than ignoring global issues or contrasting the problems of “the world” with the peace and security of Zion, Challenging Problems [p.170] placed Mormons squarely in the center of contemporary moral problems. The traditional Mormon view was moderately, though never dogmatically, favored, and not infrequently challenged by probing questions.
The manual began with the observation that “in this changing social world … men are brought into closer social interdependence than ever before, and … this interdependence compels a finer spiritual bond.”
Changes in economic and social systems had especially affected the home and church. The father worked away from the home, children left as soon as they were old enough to work,
and even the wife and mother is beginning to seek a gainful occupation outside of the home. The conveniences and leisures of life heretofore provided by the home are now supplied by the community, and a few people actually believe that home life is unnecessary.
These disturbing conditions make it imperative that the church and every other spiritual agency undertake seriously the task of giving spiritual direction to man in his new and novel situation.… The great challenge to religion in this generation is how to spiritualize man’s many secular interests.
The Senior Department addressed these issues in a course of sixteen lectures prepared by class members with recommended books and articles and any other material the students wished to use. The manual noted that many books and articles were published “by men and women of keen insight, fine sympathies and faith in God and in the possibilities of a better social world.” Those not reflecting an LDS point of view were said to “express views held by many people and therefore should not be entirely ignored.”
Each lecture was to be followed by a general discussion, “conducted in a conversational way. Each member of the class should be [p.171] encouraged to express himself frankly and freely on any phase of the subject.”
The first four lectures addressed economics. Five to seven recent articles were recommended, followed by a one-paragraph “Problems for Group Discussion.” The paragraph for the second lecture simply stated, “More millions of men than usual are out of work. Goods have been produced in profusion. Factories that are silent could turn out additional supplies endlessly. Food, clothing and warmth are plentiful on every hand; yet men are hungry and cold. Can we find the solution?”
Suggested discussion questions included whether the following had merit:
The general secretary of the American Federation of Labor urges the creation of reserve funds consisting of equal contributions by employers and the government. He argues that big business, with an excellent appreciation of the values of stability, has set up enormous reserves during the years of prosperity which are now being used to maintain dividend payments to stockholders. Does not the worker hold a claim to the solicitude and foresight of management equal to that of the stockholder? (“Which Cure for Workless Workers?” by Joseph Stagg Lawrence. World’s Work, June, 1931.)
The second section dealt with challenges to the family. Among the questions:
Which of the … propositions can you support?
(a) Woman’s place is in the home.
(b) Ability rather than sex should determine a person’s duties, at home as well as in the world.
(c) Married women should remain at home but should be given greater financial independence.
(d) Married women should give the home first consideration but should have outside interests.
[p.172] Section three dealt with recreation; four, with challenges to religion. Representative questions:
Can you find support for the position that all recreation of a public character should be under the direction of the community, as much so as are the public schools?
Do you know of any time in history when art has hindered the realization of fine spiritual life?
What are the criteria for good music?
Does religion have the responsibility to settle questions of scientific and intellectual character?
Is the function of religion to conserve old beliefs or to create new values?
Which is more nearly the function of religion (a) to conserve inherited beliefs, (b) to promote new and more adequate scientific ideas, (c) to employ new scientific and philosophical ideas in the interest of finer faith and more abundant living?
How do you reconcile the authoritative element so essential in religion with the new democratic spirit?
The Senior Department was initiated on an experimental basis in several nearby stakes, both rural and urban. On 16 December 1931 Ericksen reported that “much enthusiasm [was] being shown” in the experimental stakes and that the manual was “very well liked.” The superintendency approved continuation of the experiment and in 1933 approved preparation of the manual for church-wide use. The board also approved the addition of quarterly stake forums and three annual discussion socials.
The year 1933 was a watershed in the intellectual history of Mormonism. In April, President Heber J. Grant reached outside of the presiding quorums to call J. Reuben Clark, Jr., U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, as his second counselor. In May, Susa Young Gates passed away, followed by James E. Talmage in July, and B. H. Roberts in September.
[p.173] In late October President Clark charged that the MIA was insufficiently “spiritual.” His criticism generated a prolonged and animated discussion at the next MIA general board meeting. On 15 November the board discussed the specific question of whether the senior lessons should “be along more religious lines” and whether the department was meeting its purpose. Several board members familiar with local programs responded that enrollment and attendance had greatly increased under the new program and many who had not previously shown interest in MIA were now attending.
Apostle John A. Widtsoe, attending his first board meeting since returning from the presidency of the church’s European missions, criticized the MIA manuals, adding that much of their content was “beyond his comprehension.” He continued that “unless we flavor all we do and all we have with the message of the Prophet Joseph Smith, we are far afield.… If this organization intends to give extension courses like the U of U, we are missing our purpose.” The following week a Special Survey Committee under the direction of Apostle Widtsoe was announced to correlate MIA programs. The committee met through November and December.
On 20 December 1933 Ericksen presented the objectives of his department, “the main one being that of creating friendly, social relationships.” He also indicated that the new manual would be “of a more spiritual nature.”
At the 10 January 1934 board meeting Widtsoe presented a preliminary report from the survey committee which proposed that the general theme of the MIA be “To Help Make Real Latter-day Saints.” The theme of the Boy Scouts and Bee-Hives (ages 12-14) would be “Formation of Correct Life Habits.” Junior Girls would study “How to Be Happy” and “The Fruits of Happiness.” M Men and Gleaners (ages 17-23) would have a five- to seven-year course, “Preparation for Life.” Seniors (ages [p.174] 24-35) would have “Mormonism in a Changing World” as a three-year program on “the rights of every man, our world outlook, and acceptable government.” The Adult program (over 35) would select themes from year to year beginning with “the lives, times and labors of LDS leaders from the point of view of Mormon evidence, and applicable to present day needs.” In addition, the report recommended that course outlines be submitted to a review board and that an editorial committee edit all manuscripts.
After a motion to adopt the report, Ericksen “objected strenuously.” Instead of “To Help Make Real Latter-day Saints,” Ericksen thought that the proposed theme of the Senior Department, “Mormonism in a Changing World,” would be a more appropriate topic to guide the preparation of lesson manuals. After lengthy discussion, it was decided that these themes should be considered “merely tentative and given to the committees as suggestions only.” With this compromise, the report was adopted.
Board minutes do not mention Ericksen again for six weeks, and it may be that the January meeting was the one described in Memories and Reflections in which Ericksen railed against Widtsoe and the “rubber stamp” committee. One of Widtsoe’s sons-in-law, G. Homer Durham, told me in 1975 that Widtsoe’s diaries, of which he was custodian, mention the board and committee meetings, but only comment that during the January meeting Widtsoe “had to defend Survey Committee report. Dr. Ericksen took serious exception.” Another possibility for the meeting depicted in the memoirs is the 21 March meeting detailed below, which was also followed by no mention of Ericksen for several months. Minutes for this period do not routinely list the names of members attending, making it difficult to know whether Ericksen was absent or simply not mentioned.
On 24 January Arthur L. Beeley offered his opinion that the youth were losing interest in religion. “There is grave danger when such [p.175] indifference is manifested as we find among youth,” he warned, “and if we do not satisfy them they will turn their attention in other channels.” Oscar Kirkham, Arthur Beeley, George Q. Morris, Katie Jensen, Helen Williams, and Elsie Brandley were appointed to study the problem. On 7 February they presented their findings. Morris2 conceded that many young people who “had gotten into higher education work and had studied earnestly” were critical of orthodox beliefs. He cited the “Sabbath School Prayer” published by the returned missionary fraternity, which began: “Dear God, our Father, we remember before Thee this Sabbath morning the great free souls who have been crowded from Thy Church—noble men and women whose spiritual freedom was greater to them than life.”
Helen Williams concluded that some church restrictions were outdated and that the church attitude was too “self-satisfied.” Young people “have no desire to pull away, but they feel that the shoe that fit a generation ago refuses to go on the foot of today.” Conditions had changed, but “the Church refuses to absorb new ideas.”
Joseph F. Smith III3 had learned of some rather “innocuous” necking that “doesn’t do much harm one way or another,” but he was disturbed by a trend to view premarital sex as “regrettable but not altogether damning.” And, “there is very definitely the attitude that conscious control of the size of the family is not only proper but highly desirable, and many are going to the point of saying that that is none of the Church’s business.” Repeatedly he heard “distrust of the general authorities in the matter of doctrine and attitudes, because of apparent disagreements on the part of the authorities.” Many young people, he noted, were [p.176] struggling to harmonize orthodox church attitudes and organic evolution by “developing a sort of dualistic attitude … trying to believe in both.”
Beeley reported a change in attitudes reflected in the percentage of Mormon marriages performed in the temple—55.9 percent in 1906 compared to 39.5 percent, the lowest on record, in 1932. “There is a difference of opinion as to what is important in our theology and in our religious practice.” Young people believe in the Word of Wisdom, for example, but they think “we are barking up the wrong tree with our tea and coffee and tobacco” emphasis. They feel the church has lost its “glorious tradition” of community planning. “They wonder where the great social and economic program of the Church is.” They ask, “‘Where is our leadership? Where is the plan?’ They say there is none.” They are critical of the church’s business practices. “‘Unless the Church goes into business from the premises of social responsibility rather than from a profit motive, better had it never gone into business.’ … That is what our young people are saying.” Beeley pressed the need for “a rebirth of leadership” and an invitation to youth to participate in decision-making councils.
The boards voted to invite recently returned missionaries to address the boards on 21 February, young women on 7 March, and young men who were not returned missionaries on 21 March, and to ask BYU for an extensive study of the attitudes of young people of the church.
Five returned missionaries spoke to the boards on 21 February. On the 28th the board discussed their comments. Then Nicholas G. Smith4 raised the issue that would divide the board for the next eleven months—the suspicion that some board members were not sufficiently orthodox. [p.177] At a recent ward MIA leadership meeting one teacher had said he had heard a general board member say “that you don’t have to believe in Joseph Smith or in the Book of Mormon to be a good Mormon. You can do a good piece of work with the fine groups that we have to do with and you don’t need to worry about the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith’s vision or things like that.” Smith had questioned the group and was relieved to find that all believed the Book of Mormon was true and Joseph Smith actually had a vision, but he was concerned to hear the idea circulating “that you don’t need to worry about the divine side of it; just accept the rational side and the things that we know could happen without anything divine being mixed up with them, and it will be all right.” The president of his own ward’s MIA had asked him about reports that “some of us didn’t believe the gospel, didn’t believe in the Church at all, but thought it was a good chance to do group service.… We are no different than they were in the days of Joseph Smith. Then the apostles apostatized and the counselors apostatized. I suppose that could happen to us just as well.”
George R. Hill5 gave an optimistic appraisal. He himself had “doubted absolutely every principle of the gospel” until he got a testimony “and I think that is the way it ought to be done.… Personally, I don’t see that there is very much to worry about.”
On the other hand, John F. Bowman6 had been deeply disturbed by the comments of the returned missionaries the previous week. If they represented a cross-section of the church, “the Lord certainly ought to [p.178] cut short His work in righteousness.” One reason so many young people had “that attitude problem” was that “we have preachers … sometimes in high places, who don’t believe [the doctrines of the church], and the young people have great respect for these leaders.… We preach too much philosophy and too little spirituality.” Bowman wondered if there ought not to be some sort of censorship of church speakers.
It is a question of what we are after. What do we want? May I humbly express what I would like to see? I would like to see the LDS community rise and shine in every worthwhile endeavor. I would like to see a community living the finest sort of social life, considering the welfare of all its members. I would like to see my community the finest community in all the world when it comes to social justice, economic justice … and that has enough faith in intellectual endeavor that no one would ever say we are not intellectually honest. I would like a community that could say to all its sons and daughters, “The sky is the limit in matters of investigation. God is on the side of him who thinks honestly.” I would like that to go out into the world.
I would like a community that appreciates the fine things of life—the arts; the advances [of] the beautiful in the world; that stimulates its youth on every hand to develop art, literature, music; and that shines in that respect. I would like the word to go out that we have a community of the cleanest, finest young people found anywhere in the world. I would like these things to stand out so conspicuously that no one would ever ask, “Is Joseph Smith a prophet or is he not?” I would like to see our people demonstrate by the lives they live and the faith they have that Joseph Smith is a prophet. No one here would be happier to demonstrate that our leaders are true prophets than I would. But I see no other way of approach than the consequence of the works of our people.
Let me illustrate my method. This is a crude illustration, but it calls [p.179] attention to the objective that I feel should be recognized in asking questions as to whether or not we need an adjustment. If you are constantly asked, “Do you love your wife, Do you love your wife, Is your wife a good woman, Is she intelligent,” what effect does it have on you? “Yes, she is a good woman.” I think I wouldn’t love her very much if I were constantly having to discuss her, to throw my intellectual analysis in that direction. But if I am given an opportunity to serve her, I love her and I have faith in her.
If I am eternally challenged, “Do you believe this—A, B, C, D,” if I am put on the spot constantly, well I begin to quiver. In other words, anything begins to shake when you are constantly asked to analyze it. But if we whole-heartedly plunge in and say, “Let us build up the finest community the world has ever seen,” they will not ask whether our leaders are inspired men.…
Our church was organized one hundred years ago, and the interpretation of our religion was made in the light of the prevailing knowledge. It got into scripture, it took on a certain language form. We speak in the light of the state of knowledge that prevails. Now one hundred years have gone, and there is need for reinterpretation. It is true in science, in philosophy—everywhere. Any sort of thought must be modified, and modified constantly.
Let me say that there are a number here who are constantly in touch with educational processes, and they are making modifications, restating. I hope I am doing that. I think there are others—fine, earnest men, who do not have that opportunity. A man may become detached from the intellectual environment, educational environment, until he does not talk the language that is developing within that educational atmosphere. There are thousands of youths passing through the higher institutions of learning, and they are learning the language of the twentieth century and the interpretation of the twentieth century. They are interpreting the Bible in terms of what has been accomplished during the many, many years in between. They are careful scholars. The Bible isn’t losing its spirituality, but it is being restated.
[p.180] So, it seems to me that we need very badly a careful consideration of the form of presenting the interpretation. I believe, too, that our leaders should be tolerant in our interpretation of events as they took place in the past. If we should insist that they must be interpreted just as someone interpreted them long, long since, I am afraid we would have constant trouble. In fact, when religion identifies itself with any set of knowledge at any particular time, and stresses its interpretation rather than the spirit and values, there will be constant trouble. That is one need I think we must recognize.
We need more scholars—scholars who have faith in Mormonism; and I want to say here that I do not feel kindly toward any individual who insists because I do not interpret Mormonism exactly as he interprets it, that I am not a Latter-day Saint. I insist I have as fine a love for this church and its cause as some of my opponents who are constantly talking about the role I am playing at the U of U and on this board.
The second point I want to make is, do we have a number of young people who are dropping out to the extent that right now we need to think through the thing and take special precautions? I don’t know. I don’t know whether these young men represented three hundred people in their fraternity or whether they represented sixty-five. I think they honestly represented five, and if they simply represented five, that is no reason why we should ignore them. Here are five clean, intellectually honest young men, as fine as we have anywhere in the world. Just that much we need to recognize.
I think every period is a crisis. I am a parent of children, and I have been working with you people several years and have tried to do my duty. I would like to see the young men remain loyal to this church. I would like to see my own boys remain loyal. But I am confident that if they remain loyal, it will be because we face them honestly and frankly with their difficulties and permit them to investigate and go as far as they want. God is on the side of truth, and we should have enough faith in our Church, enough faith in our cumulative theology, to permit any sort of investigation. For these two reasons I think we need an investigation.
[p.181] Joseph F. Smith III recalled that two or three of the worst experiences of his life occurred when he was concerned
about something that didn’t amount to a hill of beans, but it meant a lot to me at the time and it was pooh-poohed by the adults with whom I tried to talk about it. That destroyed my confidence in them. I wouldn’t have gone back to them with any problem of mine, if I had been hanged and quartered for it. This idea of letting them get it off their chests, I think, is a good one, and if they feel that they can come to us [and] we will receive what they have to say and talk to them about it, and that we will appreciate the seriousness of the thing to them, we stand a far better chance of helping them out of their difficulties than if we in any way make them feel that their problems are not of sufficient merit for our attention.
Herbert B. Maw believed the problem was serious. College students daily faced men and women who did not believe in God. They were subjected to persuasive arguments to deny Joseph Smith’s vision and were “being pulled away from the faith, because in our setup we are not teaching them through similar methods the facts that substantiate the divinity of the Church.” The evidence indicated that moral standards were changing and an apostasy from the church was taking place.
BYU president Franklin S. Harris7 agreed the problem was serious, but it was not a “wide-spread apostasy.” The present generation was sincere, honest, and loyal.
They are going to dissent a little, they are going to complain a little, and I among them. I complain a little because some of the brethren, including myself, preach very poor sermons, and we know that we do have some [p.182] that we don’t agree with at all. That is, we don’t agree that those are the things that should be preached at this time. They were preached a generation or two ago, but we more or less have to tolerate them.
Harris said he admired the Jewish people, who “have learned a lot more charity for their people than we have for ours.… They let their young people have these little excursions around, but after it is all over they hang pretty close together. I never saw very many Jews pulling away from Jewry.”
James Gunn McKay thought the problem was overstated. There was no value in “calling in a few people to shock us,” and it was a waste of time to listen to such a small minority. The research should be widened to include other areas.
Elder Widtsoe pointed out that the Twelve had just instituted a study. “Just how far it will go I don’t know,” he observed, but it was intended to be done
without stirring up the Church. There are methods by which these facts may be secured, until we feel fairly certain whether or not a larger survey is necessary. The Church is a wonderful machine. It has ways and methods by which facts can be ascertained in a very short time. The whole thing is under way, but it hasn’t gone so far that it may not be stopped if, in the wisdom of the Council, it is thought advisable.
He suggested the board formulate a method or questionnaire to submit to the Twelve, but George Morris made a substitute motion to table the question. “If the Church is handling something, it isn’t our affair at all.” The substitute motion carried with one dissenting vote.
At the next joint meeting, 7 March, three young women spoke and two papers were presented. Thomas Hull8 was relieved. “After hearing [p.183] the boys, with all their egotism of youth, stand here and tell us how to remodel all our ideas of Church government, morals, and everything else, I have had the mushroom growth of opinion that our hope for the salvation of the Church is in the girls.”
Katie C. Jensen noted that two young ladies had declined to appear because board members had criticized the young men who had testified two weeks earlier. Beeley reported confronting one board member who had alleged that one of the young men was immoral. He had asked for evidence and was told, “You can see it in his eyes.” Beeley thundered, “I think it’s damnable on our part to spread that gossip, and I think it is an indication of our inability to see a point and to deal with the arguments apart from the individual who expresses them.” The young man in question worked for Beeley at the university. As a missionary under John A. Widtsoe, he had objected to Widtsoe’s method of substantiating the Word of Wisdom by statistics. “It was a rather frank and honest, although an unnecessarily bitter attack on the methods which the mission was using,” and he returned to Utah “very critical about missionary work.” Beeley considered him “one of the most brilliant men I have ever met in all my life,” but “because some of us undertake to salvage, if you will, or even interest ourselves in these young men who come back, we also are criticized. I have reference to Dr. Ericksen and myself.” He concluded by characterizing the gossip about the young man as “cheap business” and “damnable. I can’t express it in terms any less vehement than that.”
Elsie T. Brandley, one of the committee members responsible for inviting the young men and women to appear before the boards, objected to rumors that the committee was “tied up with revolution in the Church.” Two committees had devoted half of a session discussing the “tragedy” of committee members “allying themselves against the others. While some of it is playful, it isn’t all playful; and while we agree with these young people to a certain extent, so do all of you.”
[p.184] Melvin J. Ballard9 called for, and received, a unanimous vote of confidence in the approach the committee had taken, which provoked Joseph F. Smith III to protest, “I don’t care at all about a vote of confidence, but members of this Board—not only one, but two or three—have specifically asked me if papers that have been presented here have been written by members of the committee, and it has come to me indirectly that I may have written one or two of them, and it didn’t fit very well.” Whereupon, the meeting adjourned.
A week later, the badly divided boards met to hear Widtsoe’s final report of the MIA Survey Committee. Copies of the report, signed by all of the YLMIA committee members and half of the YMMIA representatives—John A. Widtsoe, Oscar A. Kirkham, George Q. Morris, and George R. Hill—were distributed. Axel A. Madsen,10 Arthur L. Beeley, E. E. Ericksen, and Herbert B. Maw had not signed.
Widtsoe explained that the committee had averaged two meetings a week for eight weeks to refine the January report. The recommendations were adopted “after careful consideration and according to the best judgment of the committee.” Elsie Brandley read the report. The proposed purpose of MIA began with an adaptation of Brigham Young’s 1875 mandate:
Let the key-note of your work be the establishment in the youth of individual testimony of the truth and magnitude of the great latter-day work; the development of the gifts within them that have been bestowed upon [p.185] them by the laying on of hands of the servants of God; cultivating a knowledge and an application of the eternal principles of the great science of life.
The Widtsoe report added that MIA was to “help the members win happiness” by teaching “correct life activities.” A part of this was the direction of recreational activities. And while the ultimate aim of MIA was the same as all other church organizations, “the method of attaining it is different.” For example, Sunday School was a school of theology; MIA “is a school of applied religion.”
Officers and teachers were to be selected with reference to their fitness as indicated by “their acceptance of the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith—that is, they must be real Latter-day Saints.”
Manuals would introduce “more spirituality” into all courses, being “built around a Gospel framework. A text, such as might be used in schools or other secular institutions, would be unacceptable for MIA purposes because of the absence of Gospel correlation. A universal, modern point of view should be adopted in MIA study courses. The Gospel is for all people, and the law of progress makes necessary new applications of eternal, unchanging truth.”
The report recommended eliminating contests as obsolete and unfair. Maw objected. Basketball was an integral part of the M Men program and had proven successful in attracting young men. A general discussion ensued, focusing on “what we mean by spiritualizing our program, especially the activities.”
The following week, on 21 March, Ericksen “informed the Board that he thought our MIA objectives were not clearly enough stated” and submitted a substitute proposal. First, he objected to the proposed connection between recreation and testimony. “To attempt to create an ‘individual testimony of the truth and magnitude’ of Mormonism out of a [p.186] basketball game … is entirely futile and moreover may defeat the very purposes which they now serve.” Then he challenged the emphasis on testimony as an end rather than as a means. A testimony should be “instrumental to higher and more ultimate values,” specifically “the development of personality, the love of truth, of beauty and of righteousness.” Otherwise, a testimony may actually impede spiritual progress. “With many good folk, the search for the good life ends with a testimony.”
Nor was “happiness” an appropriate goal; happiness was a by-product. “The MIA is more concerned with the kind of life that gives happiness than with happiness as an end in itself.”
His proposed goals were: love of truth, love of beauty, love of virtue, and the development of goodness. They should be cultivated through “frank and free discussion” of scientific, religious, historical, and philosophical subjects and a varied program of literature, music, art, dramatics, dance, and scientific study. These objectives, he said, were “in the highest sense” spiritual and eternal and would provide a basis for cooperation with virtue-loving non-Mormons. “We may accomplish more if we magnify common spiritual objectives than if we exaggerate differences” (EFP).
Beeley also read a paper asserting the central aim of the church was to facilitate “an increasingly abundant life for all of its members, by promoting a society organized for the active pursuit of goodness (righteousness), truth and beauty, as the ultimate social values of greatest importance.” Since Sunday School was responsible for theological and religious instruction, MIA should cater to the physical, intellectual, emotional, and creative needs of its members.
A lengthy discussion ensued, and the Survey Committee’s report was referred to the executives for further study. On 11 April, on the recommendation of the superintendency, several of the report’s original [p.187] proposals were approved. On 2 May the MIA slogan for the year was adopted: “By my actions I will prove my allegiance to the Church.”
In June concern about orthodoxy was again raised. Some board members asked whether “some men in authority and members of this board are teaching false doctrine to the young people of the Church. Mention was particularly made that in some classes at the U of U, the faith of our boys and girls is being considerably weakened by such teachings.” Ballard stated that if necessary board members would be interviewed by the superintendency and asked to express themselves candidly before the board.
In November a committee consisting of university students was appointed to investigate means of appealing to students through MIA. Herbert Maw, Henry Beal, Lyman L. Daines, Joseph F. Smith III, Arthur Beeley, Claire Dorius, and Hazel Brockbank were asked to serve on the committee with the students.
Ericksen resumed attendance at board meetings the following week on 14 November 1934. The executives had approved the tentative outline for the new Senior manual, “LDS Community Life: The High Road to Better Things,” by Joseph A. Geddes. At the end of the meeting Ericksen requested permission to address the board. With the consent of the executives, he recalled the “rather heated controversy” over the Widtsoe report “in which he took the attitude that all members of the committee were wrong and that he was right, adding that he referred to this group as a rubber stamp committee.” Ericksen expressed his “regret at having made such a remark” and for days had wished there were
some way to mend this act. He said that he deeply and sincerely wished to beg the pardon of this committee and [would] do anything possible to rectify the wrong that had been done.
Superintendent Smith, in behalf of the Boards, expressed appreciation to Brother Ericksen for his fine attitude, and stated that the incident [p.188] was now considered past history and that any ill feelings shown were now moved aside. Brother Smith added that Brother Ericksen had done more than he could have expected of anyone, and that he was deeply grateful for his fine attitude.
Oscar Kirkham moved that Smith’s sentiment be recorded as the feeling of the entire board, and the motion carried. But George Morris was not satisfied. He recalled that during the controversy “remarks were made, as had never been done before, which were a personal attack on Dr. Widtsoe.” He wanted Ericksen to “clean this matter up with Brother Widtsoe.”
Ericksen replied that his relationship with Widtsoe was “most satisfactory,” adding that Widtsoe “had always supported and even befriended him at the U.” Ericksen “was not aware of any personal matter which should cause ill feeling toward Dr. Widtsoe and [added] that he did not recall just what he did say but that he was very much depressed on that evening and only felt that the church and Dr. Widtsoe had not given due consideration of matters which he had been so diligently working on for years.”
Superintendent Smith commented that “Brother Ericksen’s expression had included everything that was said.”
Ten weeks later, on 23 January 1935, David O. McKay, second counselor to President Heber J. Grant, entered the board room to announce that for some time it had been evident that members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve would have to be released from their positions on auxiliary boards to fulfill their other assignments and to protect their health. This new policy necessitated the release of the YMMIA superintendency, and it was deemed appropriate to allow the new leadership to select their own board members. Consequently, all board members were extended an honorable release. McKay read a [p.189] lengthy letter from the First Presidency commending the board for its accomplishments and conveying the presidency’s appreciation for their efforts. Arthur Beeley rose to heartily endorse the action: “I think it is one of the soundest things that could have been done.… I do not flatter myself in thinking that I would be asked to be on the new board. I would rather not. In the interest of the work I think that it is very, very important that new blood be injected into this great program.”
The action of the First Presidency was then sustained by the board. Superintendent George Albert Smith was at home ill, but his two assistants, Richard R. Lyman and Melvin J. Ballard, expressed their appreciation for the work of the board and their concurrence with the release.
Ericksen spoke at length:
Brethren, I would like very much to be permitted to express myself just as I feel tonight. I generally say too much and there is a sort of reaction afterwards, but this is our last meeting, I take it, and why not reveal our innermost feelings and thoughts? In the first place, may I confess that the ten or twelve years I have been associated with the Board have been if not the richest, among the richest experiences of my life. I agree with what Brother Joseph [Fielding] Smith said last night that he has enjoyed this group better than any other. I confess that. At the U we are hired men on an intellectual level and little jealousies prevail. But here we are on a plane of service. We are at our best and I assure you that that has been an inspiration to me.
Brethren, I have occasionally said things rather impulsively and sharply. I have been ashamed of a lot of things I have done, but down in my heart I have had a deep love for my associates. Brother Lyman called attention last night to the method Brother George Albert Smith has employed in dealing with this Board. It has been a method of love, beyond all question of doubt. A rigid, authoritarian, autocratic method is unnecessary in a cause of this sort. His method has been one of love. I love George Albert Smith deeply, [p.190] as I do his associates, Brother Lyman and Brother Ballard. And from sources that I feel are entirely reliable, I learn the fact that these men have fought [for] my cause, and I certainly appreciate it.…
I believe those of you who will be chosen to continue this work will have problems that we have not heretofore faced.… Thousands of youths, many LDS, are attending high schools and colleges and they are influenced by one great ideal—the use of their God-given intelligence to be critical in a fine sense. Now these youths are brought into the service of the MIA cause and they are reacting to methods employed. Two possibilities are before us. One would be to refuse to carry over the spirit and attitude and method of their college training into this work and deny them the opportunity of expressing and discussing their views. There is a grave danger there. On the other hand, these youths may come in under a leadership such as we have enjoyed here and be encouraged to express themselves and may be converted through an intelligent and sympathetic handling of their problems.…
I do not expect to function here in this work. I am reasonably certain that this channel for service is closed for reasons that I do not propose to even suggest. You know them very well. But I hope that I shall find other channels in which I can express my religious enthusiasm. I believe I have religious enthusiasm, and it has been tremendously increased during the years I have been on the Board. I was almost resentful when Brother Lyman remarked two or three times at the beginning of my work that I was brought in here to be saved, for I wanted to feel that I had a mission also to help others. That perhaps is the greatest value of my experience on the Board. I know now that there is greatness, true greatness within the Church, which is expressed in terms of fine, deep, loyal sympathies, which has been the spirit of this Board during the years I have served; and I pray that that spirit will continue. God bless us in our work. I appreciate from the bottom of my heart the opportunity I have had to associate with you men. I hope these ties will continue as long as we live.
[p.191] Other board members spoke, many expressing their appreciation specifically for Ericksen. Everyone knew that his church service had come to an end. The YMMIA general board remained disorganized from 24 January to 10 April 1935, when Albert E. Bowen, formerly of the Sunday School board, was appointed superintendent, with George Q. Morris and Franklin West as his assistants.[p.192]
3. Joseph Fielding Smith III (1899-1964), son of Hyrum M. Smith and grandson of Joseph F. Smith; professor of speech, University of Utah; patriarch to the church (1942-46); released as patriarch in 1946 due to “ill health.”
4. Nicholas G. Smith (1881-1945), son of Apostle John Henry Smith, former LDS mission president in South Africa (1913-21), member of YMMIA board; manager of Mountain States Telegraph and Telephone; president of the California mission following his release from the YMMIA board; assistant to the quorum of twelve (1941-45).
5. George R. Hill (1884-1971), Ph.D., Cornell (1912); married Elizabeth Odette McKay, daughter of David O. McKay; former dean of agriculture, USAC (1915-25); agricultural researcher; served on Sunday School board (1926-35) and in general superintendency of the Sunday Schools (1949-66).
7. Franklin S. Harris (1884-1960), B.S., BYU (1907); Ph.D., Cornell (1911); professor of agronomy, USAC (1911-16); director, Experimental Station, USAC (1916-21); president, BYU (1921-45); chairman, Siberian colonizing project of the Jewish Colonization Organization of Russia (1929).
9. Melvin J. Ballard (1873-1939), graduate, BYC (1894); businessman and music teacher, BYC; Logan bishop (1900-06); Northwestern States Mission president (1909-19); YMMIA General Board (1919-22), second assistant to Superintendent George Albert Smith (1922-35); apostle (1919-39).