New Items in the Church History Library’s Foundations of Faith Exhibit

    Keith A. Erekson, Church History Library director
    11 February 2020

    In this post Library Director Keith Erekson describes exciting new additions to the Foundations of Faith exhibit at the Church History Library to celebrate the bicentennial of the First Vision.

    The Church History Library has recently placed several new items on display in its Foundations of Faith exhibit. Accounts of the First Vision; a handwritten letter from Joseph Smith to his wife, Emma; and Wilford Woodruff’s journal are among the items that make the Church’s organization and growth relevant to visitors today. A newly revised online version of the exhibit makes the materials available digitally.

    As part of the bicentennial celebration in 2020, the exhibit features original records of the First Vision. Our understanding of history is always enriched when we consider the insights from multiple accounts of past events. During his lifetime, Joseph Smith repeatedly testified that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him, taught him about individual redemption, and instructed him about the kingdom of God on the earth. The exhibit displays three of the four accounts prepared by Joseph Smith: his personal history (1832), his journal (1835), and a longer history (1838–39) that was eventually included in the Pearl of Great Price. It also presents two of the five accounts prepared by Joseph’s contemporaries during his lifetime: a pamphlet by Orson Pratt (1840), which was the earliest published account, and a pamphlet by Orson Hyde (1842). See the Gospel Library for clear text versions of Joseph’s four accounts, and see the Joseph Smith Papers website for versions of all nine accounts with scholarly annotations.

    The exhibit now also presents a handwritten letter from Joseph to Emma, penned in Liberty Jail on March 21, 1839. After three and a half months of unjust imprisonment, Joseph informed his wife of “an Epistle” that he dictated for members of the Church that has come to be known as the “Letter from Liberty Jail,” portions of which were published in Doctrine and Covenants 121, 122, and 123. Joseph also asked about the needs and comfort of his wife and family. This letter is one of only about two dozen surviving letters written in Joseph’s handwriting.

    The exhibit now contains a fragile volume of Wilford Woodruff’s journals. Woodruff began writing a daily journal shortly after joining the Church in 1833 and continued writing until his death in 1898. The resulting 31 volumes constitute one of the most significant records of the history of the Church. The volume on display is open to the entry for April 6, 1893, the date he dedicated the Salt Lake Temple. High resolution images of all of Woodruff’s journals are available in the Library’s online catalog. Progress in the current renovation of the Salt Lake Temple may be followed at

    High resolution images of all documents displayed are available online, together with descriptions and links to additional material in a newly revised online gallery. The gallery also contains images and descriptions of documents previously displayed that have been removed for conservation reasons.

    The Church History Library is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., with extended hours on Thursday evening until 8:00 p.m. Guests may navigate the visit with a self-guided pamphlet or accompanied by a helpful host. Arrangements may also be made for group visits that include special downtown parking and a historical presentation and discussion. Admission to the Library and exhibit is free, and the public is welcome.