On September 9, 2019, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from around the world will remember the 95th birthday of Church President Russell M. Nelson. He has lived a remarkable life full of dedicated service to his family, his profession, and the Church.
He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1924, six years after the end of World War I and five years before the stock market crash of 1929. The world was changing, and the Church was growing.
To understand a person, it is important to understand the world they lived in—the context of their life. What can we learn about the Church and the world in 1924 from records kept at the Church History Library? How can you use these sources in your own research?
About the Church
Many resources at the library contain statistical information about the Church in 1924. Church membership, temples, leadership, and missionary work have all changed dramatically between the year of President Nelson’s birth and the year he became President of the Church.
Leadership of the Church
In 1924 the President of the Church was Heber J. Grant, who served in the position from 1918 to 1945. He kept the Church solvent through the depression, oversaw the beginning of the modern welfare program, and shared the message of the Church with the world, changing the perception of Latter-day Saints abroad. Clarissa Smith Williams was the president of the Relief Society organization, Martha Horne Tingey was the president of the Young Women Mutual Improvement Association, and Louie Bouton Felt was the president of the Primary (she had been serving since 1880).
David O. McKay was superintendent of the Sunday School, and George Albert Smith was superintendent of the Young Men Mutual Improvement Association, both while serving as Apostles. In 1972 Russell M. Nelson would become the first leader of the Sunday School to carry the title of president.
The Church History Library has compiled information on researching Church leadership in a research guide titled Leaders of the Church. It provides key collections to identify and study Church leaders past and present.
Typing “1924” into the database search bar brings up the profiles of the roughly 800 missionaries serving that year. From the database we learn that two missions were formally closed in 1924. The Turkish Mission was renamed the Armenian Mission, and the Japan Mission was closed due to the slow progress of missionary work in the region.
The missionary database contains information on the early missionary work of the Church. It covers the years 1830 to 1930, with profiles for individual missionaries and entire missions of the Church.
In 1924 articles in The Relief Society Magazine and The Young Woman’s Journal payed tribute to Elizabeth Claridge McCune, who passed away that year. McCune was a prominent resident of Salt Lake City. She spent her life in Church service and is credited with being the inspiration for the calling of single sister missionaries in the Church.3 The Church printed several publications in 1924, including the Millennial Star. Printed in Liverpool, England, and translated into a few European languages, it was written specifically for the Saints living outside of Utah.
Most Church periodicals are available digitally. The articles in these newspapers and magazines provide context for events in the Church, doctrine, and information about Church culture and Church programs.
The general conference held in October of 1924, shortly after President Nelson’s birth, proved historic, as it was the first time that general conference was broadcast by radio. President Heber J. Grant began conference proceedings with the following remarks:
“The exercises of today and throughout the conference are to be broadcasted; and it is estimated that in the neighborhood of a million people will be able to hear all that is said, provided they are listening in during the conference sessions. The radio is one of the most marvelous inventions man knows anything about. To have the voice carried for thousands of miles seems almost beyond comprehension.”4
Conference reports recorded the business and discourses of conference sessions from 1880 and 1897 to 2017. These reports were printed and distributed to Church members around the world and reflect the topics important to the Saints in a given time. They are the predecessors of the Ensign and the online sessions now accessible to anyone.
In this chronological compilation of historical documents, on September 9, 1924, an article from the Salt Lake Tribune reported on the Church’s intention of building seminary buildings at local high schools and providing religious instruction during the school day. Other events of note in the year 1924 are the advent of 24-hour air mail in Salt Lake City and the preservation of stones remaining from the Nauvoo Temple.
The Journal History of the Church is a daily history covering 1830 to 2008. It is like a scrapbook created from newspapers, minutes, diary entries, and other sources. Through the records in the Journal History you can identify important milestones in the Church, changes in Church organizations, and unique events happening in Utah and abroad. The collection has also been indexed by name and place.
On September 9, 1924, the headline story on the front page of the Deseret News was all about the gubernatorial election results in Maine. “As goes Maine, so goes the nation.”5 From the 1830s to the 1930s Maine had the reputation of being the predictor of presidential elections, much like Iowa today.
Newspapers are like a time capsule of any given day in the past. More and more newspapers are being digitized and are often accessible through a basic internet search. The Church History Library has microfilm copies of the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune.
Other avenues for researching a moment in time include photographs, journals, and local Church records. These are available in the Church History Catalog. Type the material type and the year in the search bar to see what you can find—for example, “photographs 1924.” Read “More on Local Records” for information about records kept by local congregations.
We honor the prophet when we celebrate the day of his birth and understand the progress of the Church over the course of his lifetime. What can you learn about your ancestors or other Church figures from studying the year they were born?