Spencer W. Kimball Journals Now Accessible

Jeffery Anderson and Brandon Metcalf, Church History Library
15 February 2023

President Spencer W. Kimball’s personal journals are now accessible online through the Church History Catalog—learn how to find and view them. 

In 1975, President Spencer W. Kimball taught the Latter-day Saints: “Get a good notebook […] a journal that will last through all time, and maybe the angels may quote from it. Begin today and write in it”; he also wrote that “[t]hose who keep a personal journal are more likely to keep the Lord in remembrance in their daily lives.”1,2 Indeed, throughout his long ministry as an Apostle and as Church President, Spencer W. Kimball taught frequently about the blessings of keeping a journal.

President Kimball practiced what he preached. For more than 60 years, he kept a detailed journal. Standing next to each other, the 44 physical volumes of Kimball’s journals stretch over ten feet. According to Church Historian Elder Kyle S. McKay, “President Kimball’s journals are some of the best in Latter-day Saint history. Just as Wilford Woodruff’s amazing journal chronicles nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint history, Spencer W. Kimball’s journal gives tremendous insight into the history of the Church in the twentieth century.”

We are pleased to announce that President Kimball’s journals have been digitized and are now available in the Church History Library catalog under call number MS 21541.

Spencer Woolley Kimball was born in Salt Lake City on March 28, 1895. He spent his youth in Thatcher, Arizona, working on his family’s farm and attending school. From 1914 to 1916, he served a mission to the Central States Mission before returning to Arizona, where he married Camilla Eyring in November 1917. After working several years as a bank clerk, he ran a real estate and insurance business; during this time, he also served as stake president of the Mount Graham Stake. Later, he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles during the October 1943 general conference. He would serve in the Quorum of the Twelve for thirty years until December 30, 1973, three days after the passing of Harold B. Lee, when Spencer W. Kimball became President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His 12-year presidency was marked by a rapid growth in membership and temples, the restructuring of the Seventy, new editions of the scriptures, and the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.

Throughout his life, President Kimball endured numerous health challenges, including throat cancer, which drastically changed his voice, and a recurring peptic ulcer that ultimately proved to be fatal. He died on November 5, 1985. After President Kimball’s death, his extensive journals remained in the custody of his family until 2008, when his family donated them to the Church History Library with the request that they be prepared for release to the public after appropriate review.

President Kimball’s journal keeping began as a young boy. He first wrote some brief journal entries in 1905 when he was ten years old. After a lapse of a few years, he returned to his journal a few months before serving as a missionary in the Central States Mission in 1914. There is another gap in the journals between 1919 and 1930, after which he resumed writing regularly until 1981. He filled his journals with daily occurrences from his years living in Arizona, as well as entries made during his service as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Spencer W. Kimball (back row, second from left) at the time of his call to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1943. Also pictured are (back row, L to R) Ezra Taft Benson, Harold B. Lee, Albert E. Bowen, Charles A. Callis, Joseph F. Merrill, John A. Widtsoe, Richard R. Lyman, (front row, L to R) Stephen L. Richards, Joseph Fielding Smith, George F. Richards, and George Albert Smith.

President Kimball continued journaling after his call as President of the Church in 1973. As the demands of serving as Church President mounted, however, his journaling output slowed, and he ultimately stopped keeping his own journal in early 1977. During this time and onward, his personal secretary, D. Arthur Haycock, kept an office journal which is not part of this collection. President Kimball’s son Edward L. Kimball took notes from the office journal for the years 1977 to 1981 which he added to his father’s journal. Edward’s additions to his father’s journal include his own commentary, as well, sometimes in square brackets. Thus, beginning in 1977, entries in the Spencer W. Kimball journals consist of Edward’s notes rather than President Kimball’s personal journaling.

Most of the 44 journals are typed, and many pages include underlining, usually in red pencil with brief annotations and marginalia written in his distinctive hand. Journal entries made as an adult often went beyond a textual description of daily events; they more closely resemble a scrapbook. He frequently gathered and pasted in newspaper clippings, inserted correspondence, and incorporated notes throughout the journals. If he visited Latter-day Saints outside the United States, he often included clippings from local newspapers or other items related to his visit.

A journal entry from March 12, 1956, describing the dedication of the Los Angeles California Temple.

Preparing President Kimball’s journals for public release was a complex process, as his day-to-day work dealt with confidential subjects which appear in journal entries, like meetings with individuals in private settings—counseling sessions, for instance—and sacred topics. Additionally, the newspaper clippings that President Kimball added to his journal remain under copyright. Thus, in preparing the Spencer W. Kimball journals for public release, employees of the Church History Department reviewed all entries for content that is sacred, copyrighted, or could potentially violate someone’s right to privacy. Due to the huge quantity of journal pages, it has taken several years since the journals’ donation for them to be ready for access.

The collection is open and accessible to the public. Due to the presence of copyrighted material in the collection—primarily newspaper clippings—visitors will need to log in with a free Church Account to view the digitized images. Generally, stories from the journals remain visible, and only names or other personal information identifying individuals has been redacted.

We are very grateful to the Kimball family for their donation of the journals and to the Church History Library staff who were involved in preparing the journals for release. They are an invaluable Church history resource, and it is an honor to be able to present them for researchers’ use.

Top image: Spencer W. Kimball addressing the Saints in Jackson, Mississippi, May 4, 1980.