John A. Widtsoe

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John A. Widtsoe
John A. Widtsoe2.jpg
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
17 March 1921 (1921-03-17) – 29 November 1952 (1952-11-29)
Called by Heber J. Grant
LDS Church Apostle
17 March 1921 (1921-03-17) – 29 November 1952 (1952-11-29)
Called by Heber J. Grant
Reason Death of Anthon H. Lund; Anthony W. Ivins added to First Presidency
Reorganization
at end of term
Adam S. Bennion ordained
Personal details
Born John Andreas Widtsoe
(1872-01-31)31 January 1872
Frøya, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway, United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway
Died 29 November 1952(1952-11-29) (aged 80)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000 (Salt Lake City Cemetery)
Nationality Norwegian
Spouse Leah Dunford
Parents John and Anna Widtsoe

John Andreas Widtsoe (/ˈwɪts/; 31 January 1872 – 29 November 1952) was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1921 until his death. Widtsoe was also a noted author, scientist, and academic.

Early life[edit]

Widtsoe was born on the island of Frøya in Sør-Trøndelag, Norway. At birth his hand was attached to the side of his head but he survived the operation to fix this problem.[1] When Widtsoe was two his family moved to the Norwegian mainland city of Namsos. His father, also named John, died in February 1878. This left his mother Anna as a widow with two young sons to take care of: Widtsoe, who was then five, and his little brother Osborne Widtsoe.[2] After this the family moved to Trondheim. Here his mother was introduced to the LDS Church by a shoemaker.[3]

In 1883, Widtsoe immigrated to the United States with his mother and brother. They made it to Utah Territory in mid-November.[4] Widtsoe was baptized a member of the LDS Church the following April.[5]

Education[edit]

Widtsoe graduated from Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah. He then attended Harvard University graduating with honors in 1894.[6] He served as the head of the agricultural experiment station at Utah State Agricultural College. He married Leah Dunford, a granddaughter of Brigham Young. She held a degree in home economics and the two of them worked together in extension efforts. He taught farmers better farming skills and she taught their wives how to better utilize what they got from the farm.

In 1898, he was ordained to the office of a seventy and set apart to do missionary work in connection with his studies in Europe. He entered the University of Göttingen, Germany, and after applying himself diligently to his studies he graduated from that institution, with the degrees of A. M. Ph.D. in 1899. For part of his time in Europe, Widtsoe lived in Switzerland. The police wanted proof that he and his wife were married, and since they had neglected to bring their wedding license they got married a second time.[7]

Academic career[edit]

Widtsoe ca. 1920

In August 1900 Widtsoe became the director of the Agricultural Experiment Station at what is now Utah State University.[8] While in this position he founded The Deseret Farmer with Lewis A. Merrill and J. Edward Taylor. Their goal was to have it be a popular magazine that would be read and implemented by the actual farmers.[9]

In 1905 Widtsoe was dismissed from the agricultural college as a result of political debates about its future and President William Jasper Kerr's feeling that Widtsoe was insufficiently supporting him.[10]

For a short time he was a professor of agriculture at BYU, and is arguably the founding father of Brigham Young University's college of biology and agriculture. On BYU campus the John A. Widtsoe building is the home of the College of Biology and Agriculture. Soon, however, he returned to Logan to succeed Kerr as president of Utah State University from 1907 to 1916. He also served as the president of the University of Utah from 1916 until his call as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1921. Widtsoe was the fifth Commissioner of Church Education from 1921 to 1924 and was the seventh commissioner from 1934 to 1936.

During his time as an apostle Widtsoe taught a religion class at the University of Southern California.[11]

Federal government work[edit]

For two years in the 1920s Widtsoe lived in Washington, D. C. where he supervised the reorganization of the Federal Bureau of Reclamation.[12]

Service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles[edit]

Widtsoe was closely associated with the Improvement Era even before he became an apostle. Widtsoe was associate editor of the Era from 1935 until 1952.[13][14] While editor of the Era, in the words of Parrish, Widtsoe "directed its growth from a magazine primarily for the youth to the voice of the whole Church".[15] One of Widtsoe's employees while at the Improvement Era was Hugh Nibley, who he convinced to become a professor at Brigham Young University.[16]

Widtsoe was also part of the Genealogy committee of the church, being one of the main people behind the implementation of the Temple Index Bureau.[17]

Missions to Europe[edit]

In 1923 Widtsoe accompanied Reed Smoot on a journey to Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries, during which they secured recognition and opened the way for missionaries of the church to return to these lands.[18]

From 1926 until 1932 he served as president of the European Mission. While in this office, Widtsoe convinced the First Presidency to call a separate president of the British Mission, so that the European Mission president could assume his duties as the supervisor of all the missions in Europe. While president of the European mission, Widtsoe dedicated Czechoslovakia for the preaching of the gospel, and worked closely with Arthur Gaeth in starting the mission there.

Marriage and writings[edit]

Widtsoe married Leah Dunford, a daughter of Susa Young Gates, who was a daughter of Brigham Young. Widtsoe worked closely with his wife and mother-in-law in their writing of a biography of Brigham Young. It is this relationship that caused Widtsoe to complete a book on the teachings of Brigham Young. John and Leah also wrote a book entitled The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation. This book advocates eating healthy food as part of the Word of Wisdom, although not as a required portion that should be lived in order to get a temple recommend.

Besides the Teachings of Brigham Young, Widtsoe was also the lead compiler of Gospel Doctrine: Selections from the Sermons and Writings of Joseph F. Smith, Sixth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Widtsoe also wrote A Rational Theology as Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which has been cited by later LDS authors such as J. Reuben Clark.[19] Another book of Widtsoe's was Evidences and Reconciliations, which was actually a compilation of his Improvement Era writings, which were his answers to the questions on matters of faith he received most often.[20] In this work, Widtsoe admits that there are multiple interpretations that Latter-day Saints can hold on issues. One example is his explanation of the creation of the earth: he points out that faithful Latter-day Saints hold the six-day, six-thousand years, and undefined-period interpretations of the creation. Although he gives by far the most space to the explanation of the unknown-period interpretation, he does not rigidly contest for any of these interpretations.

Widtsoe also wrote Priesthood and Church Welfare and Priesthood and Church Government, both published in 1939. His work The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants was published after his death, after having been edited by his son-in-law G. Homer Durham. Widtsoe wrote Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon: A Collection of Evidences with Franklin S. Harris, Jr.

Widtsoe wrote Joseph Smith: Seeker After Truth Prophet of God. It was published in 1951, and later reprinted by Bookcraft in 1957. It begins with an account of the first vision and goes all the way to Joseph Smith's martyrdom at Carthage.[21] Another work by Widtsoe on Joseph Smith was Joseph Smith as Scientist: A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy published by the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association in 1908. In 1944, his essay "The Divine Mission of Joseph Smith" was included in Handbook of the Restoration published by Zion's Printing and Publishing Company in Independence, Missouri.[22]

Widtsoe wrote two autobiographies. The first, In the Gospel Net, largely focused on his mother's conversion to the church. The second, In a Sunlit Land, told the story of his later life, and also included explanations of his educational philosophy.

Another book by Widtsoe was Dry-Farming: A System of Agriculture for Countries Under a Low Rainfall (New York: MacMillan Company, 1920). He also served as a co-author of Dodge's Geography of Utah.

Hymns[edit]

He wrote numerous works, including a hymn "How Long, O Lord Most Holy and True" which appears as hymn #126 in the current LDS hymnal.

Death[edit]

Widtsoe died in Salt Lake City, Utah, of uremia; he also had prostate cancer for a number of years before his death.[23] He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery.

Adam S. Bennion was called to the Quorum of the Twelve after Widtsoe's death.

Grave marker of John A. Widtsoe.

Published works[edit]

  • Widtsoe, John A. (1906). A Concordance to the Book of Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Sunday School Union. 
  • —— (1908). Joseph Smith as Scientist: A Contribution to Mormon Philosophy. Salt Lake City, Utah: General Boards Young Men's Mutual Improvement Associations. 
  • ——; William Peterson (1908). Dodge's Geography of Utah. Chicago: Rand, McNally & Company. 
  • —— (1911). Dry-Farming: A System of Agriculture for Countries Under a Low Rainfall. New York: Macmillan. 
  • —— (1914). The Principles of Irrigation Practice. New York: Macmillan. 
  • —— (1915). Rational Theology: As Taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: General Priesthood Committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
  • Skanchy, Anthon L. (1915). John A. Widtsoe, ed. Anthon L. Skanchy: A Brief Autobiographical Sketch. Salt Lake City, Utah. 
  • —— (1918). Western Agriculture. St. Paul, Minn.: Webb Publishing Co. 
  • ——; Joseph F. Smith (1919). Gospel Doctrine. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News. 
  • —— (1925). Discourses of Brigham Young. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co. 
  • —— (1928). Success on Irrigation Projects. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 
  • —— (1930). In Search of Truth: Comments on the Gospel and Modern Thought. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book. 
  • ——; Franklin S. Harris (1935). Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon: A Collection of Evidences. Independence, Missouri: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co. 
  • —— (1936). Program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Department of Education of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 
  • ——; Leah D. Widtsoe (1937). The Word of Wisdom: A Modern Interpretation. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book. 
  • —— (1939). Priesthood and Church Government in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book. 
  • —— (1939). Current Gospel Questions. Salt Lake City, Utah: General Boards of the Mutual Improvement Associations. 
  • —— (1941). In the Gospel Net: The Story of Anna Karine Gaarden Widtsoe. Independence, Missouri: Zion's Printing and Publishing Co. 
  • —— (1943). Your Questions Answered. Salt Lake City, Utah: General Boards of the Mutual Improvement Associations. 
  • —— (1943). Evidences and Reconciliations: Aids to Faith in a Modern Day. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft. 
  • —— (1945). Man and the Dragon and Other Essays. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft. 
  • —— (1947). Gospel Interpretations: More Evidences and Reconciliations. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft. 
  • —— (1947). How the Desert was Tamed; A Lesson for Today and Tomorrow. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book. 
  • —— (1949). The Articles of Faith in Everyday Life. Salt Lake City, Utah: Young Men's and Young Women's Mutual Improvement Associations. 
  • —— (1951). Joseph Smith: Seeker After Truth, Prophet of God. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft. 
  • —— (1952). In a Sunlit Land: The Autobiography of John A. Widtsoe. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Press. 
  • ——; G. Homer Durham (1969). The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants. Salt Lake City, Utah: Bookcraft. 

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lawrence Cummins, “John A. Widtsoe—Master Teacher,” Friend, May 1990, 48.
  2. ^ Parrish, Alan K. John A. Widtsoe: A Biography. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003) p. 17
  3. ^ Parrish. Widtsoe. pp. 20–23
  4. ^ Parrish. Widtsoe. p. 28
  5. ^ Parrish. Widtsoe. p. 38
  6. ^ Durham, G. Homer. "Foreword" to Widtsoe, John A. The Message of the Doctrine and Covenants. (Salt Lake City, Utah, Bookcraft, 1969) p. v
  7. ^ Widtsoe, John A. "In A Sunlight Land"
  8. ^ Parrish. Widtsoe. p. 121
  9. ^ Parrish. Widtsoe. p. 547
  10. ^ Parrish. Widtsoe. p. 135
  11. ^ Parrish. Widtsoe. p. 535-545
  12. ^ Parrish, Alan K. "John A. Widtsoe" in Garr, Arnold K, Donald Q. Cannon and Richard O. Cowan, ed. Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 2000) p. 1343
  13. ^ Garr et al. LDS History. p. 1343
  14. ^ Parrish. Widtsoe, p. 548
  15. ^ Parrish. "Widtsoe" in Garr et al. LDS History p. 1343
  16. ^ Peterson, Boyd. Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2002)
  17. ^ Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994 (Provo: BYU Studies, 1995) p. 98
  18. ^ Garr et al. LDS History. p. 1343
  19. ^ Clark, J. Reuben. Behold the Lamb of God. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1962)
  20. ^ see Evans, Richard L. "Introduction" to Widtsoe, John A. (arranged by G. Homer Durham) Evidences and Reconciliations. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1960)
  21. ^ Widtsoe, John A., Joseph Smith: Seeker After Truth Prophet of God. p. ix, x, 1
  22. ^ item found on Bookcraft's Infobase
  23. ^ State of Utah Death Certificate

External links[edit]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints titles
Preceded by
Melvin J. Ballard
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
March 17, 1921–November 29, 1952
Succeeded by
Joseph F. Merrill
Academic offices
Preceded by
William Jasper Kerr
President of Utah State University
1907-1916
Succeeded by
Elmer George Peterson
Preceded by
Joseph T. Kingsbury
President of the University of Utah
1916–1921
Succeeded by
George Thomas