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“A Preparatory School of Intensive Teaching and Training”: The Church’s First Missionary Home

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 27, 2010

Further to part of our discussion in the comments here about the Salt Lake Missionary Home and its location at various eras, I found this article written by the Home’s first president, LeRoi C. Snow, published in the May 1928 Improvement Era, discussing the earliest history of the Home. It was concise enough, and packed with such detail, that I’ve chosen to post it as is. We might have some fun considering how that first Missionary Home was both like and unlike the current training given at the Missionary Training Center. Or, knowing Keepa’s regulars, we’ll have some fun regardless of what direction the comments go.

The Missionary Home

By Elder LeRoi C. Snow

Practically all who are called to represent the Church as missionaries come first to Salt Lake City. Here they receive instruction, go through the temple, are set apart by members of the Council of the Twelve or the First Council of Seventy, arrange for transportation and leave in groups for their mission headquarters. This policy has been followed for many years.

The original purpose of the Missionary Home in Salt Lake City was to be a place for outgoing missionaries to stay during the two or three days required for this preparation. The Home has since developed into a two weeks’ preparatory school of intensive teaching and training, for the benefit of all missionaries.

For a number of years, Bishop David A. Smith had recommended the establishment of such a home for missionaries. Approval by the First Presidency was given in May, 1924. The following month, the writer was appointed to be in charge of the Home, under the direction of a supervisory committee, which was soon afterwards named: Bishop David A. Smith, chairman, Axel A. Madsen and Harold G. Reynolds. The residence at 31 North State street was selected and extensive alterations and additions made, requiring nearly eight months to complete. In the meantime, the supervisory Committee was reorganized thus: Elder David O. McKay, who had just returned home after presiding over the European mission, chairman, President Rulon S. Wells and Bishop David A. Smith.

President Heber J. Grant dedicated the Home February 3, 1925. On March 4, the first group of missionaries arrived, and the class work began the next day, with five elders, continuing for one week. January, 1926, the course was increased to a period of two weeks.

During the two weeks, seventy-one classes are held, beginning with devotion each morning at 7 o’clock. These classes are conducted by more than thirty instructors, among whom are a number of the Church Authorities. The work covers instruction in the gospel, Church organization, the standard Church works, English and foreign languages, singing, genealogy, priesthood and auxiliary work, personal health and hygiene, gymnasium exercises and swimming, table etiquette and manners. By courtesy of the Salt Lake Transportation Company, the missionaries are taken on a sightseeing trip around the city. They attend the organ recital at the tabernacle, after which they join the party of tourists in a visit of the Bureau of Information, the museum and the buildings and grounds in the temple block, and listen to Elder Joseph S. Perry’s splendid lecture to the tourists.

In addition to the class instruction, the missionaries are trained, during their stay in the Home, in proper association, dignified conduct, personal appearance, dress, cleanliness and neatness, order, punctuality and are urged to eliminate from their lives all “light mindedness, loud laughter,” etc.

We try to have them apply these teachings in their lives because they know it is the right thing to do, not because they are compelled to do it. Their acceptance of the call is voluntary – not compulsory. We want them to accept the training at the Home entirely in this same spirit.

The great majority who report at the Home are earnest and sincere and filled with a desire to do their very best. They adjust themselves readily to the program and requirements of the Home and profit much from the classes. Many have been active in Church service in their wards and stakes, have a college education and are prepared to represent the Church in a dignified, creditable and able manner. We all might well be proud of this army of devoted and faithful messengers of truth.

The information which the missionaries receive in the classes is very important, and they are greatly improved by the training in proper conduct. I believe, however, that the greatest good accomplished by the Home is in helping them obtain the missionary spirit. This most of them do. The degree to which they obtain this missionary spirit depends largely upon the attitude of the individual missionary himself. The three visits to the House of the Lord, the close contact in classes with so many leading men and women (Elder David O. McKay, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, President Rulon S. Wells, President Levi Edgar Young, Bishop David A. Smith and others), concentrating their minds and interest for two weeks upon the work of the Lord, their blessings by the patriarch and those who set them apart, their secret and devotional prayers, expressing themselves before their associates – all these experiences result *in increased faith and strengthened testimonies in God’s great latter-day work.

Many, during their stay at the Home, perhaps in the temple, or during their visit on the temple block, or in some of the classes, have been thrilled as never before in their lives. Their hearts have been touched, their understandings opened, and God has given them a testimony of the divinity of his work. When this spirit and understanding come upon them, they want to tell of their happiness and can hardly wait for the opportunity to preach the gospel and to bear witness of its truth. This is the missionary spirit and most of the elders and sisters who report at the Home receive it before they leave. Though they may be serious and feel their responsibility on arrival, the work at the Home makes them realize this responsibility much more.

Until the spring of 1927, many of the classes were held in the Y building of the L.D.S. high school [L.D.S. University, across the street from the temple] and in the Bishop’s building. Another building, just north of the Home, was then added to give additional sleeping rooms and a fine class room. We can now accommodate sixty elders and twenty women missionaries. There are, frequently, groups of this size. The smallest group this year, forty-one, has just left the Home.

Since the work began, nearly three thousand young men and women have passed through the Home on their way to the mission field. These representatives of the Church are the cleanest, sweetest and finest young people in all the world. They are young, their average age being less than twenty-one years. There are more than two thousand of them now out in the world. They have the sacred and tremendous responsibility of “preaching the gospel to every kindred, tongue and people.” The greatest joy that Sister Snow and I have felt in our labors at the Home has been our acquaintance and association with these thousands of splendid boys and girls, winning their confidence and helping to make them happy in their work. We have made friendships which will last through life. About a thousand have completed successful missions, and have returned happy and satisfied. It has been a great pleasure to welcome them back. This is another purpose of the Home, where returning missionaries may stay a few days and mingle with those who are preparing to leave.

The great good accomplished by the Missionary Home thus far is but a beginning. its effectiveness will continue to grow and its fine influence will be felt more and more, both in the mission field and here at home.



20 Comments »

  1. Justin has linked to some newspaper articles on the “wrecking ball” thread, and this one describing the Missionary Home and its fittings and plans in 1925 is especially relevant here, too.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 27, 2010 @ 8:08 am

  2. “The residence at 31 North State street was selected [for the Missionary Home].”

    Aha! So, this explains better why the place is always called the missionary “home” — it didn’t just house the missionaries passing through, but structurally it was a residence. (Sorry for those of you out there who already knew that.)

    I’m glad for this follow-up article, Ardis. Thanks. (What’s with all that sight-seeing and swimming that Elder Snow mentions?! No fair.)

    Comment by David Y. — July 27, 2010 @ 9:35 am

  3. I was spinning on this quote, “the missionaries are trained… in proper association, dignified conduct, personal appearance, dress, cleanliness and neatness…”

    I wonder if the the missionary etiquette lessons could compare to the Young Ladies instruction in those topics that have been posted on this blog over the last few weeks?

    Comment by Clark — July 27, 2010 @ 9:43 am

  4. I don’t know how they squeezed in so much during those two weeks, David, but I’ll betcha the touring they did was less for the entertainment of the elders than it was to familiarize them (especially the farm boys from outside of the Salt Lake area) with what tourists saw so that they could converse more intelligently. “I visited Utah once” would have been a natural point of contact with travelers, and the contemporary accounts I read suggest that “Utah and Her People” was a common theme for firesides and other public programs.

    As for the swimming, though, like you I can’t twist that into anything like a proselyting function!

    Clark, when I was in the MTC (Jan-Feb 1982), we all, elders and sisters, had lessons in manners, especially table manners, including some that were specific to our particular missions. Those of us going to French-speaking Europe, for instance, were actually introduced to escargot and taught how to extract them from the shell (and braced for the chewiness of their texture — yum!), as well as what combinations of rhythmic fingersnaps and claps to avoid because of what they would signal to certain classes of Europeans. It was at least as detailed as the table manners and clothing lessons in those 1902 YL etiquette lessons. Do they not give that kind of instruction at the MTC anymore?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 27, 2010 @ 10:25 am

  5. Very interesting. I’m not from SLC so I’m not sure where all this took place in town. When I attended the Mission home in SLC in 1971 we met at an old school across from the RS building (layfette (sp) School)? We stayed there for 3 days with classes and a trip to the SLC Temple, 2 sessions with a 2 hour meeting with Harold B. Lee and dinner at the Hotel Utah. English speaking Missionaries went to their assignments, the rest of us went to the BYU Language Training Center. First and only time I’ve been to SLC but they did let us go see the Spoken Word broadcast. Now there are training centers around the globe.

    Comment by Mex Davis — July 27, 2010 @ 10:31 am

  6. I cringe when I imagine the quality of escargot being served at the MTC. Was it really any better than awful?

    the close contact in classes with so many leading men and women (Elder David O. McKay, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, President Rulon S. Wells, President Levi Edgar Young, Bishop David A. Smith and others)

    The contrast between the level of contact between the missionaries and church leaders at this time (and decades thereafter) and the level of contact today at the MTC stands out to me.

    Comment by Justin — July 27, 2010 @ 10:43 am

  7. They didn’t actually serve us escargot, Justin, just demonstrated extracting the meat and tipping up the shell to drink the garlic butter, accompanied by the suggestion that we practice chewing pencil erasers to prepare for the texture.

    They served us “escargot” in the mission home in Geneva the first night I was there, and, as I recall, I was the only one brave enough to actually try it. After all that getting up of my courage, I was grossly disappointed to discover they had stuffed the shells with chicken instead — I had to summon the courage again later to try it for real. Actually, I loved it and enjoyed it every time I had a chance to have it. Ditto everything I was ever served in France, except for the raw ham at Christmas. Even the novelty of burning sparklers indoors couldn’t make up for the disgustingness that is raw ham.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 27, 2010 @ 11:15 am

  8. Perhaps I can stretch the swimming to proselyting if the swimming took place in the Great Salt Lake, as another natural point of contact with travelers. Wasn’t taking a swim in the lake more common then?

    On our first night at the mission home in Hong Kong we had chicken feet. Yumm!

    Comment by Bruce Crow — July 27, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

  9. Maybe the few days’ instruction at the missionary home would have stopped a certain Elder Parrish, on his way to Switzerland a year before the missionary home opened, from this night of “preparation” along the way:

    Oct. 30. [1924] Montreal. [5]

    Arrived here at Seven o’clock this morning. Hired a Horse, buggy and driver and set out to
    see the town, saw many wonderful Catholic churches. Had my first taste of real Scotch whiskey. Went to a dance tonight. Everybody smoked. Most of the people are French.-

    Don’t the missionaries regularly hear from General Authorities at the MTC? We heard from several–President Lee answering questions in the Solemn Assembly Room in the temple, Elder LeGrand Richards preaching for an hour without taking a breath to the whole room full of missionaries, come to mind. Of course, it wasn’t an intimate gathering–not with 500 missionaries filling the room.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 27, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

  10. They didn’t actually serve us escargot, Justin, just demonstrated extracting the meat and tipping up the shell to drink the garlic butter, accompanied by the suggestion that we practice chewing pencil erasers to prepare for the texture.

    LOL. That’s classic.

    Comment by Justin — July 27, 2010 @ 3:59 pm

  11. Ardis, thanks for jogging a memory loose with comment #4. They did give us a hour-long class (out of 2 months) on cultural issues, including the advice to never use the “shave-and-a-haircut” rhythm to knock a door in Mexico.

    Comment by Clark — July 27, 2010 @ 4:08 pm

  12. We got some sort of lessons about the culture of Japan at the LTM in Laie–but I suspect most of those were promptly forgotten, along with everything else we had ever learned in our entire lives, when we arrived in that very foreign land.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 27, 2010 @ 4:29 pm

  13. Do they not give that kind of instruction at the MTC anymore?

    I remember our Spanish-speaking district got thrown into a couple of culture classes with other Spanish-speaking districts. The problem was that our district was comprised of missionaries going to deep South America, a Caribbean country, and a stateside mission.

    Hard to teach culture/dialects/what to avoid to large groups comprised of 8-10 different countries…

    Comment by queuno — July 27, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

  14. Ardis, do you know the identity of the former owners of the residence (31 N. State)?

    Comment by Justin — July 28, 2010 @ 5:47 am

  15. Not offhand (other than that they were daughters or granddaughters of Brigham Young), but I know someone (two someones) who probably do. I’ll ask and get back to you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2010 @ 6:23 am

  16. I second Mark B. We had more GAs teaching (talks) us than you can believe. We also had a 2 hour meeting in the SLC Temple with President Lee (Pres. Smith was ill). Funny part about the GA visits was I sat on the back and most of the local Elders were sleeping while I was from the Mission Field so I was excited to see these men. I asked some of the Missionaires why they were sleeping, most said that the GAs were either their uncles, old Bishops, Scout Masters, etc. That was wierd to me. I was in a whole new world. We did our own endowments there at the SLC Temple, totally unprepared and filled with wonder.

    Comment by Mex Davis — July 28, 2010 @ 9:53 am

  17. I, too, would be interested to find out the identities of the residents of 31 N. State when the Church bought/took over the property.

    Comment by David Y. — July 28, 2010 @ 11:12 am

  18. Randy D., who knows everything there is to know about the buildings and physical layout of early Salt Lake City, tells me that the Young descendants who owned the houses that became the Missionary Home were three daughters and a son of Brigham Young:

    27 N. State: Myra [Shamira] Y. Rossiter
    31 N. State: Clarissa Y. Spencer
    41 N. State: Heber Young
    49 N. State: Maria Y. Dougall

    Maria Y. Dougall was still living in her house into the 1930s, so 49 North wasn’t added to the Missionary Home until much later than the others. Also, 27 North (the one in the pictures with the two storied square porch) had been earlier used as an annex to the Beehive House when that building was being operated by the YLMIA.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 28, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

  19. Crrrrrrack! [balls sails out of the park]

    You’ve done it again, Ardis. Thanks for that wonderful follow-up.

    Comment by David Y. — July 29, 2010 @ 3:50 pm

  20. This has been very interesting. I didn’t go on a mission so I didn’t attend the Mission Home. But, my husband did in 1958. I went into SLC one day and met him and we went for lunch. Another day we got on a city bus and rode out to Cottonwood for dinner with his family. Things were quite lax then. He remembers the GA’s talking to the missionaries and the lesson on how to lead the singing. Nothing was said about him leaving with me those two times.

    Then, two years and three months later, we got married. After the ceremony, we were having pictures taken in front of the beautiful gardens at Hotel Utah (now Joseph Smith Memorial Building). The missionaries walked by, returning to the Mission Home after having lunch in Hotel Utah. They assumed that he was a missionary too, because of the suit, I guess, and THEN they razzed him about being with me instead of going back to the home with the missionaries.

    Comment by Maurine — July 30, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

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