Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Problems of the Age: Preface

Problems of the Age: Preface

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 14, 2010

While it is easy to find early 20th century series of lessons and articles aimed at women and girls, teaching them what it meant to be a Mormon woman and how to dress, behave, talk, eat, walk, socialize, dance and travel, it is far more difficult to find similar lessons instructing men in their personal responsibilities and individual duties outside of the formal duties of the priesthood.

Instead of personal instruction, formal lessons for men, young and old, tended to be intellectual: they discussed political, social, and religious topics far more than personal or family subjects. One example of such a series of lessons was published in 1917-1918, of which this post is the preface.

The published articles were intended for discussion, not instruction. There is no claim that the positions presented reflect Mormon doctrine or belief in any way. The author had to occasionally remind men who objected to his political views that they were free to disagree, but to disagree with evidence and reasons. Disagreement was to be used to encourage reasoning and logical thinking.

I will no doubt end up posting all of the discussions, but rather than post them in the order in which they were presented to the YMMIA, I’d like to first post those dealing with topics that you are curious about. If any of these topics catch your interest, please say so in the comments. I’ll add links to this list as each discussion is posted.


I. An Interpretation of the War
II. The Ashes of the World’s Conflagration
III. The World’s Leveling Processes
IV. The Spirit of Destruction
V. Religion and the War
VI. Conservation of Life
VII. A Real Danger to the Middle Class
VIII. Value of Child Life
IX. Co-Operation
X. Extravagance
XI. Inequalities a Besetting Sin of Present Day Life
XII. The Future of the Holy Land
XIII. The Reaction of War Weapons on Civil Life
XIV. Intemperance
XV. A Pleasure Loving Age
XVI. Financial Respectability
XVII. Survival of the Fittest
XVIII. The New Education
XIX. The Home
XX. Woman’s World
XXI. Dependent Mothers
XXII. Sexual Life
XXIII. Divorce
XXIV. Race Suicide
XXV. Race Suicide (continued)
XXVI. Music
XXVII. Dancing
XXVIII. The Theater
XXIX. Heredity
XXX. Eugenics
XXXI. Back to the Land
XXXII. Back to the Land (continued)
XXXIII. Fast Offerings
XXXIV. Business Life
XXXV. The Negro Question


Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.

A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.

By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner


I am asked to write on some of the vital problems of the age. At the outset I anticipate a criticism that many of the chapters of this book will be considered pessimistic. Problems are problems because they have two sides, and because they presuppose, in our social and economic systems, a need of reformation; they are problems also because they carry certain dangers with them. If this were an age of optimism we should have few or no problems for discussion.

About the only real optimism which we can safely entertain is the optimism of hope that things somehow and sometime will come out all right. It is our chief duty at present, however, to pursue remedies to thwart evils which every thoughtful person must realize are threatening the social and economic systems of the world.

War has its evils but war is also a revelation of a multitude of existing evils that have brought it about. We are, therefore, on the threshold of a period of reconstruction. As a people we believe sincerely that the wisdom of this world is insufficient to met the great demands of the future. Hereafter the world must take God into their confidence and consider seriously the revelations which he has given for our guidance. Only a very few of these revelations are referred to in this book because of the limitations put upon it.

The contents of these chapters are not exhaustive. They are rather intended as a basis for the discussion of present conditions of life which constitute a problem for all thinking men. The classes for whom these chapters are intended will have, therefore, from their own experience and reading, abundant illustrations to supplement that which the author has written. The problems contained in these discussions are the living issues; they are very serious issues that confront us.

Furthermore, we live in an age when the most serious troubles confront us, and as a people we may well begin the work of reconstruction that has been prepared for us by revelation. It is time to set our houses in order and prepare fore the colossal work which peace will bring to us as a people and to the world at large.

If I have drawn a dark picture of many aspects of the world today, I rest in the consolation that nothing has been said in this book which, in my thoughts, is not justified by the revelations which God has given through the Prophet Joseph Smith tot he world. The revelations in the book of Doctrine and Covenants truly give us the most serious warnings of God’s judgments which are to come, and “come quickly,” he has told us. If there are those who think I have been excessively pessimistic, let them read the words of God contained in the revelations printed in the Doctrine and Covenants. They are my best defense. – J. M. Tanner



  1. The whole series was written by Joseph M. Tanner? Even without seeing any of these chapters, I can’t imagine that any one would be able to claim that he was not amazingly opinionated.

    It might be worth mentioning who he was and his qualifications for writing this. (Is having five wives sufficient qualification for writing a chapter on “Sexual Life” and two chapters (!) on “Race Suicide”? Were his son’s later business ventures what he was thinking of in “A Real Danger to the Middle Class”? Could he have possibly been thinking of his wife Annie’s “tell-all” memoir when he penned the chapter “Dependent Mothers”?)

    Comment by Amy T — September 14, 2010 @ 8:02 am

  2. I definitely think that employers giving tacky jewelry and awards to people for slaving away at some lousy job for years might in fact qualify as a real danger to the middle class. As to whether five wives would better qualify one to write on those other subjects–I suppose it would be best to see what he had to say.

    It’s interesting that he twice refers to the period as one of incipient reconstruction. Assuming that he wrote the preface at latest in the summer of 1917 (and if the course was for the 1917-1918 year, I think we can assume that), I think he’s a bit premature in his optimism. (Unless he was imagining a “reconstruction” following a victory by the Central Powers.) The entry by the U.S. into the Great War in April 1917 had not had any practical effect by summer of that year–other than awakening some hope in the western allies–but neither victory nor a swift conclusion to the war would have seemed near that summer.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2010 @ 10:11 am

  3. Wow,

    Where to begin? The Negro Question? Race Suicide? Eugenics? Plus all the stuff on war.

    Yes, I’d say he sounds pessimistic. So how about “A Pleasure Loving Age”, although I really suspect that it is just as pessimistic as most of the rest of these titles. And I can’t wait to hear what he has to say on a “Woman’s World”.

    I’ll plead ignorance on who Joseph M. Tanner was, but it is sounding like he might be the father of O. C. Tanner? Any more information on Dr. Tanner might be helpful.

    Comment by kevinf — September 14, 2010 @ 10:27 am

  4. Typically, when we use the word “opinionated” regarding a person, we mean “someone with an opinion different than our own.”

    Comment by Stephen Taylor — September 14, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  5. Everything I know about Joseph M. Tanner I learned on this blog, on Wikipedia, and at

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2010 @ 11:09 am

  6. Precisely, Stephen.

    Gasp. You’ve never read A Mormon Mother, Mark B.?

    (Hmm. I wonder how often the book is actually read.)

    Comment by Amy T — September 14, 2010 @ 11:22 am

  7. I’ll put in my votes for Race Suicide, Music (does he go after jazz?), Dancing, Heredity, Eugenics, and The Negro Question.

    Comment by Justin — September 14, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  8. It might be that Brother Tanner’s opinions don’t jive well with modern sensibilities, but surely it is better for a man to be opinionated rather than empty-minded. A man can be opinionated and open-minded at the same time. I look forward to reading the articles as a window into the times they were written.

    Amy T, it is easy to mock those who aren’t here to defend themselves, and even if he were here today, he also might benefit from modern sensibilities. But he is dead, and it is possible that he is awaiting a glorious resurrection and exaltation. I do not believe our God will hold a few improvident opinions against a man, and will judge every man according to his opportunities and times. So I can’t sneer at Brother Tanner’s opinions or writings — he might be my neighbor in the next life.

    Comment by ji — September 14, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

  9. I’m most interested in numbers 20 through 30 and the last one. Some really interesting topics!

    Comment by J. Stapley — September 14, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  10. Sigh. Do we have to be serious, ji?

    Okay. I can do serious. Joseph Marion Tanner was the son of Myron and Mary Jane Mount Tanner. He was the grandson of early Mormon converts John and Elizabeth Beswick Tanner.

    Joseph Marion Tanner served as a missionary in Europe and the Middle East, including Turkey and Palestine. After he returned from his mission, he served as the principal at a college in Utah before he enrolled as a law student at Harvard.

    He returned to Utah before finishing his degree. He served for several years as president of Utah Agricultural College (USU) and then as Commissioner of Church Education. He served a an officer of the Deseret Sunday School Union for a number of years. He was a prolific writer. He had five wives, including Annie Clark Tanner, whose memoirs were published as the book A Mormon Mother. I don’t have a copy of A Mormon Mother and haven’t read it for a number of years, but I seem to remember that Annie was rather critical of her husband and the institution of polygamy.

    Joseph had 25 (?) children. He and Annie were the parents of O.C. Tanner, the Utah professor, businessman, and philanthropist. O.C. Tanner may have been as prolific an author as his father.

    And almost every Tanner I have ever known has been extremely opinionated. I sometimes even agree with some of them. : )

    Comment by Amy T — September 14, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  11. “…but surely it is better for a man to be opinionated rather than empty-minded.”

    No, not really.

    Am I allowed to mock and sneer those who are on the thread?

    Comment by Chris H. — September 14, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  12. Amy T,

    I think that creating O.C. Tanner might make up for a lot. 🙂

    Comment by Chris H. — September 14, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  13. No, Chris, lest I smite thee with mine own mockery. Quail in fear before my mighty typer-fingers!

    I have a sneaking suspicion that Amy T knows more about Brother Tanner than the rest of us put together and has probably read more than a little bit of his writing — I should have asked you to write something to accompany this post, Amy.

    Once we have a sample or two of his opinions, we’ll all be in a better position to evaluate them and our reaction to them. I’ll put up one tomorrow for starters (along with something lighter for those who will find this series a little too heavy).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 14, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  14. I am trembling. I bow to your authority, oh, great Ardis.

    Comment by Chris H. — September 14, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

  15. I’m interested to hear what an early 20th-century writer had to say about these topics:
    XIX. The Home
    XX. Woman’s World
    XXI. Dependent Mothers

    That’s right, Chris H., no opinionated mocking allowed. You’ll have to work on trying to achieve the status of having an empty head, instead![grin]

    Comment by David Y. — September 14, 2010 @ 3:20 pm

  16. Ardis, you could liven things up considerably by running the Sex lesson about once a week.

    And Chris H., you may sneer all you want, but you’d better “sneer at” those on the thread. Start dropping prepositions and no telling where it’ll lead. Some illiterate will start saying he “graduated high school.”

    Comment by Mark B. — September 14, 2010 @ 4:25 pm

  17. Mark: I have never let grammar get in the way of my snark. Not sure why I would now.

    Comment by Chris H. — September 14, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

  18. TWO chapters on Race Suicide? Wow. I’m kinda’ scared to look… but at the same time, how can you not?

    Comment by Martin — September 14, 2010 @ 6:13 pm

  19. Annie Clark Tanner is often read for an understanding of polygamy. In fact I have recommended A Mormon Mother to those interested in a practical view of polygamy. But I have often wondered about Joseph’s side of the story. I wish he had written his feelings concerning the personal relationships and life in his family. I think his son O. C., like Annie, did not like him very much. Never-the-less, he is very important in the history of Mormonism’s intellectual community. I am looking forward to Amy’s account.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — September 14, 2010 @ 11:27 pm

  20. Oh, Jeff, I don’t know how much more I could say about Joseph M. He led a fascinating life, but I wouldn’t have access to enough resources to write a post about him.

    I’ve read his mother’s writings, and his wife’s, and his son’s, but I couldn’t remember if I had read anything of Joseph’s until I looked in the John Tanner book (John Tanner and His Family, by George S. Tanner, 1974) and saw that Joseph wrote the rather distinctive biography of his father Myron which is included in the Appendix.

    There is a short biography of Joseph in the back of his mother’s book A Fragment: The Autobiography of Mary Jane Mount Tanner. It is available through the University of Utah Marriott Library. See pages 210-214.

    Joseph was an intelligent, energetic man, and must have had quite an influence on education in Utah. He was an associate of Karl Maeser, and when Maeser died in 1901, Joseph became the Commissioner of Church Education. He served in that position until, as his biography in his mother’s autobiography so delicately puts it, he “fell into disfavor with church officials” after two post-Manifesto marriages. At that point, he moved to Canada and spent the next 15 years farming and writing extensively for the Improvement Era and Sunday School. He also wrote a biography of John Riggs Murdock who led five “Down and Back” companies.

    Joseph died in 1927 at the age of 68.

    His son, O.C. Tanner, or Obert Tanner, as he was known in academic circles, arranged the editing and publication of his mother’s and grandmother’s writings. Those two books are an important contribution to the social history of Utah and to an understanding of some of the practical aspects of the institution of polygamy.

    I would love to read more about Joseph’s mission. I don’t know if he left an account of his three and a half years in Europe, Turkey and Palestine in the 1880s, but it must have been an amazing experience.

    And I will be very interested to see what he had to say about the topics listed in the original post.

    Comment by Amy T — September 15, 2010 @ 4:59 am

  21. Amy: thanks for your summary of Joseph’s life. He was a very complex and interesting person. I want to reread those things you suggested to see if I can find Joseph, himself. I have been looking for an article I once read comparing the careers of Joseph Mount Tanner and Howard S. McDonald who followed Church doctrine and become polygamists and with the careers of James E. Talmage and Reed Smoot that did not, but later became leaders in the Church and apostles. Tanner and McDonald were pushed to the fringes of the Church while Talmage and Smoot were rewarded for not following the counsel of their leaders. I know I read the article, but cannot find where it is published.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — September 15, 2010 @ 8:07 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI