Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » A Photograph: Southern States Missionaries

A Photograph: Southern States Missionaries

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 04, 2011

These missionaries didn’t need engraved name-badges to alert everyone to their status as Mormon missionaries. Elders like those in this picture (whose identity may be known to someone, although not to me), with their bowler hats and their umbrellas and grips, often called on my family in the early 20th century. Grandma used to say that the first notice her family had of the arrival of the missionaries was a loud “thunk” as they threw their grips on the porch as loudly as they could, and called “Mother! We’re here!”



  1. That’s beautiful. Love those bowler hats. Any idea of the identity of these two fine gentlemen?

    Comment by Researcher — January 4, 2011 @ 7:36 am

  2. These two must look like the missionaries that first baptized my great-grandmother and her father back in 1901 in Kentucky. Now you can’t go to a branch or ward in Kentucky without meeting at least one (or sometimes several) cousins of mine. Literally hundreds of descendants who never went out to Utah, but have built a small but strong faith community in Kentucky.

    Comment by Syphax — January 4, 2011 @ 8:23 am

  3. Love your blog, wish I knew who the misssionaries are. Have missed seeing you. Rea @ CHL

    Comment by Rea Skelton — January 4, 2011 @ 8:40 am

  4. Is there any additional information? Date? Location?

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2011 @ 9:04 am

  5. Sorry, I don’t have any further information. It looks like a studio backdrop so could have been a little exaggerated in that they are deliberately posing to look alike, although their equipment would naturally have already been similar.

    Let this be a lesson [she said as she put on her stern schoolmarm look]: Identify your photographs! Interview Mom and Dad or whoever else is around and write down what they tell you about your family pictures! Do it!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 4, 2011 @ 9:20 am

  6. I’m looking at this photo and I can’t help thinking about what I see. Journals describe how they had to carrry their grips with them, but these aren’t exactly how I pictured them. I thought a bit larger based on how they complained about the weight. And the umbrellas are a given. We carried ours everywhere in Hong Kong, though ours usually folded up into our “grips”.

    I noticed the shoes of one elder are either new or newly shined, though his grip is obviously more worn.

    Is the facial hair a clue to the period. Perhaps the 1920’s

    Comment by Bruce Crow — January 4, 2011 @ 9:42 am

  7. As long as we’re looking at details — The man on the left is wearing a homemade, or at least cheaply made, suitcoat. See how it puckers instead of drapes smoothly? That means either that it was cut with the grain of the fabric not quite straight, maybe to fit the pattern onto a narrower strip of fabric than really should have been used, or else that it’s missing the kind of interfacing that would have helped make up for that awkward hang.

    I’ll bet those leather grips were heavy enough empty. Pack in a few books and tracts, a change of shirt and underwear, and I’d hate to have to carry it in my hand all day. Carrying the weight in a backpack is so much easier, isn’t it?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 4, 2011 @ 10:07 am

  8. My grandfather served in Texas as part of the Southern States Mission, but in 1900/1901, apparently much earlier than these pictures. However, he talks in his journal about all the endless walking all over southern Texas, 15 to 20 miles in a day, wearing his suit and carrying a “grip”. That would be exhausting, I suspect. His missionary picture is just a head shot, no bowler hat, and can’t see what else he might have had, but he probably didn’t look much different from this.

    Comment by kevinf — January 4, 2011 @ 11:12 am

  9. I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to find photos of other Southern States Missionaries, but here is a photo of a Central States Mission conference that I posted on my blog this morning. The date was not specified, but it was between 1915 and 1918.

    The suits are similar, but the lapels are much longer on the Central States missionaries. Lots of bowties, but also some neckties. Many of the missionaries seem to be wearing their hair slicked back. It is hard to tell how the missionaries in the photo above are wearing their hair, but the only moustaches I see in the Central States mission seem to be on older gentlemen.

    I just pulled out my big Jarvis genealogy book. A lot of the 19th century missionaries are wearing Prince Albert coats, so that is no help, but it seems like they switched over to suit coats and lapels got shorter toward the end of the century.

    My guess would be turn-of-the-century, about the time kevinf’s grandfather was in Texas.

    Comment by Researcher — January 4, 2011 @ 11:49 am

  10. I expect that this was after the first decade of the twentieth century. According to Alexander (Mormonism in Transition, 217), during that first decade:

    The church’s policy on dress and literature caused some additional expense for missionaries. Church rules did not allow missionaries to wear suits and ties; they were expected to don a Prince Albert coat and top hat. Some of the Twelve opposed such a “uniform” as it singled out the missionaries for persecution and constituted a sizable financial burden. The majority disagreed.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 4, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  11. I need to correct myself. My grandfather served in the Southwestern States Mission, not Southern States Mission. The Southwestern States Mission apparently later became the Central States Mission.

    Comment by kevinf — January 4, 2011 @ 12:23 pm

  12. Awesome photo.

    Syphax, are there any historical documents (diaries, letters, oral histories, reminiscenses, privately-published family histories, etc.) about your family’s experience as Latter-day Saints in Kentucky in the early 20th century?

    Comment by Christopher — January 4, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

  13. The right shoe of the Elder on the left looks like it has been resoled or glued together along the edge.

    Comment by Jpaul — January 4, 2011 @ 8:09 pm

  14. Interesting note about the missionary dress code, J. I wonder if that was uniform across the different missions.

    I suppose a good source would be the Latter-day Saint Images series from Keepa. On the earlier pictures I see some Prince Albert coats but can’t otherwise differentiate lapel length. Okay, here we go. 1908. The missionaries in Belfast, Ireland, seem to be wearing Prince Albert coats. The missionaries in Hawaii and Mexico seem to be wearing a combination of Prince Albert coats (in the clear minority) and coats with short lapels.

    1910 shows a real mixture of coat styles including Prince Albert, long lapel and short lapel. A picture of missionaries in the Northern States Mission shows all 13 missionaries looking dashing in matching Prince Albert coats and dark bow ties. But that didn’t seem to be standard. And there are four New Hampshire missionaries in matching bowler hats!

    Okay, so I’ve revised my estimate. I would be surprised if the picture was post-World War I, but I wouldn’t be surprised at a date in the mid 1910s.

    Comment by Researcher — January 5, 2011 @ 8:31 am

  15. Posting this photo was an exercise in laziness on my part — I thought we’d all smile and say “Oh, how quaint” and that would be that. Can I just say that I love the conversation that has developed?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 5, 2011 @ 8:47 am

  16. I found a few items in the Liahona regarding dress for the Southern States missionaries (first decade of the 1900s).

    The September 1903 issue published a set of rules and regulations adopted by a conference of presidents in the Southern States mission. Rule 8: “The elders should be dressed in neat, dark suits. Straw hats may be worn in summer and Derby hats are recommended in winter. Shirts and ties should be neat and suitable for our profession” (p. 3).

    In 1905, the mission ordered tailor-made suits in an attempt to establish a uniform dress for the elders. “The cloth is a beautiful dark color, medium weight and serviceable; the coats, sack-shape and strictly up to date in every particular, making the clothes suitable either for field or home service.” Apparently the suits turned out to be less than suitable, and the mission offered to replace them for free.

    The September 1, 1905, issue included this note from the field: “The elders of the mission are counseled to adopt the derby hat from now on. This will produce a uniformity among the missionaries, which is greatly desired, besides which they are more durable.”

    The February 15, 1906, issue featured items of instruction given by President Ben E. Rich at a meeting of conference presidents. One item of instruction, titled “Proper kind of clothing to wear,” stated: “Elders should be particular about their appearance. They should be dressed in neat, dark suits, and derby hats; shirts and ties should be suitable for their clothing” (p. 201).

    Comment by Justin — January 6, 2011 @ 9:36 am

  17. I know this is a stretch, but there is a small chance that the puckered look the Elder on the left had was part of the issue that made the suits less than suitable. (sorry about the puns. I couldn’t help it.)

    Comment by Bruce Crow — January 6, 2011 @ 10:08 am

  18. Justin for the win yet again! Those are wonderful clips (and I will study my hats so that I never again call a derby a bowler. Derby. It’s derby.)

    I wonder too, Bruce. It’s certainly cheaply made (compare the difference in their shoulders, too), and you’d expect expense (or lack thereof) to be a major factor in a choice to have them mass-produced for the missionaries.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 6, 2011 @ 10:28 am

  19. I love Justin.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 6, 2011 @ 11:02 am

  20. Unless you’re in England, in which case a derby is a bowler, and when you’re in Derby…

    Comment by Clark — January 6, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  21. Another item of instruction printed in the February 15, 1906, issue was titled “Folly of Purchasing Cheap Clothing” (p. 199). I won’t quote the unfortunately worded counsel here. (There is also a nice photograph of office elders and conference presidents on p. 198.)

    Comment by Justin — January 6, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

  22. Oh. My. I’m reading along, wondering if “‘Cheap John’ establishments” is a slur I should be concerned about … or maybe it’s the “cheapness is next to nastiness” remark … and then, Oh. My.

    That *is* a nice picture, too. Hard to tell about jacket length since they’re sitting, but they’re wearing the same short lapels of our photo.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 6, 2011 @ 2:52 pm

  23. I also found a photograph of two missionaries serving in Mississippi that is dated to 1897. They wear the Prince Albert coat.

    Comment by Justin — January 6, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  24. While I can’t justify the second phrase, “cheap john” is fairly innocuous.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 6, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

  25. Looking at what they wore in the photos (thanks Justin for the Mississippi missionary photo) and thinking about the wonderful southern heat and humidity, all I can say is those missionaries better be well rewarded in the next life.

    Comment by Steve C. — January 7, 2011 @ 1:40 pm

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