Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Temple Innovation, 1922

Temple Innovation, 1922

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 29, 2014

Late in 1922, Joseph R. Shepherd, president of the Logan Temple, circulated a letter through the wards of the Cache and Logan Stakes, addressed to the Saints in those places “who are interested in Temple Work.”

Dear Brethren and Sisters:

After due consideration, and consultation with the Presidencies of the Cache and Logan Stakes of Zion, it has been decided to inaugurate at the Logan Temple a night session once a month, thus giving an opportunity for all those whose labors and duties prevent them attending the Temple in the day time, of taking part in that most important and sacred duty committed to the Church in this dispensation, viz., ordinance work for the dead; therefore, commencing Wednesday evening, November 1st. there will be a night session held on the first Wednesday in the month, to which, all those who are eligible, and who find themselves unable to attend in the day time, are invited, together with their wives and husbands.

It is especially desired that the leading authorities of the Stakes and wards will avail themselves of this opportunity, and a special invitation is extended to Stake Presidencies, High Councillors, stake Clerks, Presidencies of High Priests, Seventies and Elders Quorums, Bishoprics and Clerks of Wards, Stake Presidencies of Auxilliary organizations and genealogical Workers. Let us make the opening session a representative one, and we will then be assured of a veritable spiritual feast.Only endowments for the dead will be given at these sessions.

Bring records of your own kindred, if you have them, if not, you will be supplied at the Temple. If possible, bring your own Temple clothing; if you cannot do this, you can rent it at the Temple. Present your recommends, properly signed, at the door.

Recording will commence at 6.00 o’clock, and the session close at from 9:30 to 10.00 o’clock.

That this action will meet with the hearty support of the Saints, and prove a blessing to both the living and dead, is the sincere prayer of your brother in the Gospel.

I think there may have been evening sessions at the Salt Lake Temple before this date, but I’m still trying to pin that down.

For months now I have been seeking to identify the “little” changes — changes that had nothing to do with doctrine, but merely with practice — that allowed the Church to function throughout the world in the 20th century. Recognizing that so many Latter-day Saints had become employees of commerce and industry, less in control of their working schedules than they had been in a more agrarian age, and making concessions to the reality of that change, was one more step in modernizing the Church and preparing it to spread throughout the earth.



  1. I’ve had a question about “recording will commence at …” Sorry, I should have explained.

    That was the 1922 equivalent of getting the name for whom you are acting as proxy in the temple. Today it’s computerized. Back in the day, the Temple Recorder had to make a handwritten entry in his ledger of the name of the deceased, his birthdate, your name, the date of the ordinance, and whatever else the temple ledger called for (that required information changed a little over time). If it was a name already in the temple files, the Recorder had to assign it to you; if it was one of your grandparents’ names that you brought with you, he had to write all the information down. That took a lot of time when done by hand and done for an entire temple company.

    So this line in the announcement just lets people know when the Recorder will be on duty to begin that work.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 29, 2014 @ 8:00 am

  2. If the session was expected to finish by 9:30 or 10:00 p.m., how much of that time after 6:00 p.m. would have been spent waiting for things to get started?

    Another question: had the proxy work been divided up between initiatory ordinances and the endowment at that time, or would each person receive those ordinances that evening, before the start of the session?

    Your comment sheds some light on a Salt Lake City family that I have a distant connection to–my grandmother’s aunt and her husband provided a home to my grandmother while my grandfather served in the army in 1917-1918. The aunt’s husband spent his entire working life, until his early death from a heart ailment, as a clerk in the temple recorder’s office. I have a better idea now of how he would have spent his days there.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 29, 2014 @ 8:50 am

  3. Mark, I don’t have a clear idea of those developments — paging J. Stapley! — but I *think* the ordinance then would have included everything after baptism and before sealing. The endowment itself was longer then, too (how much, I don’t know), so there wouldn’t have been as much waiting around between 6:00 and the beginning of the session as it might seem today. Still, up to four hours between doing the paperwork and concluding the session makes for a long evening, doesn’t it?

    One other duty that may have been part of your relative’s clerkship in those years might have been accounting for payments received and payments due for people who needed help doing all the work for their own families and people who received small payments for helping to fill someone else’s responsibility. The Recorder also added ordinance information to Family Records (official church-produced genealogical record books) that patrons left at the temple for completion, and which clerks would then mail back to owners. I have also seen a lot of correspondence to and from temple presidents of that era, where people asked for information about previous work, or asked questions about which deceased people they could work for, or what temple hours were, or whether clothing was available for rental, so a clerk might also have handwritten or typed some of that correspondence. I’ll bet there were lots of other duties that a clerk might have had in those years.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 29, 2014 @ 9:32 am

  4. I thought I had remembered reading something about evening sessions, and I found this from Alexander’s Mormonism in Transition, p 299:

    “In 1911 the Salt Lake Temple opened for one session per day on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for endowments and sealings and on Mondays and Tuesdays for record taking and baptisms for the dead. By February 1913 the single sessions had become so crowded that the First Presidency and Twelve decided to open the temple for two sessions per day….
    By January 1923 the Salt Lake Temple was opened for one session on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings, making nine sessions per week”

    Comment by Left Field — January 29, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  5. Let me put on my broken record again: Ardis, you really should write a book on the evolution of modern LDS practices during the 20th century, with a particular emphasis on 1900 through about 1960. I think it would be both valuable and fascinating.

    Comment by bfwebster — January 29, 2014 @ 10:16 am

  6. Thanks, Left Field. I’ve read Mormonism in Transition several times — I just can’t juggle all those facts in my memory all the time!

    bfwebster, I was just discussing with someone at the Library this morning that these early 20th century practices always get the most enthusiastic response from readers — we finally reach a point in, say, 1920, when practices seem very familiar (that is, unlike plural marriage or United Order communities, these practices are very much a part of our current lives), but everything still feels like a funhouse mirror because there are enough differences in detail to rock our boats.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 29, 2014 @ 10:46 am

  7. I read the post this morning while waiting for my son’s school bus, but I only just now got the chance to comment. First, this is really, really, cool. Thank you Ardis.

    1922 is a sort of big year for the temples. Anthon Lund, who was a member of the FP and the SLC Temple President (the SLC Temple Pres was in charge of all temples back then), had passed away in 1921, and George F. Richards took his place in the Temple. Richards, with the backing of the FP initiated a massive liturgical reformation in regards to the temple. Dale Mouritsen had access to Richards’ diary and wrote a biographical dissertation on him. Chapter 6 of this dissy (available through UMI) is perhaps the best description of these reforms. The result was a massively streamlined liturgy that shaved hours off the time required for the endowment presentation. Some of the early document describe the temple liturgy requiring over 6 hours.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 29, 2014 @ 11:15 am

  8. So familiar, and yet so strange. Given time to think about it, it becomes obvious that evening sessions probably were a more recent innovation. Keep bringing this stuff, it is fascinating.

    Comment by kevinf — January 29, 2014 @ 11:30 am

  9. Just an anecdote to back up J. Stapley’s comment. My grandparents were married in St. Johns, Arizona, by their bishop, on 14 September 1914, and then traveled to Salt Lake City and received their endowments and were sealed in the temple on 8 October of that same year.

    They entered the temple early in the morning, before sunrise. By the time they had completed the work in the temple that day, the sun had gone down. How much of that was spent waiting for something to happen, and how much was actually spent in the ordinances, I don’t know.

    My grandfather’s brother John, who with his wife received the same ordinances that day, looked back at the temple as they left and said “I’m never going back there again.”

    (A vow he did not keep!)

    Out of curiosity, I checked the sunrise/sunset times for October 8 at the Naval Observatory webpage. This year, 100 years after the day my grandparents received their temple ordinances, sunrise in SLC will be at 6:31 and sunset at 5:58 (assuming standard time and no mountains). Even assuming the mountains delay sunrise by an hour, that’s still a long day in the temple!

    Comment by Mark B. — January 29, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

  10. This is kind of tangential, but…

    Stake Presidencies, … Presidencies of High Priests … Quorums

    So, did high priests used to have quorums independent of the stake, i.e. the stake president wasn’t the president of the stake quorum of high priests? What did the organization look like in those days?

    Fascinating stuff, Ardis!

    Comment by lindberg — January 29, 2014 @ 12:17 pm

  11. High Priest Quorums and their Presidencies were dissolved in 1968, with the Stake Presidency taking the de facto role as the Presidency over the High Priests.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 29, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

  12. Great discussion.

    One temple innovation I’ve wondered about is the use of white clothing. When they began adopting that in the St. George Temple starting with Wilford Woodruff and Lucy B. Young, the note in WW’s diary made it seem like a new thing. I’m not familiar enough with the history of the Nauvoo Temple or the minutiae of the operation of the Endowment House to know whether it was really a new innovation, or whether it was just the way WW phrased his diary.

    Comment by Amy T — January 29, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

  13. This is very interesting, as is the comments after the fact. Thanks Ardis.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — January 29, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

  14. My mother has mentioned various changes to me over her lifetime. I feel that sometimes our church leaders change things up a bit just to help us see what part is doctrine, and what part is procedure.

    Comment by LauraN — January 29, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

  15. Fascinating post–and equally intriguing comments. Thanks, all!

    LauraN: While I seriously doubt that changes in the Church are motivated by a general leader’s desire to teach the difference between procedure and substance, it’s certainly true that changes within the Church do provoke much discussion in that regard. On the whole, it’s probably a good exercise to engage in.

    Comment by David Y. — January 29, 2014 @ 1:35 pm

  16. I agree that all of this is very, very fascinating. Thank you Ardis.

    Comment by David R — January 29, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

  17. Excellent stuff. I’d second the diss on George F. Richards.

    Comment by Ben S — January 29, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

  18. Re: J Stapley (11)

    Really? Simply amazing. I suppose that at 13 or 14 I really didn’t care what was happening with the high priests–but it’s interesting that such a change happened during my at least partly sentient lifetime and I had no idea.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 29, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

  19. It is sort of crazy to think about, Mark. There are a few years that stand out in Mormon history as sort of definitive Moments. I’d put 1968 in the top five at least.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 29, 2014 @ 2:19 pm

  20. Ardis, of course it’s not that I keep all those facts in my mind either. It’s that after you jogged my memory, I happened to randomly recall reading somewhere about night sessions. I guessed that Alexander would likely be where I read it, and that was the first place I checked.

    Like Mark B, I am surprised that I did not know about high priest presidencies.

    The current teaching in the handbook is that only presidents of quorums have “keys,” and that the stake president has keys by virtue of being the president of the high priests’ quorum. I suspect the term “keys” was used much more loosely in the past than it is now. Any idea when this idea originated? Were stake presidents before 1968 said to hold keys? When was the concept of keys tied to the presidents of quorums?

    Comment by Left Field — January 29, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

  21. 1968? And if you asked me, that year would stand out because of LBJ’s decision not to run for re-election, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the Prague Spring, ended by the Soviet invasion in August of that year and the presidential election campaign, including the riots in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.

    Oh, and starting high school.

    I’m curious–other than that change in high priests quorums, what else happened in 1968?

    Relating to Left Field’s questions, but not an answer since I don’t know, it’s amazing to see the sorts of responsibilities that have been pushed down to stake presidents in the past 50 years or so. As late as the 1980s, there were either general authority or regional representative visitors at every stake conference, so stake presidents did not preside at any of the conferences. Now they preside at three of four in a two-year period. At some time before 1984, stake presidents began ordaining and setting apart bishops. Maybe it was 1968. Before then, bishops were set apart by apostles (or maybe assistants to the 12). In 1966, my dad was ordained a bishop by Howard W. Hunter. Similar thing with both missionaries and stake patriarchs. By 1973, stake presidents set apart missionaries, and also conducted all the final interviews as well. When did general authority interviews for all prospective missionaries end? 1968?

    Comment by Mark B. — January 29, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

  22. I heard about the HP to Stake Presidency change a couple of years ago, but that’s only because Stapley told me.

    Another fascinating change is the ending of prayer circles outside the temples. That may also play into Stapley’s 1968 year of note. At one point, a few stake presidents actually had rooms added to their homes just for prayer circles, with their own altars. This had developed over years to where they took on an elitist air, with being included in certain circles as a status symbol. Having the prayer circles now exclusively in the temples kind of democratized the process, as I recall. Michael Quinn wrote about it in BYU Studies quite a few years ago. Stapley can tell you about when they removed the altar from the Bellevue Stake Center here in Washington.

    Comment by kevinf — January 29, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

  23. Sorry for the threadjack, Ardis, but this is all so interesting. 1968 was the year that the Correlation Dept. restructured the entire church, auxiliaries, and liturgy. The 1968 handbooks are a seachange.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 29, 2014 @ 4:03 pm

  24. Interesting. Again, even for a partially aware active church-goer in his mid-teens, all of this happened without notice. A conspiracy theorist would say that the church did it all that year to hide these changes behind all the big events in the news.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 29, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

  25. Fascinating post, and great comments, all the links should provide a nice bit of reading. It’s hard to find any history on these smaller changes, but they’re very interesting.

    One other duty that may have been part of your relative’s clerkship in those years might have been accounting for payments received and payments due for people who needed help doing all the work for their own families and people who received small payments for helping to fill someone else’s responsibility.

    How did this work?

    Comment by Seth — January 29, 2014 @ 8:47 pm

  26. Seth, I don’t have any information on the specific role of the clerk or bookkeeper; if you mean how did the program in general work, there’s some information on this post. In general, in the early 20th century doing temple work for your own kindred was your personal responsibility; the temple didn’t provide names for patrons, and you generally didn’t go to the temple except to work for yourself and your kindred. But if you couldn’t do all the work you needed, or you lived at a distance, or you were a widow without a husband or son to do the male portion of your work, the temple would try to find someone else to help out. But again, since it was YOUR responsibility, you were expected to pay a certain small amount (usually $1.50 for a man and $.75 for a woman) for each endowment, to cover the time of the patron who was assisting you in your work. A lot of elderly people supplemented meager pensions by frequent temple attendance on behalf of strangers. That practice seems to have died out in the 1930s (I don’t have an announcement or other definite date of the end of that practice … yet.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 29, 2014 @ 8:59 pm

  27. Thank you, that more than answers my question. (I was wondering about the money part, but it was a fascinating read overall.)

    Comment by Seth — January 29, 2014 @ 10:54 pm

  28. Great post and discussion. Mark B. mentions being a teenager in 1968, I was 2 (not trying to rub it in), so all of this has been standard practice as far as I have been concerned. I didn’t know the origin of any of it. All the comments were quite enlightening. Thank you all.

    It is interesting to see how night sessions were such an innovation in 1922 (1911 when referring back to the comment about SLC Temple). Now, there is no way I could consistently attend the temple without them. It truly is amazing to see the Lord’s hand in such seemingly minute details. When the time is right for change, however major or minor it might be, He sends the inspiration to get the ball rolling. Great stuff.

    Comment by Chris M. — January 29, 2014 @ 11:45 pm

  29. I knew a widow with a lot of small children who told us about the expense of going to the temple because she had to find a babysitter. It was very hard for her. But then she said that someone had given money to the bishop to help someone else go to the temple. So the bishop paid her babysitter on some schedule they worked out. We thought that was kind of weird. Why would someone pay someone else to go to the temple?

    Then much later we met an old man whose health was so bad he couldn’t go any more. So he gave money to the bishop to help someone else go. Then it all made sense. I don’t think these two knew each other, but it seems that things like that probably happen all over.

    Now there’s the Temple Patron Fund. We’re all in the same work.

    Comment by Carol — January 30, 2014 @ 12:44 pm

  30. Lovely thought, Carol. I hadn’t thought of the Temple Patron Fund in connection with this.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 30, 2014 @ 1:55 pm

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