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ABOUT GEORGE F. RICHARDS AND HIS JOURNAL

The life of George F. Richards, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for forty-four years, bridged the pioneer era and modern era of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For seventy years of his life—from 1880 to 1950—Richards kept an almost-daily journal of his activities. His entries chronicle his work as a farmer and businessman; his service in the community of Tooele, Utah; his family life; and his service in church callings, including as a counselor in the Tooele Stake presidency and as an apostle. They detail highs in his life, such as his work as the president of the Salt Lake Temple, and lows, such as the deaths of two of his young children.

The son of Franklin D. Richards and Nanny Longstroth, Richards was born in Farmington, Utah Territory, in 1861. (See family pedigree here.) After receiving a degree from the University of Deseret in 1881, he worked for the Utah Central Railroad. In 1882, he married Alice Robinson, and the couple lived in Farmington, where Richards began farming. The family subsequently relocated to a farm in Plymouth, Utah Territory, before moving to Tooele in 1888, where he managed his uncle Abraham Doremus’s farm until 1896. In 1896, he purchased his own farm in Tooele while also beginning a lumber and implement business. A map of his travels and residences from 1882–1895 is available here.

Richards served in several civic positions, including watermaster, treasurer of the Tooele Water Company, and member of the Tooele County School Board. From 1899 to 1900, he served as a representative in Utah’s legislature. 

In 1890, Richards was called as second counselor in the Tooele Stake presidency. Three years later, at the age of thirty-two, he was called as patriarch for the Tooele Stake. In 1906, he became an apostle and subsequently moved his family to Salt Lake City, Utah. In 1921, he was designated the president of the Salt Lake Temple, a position he held until 1937, when he became the superintendent of all temples in the church. He also served as acting presiding patriarch of the church from 1937 to 1942 and as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from 1945 to 1950. In these positions, Richards influenced church policies, especially those involving temples and the Saints’ performance of ordinances for deceased ancestors.

THE JOURNALS

Richards’s journals, consisting of twenty-three physical volumes, chronicle these events and Richards’s rich life. For the most part, they have not been available to the general public. This digital publication of the journals provides unprecedented access to a trove of information about Richards and the church. The journals highlight a variety of subjects, including the increased focus of church leaders in the early twentieth century on enforcing obedience to the Word of Wisdom, the importance of temples and of family history work to the Saints, and the continuing efforts of church leaders to eradicate the practice of plural marriage among church members. Richards’s extensive travels as an apostle are also recorded, including interactions with individuals in a variety of places such as the United States, Canada, and Mexico. In addition, the journals depict Richards as a father and husband and reveal how he and his family dealt with illness, death, and the vicissitudes of life. In short, the journals provide extensive insight into the lives of Latter-day Saints during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The journals also give glimpses into the history of both Utah and the American West in general. Richards’s entries about his work as a farmer provide insights into the changes happening in Utah in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For instance, he wrote about using a new technological device—the telephone—to communicate with Doremus about agricultural matters or to call doctors when one of his children was sick. His journals indicate that he used a horse and buggy to get around Tooele County but rode the train when going to Salt Lake City or Farmington. Culture and entertainment of the era are also on display, as journal entries recount that Richards frequented the theater with his wife, Alice, and enthusiastically attended demonstrations of phrenology or magic in Tooele from traveling showmen. Anyone interested in the lives of men and women in rural Utah will find much to glean from these journals.

In the first entry, Richards stated that he would be making a “Daily RECORD of the Principal Events in” his life, including his “Labors, Pleasures,” and the occupation of his time. Because of his diligence in keeping this record, scholars and the general public now have access to details of the life of a man significant in both the history of the church and the history of Utah. His journals are a remarkable resource for those interested in these topics and in the man himself.

For information on the efforts to publish Richards’s journal, see the Acknowledgments. For information on the editorial approach used in preparing the journal for publication, see Editorial Method.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

Some of the content of Richards’ journals might be surprising to today’s readers. For example, during Richards’ lifetime, church members interpreted the Word of Wisdom in a variety of ways. Leaders condemned heavy drinking and hard liquor, but even some of them continued to partake of milder alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine. Some members at this time abstained from coffee and tea, but many accepted them as part of a normal diet. As an apostle, Richards made a concerted effort to ensure that leaders of wards and stakes and those working at and going through the church’s temples abstained from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. In 1921, President Heber J. Grant required all Saints to refrain from partaking of alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea in order to obtain a temple recommend.[1]

The journals also reference the difficulties of church leaders running for or serving in political office. During the nineteenth century, church leaders were heavily involved in electoral politics at the state, territorial, and national level. Beginning in the 1890s, they began to lessen their participation in political office. In 1896, following Utah gaining statehood, the First Presidency and other General Authorities announced the “Political Rule of the Church” (also known as the “Political Manifesto”). This policy required any General Authority pursuing public office to obtain approval from the First Presidency. Moses Thatcher, one of the apostles, rejected the policy. For this and other reasons he was eventually dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve, though he remained a member of the church.[2]

In a few places in the journal, Richards uses a word that white Americans commonly employed by the early nineteenth century to refer derogatorily to people of African descent. Although Black Americans fought against the use of the term, it was still widely used as a racial epithet by many in American society.[3] In one place, Richards mentioned that he bought a black horse that had a shortened version of this term as its name, and then he referred to the horse by this name a few weeks later. In another entry, the word appears in the title of a play Richards attended, which was perhaps a minstrel show. This was a type of entertainment popularized by white Americans in the nineteenth century in which whites would perform song and dance in blackface and perpetuate harmful stereotypes of African Americans.[4] Church leaders today have asked members to “lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice,” which includes rejecting racist language.[5]

In some of George F. Richards’s journal entries, he provides statements of doctrine that do not necessarily reflect the current, official teachings of the Church. For example, in an entry on 3 March 1907, he suggests that the “stain” of sexual sin “can never be erased.” This view is inconsistent with the doctrine of repentance taught by the Church today, which is that with sincere repentance, people can become completely sanctified from sexual sin.[6] Richards’s journal entries should thus not be seen as authoritative statements of Church doctrine.

The journals also mention the practice of rebaptism in the church. In the nineteenth century, as now, baptism was performed for the remission of sins and as a necessary step for admission into Christ’s restored church. However, members of the church sometimes underwent rebaptism for various reasons, such as to demonstrate greater religious commitment or for healing. By 1897, the church discouraged the practice of rebaptism.[7]

Richards occasionally mentions deceased women being sealed to him or to other living men. Latter-day Saints performed sealing and adoption ordinances in temples to perpetuate family relationships beyond the grave. In the nineteenth century, sealings of deceased men, women, and children to a male priesthood holder were common as a way to build familial connections in heaven.[8] For example, Emmeline B. Wells, a prominent Latter-day Saint leader in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, selected deceased women she admired and stood proxy for them in marriage sealings to her own husband, although she believed that such ordinances were binding only when all parties, including the dead, accepted them.[9] In 1894, President Wilford Woodruff announced a revelation that limited adoptive sealings; Saints were instructed to focus on sealing marriages and parent-child relationships.[10]

CITING THIS WEBSITE


Citation Style for Bibliographies

Church Historian’s Press (Church History Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). The Journal of George F. Richards. https://churchhistorianspress.org/george-f-richards.
 
Citing Individual Texts on the Website

As illustrated in the example below, we recommend that the following elements be included in citations of materials on this website: [identification of the specific item being cited], The Journal of George F. Richards, Church Historian’s Press, accessed [date], [URL].
 
Example Citation

George F. Richards, Journal, 10 Mar. 1892, The Journal of George F. Richards, Church Historian’s Press, accessed 6 Apr. 2020,
https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/george-f-richards/1890s/1892/03-1892.

ABOUT THE CHURCH HISTORIAN’S PRESS

The Church Historian’s Press was announced in 2008 by the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Joseph Smith Papers was the first publication to bear the imprint. The press publishes works of Latter-day Saint history that meet high standards of scholarship. For more information, visit the Church Historian’s Press website.

 

[1] Jed Woodworth, “The Word of Wisdom,” in Revelations in Context: The Stories Behind the Sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, Matthew McBride and James Goldberg, eds. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016), 183-191; see also “Word of Wisdom (D&C 89),” Church History Topics, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/word-of-wisdom-dc-89?lang=eng (accessed 27 July 2020).

[2] Wilford Woodruff, et al., “To the Saints,” The Deseret Weekly, Apr. 11, 1896, 532–34; Kenneth W. Godfrey, “Moses Thatcher in the Dock: His Trials, the Aftermath, and His Last Days,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 24, no. 1 (1998): 54–88; “Political Neutrality,” Church History Topics, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/political-neutrality?lang=eng (accessed 27 July 2020).

[3] Hosea Easton, A Treatise on the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the U. States (Boston: Isaac Knapp, 1837), 40–41.

[4] Edwin S. Grosvenor and Robert C. Toll, “Blackface: The Sad History of Minstrel Shows,” American Heritage 64 (Winter 2019), https://www.americanheritage.com/blackface-sad-history-minstrel-shows#3.

[5] Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” October 2020 General Conference, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/46nelson?lang=eng.

[6] See, for example, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “Personal Purity,” Liahona, November 1998, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1998/10/personal-purity.

[7] H. Dean Garrett, “Rebaptism,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 5 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992); Russell R. Rich, “Why Did Some Utah Pioneers Undergo Rebaptism?,” Ensign, Feb. 1975, 45.

[8] See “Prophetic Teachings on Temples,” Temples, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed 9 Aug. 2021; and “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” Gospel Topics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, accessed 9 Aug. 2021.

[9] See Emmeline B. Wells, Diary, 1–2 Dec. 1887; and Carol Cornwall Madsen, Emmeline B. Wells: An Intimate History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017), 271n49.

[10] Wilford Woodruff and George Q. Cannon, “The Law of Adoption,” Deseret Weekly, 21 Apr. 1894, 543.