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Leonard J. Arrington Diaries – “Mormon History Association”

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2.  Leonard Arrington introduced a proposal from the Mormon History Association on the publishing of a scholarly journal on Mormon history and a copy was given to Elder Dyer.  Problems involved with naming such a publication was discussed, and other related difficulties reviewed in regard to amalgamating our efforts as a Church to such a combined effort.  Elder Dyer questioned that the brethren would approve such a proposal.



In 1951 a group of four persons at Utah State University interested in Mormon culture and history organized to meet once a month at our respective homes and each of the men would read an original paper to the group of husbands and wives. This group consisted of S. George Ellsworth and Maria, Eugene E. Campbell and Beth, Wendell O. Rich and Pearl, and Grace and myself. We met for several years reading prepared papers which we then presented to each other for criticisms and suggestions. Some of these papers were subsequently published in professional historical journals.

As time went on, we broadened our associations to include persons interested in Mormon history and culture at other universities. Some of these belonged to study groups of their own and invited some of us to make presentations. Similarly we invited some of them to make presentations in our homes in Logan. This enabled us to become acquainted with what scholarship was coming out of persons at BYU, the University of Utah, and elsewhere. We made it a point at professional historical conventions to “look up” other Latter-day Saint persons and inform ourselves as to what they were writing and thinking. Finally, in 1965 we decided that our circle was large enough to warrant a formal organization. This is the background for organizing the Mormon Historical Association in December, 1965.

After a number of us at different universities had made a tentative agreement, we met for the first time at a meeting of the Utah Academy held in September 1965 at USU. Something like a dozen persons were present and we agreed to prepare for a formal organizing meeting at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in San Francisco in December. I was elected temporary chairman of the group. Committees were appointed to prepare a program for San Francisco, also to prepare a constitution and a nominating committee. We agreed to send  out invitations to a large number of persons, I suspect as many as 60 or 70. Each of those persons was asked to inform other persons in his acquaintance.

In San Francisco approximately 50 persons were in attendance including, as it turned out, 5 or 6 from other disciplines as well as history. As temporary chairman I conducted the meeting and asked each of the committees to report. I was elected the first president. I do not recall the other officers but have a folder giving this information if you wish to look it over. We agreed to meet at each annual meeting of AHA and also smaller “rap sessions” at meetings of Western History Association and Organization of American Historians. After two or three years we decided a far larger number of our group were in attendance at meetings of the Western History Association, so our formal meeting was switched to those meetings each October. The number of members by that time had jumped to 200. As time went on, many persons who did not attend meetings of the WHA and who wanted to attend the annual meetings of MHA induced us to switch the annual meeting to a location in Utah or to a historical Mormon place in April of each year. This switch was made about 1970 and from that time the number of our members has increased to perhaps 400 or 500. It includes not only professional historians and persons of some other disciplines interested in Mormon history but also institute teachers, seminary teachers, and “buffs.” Among those who have been members are RLDS historians and buffs and a handful of persons from other faiths.

It was our intention in organizing to found a journal called Journal of the Latter-day Saints, or Journal of Mormon History. In the process of making arrangements for such a journal we discovered that Gene England, Wes Johnson, and others were about to found Dialogue. The founders of Dialogue agreed to give special attention to running articles by historians and we agreed to submit articles to them and to support the magazine. I myself agreed to be one of their advisory editors. I had consulted with two members of the First Presidency who were thus aware of our association and of our participation in Dialogue and they counselled us to do so in the hope that we might exert a good influence on Dialogue. I hope that we did so.

In addition to the contributions which went to Dialogue, two professional historical magazines, and other journals, we also sought to use our influence in opening up materials on Mormon history in the Church Archives. This also was one result of our union. We also attempted to use our influence on getting good scholarly articles submitted to and published in the Improvement Era. We held a series of meetings with Jay Todd toward this goal and these were to some extent successful.  We attempted to stimulate good research and writing by awarding prizes to persons who wrote the best books and articles on Mormon history.

The Mormon History Association is a lively organization of some 500 members supporting a fine journal, The Journal of Mormon History, and carrying out an extensive program of encouraging research, writing, and publishing. We do meet regularly at meetings of historical associations and are thus able to keep in close touch with others. We also distribute a periodic newsletter. The Mormon History Association is of course quite independent of the Historical Department of the Church—has an independent existence and is an independent force for good in the LDS Church, the RLDS Church, and in the field of history.

[LJA Diary, 23 Mar., 1976]

In the evening was our annual [MHA] banquet and presidential address, the latter given by Charles Peterson of USU who has been a splendid president during the past year.  The new president is now Paul Edwards, great-grandson of Joseph Smith, son of the daughter of Joseph Smith III and of F. Henry Edwards, for 35 years member of the First Presidency of the RLDS Church, so we now have our first president who is not a “Utah Mormon.”   He will be fine.

[LJA to Children, 3 May, 1976]