Fast and Testimony Meeting: Provo, Nov. 1909
Contributor: crex Created: 9 months ago Updated: 9 months ago
It was a typical fast and testimony Sunday in the Provo 4th Ward.
November 7, 1909.
Ward clerk James O. Oliver captured the gist of each testimony in one or two sentences that he jotted down and later typed onto legal-sized paper.
Patriarch Andrew Watson, now beginning his seventy-eighth year, was the first to the stand that day. He was often the first to stand at fast and testimony meeting. (He may have had the advantage of sitting on the stand, closer to the podium.) A Scottish emigrant, he had pulled handcarts across the plains in the ill-fated Willie Company, a half century earlier. Watson saw much death along that journey and in the years since. Yet, as he grew older and felt the power of God flow through him, he marveled more at what the Lord preserved than at what He took. Watson “rejoiced that the Lord had given to his priesthood the power to heal the sick.”
The reference to healing triggered thoughts in other members of the congregation. After Watson sat down, another old-timer named William O. (“Oscar”) Sperry stood up. A native of Connecticut, Oscar and his wife Eliza Ann Cloward joined the Mormons way back in 1849. They came across the plains and settled in Provo when it was just a tiny fort populated with a few dozen families who engaged in occasional skirmishes with Ute Indians. Like Andrew Watson, Oscar Sperry had seen a lot of sickness and death in his seventy-seven years. On this day, he “bore testimony that he had witnessed the healing under the hands of the priesthood.”
Mary M. Boyden, treasurer of the ward Relief Society and a member of the ward's Old Folks Committee, stood up next. She “had seen the sick healed,” the minutes recorded.
The concern for healing in the testimonies reflects a tension within the Mormon mind at the time. The advent of germ theory in the 1880s had changed the way western medicine was done. Scientific medicine was having more success than ever before and was thus gaining in repute. To the extent that this medicine healed their loved ones, Latter-day Saints welcomed these advances. But they also found scientific medicine threatening because it tended to encroach on the realm of faith. Many Latter-day Saints felt the need to preserve a realm where only priesthood healing blessings could go, where the knowledge of doctors fell short. By testifying of spiritual healing practices, Mormons like Boyden, Sperry, and Watson affirmed Mormonism’s superiority over other systems of knowledge then in ascendance.
Elmer E. Hinckley (the future uncle of Mormon president Gordon B. Hinckley) stood next. He may have felt uncomfortable with the direction of the testimonies and stood to provide a gentle corrective. Hinckley had a medical degree from St. Louis University and by 1910 was working as chief medical examiner at BYU. The talk of healing reminded him more of his missionary labors in Alabama in the mid-1890s than his present work at BYU. He too had witnessed remarkable healings. Just as important, he “had learned by experience that if we bear our testimony the Lord will open our mouths and give us words to say. The power of the Lord had been witnessed in the mission field and he knew that doctors could do more in their labors among the sick if the aid of the Lord was sought.” Doctors, in other words, were useful. Some Mormons still felt like doctors should be shunned and priesthood blessings were all that was needed to heal the sick; Hinckley believed a combination of approaches—science and religion—worked best.
Mary A. Hillman, whom the minutes described as a “visitor” to the ward, “felt to bear testimony for where she had been living it was harder to live her religion than here in Provo.” The 1910 census listed her as living in Lehi. At the time she bore her testimony, Hillman was 41 and on her third marriage.
During this period of Mormon history, an intermediate hymn often broke up fast and testimony meetings into two halves. Such meetings tended to go longer than the hour and ten minutes they are allotted today. They could go more than two hours, making a rest hymn useful.
The congregation and choir now sang a rest hymn, “Oh My Father,” after which Kirsten Hansine Petersen stood. Peterson was a second-generation Mormon who was born in northern Utah, in Cache Valley, to Danish converts to the church. Her father’s surname was “Pederson”; she married a Danish-Mormon by the name of “Peterson.” She and Wilhelm had five children, ages 14 to 4. He had difficult work stoking the fires for the Denver & Rio Grand Railroad. Though the couple started out married life giving their children thoroughly Scandinavian names like Neils and Olaf, they gave younger children more Mormon-sounding names like Willard and Eliza, perhaps indicating their deepening commitment and enculturation in the faith.
Kirsten “bore testimony of how the Lord had answered her prayer and given her a testimony of the Spirit World.” Pedersen, 34, would have had access to family names through her parents, who were the link to the old country. She may have performed vicarious ordinance work for the dead in Mormon temples and sensed that her efforts had been accepted in the world where people went after death.
Ellen (“Nell”) Harris then stood to speak. Born in Northumberland, England, Harris emigrated to Utah as a child. She was now 42, a widow, and a mother of three sons and a daughter who lived with her. To put food on the table, she took in boarders, though occasionally the ward pitched in by giving her fast offering funds. She told the congregation that “her heart was full of thankfulness to her Heavenly Father for the many blessings that he has lately given her.”
The next speaker clerk James O. Oliver listed in the minutes was a “Sister Rupp”—Oliver may not have known her first name. The 1910 U.S. census listed no Rupps living in Provo that year. Sister Rupp may have been a visitor. In any case, she “felt that the Lord will strengthen us for the duties we have to perform.”
William Buckley, an English emigrant in his early 70s, followed Sister Rupp. The year was coming to a close, and only one testimony meeting remained in the year 1909. Buckley sensed the window closing. He said he “desired that his name should go on the records as one that had borne his testimony this year.”
At this point in the meeting, Bishop Alfred Booth stood to say a few words. What he had heard in the meeting doubtless impressed him, but it was not sufficient. Nine people had born their testimonies, five women and four men. Only one in the group was a priesthood holder under seventy years of age. Where were the younger men? Booth said he “felt that some of the brethren holding the priesthood should occupy some of the time and called up on the Ward Clerk for the names of persons that had born their testimony.”
James A. Oliver then read the names of those of those who had spoken.
Oliver, 48, remained to bear his testimony. No other younger men were forthcoming. After Oliver sat down, John G. Jones, a convert from Wales, stood and concluded the testimony bearing for that day. Jones, a patriarch, was in his eightieth year—the oldest speaker of the day.
Source: Minutes, Nov. 7, 1909, Provo 4th Ward, General Minutes, 1909-1912, LR 7224 11, v. 19, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
Blessing Babies in the Provo 4th Ward, 1910
Contributor: crex Created: 9 months ago Updated: 9 months ago
It was the afternoon before Independence Day, July the 3rd, 1910, and members of the Provo 4th Ward had assembled in their meetinghouse in Provo to worship in fast and testimony services. Attendance must have been running late on this day. The meeting commenced at 1:30 instead of the usual 1:00.
Bishop Alfred L. Booth, a Provo attorney, presided on the stand. William Ashworth, six months in to his stint as ward clerk, recorded the proceedings of the day in spare hand-written minutes.
Ashworth noted that the opening hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” was sung by the ward choir, with the congregation joining in at some point. The choir must have been sounding better than it had in some time. A few months earlier choir director Hebert S. Pyne had complained to Bishop Booth that ward members, and particularly the men, were “indifferent” to choir. Thereafter, the bishopric began to issue personal invitations for ward members to sing in the choir, asking them to “receive the call as a mission.”
George Meldrum then stood to offer the opening prayer, speaking loudly for all to hear. Microphones and hearing aids had not yet been invented, and anyone with a speaking role had to talk louder than usual, so as to allow all to hear.
After Meldrum sat down, the choir sang another number, “As the Dew from Heaven Gently Falling.”
The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was then blessed and passed by Elders William S. Rawlings and Frank L. Copening. The tradition of older teenage boys—priests—blessing the sacrament had not yet been established in the church; Rawlings and Copening were men in their 40s.
During this period in Mormon history, members of the congregation did not sit in silence as they do today while the bread and water (and, in rarer cases, wine) are passed to the congregation. On this day, Ashworth noted in the minutes that while bread was being passed the choir sang “Prayer is the Souls Sincere Desire”; while the water was being passed, Brother Pyne, the choir director, stood and read the 4th chapter of Luke. Pyne must have commanded respect. He was then county physician and director of the Utah County Medical Society and in all likelihood was a careful and effective reader.
The water would have been passed around in a large jug—a common cup. Two years later, the Utah Board of Health would pass an ordinance outlawing drinking from common cups, and thereafter wards began using individual sacrament cups, either paper or glass. The bread used for the sacrament would have been locally and probably freshly baked. In 1907, the ward had asked a local baker to leave a loaf of bread with the ward janitor every week. By 1910 the ward was operating its own cooperative bakery, with members of the ward supplying their own baked goods and members of the co-op sharing in the profits. The bread used at the July 3 meeting likely came from that co-op.
The sacrament portion of the service now complete, it was time for the blessing of babies, which was traditionally done on the first Sunday of every month. Four babies were blessed that day, an indicator of the youthful demographic of the ward. The 4th ward surrounded the city block where Brigham Young University was located (the present Provo City Library block). It quite naturally contained a mixture of young families and old timers.
George McKellar Elliott, the infant son of Edwin Hezekiah Elliott and Ruby McKellar Elliott, was the first baby to be blessed that day. Edwin and Ruby were not members of the ward. They were in their early 20s, had been married 13 months, and were then living in Eureka, a small mining town near the Tintic Mountains southwest of Provo. George was their first child. Edwin grew up in Provo, and his parents lived in the ward. The couple likely came to Provo to bless their baby so that the babe’s aged grandparents could be present.
Ida Markman came next. She was the last of the five children born to James Markman and Sarah A. Stubbs, who lived on 4th North and 276 in Provo. James was born in Denmark and emigrated to Utah with his family while still a child. He worked in Provo as a plasterer.
Alma Ray Jones was the third of the babies blessed that day. Baby Alma was the son of Charles Alma (“Alma”) Jones and Julie (“Julia”) Hortence Sackett. Alma, 19, Julie, 18, had married the previous January; Alma Ray was born four months later. Alma had been born and raised in Provo, and Julia grew up in Brigham City. After their marriage they settled in the Provo 4th Ward, where Alma found work as a laborer at the local woolen mills. They went on to have five more children before divorcing. Alma Ray was the only one of the six children who did not survive to adulthood. He died eight months after he was blessed.
Alden Davis Miner was the last of the four blessed this day. Alden was the third child (all sons) born to Austin C. Miner, 29, and Zella Davis Miner, 27. Alden worked construction in Provo. Zella’s final child, another son, would be born four years after Alden, on a cold December evening in Yellowstone, Montana. Zella died due to complications the day after giving birth. Her infant son lived just two days, dying the day after his mother. Austin had to have help with his young sons and soon remarried Sarah Banks Creer, a Spanish Fork widow with two children. Austin and Sarah raised their blended family in Provo. They had three children of their own, for a total of eight between the three families.
All four of the infants who were blessed in the Provo 4th Ward on July 3, 1910, were born in the month of May. They ranged between 4 and 7 weeks in age. In the nineteenth century, Mormon babies were often blessed three to six months or more after birth, reflecting the concern many parents had about the spread of infectious diseases. That concern had begun to dissipate by the early decades of the twentieth century. It helped that the babies blessed on this day were all born late in the spring, after the weather had warmed. Parents were less inclined to worry about the child catching sick.
None of the four babies was blessed by their fathers. Until the mid-twentieth century, it was rare for a Mormon child to be blessed by his birth father. It was more common for the family to ask a person who commanded great respect to bless the child. The blessing was not a “father’s blessing” so much as a blessing that prophesied the future. Prophecy should be put in hands of people who were thought to have the gift—a Church leader, perhaps, or someone the family admired.
The Elliott baby was blessed by his great uncle, Ralph Elliott, a member of the 4th ward who served as city recorder. The other two babies were blessed by patriarchs: the Markman baby was blessed by John D. Jones, a member of the 4th ward and a Welch native who was nearly ninety years old. The Miner baby was blessed by Andrew Watson, also a long-time 4th warder. Watson and Jones were much respected and admired in the ward, so much so that the ward purchased special rocking chairs for the chapel where these two venerable patriarchs sat during congregation meetings.
After the baby blessings, it was time to read the names of new members the ward. At this time in Mormon history, membership records were not sent from one ward to another pro forma. Church members who were moving to a new ward or town were expected to obtain short letter of reference from their former bishop that was to be presented to the new bishop upon entering the new ward. This letter “recommended” the member to the new bishop. It indicated that the person was a member of good standing in the church; if the person was not in good standing, the person could attend meetings but could not be recommended to the congregation until the matter was resolved with church authorities. The reading of a member’s name to the congregation indicated that the church member had been recommended, which in turn allowed congregation to “receive” the member, that is, to accept the person in full fellowship.
Bertha Christensen Wilson was the first name read. William Ashworth, the ward clerk, wrote that her prior ward was Emery Ward, Emery Stake, in central Utah. Two day before, Bertha delivered had her first child, a baby girl she named Bernice. Bertha, 19, may have moved to Provo to receive good medical care during the extended period of confinement that was then the norm for women giving birth for the first time. The name of her husband, Wilford, also 19, was not read at this time, perhaps indicating that he had not obtained a recommendation.
The name of Charles Alma Jones, the father of one of the babies blessed that day, was read. He had moved from Provo 3rd ward. The name of his wife was not read.
The name of Joseph H. Sandstrum, a deacon who had moved from the 18th Ward, Ensign Stake, in Salt Lake City was read.
The business of the meeting was now completed. It was now time for testimony bearing in which members of the audience stood and walked to the podium and spoke as they felt so inspired (or, in cases of infirmity, standing in the pew were they were sitting and speaking to the audience). “The meeting was then placed in the hands of Saints,” the clerk wrote, “to bear testimonies or in any way they felt lead [sic].”
William S. Rawlings, who had administered the sacrament, stood first. He “bore his testimony of the work of the Lord. He had no cause to doubt the truth of the Gospel.”
The came Edith Young, the 22-year-old school teacher and daughter of Oscar and Anna Young, who lived in the ward. Oscar, who died in 1903, was the son of Brigham Young, the Mormon prophet. Edith “said she was glad she was a member of the church and had an assurance of the truth of the Gospel.” Little did anyone know it in 1910, but five years later Edith Young would become the wife of Bishop Alfred Booth, two years following the death of Booth’s first wife, Maria Ashworth (the daughter of ward clerk William Ashworth).
“Patriarch Andrew Watson,” who had blessed the Miner baby earlier in the meeting, stood and bore testimony next. A Scottish emigrant, Watson was often the first member of the ward to stand and bear testimony on fast Sunday, perhaps because his priesthood office gave him a seat of honor on the stand, giving him not far to walk. On this occasion, Watson “rejoiced in the work of the Lord and bore a strong testimony of how the Lord had blessed him.”
Mary Ann Anderson, 36, stood next. A widow of three years, she had her hands full in raising five young children alone. But she seemed to hold no grudge against God for her lot. She “spoke of the Goodness of the Lord unto her during the past Month.”
Sister Kirsten Peterson, a married mother of four, ages 14 to 4, stood and addressed the problem of gossip. She “wondered why we should feel so well during the time we are in meeting and during the week we could talk about our neighbors and all such actions.” The problem was partly a function of living in a small town where one religion dominated and everyone knew everyone else—and thus nothing could be kept secret. The 1910 U.S. census put the population of Provo at just 8,700.
Frank Copening stood next. He “narrated what good affect good singing had on the minds of the Saints, even those who are down cast and forlorn.” Copening, a real estate agent, may have been making a pitch for the newly revitalized ward choir.
The ward clerk wrote the name “Sister Joseph Beck” next. He may not known that her first name was Bernetta (“Nettie”). Nettie and Joseph were in their early 40s and were the parents of one son. (Nettie had borne two addition children who each died after just a few days.) At this particular fast and testimony meeting, she wanted to say she “was glad to be present and enjoy the good Spirit she felt present.”
Louisa Harris, 69, stood next. She was a pioneer woman through and through. Born in Illinois in 1839, she crossed the plains to Utah with her family the same year Utah territory was organized, in 1850. She married Charles Harris in 1855 when she was not yet sixteen years of age. She had her first baby at seventeen, and eventually had eleven children altogether. She and Charles and their brood lived in log cabins in Toquerville, Parowan, Richfield, and Junction before moving to Provo in the late 1880s. Soon after, Charles married another wife, which forced him to go on the underground to elude arrest. Louisa’s marriage to Charles was never the same after that. One her sons remembered when Charles finally returned, he lived out his days with the second wife.
Louisa, meanwhile, occupied her own home in the Provo 4th Ward and earned a living by keeping BYU student boarders until her death in 1923. (Charles had died in 1916.) She had had a hard life, but was aided by a naturally cheerful disposition. “I cannot recall ever seeing my mother blue or discouraged,” her son Silas remembered.
In her testimony to the Provo 4th Ward, Louisa was thinking about her children, who had grown into responsible adults and must have helped her immensely over the years in Charles' absence. Six of them had become schoolteachers. She “was thankful the Lord had blessed her with a family and that all were members in the church.” She must have known many others whose children had not turned out as they had hoped.
David John Blake, 37, followed Louisa Harris at the pulpit. Blake and his wife Laura Thuesen Blake were the parents of four children under the age 10 (the youngest was 10 weeks old). David, who co-owned a Provo furniture store, himself came from a large family, the oldest of twelve children. Community seemed to be important to him. “These [testimony] meetings,” he told his fellow ward members, “were more like the home circle. We could reach each other and come nearer together it seemed to him than at any other meeting.”
Mark E. Kartchner Sr., 56, seems to have been prompted to stand after listening to Louisa Harris say she was thankful all her children were in the church. Kartchner “believed all his fathers family were in the church and was thankful for the testimony he had.”
The Kartchners had played an important colonizing role in the church. After enduring the Missouri persecutions of the 1830s, Mark’s parents came across the plains to Utah in 1847, then moved on to California to help colonize San Bernardino, where Mark was born in 1853. When the colony broke up during the Utah War, the Kartchners came back to Utah and moved in quick succession to Beaver, the Muddy River settlement in southern Nevada, and then to Panguitch. Mark came from a family of eleven children; seven of them were still alive in 1910—these were the children who were, he believed, “all…in the church.”
In Panguitch, Mark met Phebe Palmer, and they were married in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City on May 11, 1874. The two families had particular affinity for one another. On that same day, two Kartchner brothers married two Palmer brothers, and one Kartchner sister married one Palmer brother.
Mark and Phebe made their home in Panguitch—the Palmers and the Kartchners couldn’t stand to be apart from each other, after all—until called by their bishop to help colonize Snowflake, Arizona. They remained eighteen years in Arizona, raising their children there, until 1895, when they moved to the Provo bench, where Mark carried mail, farmed, and opened a small store. In 1907 they moved to the Provo 4th Ward. Mark and Phebe remained there until 1919, when they retired to Salt Lake and spent the remainder of their days doing temple work for their dead.
Daniel Peter (“D. P.”) Thuesen, 68, was the last to the stand that day. Thueson was the father of Laura, the wife of David John Blake, who bore his testimony earlier in the meeting. D.P. and his wife Hermine were long-time Provo residents; each of their eight children had been born in Provo, though just five had lived to adulthood. Thuesen worked as a shoemaker by day. On this Sunday, he “rejoiced in the work of the lord and always felt well in attending fast meetings.”
The time was now far spent. The meeting closed by the choir and congregation singing “Lord we ask ere we part” from page 49 of “Songs of Zion.”
The minutes ended:“Wm Ashworth, Ward Clerk”
Source: Minutes, Feb. 13, 1907; Nov. 7, 1909; March 27, July 3, 1910, Provo 4th Ward, General Minutes, 1909-12, LR 7224 11, v. 17, 19, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Silas A. Harris, “A Brief Life Sketch of Louisa Hall Harris,” 16, Family Search.