History of John A. Widtsoe
The year was 1935. One world war was over and another was about to begin.
In that uncertain and terrifying time, Rufus B. von KleinSmid, president of USC, and Carl Sumner Knopf, Dean of the School of Religion, launched an experiment. They felt it was fundamentally wrong for a university to grant credit for almost any philosophy, ancient or modern, but deny university credit for teachings that were at the very soul of humanity and the nation because they bore a church label.
In a radio address, Von KleinSmid spoke of political convictions saying, “none of these – not all together – can ever take the place of religious convictions which insist that it is possible for peoples so thoroughly to understand each other’s character, aspirations and necessities that war would seem to be as foolish as it is needless and ineffectual.”
Boldly, USC invited religions associated with its University Religious Conference to send qualified professors to teach about their faith for university credit. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assigned Apostle John A. Widtsoe. In accepting the assignment, Widtsoe said, “Sound prominent thinkers felt that if collegiate youth, the coming national leadership, were made acquainted with living religions in a systematic, dignified manner, placed at least on an equal footing with all academic subjects, it might help advance the national welfare.”
On September 22 John A. Widtsoe boarded a train from Salt Lake to Los Angeles—just 10 days after receiving his USC assignment – embarking on one of the most novel endeavors ever undertaken by the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
His classes attracted Latter-day Saints but also “a large number who are not…the class is actuated by a spirit of honest and frank inquiry and no semblance of prejudice or narrowness.”
During his one-year tenure at USC, Widtsoe not only delved into the basic history and tenets of the Church, but presented expositions on premortal life, the plan of salvation, man’s “second and third” estates, and the Latter-day Saint belief in eternal life. At night he also taught classes for members who lived in Southern California. These became the forerunner of the Church’s first Institute program outside of Utah.
The First Presidency of the Church told Widtsoe “what you are doing is laying the foundation of something which will be a very rich benefit to the Church, and you have our confidence and blessing.”
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Widtsoe Family Collection
“There is a purpose in life--to raise men nearer to the likeness of God. Whoever seeks that ideal, daily, finds joy; and in no other way can true joy be found.”
- John A. Widtsoe
Widtsoe Family Collection dinner and social at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019.
The Widtsoe Family Scholarly Archives will become the largest online repository of works by John A. Widtsoe, an apostle in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It will include his teachings about Latter-day Saints doctrine, thought and life including never-before-seen personal letters, photos and memorabilia. This repository will be a key part of a vast library known as the Latter-day Saints Scholars Archive, which is being assembled by the John A. Widtsoe Foundation.
About the Widtsoe Family Collection
The Widtsoe Family Collection will be the largest, most comprehensive online database ever assembled of Elder John A. Widtsoe’s masterworks, speeches, doctrinal writings, and memorabilia.
Forming the core of the collection will be Elder Widtsoe’s General Conference addresses and speeches, books on the Word of Wisdom, the Prophet Joseph Smith, Priesthood and Church Government, as well as his sentinel work, A Rational Theology, and years of articles from the Improvement Era and other Church publications. Widtsoe family descendants will also contribute letters, journals, photos, and other personal effects that shed insight into the life and scholarship of this great man.
Elder Widtsoe’s writings are considered the foundation of modern Latter-day Saint scholarship.
Directing the Widtsoe initiative is Dr. Laura Redford, a member of the John A. Widtsoe Foundation Board of Directors, who has taught at Scripps College and UCLA. Widtsoe’s repository will become a key part of a larger library known as the Latter-day Saints Scholars Archive and include the scholarship of other well-known LDS scholars such as B.H. Roberts, Truman Madsen, and James Talmage.
Audio Clips of John A. Widtsoe
Quotations from John A. Widtsoe
“It is the business of man to become acquainted with the material universe in all of its manifestations, so far as may be possible, in order to provide a foundation of knowledge on which the reasoning mind of man may increasingly build.”
― John A. Widtsoe, Rational Theology
There is a spiritual meaning of all human acts and earthly events. … It is the business of man to find the spiritual meaning of earthly things. … No man is quite so happy … as he who backs all his labors by such a spiritual interpretation and understanding of the acts of his life.”
― John A. Widtsoe
“Do not make loose promises. But, when you make a promise, keep it. Be true to yourself. Be dependable. Whatever you have to do, do it the very best you can. It is not the fuss and feathers that count; it is the hard, steady effort that makes the grade.–SP 64 (SP is Studies in Priesthood, European Mission, 1930)”
― John A. Widtsoe, Priesthood And Church Government
“An acquaintanceship with the literature of the world may be won by any person who will devote half an hour a day to the careful reading of the best books. The habit of reading good books is one that gives great comfort in all the stages and among all the vicissitudes of life.
― John A. Widtsoe, Priesthood And Church Government
Accomplishments of John A. Widtsoe
Graduated with honors from Harvard University in chemistry, biological and earth sciences, and then graduated with two degrees, including a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the prestigious University of Göttingen in Germany.
President of two universities – the Agricultural College in Logan, Utah, now Utah State University, and the University of Utah.
Authored nearly 30 books on religion, agriculture, science, health, education, and the scriptures, including a biography of LDS Church leader Brigham Young, a scriptural concordance, and two autobiographies of his mother and himself.
Served as an Apostle, Mission President, and held numerous positions of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints including director of the Church Board of Education and the Melchizedek Priesthood Committee.
Besides his books, Widtsoe was a prolific writer of magazine and newspaper articles, pamphlets, tracts, radio broadcasts, encyclopedia and other writings and was editor of the Improvement Era for 17 years.
Special advisor to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for Water Reclamation.