” . . . the ‘New Utah,’ of which so many proudly boast, owes its existence to the faithful and persevering work of the Christian churches from the days of their pioneer missionaries to the present.”
– O. S. Bowman, editor and publisher, writing in the Dec. 29, 1895 issue of The Church Review, less than a week before Utah became a state.
The year was 1896, and Utah’s Protestants were jubilant – and boastful. Six years after the LDS Church officially ended the practice of polygamy, Utah finally had been accepted as the nation’s 45th state.
The Protestants had spent more than 30 years planting Christian churches throughout the territory, trying to rescue Mormons from “error” and arousing their friends back East against what they considered the barbaric practice of plural marriage.
By the 1890s, their churches were well established, if not entirely self-supporting, and they were in a mood to take stock of their success.
It is that spirit that is captured in The Church Review’s historical edition of Dec. 29, 1895, just six days before President Grover Cleveland’s signature brought Utah into the union. Now the Review, a remarkable interdenominational newspaper, is available to anyone with an Internet connection.
The Church Review chronicles the development of Christian churches and schools from Corinne to St. George in the last decades of the 19th century. Westminster College’s Giovale Library has recently put the 78-page edition of the newspaper on-line via its digital collections link.
Twenty earlier editions of The Church Review, which apparently began publication in Salt Lake City in 1893, eventually will be digitized and put on the Web site. In the meantime, they are held in the library’s archive room.
David Hales, library director and an archivist who has written for Utah Historical Quarterly, calls the collection an “interesting treasure trove nobody knows about.”
The roles of Latter-day Saints and Roman Catholics in Utah have been plumbed by historians, and the stories of early Episcopalians and Jews have been fairly well told.
But less has been written about the contributions of the many denominations under the Protestant umbrella.
“These other denominations – a lot of their story isn’t told. It isn’t written in books,” says Hales. “We hope we can bring some of it to light.”
Krystel Baggerly, a sophomore at Westminster, has been involved in indexing The Church Review for on-line use.
“When you think of Utah history, you think of the LDS Church,” says Baggerly. Now, though, she’s learned of an entirely different aspect of Utah history – that other religions sent missionaries, pastors and teachers to Utah in order to save what they considered lost souls.
While the tenor of the 1895 historical edition of The Church Review is not vitriolic, tensions with the Mormons are laid bare in the stories told in its pages.
The first pastor of the Congregational Church (Utah’s first non-LDS church, which opened in 1864) dared not return to Utah for six years after he testified in Washington about polygamy and other goings-on back home.
While the pastor was in Washington, his church’s Sunday School administrator, Dr. J. King Robinson, was assassinated near the corner of Main Street and Third because he’d acquired government lands at a time when the Mormons forbade selling land to Gentiles.
The effect, The Church Review would write 30 years later, “was to terrorize the Gentiles of the city.”
Writing from Brigham City, S.L. Gillespie called Brigham Young’s United Order of Enoch in that city “a scheme to rob the people” of $3 million that he willed to his heirs.
” . . . All our mission work among the Mormons is ‘sowing seed upon waters,’ requiring great patience and perseverance,” Gillespie wrote in 1895.
In Toquerville, a Presbyterian school was force to close in the 1880s after Mormon leader George Q. Cannon told church members to withdraw their children.
“Many parents wanted to send, and the children wanted to come, but they dared not,” a chronicler wrote in the 1895 historical edition of the newspaper.
Gary Topping, archivist for the Catholic Diocese of Salt lake City, says the Congregationalists and Presbyterians, in particular, played roles in focusing national attention on polygamy and eventually, its demise.
But the Protestants’ real contribution, he says, was to education.
Like the Catholics in territorial Utah, the Protestants set up schools figuring that if they couldn’t convert the adults, at least Mormon children “would bask in the light of truth,” Topping said.
By the end of 1895 edition there were 132 Protestant schools in Utah with 800 officers and teachers and 9,000 students. The pages of The Church Review are filled with the pictures of women working as missionaries and teachers in Utah.
The Protestant schools were top-notch, staffed by teachers from the East whose education far outstripped the volunteers teaching the LDS ward schools.
“They [the Presbyterians and Congregationalists] had quite a tremendous contribution, but not the one they thought they would have,” said Topping. While the LDS sent their children to Protestant schools, there’s no evidence of mass conversions.
Hales, the Westminster library director, has searched, unsuccessfully, for a more complete set of copies of The Church Review. Westminster has 21 volumes of the weekly newspaper, comprising 524 pages, but there likely were dozens more published beginning in 1893.
Hales doesn’t even know how long the newspaper was published, although in the Dec. 29, 1895 edition, the publisher noted that the newspaper’s expansion “has scarcely begun.”
Holding up “Old Utah” as a time of “great prejudice” by Mormons against Gentiles, editor and publisher Bowman praised the early Christian pioneers of various faiths.
“By fire they have been fused into one vast body of laborers in the vineyard of Him who prayed that his people might be one; and that prayer has attained nearer to its fruition in these snow-clad hills and sun-kissed vales than anywhere else on the face of the earth.”