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Family HOME Evening

July 1, 2014
Wilford Woodruff

Wilford Woodruff

In 1890 under the direction of the fourth prophet and president Wilford Woodruff, the LDS Church issued the Manifesto, later canonized as Official Declaration 1, which banned the practice of polygamy in the LDS Church.

We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice…

Inasmuch as laws have been enacted by Congress forbidding plural marriages, which laws have been pronounced constitutional by the court of last resort, I hereby declare my intention to submit to those laws, and to use my influence with the members of the Church over which I preside to have them do likewise.

…And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.

But did you know that there was a second manifesto?

Joseph F. Smith

Joseph F. Smith

In 1904, the sixth prophet and president of the LDS Church, Joseph F. Smith said, in essence, “No, we really mean it. No more polygamy.”

Inasmuch as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have been entered into, contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff of September 24, 1890, commonly called the manifesto, which was issued by President Woodruff, and adopted by the Church at its general conference, October 6, 1890, which forbade any marriages violative of the law of the land, I, Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereby affirm and declare that no such marriages have been solemnized with the sanction, consent, or knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage, he will be deemed in transgression against the Church, and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof and excommunicated therefrom.

President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Given in a general conference of the church in April 1904, this statement, while not officially canonized, resulted in several excommunications including two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Matthias F. Cowley and John W. Taylor, as well as the formation of a committee in 1909 to investigate those who were involved in plural marriages. The definition of the Mormon family was changing.

Moreover, in 1908, Henry Ford released the Model T, another and iconic example of the industrialization and capitalism that was sweeping across the nation. Businesses settled and sprang up in Utah, and society increasingly shifted from a rural agrarian community to an urban commercial one. But what does that have to do with the price of rice? It meant that more and more fathers were working away from the home instead of on the homestead.

Model T Ford, picture from 1910 in Salt Lake City

Model T Ford, picture from 1910 in Salt Lake City

Enter the institution of Family Home Evening.

On April 27, 1915, Joseph F. Smith and his two counselors in the First Presidency issued a letter to all church members asking them to begin the practice of holding Family Home Evening.

…we advise and urge the inauguration of a “Home Evening” throughout the Church, at which time fathers and mothers may gather their boys and girls about them in the home and teach them the word of the Lord. They may thus learn more fully the needs and requirements of their families; at the same time familiarizing themselves and their children more thoroughly with the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This “Home Evening” should be devoted to prayer, singing hymns, songs, instrumental music, scripture-reading, family topics and specific instruction on the principles of the gospel, and on the ethical problems of life, as well as the duties and obligations of children to parents, the home, the Church, society and the nation. For the smaller children appropriate recitations, songs, stories and games may be introduced. Light refreshments of such a nature as may be largely prepared in the home might be served. 

Formality and stiffness should be studiously avoided, and all the family participate in the exercises.

It emphasized teaching the gospel as well as getting to know one another better as a family through a dedicated evening together once a month (not weekly as is the current instruction), and it placed a premium on being in the home. Even the light refreshments would ideally be “largely prepared in the home.”

In our seminar we noticed and discussed this focus and considered how, in part, Family Home Evening might have been to pull fathers back into the home. The nation’s burgeoning capitalism took them into a workforce and away from home and family. Not only that, but as the Mormon family redefined itself in strictly monogamous relationships, having father always living in the same home would have been a change from some of the dynamics in polygamy. Perhaps this Family Home program was for reuniting fathers with their families in their own homes just as much as it was for instructing children.

Claudia didn’t seem to have especially fond memories of Family Home Evening (FHE). At one point in class, the conversation between her and Richard went about like this with her characteristically dry wit:

“My experience in family home evening, both in the family I came from and the family I raised, everybody hated it!” 

Richard countered, “After the age of twelve. Before the age of twelve they adored it.”

Claudia conceded, “Well, yes, but…”

Richard continued, “Tell them what you said about it.”

“Oh, well, we did it. Is that what you mean?”

Richard kept at it, “Well, you said that even so it was a way that brought you and your sisters together, that there’s no such thing as a bad family home evening. You said that in a talk.”

To which Claudia wryly said, “Oh, well one is forced into such things.” 

Gordon B. Hinckley as a boy (but older than 5)

Gordon B. Hinckley as a boy (but older than 5)

Hearing the Bushmans I couldn’t help but remember President Hinckley’s account. Gordon B. Hinckley, the fifteenth prophet and president of the LDS Church was five years old when the instruction was given, and he recalled,

We were miserable performers as children. We could do all kinds of things together while playing, but for one of us to try to sing a solo before the others was like asking ice cream to stay hard on the kitchen stove. In the beginning, we would laugh and make cute remarks about one another’s performance. But our parents persisted. We sang together. We prayed together. We listened quietly while Mother read Bible and Book of Mormon stories. Father told us stories out of his memory. …

Out of those simple little meetings, held in the parlor of our old home, came something indescribable and wonderful. Our love for our parents was strengthened. Our love for brothers and sisters was enhanced. Our love for the Lord was increased. An appreciation for simple goodness grew in our hearts. These wonderful things came about because our parents followed the counsel of the President of the Church. (“Family Home Evening,” March 2003 Ensign)

Today’s reading

First Presidency letter, 27 April 1915 — Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose.

Susa Young Gates, “A Message from a Woman of the Latter-day Saints to the Women of All the World,” Improvement Era 10 (April 1907), 447-52.



“When I was growing up we just got hammered on the Word of Wisdom. It doesn’t really come up now.” -Richard

“We’ve now been authorized to ask questions, but manner is everything. If you have a calm, collected manner, you can often ask questions without it feeling like you’re causing trouble.” -Richard

“Who would be the best people to be bishops in the wards? I decided that it would be the older single women, but of course that’s not really possible.” -Claudia



Utah was the third state that had constitutional votes for women. The U.S. government allowed it because they thought the women would vote down polygamy, and when that didn’t happen, the women lost their right to vote for a long time.


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