August_2006_1921 Eugenics Congress 400 px1

Around the turn of the twentieth century, a eugenics movement developed in the U.S. (and elsewhere) –a formal movement complete with societies, annual congresses, lecture circuits, and multiple journals or magazines. Eugenics was considered the science of selective human breeding, and the express objective of the movement was “betterment of the race.” This was to be achieved through public policy initiatives (including marriage, sterilization and anti-immigration laws) and encouragement of private reproductive choices through public relations measures such as sermon competitions and “fittest family” and “better baby” contests.

English scientist Francis Galton coined the term “eugenics” in his 1883 book Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development. He is considered by many to be the “father” of eugenics. Some date the beginning of the eugenics movement to that 1883 publication, others place it a couple of decades later, when the formal organizations began to gather significant followers. Galton published some initial speculations regarding human genetics in his 1865 MacMillan’s magazine article, “Hereditary Character and Talent.” With that brief background in mind, consider this:

George Q. Cannon was called to the Quorum of the Twelve in 1860. Three years earlier, in 1857, he was serving as the President of the California and Oregon missions, and from San Francisco he published The Western Standard, a Mormon newspaper. The August 7 issue contained an article he apparently wrote entitled “The Improvement of Our Species.” Here are some excerpts from that article (emphasis added):

“… Experience has long since taught mankind the necessity of observing certain natural laws in the propagation of animals, or the stock will degenerate and finally become extinct. But strange to say, in regard to the human animal, these laws, except in certain particulars, are more or less disregarded in these latter times. The inevitable consequence is, the race is degenerating, new diseases are introduced, while effeminacy and barrenness are on the increase: and worse than all, this evil condition of the body has its effects upon the mind…

Doubtless it is and ought to be the duty of legislators and conservators of our race, to introduce such regulations and laws, and enforce them, as are best calculated to develope [sic] our physical nature. A well formed, healthy, vigorous race should be the end sought. …The ancient Spartans acted upon this policy, and the happy result was the production of a nation of the noblest men and women the world ever saw. No diseased and effeminate person was permitted to marry and curse the world with a tainted offspring. The children of the entire republic belonged to the Government, which appointed competent persons to superintend their physical and mental training, and when the fit time arrived they married them as they saw fit, keeping constantly in view the improvement of the race. …A mal-formed man will have a mal-formed mind. A well developed intellectual brain will produce a philosophic mind.

…Notwithstanding these expedients, the moral sense of the people is being more and more blunted continually. This state of things must continue, until moralists and legislators find out that a true and effective reform must begin in the marriage bed. License to marry should not come from the priest but from the physician. It will be when the law forbids the unhealthy to beget children–when it compels every healthy man to marry–when a refusal to this will debar him from holding office-from voting-from sueing at courts of law-from making contracts-from following any learned profession-when it suffers no healthy girl to remain single after she beomes of proper age–when no whore shall be permitted to live–when illicit intercourse shall be punished with death, that we shall witness any improvement in the morals of the age. It is true, such a course would come in contact with the ridiculous sentimentality of the age, and heaven knows, if that could be overturned and rooted out it would be a substantial blessing. The question is not what will cross the notions of novelists, libertines and fools, but what will produce a superior race of men and consequently a purer state of society?

This is precisely what the Saints in the valleys of the mountains are endeavoring to accomplish. Joseph Smith had penetration enough to know, that so long as the bodies of men are weak, degenerate, and tainted with impurities inherited from their fathers for a thousand generations, it is impossible to accomplish with them any great moral improvement, or indoctrinate them with many divine truths. Therefore, being divinely aided, he introduced a system……He taught that none but healthy men should marry–that a man should know his wife for the purpose of procreation and for that only–that he should keep himself apart from her during the carrying and nursing periods–that it is lawful and right, God commanding, for a man to have more than one wife–that adultery should be punishable with death–that whoredom should not be tolerated under any consideration–and that by observing these roles and the general laws of health, their posterity would become healthy and vigorous…

This theory is reduced to practice in Utah Territory; and it is remarked by immigrants passing through Salt Lake City, that the proportion of children is unusually great, and they are uncommonly robust and healthy. Who cannot see that the mental vigor of those children will be in proportion to their physical perfection? And that a generation is rising in the American inteirior who will make their mark upon the history of their time? This is what the Gentiles with the priests at their head call “Mormon abomination,” and other hard names: but the question arises, Which is the better? The Mormon, or the Christian practice in relation to this matter? There is not a whore in Utah, neither is there a single female but what can find a husband and a home if she so desires: whereas in Christian cities harlots are numbered by the thousand. The genius of Christian monogamy is to encourage prostitution; because it forbids plural marriages, yet compels no man to marry, and thus debars thousands of females from gratifying the strongest instincts of their nature, which are comprehended in the sacred names of “wife” and “mother.”

…Human nature must be taken as it is. Legalize polygamy, abolish whoredom by the strong arm of the law, and punish adultery with death, and numberless evils both physical and moral would disappear from the land. Wives who are now sickly and wretched, and who are giving to the world children filled with evil passions fastened upon them by the inordinate indulgence of their begetters, would become healthy and strong, and their offspring would grow up free from many evils which now taint them. Then when the people have laid the foundation for a healthy generation, their efforts at moral and spiritual improvmenet may result in success. But as long as monogamy is the law, bastardy, whoredom, and degeneracy will exist; and also their concomitants, irreligion, intemperance, licentiousness and vice of every kind and degree.”

There were other interesting Mormon contributions to eugenics literature, think apostle and First Presidency member Anthony Ivins’ 1931 eugenics novel “Her Mother’s Daughter, or the various discussions of eugenics in the Improvement Era or other church publications. Utah, like many other states, adopted some of the policies encouraged by the eugenics movements (Utah’s sterilization law, passed in 1925, seems to be a clear product of the eugenics movement, though I’m not sure whether its 1888 marriage act (which included anti-miscegenation restrictions) can be described that way).

One aspect I find interesting about Cannon’s “The Improvement of Our Species” is its timing. It predates Galton’s first 1865 eugenics writings. And Galton’s early writing contained tentative suggestions about a thesis that he thought ought to be studied further. In comparison, Cannon’s article was confident, knowing. He advocated set public policies regarding marriage, sexuality, and family.

Cannon’s article is a demonstration that none of eugenics, the social motives behind the movement, or the public policies the movement came to adopt started with Galton. We Mormons didn’t evolve the wheel here, either; perhaps our only unique contribution was harnessing eugenic arguments to support polygamy and criticize monogamy.

As Hardy and Erickson write about Mormon leverage of eugenic arguments, Cannon was not alone in doing so (following quote from “Regeneration–Now and Evermore!…”):

“…Latter-day Saints so effectively turned the arguments of their critics to their own use that champions of monogamous marriage were placed on the defense. And Mormon spokesmen, sensing the strength of their claims, condemned monogamy with a sharpness that would astonish most Latter-day Saint church members today. Nothing, they said, had been so corrupting to society and health as Christianity’s departure from the divine economy of the sexes found in Old Testament polygamy. Joseph F. Smith, an apostle and counselor in the First Presidency, was uncompromising: “Our system of marriage promotes life, purity, innocence, vitality, health, increase and longevity, while the other engenders disease, disappointment, misery and premature death, that is the difference…. They are not alike at all.” And in an epistle of 1885, the church’s First Presidency described the consequences of adherence to the monogamous ethic as one where the “channels which God has provided for the lawful exercise of the appetites with which He has endowed man … have been dammed up, and the history of Christendom informs us with what terrible results—the degradation and prostitution of woman, and the spread of the most terrible scourge known to humanity, the social evil, with its attendant train of loathsome horrors.”

In a separate article (“That “Same Old Question…”), Hardy has written:

“As unlikely as it may seem today, we are learning that champions of Mormon plural wifery promised those who entered the order and lived it as they were told that they would have better health, would live longer and would produce healthier, more intelligent children than those in monogamy. While historians have sometimes referred to these claims, until recently they have never been given more than cursory attention.We now know that such promises were of enormous significance in the minds of nineteenth-century believers in the polygamous way. George Q. Cannon once said [in an 1869 speech] that the physiological advantages brought by polygamy constituted the most important argument in its favor.”

Fifty years later, B.H. Roberts was strumming the same chord:

“It was in the name of a divinely ordered species of eugenics that Latter Day Saints accepted the revelation which included a plurality of wives. Polygamy would have afforded the opportunity of producing from that consecrated fatherhood and motherhood the improved type of man the world needs to reveal the highest possibilities of the race, that the day of the super man might come, and with him come also the redemption and betterment of the race.” (Comprehensive History…5:297, 1930 ed., first published in 1912).

Hardy also points out some of the assumptions about sexuality and human development that were featured in some Mormon eugenics-based arguments regarding marriage and sexuality:

“Drawing on popular theories of the time such as acquired characteristics and the importance of spermatic continence, church leaders said that if sexual intercourse was employed only for reproductive purposes and if male and female partners could purge themselves of sensuous motivations both they and their offspring would be healthier and more long lived. It was the presence of lustful desire and accompanying sexual excess, Apostle Orson Hyde said [also in 1857], that accounted for the birth of so many cripples and idiots, ‘a puny set, a race of helpless, scrubby children.’ On the other hand, he said, if men and women would restrain themselves and procreate only with pure and holy intent they would produce a noble, long-lived and god-like race.”

One example of Cannon’s argument along these lines was his assertion in the “Improvement of the Species” article that “Wives who are now sickly and wretched, and who are giving to the world children filled with evil passions fastened upon them by the inordinate indulgence of their begetters, would become healthy and strong, and their offspring would grow up free from many evils which now taint them.”

Cannon, Hyde, J.F. Smith, and other Mormons didn’t invent theories of how lust or specific sexual practices affected human development, or the related Lamarckian assumptions, or the rhetoric of eugenics. And that we adopted these from the larger culture shouldn’t be any great surprise, though I was surprised to learn first about eugenics, and then about Mormon instances of it. Those instances, including our eugenic arguments against monogamy, do lead me to wonder in what ways I, today, have accepted or promoted ideas about sexuality, marriage, or human development that will seem odd or idiotic to someone looking back in 20 years, or 50, or 150.

Some sources:

  • Cannon, George Q. “The Improvement of Our Species.” Western Standard, August 7, 1857 1857, 2. (full text here).
  • Faux, Steeven. “Genetic Self Interest & Mormon Polygyny: A Sociobiological Perspective of the Doctrinal Development of Polygyny.” Sunstone 40 (1983).
  • Hardy, B. Carmon. “That “Same Old Question of Polygamy and Polygamous Living:” Some Recent Findings Regarding Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Mormon Polygamy.” Utah Historical Quarterly 73, no. 3 (2005): 212-24.
  • Hardy, B. Carmon, and Dan Erickson. “‘Regeneration–Now and Evermore!’; Mormon Polygamy and the Physical Rehabilitation of Humankind.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10, no. 1 (2001).
  • Ivins, Anthony W. Her Mother’s Daughter. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1931.
  • Rosen, Christine. Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004

Stirling Adams


  1. rleonard says:

    Yeehah……….let the games begin. You can say a lot about polygamy but there sure are a lot of huge families generated thru the generations. Eugenics was a common belief 80-90 years ago.

    Is there a modern equivalent of the Eugenics movement? I would argue yes. Eugenics gave birth to the modern abortion industry

  2. Abortion is not rooted in eugenics. Abortion is practically little more than birth control. It is not about having the best family or the perfect kids. Abortion is about women (and not men) controlling their own reproductive lives.

  3. rleonard says:

    Yes abortion is linked to eugenics. Check out the founding of Planned Parenthood and its founder Margaret Sanger (a neo nazi by the way). Essentially PP was founded to ensure that lower class people ( esp African Americans) had fewer children thru BC and abortion. It grew from that start.

  4. rleonard says:
  5. Elder Ballard in 1927 General Conference on Birth rate, quoted a scientist:

    “At an illustration the ‘Mormon’ people of Utah, under the influence of their religious belief, have kept up a higher birthrate among their intellectual and professional classes than the people of any other state of the Union. Their theology teaches that every child that is born means that this act of human beings gives another soul its opportunity to pass from a lower state of existence through the trial state of this bodily life to a higher state of spiritual evolution. Dr. Johnson, a professor in the University of Pittsburgh (I met this gentleman in the east. He was in one of our meetings in Pittsburgh) believes that the ‘Mormon’ religion is the most eugenical religion in the world.”

    This is at, perhaps, the apex of the ethnic Mormon.

    Eugenics sadly is at the heart of Germany’s Final Solution. Really, in some incarnations, it proposed much more curtailing of agency than “Satanic Communism” ever did.

    That said, there is a modern eugenics that we must innevitably adopt. With the increased availability of medical care, many who would not have had children 100 years ago, do now. Modern medicine does trump natural selection. The natural question is how do we handle the inevitable decrease of “fitness.” I and my parents are ones that have been saved and had families by modernity, so this is in no way a condemnation.

  6. MikeInWeHo says:

    Gender selection, surrogate parenting, amniocentesis leading to abortions, genetic counseling….it goes on and on and on. Perhaps we’re already standing in the middle of a new eugenics forest but only see the individual trees.

  7. Very interesting post.

    My impression is that such arguments for polygamy were of the same nature as those that propped up the priesthood ban. Given the existence of the policy, reasons had to be given for it.

    On the other hand, did Joseph really teach what Cannon ascribed to him (other than the obvious about polygamy being okay and adultery being wrong)?

  8. rleonard, you’re being disingenous. Yes, Margaret Sanger had eugenics views, as were popular at the time, but her birth control works were for the most part a separate effort and not a central part of the history of Planned Parenthood.

    To say in broad fashion that eugenics gave birth to abortion is something just not supported by the facts.

  9. rleonard says:

    Jared #7 is probably right.

    Also today eugenics in addition abortion is found in all the areas mentioend by J stapely. Like in everything else advancing technology can be used for both good and evil.

  10. Abortion is not rooted in eugenics. Abortion is practically little more than birth control. It is not about having the best family or the perfect kids. Abortion is about women (and not men) controlling their own reproductive lives.

    Perhaps in the West, but in many Eastern Countries, especially China, abortion is used as a tool to select the sex of the child to be born, with females being aborted in favour of another try at a male baby.

  11. S. P. Bailey says:

    Like Jared, (no. 7) I would be curious to know whether anything even close to Eugenics existed during the life of Joseph Smith, who seems much more at home in the ancient world than in the scientistic late 19C and beyond.

  12. Just to clarify, my question was specifically about this passage:

    “He taught that none but healthy men should marry—that a man should know his wife for the purpose of procreation and for that only—that he should keep himself apart from her during the carrying and nursing periods…”

  13. Those instances, including our eugenic arguments against monogamy, lead me to wonder in what ways I, today, have accepted or promoted ideas about sexuality, marriage, or human development that will seem odd or idiotic to someone looking back in 20 years, or 50, or 150.

    That’s a good question to ponder. 50-60 years ago most Mormon leaders who wrote on the topic were vehemently opposed to artificial birth control (it was illegal to sell in some states until the early 70s), now is artificial birth control is largely accepted within our nation and Church.

    RLLeonard seems to feel abortion is usually or almost always a bad thing. I think abortion can be a reasonable and ethical choice in many circumstances. I wonder if in 50 years either of us will have a significantly different viewpoint (and speaking of eugenics, I’m in my 30s, it’s only in our time that someone my age can reasonably expect to live another 50 years).

  14. Nice material, Stirling. It’s worth noting that one of the frequent points that Christian critics made against Mormon polygamy was that it had deleterious health effects on the children of polygamous marriages — as well as for the men, who would be drained of energy, among other things. So Mormon responses emphasizing the health of Mormon polygamous families and arguing that monogamy as practiced by Christians of that day (i.e., not always faithfully) presented its own health risks weren’t just taking potshots at monogamy, they were responding to pointed (and largely unfounded) criticism directed at them. When Christians stopped attacking polygamy (because it went away), Mormons stopped attacking monogamy.

    I think Hardy covered some of the health rhetoric that went back and forth in Solemn Covenant.

  15. I like that men being able to have more wives means there would be fewer prostitutes.


    Good post. Thanks.

  16. Eugenics proponents would be horrified to know that nowadays, the more educated and intelligent a woman is, the less likely she is to have children. That’s quite a loss from the genetic pool.

    When I’ve read writings from polygamists defending polygamy, I’ve been surprised at how violently they’ve attacked monogamy. This helps give me some perspective on why. Otherwise, you read what the polygamists have to say and it sure sounds like they’d be horrified at the Church’s current pro-monogamy teachings.

  17. J Stapley (#5), Christine Rosen, in her book Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement, discusses the Roswell Johnson that your Ballard quote refers to, and she includes info on his favorable assessment of Mormon eugenics. Do you have a cite for the Elder Ballard quote?

    Jared (# 7,12), I don’t have any information supporting Cannon’s claim that Joseph Smith taught these specific concepts (anyone else have info on this?). However, Dave in #14 mentions Hardy’s book, Solemn Covenant: The Mormon Polygamous Passage. I just did a quick search on its text on, and Hardy points out that Joseph encouraged intermarriage with Indians with the eugenic motive of making the Indian offspring more “delightsome.” (p. 5).

    Dave (#14), thanks for the added point about the context (heated national criticism of polygamy) for Mormon criticism of monogamy. Thanks also for bringing up Solemn Covenant, I just ordered it. Hardy also discusses the marriage/health/eugenics debate you describe in “”Regeneration–Now and Evermore!”; Mormon Polygamy and the Physical Rehabilitation of Humankind.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 10:1 (2001).”

  18. Melvin J. Ballard, Conference Report, October 1927, Second Day — Morning Meeting. pg. 68.

    Other mentions of eugenics in 20th century general conference:

    Charles Penrose in Conference Report, April 1913, p.57.
    Charles C. Hart in Conference Report, October 1930, p.116.
    Sylvester Cannon in Conference Report, October 1940, p.90.

    As far as the discussion in Sacred Covenant goes, see pg. 102, 298-299. 339 & 345.

  19. I had a second and skimmed through the references to eugenics in the Improvement Era, which are copius. Some interesting items:

    In the March 1918 edition, there were listed the printed lessons for Melchezidec Priesthood lessons including:

    22 Sexual Life; 23 Divorce; 24 Race Suicide; 25 Race Suicide (continued); 26 Music; 27 Dancing; 28 The Theatre; 29 Heredity; 30 Eugenics;

    Lesson 25 identifies some negative aspects of eugenics, quoting Prof. Conklin:

    There is great enthusiasm today on the part of many childless reformers for negative eugenical measures. (They forget that) sterility is too easily acquired;

    Eugenics is mentioned in the Theatre lesson and the Heredity lesson focused quite a bit on it (mentioning among other things, penal sterilization and eugenics clubs).

    Dr. Brimhall authored several lessons on eugenics for the Study for the Advanced Senior Class, M. I. A., 1921-22 (IE Jan. & Feb. 1922)

    In Jan 26 there was a note that:

    Prof. Roswell H. Johnson, of the University of Pittsburgh, spoke on “The Eugenic Aspect of ‘Mormonism.’ ” Prof. Johnson is co-author of Applied Eugenica, a text book used in many colleges.

    The 1931-32 Adult Sunday School Course was a book on health, of which one of the 7 chapters was on eugenics (IE Aug. 31)

  20. A couple of years back, I wrote a paper for an undergraduate class about the ethics of eugenics among the Mormons. I mentioned some of the historical stuff, but not nearly the level of detail above, which I really appreciate. My topic was more about how the Mormon singles ward was a positive eugenics mechanism. (Eugenics has two sides- Negative (certain people should not procreate) and positive (certain people should procreate more frequently)). Mormonism has a history of both. However, what set me off writing about this was something my professor mentioned about Singapore. This country invites all of its bright young professionals and intellectuals on big cruises together, so they’ll meet and in hopes that they will marry. This is evidently the explicit governmental purpose of this program. I got to thinking about how that is exactly what the Church did when it created the singles ward. Get a bunch of people that we think really ought to be making babies together and then do everything possible to make them meet, mingle, and eventually get married.
    I don’t know how much this adds to the above post, but I thought it was an interesting aside.

  21. Rick Jepson says:

    Stirling, thanks a ton for the interesting post–especially for the references. Mormon attitudes about eugenics has been one of a handful of topics on my back burner….things I’m hoping to get to when other pursuits are done. Your post is a great primer. If you have more info or more references, please post them and/or send to jepsonrick “at”

    I must say that George Cannon is my least favorite of the early leaders. Don’t think we’d have gotten along.

    The historical context of all this is pretty significant, and is important to consider when you run into some unforgivably racist thing that Brigham Young or some other early leader said. Although I don’t think that being a product of your time is much of an excuse (especially for a prophet), it is worth noting that B.Y., Cannon, and others weren’t unique in their racism…..very educated people had the same beliefs. It makes no more sense to criticize mormonism for those statements than it does to attack organic evolution on grounds that Darwin and Huxley were insanely racist.

    I’ve just come across an essay about Down’s syndrom…..which Dr. Down called mongolism because he believed that children thus afflicted were born as Asians instead of whites….that ontogeny had not quite recapitulated phylogeny and these kids were being born an evolutionary step behind where they should be.

    Of course there are no grounds for this, nor were there ever (especially since all human races–and even chimpanzees–can have the chromosomal trisomy). But this is the sort of thinking that was common in the 1860’s.

  22. Wonderful post, Sterling.

    I guess, in a way, Mormons still believe in a quasi, spiritual “eugenics”: it remains Mormon belief (not preached much, and I don’t believe it, but still) that Mormon families are the best place for spirits to gain their mortal tabernacles.

    That is, Spirit A is born to temple-worthy Mormons B and C. Spirit A thus becomes Human D, and Human D is considered to be at the apex of spiritual potential in mortality.

  23. That George Q. Cannon article was quite something. Now I have an additional explanation for Mormon polygamy: we were breeding a superior race. The reaction to eugenics is interesting. Some off-target theories notwithstanding, the science of it is largely correct. Eugenics would do more for human health than stem cells could ever hope to, yet opposition to eugenics won’t get you labelled a scientific ignoramus the way opposition to stem cell research can, not this decade at least. Scientific correctness doesn’t make us feel any better about dealing with people as we would with cattle and sheep, though.

    Also, Mormonism does seem to have some eugenic effect given the positive correlation between educational attainment and number of children seen for Mormon women, the opposite of the correlation for other women.

  24. Stirling says:

    J. Stapley, Thanks for including the examples in 19. A year ago I tried without luck to find a copy of the 1918 Melch. priesthood manual with the eugenics lesson (at BYU or a used book store). Does the database you are looking at have the text of the lessons? (and what is your database, LDS Library, BYU’s rapidly growing on-line church periodical collection?)

    I wasn’t aware of the eugenics lessons in the 1931-32 Adult Sunday School Course on health. I’ll try to find that. In the 1950s, my mother was a student at Weber High School in Ogden. She had a high school course called “Eugenics.” I saw that when going through some of her papers. She doesn’t remember much about the content of the course, but thinks it was mostly a health-hygiene class.

  25. rleonard says:

    My impression of George Q Cannon is that he was very emphatic about polygamy and that his quotes are usually the most strident.

    Now he sounds like the crazy uncle you are afraid to show public.

    I am still hearing the Mormon families should have more kids here in my area from the TBM families but never from the pulpit. This is I suppose is a form of Eugenics. Its also one of the reasons that I think the church will retain its conservative flavor for the forseeable future. Our most strident amongst us have the most kids and the strident attitudes get passed down.

  26. The Melchizadech Priesthood lessons for 1918 are printed in the Improvement Era, which is digitized and available from places like Gospelink, lds library, and (which is the online compatriot to lds library).

    I perhaps was mistaken about the adult Sunday School class. It looks like it was part of the Adult MIA course. I’m not familiar with the Adult MIA, whether it was regular Sunday School or not. In any case, the full reference to the book to be used as lesson material is:

    HOW TO LIVE by Fisher & Fisk, with Study Outline by Dr. L. L. Daines and Miss Charlotte Stewart of the General Board M. I. A. Adult Committee and Dr. L. Weston Oaks of the B. Y. U. Faculty.

  27. How to Live seems to have been somewhat of a classic. The Adult MIA used the 1916 version, which is still available, but it has been reprinted as recently as 2004. The study outline would be an important addition to understanding what went on in the Mormon classroom.

  28. Rick (#21): “I must say that George Cannon is my least favorite of the early leaders. Don’t think we’d have gotten along.”

    You apparently wouldn’t have been alone. The “Succession in the Presidency” chapter of Ron Walker’s biography of Heber J. Grant spends almost 15 pages discussing the tensions between Cannon (Pres. John Taylor’s first counselor) and many members of the 12. Taylor died in July, 1887. The problems with Cannon were significant enough that it contributed to the lengthy delay in establishing a new Church President. For example, in March of 1888, Wilford Woodruff was not able to obtain approval to reorganize the First Presidency. The for and against vote was split 5 to 5. “As usual Cannon lay at the center of things. Everyone understood that Cannon would probably be selected as Elder Woodruff’s First Counselor, and this hard fact prevented resolution.” Walker, “Qualities That Count: Heber J. Grant as Businessman, Missionary, and Apostle.” BYU Studies 43, no. 1 (2004), p.216.

  29. My wifes family was involved in the Cannon Succession battle. It was described in my wifes family history journal collection and passed down in family lore. The family names are Wells and Young. One old relative described it as a “the Cannon battle”

    According to the journals it was not just Cannon that was difficult. It was his wives as well. Apparently they were very catty and used all their influence on the wives (sometimes their sisters) of the other members of the quorum to propel Cannon forward. His wives apparently wanted him to be President and were doing so because they wanted the the prestige of being married to the Prophet and all the power that it entails.

  30. John, do you have a source for the positive correlation btw. LDS women’s educational attainment & number of children?

  31. Kristine, I read it in The Mormon Presence in Canada edited by Brigham Young Card, published by University of Alberta Press, 1990. As I recall, one of the chapters had a quantitative table on this. Shortly after reading the book a decade ago, I shared the correlation with a woman in my ward who was pregnant with her fourth child. She laughed, “Yeah, that’s what I’m doing: Showing how smart I am.”

  32. Kristine,

    I have seen similar studies from the 1980’s like J Mansfield. Mostly from BYU.

    I am not sure if they are still holding true though. My own sense is that its probably not the case anymore.

    I do think that LDS educated women have more kids then their similarly educated counterparts in the world at large which is good for us in the long term.

    According to these older studies the more educated women were also more likely to be active as well. I remember 77% for women and about 70% for men with graduate degrees. As opposed to 45% or so generally. I about fell over when I read this in the 1990’s I have no idea if this is still true either.

  33. Rosalynde says:

    re: education and kids for women, I’d guess that it’s a u-shaped curve, with the number of kids generally increasing to about 3 years of college, or maybe college graduate, and then decreasing thereafter. Women who don’t go to college are less likely to marry college graduates, and thus the family’s earning potential would be capped, effectively limiting family size. Years of graduate education, on the other hand, both cut into childbearing years and (probably) lead to a career, which also tends to limit kids.

  34. rleonard says:


    Are you making the argument that a woman needs to basicly date college attending men to have larger families due to economics? That they meet while attending college together? That makes sense. Its a very interesting topic and not entirely a threadjack. Then if she gets to far into either acedemics or a career then the family size is most likely limited? This also makes sense.

  35. Rosalynde, in the absence of data yours is a plausible theory. My memory, though, is that those with master’s degrees were more fertile than those with bachelor’s degrees. I may be remembering wrong. This comes up enough that I should obtain again the book I mentioned above and nail down what the data was.

  36. I’m not familiar with the study in The Mormon Presence in Canada, but I have seen other studies. In “Religious Influences on Mormon Fertility: Cross-National Comparisons, Review of Religious Research 30.4 (June 1989), Tim Heaton writes: “Contrary to tendencies in the general population, [the wife’s] education has a positive relationship with fertility [among LDS women] in Britain and Japan, and only a small negative relationship exists in the U.S. The positive effect of education arises probably because higher education is associated with greater orthodoxy [Albrecht and Heaton, 1984; Heaton and Albrecht, 1986], and greater orthodoxy implies having a larger family. Mexico provides a sharp contrast to other countries, in that education has a large negative impact on fertility. In fact, six additional years of education is associated with an average reduction by one child in average family size. In the Mexican context of rapid fertility decline, marked socioeconomic fertility differentials in the national population are mirrored among Mormons” (p. 406).

  37. Kristine says:

    “greater orthodoxy implies having a larger family”


    But thanks for the citation, Justin!

  38. Just thinking out loud here, but I find this whole discussion very interesting. When you look at the larger picture of the church I see threads of eugenics everywhere. And I suppose I should admit that it is one of the reasons that drew me to the church. Although with no data, the stereotype is that members are healthier, live longer, and have more children thus pass it on. We are a ‘peculiar people.’ I can imagine that Joseph or BY would have dreamed of a day when Mormons filled the country or world…thanks to the practive of polygamy and following the WOW, attending the temple, etc. Perhaps not an end result of eugenics, I can at least understand the early church reasoning for a more purified, perfected race. Eugenics as practiced by the church is the same difference as Hitler’s Final Solution as consecration is to communism. Satan is always taking a pit of the truth and slighting it just enough to make it his own.

  39. In another article, Heaton notes a positive correlation between fertility and variables such as church attendance and temple marriage. Couples married in the temple have, on average, .6 more children than those who do not. Weekly church attenders have about 1.2 more children than those who never attend. “How Does Religion Influence Fertility?: The Case of Mormons,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 25.2 (June 1986): 253.

    Another eugenics article by George Q. Cannon that I came across some time ago: Deseret Weekly, Feb. 25, 1893, p. 14.

  40. Justin, thanks for passing on the GQC 1893 article. It’s a good example of how eugenics concepts were used by some Americans to frame their views about “race,” and miscengenation.

    …In the South colored people were increasing very rapidly, and the admixture of the white blood with them was hybridizing in the race and gradually destroying the higher type….The experience of our missionaries has taught us that there is a great difference in blood and in races. …There is no disputing the fact that there is a greater susceptibility to the truth among some races and families, than there is among others. In Utah we have a good foundation to start on. Our people are not of mongrel breeds. We have in our Territory today more New England people and their descendents than can be found in any other community of our number outside of New England itself. …there is no reason why there should not be a very superior race brought up here-strong, stalwart and healthy physically and intellectually bright and progressive mentally. From Europe, those who have been gathered and are principally from England, Scotland, Wales…There are comparatively few of what are known as the inferior races in Utah — a smaller proportion than in any other of the Pacific states and territories, for, all told, even if we include civilized Indians, they only number 2006.

    On a related note, in the 1890s, when GQC was the long-time First-Presidency member, the church’s policy of not allowing members with black African ancestry participate in priesthood/temple blessings came up repeatedly (at least 4 times) for re-evalation. The notes meeting minutes show GQC consistently lobbied against any policy changes suggested by the Church President or other apostles.

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