A Biographical Overview of Recent LDS History

In our judgment, the ten most influential Mormons of the Twentieth Century.

What follows is an extraordinarily long collaborative post.

At my suggestion, several of BCC’s best, nerdiest historical minds have provided beefy paragraphs on the ten Mormons that most profoundly affected the Church as we know it today. The participants in this encyclopedic megapost include myself, Kevin Barney, J. Nelson-Seawright, J. Stapley, and Kris Wright. The figures profiled are arranged in more or less chronological order rather than order of magnitude or importance, and two of the ten posts are on multiple individuals whose collective influence were interrelated and interdependent. Enjoy!

James E. Talmage (J. Stapley)
Jesus the Christ is one of a few extra-canonical volumes to receive the endorsement of the First Presidency. Further, it has enjoyed a longer circulation among Latter-day Saint readers than any other volume in Church history (by scores of decades [J. now recognizes that this doesn’t make any sense]). James Talmage, a geologist, scientific academic and intellectual, worked for the various museums and universities in Utah. He is perhaps best remembered for his great works in theology. Before being called as an apostle, he authored Articles of Faith, which persisted (in edited form) in the “Missionary Library” until the 21st century. In the first two decades of the 20th century, the Joseph F. Smith Presidency, with the help of James Talmage (ordained in 1911), further systemized Mormon doctrine by extricating much of the nineteenth-century ideas that the modern Church finds so perplexing. This effort culminated in the authoring of Jesus the Christ. Further, when an individual attempted to blackmail the Church by publishing photographs of the Salt Lake Temple interior, Talmage suggested a prophylactic publication with an explication of the Temples function and authored the same (The House of the Lord). Talmage was also the chief editor for the 1902 and 1921 editions of the Pearl of Great Price (which remained unchanged until 1981) and served on the committee to edit the other various canon. Their furtive effort to modernize the text of the Book of Mormon was not successful, but he divided the Pearl of Great price into column and verse and helped annotate the various volumes. Talmage is also well known among scholars for his lectures and writings demonstrating that there was “death before the fall,” in contrast to the position taken by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith.

J. Reuben Clark (Kris Wright)
The life of J. Reuben Clark is one of curious contradictions. Although he did not attend high school, he became the valedictorian of his class at the University of Utah, one of the top-ranked students at Columbia Law School and had a distinguished career as law professor, and in government appointments including Ambassador to Mexico. He was a committed Mormon but also a secularist. Clark was a military enthusiast in his early years, but became a fierce anti-war spokesman. He advocated racist ideas, but became one who anticipated the ending the priesthood ban. He was a committed nationalist, but had a vision of the international church. He never served a mission or in local leadership callings, yet became a counselor in the First Presidency longer than anybody else. In 1933, at age sixty-two, he was called as Second Counselor to President Heber J. Grant. In an unusual move, he was called to this office while still a High Priest, and was not ordained as an Apostle until a year and a half later. He never served in the Quorum of the Twelve, spending the rest of his life as Counselor to three successive Presidents. As a member of the First Presidency, President Clark was one who both innovated and resisted change. He was a stable presence when the Church faced the prolonged illness of the Church President for an extended period. His legacy includes the centrally directed church Welfare Plan, the reorganization of church finances, a new relationship between church auxiliaries and priesthood leadership, the construction of multi-ward buildings and the establishment of the broadcast of General Conference as well as translation services during such events.

B. H. Roberts/Hugh Nibley (Brad)
There was some debate among participants here whether B. H. Roberts or Hugh Nibley exerted a greater influence on the twentieth-century Church. In recent a survey of LDS academics, Roberts was called Mormon History’s most important intellectual, and Leonard Arrington called him “the intellectual leader of the Mormon people in the era of Mormonism’s finest intellectual attainment.” He published the seven-volume History of the Church, serving as the Church’s historian for more than three decades before his death. He was an important figure, alongside James E. Talmage and others, in early efforts to formally systematize LDS teachings and doctrines after the period of freethinking, speculation, and sometimes public disagreement and controversy over doctrinal matters that characterized the Mormon intellectual landscape during the territorial period. Roberts published several landmark treatises on LDS thought, among them The Gospel: An Exposition of Its First Principles; The Truth, The Way, The Life (not published until the early 1990s); and Book of Mormon Difficulties: A Study, in which he (among other things) compared similarities between the Book of Mormon and Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews and conjectured about the possibility that the former was a product less of divinely guided translation from ancient records than of Joseph Smith’s prophetic and religious imagination. The questions raised, but not answered, by Roberts set the stage for the ascendancy of the last century’s second most important LDS intellectual: Hugh Nibley. Unapologetic apologist, unrelenting social critic (as many an LDS lawyer and businessman well knows), Nibley used his towering intellect (and total indifference to the possibility of ever receiving a Church calling to a position of ecclesiastical responsibility) to browbeat critics of Mormonism and especially of the Book of Mormon. Most importantly, Nibley addressed himself to the questions posed by Roberts, deploying a variety of disciplinary tools, from Ancient History to copious linguistic knowledge to structuralism to seek answers. Yet for Nibley, simply arguing for the books authenticity as a document of ancient origin, no matter how convincing, was less an end than a means—a means for getting the world to take seriously the content of the book’s message, what he saw as its impassioned warnings against the contemporary evils of greed and wealth, war and violence, and the relentless pursuit of worldly power (“The Book of Mormon,” he once wrote, “is holding up a mirror to our ugliness…). In this respect, he succeeded where Roberts failed—at getting the Church to start to take seriously the Book of Mormon as an object of critical study. But their overall impact was collaborative and synergistic. It is not likely that the task of popularizing serious Book of Mormon research would have found success—or even motivation—in today’s Church without the groundwork previously laid by Roberts’ lone voice in the wilderness.

David O. McKay (Kevin Barney)
Tall. Handsome. Robust. Clean shaven. That white shock of hair. That bearing. Those penetrating eyes. David O. McKay came right out of central casting—a prophet for the 20th century. He was a General Authority for 64 years; 17 of those in the First Presidency, and almost 19 as president of the Church, beginning in 1951. He struggled early with doubt and, as a missionary to England, homesickness. One day he noticed a stone arch with the inscription “What-E’er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part,” which inspired him and became a personal mantra for the rest of his life. He loved reading good literature and chose teaching for his profession; accordingly, he had a deep concern for education (becoming the Church’s first Commissioner of Education in 1919) and was liberal-minded. Civic-minded as well, he had a strong humanitarian streak. He was the most widely travelled Church leader of his day, and by building temples and establishing stakes outside the United States he became a force in the creation of international Mormonism. David O. McKay was the bridge that brought the Saints into the modern world.

Fawn M. Brodie (Brad)
It is perhaps fitting that the one woman to make the cut did so in large part via a controversial and public act of leaving the fold. Fawn McKay Brodie, niece of Church president David O. McKay, attended graduate school at the University of Chicago, where she discarded the religious beliefs of her youth — an act she described as “exhilarating.” Determined to write the first academic, non-hagiographic biography of Joseph Smith, Jr., Brodie applied for the A. A. Knopf literary fellowship in 1943. Her selection for the fellowship made possible the research that informed No Man Knows My History. She even used her connection to President McKay to secure access to sensitive documents in the LDS archives, a fact that left her feeling “guilty as hell.” Eventually, her research ran afoul of McKay, and she voluntarily exiled herself from the Church archive. Brodie deployed the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud in her analysis of Smith, arguing, among other things, that his gradually emerging sense of himself as an authentic prophet never completely overshadowed his self-consciousness about the “artifice” by which he created the Book of Mormon. While her experimentation with psychobiography won her mixed reaction from academic circles, the response to NMKMH in Mormondom was as indignant as it was universal. The Deseret News wrote a review that praised Brodie’s literary abilities but reduced her unquestionably original work to standard anti-Mormon fair. Hugh Nibley wrote a scathing, over-zealous critique of Brodie entitled “No, Ma’am, That’s Not History.” As for the long term impact of writing a scholarly, taken-seriously, critical biography of Mormonism’s founder: in addition to serving as an important catalyst for the development of contemporary Mormon intellectual apologetics, Brodie’s work forced an entire generation of more devotionally-inclined Mormon historians to deal with the vexing and complicated questions that confront anyone doing serious academic research on the life of the prophet. Without No Man Knows My History, there would be no Rough Stone Rolling.

Harold B. Lee (JNS)
Born in 1899, Harold B. Lee entered church administration in 1930, when he was called as president of the Salt Lake Pioneer Stake. Lee’s experience managing welfare work in that stake during the early years of the Great Depression led to a subsequent calling as managing director of the church’s welfare program in 1936, a position which allowed Lee to manage the consolidation of the church’s 20th-century approach to helping its poor. In 1941, Lee was called as an Apostle. In that calling, Lee is best known for two sets of policy decisions. First, Lee was the force behind the revitalization of the Priesthood Correlation Committee. The Correlation Committee was established in 1908 as a means for central control of church curriculum and programs. However, some aspects of the overall church program retained substantial autonomy until Lee’s period on the Correlation Committee, when such autonomy was curtailed and the Committee instituted a more direct supervisory relationship between the central church and auxiliary leadership. In particular, prior to Lee’s tenure with the Correlation Committee, the Relief Society had substantial organizational autonomy, managing its own budget and preparing its own lesson manuals and other publications. The Correlation Committee, with Lee’s guidance, restructured these aspects of the Relief Society, integrating the Society’s finances into the broader church accounting system and assigning responsibility for Relief Society curriculum development to priesthood leaders and professionals in the employ of the central church bureaucracy. A second important policy legacy of Lee’s period as an Apostle was his maintenance of the church’s policy of prohibiting priesthood ordination and temple ordinances to black individuals. In 1969, all members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve other than President McKay (whose physical and mental health had deteriorated) and Harold B. Lee (who was away from Salt Lake City on assignment) voted to rescind the racial priesthood ban. When Lee returned from his assignment to learn of this vote, he insisted that the ban could only be reversed by revelation and demanded a new vote, in which the ban was unanimously upheld. Lee served as president of the church from July, 1972, until December, 1973. His brief administration was less historically eventful than his period as an Apostle had been.

Joseph Fielding Smith/Bruce R. McConkie (J. Stapley)
Perhaps no Mormon duo has been more caricatured than the father and son-in-law team of Joseph Fielding Smith and Bruce R. McConkie. There is no question that their combined personalities and corpus wielded a tremendous influence on the 20th century Church. Joseph was one of several family members to ascend to the governing quorums of the Church. Influenced by contemporary Christian fundamentalists, Joseph systemized the pioneer doctrine of his father and infused it with absolutist vigor. This world view was not universally popular as exemplified in the clashes with other general authorities over Smith’s Young Earth Creationism. However, with previous experience as Church Historian and general wonkery, later General Authorities, including President McKay, frequently deferred questions of doctrine and scripture to him. Bruce R. McConkie married Joseph’s daughter, and highlighted his career in the Seventy by further systematizing his father-in-laws doctrinal positions and enforcing a rigid absolutist world-view. He published Mormon Doctrine, and encyclopedic volume, much to the consternation of the First Presidency and later a popular commentary on the New Testament. He edited Joseph Fielding’s teachings in a three volume set, Doctrines of Salvation, often silently tempering pioneer views that were not in harmony with McConkies twentieth-century perspective (for example teachings on women participating in healing rituals). Joseph Fielding became President of the Church in 1970 and served two years. Upon his death, McConkie was called to fill the resulting vacancy in the Quorum of the Twelve. As apostle, McConkie lead the committee and was responsible for much of the 1981 LDS edition of the English Scriptures (including the Bible Dictionary), which is used to this day. Both McConkie and Smith’s writings and thought (despite the early resistance) were adopted by the Church Education System and many in the general quorums of the Church as the standard. Their absolutism lingered well beyond their mortality and their doctrinal views are still lauded in many schools of Mormon thought.

Spencer W. Kimball (Kevin)
When Harold B. Lee became prophet, Spencer W. Kimball was next in line, but no one, including Spencer himself, thought we would ever see a Kimball presidency. Relatively young and vigorous, the ideological opposite of McKay, it was widely assumed that Lee would serve for the next 20 years. But as it happened he only served a year and a half, thrusting the diminutive Spencer into the presidency. Great things had been expected of Lee; Spencer seemed to lack the natural advantages possessed by his predecessor. But what he lacked in natural gifts he made up for with an overpowering work ethic. He turned what seemed to be weaknesses, such as his raspy voice resulting from throat cancer, into strengths. His call to the apostleshp in 1943 left him struggling with self-doubt, but a spiritual experience gave him the strength he needed to dive into the work. George Albert Smith assigned him to work with Native Americans, which became a lifelong passion. If you were a 12-year old boy when he came to visit your stake, chances are he would give you a silver dollar to start your missionary fund. His work counseling people for sexual transgressions led to a strong moralistic streak, which found expression in his book The Miracle of Forgiveness. Most famously, he wore out his knees in the temple seeking the 1978 revelation on priesthood. Ending the ban seems like such a no-brainer to us today that, unless you lived at that time and experienced the inertia that existed on this issue, you really cannot appreciate what a sea change this was and what it took for him to accomplish it. This was one of the most significant events in the history of the Church and required a spiritual strength and power that is hard to fathom today.

Ezra Taft Benson (JNS)
Perhaps the most politically active and influential member of the Mormon hierarchy since Brigham Young, Ezra Taft Benson was one of only two Mormon Apostles to ever simultaneously serve in the Quorum of the Twelve and in national political office; Reed Smoot, who was simultaneously a Senator and an Apostle during the early part of the 20th-century, was both less successful in reshaping many Mormons’ political beliefs and less influential in the development of Mormons’ religious identities than was Benson. Born on an Idaho farm in 1899, Benson’s church-administrative career began in 1939 when he was called as president of the Boise Idaho Stake. Shortly thereafter, Benson moved to Washington, D.C., to assume a leadership role in an interest group representing farmer cooperatives and was called as president of a new stake in the country’s capital. In 1943, he was called as an Apostle, and, in 1953, he was appointed as Secretary of Agriculture for the Eisenhower administration. Politically, Benson was substantially to the right in comparison with the American public. For example, he worked closely with the John Birch Society, an organization known for anti-communism and the promotion of conspiracy theories about U.S. domestic politics, sometimes implying that the LDS church endorsed the Society. In the 1960s, Benson was recruited as a segregationist presidential candidate with Strom Thurmond to be his running mate, and later as a running mate for George Wallace’s racially-charged third-party presidential campaign. The historical record suggests that Benson had expressed some interest in both of these possibilities, although he eventually declined Wallace’s more-credible invitation when church president David O. McKay refused to grant Benson a leave of absence for the campaign. Benson’s anti-communism and divisive views about race relations influenced his work as a church administrator. Throughout the 1960s, he made a series of General Conference speeches in which these positions, as well as other specific political views, were presented as logical consequences of a coherent and novel Mormon political theology in which individual freedom is placed at the center of all collective social and political processes, and in which the community and the state are seen as agents of the individual. Collective actors such as the state are only allowed to perform specific tasks which individuals have the power and moral standing to carry out on their own, but which individuals have delegated to the collective actor for reasons of efficiency or convenience. This libertarian view of freedom Benson characterized as the social and political counterpart of the more metaphysical principle of free agency. The speeches in which Benson developed this perspective generated a great deal of conflict among members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, and Benson for several years was assigned to preside over the church in Europe — an assignment that removed him from U.S. political discourse. Subsequently, he served as president of the church from 1985 until 1994. During this period, Benson emphasized several distinctive themes. By way of outreach toward the many Protestants that Benson had worked with on political issues, Benson encouraged the church to more centrally emphasize Jesus Christ in teaching and missionary work. In conjunction with this emphasis, he repeatedly encouraged church members to pay more attention to the Book of Mormon. Benson also spoke memorably regarding pride. During the later years of his presidency, when his mental capacity was in serious doubt, Benson’s health became an issue of public debate when his grandson, in the process of leaving the church, declared that Benson had not been leading the church for years.

Gordon B. Hinckley (Kris Wright)
On August 20, 1935, Heber J. Grant noted in his journal, “At 9:30 met Gordon B. Hinckley…who has been on a mission in Great Britain, and made suggestions regarding getting articles in the British Press. He was very successful while laboring in the British mission in getting a great deal of fine matter in the London and other papers and magazines.” This union of missionary work and communications had a great influence on his early service in the Church which eventually spanned seven decades as a church employee, administrator and General Authority. Following his appointment as the Executive Secretary of the Church Radio, Publicity and Missionary Literature Committee, he directed all church public communications for 20 years. For seven years, he managed the entire missionary program of the Church. Indeed, it is difficult to observe any part of the Church that he did not touch, as he worked in the areas of temples, missionary work, welfare services as well as members in the military service. His focus upon the power of communications played a large role in Church curriculum as well as the development of the temple film. He was called as a General Authority in the capacity of an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on April 6, 1958 and then named as an apostle in 1961. During much of his time as an apostle, he shouldered large responsibilities in a solitary manner as he coped with the illness and aging of other leaders. After serving for 14 years as a counselor in three First Presidencies, he was ordained and set apart as the 15th President of the Church on Sunday, March 12, 1995. As prophet, President Hinckley will be remembered for an unprecedented program of vigorous temple expansion, including ones at historic church sites in Palmyra, Nauvoo and Winter Quarters as well as a unique relationship with the press. His focus on temple building and simplification of the temple ceremony has broadened access (and accessibility) to temple ordinances for saints worldwide with a thoroughness not dreamed of before his time. During his presidency, he also released “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” and “The Living Christ” documents, launched “Family Search” internet genealogy services, changed the Church’s logo, traveled the world to meet with Church members, built the Conference Centre and rehabilitated other Church historic sites. Recalling the poverty he had seen around the world, he began the Perpetual Education Fund. President Hinckley called for members to care for new converts and to rise above racial and religious bigotry. He will be remembered for his love of the past, his embrace of the future, his tremendous optimism, and capacity for work.


  1. Steve Evans says:

    OUTSTANDING work, folks — all of you.

  2. One disagreement: I would argue strongly for Leonard Arrington over Fawn Brodie. Brodie’s psycho-historical approach showed its weakness in her later publications (e.g., the Jefferson biography); I’m not sure that her one LDS biography — as opposed to Arrington’s lifetime of excellent LDS historical work and a sincere (if apparently premature) effort to open up the Church archives — warrants her being on this list.

    Other than that, I agree with Steve Evans: excellent work. ..bruce..

  3. No Osmonds?

  4. #3 — someone’s gunning for a Niblet this year…

  5. This is great fun. Mostly because I forgot (I was supposed to do an honorable mention paragraph), but I think that Heber J. Grantd eserves to be in the top 5 most influential, but was overruled. He was the one that led the Church out of Utah pioneerism into 20th century. His corporate style and modernization are still the hallmark of 20th century Mormonism. He reformed the temple and other liturgies and brought in highly visible and reputable non-traditional leaders into the Church hierarchy.

  6. Bruce V C says:

    I’d have to agree with #2.

  7. RE: Brodie v. Arrington

    It was a close call, but with only ten, a few notables got the shaft (See my comment #5).

  8. Wonderful. I was touched especially by Pres. Kimball’s tribute, since I am old enough to still hear his unique voice and remember being astounded by his gracious gentleness – by the light of love that simply shone from his face. I thought I would never see anyone in a position of such authority with that overwhelmingly gentle a nature; I was right.

  9. Great stuff and a fun read. Thanks, BCCers. J. I agree with you on Heber J. Grant. Also, did Joseph F. Smith get much consideration? I woul definetely put him ahead of Brodie, and possibly ahead (or in a tie) with one or two others on this list. He presided over the church in the (perhaps) most significant period of transition in Mormon history, ending Mormon polygamy (for real this time), reworking the church’s historical narrative, contributing to the church’s theology, and setting the stage for the internationalization of the church.

  10. RE: Brodie/Arrington. I personally doubt that the Arrington Spring would have been possible absent the intellectual aftermath of Brodie’s work.

    RE: President Grant. The only response I have is to suggest that the most influential thing Grant did was to call J. Reuben Clark to the First Presidency. :)

  11. BTW, J. Reuben Clark is my mother’s favorite GA of all time. In her time working at Church Headquarters, she simply adored that man. She often said he simply was the nicest man she had ever met.

  12. Christopher, I got shot down with JFS as well. Great minds, I guess.

  13. J., indeed. :)

  14. I wonder what the results of this survey would be if you asked a random larger sample of church members. I could be wrong, but I would guess that less intellectually-minded folks probably wouldn’t place Roberts, Nibley, Brodie (and possibly Talmage) in the top ten.

    I’m also curious (and this one is probably answerable by those who participated) regarding how much recent scholarship influenced their perceptions of one’s influence. For example, prior to Prince’s bio of McKay, would he have received as much attention? My hunch is that he still would have, though Prince’s excellent bio (and provocative title) seems to have forever tied McKay to “the rise of modern Mormonism.” (Of course, if scholarship is this influential, I would’ve guessed that Flake’s Politics of American Religious Identity would have helped JFS’s case more).

  15. Kristine says:

    Nice work.

    I’d argue for Belle Spafford and/or Barbara B. Smith being included–RS changed a lot over the last 50 years, in ways that influence the lives of a majority of the Saints, and that also reverberated to the larger U.S. culture, at least during the ERA/IWY controversies.

  16. Very nicely done.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t ETB’s libertarianism primarily economic? Socially and politically, I think he was much more authoritarian than most people who call themselves libertarians today. I don’t think, for example, that he was ever in favor of social freedoms such as legalization of drugs or prostitution, nor was he an absolute supporter of civil liberties.

  17. Ditto on #9 and #12. JFS should have made this list.

  18. I would have included Zina and Eliza.

  19. I meant to say well done, but my ancient crush on those two got in my way.

  20. #14: I wonder what the results of this survey would be if you asked a random larger sample of church members. I could be wrong, but I would guess that less intellectually-minded folks probably wouldn’t place Roberts, Nibley, Brodie (and possibly Talmage) in the top ten.

    Well, a ‘random larger sample of church members’ probably wouldn’t have much of a grasp of the most influential Mormons of the 20th century, given that (as is commonly cited) about 1/3 of Church members have joined the Church since the start of Pres. Hinckley’s administration (1995).

    I joined the Church in 1967 (age 14); at that time, Talmage’s works were almost considered canonical (the most common editions of Jesus the Christ and The Articles of Faith actually had numbered paragraphs), while Roberts’ Comprehensive History of the Church was generally considered among members to be, well, more comprehensive than History of the Church. And I doubt that any member who actually lived through any part of Pres. McKay’s administration (as I did) would question his position on this list; he cast and still casts a long shadow.

    Likewise, Nibley published extensively in the The Improvement Era and (to a lesser extent) in The Ensign, and also did lectures and radio broadcasts for the general public (e.g., “Time Vindicates the Prophets”) from about 1950 through the late 1970s. Much of his writings on the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price (particularly Abraham and Enoch) were first published in the Era/Ensign before being collected in book form. And, of course, Nibley inspired a whole generation of LDS scholars, including some who have left the Church; I believe that both Dan Vogel and Ed Firmage have separately stated that at one point in their lives they wanted to be “the next Hugh Nibley”.

    As for Brodie — I stand by my comment (#2) that Arrington is far more influential than Brodie. She got the splash, but Arrington shepherded the flock. ..bruce..

  21. Well, a ‘random larger sample of church members’ probably wouldn’t have much of a grasp of the most influential Mormons of the 20th century, given that (as is commonly cited) about 1/3 of Church members have joined the Church since the start of Pres. Hinckley’s administration (1995).

    That’s why I asked, Bruce.

    I doubt that any member who actually lived through any part of Pres. McKay’s administration (as I did) would question his position on this list; he cast and still casts a long shadow

    I’m fairly certain that a few of those who contributed to this post didn’t live during Pres. McKay’s administration (or else were very, very young during it).

    And, of course, Nibley inspired a whole generation of LDS scholars

    But did he “inspire” the average less intellectually-minded member in the same way and to the same degree? I doubt it. …chris…

  22. But did [Nibley] “inspire” the average less intellectually-minded member in the same way and to the same degree?

    Well, no, but that’s not the point. Take a look at Nibley’s bibliography. In the 1948-1977 timeframe — covering nearly a third of the 20th century — he published by my count 163 articles in the Improvement Era, the Ensign, and the New Era that were read by the general membership of the Church (that averages out to just a bit less than an article every other month for 30 years — an absolutely stunning output, particularly for scholarly articles). He also wrote the Church’s Melchizedek Priesthood study guide for the year 1957 (An Approach to the Book of Mormon).

    For those 30 years, Nibley was probably the only living LDS scholar that the general Church membership knew by name, and they knew his name and his writings very well. His influence on the Church was and remains immense. ..bruce..

  23. Actually, that is the point, Bruce. In my comment #14 (to which you were replying), I questioned whether “less intellectually-minded folks” would put Nibley, et. al in the top ten. I’m familiar with Nibley’s credentials, publishing record, etc. But his primary influence was on Mormon intellectuals. Sure, my parents have heard of Hugh Nibley (and might have even read a few of those articles he wrote in church periodicals), but I can assure you that neither one of them would place Nibley on their personal list of “top 10 influential Mormons of the 20th century.” …chris…

  24. Great post!

    If we were to expand this list for to the top twenty, I’d have to make a plug for Joseph F. Merrill. Not only did he develop the first release-time seminary while in the Granite Stake presidency, helping the Church transition from academies to letting the young saints attend public high schools, he also stream-lined the higher education division of CES, selling off half a dozen junior colleges (including trying to sell Ricks to Idaho, which wouldn’t buy it) but insisted that the Church keep BYU. Furthermore, as President of the the European Mission, he’s the one who got GBH started on making film strips and encouraged the Church to hire him on.

  25. Sam, I think if this were delineating most influential Mormon’s of all time, or especially most influential 19th-century Mormons, then Eliza and Zina would likely have made it.

  26. kuri, like so many of the rest of us, I think it’s worthwhile to distinguish between Benson’s political principles and his applications of those principles to specific issues. Benson’s theological arguments regarding the moral scope for state action in principle committed him to an extreme libertarian position in which a military draft, regulation of private behavior of any sort, and prosecution of any kind of “victimless crime” would be out of place. This all flows from Benson’s central view that the state, as a recipient of delegation from free-agent individuals, can only do things that an individual would have the right to do himself or herself. Since an individual lacks the right to force a stranger from another city to fight a war on her behalf or to barge into a stranger’s house to check for drugs, the state would logically lack those rights, as well. So this perspective at a philosophical and theological level had both economic and social consequences, and was truly far-reaching and distinctive in Mormon thought. That Benson didn’t hold issue positions completely consistent with these principles just makes him a person; pretty much everybody has some degree of inconsistency among their political positions (see the life work of Converse, Philip E.).

  27. On the Brodie vis-a-vis Arrington issue, I really like Arrington’s historical work. Arrington certainly had a personal and institutional influence on the development of professional approaches to Mormon history that Brodie largely lacked. Yet Brodie set an intellectual agenda that scholars are still developing today; Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith to a substantial extent addresses questions raised by Brodie, and to a surprising degree offers Brodie’s answers, as well. In terms of the intellectual development of Mormonism, I think there’s a fair case to be made that Brodie’s book was the most influential of the 20th century. Arrington has written at least a few books that I think ought to be as influential or more so, but the fact is that his intellectual agenda has largely not been followed. His interests in the history of Mormons outside of the hierarchy and in the details and consequences of Mormon social and economic organization remain, as far as I can see, peripheral topics in Mormon history. I think they ought to be more important than they are, but most Mormon writers and readers seem to prefer accounts that center on the Mormon hierarchy, theological development, and explicitly ecclessiatical institutions.

  28. cj douglass says:

    With the tone of Stapley’s tribute to the McConkie/Fielding duo – this post might be more accurately given a name like –

    “Top Ten Mormons that most profoundly affected the Church as we know it today, for better or for worse.

    I don’t disagree at all with what was written – just thought it was funny. Great work everyone!

  29. “Fawn M. Brodie (Brad)
    It is perhaps fitting that the one woman to make the cut did so in large part via a controversial and public act of leaving the fold.”

    What is this supposed to mean? Can a woman only impact the Church by leaving it? I am really stuck on the “fitting” part–perhaps a re-write is in order.

  30. cj douglass says:

    Also, I think Christopher brings up a good point. I think the question comes down to – what does it mean to be influential. I don’t think simply knowing someone’s name really fits the bill. Many in the general membership today might have never heard of individuals like Brodie or Nibley (for example) but did their work have an underlying impact on the way the general membership learns/understands the church/gospel?

    Rough Stone Rolling was mentioned but what about the new Joseph Smith manual? One could argue that NMKMH had a trickle effect on the way we understand JS. From NMKMH to Rough Stone to church manuals. Its a stretch but humor me.

  31. Kristine, we very much wanted to find more women who could fit the list. I think it’s a sad commentary on 20th-century Mormonism, and also perhaps on the authors of this post, that such a list turns out so male. Your two suggestions make sense, certainly; Belle Spafford could conceivably have been paired with Harold B. Lee, since Spafford was the Relief Society president who presided over the Society’s surrender of autonomy to the correlation process.

  32. This is really good. Has the feel of a nice, concise biographical dictionary. All it needs is some “further reading” inserts.

  33. Isn’t this a little like arguing which NFL team was the greatest: 49ers, Steelers, Cowboys etc.? Still, it provokes much good thinking. I admit to a bit of favoritism for Pres. McKay because of my age, but I would love to explore the impact of Talmadge and those other two great apostle/scientists, Widtsoe and Merrill, on setting a course for Mormon thinking for a very crticial generation.

  34. No problems with the list. I just liked the soft hand of Hugh B. Brown.

  35. A great list. Thank you.

    I would add Truman Madsen.


  36. I agree with Christopher, J, and David on JFS.

  37. J. Stapley:

    Jesus the Christ is one of a few extra-canonical volumes to receive the endorsement of the First Presidency. Further, it has enjoyed a longer circulation among Latter-day Saint readers than any other volume in Church history (by scores of decades).

    Scores of decades?!? Scores???!!!???

  38. I think this is a great idea and thanks for the fascinating biographical summaries. I am a bit confused though by the criteria of selection and if there was any attempt to define “influential.” It seems to me that Talmage was influential in a very different way than Brodie was. Talmage shaped how the church and rank and file members articulated their faith while Brodie influenced how a small group of scholars approached their scholarship.

    Depending on how one defines “influential,” Sherry Dew could be considered one of the top ten influential Mormons, as in my opinion, she has shaped how many LDS women articulate their faith.

  39. Chris:

    I see and understand your point re Nibley. However, the same argument could be made about most of the people on the list above — which also may be your point. I guess I remain unclear if your point is (a) that while these may well have been the most influential Mormons of the 20th century, the average Church member might well be oblivious to that, or (b) since the average Church member would not cite this same list of people, they could not be that influential.

    I read your post as (b), which is why I argued against it. I think that very few members today would even think of Harold B. Lee as influential — and yet his work in setting up the Priesthood Correlation effort permeates the worldwide Church today and will for decades to come. Likewise, it’s hard to overstate Nibley’s impact on modern LDS scholarship and apologetics — which increasingly permeate LDS publications and Church materials, even as the Joseph Fielding Smith/Bruce R. McConkie influence slowly begins to wane. So whether your parents are aware of Nibley’s influence, it continues to be there nonetheless in what they read, hear, and are taught. YMMV. ..bruce..

  40. On the issue of influential LDS women in the 20th Century: I’d pick Sheri Dew over Belle Spafford. As the first single woman to serve in the General Relief Society Presidency and now as the CEO of Deseret Book, I credit her both with helping to reduce the stigma of single adult professional women in the Church while at the same time helping the General Authorities to be more sensitive to the issues, needs, and concerns of such women. Her writings — both biographical and inspirational — have been very popular among the general Church membership as well. This is not to say she has been without gaffes, but then who on the list — or for that matter who among us — hasn’t? ..bruce..

  41. Brad: I’m no expert on Nibley’s intellectual biography, but I’m wondering if you’re overplaying the connection between Roberts’ work on the BoM and Nibley’s work. From what I understand, Studies of the Book of Mormon was not readily available until the 1980s, well after Nibley had established himself as a defender of the Book of Mormon. How exactly did Roberts’ work set the stage for Nibley’s ascendency, and how did Nibley address the questions raised by Roberts? In my opinion it’s a bit of a stretch to argue that “[i]t is not likely that the task of popularizing serious Book of Mormon research would have found success—or even motivation—in today’s Church without the groundwork previously laid by Roberts’ lone voice in the wilderness.” Maybe you have some insight into how Roberts’ unpublished manuscript shaped the historicity discussion that I’m not aware of.

    I agree that Roberts should be on the list, but I think that his articulation of a useable past and his theological works outrank his work on the Book of Mormon.

  42. Being a non-intellectual with aspirations, I’ve got little to argue with on this list. I think you nailed it, particularly the paradoxical influence of ETB, ie his early political emphasis that was noticeably absent during his years as President, where he emphasized the Book of Mormon, and hitting on themes like pride.

    The books written by these folks are long-lived on my bookshelf. Jesus the Christ, Articles of Faith, Miracle of Forgiveness, Mormon Doctrine, Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, and others all were staples of my early study in the church. Certainly some have worn better than others over time, and while I did not agree with the absolutism of McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith, they still helped to instill in me a stronger, informed testimony of the church.

    Perhaps Leonard Arrington should have made the list, but I don’t know how to include him at the expense of leaving Brody off the list.

    And as to President McKay, as one who remembers him as the Prophet of my childhood, I remember the pictures of him traveling the world and credit him with truly establishing an international church. Good work, all of you.

  43. David G., aside from his unpublished work, it’s worth remembering that Roberts published more extensively on Book of Mormon evidences than anyone before him. I have in mind here volumes 2 and 3 of his New Witnesses for God, which certainly is something of a precursor to Nibley’s work on the subject. The New Witnesses material was used as a church manual and enjoyed wide circulation during its time. While we don’t remember it anymore, I think it certainly laid intellectual groundwork for Nibley’s efforts.

    It’s also worth remembering that some aspects of Roberts’s Studies of the Book of Mormon were widely, if somewhat surreptitiously, circulated decades before the entire manuscript became available. His list of parallels between the BofM and Ethan Smith’s View of the Hebrews, for example, was widely distributed among gray-market Mormon readers.

  44. JNS: True enough. I was reacting primarily to what I saw as a preponderance of attention being placed on Studies. New Witnesses would have certainly laid a groundwork for Nibley.

  45. I think the tough thing about this series was the term “ten most influential”. It wasn’t the ten people I like the best or who have influenced “me”. Such lists are rarely as inclusive as they should be. As for women, I thought Sisters Spafford or Smith should be included as they presided over a time of great change in the church. I also haven’t read Brodie so I can’t comment on her influence, however I do know most of the people in my ward haven’t heard of her or even felt her influence. I think it’s problematic that some of the women who are best known are those who have left the Church. One could probably make an argument that Margaret Toscano made a significant impact on the role of LDS women within the Church and certainly upon the discussion or now lack therof in regards to Heavenly Mother.

    I think it’s really sad that dedicated women aren’t included among those who are considered to be most influential. However, as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich remembered the good wives of one of her early articles, “They prayed secretly,read the Bible through at least once a year, and went to hear the minister preach even when it snowed. Hoping for an eternal crown, they never asked to be remembered on earth. And they haven’t been”.

    Ulrich has amended her now famous statement, “Well-behaved women make history when they do the unexpected, when their actions produce records, and when later generations care.” Seems like Mormon historians need to care.

  46. Antonio Parr says:

    Lowell Bennion — a “Saint” in both the LDS and Catholic sense of the word — belongs on such a list. If his legacy has not placed him in the top 10, then those of us who know of his wisdom need to see what we can do to correct this deficiency!

  47. Antonio Parr says:

    (For what it is worth, I believe that President McKay would see Brother Bennion as having greater influence than Elder McConkie . . . )

  48. Antonio, I think Lowell Bennion may belong in a gray zone of having had a huge influence on a relatively small number of people, but nearly no influence on most Mormons.

  49. Right, David. I only highlighted Studies because it was a juicier historical tidbit for a piece of such limited scope. And I know from personal conversations with brother Nibley that he and many of the more overtly heterodox intellectuals against whom he argued (McMurrin, Tanner, Swearing Elders, etc.) were well aware of many of the questions raised by Roberts as were important members of the Church Hierarchy, from Q12 members right on up to President McKay.

  50. Fair enough, Brad. I can’t argue against personal conversations with the man himself.

  51. I think Lowell Bennion may belong in a gray zone of having had a huge influence on a relatively small number of people, but nearly no influence on most Mormons.

    Couldn’t the same be said for a couple others on this list?

  52. Christopher, possibly. I guess the deciding issue would come to second-order influence. Brodie, Nibley, et al. have created intellectual movements that have fundamentally reshaped how our church presents itself. I think, for example, that a line (indirect but arguably nonetheless real) could be drawn from Nibley’s work to the church’s decision to recant the idea that the Lamanites were the main ancestors of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Bennion’s second-order influence? I just don’t know. Maybe it’s large, but I’d need education on that point.

  53. “I think Lowell Bennion may belong in a gray zone of having had a huge influence on a relatively small number of people, but nearly no influence on most Mormons.”

    …like Leonard Arrington. My inclusion of Brodie at Arrington’s expense has nothing to do with my comparative assessment of their work (I happen to think that Great Basin Kingdom and NMKMH both belong on the must-read short list of Mormon studies books). Arrington’s potential was greatly circumscribed and ultimately squelched by the brethren, echoes of Brodie’s lasting influence rearing their ugly head to the great detriment of Arrington’s intellectual legacy. And while most rank-and-file saints have heard of neither, Brodie’s impact — in terms of how we understand JS, how the Church exerts institutional control over his historical image, and how every post-Brodie Mormon historian (including Evans, Arrington and Bitton, Madson, Hill, Bushman, Ehat, Quinn, and SE Black) deal with JS, as well as the development of institutions like FARMS — is lasting and felt at virtually every level of English-speaking Mormondom.

    For the record, an honorable mention list would have to include the following:
    JFS I
    Belle Spafford
    Joseph Merril
    Truman Madsen
    Jack Welch
    Leonard Arrington
    Boyd K. Packer
    Hugh B. Brown
    Richard Bushman
    Robert Millet

    For my money, as intellectuals go Madsen, Welch, and Millet all had a more lasting and profound impact of the lived Mormonism of most LDS than Arrington, notwithstanding my tremendous respect for his corpus of scholarship.

  54. Oh, and Bennion — to both lists (honorable mention and more influential than Arrington).

  55. I think you’re right, JNS. And I certainly don’t think Bennion belongs on this list. I would contest the notion, though, that Brodie has “fundamentally reshaped how our church presents itself.” Judging by your scathing critique of the latest JS manual, I think you might agree that representations of JS in church published materials hasn’t changed that much at all since NMKMH was published.

  56. I can’t speak for JNS’s assessment, but the change in official representations of JS since Brodie published NMKMH is almost impossible to overstate in my view.

  57. I forgot a major honorable mention: Janice Kapp Perry. Think about it…

  58. #56: Maybe it should have been 10, + Brodie(?)

  59. Steve Evans says:

    How about Eugene England?

  60. England seems like a better bet than Bennion, in my view. But I’m nervous about overstating the influence of the Dialogue crowd, because I’m connected with it…

  61. Steve Evans says:

    Impossible to overstate the influence of the Dialogue crowd. I for one worship and adore our new Dialogue masters, and expect their reign to last a hundred years!

  62. Mark IV (#37): Scores of decades?!? Scores???!!!???

    Not sure if you are serious, but yeah, scores. It was written in 1915 and is still in the “Missionary Library.” It has been in popular circulation for 93 years. What else even comes close? MoDoc had maybe 40. Same with Marvelous Work and a Wonder. Most have 20 years or less in circulation before they are forgotten. McConkies Messiah series (meant as his replacement for Jesus the Christ) had maybe a decade of prominence – maybe.

  63. Mark Brown says:

    One score of decades is 20 x 10 = 200 years, right? I think what you meant is scores of years.

    Anyway, I’m sorry to be so obnoxiously, insufferably pedantic. It just struck me as funny.

  64. Heh. Whoops. I’m a retard.

  65. Mark, Stapley is currently at work on a revised and expanded version of Jonathan B. Turner’s Mormonism in All Ages.

  66. ” A most influential Mormon writer(?), then forgotten, Vardis Fisher.

  67. #57 – Thanks for the chuckle in the middle of a fascinating discussion.

    Where does Steve Martin fit on this list? (How about a list of most influential non-Mormons-thought-to-be-Mormons? Yoda would top my list.)

  68. Ray, I think Janice Kapp Perry is a serious suggestion, and a deserving one.

  69. that a line (indirect but arguably nonetheless real) could be drawn from Nibley’s work to the church’s decision to recant the idea that the Lamanites were the main ancestors of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

    I’m not sure the connection is not so much indirect as just very long in bearing fruit. As I’ve shown elsewhere, Nibley was questioning the “all Lamanites” idea in print in the Improvement Era (and a subsequent book) over half a century ago:

    There is not a word in the Book of Mormon to prevent the coming to this hemisphere of any number of people from any part of the world at any time, provided only that they come with the direction of the Lord; and even this requirement must not be too strictly interpreted, for the people of Zarahemla “had brought no records with them, and they denied the being of their Creator” (Omni 17), i.e., they were anything but a religious colony. No one would deny that anciently “this land” was kept “from the knowledge of other nations” (2 Nephi 1:8), but that does not mean that it was kept empty of inhabitants, but only that migration was in one direction — from the Old World to the New; for even as Lehi was uttering the words just quoted, the Jaredites were swarming in the east, and the old man referes to others yet to come, “all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord.” Must we look for all these in the book of Mormon? [1952]

    Thomas Kuhn famously wrote about how one scientific paradigm replaces another. I think that similar processes work within the Church as well and, in fact, are directly founded upon the LDS concepts of on-going learning and on-going revelation. But they often take longer than we’d like. ..bruce..

  70. Bruce, my point is that these ideas influenced the current through several steps; something like Nibley > Ferguson > Sorenson > DNA rebuttals. So Nibley had the idea but its influence on current decision-making was very indirect; people in charge of current decisions were almost certainly directly influenced by much later presentations.

  71. Steve, I’ll agree with you on Eugene England, but it is interesting to note that one of his great influences was Lowell Bennion.

    As for honorable mentions, Truman Madsen, and lest we forget artists, Minerva Teichert and Arnold Friberg, who influence how most of us visualize the Book of Mormon story.

  72. No mention of Juanita Brooks at all?

    Having an almost entirely male “panel of judges” seems problematic to begin with. Or perhaps experience in RS doesn’t matter?

  73. Paula, Brooks was definitely in our discussion. I think she got ruled out because her approach to Mormon history was seen as more a road not taken than a major influence on subsequent development of the tradition.

    Regarding the maleness of the list and the contributors, well, we’re working on a follow-up that will try to rectify the first, at least. I think we’re guilty of a too narrow and too institutional idea of influence on this list. A broader notion of influence would certainly have made this a more gender-equitable list.

  74. Jay, I don’t know if you need to apologize for the list, frankly. It’s a reflection of a certain reality and definition of influence. While subsequent lists can certainly shine the light on areas which have been more obscured, I don’t think any of the participants here need feel guilt of the list — and likewise I think Paula’s comment is wide of the mark.

  75. Sigh. Paula, you are simply mistaken in your accusations.

  76. J., she’s right — the panel is in fact mostly made up of men. But the attendant implication, that your maleness has caused you to ignore women, whether intentionally or otherwise, is the part I think is off (knowing this particular panel).

  77. Sure. But who is more influential – Arrington or Brooks? And Arrington didn’t make the list. Because of the way power is allocated in the Church hierarchy, a question of influence during the 20th century is going to focus on males. Don’t blame the messengers folks.

    Now, I have done a lot of work in women’s history in Mormonism. I think a question on 19th century influence would have more women on it. But to accuse me and the other panelists of sexist bias is stupid.

  78. The problem I see, sympathizing with Paula here, is that the messengers can be accused of perpetuating the message, not just relaying it. I agree with your comment J. but to the extent we have the ability to redress the historical oversight of women we should consider doing so. But yeah, on a list of most influential, straight-up, it’s hard to have lots of women in a patriarchal system like ours.

  79. Um, I would like to know of anyone that has done more to address women’s history in Mormonism than some of the folks in this group.

  80. J., did you not see the link to Erin’s blog in the sidebar? (grins)

  81. J. and Steve, I think Paula’s point is reasonable. In particular, I don’t think it’s necessary to confine influence to the three fields that we basically considered: a) institutional developments; b) changes to authoritative theology; and c) influence on intellectual Mormonism. If we consider influence on Mormon culture more broadly considered, many 20th-century Mormon women appear as credible candidates for inclusion. Likewise, many female church leaders during this period were powerful voices of exhortation and inspiration, even if they were not placed in a position of being able to shape authoritative theology. I think the conception of influence that we used in shaping this list, in the end, may have had an inadvertent male bias.

  82. J., simply stated, those are different questions.

  83. Jay, I fully agree that the concept of influence here has a male bias, but I’d argue that it’s also the most widely held and certainly the most accepted amongst religious historians. Hence there’s no need to apologize for using it, even if going forward we want to make efforts in the future to use a broader definition that can more adequately reflect the contributions of Mormon women.

  84. Gosh guys, if you thought my comment was an accusation, I’m sorry. My actual thought process was something like, ” Sigh, apparently females still are mostly invisible. ” An accusation would have been more along the line of “Gee you male chauvinist pig fatheads deliberately are promoting the status quo in the patriarchal LDS church by ignoring the contributions of women.” It just seems to me to be problematic that you don’t notice that the perspective of women might be different from that of men in the church, and equally valid. I do agree that in our church, it’s very difficult for woman to be influential, but to some extent, you’re perpetuating that problem when you fail to notice that the imbalance of your own group. But heck it’s just a blog post.

  85. Paula’s point–that including a more diverse group of participants would probably change the results of this exercise–seems fair and probably true. That said, it’s probably not fair of her to suggest that the panel of judges (especially, as noted, this panel of judges) was intentionally sexist and didn’t bother considering females like Brooks.

    However, I do not think that, as Steve asserts, the list is “a reflection of a certain reality and definition of influence.” None of the participants have actually outlined the definition of “influence” as applied here (nor have they responded to questions asking what the criteria used to decide one’s influence was). Instead, some have gone on the attack (highly uncharacteristic of BCC), claiming that it is “almost impossible to overstate” Brodie’s influence, for example (though the fact that many have challenged the notion provides some evidence that it is very possible to do so).

  86. Paula, our blog has, I think, the closest Male to Female ratio in the ‘nacle. The post collaborators involved those bloggers most interested or active in Mormon history at BCC (and that had the time/volition to participate). Sure we could do better, but you are right – it is just a blog post.

  87. Christopher, I wasn’t part of the panel and can’t speak to their discussion, but you don’t think that the list is a reflection of a certain reality and definition of influence? The reality and definition I was referring to in my comment was, of course, the reality of a patriarchal church, one that excludes females from institutional leadership roles, and a definition of influence that includes institutional decision-making. You really don’t think the list works as a plain-vanilla reflection of this? I’m honestly surprised. Tell me, what changes would you make to the list?

    I’m also a little confused at your last sentence, which both misquotes what’s been said here and doesn’t make sense even had your quotation been right…. can you clarify? I’d also point out Jay #81 as at least a start towards defining influence…

  88. Christopher, sure a different panel would come up with different results. If we asked the same question to a random Mormons from the Fremont 3rd ward, I guarantee that the list would be completely different.

  89. #85 However, I do not think that, as Steve asserts, the list is “a reflection of a certain reality and definition of influence.”
    Actually, Steve is exactly right, but this post did nothing to try to change that reflection in a positive way. Unfortunately, anything you do after the fact is going to be just that…an afterthought. Patronizing. Throwing the ladies a bone. “You’re IMPORTANT girls!”

    The thing is, I’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, and I consider at least three of the permas as good true friends. Y’all are FEMINISTS! And THIS is what you come up with? BCC, a bastion of liberal modern LDS thinking – a light in the dark – (and I’m NOT being sarcastic here) can’t change the direction of the mirror enough to reflect the influence of the dozens… hundreds… of 20th century Mormon women who shaped and influenced the modern church?

    I haven’t even read the post. Well, I read Brodie, because apparently being an apostate ex-Mormon is the best way for a woman to be influential (maybe I’m on my way…). I scanned the list and quit. I’m so, so disappointed in you.

  90. guys,

    Stick to your guns. Or you will be Larry Summers.

  91. Weirdly enough I blogged about some of these issues a year ago today.

    I said, “Mormon women’s history has edged its way from the margin towards the centre, yet we still have far to go in constructing an egalitarian history. Given the hierarchical structure of the church and the strong belief in separate but equal roles for men and women, this may be a difficult process”

    We’ve talked about constructing a different list, but in some ways doing an influential woman list will still be the separate but equal model. So, perhaps the most important question, is how do we approach the more integrated model both in terms of historical work and the here and now.

  92. Kris, it is about what questions we ask. Still, asking questions that have strongly male responses isn’t wrong.

  93. …That was an awesome post, btw.

  94. Thanks J. I think Buell-Hovey Day should be incorporated into the Mormon liturgical calendar.

  95. J. (#88), I agree. I’m certainly not trying to rile anyone up more than they already are.

    Steve (#87), Thanks for the clarification. I must have skipped over JNS’s #81 in my speedreading of the previous 20 or so comments. That helps clarify things a lot. Though it also makes it even more difficult to understand Joseph F. Smith’s omission.

  96. C. Biden says:

    I find it interesting that the influence described is limited to within the LDS world. If one were to compose a list entitled “The Ten Most Influential Jews of the Twentieth Century,” the list might include Martin Buber, Isaiah Berlin Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Jonas Salk, Noam Chomsky, Saul Bellow, Arthur Miller, Anne Frank, Marcel Proust, Gustav Mahler, Benny Goodman, Bob Dylan, Marc Chagall, Frida Kahlo, Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Levi Strauss and that’s just off the top of my head. I selected Jews because their numbers in the world population is similar to the numbers proffered by the LDS org. I might argue that the Jews have great influence within the Mormon community, while Mormons have virtually none in the Jewish community. So “influence” of Mormons is limited, for the most part, to influence among Mormons.

  97. Kris,

    When you say “separate but equal” in regards to women in Mormon history, that really knocks me back on my heels. I hate being lumped in with the likes of Strom Thurmond and his ilk, but perhaps it’s an apt comparison.

    So who is Mormonism’s female Thurgood Marshall?

  98. Kevinf — I’m not referring to race and educational history in the United States. Perhaps the concept of men and women have different roles but being equally important is familiar to you? Please consult The Family: A Proclamation to the World for more on this topic.

  99. Ann,
    A list of American history’s most influential political figures would include a lot of white men. A list of Mormonism’s most influential women would have included more women. Belle Spafford was given high consideration for this list, but isn’t it also a bit telling that perhaps the most significant, influential (from the perspective of Mormonism as it exists and is experienced today) thing she did was to preside over the transfer of the RS to the control of priesthood correlation? We could pretend that women exerted equal influence in the development and direction of an institution governed by an all-male priesthood — even during a time characterized in part by the gradual and systematic lessening of autonomous control away from women in favor of centralized priesthood — but that wouldn’t make us enlightened, just wishful thinkers.

  100. It depends on how you chose to define “influence,” Brad. You took a male-centric view of influence and power and – surprise – it produced a male list. It surprises me that you think that’s a GOOD thing.

  101. My previous comment on this thread was marked as spam, it seems. In any event, I think the list is a good one. Re informal influence, there’s Clare Middlemiss or Emily Smith Stewart.

  102. Justin, sorry about that. Please ping us when rightful comments don’t show up.

  103. Ann, to the extent that influence over the development of a male-centric institution is a male-centric view of influence and power, then your accusations are correct. I’m not saying it’s GOOD or BAD, mostly just accurate. Remember, with a list of 10, for every woman you choose to include, you have to make the argument that she exerted a more deeply felt influence on contemporary Mormonism than one of the men listed. I honestly think that JKP comes closest.

    Women’s history is not the same thing as feminism, and pretending that male-centric definitions and expressions of power are not the historical norm — especially in a self-referentially patriarchal church — will do nothing to liberate women.

  104. I remember a RS lesson in the 80’s where the concept of the male-only power structure came up, and the teacher asked, “Which would you rather have, power or influence?”


  105. larryco_ says:

    And, for a fly in the ointment, I’ll add Mike Quinn. More than two decades ago he took us kicking and screaming (along with a “gentler” treatment by Richard Bushman) into areas of our past that we’re now just coming to terms with.

  106. #85 Christopher, I want to respond only to your comment that I said they were intentionally sexist. I did not. The male chauvinist pig thing was an example of what an accusation would be if I had made one, since my comment had been labeled an accusation. It was, IMHO, just a comment that somehow women seemed, yet again, to be invisible here in the thought processes leading up to this post. Ann’s done a pretty good job of making any further points I’d want to make.

  107. Very nice work, BCCers. I recall discussion when the David O. McKay biography came out a couple of years ago about how little 20th-century LDS history was being published as opposed to 19th-century LDS history. The balance seems to be shifting. Your selection of 10 (plus the two dozen who didn’t make the list) is a reminder of how much good material there is to work with for the 20th century.

  108. Ann,
    In my experience and in my field of study (Marxist Anthropology), distinctions between power and influence are mostly empty rhetorical consolations designed to placate the powerless. Writing an analysis of the most politically influential Black women in US history does nothing to correct the fact that they have systematically and structurally been excluded from participation in American politics. The post was not “Our Favorite” or “Best” or even “Most Important” 20th-Century Mormons but “Most Influential.” If you have a specific suggestion for a woman that exerted a more widely felt influence on contemporary Mormonism than any of the men on this list, speak up by all means. If not, then quit wringing your hands.

    I still stand by my sentiment: writing more about Mormon women will not change their largely marginal status in Mormon history up to this point. And trying to downplay or ignore the very real effects of male-centric power structures in protest will do absolutely nothing to change them. Writing a post about the mothers of the men highlighted here would have been more than condescending; it would have perpetuated and reinforced the discursive sediments and structures within which male power is inscribed in Mormonism. Such nonsense will do nothing to insure that scholars of the future will in good conscience be able to include more than one or two women in their lists of most influential Mormons of the 21st Century.

  109. Kris, # 98

    Of course. I didn’t mean anything snarky, it’s just that “separate but equal” has such loaded connotations. I had to sit back and evaluate my own perceptions a bit, and was chagrined, to say the least, that outside of Fawn Brodie, and the visual or performing arts, I wasn’t sure who I could add to the list. I’m saying that maybe I’m part of the problem, perhaps, in not thinking outside the box. My wife would say that I’m sensitive to these sorts of things, but it takes some effort on my part.

    So, yes, I understand to some part about differing roles but cooperative effort, as described in the Proclamation. I was just a little embarrassed to be found thinking narrowly.

    In retrospect, I would put Jan Shipps up there for an honorable mention. By asking about who is our female Mormon Thurgood Marshall, I meant who am I not paying attention to.

    For a moment there, I thought someone had mistaken me for Chris Buttars. :)

  110. Kevinf– Just for the record, Jan Shipps isn’t LDS. So she doesn’t count as one of the ten influential Mormons, technically.

  111. Arrrgh, you are right, it’s there in the first sentence, “influential Mormons”. Jan Shipps is out.

  112. Mormon men are in a position to influence both Mormon men and Mormon women. Mormon women, for the most part, are only able to influence other Mormon women. But in choosing the influence constraints that you did, you (apparently deliberately) chose only those spheres of influence where women’s influence could be negligible. As JNS so concisely explains in #81, just by expanding the scope of of influence you were examining you could have opened the field for numerous women who have shaped Mormonism. Even if they ONLY shaped Mormonism FOR WOMEN, women are over half the members of the church. Surely influence on the ideas, behaviors and values and value of women are also important.

    I’m just a reader and commenter here, but I feel deeply invested in BCC; more than I’m entitled to, I’m sure. BCC was instrumental in keeping me from sending in that “I’m no longer a member…” letter that’s still sitting on my hard drive. I appreciate the depth and insight and entertainment value here. Some great minds do some great writing. This post was an opportunity for more of the same – to expand on what “influence” means, to step out of the patriarchal/political/institutional model where men (only) live and look at influence on The People – men AND women. Instead, you went with a traditional boys club status quo perspective. Heck, this list could have been made by M*. Or the Ensign.

    Brad, I’m not a student of history. The people who wrote this post are. I don’t appreciate the tone “if you can’t think of someone, then shut up.” I’m sure this is a very nice post about dead white guys. I just expect more than that from BCC. Which is totally my problem, and not yours, but I thought I should talk about it to your face, here, because I really care about here.

  113. Eric Russell says:

    Folks, I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but I have to say I find it more than a little disturbing that all the names on this list are white people. I also notice that all the contributors are white. Coincidence? I don’t know. I couldn’t say.

    This is really frustrating because I really don’t want to call the contributors “racist”, but it seems pretty obvious to me that the contributors have a strong bias on behalf of their own racial group. Clearly the authors here were thinking in terms of white power structures. I mean, Aaron B. Cox could have written this post. I’m not really sure why this is still happening in the 21st century, but I would expect better of BCC.

  114. Eric–
    I wouldn’t expect you to understand what it feels like to be a woman in the Church, to be a workhorse, one who can provide refreshments and take care of children, but not someone who can be trusted with secrets. No, I don’t expect you to understand, but do you really have to make fun of?

    I think it has been established that the institutional definition used for INFLUENCE has produced a list of institutional big-wigs. Which are not women.

  115. How about:
    Chieko Okazaki
    Naomi Ward Randall–wrote the words of I AM A CHILD OF GOD

  116. Eric Russell says:


    Chieko Okazaki is an excellent suggestion. I would add Jane Manning James, Elijah Abel and Helvecio Martin. Unfortunately, the authors chose to adopt a whitewashed view of history that excluded these important members.

  117. Randall would be in my top 20 list – probably closer to 10 than 20. That song is Mormonism at its most basic and elemental, the central doctrine of primary children world-wide and the most recognizable Mormon song in the Church. I just can’t see her displacing anyone on this list, unless it is re-written to exclude Presidents of the Church – since they are almost no-brainers. If they were removed from the list, 5 spots would be open – and I would add Randall (and possibly Dew) to that new list.

    That list (or one without any apostles and FP members) is one I would love to see.

  118. I think the list is fine. But maybe ” In our judgment, the ten most influential Mormons of the Twentieth Century.” should be replaced with “The ten people I would most like to have dinner with.”

  119. #118 – That list might exclude men.

  120. Actually, our initial title was something like “10 people who have never been in my kitchen.”

  121. Ardis Parshall says:

    Last year I was involved in making a selection of influential Mormons (very limited, but more than ten) — except for Fawn Brodie, all those named here were on my list, too.

    Re: Mormon women influencing Mormonism — Here’s a nomination that I doubt (m)any of the men here will recognize as influential in their sphere, and no doubt many of the women here will reject as defining their sphere, but her influence was still tremendous: Leah Dunford Widtsoe. And not in any degree because she was Sister John A. Widtsoe or granddaughter of Brigham Young, except to whatever degree that made it easier for the hierarchy to see her. I was going to explain why I nominate her, but on second thought, I think I’ll work up a post in the next few days.

  122. Ahhhh…the caffeine inquisition.

  123. Ardis, I love your posts on historical figures. Will it be on T&S, or part of the WHM series at FMH?

  124. Just saw your link on T&S to the ldswomenshistory web site, Ardis. Good stuff!

  125. Douglas Stewart and Lex de Azevedo. Hands down, by any standard.

  126. ESO, I was going to suggest Naomi Ward Randall too. I think that the song has been very influential. I would have said Chieko Okazaki, but I think that, unfortunately, she’s been very quickly forgotten. I do realize that she’s still doing things like Time Out for Women, but I don’t think that many of her ideas got far enough out of the gate to retain influence. (An example would be the RS manuals she was developing– and instead we got the Presidents of the church manuals.)

  127. Simply stated, the people on the list affected more people (women and men) on more levels (not simply in the songs they sang as children in primary) than nearly any of the honorable mentions. Does that mean that the post authors are sexist or racist? Not in my estimation.
    Another post might be necessary with a title such as “10 most influential South American Mormons,” or “10 most influential Mormon women.” Overall, this list seems to be a fairly accurate representation of individuals who had a large-scale influence on the church.

  128. Without No Man Knows My History, there would be no Rough Stone Rolling.

    I just don’t agree with this.

    I’d put Sheri Dew ahead of Fawn Brodie.

    Maybe we should do a list of contraversial mormons?

  129. To correct, I am not saying Dew should make the list…

  130. Bruce, my point is that these ideas influenced the current through several steps; something like Nibley > Ferguson > Sorenson > DNA rebuttals. So Nibley had the idea but its influence on current decision-making was very indirect; people in charge of current decisions were almost certainly directly influenced by much later presentations.

    Agreed. ..bruce..

  131. Ardis Parshall says:

    Ann — It will be T&S. I think Steve Evans discovered Erin’s new women’s history site at virtually the same time I did, and I see that BCC has a link, too. She’s paralleling FMH’s traditional feature (do it twice, it’s traditional!), but as this discussion suggests, there’s always room for more women’s stories. And international stories. And minority stories. And …

  132. A very informative set of bios!

    Despite all the naysayers, I think Fawn Brodie definitely deserves her place on this list — I’d put her above a bunch of these guys — and I salute you folks for including her. Even though he left the church, Martin Luther was arguably the most influential Catholic of the 16th century. Brodie didn’t create an external Mormon Reformation, but her work both anticipated the “Arrington dawn” and was also an early factor behind the eventual LDS Counter-Reformation (which represents a huge indirect effect). LDS members today might dislike William Law too, but Law straddles a very influential spot in the 19th Century Mormon timeline.

    I think Spencer W. Kimball will drop off lists like this in the future. I think he’s earning his spot from the nostalgia of bloggers in my age range (30 somethings). The poor, unsung Heber J. Grant will some day be rehabilitated.

    Although they may not have had quite enough direct or indirect influence to earn a slot a Mormon Top Ten list, I wonder if a fundamentalist thinker was considered. Through his books and magazine, Joseph W. Musser did a lot to articulate fundamentalist Mormon thought and to popularize it. (The same might be argued for Ogden Kraut and a few other leaders.) I’m not sure how much indirect effect fundamentalism has had on the mainline LDS church, but that was a thought that struck me.

  133. I’m at the end here, but I just had to throw in my 2 cents. I am tempted to agree that Arrington should replace Brooks. This would make the list completely male. I believe that 20th century females, while having a sphere of influence, simply cannot compete on this type of list. Notice also the disproportionate number of prophets/GA’s on the list.

    I wonder what it will take for women in the Church to have the kind of influence that makes itself known across the gender spectrum. I feel sure it will not come through leadership roles. Right now women’s greatest opportunities to affect the Church at large remains in scholarship. Women who come closest to making this list were writers and scholars (Jan Shipps, Juanita Brooks.) I’d be interested to explore other possible areas where women could step up to be a major force for good among great numbers of the Mormons.

  134. Steve Evans says:

    John, I feel like you re: SWK nostalgia. I’m not sure about including HJG instead though — what’s your rational for him?

  135. I feel like the PC police are out in force here. The facts however are not on their side. The facts lie as far as I can tell with the authors of the post.
    I think the top ten list as compiled is pretty good.

    I am sorry that the progressive men here are being taken to task by fellow progressives. I felt the same way about Larry Summers.

    JNS quit groveling

  136. Researcher says:

    Keep going at it, Ann (and Ardis and Erin)…the civil rights movement kept at it long enough and now our kids know MLK Jr as well as they know George Washington (if not better). They also are thoroughly familiar with George Washington Carver, for that matter.

    I take issue with Ray dismissing Janice Kapp Perry as a joke. Is it because she is a well-behaved woman?

    She may have not had extensive influence on Mormon doctrine and anything so “important” as correlation but I think she has had an immense impact on the actual week-to-week worship experience of millions of Mormons. Most Mormons, both in America and abroad would say “Fawn who” and “J Reuben who” while knowing who Janice Kapp Perry is and having personal experiences with her music. Music is a huge part of the Mormon experience, and should not be discounted.

  137. Steve (re: 133), I don’t know that I would have included HJG in this Top 10 list. I only mentioned him because this list includes many of the long-serving church presidents and ignores the longest-serving (and most-ignored) President Grant.

    David O. McKay was a superstar compared to his less beloved predecessors and he’s recently attracted a great biographer. But did he and his successor-contemporaries who dominate this list — HBL, SWK, ETB (even GBH) — actually turn the direction of the ship, or did they just implement logical extensions of the policy course set in motion by Joseph F. Smith and Heber J. Grant?

  138. Next time I do a Kulturblog post on the top 10 most influential Rock acts of all time I’m going to be sure to define my criteria so that the list includes five female artists. After reading this thread, I now know that to do any less would be to marginalize women in Rock. Even worse, it would ruin my PC cred.

  139. I’d put Heber J. Grant in there because he was the first President of the church to release a Relief Society President before her death (Emmeline B. Wells). That’s had a profound influence on the church–no longer is the RS President an equivalent to the President of the church; now she’s just an auxiliary. I don’t know who I’d remove, though. Kimball’s extension of the priesthood to all worthy males has had a pretty profound influence on the church, even if the amount of time it took to get there is still held against us.

    Janice Kapp Perry has written a lot of well-known children’s songs, but I don’t think those songs have done anything other than shore up previously entrenched ideals. Most of the other people on the list have changed things in some way, or at least created some long-lasting discourse or controversy, which I don’t see as an attribute of JKP.

    Overall, I’m impressed with the list, and I (as a non-historian) think Brodie belongs there.

  140. Steve Evans says:

    bbye bbell.

  141. MikeInWeHo says:

    Oh no, was bbell banned??
    I like him!

  142. Its a badge of honor to get Steve to say by by bbell

  143. Thomas Parkin says:

    Now that Brett Farve has retired, my top five QBs all time are.

    5. Brett Farve
    4. Dalai Lama, the
    3. Dan Marino
    2. Joe Montana
    1. Maya Angelou

    Thanks for letting me share this important and entertaining information.

    St Albatross


  144. Steve,

    I am supporting the authors JNS, Kevin, Kris, and J against unfair attacks by the PC police. I am also suggesting that they not grovel or give in to the critics. You will never satisfy critics in situations like this. Stick to your guns…..

  145. Parkin,

    What are you, some kind of DAMU or anti? If you had any kind of believing blood flowing through your veins, you’d know that Steve Young is the only true and living quarterback.

    In fact, if we are going to expand the list to include some of the name mentioned, I think Young would have to be on it.

  146. Regarding some of the earlier objections to Nibley, I can’t comment on the substance of his contributions, but I do know he was a prominent figure among even run-of-the-mill, non-intellectual types like myself. He was the one non-GA Mormon scholar that was a household name when I was growing up in Utah in the 80’s/90’s (Truman Madsen was also pretty well-known, but he was no Nibley). Nibley was almost a mythic figure. His linguistic prowess was legendary. There were all kinds of stories about how he knew dozens of languages, ancient and modern, and how he learned such-and-such language in a matter of days.

  147. Thomas Parkin says:


    I just don’t think Steve has the stats. It’s not popular, but true. Steve Young is no Joe Montana, nor is he the Dalai Lama.

    I’m just thanksful to have this place here to say it outloud. I could never say this in Elder’s Quorum.


  148. For my money, the two single most important things President Grant ever did (releasing a living RS President takes a distant third) are as follows:
    1) Calling President Clark to the FP.
    2) Choosing, based upon criteria unknown to me, to ordain Elder Kimball as an apostle before Elder Benson (on the same day I think), thereby confering apostolic seniority upon the former and ensuring that his own (Grant’s) record for tenure as Church President would not be broken a half century by President Benson serving from 1970 to 1994 (there was, I think, more than the record at stake here).

  149. Brad, do you also think the WoW would have taken the path it did, without his influence?

  150. Mark,
    Mea Culpa. I’m not sure how much he personally acted as a catalyst for WoW changes, but changes certainly were institutionalized under his watch that had profound and far-reaching impact on the day-to-day as well as liturgical lives of all LDS.

  151. Oh, and Young manifestly lacks the stats for inclusion on Parkin’s list. I honestly question whether he was even better than, say, Troy Aikman.

  152. OK, below Montana, the Dalai Lama, and Aikman, but above Maya Angelou (To say nothing of ANY QB from Schembechler U.) That’s a gimme, isn’t it?

    Yeah, The word of wisdom is probably the most noticeable thing about us, worldwide. I’ve always understood his influence to be significant, but I’m interested to hear whether somebody thinks it would have evolved the same way without him.

  153. bbell, it’s not groveling. I’m honestly unhappy that we ended up using historiographical principles that I don’t support. Mormon history has been far too focused on institutional life, and not enough attention has been paid to the many less official contributions that make Mormonism what it is. Mormon life isn’t a series of General Conference talks and lesson manuals, and the people who’ve made that life what it is deserve fair consideration.

    In addition to Janice Kapp Perry, another person who has made a substantial contribution to the emergence of the texture of modern Mormon life is Minerva Teichert. While we don’t see that much of her art in our worship services anymore, her style seems to have been a very influential exemplar for many of the Mormon visual artists who make a profound contribution to what Mormon life and worship is.

  154. Regarding the WoW, Grant was an ardent anti alcohol and tobacco campaigner, working for prohibition when some in the Church leadership didn’t agree with his stance – the extent to which the WoW function is a prime Mormon Kosher lies in large part to him. This of course was amplified by the Widtsoes. JFS encouraged saints to adhere to the WoW but both he and Lorenzo Snow stated that there was no absolute rule and that leniency, especially for older folk, should be the standard.

    He also instituted changes in the garment and temple liturgy (opening the door for later changes, which were not even close to being as far reaching as those he did). He opened the door to the end of the presiding patriarch, with his holding out on the lineal descendant. Changes in RS, including a fairly tepid support for female ritual healing, which after JFS explicit support lead to the ultimate end of the practice. He removed healers from the temple and ended the ritual of Baptism for health (as well as common rituals for the dying).

    Grant instilled the Church hierarchy with an American business ethos. If I am not mistaken Stake Presidencies were no longer paid. There is also the welfare program.

  155. Thomas Parkin says:

    “but above Maya Angelou”

    You’d never say this if you’d actually seen her with a football. The pin-point accuracy, the range, the leadership skills. She was also surprisingly mobile, given her age and, frankly, size. I don’t think she’s taken a sack once in her life. True, she never won a Super Bowl, but that’s not all there is to life. She’s also a passable poet and a kind and wonderful person. She’d make a great grandma, if she isn’t one. And no matter how much you’re willing to stretch considerations of sex and gender, you just can’t say that about Steve Young.

    I think I need my own blog …


  156. Researcher says:

    Wow. Not only am I finding myself disagreeing with Ray, I’m agreeing with JNS. I’ll have to take a break from blogging.

    Seriously, how much does the average member of the church know about some of these trends. A good percentage of the church has probably never heard of Bruce R. McConkie. Many people take their view of Joseph Smith out of the Pearl of Great Price and have never heard of either Fawn Brodie or Richard Bushman.

    I know that’s heresy to say on a Mormon blog, but how representative are bloggers of the entire church? “We few, we happy few, we band of [bloggers].”

  157. Researcher,
    Influence does not require that people be consciousness of it to be real. What percentage of people receiving SS benefits 100 years from now will be able to tell you anything about the New Deal? I suspect the number is smaller than the percentage of Mormons who have heard of BRM, FB, or RB.

  158. Don’t worry, Researcher, I’ll make a concerted effort to be less acceptable to you from here on out.

  159. Brad, I absolutely agree. By Researcher’s logic that influence requires familiarity, we probably have to conclude that Britney Spears is more influential in America than Elizabeth Cady Stanton was.

  160. Matt Rasmussen says:

    This is a fascinating list. Any chance you could list some references? For example, I’m curious to know more about the political positions and “the consternation of the First Presidency” toward McConkie writing Mormon Doctrine. Those seem less readily available to read up on… And what is the source of Harold B. Lee demanding a new vote? I didn’t know that type of inner-workings of the Twelve would be available.

  161. Researcher says:

    You would have to define influence. I could totally make an argument that Britney Spears has more influence on American pop culture than Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

    On the other hand, Spears has not had much influence on American political culture, while Stanton has.

    It’s all in the definition.

  162. Matt,
    Start with Quinn’s Mormon Hierarchy series, and then recent bios on Presidents McKay and Kimball. Quinns bios of Clark are also helpful.

  163. I could totally make an argument that Britney Spears has more influence on American pop culture than Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

    I’d actually say that, if we considered both direct and indirect influence, this might be a messy debate.

  164. I’d actually start with the McKay and Kimball bios, Matt.

  165. Catching up, but:

    “I take issue with Ray dismissing Janice Kapp Perry as a joke. Is it because she is a well-behaved woman?”

    Of course not. I like my women well-behaved. *running for over from those who won’t appreciate that as a joke*

    Seriously, I just don’t see it, so I thought it was a joke. Randall, yes; Perry, no. It’s just a difference of opinion, I guess.

  166. “running for cover”

  167. Paris Hilton has had a far greater impact on American popular culture and behavior than Britney Spears. How many of us would have posted sex tapes of ourselves on the internet if Paris hadn’t demonstrated that it was perfectly OK?

  168. As to whom the most influencial person from the 20th century on the 21 century is It is Gordon B. Hinckley. Hands down…Just look at his varied life experiences. He has touched the common man…he has thouched world leaders…and all the members of the LDS church. Get real…….Kate

  169. Following up on 163, if “influential” had been defined in the first place, the post might have been a bit better. Well, and to beat a dead horse, recognizing that the authors were mostly a group of white males of roughly the same age might have been a nice idea too.

  170. Kate, I’m not really sure if you’re right about Hinckley. Certainly he’s the most recent church president. But it would take some kind of actual argument to show that he, in your words, touched the common man. What will he be remembered for in 50 or 100 years? Unlike for most of the people on this list, I don’t know what the answer would be. We’ll just have to wait and see. Hinckley might well have been very influential, but my sense is that we at least a decade or so of distance from him before we can make a reasonable case one way or the other.

    Paula, I don’t really see how the identity of the authors was ever hidden.

  171. JSN: You’re right that it’ll take some time to really evaluate GBH’s legacy, but I suspect that he will be remembered for small temples, which has had a direct impact on the rank and file of the church. Whether that makes him the most influential Mormon of the 20th century is and will be very debatable, but it is a significant achievement.

  172. Er, JNS

  173. David G., good point, and a significant development to be sure. Its meaning and valence are a bit difficult to evaluate right now, though, I’d say. If the church grows dramatically through the 21st century, the small temples may become a nuisance because they can’t serve their communities; if the church doesn’t grow, it’s possible that we’ve overbuilt. Or, as they say, the temples could be just right. My point here is simply that, as you also said, it’s tough to reasonably evaluate this stuff immediately.

  174. re: GBH, # 168, 170, 171, 173

    It may turn out that the Perpetual Education Fund has more long term impact than the small temples, IMO, but that is still something to be weighed in the future.

  175. Doug LeDuc says:

    Any honorable mention list
    should include Reed Smoot.

  176. Christian says:

    I dissaprove of your choice of token woman and token antimormon. This is the writer whose screed gets cited by Slate as the excuse to irrebutably keep any mormon from public office, because we follow a so-called con man. Brodie devastates the ability of LDS people to get a job in certain fields, but in terms of affecting the LDS people or community, she’s virtually irrelevant.

  177. Ron Titus says:

    Thanks, good article. I appreciate your scholarship, as well as your opinions.

    Especially interesting was post of
    Harold B. Lee and vote re: priesthood.

    Also, post 154 re: HJGrant and ending
    pay for Stk Prescy’s; and ancillary
    references to JFS & LS and WoW leniency.

    I’d be ever so appreciative of some
    references for these items. (Yes, I
    did read post 160 and 162.)

  178. #153: J — I was a bit saddened by what I consider a lost opportunity when I read that Teichert had intended her Book of Mormon paintings as illustrations for a printed edition of the Book of Mormon; I think that would have been a far better choice than Frieberg’s hyper-muscular paintings.

    By the way, for those of you in Utah (or planning on visiting there), there’s a wonderful Minerva Teichert exhibit at the BYU Art Museum; I highly recommend it (as well as the Victorian Art exhibit downstairs). ..bruce..

  179. Brodie absolutely belongs on this list, and would still make the cut if the list were culled down to a Top 5.

    Though 95% or more of Mormons have never heard of her, her NMKMH was, for Mormonism, the shot heard round the world.

    For non-Mormons, her’s is still the definitive biography of Joseph Smith by a country mile, even 60+ years later. From Harold Bloom to Helen Whitney, from secular and armchair historians to scholars of religion, her influence cannot be understated.

    But I’d argue that her influence is even greater on Mormon scholars. The so-called New Mormon History, Apologetics, and such scholarly journals like Dialogue, Sunstone, and JMH, in one way or another, all came about in response to or because of Brodie and No Man Knows My History.

  180. I’d like to see you guys tackle a Top 10 most influential books of the 20th Century, or better yet, of all of Mormon History.

    For such a list, I’d rank No Man Knows My History #2 behind the Book of Mormon.

  181. Matt Thurstan, I have spoken with more than one non-Mormon religion academic who disagrees with your characterizing of NMKMH’s lasting definativeness. But I agree that it was greatly influential.

  182. Stapley, I’m basically coming at NMKMH from an “influential standpoint. I’d agree that “definitiveness” is largely a matter of perspective, and one I’m less willing to defend.

    Having said that, I’ve heard Bushman say on more than one occaision that Brodie remains the “definitive” biographer of JS to the outside world. Whether or not he was just being modest, I don’t know.

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