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The Great Depression; The Mormon Response

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A New Strength in Church Ties

The Mormon Response to the Great Depression

The State of Utah has a reputation; the Mormon State. Rightfully so, as the majority of Utah is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This religion, while a sect of Christianity, is often looked at as the outcast. The religion carries with it many seemingly overbearing expectations of its members, as well as many additions and revisions to the initial concept of Christianity. However, within Utah, Mormonism is seen in a different light, like any religion viewed from the inside. It is the saving grace, the reason for prosperity, the cure-all. As far as religions go, Mormonism is one of the most closely-knit. Stakes become close communities, where everybody knows everybody; the greatest motto and guideline for Mormons from the Bible is to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” This sense of family among church members is incredibly evident in the atmosphere of the state. It is almost an expected characteristic of the Church, considering the ridiculed and discriminated history of the Saints. However, if their beginning was not enough to keep them bound to each other for eternity, Mormons found an even stronger sense of unity during the Great Depression. This nationwide and worldwide occurrence struck Utah with a particularly intense ferocity. Previously experiencing prosperity from the mining district, Utah actually hit an economic depression in the 1920s, while most people were enjoying the frivolity of the otherwise Roaring ‘20s. However, because of this pre-Depression downturn, there were institutions and programs put into place for the welfare of the LDS community. Therefore, when the Great Depression hit, there was a slight sense of what to do in order to survive. This does not at all indicate that Utah coasted through the 1930s easily, though. The decade came with many struggles, but through it all, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints brought their forces together in order to battle the strife of the Great Depression.

This argument seems to be the general orientation of opinions among scholars when it comes to the topic of Mormons during the Great Depression. There are some sources that are more skeptical about the LDS reactions during the 1930s, but even these perspectives lead to the same conclusion; the Church became a stronger and more influential force in the lives of its members during this decade. Studying this topic uncovered history that almost could have been assumed by anyone with a general knowledge of Mormons; there was a large rejection of federal aid and federal intervention. Eventually this lessened, as the situation worsened without sight or hope of improvement (Bonner 53, 298).

The best first source to consult is the Dictionary of American History. An encyclopedia with a vast amount of information, this provided an article dedicated to the state of Utah, and among the subheadings was a section about the Great Depression; there was also an article based on the Latter-Day Saints, with an identical subheading. The author of these articles is a Dr. Jeremy Bonner, who is affiliated with the Catholic University of America. His research centers around religious interconnections to the New Deal. These articles are prime sources because of the background and basic information they provide on the given topic. It supplies a researcher with a stable foundation of knowledge in order to continue more in-depth studies. Dr. Bonner does not so much give an opinion as much as hard facts and record of occurrences, which is exactly what is desired from an encyclopedia entry. A reliable pairing to this source is the “Utah,” article from the Gale Encyclopedia of U.S. Economic History. This source provided a bit less information specifically about the Great Depression and Utah’s place in it; it was more focused around the general and gradual economic history of the state. However it still provided some useful information, and when paired with the Dictionary of American History articles, the two became invaluable references.

The next sources came with the slight baggage of opinionated writing and perspective. Because of this, it is vital to begin research with the milder encyclopedias. One of these sources was from a historical journal titled Journal of the West. The article, by Dr. Wayne K. Hinton, is titled “Some Historical Perspective on Mormon Responses to the Great Depression.” Dr. Hinton is a Utahn through and through; born, raised, educated, and employed in the state. Surprisingly enough, his journal entry was the more skeptical perspective mentioned earlier. However, all of his research is based around Mormon history and behavior, and therefore his article is crucial to this topic. Providing in depth descriptions of movement and action during the 1930s, Dr. Hinton provides a source that gives a historian much more insight to Utah in this decade. The article is incredibly helpful in advancing one’s knowledge and interest in this field. This, along with the next source, are key examples of useful secondary sources.

The final source is a bit more particular. Written by collaborators of the Church Educational System, it is a recount, in full, of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Even though its historical accuracy coincides with the other sources previously mentioned, it is difficult to not suspect bias. A historical record about the Church, by the Church, is likely to not say anything in any sort of negative light. Therefore, when paired with Dr. Hinton’s article, it is like getting both sides of the same story. Where Dr. Hinton’s literary air points towards the downfall of the state had the resistance to federal aid continued (Hinton 26), the chapter “The Saints During the Great Depression,” of Church History in the Fulness of Times focuses more on all that the Church did right during the Great Depression. There are detailed accounts of the welfare programs put into place, as well as in-depth descriptions of the good that these programs did (Church Educational System 511-514). Together these sources provided altering perspectives and incredible detail about the Great Depression’s existence in Utah.

Taking into account that there was considerable doubt for how viable this topic would be, there have been some highly important and educational studies done in this area already. The amount that can be found on this topic suggests that new roads can be taken as far as interpreting aspects of this time in history. It seems that there could be direct connections to the Mormon response to the Great Depression and the behavior of Mormons, and Utahns in general, today. The idea is quite fascinating, and I am excited to see where studying this topic will lead.

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