The Church Historian’s Press has released a new George F. Richards (GFR) digital history project that includes transcripts of his journals. This appears similar to the George Q. Cannon diaries CHP project. Currently the website holds transcripts of the first two volumes of GFR’s journals, spanning August 1880 to March 1892. GFR’s journals have been on a short list of documents that I have been interested in for a long time, and I am consequently very excited.
Back in the day several scholars accessed GFR’s papers and produced work that has been extremely important in situating certain shifts during the Heber J. Grant administration of the church. These were principally:
- Dale C. Mouritsen, “A Symbol of New Directions: George F. Richards and the Mormon Church, 18611950” (Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1982).
- Irene M. Bates and E. Gary Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996).
- David John Buerger’s various publications on the temple liturgy.
Perhaps because of the sensitivity of the items treated in these studies, the GFR journals at the CHL have been locked down for a long time. I’ve generally had good luck at accessing materials and verifying transcripts at the CHL, but was systematically rebuffed when requesting GFR journal entries. Now, the editorial methods pages indicates that there will be the regular redactions for sacred, private, and confidential materials, but if the editorial hand is as judicious as with the George Q. Cannon diaries, then I think we can look forward to excellent access moving forward. In the two volumes currently available only the names of people facing church discipline have been redacted.
I have only spent a little bit of time with these early journals, however, I have already added material to the addenda file I have kept for Power of Godliness. Like the voluminous William Smart diaries, the records of stake officers can be rich records of lived religion. For example, in March 1883, GFR includes a short treatise on ordination, including an example ordination text. This entry is a wonderful and early example of a reaction against those who thought the priesthood needed to be conferred upon an individual before ordination to an office. Elsewhere we see GFR document several healing anointings and note how either he or another individual “confirmed” the anointing. This language was similar to other church leaders, such as Rudger Clawson during the period, and became an important distinction between male and female healing rituals in subsequent decades. Lastly we see GFR as a local church officer blessing babies during fast and testimony meeting.
My excitement to see these documents is justified, and I look forward to the future of this project and other similar projects to come. Thanks to the CHL staff for their hard work in making these materials accessible.