Monday, December 28, 2015

One Hundred Years Ago Project

The year was 1916.
  • Joseph F Smith was President of the LDS Church. He had been since 1901 and would be until his death in 1918.
  • On June 20th The First Presidency issued a statement called "The Father and the Son" in an effort to clarify how the scriptures use the word "Father" and when it refers to Heavenly Father and when it means Jesus Christ.
  • John W Taylor died on October 10th. He was a former apostle that was excommunicated for his continued support of plural marriage even after the Second Manifesto.
  • Charles A Callis led the Southern States Mission. He had succeeded Ben E Rich, a known post-manifesto polygamist, in 1908. Callis continued as Mission President until 1933.
  • Missionaries who had been serving in Europe were released or reassigned to safer areas. A few were finishing out the remainder of their time in Tennessee.
  • Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States and narrowly won re-election that year. (277 electoral votes versus 254 votes for Charles Hughes) with the platform of keeping the US out of the war in Europe.
  • The election of 1916 brought into congress the two thirds majority of Prohibition supporters needed to initiate what would become Prohibition Amendment to the constitution the following year.
  • The Mexican revolution was in full swing. Pancho Villa raided Columbus, New Mexico, killing 12 Americans. In response the US sent Calvary into Mexico to hunt down Pancho Villa. The US Army flew reconnaissance over Mexico in support of the Cavalry.
  • The Marines landed in the Dominican Republic and began an eight year occupation of the country. The US Marines already occupied Haiti the previous year.
  • The Federal Income Tax was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States (Brushaber v. Union Pacific Railroad Company)
  • The Boy Scouts of America was incorporated
  • The US Government purchased land on the Tennessee river at Muscle Shoals to build a hydroelectric dam. It would become the first project of the future Tennessee Valley Authority.
  • The Governor of Tennessee was Thomas C Rye; a staunch supporter of prohibition and helped unify the Democratic party which was split over the issue. In 1916 he easily defeated his Republican opponent to serve a second term.
  • In Erwin Tennessee a circus elephant is hanged for killing her handler. Hanging had ceased as a form of execution for people in the state in 1913 when all executions were halted. After a two year  hiatus, electrocution replaced hanging as the means of capital punishment in Tennessee from 1916 until 1960.
  • Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store, opened its doors in Memphis Tennessee on September 6th. This business model is almost universally followed today. Yes, the name is weird. Yes, they still exist.
  • On August 26th ,President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service. By then 35 national parks and monuments had already been formed and had been managed by the Department of the Interior.
Over the last few months I have been collecting information on the happenings of the church in Tennessee in 1916. My sources have been letters, newspapers, and journals of members living in Tennessee and missionaries who served there. Of course, the events in Church history do not happen in a vacuum.  They are part of what happen in the world around them. Like today there were divisive national political issues (Income Tax, The War in Europe, Prohibition), interventionist wars overseas (Haiti & Dominican Republic), and terrorists attacking innocent civilians (Poncho Villa). The church was still struggling with backlash from a controversial practice (polygamy). While new plural marriages had stopped several years before 1916, there were still many polygamist families in the church. Their status was ambiguous as some families separated and others stayed together. It must have seemed as though the world was falling apart.

Over the next year I will be looking at what the church was like in Tennessee one hundred years ago; not just from a macro level, but right down to the details of daily life. While in 1916 that was mostly the lives of missionaries, there were solid members in a few scattered branches throughout the state.

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