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70 years of journal-keeping: 5 fascinating things from the journals of Elder George F. Richards

The First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other general authorities pose for photo on Temple Square in 1925 They are, standing, left to right, David O. McKay, Rudger Clawson, Orson F. Whitney, Anthony W. Ivins, Richard R. Lyman, Heber J. Gra Credit: Church History Library
The first page of George F. Richards’ first journal, 1883–1890. Credit: Church History Library
These pages from George F. Richards’ journal contain his account of being sustained as an Apostle on April 8, 1906. Credit: Church History Library
George F. and Alice A. Robinson Richards and their family Credit: Church History Library
George F. Richards, center, with great-grandchildren George Franklin Richards III, left, Diane Richards and Susan Richards. Credit: Church History Library
George F. Richards and Alice A. Robinson Richards, center back row, with branch members in the British Mission, in Liverpool, England, 1919. Credit: Church History Library
A portrait of George F. Richards Credit: Church History Library
George F. Richards in 1927 in a painting by Lee Greene Richards. Credit: Church History Museum
The journal of George F. Richards from January 1883 to July 1890. Credit: Tyler Thorsted, Church History Library
George F. Richards’ journal from April 1918–December 1920. Credit: Tyler Thorsted, Church History Library
George F. Richards’ journal from January 1921 to December 1934. Credit: Tyler Thorsted, Church History Library
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in 1943: seated, left to right: Stephen L Richards, Joseph Fielding Smith, George F. Richards, George Albert Smith; standing, Ezra Taft Benson, Spencer W. Kimball, Harold B. Lee, Charles A. Callis, Sylvester Q. Cannon, J Credit: Church History Library
A portrait of George F. Richards on Feb. 23, 1899. Credit: Church History Library
Tooele Stake presidency members, on Oct. 6, 1891, are Charles L. Anderson, left, Hugh S. Gowans, and George F. Richards. Credit: Church History Library

In 2019, the Church Historian’s Press published online the first two volumes of the journals of George F. Richards (1861-1950), who served as an Apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1906 to 1950 and as President of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1945 to 1950. Elder Richards was a diligent record keeper and wrote in his journal on an almost-daily basis from 1880 to 1950.

A portrait of George F. Richards
A portrait of George F. Richards | Credit: Church History Library

The 23 volumes of journals are remarkable documents, chronicling his work as a farmer and businessman; his service in the community of Tooele, Utah; his family life; and his service in Church callings, including as a counselor in the Tooele Stake presidency, as patriarch in the Tooele Stake, and as an Apostle.

In December 2020, the press released three more installments of the journal, covering March 1892 to April 1900, and on Dec. 10, 2021, it will release four more volumes, covering April 1900 to September 1907. It will eventually publish all 23 volumes.

Today, George F. Richards is not a well-known Apostle, but his journal is a detailed account of a time when the Church was transitioning from the pioneer to the modern era. Here are five fascinating details about Elder Richards that we learn from his journals.

1. He was the great-nephew of an Apostle, the son of an Apostle, and the father of an Apostle

George F. and Alice A. Robinson Richards and their family
George F. and Alice A. Robinson Richards and their family | Credit: Church History Library

George F. Richards’ great-uncle was Willard Richards, who was a scribe and historian to Joseph Smith and who was ordained an Apostle in 1840. When Willard Richards died in 1854, Brigham Young asked Willard’s nephew, Franklin D. Richards, who had been ordained an Apostle in 1849, to marry four of Willard Richards’ plural wives. One of these women was Nanny Longstroth. In 1861, George F. Richards was born to Franklin and Nanny. George married Alice Robinson in 1882, and they had 15 children. One of these — their thirdborn — was LeGrand Richards. LeGrand served as presiding bishop of the Church from 1938 to 1952 and as an Apostle from 1952 to his death in 1983.

2. He was called as a patriarch at age 32 and later served as acting patriarch to the Church from 1937 to 1942

Tooele Stake presidency members, on Oct. 6, 1891, are Charles L. Anderson, left, Hugh S. Gowans, and George F. Richards.
Tooele Stake presidency members, on Oct. 6, 1891, are Charles L. Anderson, left, Hugh S. Gowans, and George F. Richards. | Credit: Church History Library

In 1890, George F. Richards was appointed second counselor in the Tooele Stake presidency. Three years later, he was made patriarch of the Tooele Stake — a position he held while continuing as a counselor. George was only 32 when he received the call as patriarch. He recorded in his journal, “I was very much surprised at my name having been presented for a Patriarch but could not oppose the Spirit of the Lord which d[i]rected in the matter.” The first patriarchal blessing he gave was to his son George. In 1937, President Heber J. Grant appointed George F. Richards the acting patriarch to the Church, a position he held until 1942.

3. Prior to his call as an Apostle, he took a trip with Joseph F. Smith to the eastern United States to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth

Between Dec. 18, 1905, and Jan. 2, 1906, George, his wife Alice and his son Oliver, traveled with 24 other dignitaries, including President Joseph F. Smith, President Anthon H. Lund and five Apostles to the eastern United States.

On Dec. 23, Joseph F. Smith dedicated a monument in South Royalton, Vermont, to the Prophet Joseph Smith — known today as the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial. The group also visited historic sites in Palmyra, New York, and Kirtland, Ohio, before returning home. Just four months after the conclusion of this trip, President Joseph F. Smith called George F. Richards as an Apostle.

4. He served as president of the European Mission during the First World War

George F. Richards and Alice A. Robinson Richards, center back row, with branch members in the British Mission, in Liverpool, England, 1919.
George F. Richards and Alice A. Robinson Richards, center back row, with branch members in the British Mission, in Liverpool, England, 1919. | Credit: Church History Library

From June 1916 to July 1919, Elder Richards served as the president of the European Mission. This was a particularly difficult time because of the ongoing war in Europe. The uncertainties and dangers caused by the war meant that Elder Richards initially went to Europe without his family, although his son George and his wife, Edith, accompanied him. Elder Richards recorded in his journal that when he told his wife, Alice Robinson Richards, and the children of his assignment, “It broke up my wife’s feelings and the children cried with her.”

He continued, “My true feelings are that I would naturally shrink from such responsibility and having to leave home and loved ones for such a time as this mission will mean, but that having put my hand to the plow, there is for me no turning back.” Alice was able to come to Europe in March 1919 and spend the last few months of her husband’s presidency with him.

5. He served as the president of the Salt Lake Temple from 1921 to 1937

George F. Richards’ journal from January 1921 to December 1934.
George F. Richards’ journal from January 1921 to December 1934. | Credit: Tyler Thorsted, Church History Library

In 1921, Elder Richards was appointed president of the Salt Lake Temple, succeeding President Anthon F. Lund, who had passed away. Elder Richards took this responsibility seriously, recording in his journal that he regarded it as a “great added honor” and that he wanted to do his best to “magnify” it “satisfactorily to the Lord and all concerned” (see George F. Richards, Journal, March 10, 1921, Church History Library). During Elder Richards’ time as president, he helped standardize the presentation of temple ordinances across all of the Church’s temples. He also suggested to President Heber J. Grant that his wife Alice serve as the leader of the temple’s female workers, thus setting a precedent for having the temple president’s wife act as temple matron.

These pages from George F. Richards’ journal contain his account of being sustained as an Apostle on April 8, 1906.
These pages from George F. Richards’ journal contain his account of being sustained as an Apostle on April 8, 1906. | Credit: Church History Library

Correction: An earlier version of this article noted that George F. Richards and Alice A. Robinson Richards had 14 children. They have 15 children.

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