Life during the first decade of the 20th Century was filled with work and revolved around the Church, remembers Oa Jacobs Cannon. Primary was the childhood highlight of her week.
Sister Cannon, 96, reared in Ogden, Utah, in 1902 to Henry Chariton and Emma Rigby Jacobs, described the first decade of the 20th century as a splice of the old and new: horses and buggies plodding along hard-packed dirt streets while electric and telephone wires hummed overhead. During the period between 1900-1909, many of Ogden's sturdy homes acquired indoor plumbing, and a few wealthy families purchased automobiles.
Yet the inventions of the previous century — the gasoline engine, telephone, electric light, phonograph, motion picture camera — had not made the deep impact upon society that would soon follow. A telephone hung on the wall of the Jacobs' modest home, but was rarely used because of the expense. Electricity was unreliable and autos were seen mostly in parades.
It was a time when the Church, comprised of 271,681 members in 40 stakes, was the social and spiritual center of the community. And sacrament meeting was the center of the Church. The decade ended with 377,279 members in 60 stakes.
"The Church has been my life," said Sister Cannon. She remembers as a small child sitting very still on a large bench while her father, in his 60s, presided as bishop of the Ogden 5th Ward.
"When my father held a meeting, it was a meeting," she said in a recent interview. "He was very strict, but the people loved him."
During that epoch, music was played as a common cup was passed for sacrament. Following the sacrament, often one speaker would address the congregation for the remainder of the time. In the Ogden 5th Ward, the speaker was frequently a stake patriarch who would be called upon "if father didn't have a speaker by Friday or Saturday," said Sister Cannon.
Despite their young age, she and her sisters "were just thrilled" to sing in the ward choir.
"My sister Mary, who was about 16, was the ward accompanist," remembered Sister Cannon. "On two or three occasions, my father announced the closing of the meeting and Mary was asleep and didn't hear it. He turned and whistled with his fingers in his mouth and woke Mary up. She had to ask, 'What number are we going to sing?' "
"It was a kind of ward joke about Mary going to sleep."
If sacrament meeting was the center of the Church, Primary was the highlight for young Oa.
"Aunt Rose Ballantyne was the president of the Primary, and we adored her. She had a way with her to make every one of us feel like she loved us. I remember saving cookies in my little pocket so I could give them to Aunt Rose.
"In Primary we learned to make things. I remember we tied shoestrings to the chair in front of us and we learned to braid."
The warmth of Primary helped soften hard times at home for Oa. At that time, income for the family was sparse as Bishop Jacobs had previously retired from the furniture business with no pension. Family life was filled with work for the Jacobs children, who kept the house clean and peddled fruit and vegetables from a wagon to their neighbors. They made and patched their own clothes and darned their socks. They also milked cows and cleaned the barn.
At bedtime, Henry and Emma Rigby Jacobs would stand at the foot of the stairs and the children would kiss them on the way to bed.
In the evening, it was Brother Jacobs' custom to settle into his short-legged black leather chair and read the Deseret News for hours, keeping up with the local and national affairs of the day.
(Sister Jacobs was about half the age of her pioneer husband. She came to the household to care for his children after Brother Jacobs' first wife died, and they were married a year later. Henry Chariton Jacobs was born in 1846 on the Chariton River in Iowa as his mother, Zina Diantha Huntington, fled Nauvoo. She later married Brigham Young and was the third general president of the Relief Society. Henry, who crossed the plains several times, was reared in President Young's home in downtown Salt Lake City, the Lion House, and became the Church president's driver. Brother Jacobs died in 1915 at age 69. Sister Jacobs then cared for the children.)
As he sat in the black leather chair and read, Brother Jacobs found the pages of the Deseret News filled with the notable events that occurred from 1900-1909. Some of these events were carry-overs from the previous century, while others were influential over the following decades.
One of the first and hottest issues after the turn of the century was one that still smoldered from the previous decade. When Elder Brigham H. Roberts of the First Council of the Seventy was elected to the U.S. Congress, he was denied his seat on Jan. 25, 1900, because of his plural marriage contracted before the 1890 Manifesto. Three years later, Elder Reed Smoot of the Quorum of the Twelve was elected a U.S. senator. He had never been involved in plural marriage and the Senate eventually voted to seat him. But his election spurred the Senate Committee on Privileges to conduct an extensive investigation of the Church that lasted until 1907.
Another topic in the news was the division of the Salt Lake Stake. By the turn of the century, this stake was made up of 51 wards that covered the entire Salt Lake Valley. In 1900, the Jordan and Granite stakes were created, and in 1904, the Ensign, Liberty and Pioneer stakes were created. This began a practice of smaller stakes that could adapt to changing circumstances to meet the needs of members. One innovation from the Granite Stake was family home evening, a practice that soon spread to other stakes. For example, toward the end of the decade the Jacobs family began holding family home evening.
A lesser-known news item was perhaps the Church's last wagon train with settlers that traveled to the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming in early 1900. These colonies were among the last of nearly 500 LDS colonies established by the Church as part of the migration west.
The international news of the Church was widely read. Of interest was the mission to Japan of Elder Heber J. Grant of the Quorum of the Twelve. On Aug. 12, 1901, Elder Grant dedicated Japan for the preaching of the gospel. He also established the Japan Mission, the first country opened in the 20th century.
Nineteen missions existed at the start of the decade: British, that was created in 1837; Eastern States, 1839; Society Islands, 1844; California, 1846; Scandinavian, Swiss and Sandwich Islands, 1850; Australian, 1851; German, 1852; European (administrative), 1854; Southern States, 1876; Indian, 1855 (re-opened as Southwestern States in 1898); Netherlands-Belgium, 1864; Northern States, 1878; Turkish, 1884; Samoan, 1888; Colorado, 1896; Northwestern States, 1897; and New Zealand, 1898.
The Mexican Mission was re-instated in 1901, the Middle States Mission created in 1902; the South African Mission was re-instated in 1903 after first being founded in 1853; and the Swedish Mission was created in 1905. Also pertaining to missionary work, the Church's first visitor center was opened Aug. 4, 1902, on Temple Square.
In October 1901, President Lorenzo Snow died and President Joseph F. Smith was set apart and ordained president of the Church. During President Smith's term, a number of significant developments occurred.
On Dec. 23, 1905, 100 years after Joseph Smith's birth, President Smith dedicated the Joseph Smith Memorial Monument in Sharon, Vt., on property acquired earlier in the year. In the summer of 1906, President Smith became the first president to travel overseas as he visited Europe. In 1907, he announced that, in large part due to the renewal of emphasis on tithing by President Snow, the Church had completely retired its debt. In a related development in 1908, Presiding Bishop Charles W. Nibley moved the Church to an all-cash basis and no longer issued tithing scrip.
As the debate on Darwinism and evolution continued in the national press, President Smith and his counselors issued an important statement on the origin of man that was published in the 1909 Improvement Era. This statement remains an important teaching of Church doctrine.
Other innovations in the Church in the first decade included the start of monthly magazines by the auxiliaries. The Juvenile Instructor was purchased in 1901 from the George Q. Cannon family by the Sunday School and became its official publication. The Primary started The Children's Friend in 1902.
Systematic courses of study throughout the Church were started for the Seventies in 1907, and a year later uniform courses of study began for all the priesthood quorums. Also in 1908, the Church's General Priesthood Committee recommended for the first time the ordination of young men to priesthood offices at specific ages. Recommendations at the time were for ordination of deacons at age 12, teachers at age 15, priests at age 18 and elders at age 21.
The Church was mindful of its history during the first decade of the 20th century. The five-volume documentary History of the Church, edited by Elder B. H. Roberts, was published, and a number of historic sites were purchased.
Carthage Jail was acquired in 1903, and in 1904 the Church purchased 25 acres in Independence, Mo. The 100-acre Smith Farm near Palmyra, N.Y., including the Sacred Grove, was purchased in 1907. Additional land in Far West, Mo., was purchased in 1909.
So in the early 1900s as Bishop Jacobs avidly read his newspaper, the progress of the Church continued. One decade followed another, each bringing change and challenges. After nearly a century has come and gone, Bishop Jacobs' daughter, Oa Jacobs Cannon, who, in the intervening time, served as a member of the Relief Society general board from 1964-74 and was twice widowed, now lives in a comfortable assisted-living facility in Salt Lake City. She is far removed from the circumstances of her childhood. Nothing around her was made or grown at home. To keep busy, she finds projects to work on and has written several histories.
"It has been a great life," she said. "I can see that now, but it was hard while I was going through it."
She reflected on the passage of a century and the century's progress, and observed:
"There hasn't been so much a change in people as there has been a change in family life. People are busier now, but people don't spend as much time doing things that are real."