What did general conference look like 50 years ago? Or 100 years ago? This annual and semiannual tradition of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has seen many changes over the years ever since a group of 27 Church members gathered in the Peter Whitmer farmhouse in Fayette, New York, on June 9, 1830.
While the gathering locations have changed from quickly constructed boweries to tabernacles to the 21,000-seat Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, Latter-day Saints have always been eager to gather together and hear Church leaders speak to them.
Sometimes, circumstances change how and when general conference is held by the Church. Outbreaks of the flu, war, and even reasons to celebrate have set general conference in a new venue or cancelled it altogether.
For much of the Church’s history, general conference was a 3-day affair, with sessions held on April 6 regardless of whether or not it was a weekday. Special sessions were devoted to auxiliary programs and welfare needs as well. In October 1867, the congregation even voted to extend general conference an additional day.
In the early days of the Church, leaders who spoke at general conference often did so extemporaneously, and the only way to hear them was to listen in person or wait for a summary to be published. As technology has advanced, the audience for general conference has grown. In 2012, it was estimated that 595,000 households in North America watched the Sunday morning session on television.
The first full general conference report was published in the Deseret News on April 6, 1850, thanks to reporter George D. Watt learning shorthand and transcribing all of the talks. Today, anyone can open the Gospel Library app on their phone within days of the final session, and watch and read their favorite conference talks.