President Eyring points to then-unseen successes of Utah’s silkworm industry at monument commemoration

Returning to his boyhood ward, President Henry B. Eyring repeatedly urged his audience to “follow the prophet” as he spoke at the 80th anniversary celebration of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers monument in Salt Lake City’s Yalecrest neighborhood Saturday, Oct. 9, honoring Utah’s silkworm industry.

“When the Lord’s prophet makes a suggestion, take it seriously,” President Eyring said.

President Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, likened his counsel to the same Brigham Young gave in the 1850s when he urged the Saints to build the silkworm industry in what was then a remote Western outpost. The pronouncement seemed unconventional as the early pioneers were not trained in the art of making silk nor had the proper equipment when the endeavor began.

Eventually hundreds of acres of mulberry trees were planted and millions of silkworms cultivated. The endeavor lasted about half a century and products made from Utah silk were even exhibited at the 1892 World’s Fair.

Although not a prolific economic success, the initiative contributed to Utah’s reputation for hard work, industry and innovation.

Detail of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers monument in Salt Lake City’s Yalecrest neighborhood honors Utah’s silkworm industry. An 80th anniversary celebration of the monument was on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.
Detail of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers monument in Salt Lake City’s Yalecrest neighborhood honors Utah’s silkworm industry. An 80th anniversary celebration of the monument was on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. Credit: Jan Hemming

The DUP monument extolling the Relief Society’s leadership cultivating silkworms was created by world-renowned sculptor Avard Fairbanks and unveiled on the property of the Yalecrest wards on July 19, 1941. It is one of 591 such historical markers erected by the DUP in 12 countries.

As a young deacon, President Eyring attended the Yalecrest Ward and referred to it in his April 2021 general conference address as the place where his faith grew after he prayed earnestly behind the statue seeking divine guidance about his priesthood duties. It was the same location immigrant Paul Schettler established a mulberry tree farm with silkworm cocooneries in the 1860s.

Harkening back to the early pioneers, President Eyring said the call to engage in the silkworm industry was more than merely about labor.

“The Lord was purifying his people and strengthening their capacities,” he said. “It was about the people having faith in a prophet of God to build Zion.” Although not a financial success, President Eyring said President Young, “didn’t make a mistake. It was hard, hard work.” Adding, “the closest thing I can relate it to is Zion’s Camp March.” 

Zion’s Camp was also an expedition of faith originally designed in 1834 to reclaim Church members’ properties in Missouri. Although, apparently, a failure in its initial purpose, those who were later called as the Church’s first Apostles and Seventies traveled with the camp. In the same way, the men and women leaders involved in the silkworm industry contributed to the Church’s leadership, including Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Young and many of her cohorts throughout the state. Zina’s great-great-granddaughter Suzan Jacobs Lake spoke at the commemoration.

President Eyring also recalled stories from his early years in Princeton, New Jersey, and the family decision to leave the East Coast and resettle in Salt Lake City. The stories brought laughter as he detailed his mother’s disappointment when his father initially declined an invitation from University of Utah President A. Ray Olpin to become the first dean of the graduate school, but later relented. He praised “a mother who wanted to get me and her family to Zion” and a father “who never said it was a sacrifice” to give up his position at Princeton University.

President Henry B. Erying, second counselor in the First Presidency, center, with his brother and sister-in-law Harden and LoiAnne Eyring after the 80th anniversary celebration of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers monument in Salt Lake City’s Yalecrest neighborhood Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, that honored Utah’s silkworm industry. The Eyrings grew up in the Yalecrest neighborhood.
President Henry B. Erying, second counselor in the First Presidency, center, with his brother and sister-in-law Harden and LoiAnne Eyring after the 80th anniversary celebration of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers monument in Salt Lake City’s Yalecrest neighborhood Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, that honored Utah’s silkworm industry. The Eyrings grew up in the Yalecrest neighborhood. Credit: Robin Johnson

Other speakers included Ellen Jeppson, president of the International Society, Daughters of Utah Pioneers; Salt Lake Bonneville Stake President Keith Bradford Romney Jr.; and Daryl Van Dam Hoole, a member of the Yalecrest DUP Camp and Yalecrest ward. Her Van Dam ancestors were converted to the Church in the Netherlands by Schettler. Utah Symphony violinist LoiAnne Eyring, sister-in-law to President Eyring, performed a hymn medley.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy and Church historian, attended with his wife, Sister Jane C. Curtis, as well as Emily Utt, historic sites curator in the Church History Department, and Ben Wagner, facilities manager for the Yale building, who restored and repaired the aging monument this summer.

As the meeting was concluding, President Eyring was presented a special book of remembrances about his father, Henry Eyring, who was a member of the Salt Lake Bonneville Stake high council. Four deacons from the Yalecrest 1st and 2nd wards — Henry Biggs, Henry Monson, Calvin Glende and Rocco Humphrey — presented the book along with Janet Hemming, Yalecrest camp captain. The remembrances were collected from those who served with Henry Eyring on the high council, including former Bonneville stake presidents and officers, a former governor, and other stake and ward members of the Yalecrest wards and Monument Park Stake who knew or admired him.

The 80th anniversary celebration of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers monument in Salt Lake City’s Yalecrest neighborhood Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, honored Utah’s silkworm industry.
The 80th anniversary celebration of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers monument in Salt Lake City’s Yalecrest neighborhood Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, honored Utah’s silkworm industry. Credit: Robin Johnson