Latter-day Saint History

What Did Spencer W. Kimball Write About in His Journal?

His entries are lengthy, rich, and insightful.

Spencer W. Kimball kept many records throughout his life and ministry. While not as prolific as pioneer diarists like Wilford Woodruff, he wrote nearly every day after becoming an Apostle—including a detailed account of the 1978 priesthood revelation. In this interview, Latter-day Saint archivists Jeffrey Anderson and Brandon Metcalf discuss the journals of President Spencer W. Kimball.

Read the journals of Spencer W. Kimball via the Church History Library online collections.

Table of Contents

Why are Spencer W. Kimball’s journals considered some of the best in Latter-day Saint history?

First, as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and as President of the Church, he witnessed and captured key information about the development of the Church as it was happening.

Second, he kept a journal. Not everyone does. During his time as a member of the Twelve, he wrote nearly every day.

Third, his entries are lengthy, rich, and insightful. His writing style is delightful, and at times, those of us familiar with his conference talks can hear that same unique personal style in his writing.

Finally, he is the Church leader who promoted journals and the journal reflects what you’d expect from the great advocate of journals.

What are some of the other documents included with the journals in the collection (MS 21541)?

Spencer W. Kimball adds many supporting documents that outnumber the personal entries in most of the volumes. The addition of this supplemental material really takes off when he is called to the Quorum of the Twelve.

Probably the greatest extent of those documents are newspaper articles. Many are from Utah papers—Church News, Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune, etc. But perhaps the highest value of the newspaper articles are those that he collected outside of Utah, while on mission tours or at a temple dedication.

Those clippings may only exist in this collection.

Many of these articles come from local newspapers inaccessible elsewhere. The journals also include letters, photographs, pamphlets, tickets, receipts, travel brochures—items that he felt would document his experiences. Those materials tell a story about his commitment to keep a record of his life and ministry. He was a curious person, and the gathering of those records provide evidence of his interests and concerns.

What did Spencer W. Kimball write about when he was 10?

His 1905 journal contains what you might expect a ten-year old to write. The entries are brief, and talk about visiting a candy factory, and seeing a house covered in snow.

Remember, he lived in a very hot region of the country, so snow was a novelty. But how many ten-year olds do you know who keep a journal?

Do we know why there are so few entries in the journals between 1919 and 1930?

Not specifically. Given the evidence in the journal that he referenced them regularly, I think that at some point he realized the value that the journal gave to his work, church assignments, and personal life.

It seems a reasonable assumption that when he had a question about circumstances regarding a business deal or a decision that was made in the stake a year earlier, he turned to the journal to help remember the details of the event.

He also describes his health challenges.

For researchers those accounts provide a window into his perspective of how events unfolded on a certain day, and how people felt during that event.

From a spiritual standpoint, a carefully written journal can act as personal scripture. As you read his journal, and hopefully in your own personal journal you can insert the phrases like “And it came to pass. . .” and “now therefore we see that. . .” He doesn’t use those scriptural terms, but he often uses contemporary words that say the same thing.

Why are the news clippings included in the journals important?

As I mentioned earlier, many of the clippings are from Utah newspapers, but some were taken from remote locations. In 1947, during the centennial commemoration of the arrival of the first Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley, he and Sister Kimball traveled along the trail with others as part of a reenactment.

Unlike the events of 1997 where replica wagons were used, they decorated automobiles to loosely appear to be prairie schooners for the journey to Salt Lake City. Along the way, he collected newspaper clippings from rural papers with limited circulation.

Those clippings may only exist in this collection.

Spencer W. Kimball's journals include newspaper clippings from his global travels.
Spencer W. Kimball travelled widely and collected newspaper clippings while he did so. Image courtesy Church History Library.

How much of the journals are redacted and why?

The vast majority of the journals have been released. Consistent with Church policy, we redacted information related to temple ceremonies, some information on confidential meetings never intended for public consumption, and the names and identifying details of individuals involved in Church discipline.

In these instances, we strive to balance protecting the privacy of the individual with allowing for the inclusion of historical information, including stories of repentance, spiritual recovery, and the application of the atonement of Jesus Christ.

What are some of his journal’s notable events?

Temple dedications and mission tours stand out as some of the most notable events in Spencer W. Kimball’s journals. He also describes in detail his health challenges and surgeries. And if he attended an event, he likely wrote about what happened.

He is what I expect a prophet to be.

What is an entry that stands out?

Spencer W. Kimball’s account of the death of Heber J. Grant, his funeral, and the reorganization of the First Presidency in 1945 is interesting. The account of the funeral covers two-and-a-half pages. He mentions a conversation with Elder Harold B. Lee who described how orderly the transition of authority back to the Twelve occurred in the absence of a Church President.

He wrote:

Such humility!!! Such power!!! Such Honor!!! (Most any where else in the world that I know of, there would have been evidence of ambition, envy, jealousy, Ill feeling) It is the work of the Lord. These are truly great and inspired and ‘called’ men of God who have been leading the Church through the declining days and months and years of Pres. Grants presidency.)

Spencer W. Kimball

Typical of the journal, this page has extensive underlining in red pencil, and at the bottom of the page in his hand is written “Pres. Grant is Buried.”

The following Monday, he described the reorganization of the First Presidency.

What light do the journals shed on the 1978 priesthood revelation?

At the time of the June 1978 priesthood revelation, President Kimball was no longer keeping his journal. Rather, Arthur Haycock, his secretary, was keeping that record. President Kimball’s son Ed had access to that journal in the 1980s and made a summary of entries.

The online Kimball journals include those summary entries. These entries are generally more sparse and are more removed from President Kimball himself from earlier entries. Here is the link to that page of the journal (to see it, you will need to sign in).

Spencer W. Kimball described receiving the 1978 priesthood revelation in his journal.

What do the journals reveal about Spencer W. Kimball?

In many ways, he is an everyman. He is what I expect a prophet to be. Someone who came from humble beginnings with a great love for people. A man who took time to listen and minister to people.

He is also a human being with foibles and trials. He expressed frustrations with life like anyone else. I suppose if you were to sit in the living room of President and Sister Kimball, it would be like visiting one of thousands of other Latter-day Saint homes.

Spencer W. Kimball's journals include pressed flowers, like this example from his visit to the Susquehanna River.
Spencer W. Kimball included flowers from a visit to the Susquehanna River in one of his journal entries. Image courtesy Church History Library.

How has working with the journals increased your appreciation for Spencer W. Kimball?

Several times in recent discussions about President Kimball, myself and others have referred to him as being “their prophet.” I have always felt that he was “my prophet,” because he led the Church in my most impressionable teen years and during my missionary service.

There were many faith promoting stories that I heard, and I suppose some were true while some were not. But when I read the journals, I find the man that I expected and can relate to. A humble man who silently says, “Come with me, follow my example.”

President Kimball preached a sermon without words. He sought out the one, he helped a distraught mother with a crying child in an airport, he smiled at someone standing in a crowd. The journal captures a life of service and love.

What are some of the other collections available at the Church History Library?

There are many thousands of collections in the library to touch nearly any heart. Church members can likely find themselves in the records. Throughout our history, we have gathered records from nearly every ward and stake in the Church. These local records are priceless by connecting one to their past or the life of an ancestor.

I hosted the youth in my ward a few years ago and showed them some of the treasures from our collection—records that included a Nauvoo Temple drawing and a World War II prisoner of war minute book.

In our ward, there is a tradition of publishing a remarkable newsletter which I have added to our collection over the years. When I invited the group to get a closer look at the records on the table, I noticed that most of them gravitated to the ward newsletters. They bypassed records of significant events in Church history to see themselves in the records.

We have a senior missionary serving in the department whose mother passed away when she was an infant. One day she read from the minutes of her childhood ward and discovered that a clerk had summarized a testimony given by her mother in a sacrament meeting. She was hearing the voice of her mother bearing testimony for the first time that she longed to hear all her life. To her, this was a most precious record.

Of course, we also have records of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other prominent Church leaders. And we have thousands of oral histories conducted with members around the world. To me, they are all sacred records that document the Church and its members.

Are there plans for any similar collections to be digitized at the Church History Library?

The department is fully committed to providing online access to collections. It is a massive undertaking and projects are identified through numerous channels including anticipated demand and researcher requests. In addition to the Spencer W. Kimball journals, images of thousands of collections are available with additional collections added daily.

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About the interview participants

Jeffrey Anderson is an archivist at the Church History Library and an acquisitions specialist for the Church History Department.

Brandon Metcalf is an archivist with the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He received a BA in history from Brigham Young University and an MA in public history from California State University, Sacramento.

Further Reading

Spencer W. Kimball resources

By Chad Nielsen

Biotech professional. Armchair historian. Latter-day Saint.

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