Single Men in Nineteenth-century Mormonism

By Jeffery Ogden Johnson

BEING SINGLE IN the Mormon Church has always been a challenge. An unsigned 1849 Frontier Guardian article, published by apostle Orson Hyde in Kanesville, Iowa, unequivocally declared:


That man who resolves to live without woman, and that woman who resolves to live without man, are enemies to the community in which they dwell, injurious to themselves, destructive to the world, apostates from nature, and rebels against heaven and earth.1


In an 1854 general conference sermon, Hyde continued his attack on unmarried men, saying, “If you do not step forward and marry, and try to carry on the great work of Jehovah, it will be left for a better man to do than you.”2

Perhaps because of this kind of fiery rhetoric, most single Mormon men who lived during the nineteenth century led quiet lives in their communities. But others, far from injuring themselves or causing destruction, made important contributions to the intellectual, educational, artistic, and cultural landscape of Mormonism. This article will examine three of these men.


LDS Church Archives
LDS Church Archives

GEORGE JOHN TAYLOR, the eldest child of John Taylor (Brigham Young’s successor as president of the Church), may have been in the meeting where Orson Hyde denounced bachelorhood. Nevertheless, at his death 60 years later, Taylor had still not married.

A few weeks after Hyde’s conference address, twenty-one-year-old Taylor was called to New York City along with his father to help publish a semimonthly periodical called The Mormon 3 for which he wrote articles about theology and current affairs.

Two years after his arrival back in Salt Lake Valley, the Utah Legislative Assembly approved his appointment as a regent of the state-funded University of Deseret.4 Meanwhile, he ran a nail-making factory and a logging business that provided lumber to the Union Pacific Railroad.5

In 1860, he was again called on a mission, this time a proselyting mission in England, where he served as president of the Essex Conference.6 When he returned home, still a regent of the University, he was asked to take charge of the English department where he taught for several years.7 His interest in public affairs led to his election to the Salt Lake City Council in 1868.8 In 1876 he was elected chief clerk of the Utah Territorial Legislature.9 All the while, he wrote letters to the editor of the Deseret News about local events, which were often published.10

His interest in publishing led him to start a periodical called Keep-A-Pitchinin, where he served as editor while Joseph C. Rich and Heber J. Richards served as editorial assistants. It was “one of the West’s first illustrated journals and humor periodicals,” writes historian Ron Walker. It was written by “men of talent [and] its boisterous wit demonstrated that the nineteenth-century Mormon pioneer was something besides a . . . humorless yeoman building a commonwealth. It testified to the early settlers’ humanity providing a valuable but overlooked index to those concerns and qualities which shaped Utah society.”11 After the demise of the short-lived periodical, Taylor became a member of the editorial staff of the Deseret News.12 He also served as a member of the Salt Lake Stake high council for many years.13

But his major work was with his father’s large family, John Taylor’s seven wives had produced thirty-four children, but the elder Taylor was so busy with Church matters and his many missions that George Taylor, being the oldest child, bore the brunt of responsibility for the family. His sister Mary Ann married a non-Mormon and moved to California where she remained the rest her life, having little to do with the Church. But Taylor kept track of her, and, after her death, left money in his will for her daughter.14 He also provided care for a half-sister that had been declared insane. He supported his siblings in their many business and church activities.

Taylor died at the home of his sister-in-law in Salt Lake City on 15 December 1914. He left his assets to his living brothers and sisters, as well as to the children of his deceased siblings15 showing that concern for his father’s family was still foremost in his mind at the end of his life.


LDS Church Archives

ON 1 MARCH 1869, the regents of the University of Deseret met in Brigham Young’s office and appointed John R. Park as the University’s principal,16 a position he would fill for twenty-five of the University’s most critical years.17

John Rocky Park was born in Tifflin, Ohio, graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University, and received his medical degree from New York University in 1857. After teaching school and practicing medicine in his hometown, the twenty-eight-year-old Park decided to travel west. He ended up in Salt Lake City where he found a job teaching school at South Willow Creek, later called Draper. His school began getting noticed, boosting Park’s reputation as a successful teacher. During his first winter, he lived with Bishop Isaac M. Stewart’s family where he learned about Mormonism. He was baptized into the Church in 1862. After a short trip to Oregon, he returned to Utah to continue his teaching.18

When the University of Deseret regents made him principal, the Deseret News wrote:


We congratulate our citizens on the employment of Prof. Park in the capacity of Principle of the University, as he is a gentleman eminently fitted by culture and extensive experience as a teacher for the position. His school at Draper on South Willow Creek in this country has always been estimated by those who have been familiar with it, as the best in the territory.19


The University was housed in the Council Hall in downtown Salt Lake City, but under Park’s leadership, it moved to Union Square, where the first building for the University was built. Along with a new building, Park also brought on new faculty. He fulfilled the Territorial Legislature’s mandate that the University train teachers for Utah’s public schools, but he had a larger vision and began adding more departments.

Since the Legislature was the source of the University’s funds, Park spent much of his career asking for money. But in doing so, he had to walk a fine line.20 The Mormon legislators often sent their children to the Church schools, and the non-Mormon community was worried that the University of Deseret was introducing its students to Mormon doctrine. Park had to navigate between them both. Perhaps he was so successful because of his personal approach to religion. Orson F. Whitney, Park’s bishop, said during Park’s funeral that:


He was not a pious man, in some respects, but he was ever ready to respond to the cry of the needy. He was not what might be called a religious man, but he was strictly moral. He never heard a ribald word or a profane expression, but that he rebuked the offender.21


After his retirement from the University, Park was elected Utah Superintendent of Education22 on the Republican ticket23 and spent his last few years traveling through Utah supervising its public schools.

His obituary in the Deseret News read:


Although he was never married, he had a strong paternal nature. Seven children were taken into his household and were raised in an atmosphere of tender affection. His adopted family consisted of, David R. Allen, professor in the University, John Held24 and his sister Hortense, Rosa Zender Roylance, wife of Professor Roylance, of the University, and Louis and Eliza Gottlieb.”25


It was general knowledge that Park was a life-long bachelor, so when a woman came forward claiming a widow’s share of his will, the incident made the papers.26 Annie Armitage, daughter of Utah artist William Joseph Armitage, had met Park in Europe while he was studying educational systems. They shared the same steamer coming home, and when they arrived in Salt Lake City, Armitage became very ill. The doctors told Park that she was dying. On 1 December 1872, Daniel H. Wells sealed them for eternity. The lawyers for Park’s estate said that Armitage was in “an unconscious condition” and that Park had been assured that she would soon be dead.27 Park had said earlier that “The marriage was not a time marriage at all. It was simply a union for eternity under the rites and ceremonies for the ‘Mormon’ Church, and involved no responsibilities of wedlock in this life.”28 Armitage recovered and the sealing was canceled on 19 March 1873. Later she married William Hilton by whom she had a large family.

Many people found it difficult to understand how Armitage could contest the will: “. . . how the wife of another man can claim to be the wife of Dr. Park, especially in view of the fact that she never sustained the relationship of wife to the latter, while as the wife of the former she has raised and now has a large family by him.”29 A lower court ruled that she was not his widow, but the Utah Supreme Court ruled that a “sealing for eternity” was indeed a marriage30 and so she was Park’s widow and did share in his estate with the University,31 to which he had bequeathed his holdings.


LDS Church Archives

THE ORGANIST WHO played the funeral march as John R. Park’s casket was carried out of the Tabernacle was Evan Stephens32 who for ten years had directed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Thirty-six-year-old Evan Stephens was appointed conductor of the Tabernacle Choir in 1890, just a few days after Wilford Woodruff announced the “anti-polygamy manifesto.” Joseph E. Taylor and Charles W. Penrose, counselors in the Salt Lake Stake presidency, which sponsored the choir, called the never-married Stephens to replace forty-nine-year-old polygamist Ebenezer Beesley. The Deseret News editorialized concerning the new director: “. . . it is hoped and believed that the Choir will grow in numbers and efficiency and continue to make melody for the Saints of God in this Stake of Zion.”33 It soon became obvious that the energetic Stephens had an expansive vision for the Choir: he almost immediately doubled its membership from 150 to three hundred.

Stephens, the tenth child of Mormon converts from South Wales, walked with a wagon company across the American plains34 to Utah at age twelve in 1866. The family joined an older brother and sister in Willard, north of Salt Lake City. In Willard, Evan learned to play the organ and lead community choirs. His success with music set the stage for his work as the organist in the Logan Tabernacle and he soon decided to move to Salt Lake to become a full-time musician. Once there, he began working with the Salt Lake Choral Society, some youth choirs, and an opera company.35 He became very popular with his students, many of whom followed him to the Tabernacle Choir.

In addition to singing at the weekly services in the Tabernacle, for which Stephens frequently composed new numbers, the Choir sang at the Salt Lake Temple’s capstone ceremony on 6 April 1892, and at the Temple’s dedication a year later. For that event, Stephens composed an anthem incorporating “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning,” which has since been sung at all temple dedications.36

So Stephens and his choir were already working full bore when an invitation to perform at the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition in Chicago first arrived. At first, the Church instructed him to prepare the Choir for that event, but then retracted. However, a committee from the Fair visited Salt Lake and met with the Church’s first presidency where it was decided that the choir would attend.37

To accommodate the Choir’s visit, Utah day at the Exposition was changed from 24 July to 9 September—the day after the choir contest—so the Choir could participate in both events. Members of the First Presidency, including President Wilford Woodruff, decided to go with the Choir.

The Choir made a stop in Kansas City where they visited the Temple Lot in Independence, Missouri. They were welcomed by the Hedrickites leaders, by officials of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and by political leaders from Independence. Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal:


One vary Stricking incident was worthy of record. I went through Jackson County with Harry Brown in 1834 on a Mission to the Southern States. At that time we had to keep secreted so the people would not know that we were in the County as our lives would be sacrafized if they knew that two Mormon Missionaries were in the County. Now the Mayor of the City of Independence Comes & greets us with the warmest reception. How Great the Contrast. We give God the praise.38

The Tabernacle Choir won second place at the World’s Fair. Some people in Utah speculated that the judges had not given the Choir first place because of their prejudice towards Utah and Mormonism. Stephens took a more professional view and publicly challenged the critics in the Deseret News. “The three men chosen to be adjudicators for the contest in which we took part were selected with the greatest care and accepted by each of the choir leaders long before the contest took place, as men the most free from prejudice, and capable to . . . rendering a just verdict.” He “regretted that there should be any room for doubt about the justice of the verdict.”39

Placing second was actually a stunning achievement, considering the Tabernacle Choir’s modest beginnings. They had surpassed some of the best choirs in the United States and—more importantly from a historical perspective—initiated a shift in the Church’s public image—one that led to Utah’s statehood three years later and Mormonism’s fuller integration into American culture.

Under the baton of Evan Stephens, the Choir traveled to many major cities in the United States—even performing in the White House. Stephens helped the Church shake off its nineteenth-century image of being backward, strange, and un-American. Upon resigning on 22 July 1916, Stephens had served longer than any other Tabernacle Choir director: almost twenty-six years. He has more hymns in the current Church hymnbook than any other composer.

Having never married, Stephens drew a surrogate family around himself by getting close to his students, both male and female. Often his male students lived with him and his housekeeper, Sarah Daniels, in his home on south State Street. He encouraged them in both their musical and academic studies. He often attended their weddings and celebrated the births of their children. Like George John Taylor, who made his siblings and their children his family, or John R. Park, who adopted children, Stephens created a family of students that gave him fellowship and support.

Though these three men knew each other, I have been unable to find any special relationship between them. All three men received significant support from Church authorities, as well as from local and national cultural leaders. With their long service, they enriched the Church’s cultural, social, and spiritual life.




  1. Frontier Guardian (Kanesville, Iowa) 9 August 1849.
  2. Orson Hyde, “The Marriage Relations,” Journal of Discourses, v. 2 (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855), 84.
  3. The Mormon, 26 January 1856, 2.
  4. Journal History, 24 January 1859, 2, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  5. “Utah Early Nail Making, also the Manufacture of Revolvers—Some Interesting Reminiscences,” Deseret Evening News, 4 May 1897.
  6. Journal History, 1 January 1862, 1.
  7. Ralph V. Chamberlin, The University of Utah: A History of Its First Hundred Years, 1850–1950 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1960): 56
  8. Journal History, 22 May 1868, 1.
  9. Journal History, 10 January, 1876, 1.
  10. For example, see letter, 17 April 1869 concerning the murder of Griffith Roberts (“Correspondence,” Deseret Weekly News, 21 April 1869): 5) and letter 23 May 1869 concerning a railroad accident (Journal History, 27 May 1869, 1).
  11. Ronald W. Walker, “The Keep-A-Pitchinin of the Mormon Pioneer was Human,” BYU Studies, 14, no. 3 (Spring 1974), 331–44.
  12. “George John Taylor is called by Death,” Deseret Evening News, 15 December 1914.
  13. The Story of Salt Lake Stake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 150 Years of History, 1847–1997 (Salt Lake City: Salt Lake Utah Stake, 1997).
  14. Third District Court: Salt Lake County, Probate Case Files, series 1621, case number 7809, Utah State Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  15. Third District Court: Salt Lake County, Probate Case Files, series 1621, case number 7809.
  16. LDS Church Historian’s Office Journal, March 1869, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  17. Chamberlin, The University of Utah, 169–72
  18. Chamberlin, The University of Utah, 63.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Chamberlin, The University of Utah, 124–127
  21. Deseret Evening News, 3 October 1900.
  22. John Clifton Moffitt, John Rocky Park in Utah’s Frontier Culture (Salt Lake City: Privately published, 1947), 71
  23. “Passing of Dr. John R. Park,” Deseret Evening News, 30 September 1900, 2.
  24. John Held was a well-known musician and bandleader in Salt Lake City and the father of well-known American illustrator, John Held, Jr.
  25. “Passing of Dr. John R. Park,” Deseret Evening News, 1 October 1900, 9. It was Louis Gottlieb that was drowned.
  26. “Dr. Park’s Will to be Contested,” Deseret Evening News, 11 October 1900, 1.
  27. Samuel W. Stewart, Petition, [n.d], Probate Case File #3238, Third District Court: Salt Lake County, Series 1621.
  28. “Is Denounced by John Held,” Deseret Evening News, 11 October 1900, 1.
  29. Ibid.
  30. “Decision of Utah Supreme Court,” Deseret Evening News, 21 July 1902: 9–10.
  31. The Supreme Court did not rule on the sealing cancelation, but by ruling the way they did, they were saying that the Church had no authority to dissolve marriages.
  32. “Dr. Park is Laid to Rest,” Deseret Evening News, 3 October 1900, 2.
  33. “Change in the Tabernacle Choir,” Deseret Evening News, 11 October 1890, 3.
  34. Emma R. Olson, comp., “Reminiscences of Pioneer Childhood,” Chronicles of Courage, 6 (1995): 141–84.
  35. “Editorial Thoughts,” The Juvenile Instructor, 14 (1 April 1879), 78.
  36. Davidson, Karen Lynn, Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1999).
  37. Evan Stephens, “The World’s Fair Gold Medal,” The Children’s Friend, 19 (September 1920): 373–74.
  38. Wilford Woodruff diary, 8 September 1893, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  39. Evan Stephens, “The Famous Singing Contest,” Deseret Weekly News, 47 (30 September 1893): 676.