Orson F. Whitney

Orson Ferguson Whitney (1 July 1855 – 16 May 1931), born in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1906 until his death.

Orson F. Whitney
ca. 1870-1875
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
April 9, 1906 (1906-04-09)  May 16, 1931 (1931-05-16)
LDS Church Apostle
April 9, 1906 (1906-04-09)  May 16, 1931 (1931-05-16)
ReasonResignation of Matthias F. Cowley and John W. Taylor from the Quorum of the Twelve; death of Marriner W. Merrill[1]
at end of term
Joseph F. Merrill ordained
Personal details
BornOrson Ferguson Whitney
(1855-07-01)July 1, 1855
Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, United States
DiedMay 16, 1931(1931-05-16) (aged 75)
Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Resting placeSalt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W
Spouse(s)Zina Beal Smoot
May Wells, July 1888
ChildrenHorace Newel
Heber Kimball
Helen Mar
Charles Byron
Murray Wells
Albert Owen
Wendell Webb
Paul Van Colt
Virginia Clayton

Early life

Whitney was the son of Horace K. Whitney and Helen Mar Kimball. Whitney's father, Horace, had set type for the original publication of the Deseret News[2] and worked as a printer with the newspaper for 21 years.[3]


Whitney was a politician, journalist, poet, historian and academic. In 1878, as a young man, Whitney began a career in writing with the business office of the Deseret News, later becoming a reporter and the city editor. Whitney served as a missionary for the LDS Church for a time in Pennsylvania and Ohio.[4]

During a mission in Europe for the LDS Church from 1881 to 1883, he acted as editor of the church publication Millennial Star. In 1896 and 1897, Whitney taught English and theology at Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah.

In 1899, Whitney accepted the position of Assistant Church Historian and served in that position until he was called as an apostle.

Whitney was also involved in the politics of Salt Lake City and Utah. He served on the Salt Lake City Council in 1880, acted as City Treasurer from 1884 to 1890, and served as a State Senator in 1898, and again in 1901.

Personal life

Like many early Mormons, Whitney practiced polygamy. Whitney had two wives (simultaneously), having married the second in 1888. After the 1890 Manifesto on polygamy, Whitney became a strong supporter of the policy ending polygamy.


Whitney produced the lyrics to several LDS Church hymns, including "The Wintry Day, Descending to Its Close" (music composed by Edward P. Kimball) and "Savior Redeemer of My Soul" (music by Harry A. Dean); these hymns appear as numbers 37 and 112, respectively, in the current edition of the LDS Church hymnal.

Whitney's historical works, although detailed, well researched and presented, are written from a Latter-day Saint perspective;[5][6] one 21st-century historian has commented that they are "locked in the ironclad orthodoxy" of Mormonism.[7]

In June 1888 (and published the following month in The Contributor), Whitney delivered a speech entitled "Home Literature"; the speech is widely credited with proving both permission and impetus for Mormon literature and is the source of the sentence, "We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own."[8]

Whitney prepared a biography of Lorenzo Snow, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, for publication in 1890. However it was not published at that time. It was entitled, Latter Leaves in the Life of Lorenzo Snow. In 2012, Dennis B. Horne published an edited and expanded version of this work under the same title with Cedar Fort, Inc., of Springville, Utah. This work covered the Snow's life from 1885 to 1889 and was written as a continuation of Snow's sister, Eliza R. Snow's, work Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow. In publishing this work, Horne included Whitney's work as the first nine chapters of his book and then covered the following 11 years of Snow's life.[9] Horne's published record only included about a third of Whitney's manuscript of his history of Lorenzo Snow.

Publications include:

  • The Life of Heber C. Kimball (1888)[10]
  • Poetical Writings (1889–90)
  • History of Utah (4 Volumes)[11][12][13]
  • Elias: An Epic of the Ages (1904)[14]
  • Love and the Light: An Idyll of the Westland (1918)

LDS Church service

In 1905, two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles resigned over a dispute regarding the 1890 Manifesto, which prohibited any further plural marriages within the church. John W. Taylor disagreed with the Manifesto entirely; Matthias F. Cowley felt that it should apply only to the United States. In February of the next year, Marriner W. Merrill died, which left three vacancies in the quorum.

At a general conference of the church on April 8, 1906, Whitney was called as an apostle, along with George F. Richards and David O. McKay.[15]

Grave marker of Orson F. Whitney.

Death and legacy

Whitney died in Salt Lake City after being hospitalized for influenza.[16] He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery.[17] Whitney is the namesake of the community of Whitney, Idaho.[18]

See also

  • LDS fiction
  • Whitney Awards


  1. George F. Richards and David O. McKay were called at the same time as Whitney to fill the three vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve.
  2. Andrew Jenson. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, vol. 4, p. 722.
  3. "Horace Kimball Whitney (1823 - 1884) - Genealogy". Geni.com. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  4. Neal W. Kramer's review of Dennis B. Horne's biography of Whitney
  5. Whitney, Orson (1888). Life of Heber C. Kimball (online).
  6. Whitney, Orson (November 1888). Life of Heber C. Kimball. Preface: Zion's Camp Books.
  7. Gary Topping, Utah Historians and the Reconstruction of Western History, (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2005 ISBN 0-8061-3561-1) p. 8.
  8. Oppenheimer, Mark. "Mormons Offer Cautionary Lesson on Sunny Outlook vs. Literary Greatness", The New York Times, 8 November 2013. Retrieved on 20 March 2020.
  9. review of the edition by Horne in BYU Studies by William G. Hartley
  10. "Life of Heber C. Kimball: The Father and Founder of the British Mission : Orson Ferguson Whitney : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  11. "History of Utah: Comprising Preliminary Chapters on the Previous History of Her Founders ... : Orson Ferguson Whitney : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  12. "History of Utah, comprising preliminary chapters on the previous history of her founders accounts of early Spanish and American explorations in the Rocky Mountain region, the advent of the Mormon pioneers, the establishment and dissolution of the provisional government of the state of Deseret, and the subsequent creation and development of the territory : Whitney, Orson F. (Orson Ferguson), 1855-1931 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  13. "History of Utah: Comprising Preliminary Chapters on the Previous History of Her Founders ... : Orson Ferguson Whitney : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  14. Orson Ferguson Whitney (1904). Elias: An Epic of the Ages. Internet Archive. Knickerbocker Press. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  15. Stack, Peggy Fletcher. "Will the LDS Church name three new apostles at fall conference?", The Salt Lake Tribune, 23 September 2013. Retrieved on 20 March 2020.
  16. "State of Utah Death Certificate". Images.archives.utah.gov. Archived from the original (JPG) on 2011-07-18. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  17. "Orson Ferguson Whitney (1855 - 1931) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2016-09-24.
  18. Lund, Anthon Henrik (1922). The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine. Geneal. Society of Utah. p. 41.
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