Joseph F. Merrill served as Church Commissioner of Education from 1928 to 1933, an era critical in the development of Latter-day Saint Education. During his tenure as commissioner several key developments occurred in Church education, among them the closing of most of the remaining Church academies, transfer of nearly all of Church junior colleges to State control, rapid expansion of the Church seminary system, and establishment of the first LDS Institutes of Religion. Merrill also initiated new efforts to encourage LDS educators to seek graduate-level education outside of Utah, and to bring religious scholarship to the teachers of the Church. In addition, during this time attempts were made by forces outside the Church to seriously curtail the continuation of the seminary program, if not to eliminate it entirely. Merrill's efforts were crucial in ensuring the survival and ultimate acceptance of this form of religious education. This study is intended to answer the following research questions: 1. What were the contributions of Joseph F. Merrill as Church Commissioner of Education? 2. How can the lessons from Merrill's administration be applied to the challenges facing Church education today? The first chapter of this thesis is intended to provide the necessary historical back to understand the events which took place during the Merrill tenure. Particular attention is paid to the work of Merrill's predecessor, Adam S. Bennion. Chapter two provides the historical background to understand Merrill's background before he was called as commissioner. The “Beginning of Institute" chapter explores the creation of the Latter-day Saint Institutes of religion. Next, the “Continuing the Transformation of Church Education" explores the decision to close or attempt to transfer to state control the junior colleges owned by the Church during this time. With the transfer of most of the Church colleges underway by the early 1930s, Church education found itself dependent on the work of seminaries and institutes. “The Released Time Seminary Crisis of 1930-31" chapter details the effects made by the report of the state high school inspector, I. L. Williamson, on seminary and Merrill's work to defend the legality of the seminary system. Next, “Joseph F. Merrill and Religious Educators" will document Merrill's dealings with the teachers who served under him as commissioner. Attention is devoted here to the effects of the Depression on Church education, as well as an account of the LDS educational venture with the University of Chicago Divinity school in the 1930s. Finally, the “Conclusions" chapter explains Merrill's departure from the office to serve as president of the European Mission. This chapter will also offer summary answers to the major research questions, and suggestions for future study The overall intent of this study is to shed light on the contributions of Joseph F. Merrill to Latter-day Saint education. It is not intended as a full biographical work, but simply focuses on his service as commissioner, with occasional ventures into other periods as necessary. It is hoped the reader will emerge with a greater understanding of this important era in Church history, as well as an improved vision of the divine hand guiding the fate of the Church.



College and Department

Religious Education; Church History and Doctrine



Date Submitted


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Joseph F. Merrill, LDS Education, Church Education, Released Time Seminary, Institutes of Religion, Church Junior Colleges, Church Educational System, Chicago Divinity School, Seminary, Institute, T. Edgar Lyon, Adam S. Bennion, Granite Seminary, Moscow Institute, Church Commissioner of Education