Leonard J. Arrington

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Mormon Leonard J. Arrington
Leonard James Arrington (July 2 1917February 11 1999) was an author, academic, and the founder of the Mormon History Association. He is known as the "Dean of Mormon History"[1] and "the Father of Mormon History"[2] because of his many influential contributions to the field.

Biographical background

Arrington was born in Twin Falls, Idaho, on July 2, 1917. His parents were devout Latter-day Saints and chicken farmers. He grew up as an aspiring farmer and active member and officer of the Future Farmers of America (FFA).[1] Under a scholarship to the University of Idaho, Arrington studied agricultural science in 1935, later changing to agricultural economics.[3] He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1939.[4] Arrington then began graduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and married Grace Fort in 1942.[1]

From 1943 to 1946, he served in World War II for the United States in North Africa and Italy.[1]

After teaching in Logan, Utah, he returned and completed a doctorate in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in March 1952. In 1958, Harvard University Press published his Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830-1900, based on his doctoral dissertation, Mormon Economic Policies and Their Implementation on the Western Frontier, 1847-1900.[1]

Arrington remained an active and devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout his life. In 1982, his wife Grace Fort passed away, and in 1983 Arrington was remarried to Harriet Ann Horne.[5]

On February 11, 1999, at the age of 81, Arrington died of heart failure at his home in Salt Lake City.[6]

Academic career

Arrington taught at North Carolina State College from 1941 until 1942. He was a professor at Utah State Agricultural College in Logan, Utah (which became Utah State University in 1957) from 1946-1972. For a year leave during 1956-1957, he was a fellow at the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery in San Marino, California.[7] From 1958-1959, he was a Fulbright Professor of American Economics at the University of Genoa in Italy, and from 1966-1967 he was a visiting professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles.[1] From 1972-1987 he was Lemuel H. Redd Jr. Professor of Western American History at Brigham Young University.

In 1977, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from, the University of Idaho (his alma mater), and in 1982 Utah State University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.[4]

In 2005[8], in honor of Dr. Arrington, Utah State University created the Leonard J. Arrington Chair in Mormon History and Culture, which was sponsored by more than 45 donors. This chair is the first position at a public institution specifically for the study of the Mormon history and culture. In Fall 2007, this chair was first filled by Philip Barlow.[9] The university also hosts the Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture Series, in which Arrington himself gave the inaugural lecture in 1996.[10]

Historical associations

Arrington helped establish the Mormon History Association in 1965 and served as its first president in 1966–1967.[7] He also created the Western Historical Quarterly and served as president of the Western History Association (1968-69), the Agricultural History Society (1969-70), and the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association (1981-82).[4] He was made a Fellow of the Society of American Historians in 1986.[5] In 2002 he was posthumously awarded the first annual Lifetime Achievement Award by the John Whitmer Historical Association.[2] Starting 1999, after his death, the Mormon History Association created the annual Leonard J. Arrington Award, awarded for distinguished and meritorious service to Mormon history.[11]

LDS Church Historian

In 1972, Arrington was appointed official Church Historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and was simultaneously appointed as "Lemuel H. Redd Professor of Western History" and Founding Director of the "Charles Redd Center for Western Studies" at Brigham Young University (BYU). The "Church Historian's Office" was transformed into the Church's "Historical Department", and Arrington was made director of its research-oriented "History Division".

During his time in the office, Arrington embarked on an ambitious program of sponsoring the writing of LDS Church histories in the academic style. Among the best known works from this "New Mormon History" were two general Church histories, one aimed at LDS Church members, The Story of the Latter-day Saints, and one for interested outsiders, The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-day Saints.


The Church transferred the History Division to BYU in 1982 as a new Brigham Young University division, the "Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History". In February 1982, he was released as Church Historian and director of the History Division and succeeded by G. Homer Durham.

Arrington continued on as director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History until his retirement in 1987. In 2005, the Institute was closed and the department's historians were returned to Church Headquarters.


Won Best Book Award (Mormon History Association)
Won Best Book Award (Mormon History Association)
Won Best Book Award (Mormon History Association) and Evans Biography Award (Utah State University)
Special citation (Mormon History Association)

See also



  • Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint Church History, p. 48-49.

External links