Dean Jessee: Mormon Historian

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Dean  Jessee Mormon Historian

Dean Cornell Jessee is a historian, author, and recognized authority on the life and writings of Joseph Smith, Jr. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Jessee is the editor of Joseph Smith Papers: Journals, Joseph Smith Papers: Revelations and Translations, and Joseph Smith Papers: Documents. He is the author of numerous papers and articles. He was a research historian in the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History, formerly located at BYU. He served in the Church Historical Department and was president and vice president of the Mormon History Association.

He was born in 1929 and raised in Springville, Utah. He earned his master’s degree in 1959 in Church history from Brigham Young University. After his graduation he taught Seminary for four years at West High School in Salt Lake City. In 1964, he was hired by the Church Historian’s Office as an archivist in the manuscript division. In the late 1960s, Truman G. Madsen invited Jessee to publish articles in BYU Studies on Joseph Smith and early Mormon history.

Under Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington, Jessee was assigned to collect and transcribe all of Joseph Smith Jr.’s writings. During the 1980s, Jessee was one of the key historians to examine the documents produced by Mark Hofmann. As a Joseph Smith and early Mormon handwriting expert, he authenticated some of Hofmann’s forgeries, including the infamous Salamander Letter. Hofmann’s deception was later revealed and his skill in forgery was considered masterful.[1]

Jessee worked in the Church Historical Department until 1981. At that time he transferred to BYU, working as both an associate professor of history and LDS Church history and as a historian at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute of Latter-day Saint History. He retired in 2000. He remains, however, a general editor of The Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Jessee and his wife, Margaret, are the parents of eight children.