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Sidney B. Sperry papers

Identifier: UA 618

Scope and Contents

Contains correspondence, family papers, financial records, photographs, and memorabilia produced by Sperry. Materials document his professional and personal life, including his service at Brigham Young University, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in civic affairs. Pamphlet was published in 1936 as an orientation to in-coming freshmen. It gives information about important dates in the school year, available activities, and explanations of college jargon. Materials date from between 1921 and 1971.


  • 1921-1971


Conditions Governing Access

Restricted. Closed for 35 years from the date of creation of the records, and thereafter open to the public in accordance with the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Restriction Policy.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to use material from this collection must be obtained from Reference Services at

Biographical History

Brigham Young University in the 1930's was shaped by the Great Depression. A cutback in the school's budget led to a cut in faculty pay and the school faced the threat of being shut down or turned over to the State of Utah. However, in spite of these obstacles, BYU flourished under the leadership of President Franklin S. Harris. The student enrollment rate continued to rise, and the number of faculty also reached its highest point up to that time. Students at BYU also faced difficulties in trying to live on as little money as possible. However, the student body also adapted and school life continued with athletic events, debates, and other inexpensive student activities.

Sidney Branton Sperry was born in Salt Lake City on December 26, 1895 to Harrison and Josephine Titcomb Sperry. Following his graduation from L.D.S. High School in Salt Lake City in 1913, he attended the University of Utah, receiving his B.A. degree with a major in chemistry and a minor in geology in 1917. After graduation, he was employed as a research chemist by both the United States Bureau of Metallurgical Research and the United States Army and was assigned to Camp Lewis, Washington. From October 9, 1918 to December 15, 1918, he served as a second lieutenant in the 71st Field Artillery at Camp Knox, Kentucky. His physical prowess was evidenced in his selection as the heavy-weight boxing champion of his battalion. Following World War II, Sperry served as an Mormon missionary in the southern states, presiding over the South Carolina Conference for nearly twenty months. He returned home from his mission in 1921 and on September 1 of that year married Eva Lila Braithewaite. in the ensuing years, eight children were born to the Sperrys: Lyman, Claire Elaine, Richard, Phyllis, Delbert, Arlyn, Brent, and Karen. From 1921 to 1922, Sperry taught math, chemistry, physics, and choir at Afton (Wyoming) High School, following which he joined the LDS Church School System at the invitation of Dr. Adam S. Bennion, Commissioner of Education. Sperry served as a seminary teacher in Moroni and American Fork, Utah and pioneered the seminary system in Ogden, Utah. In 1925, Sperry enrolled in the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, specializing in Old Testament with a minor in Hebrew and receiving his M.A. in 1926. Sperry returned to Utah and then moved to Idaho where he initiated the seminary and institute program at Pocatello and served as director of the LDS Institute of Religion in moscow from 1929 to 1931. In 1931, Sperry received a Ph.D. in Old Testament languages and literature from the University of chicago. During the next academic year (1931-1932), he did post-doctoral research in archaeology at the American School of Oriental research in Jerusalem.

In 1932 at the end of his year abroad, Sperry joined the faculty of Brigham Young University as an associate professor of religious education. During his years at BYU, Dr. Sperry taught courses in Old Testament, New Testament, Hebrew, Syriac, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, Mormon theology and church history, along with courses in Greek history, Roman history, geometry and mathematics. In 1939, Dr. Sperry received full professorial status. During the Second World War, Sperry was employed simultaneously by BYU and by the U.S. War Manpower Commission at Geneva Steel plant as a truck driver and junior clerk. From 1946 to 1954, Dr. Sperry was director of religious instruction at BYU, and from 1954 to 1959, he was director of graduate studies in religion at BYU. He was instrumental in organizing religion courses designed especially for prospective missionaries in preparation for their missionary service. Dr. Sperry sought to produce a rigorous and scholastically sound division of religion; he wrote that he "had the desire and vision that some day it would become spiritually and scholastically the greatest in the world." Dr. Sperry led a BYU travel study tour of Europe and the Holy Land in 1953. In May, 1962, Brigham Young University bestowed the Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Teaching Award upon him. Dr. Sperry pioneered the adult education lecture series by giving a series of speeches in both the Assembly hall and the LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, as well as elsewhere in Utah and in Idaho, Nevada, California, Washington, and Alberta. He also began the education weeks program conducted by BYU. Dr. Sperry retired from BYU in 1971. In 1976, he was awarded an honorary doctorate in religious literature from BYU.

Within the Church, Sperry served as a Sunday School Gospel doctrine teacher, high councilor, an influential member of the Utah Stake High Priests Quorum, a member of the Stake Sunday School Board, and patriarch for the BYU Eighth Stake, delivering 141 blessings between 1968 and 1971. He also delivered a series of Sunday evening gospel lectures over KSL Radio for the LDS Church Radio Hour upon the invitation of the Church Radio, Publicity and Missionary Literature Committee from 1946 to 1947.

Within the community, Dr. Sperry was active in the Republican party; served as chairman of the Department of the Handicapped Child for the Utah PTA Committee on Education; as chairman of the Child Welfare Program in Provo; and as chairman of the Utah Scholarship Foundation, a non-profit organization designed to provide financial aids to students in higher education.

Between 1954 and 1958, Dr. Sperry and his sons owned and operated an art dealership which purchased paintings from European artists and museums and sold them to residents of Utah.

Dr. Sperry was widely known as an author. He wrote numerous articles for the Improvement Era, the Liahona, and the Instructor, and was named as a contributing editor to the Improvement Era in 1958. Dr. Sperry wrote several lesson manuals for the Sunday School, the MIA, the Relief Society and the ward teaching programs of the Church. He also authored the following fourteen books: Ancient Records Testify (1938); The Spirit of the Old Testament (1940); The Message of the Twelve Prophets (1941); Our Book of Mormon (1947); Themes of the Restored Gospel (1950); The Book of Mormon Testifies (1952); The Voice of Israel's Prophets (1953); The Aramaic Vocabulary of the Old Testament (1954); Paul's Life and Letters (1955); Knowledge is Power (1958); Doctrine and Covenants Compendium (1960); Problems of the Book of the Book of Mormon (1964); Book of Mormon Compendium (1968); and Book of Mormon Chronology (1970).

Dr. Sperry belonged to two professional organizations: the Corporation of the American Schools of oriental Research (where he represented BYU) and the American Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis.

Dr. Sperry's abilities extended into the realm of music where he was an accomplished pipe organist and a student of Tabernacle organist John J. McClellan.

Sperry was also a fan of word puzzles.

Dr. Sperry passed away on September 4, 1977 at the age of 81. He was survived by his wife, eight children, 42 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. His funeral services were held in the Joseph Smith Auditorium on the BYU campus, the first time in eleven years that a funeral had been held on the campus and an indication of the esteem with which Dr. Sperry was regarded.


28 boxes (14 linear ft.)

12 folders (0.12 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



The Sidney B. Sperry collection is divided into six major subgroups. The first five subgroups reflect aspects of Dr. Sperry's life. They are: 1) personal life; 2) church activities; 3) civic activities; 4) business enterprises; and 5) professional endeavors. A sixth subgroup contains several miscellaneous items which resist classification within the other subgroups.

The personal life subgroup contains the following six series: 1) biographical information; 2) correspondence; 3) family, including genealogical records; 4) Sperry as a student; 5) finances; and 6) hobbies. Within the correspondence series, file unites containing correspondence extending from 1921 to 1971 are arranged chronologically. Correspondents include family members, friends, scholars, and LDS General Authorities including Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, David O. McKay, J. Reuben Clark, Hugh B. Brown, and Spencer W. Kimball. These papers illuminate Dr. Sperry's personal life, including hs religious beliefs as well as the beliefs of numerous Mormon apostles and prophets. Dr. Sperry's frequent correspondence with his friend and former student, Merrill Van Wagoner, is a delightful revelation of Sperry's personality. In addition to this personal correspondence, humorous letters within the correspondence series pertain to Sperry's church activities and professional endeavors.

Four series comprise the church activities subgroup. They are: 1) patriarchal blessings given by Sperry (1968 - 1971); 2 sermons delivered by Sperry; 3) Utah Stake High Priests Quorum documents; and 4) inspirational articles, anecdotes, and books.

The civic activities subgroup contains four series: 1) politics, including speeches by Sperry, Ezra Taft Benson, and G. Homer Durham; 2) the Utah State PTA Committee on Education, including reports by Sperry; 3) the Utah Scholarship Foundation; and 4) miscellaneous.

The business enterprises subgroup is devoted exclusively to correspondence (March 29, 1954 to June 20, 1958) generated by an art dealership which Dr. Sperry and his sons operated.

The largest subgroup, professional endeavors, is comprised of the following eight series: 1) Brigham Young University; 2) the Mormon Encyclopedia Project; 3) writings; 4) scholarly lectures and radio addresses; 5) interviews; 6) research; 7) reviews of Sperry books and articles; and 8) works by colleagues of Dr. Sperry. Dr. Sperry's writings (subgroup 3) are arranged within the following six subseries: 1) drafts of published books; 2) drafts of unpublished books; 3) drafts of lesson manuals; 4) drafts of articles; 5) book reviews by Dr. Sperry; and 6) drafts of pamphlets. Arrangement within these subseries is by subject in the following sequence: Old Testament, New Testament, biblical languages, biblical translation, bible teachings, Book of Mormon, doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, LDS Church leaders, and LDS doctrine. The research series (subgroup 6) is divided into seven subseries: 1) Bible; 2) Book of Mormon; 3) Doctrine and Covenants; 4) Church history; 5) Pearl of Great Price; 6) LDS doctrine; 7) indexes; and 8) miscellaneous manuscripts.

The final subgroup, miscellaneous, contains assorted items including newspaper clippings; notes; a history of Magrath, Alberta; and printed programs for BYU Sunday School services.

Correspondence files for certain years are rich and appear to be complete, while the files for other years are lean and may have been weeded. Correspondence for the years following Dr. Sperry's retirement (1972-1977) is not found within this collection.

Relatively little information has been preserved concerning the Utah Scholarship Foundation which Dr. Sperry chaired.

Drafts are found within the collection for most but not all of Sperry's published works; the collection contains no drafts for "Ancient Records Testify" and "The Message of the Twelve Prophets." The collection is comprised of correspondence (dated 1921 - 1971); financial records; addresses by Sperry; drafts of Sperry books and articles; patriarchal blessings delivered by Sperry; research notes; news clippings; scholarly articles written by others; Division of Religion memorandums and minutes; student papers; and photographs.

The collection is comprised of correspondence (dated 1921 - 1971); financial records; addresses by Sperry; drafts of Sperry books and articles; patriarchal blessings delivered by Sperry; research notes; news clippings; scholarly articles written by others; Division of Religion memorandums and minutes; student papers; and photographs.

Other Finding Aids

A more detailed finding aid is available in print in the repository.

Other Finding Aids

File-level inventory available online.

Custodial History

The collection was donated to the Harold B. Lee Library in 1977 by Sidney B. Sperry.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; Sidney B. Sperry; 1977.


University history (University Archives collecting policy, February 2010).

Related Materials

Photographs were originally separated from the collection and sent to the Photo Archives. The photographs were returned to this collection in 1998 as reflected at the end of the register. However the negatives are still located in the Photo Archives and photocopies of every photograph have been filed and catalogued within this collection. "Pictures and Biographies of Brigham Young and his Wives," has been separated from this collection and sent to Rare book area in Special Collections; 1998. A ten dollar ($10.00) bill issued by the Kirtland Safety Society on March 1, 1837 was found in an unmarked envelope in this collection and was subsequently placed in the Special Collections vault. Also, a Jacob Hamblin journal covering the periods June 21, 1868 to June 19, 1870; September 28, 1869 to October 5, 1869; and winter, 1885 to fall, 1885 was found among the Sperry papers.

Processing Information

Processed; Dale Lyons and Brian Cannon; 1998.

Register of Sidney B. Sperry papers
Dale Lyons and Brian Cannon
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English in Latin script.
Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, 2007-2008

Revision Statements

  • 2021 September 21: Restricted folder 29 created with material from Box 7 folder 10; Karen Glenn.

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections. University Archives Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo UT 84602 US