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Gustive O. Larson papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: UA 622

Scope and Contents

Contains Gustive O. Larson's personal and professional papers. These include personal history, scholarly and religious writings, research files, teaching files, business records, civic and professional organization files, papers by students and other scholars, personal and business correspondence, and personal memorabilia. Includes a personal life history Larson had been preparing, other autobiographical writings relating to his personal life, church service, travel, as well as personal memorabilia, materials relating to his California and Swedish Missions, family letters, items relating to other Larson family members, and personal letters from the California Mission period.


  • 1826-1978


Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances.

Permission to publish material from the Gustive O. Larson collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

Gustive Olaf Larson was born to Swedish immigrant parents in August 1897 at Holladay, Utah, the youngest of four children. He attended Granite High School and then the University of Utah, where he was active in debate. He graduated from the University of Utah in 1920 with a B.A. in History. He spent the 1920-1921 school year as a history instructor at Weber College (Ogden, Utah), and then was called to the California Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and assigned to the Los Angeles area. There he labored under President Joseph McMurrin, serving as superintendent of Mission Sunday Schools and Mutual Improvement Association organizations from 1921 to 1924. He was responsible for introducing illustrated lectures to the mission.

Upon his release from the California Mission in 1924, Larson assumed the principalship of the Mormon seminary in Richfield, Utah. In addition to his duties there, he also served as a student advisor and debate coach at Richfield High School. While at Richfield, Larson met Virginia Bean, to whom he was married in February 1926. Larson was also working on his master's degree at the University of Utah, which he was awarded in 1927.

In the years following he continued his post-master's education at summer sessions of Columbia University, New York University, Brigham Young University, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of California at Berkeley. He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Southern Utah State College in 1974.

Larson began his professional work as principal of the Mormon seminary in Cedar City, Utah for the 1926-1927 school year. While serving as the seminary principal he initiated the first college-level seminary classes in the Church Education System in connection with the Cedar City Branch Agricultural College; thus he was director of one of the first Institutes of Religion in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Larson was seminary principal and institute director at Cedar City until 1954, though his service there was interrupted by a call to preside over the Swedish Mission from 1936 to 1939. While Gus was responsible for the usual assignments as the mission president there, Virginia was responsible for mission Relief Societies. The Larsons found that traditional missionary methods were no longer effective in Sweden; also that quite a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about the Church was prevalent. So in addition to tracting and teaching, they made a concerted effort to build a more positive image for the Church. Virginia Larson took advantage of her considerable musical ability to train a missionary chorus and quartet, which received favorable publicity in the Stockholm newspapers, and appeared on both Swedish radio and television broadcasts. The quartet, the American Harmony Singers, performed at an American Club reception for Pearl Buck, who was in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize for literature. Larson also organized a missionary basketball team, which received much publicity, since basketball was almost unknown in Sweden at that time.

His duties as mission president afforded him the opportunity to travel extensively in Europe in the years just prior to the outbreak of World War II. The Larsons attended mission president's conferences in Paris, Copenhagen and Lucerne, and also traveled through Greece, Italy, Middle Europe and Stalingrad and Moscow in the Soviet Union. The Larsons, who were accompanied on their assignment by their children Gustive Olaf and Patricia, were released in September 1939. War was declared while they were crossing the Atlantic back to America.

Larson returned to Cedar City where his youngest child, Tanja, was born, and reassumed his directorship of the institute program there. In 1954 he transferred to Brigham Young University where he taught first in the Department of Religion and, eventually, in the Department of History until his retirement in 1972. In addition to his teaching duties Larson served as director of two BYU Travel Study tours to Europe, in 1959 and 1961.

Throughout his adult life, Larson was active in many civic and professional organizations. These included Rotary International, the Democratic Party, Red Cross, Utah Association for the United Nations, the American Heart Association, the American Historical Association, the Mormon History Association, Sons of Utah Pioneers, Utah State Historical Society, and Utah Heritage Foundation. In addition, his interest in river-running and the federal government's projects at Glen Canyon and Echo Canyon also claimed his time.

Larson was the author of numerous articles and books (see following bibliography). His more important works include Prelude to the Kingdom, published in 1947, Outline History of Utah and the Mormons, 1958, and The "Americanization" of Utah for Statehood, (published in 1971 by the Henry E. Huntington Library) which received a citation from the Mormon History Association as the most significant work in Mormon History to be published that year. Larson received several research grants which took him to libraries and archives in the eastern United States in search of Utah and Mormon materials, including the Library of Congress, the National Archives and the university libraries at Harvard, Princeton and Yale. He also researched Mormon topics at St. Louis, Chicago, Denver, and at the Huntington Library at San Marino, California, where he was awarded a fellowship in 1974.

Before his death in Provo in 1978, Larson had completed manuscripts for two other books of Utah History: "From Desert to Deseret" and "Walkara's Half Century". The manuscripts and research files for both are included in this collection. In addition to his work as a research scholar, Larson devoted much of his time to work with his students. His pride and enjoyment with this aspect of his professional life is reflected in the extensive collection of student papers herein. Even a quick glance at these essays reveals a "who's who" of current Utah and Mormon historians. Thus Gustive Larson's influence continues to be felt.


70 boxes (35 linear ft.)

Language of Materials



Arranged in nine series: 1. Personal history, 1907-1979. 2. Personal correspondence, 1921–1978. 3. Business correspondence, 1921–1978. 4. Personal writings, 1922–1978. 5. Research files, 1826–1978. 6. Student papers, 1955–1971. 7. Civic/Professional organizations, 1949–1978. 8. Miscellaneous material—Virginia B. Larson, etc., 1850-1939. 9. Addendums, 1900–1947.

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 Gustive O. Larson papers were donated to the Brigham Young University Archives in 1984 by Mrs. Virginia Larson.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated; Mrs. Virginia Larson; 1984.


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

Separated Materials

Photographs transferred to the Photo Archives (UA P 622).

Processing Information

Processed; David J. Whittaker and Matthew Bowers Leavitt; December 1987 and June 2007.

Register of the Gustive O. Larson papers
David J. Whittaker
December 1987 and June 2007
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

  • 2009 September 22: Updated to DACS and CCLA standards by Jonathan.

Repository Details

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

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo UT 84602 US