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Edgar Lyon and family papers, 1915-1971

 Series — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSS 2341 Series 2

Scope and Contents

Publications written by the Lyon family.


  • Other: 1915-1971


Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research. This collection is for research only. No photocopies are permitted. Microfilm #50 is restricted. Some materials kept in cold vault storage. Access requries 24 hours advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to publish material from the Thomas Edgar Lyon, Sr. collection must be obtained from the Supervisor of Reference Services and/or the Special Collections Board of Curators.

Biographical History

From the Collection:

Thomas Edgar Lyon, Sr. (1903-1978) served a mission to the Netherlands and later became president of that mission. He also served as a teacher in the Salt Lake Institute of Religion for three decades.

Thomas Edgar Lyon, Sr. was born August 9, 1903 to David Ross Lyon and Mary Cairns in Salt Lake City, Utah. He served a mission to the Netherlands and later became president of that mission from 1933-1937. He served as a teacher in the Salt Lake Institute of Religion for three decades. He later became the historian for the Nauvoo Restoration during the early 1970s until his death on September 20, 1978.

Thomas Edgar Lyon was born on August 9, 1903 to David Ross Lyon and Mary Cairns in Salt Lake City, Utah. As a child, he was affectionately called Teddy, combining the names "T" from Thomas and "Ed" from Edgar. In later years, he preferred the name Edgar, and later "Ed."

Ed's parents had received little schooling as children. Because of this, they insisted on formal education for all of their children. Ed missed most of what would have been his second grade year due to family sickness. His sister Carol and an older brother had come down with scarlet fever, so all of the children were quarantined from December 1910 through June 1911. When he returned to school in the fall of 1911, he was a year behind his age group. He felt awkward and out of place, and then finally a kind teacher allowed him to take two "specials," a type of by-pass exam. By the end of elementary school, he was caught up with his own age group.

In September 1917, at age fourteen, Ed began high school at the then called Latter-day Saint University. The school was expanding and it was a very exciting time. Although Latter-day Saint University enrolled only five percent of the high school students in Utah in 1919, they were a dynamic group, including many future state and LDS Church leaders. In fact, many of the children that attended the school were the children of the major Church leaders, such as the Cannons, Smiths, Youngs, Woodruffs, Kimballs, Cowleys, as well as children of the emerging social and business elite of the valley. On May 25, 1921, Ed graduated from high school.

Ed furthered his education at the University of Utah in the fall of 1921. At the time, the university enrolled nearly the same amount of students as his high school. He attended the university for two years before he was called on a mission to the Netherlands. He was somewhat apprehensive about the mission because he had not done particularly well in Latin at high school and feared the Dutch language might prevent him from being an effective missionary. However, when Melvin J. Ballard set him apart, he blessed him with the gift of tongues and the gift of healing. He departed for his mission on July 14, 1923. During his mission, he was blessed with the gift of tongues on a few occasions, but throughout his mission, he struggled with the language. Though language was an obstacle for him, he served a good mission and even served as a branch president for a time and had many great experiences. He was released from his mission on November 16, 1925.

After Ed returned from his mission, he began dating Laura Hermana Forsberg, who was in his home ward and had been since she was eight years old. Through Sunday School teachers' meetings, they became well-acquainted and on August 16, 1927 they were married in the Salt Lake Temple. They had six sons, including two sets of twins.

Prior to getting married, Ed graduated from the University of Utah in education, majoring in history with a minor in philosophy. His first job was teaching history and civics at the Rigby (Idaho) High School. The next year Ed was called to teach seminary in Midway, Utah. With many other seminary teachers, he attended the 1929 Old Testament seminar at Brigham Young University given by Sidney B. Sperry, who had just returned from studying the Bible at the University of Chicago. The following year Ed and his colleagues at the seminar were taught by the eminent Biblical scholar Edgar J. Goodspeed. Later, the Church Department of Education agreed to help defray some of the expenses for a few seminary and institute teachers to study at the University of Chicago. Ed seized the opportunity to go. He and Hermana saved what they could and, in 1931, entered Chicago's program in Christian history under the specialist of American religions, William W. Sweet. Among his colleagues, who later became important members of the Church education system, were Russell Swensen, Daryl Chase, George Tanner, and George S. Romney.

In 1933, President Heber J. Grant called Ed, barely thirty, to serve as president of the Netherlands Mission. He served for four years from 1933-1937. These were years during the Great Depression and there were only forty to fifty missionaries in Holland. One of his most important responsibilities was training local leadership to assume duties previously handled by the missionaries. Elder John A. Widtsoe had developed a specific program for this purpose, and the effort was continued when Elder Joseph F. Merrill replaced him as head of the European Mission. Ed wholeheartedly endorsed the program, and gradually transferred Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague, Leyden, Dordrecht, Groningen, Arnheim, Schiedem, Delft, Utrecht and Den Helder to local leadership.

After Ed's service as a mission president, he had hoped to teach seminary in Ogden. But instead, he was assigned to be the only teacher at the relatively new Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah. For more than thirty years, Ed was a permanent fixture at the Institute. He taught classes in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Church history, and other subjects that he chose to teach. He was a vivid storyteller and made Latter-day Saint Church history come alive for his students. Near the end of his career, Ed completed his Ph.D. at the University of Utah and continued to teach at the institute there.

The first year that Ed taught institute, about seventy students attended his classes at the University Ward. But by the end of World War II the meetinghouse rooms were too small for the numbers attending. Eventually, property was purchased on the corner of University Street and Third South and construction of a new building was authorized. When the Institute's doors finally opened, Ed and Lowell Bennion, the institute director, had 1200 students and nine chapters of Lambda Delta Sigma, a combined fraternity and sorority directly tied to the institute program.

Widely respected as a Church history scholar, Ed was also a popular speaker at sacrament meetings, firesides, and study groups. He was called upon to write lesson manuals and textbooks for the Church. He wrote articles for newspapers, Church magazines, and professional historical journals. Ed also participated as a Charter member of the Mormon History Association and was well-respected among historians. In 1967, Ed served as the president of the Mormon History Association.

During the last years of his life, at an age when most people taper off in their activity, Ed Lyon continued to teach and to serve as the historian of Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., a private organization dedicated to researching the history of this early Mormon city (1839-46) and to restoring key structures there. He was anxious to see that the restoration of Mormon Nauvoo be done responsibly and professionally, and not be allowed to become a mere public relations gimmick. An authentic recreation of Mormon Nauvoo, he believed, would win respect and friends for the Church. As the leading authority on Nauvoo, he was invited to prepare a volume on the Nauvoo period of Church history for a proposed sesquicentennial series. By the time of his death, he compiled impressive files and first drafts of some chapters. The volume was produced by Glen Leonard in 2002. Ed Lyon died on September 20, 1978 in Salt Lake City.


2 boxes

Language of Materials