Harold T. Christensen genealogical records, family papers, and documents from youth, 1909-1930s
Scope and Contents note
Contains the papers, both professional and personal, of nationally noted family sociologist Harold T. Christensen. The materials contained in this collection document nearly every dimension of his personal life (1909-ca. 1980s) and professional life (1935-ca. 1990s, bulk 1947-1975).
- Other: 1909-1930s
Conditions Governing Access note
Open for public research.
Conditions Governing Use note
Photocopy or any type of single duplication is permissible for reference use only.
It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances.
Permission to publish material from Harold T. Christensen papers must be obtained from the Permissions & Licensing Office of the University and the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Board of Curators.
Harold T. Christensen was born and raised in Preston, Idaho. He was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Christensen married Alice Spencer (Paris, ID) in the LDS Church Salt Lake Temple and they later had five children together. Christensen was a general-purpose sociologist. He graduated from Ricks College, Brigham Young University, and University of Wisconsin. Christensen taught sociology at BYU, University of Wisconsin, and at Purdue University. He also served as visiting professor at numerous other universities. He authored scores of peer reviewed articles and a number of books on marriage and family, population studies, general sociology, and cross-cultural sociology.
An ardent correspondent, Christensen's papers include thousands of letters to and from nearly all of his immediate family, lifelong friends, university and field colleagues and students, and a host of national and international figures in sociology (specifically in the sub-fields of family studies, including human sexuality studies, social psychology, population studies, and methodology). These papers also include more than forty years of scientific research in a host of subjects centering around marriage and the family from different geographical areas (including many regions of the United States, Europe, and Scandinavia in cross-cultural studies), and using differing scientific methodologies. A general-purpose sociologist, noted for his widely used treatises and manuals, Christensen also concentrated much of his work on the scientific study of Mormon (LDS Church) society. An active researcher and publisher, Christensen authored scores of peer reviewed articles and a number of books on marriage and family, population studies, general sociology, and cross-cultural sociology (see resumes and vitae in series one).
A graduate of Ricks College (associate 1929; Rexburg, ID), Brigham Young University (Bachelors and Masters of Science, 1935 and 1937; Provo, UT), and the University of Wisconsin (Doctorate of Science in Rural Sociology, 1941; Madison, WI), Christensen taught sociology at BYU as an undergraduate, graduate and after completing his Ph.D., (1933-1947), at the University of Wisconsin (as Ph.D. student, 1938-1941), and finally, at Purdue University (West Lafayette, ID., 1947-1975). While on-leave and during the summers, Christensen also served as visiting professor at Pennsylvania State University (1949), University of Utah (1951), University of California at Irvine (1956), BYU (1961/1967), University of Hawaii (1965), and North Michigan University (1971). After retirement Christensen was a visiting professor at San Diego State University (1976-1977).
A well-respected student at BYU in the 1930s, Christensen was awarded the first masters degree in Sociology from the university. After returning from the University of Wisconsin, Christensen was re-employed in BYU's Sociology Department, which he chaired from 1940-1944. From 1944-1945 Christensen took a leave of absence from BYU, to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (Division of Farm Population & Rural Life, Bureau of Agricultural Economics). While on the faculty at BYU, Christensen authored a number of manuals for use in the LDS Church auxiliaries of the Deseret Sunday School and women's Relief Society. In 1947 he left BYU to take a position as chair of the newly formed Department of Sociology (later Department of Sociology and Anthropology) at Purdue University.
While at Purdue, Christensen was largely responsible for the development and growth of what would become one the most distinguished undergraduate and graduate level programs in sociology in the United States. An active committee member, outside and within the university, Christensen served as a committee person, officer (numerous times as chair) and editor of publications for dozens of university, regional, national, and international organizations. Some of the organizations in which he served include: International Sociological Association (ISA), the Institute for International Education, American Association of University Professors, Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), the Ford Foundation Fund for the Advancement of Education, the North-Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the American Sociological Association (ASA), Sociological Research Association (SRA), the Population Association of America, the Indiana Council on Family Relations (ICFR), the Ohio Valley Sociological Society, and the Indiana Academy of Social Sciences, just to name a few. In 1993 Christensen was awarded an honorary degree of doctor of letters from Purdue University
for his pioneering cross-cultural research on marriage and family that helped establish the use of scientific methodology in the discipline of sociology.
Born in Preston, ID on March 10, 1909, Christensen was raised in Preston and Rexburg, Idaho (USA). Christensen was raised as a Mormon (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) in a semi-rural setting between the First and Second World Wars. His mother Nettie Taylor Christensen, was both active in civic and church work; his father Oswald Christensen, was an educator on the faculty of the LDS Church owned Oneida Stake Academy (Preston, ID), and at Ricks Academy (later Ricks College, Rexburg, ID). Both parents imbued their son with a desire to pursue education and the life of an academician. During the early years of the Great Depression, between 1929-1933, Christensen served a LDS Church mission in New Zealand. During the last year-and-half of his mission service, he was called to direct the local church and missionary effort as acting mission president. Two years after returning home from his mission and on the day of his graduation in 1935, Christensen married Alice Spencer (Paris, ID) in the LDS Church Salt Lake Temple (to this union five children were born).
For additional information, see the additional autobiographical materials in the next section of this register. See the contents of Series 1, for further description of Christensen's life and contribution.
Additional Biographical Information
A Brief Life Sketch of Harold T. Christensen (Statement drafted in October, 1985)
I am a seventy-six year old retired sociologist who holds the title, Professor Emeritus, from Purdue University. My religious background is Mormon, and the conservative/authoritarian stance of that institution coupled with the open-inquiry/suspended-judgement requirements of my profession have created certain tensions and conflicts both within and around me with which I have had to deal. These I am attempting to spell out in a now-being-written autobiography titled, Mormon or Sociologist: Memoirs of a Marginal Man.
I also am a husband, father, and grandfather who just recently completed the celebration of his Golden Wedding Anniversary. Alice (the former Alice Spencer of Paris, Idaho) and I were married in the Salt Lake City Mormon temple on June 5, 1935, which was our college graduation day as well. We have five children, three daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law, and eighteen grandchildren. Except for one grandson who now serves on a church mission in Pennsylvania, all of us (totaling twenty-nine) recently assembled for a wonderful four-day get-together here in La Jolla, California, where Alice and I now reside. Family ties, along with church and profession, have been and continue to be a very important anchor in my life.
I was born on March 10, 1909, in Preston, Idaho, and lived within that community throughout my first ten years. Father was on the faculty of the Oneida Stake Academy, a church-operated high school located in Preston. In 1919 he switched to the faculty of Ricks Academy (now Ricks College) located in Rexburg, Idaho, which meant a change of family residence. Ricks College also is within the Latter-day Saint Church school system. My Rexburg years extended over the second decade of my life and saw me through my first two years of college--at Ricks, quite naturally.
Then followed a period of just under four years during which I served as a Mormon missionary in New Zealand. Throughout the last fifteen months of that mission, I was assigned the awesome responsibility--almost without precedent for someone so young and inexperienced--of presiding, as Acting Mission President, over the entire operation (nearly 8,000 church members plus several dozen local and state-side missionaries).
I had been reared in an orthodox Mormon family and had been taught to value both church activity, including
going on a mission, and the importance of getting an education. In my own case, this latter implied the eventual attainment of a doctoral degree. My participation in church programs started when I was very young. From the beginning, I was expected to take part in church activities and to say yes to little
callings and assignments appropriate to changing levels in my development. And participation has continued, although in diminishing intensity, right up to the present time. The peak, of course, occurred during my New Zealand mission.
My Brigham Young University days--the fourteen-year period immediately following the mission--also saw considerable church activity. Most notably: I was a frequently invited speaker at church gatherings; an on-and-off again Sunday School teacher; a member, for a year or so, of the Utah Stake High Council ( a stake is roughly comparable to a diocese); and, perhaps most important, the author, by invitation, of several series of lessons for church-wide use by two of the auxiliaries: the Sunday School and the Relief Society (the women's organization of the Church).
However, throughout my subsequent twenty-nine years in Indiana, I grew less and less involved in church affairs and more and more inclined to question and to maintain my independence. I did serve as Sunday School teacher of adult classes covering several different periods of time, and generally enjoyed this and felt that I was effective. But most other requests for position assignments I turned down, and it was only occasionally that I was called upon to speak at church gathering. At the present time, in California, I continue to attend church meetings although only some and somewhat irregularly. I hold no church position and have almost become what is pejoratively described as
My formal schooling at the college level, which had been interrupted four years earlier, was picked up again right after the completion of my church mission. I took my junior and senior years at Brigham Young University and, in June 1935, graduated with a baccalaureate degree in sociology. Those two years, on top of regular studies, were almost overflowing with extra-curricular activities. To name a few of these: I was on the varsity debating team both years and, in the spring of 1935, received the Egbert Award as the outstanding debater of the year. I was elected to membership in the Blue Key national honorary society. I served my last student year as Senior Class President. Also during that year, I was given full responsibility for teaching two undergraduate sociology classes under the direction of Professor Lowry Nelson. At graduation time, I was chosen to represent my class with the valedictory address. This, by the way, was the fourth time in my life to have been selected as valedictorian. (The first three had been in connection with the graduating classes of elementary school, high school, and junior college, all of which I attended in Rexburg, Idaho.)
After graduating from the Y, I was appointed half-time instructor there in order to continue work on the masters degree. With that out of the way, in 1937, my faculty appointment was shifted to a full-time basis. Then, during 1938-1940 I took a two year leave without pay to enable me to pursue doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin. The Ph.D. was awarded to me during the summer of 1941.
My career as an active and recognized sociologist encompassed an approximate forty-year period. The first twelve of these (1935-1947) were at Brigham Young University and the last twenty-eight (1947-1975) at Purdue University. At BYU I served as department head for an approximate half dozen years, from the early 1940s until I departed the campus in 1947. I had taken over from Professor John C. Swensen, who had been responsible for initiating sociology offerings there several decades earlier and had been carrying on almost single-handedly ever since.
The 1940s saw considerable expansion in BYU's sociology staff and curriculum, plus a further clarification of the department's goals and directions. It probably is fair to say that I played a crucial role in all of this. Furthermore, from the standpoint of my own career development this was the time of my launching. I acquired the reputation of being a good teacher. I became active in academic, community, and organizational (sociological) affairs. And I started publishing in professional journals (some dozen articles while there). All in all, I achieved the visibility needed for further advancement.
In the fall of 1947, I left BYU for Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, to direct the development of an emerging sociology program there. I stayed on as chairman of that program for fifteen years, after which I dropped that responsibility, at my own request, but continued full-time on the staff for an additional thirteen years, or until my retirement in 1975. Twenty-eight years at one university is a relatively long period of time, certainly longer than average, and it bespeaks of general satisfaction by both me and my employer. It was at Purdue, of course, where my career really took off and my reputation as a sociologist-- particularly family sociologist--really blossomed.
Before going further, I would like to emphasize that although I did not start out as a family sociologist, it was not long before I became known as one. My graduate major at Wisconsin actually was in rural sociology, but I tended to become less interested in that field as time went on. Other early but more lasting substantive interests have been family studies, social psychology, population, and methodology. Of these, it is family studies that has so captured my interests as to almost crowd out the others. Not entirely, of course. But I think it safe to say that throughout the majority of my career it has been the family field which has absorbed most of my attention whether in teaching, off-campus lecturing, or--especially--research and publication.
Prior to my arrival on the Purdue campus, sociology there consisted of little more than a few
service courses administered by a Sociology Section in the Division of Education and Applied Psychology. It was expected of me that I would spearhead the development of a bona fide department which could offer its own undergraduate and graduate degrees. By careful attention to curricular revision and expansion, to the addition of highly quality new faculty as needed, and to building internal esprit de corps, as well as external visibility and acceptance both on campus and within the larger sociological community, it was not long until these expectations became a reality. By 1953, a mere six years after my appearance on campus, sociology had become a full-fledged department in its own right and, perhaps equally important, we had received University approval for offering the Ph.D. within our own field of study. (Approval for the undergraduate and masters degrees had come earlier.)
By the early 1960s, Purdue's full-time sociology faculty had increased to around thirty, regularly enrolled graduate students in sociology had expanded to some fifty or sixty, and we had attained a national, even inter-national, reputation of considerable significance. My initial thrust toward achieving departmental visibility on the outside along with improved morale and motivation within, was to encourage our sociology faculty to participate in professional journals. I engaged in a lot of these kinds of activities myself, not only because of personal ambition but because I wanted to be a role model for my colleagues. One fellow faculty member, in describing this early period of development to a local reporter, had this to say about me:
He worked our tails off. But he lead by example, and instilled a sense of duty and responsibility in the faculty. He took on heavy teaching loads, carried out his administrative work, and wrote a book besides.
Another approach to these same goals--building internal morale plus external visibility--was to bring significant portions of the outside sociological community right onto the Purdue campus. In this regard, I did two things (not all at once, of course): I invited in prominent sociologists, either for a day or two of lecturing or as Visiting Professors extending over a full semester; and I arranged for several workshops and professional meetings to be held on the Purdue campus. The visiting lecturers included such notables as Ernest W. Burgess, Kingsley Davis, Alfred C. Kinsey, and Margaret Mead. The longer-term instructors (visiting professors) included such big names as William F. Ogburn, Werner Stark, and Warren S. Thompson. Important meetings brought to the campus included an annual conference of the Ohio Valley Sociological Society (1954), an annual gathering of the Groves Conference on Marriage and the Family (also 1954), and the 1957 annual meeting of the National Council on Family Relations.
It seems that I was involved with an awful lot of on-campus committee work or special assignments of one sort or another during my years at Purdue; Committee on the Promotion of Honesty (1948-1950); President's Research Committee on Housing (1945-1951); Committee on Student Affairs (1951-1951, I was its first chairman); Curriculum Revision Committee of the School of Science, Education, and Humanities (1951-1953); Committee on the Education of Women (1952-56, I was chairman for one of these years); the university Graduate Council (1955-1957); and the Senate of the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education (1964-1966). I mention this partial list of non-departmental, on-campus activities only in passing.
Of greater importance, it seems to me, because of their more promising payoff potentials in terms of professional development and advancement, were the many off-campus opportunities which came my way. I shall run over a number of these, starting with participation in professional sociology-related organizations. Although affiliations varied a little from year to year, 1950-1951 may be taken as somewhat typical; during that academic year my count shows one regional, three state, and seven national organizations in which I held membership. As already stated, I made it a point to attend the scheduled meetings whenever possible and at many of these I either presented a paper of participated in other ways. In a number of the organizations I held office. For example, at differing times I served as President of the Indiana council on Family Relations (1950-1952), the Ohio Valley Sociological Society (1953-1954, and the National Council on Family Relations (1960-1961). Committee assignments in these and other organizations were too numerous--and in some instances, too trivial--to mention here.
I would, however, like to round out the picture by merely listing four additional types of state and national organizational activities in which I was involved: First with reference to the state, I at different times served as Advisor to the Indiana Council of Children and Youth; as Director on the board of the Indiana Social Hygiene Association; and as Director on the board of the Indiana Academy of Social Science--this latter for four separate one-year terms and I was invited to follow these with a year as president, but I declined.
Second, in addition to filling a term as president of the National Council of Family Relations, and of being on several of its committees, I served for three years (1957-1959) as Editor of its official journal, Marriage and Family Living (now Journal of Marriage and the Family).
Third, during three separate years I served as a member of the Committee on Marriage and Divorce Statistics (one of which saw me Co-chairman) of the American Sociological Association. Also for the ASA, I, in 1964-1964, served as the first chairman of a newly organized Section on the Family which, like other
sections, was given considerable autonomy in building and carrying out its own program in its own particular substantive area. In 1950 I was elected to membership in, and am now an Honorary Life Member of, an offshoot honorary ASA group known as the Sociological Research Association.
Finally, I was one of the founding members of the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) back in 1964 and served on its Board of Directors for a three-year period (1967-1969), part of which time I was chairman of its Research Committee and the last year of which I served as vice president. I then was offered the position of president for the following year, but declined.
On the international scene as well, I have played a fairly prominent role and have gained something of a reputation within my chosen field. Starting in 1957, with participation in an International Seminar on Family Research held in Wageninen, Holland, I have, over the years, attended more than one dozen separate gatherings of various organizations meeting in different parts of the world. In most of these, I have either read a paper or had official functions to perform. A 1972 meeting of the Seminar on Family Research, this one in Moscow, USSR, also found me participating. When the Committee on Family Research was first organized under the auspices of the International Sociological Association (ISA) in 1970, I served on its first Board of Directors. ISA, the larger international parent organization, meets every three or four years. I have been in attendance at as many as six of its gatherings: Stresa, Italy, in 1959; Washington D.C. in 1962; Evian, France, in 1966; Varna, Bulgaria, in 1970; Toronto, Canada, in 1974; and Upsalla, Sweden, in 1978.
Another international group of significance--although less sociological and more politically oriented than ASA--is the International Union of Family Organizations. I have participated in three of this groups' meetings: at Paris, France, in 1958; at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1963; and at Liege, Belgium, in 1973. In addition, I was privileged to address an annual meeting of the British National Marriage Guidance Council held at Hastings, England, in 1958; and to read a paper at the Third International Seminar on Gender Identity held in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, in 1973.
My off-campus involvements while at Purdue were so many and of such a nature as to require considerable travel on my part--not just involvements coming from affiliations with the national and international professional organizations just mentioned, but with respect to certain special assignments as well. Hardly a month went by without at least one trip away from home and some months saw two, three, or even four or more. Washington D.C., was the place most frequently visited, with New York City a close second.
To begin with, I accepted several quasi-governmental assignments. During 1958-1959, for example, I served under the chairmanship of Hugh Carter on a special study group of the Public Health Conference on Records and Statistics appointed to review and make recommendations concerning the standardizing of forms and tabulations of national marriage and divorce data. Then, I was honored to serve on two important national committees whose tasks were to screen applicants for international grants. During 1965-1967, I worked with a sub-group of the Committee on International Exchange of persons of the Conference Board of Associated Research Councils, which had to do with sociology applications for Fulbright grants (I was group chairmen during the last of these years). During 1967-1970, I was a member (chairman during the last year) of a national screening committee of the Institute for International Education which had to do with the selection of graduate student appointees to a year's study abroad in Scandinavia or Iceland.
During the 1960s and early 1970s I quite frequently was called upon by both the federal Welfare Administration and the National Science Foundation to review and make recommendations concerning sociologically oriented research grant proposals which came to them. My detailed reading of these proposals could be done at home base, of course, but occasionally also I would be invited to the organization's headquarters for meeting or consultations. In 1967, NFS appointed me as a consultant to their Division of Graduate Education in Science. Also, let me mention that I have been a delegate to three separate White House Conferences held in Washington D.C.: a specially-scheduled 1948 conference on Marriage and the Family; the regular 1960 conference on Children and Youth; and the regular 1961 conference on Aging.
Of my non government-related off-campus activities, one of the earliest and yet most rewarding, in terms of personal experience and growth, was a roughly three-year tie-in with the Ford Foundation's Fund for the Advancement of Education. I was a member of a three-person team set up to travel from campus to campus to evaluate the operation and effectiveness of the Fund's Faculty Fellowship Program. This resulted in the so-called Taylor Report. In addition, fellow sociologist Dwight Culver, also of Purdue, and I were members of a national research group set up by the Fund to carry out their special School Integration Study. Culver and I did field work in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and our report on this eventually became part of two book-length publications.
For a dozen years, 1964-1976, I played the role of Examiner and Consultant with the Commission on Colleges and Universities of the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. Our job, of course, was to visit the campuses to which we were assigned for the purpose of making judgments on accreditation
a life and death matter for the institutions involved. I perhaps averaged about two or three such visits each year some to large and well operated universities; others to schools that were small or on unsure footings, in need of help; and the rest were somewhere in between. An interesting accompaniment to this important activity (wherein it primarily was university administrators who were involved) was my appointment to Committee D of the American Association of University Professors (1965-1968), which saw accreditation largely from the teacher's point of view. My work on this committee was, for the most part, complementary to the other and it usually involved little more than a once-a-year meeting in Washington, D.C.
Finally, with respect to off-campus assignments, let me mention a postdoctoral fellowship which I was granted by the Behavioral Sciences Center of the Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This was to enable me, along with about a dozen other family life specialists drawn from various parts of the country, to come to that campus for an eight-week Family Life Education Institute during the summer of 1966. Our task was to examine the rationale for, and to take first steps in building, a workable curriculum for the exposure of medical students to the important area of marriage and family relationships. Our report, which eventually was published, is regarded as a pioneer contribution to what has become an ongoing trend in contemporary medical education. (Nevertheless, due to almost impossibly heavy curriculums, family life education in most medical schools is still only a meager part of the whole; but something is better than nothing.)
While most of my off-campus jaunts have been of short duration, some have been significantly longer--including the period just mentioned at the Bowman Gray School of Medicine. Other away-from-home stays of considerable length include the following: three sabbaticals, one full semester's leave without pay, and six appointments to visiting professorships during summer sessions at other universities. My first sabbatical took place during the 1957-1958 academic year. This I spent in Denmark, with my family, on a Fulbright Research Fellowship at the University of Copenhagen, studying aspects of the Scandinavian family system. My second sabbatical came during the first semester of 1964-1965. Alice and I spent it traveling around the world, while I concentrated on improving my cross-cultural understandings of a number of national programs dealing with family welfare. We moved in an easterly direction and ended up, temporarily, in Hawaii. My third sabbatical occurred during the second semester of 1971-1972. The University of California, Irvine, had given me
Visiting Scholar status and provided me with office space and facilities making it possible for me to carry on with some of my on-going research and writing at my own pace. The
leave without pay semester occurred immediately following the second sabbatical mentioned above, which had taken us as far as Honolulu. I spent it on a Visiting Professorship appointment teaching classes at the University of Hawaii.
Here is a chronological listing of my other off-campus visiting professorships, these not requiring formal leaves from Purdue since they took place during various summer school sessions: Pennsylvania State University, 1949; University of Utah, 1951; University of California, Berkeley, 1956; Brigham Young University, 1961 and 1967; and Northern Michigan University, 1971.
In addition, after retirement, I spent the first quarter of the 1976-1977 academic year as Visiting Professor at San Diego State University.
Altogether, my lifetime publication list approaches two hundred separate items. This includes some fifty or sixty articles and auxiliary
lessons appearing in official Mormon outlets, all of which were prepared prior to my going to Purdue. But on top of these, I can claim well over one hundred professional or scholarly publications broken down as follows: six books, nineteen chapters or sections of books (including two articles in the World Book Encyclopedia), four pamphlets or bulletins, sixty-seven articles in professional journals (thirteen of which have been reprinted in various books of reading), thirty book reviews, and seven articles published in semi-professional or popular sources. Of the books, my Marriage Analysis, a basic college textbook first published in 1950, has gone through two revisions (the second involving a change of title and including Kathryn P. Johnsen as co-author). My Handbook of Marriage and the Family(I served as editor and was author of two of the chapters) was a more than one-thousand page volume published in 1964. This latter was a pioneer undertaking in theory building and for many years was regarded as the
bible for advanced study in the family field. More than any other thing, I believe, it was the Handbook that did the most to build my reputation as one of the leading family sociologists of the day.
I am listed in Who's Whoin America, and have been since Volume 26 covering the years 1950-1951. Additional biographical listing of achievers, where my name has occasionally appeared, include the following: Who's Who In the World; World's Who's Who in Science; Directory of American Scholars; American Men and Women of Science: Behavioral Science; and Contemporary Authors.
There have been a number of special recognitions extended to me in recent decades, because of my career. For example, in 1969 I was elected a member of the New York Academy of Sciences; in 1973 I was elected a member of the Purdue chapter of Sigma Xi; in 1970 I was honored with the Distinguished Service Award of SEICUS; and in 1979 Ricks College honored me with one of its Distinguished Emeritus Awards. And there have been others. But the one that has made me most proud, because of its significance in terms of academic accomplishment, was the Burgess Research Award which I received in 1967 from the National Council on Family Relations. This award, which also included a five-hundred dollar cash prize plus the opportunity of presenting a major theoretical paper at the next NCFR annual meeting, carried the following citation on the certificate that was handed me:
Presented to Harold T. Christensen, in recognition of continuous and meritorious contributions to theory and research in the family field.
Some idea of how my productivity as a family scholar ranked alongside others up to the mid 1960s (and it continued high for a decade or so after that, too) alongside others can be obtained from the International Bibliography of Research in Marriage and the Family, 1900-1964, compiled by Joan Aldous and Reuben Hill. There are 12,850 separate publication items by over 7,000 authors listed in this inventory. Only 277 of these authors, however, had written as much as five or more articles. On page ten, Aldous and Hill present a table showing their article-counts for the highest ranking twenty-seven authors. My name is listed as seventh from the top, with a total of 31 published articles.
Two additional references and I am through. At the time of my 1975 retirement celebration at Purdue, Carl B. Broderick, who--although of a younger generation than I--was then, and is now, a very prominent and respected scholar in the marriage and family field, wrote to me as follows:
Although I cannot be present at the banquet I want you to know that in my opinion you are one of two or three giants who were responsible for bringing family sociology to its maturity. More than any other influence "the Handbook" established the field as a viable, cohesive scholarly domain. Every subsequent effort must date from this foundation and I feel confident that future historians of the field will cite its publication as marking the ending of one era and the beginning of another.
Your work, more than anyone else's introduced social theory into the chaotic field of sex research which, prior to your contributions was virtually limited to descriptive studies. In this area you have set a standard which every subsequent scholar must find difficult to achieve.
And, since so much of my family research has used Mormon data, directly or indirectly, it seems appropriate here to cite a reference to my work found in a recent analysis of the development of social research within Mormon culture. Armand L. Mauss, a prominent contemporary scholar in the sociology of religion, and a Mormon himself, has prepared a most comprehensive tracing of this development. His chapter, titled
Sociological Perspectives on the Mormon Subculture, is published in the 1984 edition of the Annual Review of Sociology. In dealing with what he describes as a post World War II surge in Mormon social studies, he names me as one of three
founding fathers in this movement and goes on to characterize me as follows:
Harold T. Christensen, whose studies of child-spacing in Mormon families actually go back to the 1930's but who is best known for his unique work (often with younger Mormon colleagues) beginning in the 1950's on attitudes about premarital sex among Mormon Youth. (p. 442-443)
Addendum to Life Sketch of Harold T. Christensen (April 25, 1997)
Nearly twelve years have passed since the above Life Sketch was written. I am now eight-eight years old and June 5 of this year Alice and I will have reached our sixty-second wedding anniversary. Our extended family has expanded to now include some eight great grandchildren.
We very much enjoy living in beautiful, weather-friendly La Jolla, a contentment that extends back over the nearly twenty-one years that we have been here. Ever so often family members living elsewhere visit us here, or we travel to their homes, which mostly are in other states. Our away-from-home traveling, though, has diminished greatly in recent years, because of both age and health considerations. I especially am feeling the heat, so to speak, and more and more tend to define myself as a
Our local activities in La Jolla have centered primarily around school and church, plus interactions with the many rich personal friends we have developed in both camps. By
school I am referring to the Institute of Continued Learning, an organization of approximately three hundred largely retired persons who conduct their program on the campus of the University of California San Diego and under its sponsorship. Largely self-administered, the program consists mainly of a wide range of non-credit classes--intellectual, cultural, and social--spread over the mornings and afternoons Mondays through Fridays. Alice and I were very active at first--with respect to both attendance and vigorous participation in the offerings, discussions, et cetera. But in recent years this has slackened to the point where trips to the campus average perhaps once or twice a week for one session only (or just part of a session when we choose to leave early), and we are on a first-name basis with only a handful of members.
And the picture with respect to Church activity is very similar. During our early years in La Jolla we were at least moderately active in our local congregation (the Seventh Ward of the North San Diego Stake). Active I say, but nevertheless outspoken and somewhat nonconforming. I was generally accepted--by many at least--but known as a liberal. Today we are somewhat regular attenders at the Sunday sacrament service, but that is about all.
I am sorry to say that my formerly very respectable writing activity has about come to an end. No more professional or scholarly articles submitted or published in recent years. Worst of all, perhaps, some half-dozen chapters of my projected twenty-four chapter autobiography remains un-drafted. And, short of a miracle, they are apt to remain that way.
Finally, what was perhaps the crowning-point of my entire professional life occurred on May 16, 1993, when Purdue University, at its regular Spring Commencement, awarded me an honorary doctorate. Alice and I both attended and were thrilled with the opportunity of visiting old places and old friends, but most especially with the ceremony itself. On the diploma awarded to me were these words:
UPON THE NOMINATION OF THE PRESIDENT AND THE FACULTY AND
BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE TRUSTEES
HAROLD T. CHRISTENSEN
TO THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF LETTERS
FOR HIS PIONEERING CROSS-CULTURAL RESEARCH ON MARRIAGE
AND FAMILY THAT HELPED ESTABLISH THE USE OF SCIENTIFIC
METHODOLOGY IN THE DISCIPLINE OF SOCIOLOGY
My Life Story: Reflections of an Early Family Scholar Harold T. Christensen
I began life as a disappointment. My father's journal entry for March 10, 1909 consisted of one sentence:
Our second baby boy was born at 9 p.m. That was all. No more. No less. While father's writing style typically leaned towards the sparse, factual statement, with a little embellishment, I cannot, as I now examine the record, help but notice a difference in tone between this entry and those for my two brothers immediately preceding and following me. Father referred to the advent of his first-born as a
very welcome visitor to our home and described his third-born as being
a sweet little fellow. Not that I am envious. Indeed, as measured by subsequent events, I have enjoyed every bit as much love and respect and parental pride in later years as have any of the others. I sometimes even think that I may have had more than my share. But there is good reason for the initial parental shock which I now know accompanied my arrival into this world.
I was born with a cleft lip. My upper lip was split near its center and pulled grotesquely towards either side. The upper gum was open as well and my nose lay flat against the right cheek. I must have looked a sight. Being totally unprepared for anything like this, my parents were at first both frightened and puzzled. I have been told that they even wondered momentarily, if this might be punishment for something they may have neglected or done. Fortunately, they soon regained their composure and perspective and proceeded to do everything they could to meet the situation head on, with only my welfare in mind. A crude then state-of-the-art surgery saw me through my infancy and childhood periods. At about age twelve I was placed in the hands of a pioneering specialist in lip surgery, traveling through from the east coast, who was able to reshape my appearance so that, from that time on, one could scarcely tell if anything were amiss.
Quite honestly, I never have felt any handicap from this accident of nature, throughout either the sensitive years of adolescence or the highly competitive years of adulthood. Had I been female, of course, that might have been different, for society is more inclined to judge physical appearance in women then men. But, even as a male, if the original repair job had been allowed to stand I most certainly would have suffered from feeling different than others and being self-conscious over it. Furthermore, if my birth deformity had included a cleft palate as well, as sometimes happens, this could have left me with the severe handicap of having to deal with a speech impediment. I guess I was just lucky.
I was reared in a typically large and conforming Mormon family. My childhood and adolescent years were spent in southeastern Idaho, first in Preston and then Rexburg, not far from Utah's northern border. Both of these communities were predominantly Latter-day Saint (Mormon) with respect to both population and culture, so I grew up not knowing much else. I regularly participated in church and local school activities, absorbing most of the values and life goals to which I was exposed. And yet, from the very beginning there was a streak of independence within me that kept pushing to come out. I wanted to do my own thinking, to be my own person.
I had six brothers, no sisters. My next younger brother, Cornell, who of all my siblings I felt closest to, closest with respect to temperament and outlook as well as age, proved to have a profound influence upon my life; and I think I did upon his as well. As young men, we shared many heart-to-heart conversations. Cornell was a deep and honest thinker. There were times during his youth and young adulthood when he found himself struggling fiercely against what he considered unreasonable conventions and pressures upon him to conform. At one time he told me, head tilted back,
I care not what others think, it is to myself alone that I am responsible. Later, he succinctly summed up these and related feelings in a highly reflective journal he had started keeping, in these words:
I refuse to be standardized!
After a lingering illness and at the relatively young age of twenty-six, Cornell died. For a time prior to his passing, he was free in declaring himself to be an agnostic, occasionally even an avowed atheist. His ordeal and rebellion caused our parents great anguish, every bit as much for his mental/emotional struggle and loss of faith as for his physical suffering and loss of life. Although my own inner rebellion did not go as far as his, I clearly understood what Cornell meant by his stand against institutional pressures, by his disinclination to let himself become
standardized. I empathized with his struggle.
Earlier, during the summer of 1928, I joined Cornell and our father, in a most rewarding mountain-climbing experience: an ascent up the Grand Teton of western Wyoming. This magnificent peak stands some 13,766 feet above sea level. According to official records, only twenty-two earlier climbing parties had been successful in scaling it. Some had tried and failed and a few climbers had died in the attempt. Space here will not permit any detailed accounting of our climb. But it included such hair-raising adventures as these: ice-chipping for footholds on an outward sloping ledge that had to be crossed, with nothing below to catch us had we slipped; hanging by our fingers while accomplishing a hand-over-hand maneuver across a portion of a huge cliff, where a mistake would have meant falling for the rest of our lives; and much, much more. On several occasions we felt sorely tempted to give up. But we did not turn back, and the awe-inspiring views afforded us from the top, once we had achieved it, made us ever so thankful that we had not.
The experience just related produced a profound impact upon my young, impressionable, still-to-be-fully-defined personality. For one thing, it seemed to stimulate within me a creative urge that pressed for poetic expression. This was something new and it surprised me, but I let myself go. Here are two stanzas lifted from one such attempt. The poem's title, HORIZON'S BEYOND:
The heights above us beckon on
Until we reach the top
And then our vision lifts to more
We climb and never stop
But the higher up in life we go
(As on a mountain trail)
The more we see and understand
And beauties more unveil
Ah, dreams of happiness!
May you lead me true
May you teach me how to wait
And how to work life through
For I want to live as a man should live
And I want to play my part
So teach me to work and to love and to give
And to fight life through from the start--
To Horizon's Beyond
I used this same theme,
Horizon's Beyond, for my valedictory address at the 1928-1929 graduation exercises at Rick College, where I had been enrolled. Ricks was, and remains, a Mormon-operated junior college located in Rexburg Idaho. In addition to being chosen valedictorian that year, I also had served as Student Body President, a member of the debate team, and featured in the annual yearbook as the most Prominent Male Student of the Sophomore Class. Incidentally, being chosen valedictorian was the third such honor to eventually come my way. Earlier ones had been at grade school and high school graduations, and there was to be a fourth: at my yet-to-be-reached graduation from Brigham Young University in 1935.
Obtaining good grades in school has always been my lot. I attribute this more to hard work than anything else, more to plodding than to superior intelligence. From my earliest days that notion of having a purpose, seriously applying oneself, and assuming responsibility had been drilled into me by my parents, by religious leaders, teachers, and close associates. I always have been, and remain, an extremely conscientious person. Even too conscientious at times, I sometimes think. For while this characteristic is basically a positive trait as most would agree, it inclines me to be overly serious on occasions when what may be needed most is some frivolity.
At least three major life-goals were drilled into me during my formative years by the family and the religious culture into which I had been born: 1) to marry compatibly and rear a worthy family; 2) to be
successful in life, defined less in terms of acquiring wealth and more in making a
mark in the world via higher education; and 3) serving a full-time mission for my church. I was molded and shaped by the culture to accept each of these goals and to work towards their fulfillment. Nevertheless, as is common in Mormondom, the first two of these goals were expected to wait until the third one had been accomplished.
While I had some dating experience as an adolescent and even, on a couple of occasions, had become involved in fairly serious romantic attachments, I did not feel myself ready or would not permit myself to make any kind of love commitment until the mission expectation had been completed. To be sure, not every young pre-mission Mormon caught up in the emotions of courtship remains this firm to the Church commitment. But I felt almost compelled, it was putting
duty first. Similarly, I already had made a good start toward the educational goal. This process, I felt, could be interrupted without causing harm. My drives towards higher academic degrees could be held back until after the mission was over, a view encouraged both by my parents and my Church. Conscientious Harold!
So, a Mormon mission it was. I left for New Zealand in late 1929 and served there for a period of nearly four years, working mainly with the native Maori people. The usual term for a foreign mission that time was about two-and-one half years. Mine turned out to be longer due to receiving an exceptional appointment near the time I was preparing to return home: Acting Mission President. The regular president, who was elderly, had been forced by illness to return home. Furthermore, this was a time when number of missionaries located there had been greatly reduced due to the Great Depression. My new assignment kept me in New Zealand for an additional fifteen months.
On the whole I found my mission experience both challenging and rewarding. There were some discouragements and inner struggles to contend with. However in total, and in perspective, I tend to give it a strong plus. My firsthand exposure to a new and vastly different culture brought with it an enlarged understanding of peoples, their life ways, and their problems. Also, the later high-level administrative responsibilities of presiding over the entire mission at such a young age added maturity, helped shape and advance my professional career.
I can recognize in my missionary experience an early attraction to sociology as a field for study and of marriage and the family as a speciality within that field. Throughout my New Zealand stay, I found myself to be an atypical missionary. I followed an approach that was not so much scriptural as it was observational and analytic. More than trying to convert, I tried to reason with people and, when opportunity presented itself, to help them work through their personal and interactional problems. There were numerous occasions, for example, when I found myself faced with the task of trying to help solve a marital or family difficulty. And, while realizing that I probably was of some help, I nevertheless frequently felt inadequate in the attempt. This made me want to learn more about these things. Later on, upon returning to academic studies, I quite naturally found myself inclined to focus upon sociology and family as fields of study.
I enrolled at Brigham Young University soon after returning from New Zealand in the fall of 1933. I started out as a junior, having completed the freshman and sophomore levels at Ricks College some four years earlier. Wanting to make sure that my choice of a major was a good one, I took my time. This meant that most of that first year was filling group requirements, plus trying out elective courses that attracted me and that seemed to offer promising career opportunities. I even, at one time or another, considered such diverse options as Physics and Political Science. But my eventual selection, not made final until the beginning of my senior year, was Sociology, a decision I never have regretted.
On June 5, 1935, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree. Alice and I entered our marriage on that very same day. My academic record as an undergraduate had been sufficiently outstanding, along with active participation in extracurricular events, such as serving as Senior Class President, being on the debate team, and giving assembly talks, that I was invited to join the Sociology Faculty in the coming fall. I readily accepted.
By arrangement, my first two years on the faculty had me teaching only half-time in order to permit me to meet requirements for BYU's Master of Science degree. This was awarded in the spring of 1937. Then one year later, I was granted an extended leave-of-absence to enable me to accept a Fellowship and pursue graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin. It was not until the fall of 1940 that I returned to my duties at Brigham Young University. But since my dissertation was only part way along by then, I found it necessary to undertake a reduced teaching load for a year while pushing to complete my graduate work. Once the writing was out of the way, I returned to the Wisconsin campus for the final defense of the dissertation. In August of 1941, I was awarded the Doctor of Philosophy degree.
It was during my tenure at Brigham Young University, two years as an undergraduate and twelve on the faculty, that my career as a sociologist, most especially as a Family Sociologist, took shape. But before getting into that, I will discuss my years as a neophyte-professor and thus help set the stage for describing the accomplishments of my career. At Brigham Young University, I was recognized and functioned as Sociology Department head from the time of my return from Wisconsin in 1940. But there had been no formal listing of this role until the 1944-1945 catalogue appeared. As administrator, I was able over the years, with others, to both enlarge and strengthen the department in most of its aspects: the faculty, curriculum, class enrollments, and our core of majors and minors. A very important part of this strengthening was the permanent establishment of a masters degree program. Just a few years prior to this I had been the recipient of the first Master of Sociology degree.
As a teacher, I, as was required of all Brigham Young University instructors, handled a section of offerings sponsored by the Division of Religion. My particular assignment, which was a fortunate one, I thought, for it fit my interests and strengthened my emerging speciality in family studies, was a section of a course titled
Courtship and Marriage. Within the Sociology Department I handled my full share of the large introductory classes, plus several advanced and/or new courses which I felt sufficiently qualified to teach. Representative titles were
Sociology of the Family,
Social Statistics, and
In addition to carrying out my administrative and teaching responsibilities, I felt driven to give serious time and effort to research. So, I worked long hours, sometimes returning to my office on an evening or on weekends. I tried out little survey projects using students as subjects. And I would share the results with my classes, as well as other relevant research including aspects of my own completed masters thesis and doctoral dissertation, all of which enriched the instructional process. Thus, I saw myself developing as a research-oriented professor.
My ambition to develop myself professionally and to get ahead in my field led me to publish. By the time I left Brigham Young University in 1947, I had in print, mostly in standard sociological journals, some nine articles, with three additional ones scheduled to appear early in 1948. Of these twelve, three were based upon aspects of my masters thesis, which had pioneered the record-linkage approach for measuring patterns of child-spacing; two were based upon aspects of my doctoral dissertation, titled
Population Pressure Among Wisconsin Farmers; five based upon responses in the student surveys I had conducted; and the remaining two upon social-psychological and sociological aspects of World War II.
From the early-to-middle 1940s, all of America was being profoundly affected by Pearl Harbor and the events which followed. Brigham Young University and the Provo community were no exceptions. I was a part of the in-between-wars generation, too young to be drafted in World War I and too old for World War II. What is more, being married and having children only added to my deferment potential. While feeling greatly relieved overall, I at the same time occasionally had to fight against an annoying sense of guilt. So I tried to do what I could to help out. For example, during two of the summers and the academic year in between I moonlighted as a carpenter in the construction of the Geneva Steel Plant, near Provo, which was being rushed to completion as part of the war effort.
At the University, I planned and taught a new course titled
War and Society. I also organized and participated in a publicly-held faculty panel discussion called
War, Philosophy, and Atrocity. In addition, I found myself growing in demand as a public speaker within the larger community, the usual request being that I treat some aspect of the war theme. Here are a few examples of that activity:
Social Aspects of American Defense, given as a Founder's Day address at Ricks College;
Youth, War, and the Future, given at a meeting of the Provo Women's Literary League; and
The Social Impact of War on Utah, delivered at Weber State College in Ogden at the concluding symposium session of the Utah Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In September of 1943, Mayor Harding appointed a nine-member Provo Civic Welfare Committee, with me as its chairman, to
study the problems, determine facts, and make recommendations for improvements to the City Commission. We met biweekly, or more frequently as needed. The Committee readily achieved the respect of the community and of city officials and was given a good press. About one year prior to that appointment I had the privilege, together with four other faculty members, of making an on-site study-visit to one of the wartime relocation camps set up for Japanese Americans. This one was called Topaz and was located just a short distance from Delta, Utah. We saw the guard towers, the barbed-wire fences, the row upon row of plain and crowded barrack-like buildings sitting on dry, dusty ground, with very little vegetation in evidence. What we saw depressed us. But along with the dark side, we also observed occasional American flags hanging above some of the apartments front doors, and attempts at starting small gardens in the dry soil. We observed neatness in housekeeping despite the plainness and the crowding. Even more important, perhaps, we saw smiles, and detected in the manners of many what appeared to be a resolve to make the best of their forced detainment.
The work of our Provo Civic Welfare Committee had barely started when a most unfortunate racial incident took place right within our own community. At the request of Utah County, a group of Japanese internees had been temporarily moved from Topaz to a makeshift farm labor camp near Provo to help out with the harvesting of crops. One Saturday night a small group of Provo youth terrorized the camp by firing several shots into the tents. Fortunately no one was hit. The federal government responded quickly by requesting Mayor Harding to call a public meeting for determining if the Japanese could be protected or should be removed. I attended that meeting. And I was the one who put the resolution that asked for the apprehension and punishment of the terrorists involved, for the protection of the community's guest laborers, and for the discouragement of all forms of racial antagonism and discrimination. The resolution passed easily. The Mayor responded the very next day, declaring that armed guards would be placed at the camp and assuring its inhabitants that they would have full protection from the city. Soon afterward, the local newspaper carried a story reporting on a special meeting of our Provo Civic Welfare Committee, in which discrimination against any minority was declared to be
un-American, unscientific, and unnecessary.
My penchant for family studies started early and expanded dramatically throughout my stay at Brigham Young University. I remember an occasion during the early 1940s when I brought a radio to one of my family classes and adjusted it so students could listen to a special national broadcast featuring Evelyn Millis Duvall. Duvall, who, with Reuben Hill, was author of When You Marry, one of the first college textbooks on the subject. She was giving a series of public radio talks which was attracting wide attention. Predictably, this radio airing before my class captured strong student attention and the discussion was lively.
Evelyn Millis Duvall was also Administrative Secretary and the real power behind newly formed (1938) National Council on Family Relations, which was experiencing rapid growth and was pushing for the formation of State Councils to function as affiliates. Within Utah, interest in this new movement crystallized in the mid 1940s, largely brought about through a series of meetings initiated by sociologist Joseph A. Geddes of Utah State Agricultural College. These small gatherings involved a dozen or so educational, civic, and religious leaders who mainly represented organizations interested in finding ways to strengthen family life within the state. It was during the fall of 1946 that a Utah Council on Family Relations was formally organized, linked to the National Council. I was elected the group's first President.
As part of the Church's 1947 Centennial Celebration of the arrival of Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley, I organized a special series of family related events to take place on the Brigham Young University campus. An attractive brochure was prepared and given wide advance distribution. It listed the following: eight different college courses covering a wide range of family phenomena, to be offered during the first and second sessions of summer school; five separate evening forum presentations spread out over five weeks, each panel to be composed of a chairman, two faculty members, and two students; a week-long Family Life Institute involving, principally, five lectures by a visiting specialist from Doctor Paul Popenoe's popular, Los Angeles-based, American Institute of Family Relations; and the initial annual meeting of our newly organized Utah Council on Family Relations. This latter was to include a general session, a business luncheon, and a public symposium titled
What is Wrong with Modern Marriage? For the most part, each event went off smoothly and interest proved to be high.
I was privileged to serve as moderator for the above-mentioned public symposium. This, held in the new, large Joseph Smith Auditorium, attracted an overflow audience. The four panel members were: Mrs. C. Brooks Fry, the visiting specialist who was conducting our Family Life Institute; Doctor Lawrence Bee, who was Director of Marriage Counseling at Utah State Agricultural College; Doctor Virginia Cutler, who was Head of Home Economics at the University of Utah; and Doctor John A. Widstoe, who was a highly vocal and respected General Church Authority, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. Our approach was basically positive; yet at times, politely critical. For, among the topics covered we included open and frank discussions of such controversial concerns as birth control and family size, sensitive topics in Mormon culture.
Despite being regarded as somewhat controversial, perhaps even dangerous, by some of the more conservative Mormons, I was viewed by a significantly large number of others as being just interesting, challenging, and at the same time, constructive. And because of this apparent
vote of confidence, there was, for me, an abundance of growth-promoting and image-building opportunities. One category involved public speaking, both on and off campus. Another involved publishing. Earlier mention was made of my breaking into some of the professional journals. That, for the most part, resulted from my own initiative. I also turned to publishing opportunities afforded by standard Church outlets, which, in this case, came about by invitation. Three of my articles were published in The Improvement Era, now titled The Ensign, undoubtedly the most central of Latter-day Saint magazines. Four additional ones appeared in The Relief Society Magazine, which served the women's auxiliary of the Church.
While several of these seven articles gave focus to family matters, it was my three additional series of invited lesson materials that really helped me to blossom as a family scholar. Perhaps least significant of the series, was a three-lesson mimeographed packet used for awhile by some of the adult Special Interest Groups of the Mutual Improvement Association, the Church's auxiliary for youth and young adults. It was titled
Home Cooperation Between Parents and Children.
My second experience with authoring lesson materials for the Church came in preparing Social Service lessons for the Relief Society. Eventually, there were twenty-one covering a three-year period. They were published in
The Relief Society Magazine. The first year's set of seven, called
Foundations of Successful Marriage, was so well received that I was invited to continue with another fourteen lessons in the next two years. This second set dealt with aspects of social ethics. Despite the hard work involved, I found the job both challenging and particularly satisfying. Some illustrative lesson titles are these:
Freedom and Responsibility;
Honesty, the Core of Character; and
Brotherhood, the Key to Greatness.
While most of my writing for the Relief Society went through the Committee Review process with little editing and few requests for changes, I do well remember one controversy, which eventually and fortunately reached a
happy ending. Belle S. Spafford, then chairman of the Social Service Committee and later president of the Relief Society organization, had written me that in one of my lessons
the paragraph "Sterile Orthodoxy" came in for some very lively discussion and difference of opinion. I had used the phrase
sterile orthodoxy to emphasize the thought that too much emphasis upon mechanical conformity alone can leave one on the mere
fringe of righteousness. Here is part of what I said:
mechanical conformity alone . . . stifles the divine spark in man, the creative urge, and makes of him a mere robot or puppet that can be pushed around. Sometimes people lose the real spirit and substance of religion by over-stressing mechanical adherence to its forms alone. "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." II Corinthians 3:6). After further committee discussion and receiving the backing of Belle S. Spafford, the paragraph remained.
My most extensive and most rewarding lesson-writing project for the Church was a section of the General Sunday School manual published in 1946 titled The Latter-day Saint Family. I wrote the first thirty-six lessons, subtitled
The Church and Modern Marriage, and Archibald F. Bennett wrote the last twelve dealing with genealogy. In my section, the central approach was sociological and, to some extent, research-based within the general framework of Church values. Here is a listing of some of my chapter titles:
The Family in Trouble,
Cultivating the Graces of Courtship,
The Start and the Art of Marriage,
When Children Come,
Adjustment Problems of the Modern Woman,
Making Marriage Succeed, and
New Horizons for the Family.
Several thousand copies of my own one hundred and forty-three page portion of this manual were reprinted separately and, for a number of years, used as the textbook for existing sections of Brigham Young University's religion class in Courtship and Marriage. Its cover, of course, carried my name as author and The Church and Modern Marriageas its title. This was my first published book.
In the late summer of 1947 I moved my family to West Lafayette, Indiana, subsequent to accepting a position at Purdue University, which appeared to offer me new challenges and greater opportunities for professional development. It was with mixed feelings that we left the familiar surroundings of Mormon culture. The years that followed gave ample proof that this decision, difficult at the time, was a good one. I never have had regrets concerning this move. I remained at Purdue for a full twenty-eight years before retiring and being named Professor Emeritus. Then, one year after that, and with all of our children launched, Alice and I moved westward again, this time to La Jolla, California; where we now reside.
My appointment at Purdue carried a dual title: Head of the Sociology Section of the Division of Education and Applied Psychology; and professor in the Department of Child Development and Family Life, which was a part of the School of Home Economics. The expectations for me were that I would, first, build up the sociology discipline to a respectable academic level; and second, coordinate and strengthen the sociology and child development units. This last-named goal was achieved rather satisfactorily to the point of attracting wide attention from other campuses experiencing similar problems of interdepartmental rivalry over the then emerging field of marriage and family life education. We accomplished coordination and harmony and by carefully planning together and by cross-listing selected catalogue offerings. This meant that class instruction for these courses was supplied by both departmental units with students coming from both sides of the isle, so to speak. Class registration and established academic credit, however, went according to the respective unit from which each student came. I continued in this dual role until about the mid 1950s, at which time I dropped my official connection with Home Economics (while at the same time remaining cooperative and collaborative) for the simple reason that our sociology program was developing so rapidly that it required my full attention.
As to my role in the building of a sociology program at Purdue, here is a brief overview. At the time of my arrival in 1947 there was no sociology department as such and very few sociology courses. Furthermore, the courses that did exist had been set up mainly as service offerings to other departments. Also, graduate work within the field was nonexistent. But by the time I relinquished administrative duties some fifteen years later to enable me to function as a full-time teaching and research scholar, sociology had been given departmental status, the faculty had been strengthened and enlarged, the curriculum reworked and greatly expanded, and graduate programs leading to the M.S. and the Ph.D. had been formally established. By that point in time the department could claim approximately thirty full-time faculty members who served some fifty to sixty graduate students, plus significant numbers of undergraduate majors and minors. Our program had become known and recognized far and wide; sociology at Purdue had attained both a national and international reputation.
An important component to this development was my own work within the family field. I had maintained a strong interest in family matters almost since childhood and had gained visibility as a family scholar during my years at Brigham Young University. Furthermore, my initial Purdue assignment was in part to help develop family studies at that campus. Thus, maintaining a professional interest in family matters came to me quite naturally. It was at Purdue that my lifelong career really took off, and my reputation as a sociologist, particularly family sociologist, really blossomed. Any listing of my lifelong professional activities relating to the family field would include the following:
--Teaching regular university classes on the subject, adding new courses as appropriate and adjusting the content of existing ones in order to stay at the forefront of ever-expanding knowledge.
--Working with both undergraduate and graduate students, but especially the latter when their academic focus became family studies. In the role of major professor, I mentored over a dozen master and/or doctoral candidates to the completion of their degrees. Several of these joined me in coauthoring articles relating to aspects of my own long-range family research interests. And a few, independent of me, have continued to be productive of scholarly work on family topics. Leanor Boulin Johnson, for example, has recently coauthored, with Robert Staples, a new book entitled The Black Family.
--Bringing to the Purdue campus for public lectures or for temporary teaching assignments, a number of eminent scholars whose work was known to be related to the family field. These included such established scholars as Ernest W. Burgess, William F. Ogburn, Kingsley Davis, John Money, Alfred C. Kinsey, and Margaret Mead.
--Responding to numerous lectures and/or committee or workshop invitations. They covered a wide range of audiences: PTA groups and school teachers or administrators on the local level, and on the national, such as discussing aspects of my premarital sex research at an annual session of the American Medical Association held in Florida.
--Pursuing my own research and publication interests, which frequently meant extra hours of work during some of the evenings, early mornings, or weekends. Lifetime publications of mine include six books, nineteen chapters within other books, sixty-seven articles in professional sources, four pamphlets or bulletins, and thirty-two book reviews. The majority of these--but not all--were focused upon family studies.
--Participating in meetings of relevant professional organizations. Those of the American Sociological Association, for example, were seldom missed. But there were other national and international groups that I affiliated with as well. In a few of these associations I held office, and read papers at the meetings. I was President of the National Council of Family Relations during 1960-1961. And just prior to that elected office I was editor for a three-year period of its primary journal, Marriage and Family Living. Also, I frequently attended meetings of the prestigious Groves Conference on Marriage and the Family and, at times, presented papers. Furthermore, it was mostly through my efforts that two meetings of NCFR and Groves were brought to the Purdue campus: the Groves Conference in 1954 and an annual NCFR conference in 1957.
I attended and participated in: (1) meetings of the International Union of Family Organizations held in Paris, France, 1958; in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1963; and in Liege, Belgium, 1973; (2) Meetings of the International Sociological Association held in Stresa, Italy, 1959; Washington D.C., 1962; Evian, France, 1966; Varna, Bulgaria, 1970; Toronto, Canada, 1974; and Upsalla, Sweden, 1978; (3) Meetings of the International Seminar of Family Research, some of which took place in conjunction with the ISA gatherings, but also two held separately--in Wageninen, Holland, 1957 and Moscow, USSR, 1972; and (4) a meeting of the Third International Seminar on Gender Identity held in Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia, 1973. At many of these gathering I presented papers.
Purdue granted me three official sabbatical leaves of absence: first, for 1957-58 to accept a Fulbright Research Fellowship at the University of Copenhagen, to study Scandinavian family culture; second, for the first semester of 1964-65 to visit various countries around the world, primarily touching upon family welfare; also, during the second semester of that school year I served as Visiting Professor at the University of Hawaii; and third, for the second semester of 1971-1972 to accept a Visiting Scholar appointment at the University of California, Irvine, pursuing my own research-and-writing interests.
Finally, I had the privilege of accepting some six separate summertime Visiting Professorships which gave me experience on other campuses: the Pennsylvania State University in 1949; the University of Utah in 1951; the University of California, Berkeley, in 1956; Brigham Young University in 1961, and again in 1967; and Northern Michigan University in 1971. In addition, I served as Visiting Professor at San Diego State University, California, during the first semester of 1976-1977, which followed my retirement. Each of these off-campus appointments--except the first-named where my assignment was to teach Rural Sociology--found me teaching classes on family life education and/or family sociology.
Although the above listing is long--much too long for any detailing here--it does perhaps give insight into some of the major thrusts and accomplishments of my professional career. Yet, even this listing is full of gaps; it entirely misses certain other items that could have been--perhaps should have been--included for the picture to be complete. Because of space limitation, however, they must be ignored. So my plan is to conclude the discussion by pointing up just two areas of accomplishment, areas that seem of primary importance and for which I would like to be remembered: (1) my Cross-cultural research and (2) my editing of the Handbook of Marriage and the Family.
Cross-cultural Research.Broadly speaking, the term research refers to systematic inquiry into the nature of any phenomenon. It is through a particular kind of research, however--scientific research--that modern man has achieved his greatest feats. Science requires that investigation be based upon empirical and measurable data, that it be as objective or value-free as possible, and that its findings be subject to verification. Social Science, perhaps mainly because of the so-called
soft nature of its data, has advanced more slowly than have the physical and biological sciences. But it has advanced. And I am among those who believe that it will continue to do so insofar as it follows the rigors of the scientific method.
I view myself as a social scientist, more narrowly as a sociologist, and most narrowly as a family sociologist. My chief focus as a family scholar has been along lines of cross-cultural research. This focusing began soon after my arrival at Purdue, at which time I became interested in comparing certain of my earlier Utah findings with comparable family data that could be gathered in Indiana. Olive Bowden, a masters degree candidate at Purdue, worked with me and we completed the project--which linked official marriage records with the records of first births within a marriage, to get at the phenomenon of child spacing. Approximately one decade later, I was granted a Fulbright Research Fellowship to study comparable aspects of the Danish family system. So I spent the 1957-1958 academic year attached to the University of Copenhagen, gathering data and laying groundwork for making on-going comparisons across three vastly different cultures: sexually restrictive Mormon culture within America's Intermountain west; sexually moderate Midwestern culture within America's heartland; and sexually permissive Danish culture which is more or less typical of all of Scandinavia.
The spread across cultures has enabled me to test important hypotheses and to make theoretical statements that have proven helpful in the building of family theory. Since first launching the cross-cultural project I tended to research premarital sex over the life course of my career. Half of my subsequently published articles have drawn upon this earlier work, and the substantive focus of this research as already indicated was premarital sex. Not sex in any popular or sensational sense, but only in a statistical or comparative, or one might say, sociological sense. In other words, sex without titillation. I was interested in determining both the attitudes and the behaviors that surround premarital sex; and, what is even more important, in relating those findings to the differing cultural norms, and further relating any discrepancies between actual behavior and the cultural norms which proscribe such behavior, to possible effects or consequences that these discrepancies seem to produce.
Methods employed were two: record linkage and use of the questionnaire. Interviews were conducted to establish reliability and to reach deeper into meanings and interpretations. I gathered the Danish record-linkage data and then did comparisons between them and comparable data previously obtained from the Intermountain and Midwestern samples. I also developed the Danish questionnaire data. George R. Carpenter, a Ph.D. candidate at Purdue, administered and collected questionnaires for the two American samples. By using two methods instead of just one, with each complementing and supplementing the other, I was able to double-check and thus reinforce my findings and generalizations.
It was at Brigham Young University during the late 1930s, while working on my masters thesis, that I first explored record-linkage as a method for research. I began by extracting names, dates, and other data from official marriage and birth records for Utah County, Utah. Then I matched and cross-referenced the separate record sets to produce new information. For example, I was able to measure patterns of spacing of first child from time of marriage and to relate these patterns to such factors as age at marriage and civil versus religious ceremony. Subsequently I added divorce records to the matching process, using divorce as an index of marriage failure.
The record-linkage approach was applied to each of the three samples studied. The method has the advantage of avoiding the possibilities of refusal to respond and falsification of response, a problem in research using questionnaires. I have been credited with doing pioneer work in record-linkage, an approach which, especially since the ushering in of the computer age, has been expanding in both usage and in type and number of records utilized, particularly by government agencies.
In our cross-cultural research, the questionnaire approach supplemented and complemented record-linkage, by obtaining attitudes and behavior not accessible in marriage, birth, and divorce records. Administration of these instruments took place within selected but essentially comparable classes found within three universities, one each from the cultures studied. Extreme care was taken at every stage: formulating questions that appeared meaningful; wording them to avoid ambiguity; revising as needed, after pretesting on both sides of the Atlantic; explaining to prospective respondents the scientific nature of the study as well as the intended anonymity of response; and then asking for cooperation to insure success--while at the same time making it clear that anyone was privileged to quietly leave the room should he or she not care to respond. Overall response turned out to be almost one-hundred percent. (Detailed explanations of methodological issues and procedures are to be found in several of the published articles.)
Samples were selected from three widely differing areas: Utah, Indiana, and Denmark. The research was carried out during 1958. The questionnaire portion of the 1958 study was repeated in 1968 and again in 1978. This has enabled both longitudinal and cross-cultural analysis. Several published articles have reported on both aspects. For the replications, the questionnaire remained unchanged, with reliance upon others for administering it in Denmark and Utah.
There were numerous findings from the cross-cultural research. One is most salient to the development of family theory. While virtually all of both my attitudinal and behavioral measures pictured the Utah culture to be most conservative and the Danish culture most permissive with Indiana in a middle position, it was in the highly restrictive Utah/Mormon culture where the negative
effects or consequencesof premarital sex were the greatest. This took the form of feelings of guilt accompanying premarital coitus (questionnaire data) and subsequent divorce following premarital pregnancy (record-linkage data). It appears that while a culture's restrictive sex norms can reduce a disapproved behavior it is done at a price. It is when one's values are violated that negative consequences tend to be most pronounced. I have called this proposition THE PRINCIPLE OF VALUE RELEVANCE.
Of the special professional recognitions that have come to me throughout my career, the one most pleasurable was receiving the prestigious Burgess Research Award. This honor was given to me by the National Council on Family Relations at its 1967 meeting. It included a certification which read
Presented to Harold T. Christensen, in recognition of continuous and meritorious contributions to theory and research in the family field. The award carried with it an expectation that I would prepare and deliver a paper at NCFR's next annual meeting. The paper, titled
Normative Theory Derived from Cross-Cultural Family Research, was later published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family(May, 1969, pp. 209-222).
The recognition just described came about, in part at least, because of my ongoing, systematic, comparative research. But another important consideration grew out of my role in the production of the Handbook of Marriage and the Family. It was sometime during the early 1960s that Edgar F. Borgattaa, sociologist and editor of Rand McNealy's Sociology Series, approached me and asked that I take on the editing of a projected handbook covering the marriage and family field. At first I was reluctant, because of pressure I then was under and because I could see that the job, as he defined it, would require considerable time and dedication. So I suggested other names. But he persisted. Eventually I consented, realizing the importance of such a project and feeling a little flattered to be invited.
The undertaking required a great deal of time and dedication, although eventually it came to an end. The new and first ever Handbook of Marriage and the Familycame off the press during the late summer of 1964. It involved twenty-five authors and added up to twenty-four separate chapters for a total of 1028 pages. The chapters were organized into five major divisions or sections: I - Theoretical Orientations; II - Methodological Developments; III - The Family in Its Social Setting; IV - Member Roles and Internal Processes; and V - Applied and Normative Interests. Each chapter was followed by an exhaustive bibliography covering the subject it treated. I authored the first chapter, titled
Development of the Family Field of Study, and also the last, titled
The Intrusion of Values.
In the preface I have attempted to explain what the book is all about--why the need and how it is approached:
This book will not have a popular appeal: it is not a how-to-do-it manual for the layman explaining the way to success in ten easy lessons, or anything like that. Rather, it is a serious, systematic analysis of the subject under treatment, aimed at the professional worker in the field. . . . Although family phenomena have been exposed to serious study for approximately a century, it is only in recent years that the rigors of the scientific method have come to be applied to them, and it is only now that scholars are starting to concern themselves with the integration of disjointed materials and with systematic theory building. . . . We have wanted to know where we have been, where we are, where we are going, and how to get there--as a profession. . . . Honest self-examination, such as this, is a prerequisite to any coming of age of the field.
The editing process included these steps: (1) preparing a prospectus which spelled out the purpose, gave a tentative outline, and stated the proposed approach; (2) circulating this to a few leaders in the field for their reactions and suggestions, and revising it accordingly; (3) selecting top scholars in the field as prospective authors and sending them the prospectus, along with inviting participation and requesting that their proposed outlines be sent back to me; (4) reconciling the submitted outlines one with another, then revising my overall outline and returning it to the authors so that each could see how his own writing would fit in with what others would be doing; (5) receiving and carefully editing the manuscripts; and (6) following up in the few cases where a person might decide to pull out, or where there were excessive delays in meeting deadlines, or where there was need for extensive changes and/or a rewrite. All in all, I came to realize that the process was demanding an inordinate amount of correspondence from me, involving some of the authors more than others, of course, not only to follow through on corrections but also to iron out gaps and overlaps and to insure minimum uniformity as well as systematic coverage.
More than anything else, perhaps, it was the Handbook that did the most to build my reputation as a student of the family institution. This was a pioneer undertaking in theory- building and it became widely used, especially by university graduate students starting to specialize within the field, and by more seasoned scholars as well. There even were a few copies known to have turned up in faraway places throughout the world. I was told by a few users that they regarded it as the
Bible of family studies.
At the time of my Purdue retirement in 1975 a prominent fellow family scholar wrote to me as follows:
Although I cannot be present at the banquet I want you to know that in my opinion you are one of two or three giants who were responsible for bringing family sociology to its maturity. More than any other influence the Handbook established the field as a viable, cohesive scholarly domain. Every subsequent effort must date from this foundation and I feel confident that future historians of the field will cite its publication as marking the ending of one era and the beginning of another.
Your work, more than anyone else introduced social theory into the chaotic field of sex research which, prior to your contributions was virtually limited to descriptive studies. In this area you have set a standard which every subsequent scholar must find difficult to achieve.
Well, okay. The statement does impress me as a bit much, but, okay.
It is now April 1993, as I end this somewhat brief account of my life's work. At eighty-four years of age, I find myself still living with Alice, my original partner, who, with her intellect, cooperative spirit, energy, and cheerfulness, continues to lift my spirits and to feed me in ways that reach beyond the realm of physical needs alone. So I guess one could say, and rightly so, that we still are in love, after all of these years. I should point out too that, as a bonus, Alice and I now revel in the blessings of five married children, three daughters-in-law, two sons-in-law, and eighteen grandchildren.
As I see it, my professional and personal family interests have, for the most part, been mutually reinforcing. I believe that I have been a more effective marriage and family teacher, researcher, and to some extent--theory builder than could otherwise have been possible without the practical experience of being a husband, father, and even grandfather to draw upon and against which to test myself. Conversely, I believe that I have been a better family man than I otherwise would have been had I functioned without the insights of my profession. All in all, I consider myself fortunate indeed. I have enjoyed a lifetime of satisfactions, both personal and professional. There have been mistakes along the way, to be sure, and an occasional disappointment. But I have enjoyed my share of successes too. Life has been good to me.
From the Series: 7 boxes
Other Finding Aids note
While this finding aid provides only a series and sub-series level description, a more detailed finding aid is available in print in the repository.
Other Finding Aids
File-level inventory available online. http://files.lib.byu.edu/ead/XML/MSS1529.xml
- Brigham Young University -- Faculty
- Christensen, Harold T. -- Archives
- Cross-cultural studies -- Utah -- Provo -- History -- Chronology
- Home and Family
- Purdue University -- Faculty
- Social Life and Customs
- Souvenirs (Keepsakes)
- University of Wisconsin -- Faculty