Adapted from LDS Biographical Encyclopedia
John A. Widtsoe was a prominent Educator in the state
of Utah and Elder in the Church, even before being called to serve in the
Council of the Twelve. The resident of Logan, Cache county, Utah, was the
son of John A. Widtsoe and Anna C. Gaatden, and was born Jan. 31, 1872,
on the island of Frøya, Trondhjem amt, Norway.
He was baptized April 3,1884 by Elder Anthon L. Skanchy,
and in 1884 he emigrated to Utah, together with his mother and younger
brother, and located in Logan, Cache county. From the time he first became
connected with the Church, he took an active part in its affairs, and was
always a zealous worker in whatever capacity he has been called to serve.
Brother Widtsoe was from early youth possessed of
a keen desire for knowledge, and at an early age he became a student in
the Brigham Young College at Logan, from which school he graduated in 1891.
He then entered Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., and in 1894 graduated
with the highest honors. During 1894-98 he gave instructions as professor
of chemistry in the Agricultural College, Logan.
Aug. 5, 1898, he was ordained to the office of a
Seventy and set apart to do missionary work in connection with his studies
in Europe. He entered the University of Goettingen, Germany, and after
applying himself diligently to his studies he graduated from that institution,
with the degrees of A. M. Ph.D. in 1899. Elder Widtsoe also made trips
to Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and France in the interests of his studies
On his return to Utah, in 1900, he was made director
of the experiment station of the State Agricultural College, Logan. His
special branch of study was chemistry, and he earned a splendid record
in that field. A number of his experiments and researches attracted the
attention of many scientific men at some of the leading institutions of
Professor Widtsoe acted as director of the Utah Experiment
Station from 1900 to 1905, director of the Department of Agriculture in
the Brigham Young University at Provo from 1905 to 1907, president of the
Utah Agricultural College from 1907 to 1916, and became president of the
University of Utah in 1916. He organized and conducted the first farmers'
institutes in the State of Utah, served as president of the International
Dry Farming Congress at a session held at Lethbridge, Canada, and was chosen
as an officer at various times of the Irrigation Congress. He was the senior
member of the State Board of Education, was a member (and was for several
years president) of the State Board of Horticulture, was a member of the
Utah State Conservation Commission from the time of its organization, acted
as chairman and member of the Utah Committee to Commemorate irrigation.
During World War I he was a member of the Utah State
Council of Defense, chairman of the Food Production Committee of Salt Lake
City and of the Irrigation Committee of the Food Administration. Dr. Widtsoe
contributed much to literature; thus he was the author of "Principles of
Irrigation Practice," 'Concordance" to the Doctrine and Covenants (published
in 1906), "Joseph Smith as a Scientist" (published in 1908), "Dry Farming"
(published in 1911), and "Rational Theology" (published in 1915). He wrote
several manuals and popular articles on gospel subjects, besides numerous
technical and popular articles on scientific subjects, upwards of forty
bulletins on irrigation, dry farming, soils, etc.
In a Church capacity Dr. Widtsoe acted as secretary
of a Priests quorum, counselor in the presidency of an Elders quorum, Stake
secretary of Elders, member of a Stake Sunday school board, president of
local Y. M. M. I. A., teacher, officer and superintendent of Ward Sunday
schools and teacher and president of a Seventies quorum. For many years
he acted as a member of the General Board of Y. M. M. I. A. Dr. Widtsoe
ranked as one of Utah's foremost educators, and was one of the best informed
Elders in the Church on doctrine and Church organization.
On June 1, 1898 Elder Widtsoe married Leah Eudora Dunford (daughter
of Alma Dunford and Susa Young), who was born Feb. 24, 1874, in Salt Lake
City, Utah, and is a grand-daughter of President Brigham
Young. Seven children were born to them, namely, Anna G., John Andreas,
Karl Marcel, Mark Adriel, Helen, Mary and Leah Eudora.
Elder Widsoe was called as President of the British
Mission from 1927 to 1928. He was named one of the directors of the Genealogical
Society of Utah in 1921,
At the age of forty-nine, Elder Widsoe was Ordained
an Apostle and set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve on March
17, 1921 by President Heber J. Grant. He served with honor and distinction
in that body bringing his academic and intellectual credentials along with
a great spiritual depth and theological understanding.
In 1939 Elder Widtsoe compiled and wrote Priesthood
and Church Government under the direction of the First Presidency.
This work was a compilation of statements and policies concerning the operating
organization of the Church and the functioning of the Priesthood therein.
For over a generation it was the most authoritative work available to the
public and most priesthood bearers had a copy in their homes. It remains one
of the all-time best sellers in the field of LDS publishing.
Elder Widtsoe died November 20, 1952 at Salt Lake
City, Utah. He was eighty years of age.