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Conference has grown from humble beginnings in 1830

Published: Monday, Oct. 5 2009 12:17 a.m. MDT

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform during conference.

Deseret News Archives

General conference is a tradition for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that dates from earliest days of the church.

The church's first conference was held on June 9, 1830, with all 27 members of the church gathered at the Peter Whitmer farmhouse in Fayette, N.Y., where the church had been organized two months earlier.

From its humble beginnings, general conference has become a semiannual ritual for Salt Lake City, as crowds flock to Temple Square.

This past weekend, 179 years later, a congregation of 21,000 packed into the Conference Center for each of the two-hour conference sessions, while others attended in overflow locations or lingered on Temple Square.

Throughout the decades, Deseret News photographers have taken pictures at conference, including photos of church leaders and historic events. Photo researcher Ron Fox has retrieved many of these photos, which can now be seen at the newspaper Web site, www.deseretnews.com.

An April 1911 photo demonstrates that conference was a popular gathering site well before the electronic era. Crowds dressed in their Sunday best mill around Temple Square, and in the background a sign has been posted on the gate with this warning: "Beware of pickpockets."

A photo taken in 1963, when President Thomas S. Monson was named a church apostle, is a group portrait of the Quorum of the Twelve that includes seven men who would later become presidents of the church.

General conference has changed over the years.

The first conference sessions in Salt Lake City were held in October 1848 in the Bowery, an outdoor structure of poles and pine boughs that had been erected a week after the Mormon pioneers arrived in the valley. Until the Tabernacle was completed in 1875, most conferences were held in a series of such outdoor structures.

Those early conference sessions were suspenseful.

The April 19, 1851, Deseret News delivered conference news in the form of minutes and reported the following:

"J.M. Grant then made a call for volunteers to go to Iron County, and requested those persons who were appointed last fall to go and fulfil that appointment. Anso Call gave a short review of what had been done towards settling that country.

"Pres't. Kimball then called several by name, when 37 persons agreed to go."

The April 15, 1857, Deseret News reports the following about the April 6 session of conference that year:

"Names of persons selected to go on missions were read."

In the afternoon session, "Prest. H.C. Kimball spoke on the principle of union; notified the missionaries to be here on the 22d inst. with their handcarts, provisions and means ready for going directly to their fields of labor."

As a rule, general conference sessions have been held in Salt Lake City with rare exceptions.

In April 1877, general conference was held in the meeting room in the top floor of the St. George Temple, and the temple was dedicated during the first session.

In 1885, while federal authorities were pursuing church leaders who were in violation of the Edmund Act outlawing polygamy, both the April and October conferences were held in Logan. In 1886 the April session was held in Provo, and the October session met in Coalville. The April session of 1887 was also held in Provo, but conference returned to Salt Lake City for good in October of that year.

Beginning in 1923, the entire two-day conference was broadcast live. The first televised broadcast was in 1949, and starting in 1999, live audio and video broadcasts have been available on the Internet.

Starting in 2000, general conference sessions have been held in the Conference Center, which was dedicated in the October session that year.

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com

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