Covenant Communications

As young men, each of the presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had to figure out schooling, family and missions — and some even served in the military. Eventually, each had a woman who caught his eye, whether a childhood sweetheart or a woman seen at a dance or driving in a red convertible.

As each man figured out how to pursue the woman he would marry, the circumstances sometimes required creativity.

The stories of how the couples came to be can be found in the 126-page book “Courtships of the Prophets” by Mary Jane Woodger and Paulette Preston Yates (Covenant Communications, 2015.)

Here are a few of the courtship and dating experiences of nine of the presidents of the LDS Church that are shared in “Courtships of the Prophets.”

David O. McKay and Emma Ray Riggs McKay
Deseret News Archives

David O. McKay and his siblings rented a cottage for two years while they attended school at the University of Utah, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.” It was located on Second West in Salt Lake City and was behind the home of Emma Louisa Riggs and her family. While David admired her daughter, Emma Ray, as she was called, from afar, and occasionally teased her, he didn’t ask her out. He went out with other women, and she had become engaged.

When he received his mission call, he realized Emma Ray might not be around when he returned, and that spurred him to write to her and invite her to a going-away party, which she attended.

During a drive through Ogden Canyon, he told her of his feelings, and she agreed to write. He left in August 1897 and they exchanged letters, but there was a yearlong absence of letters because of a misunderstanding.

She took a teaching job in Ogden in the summer of 1899, and his letters were vague about when he was going to return home. When she heard he was coming, she was at a family reunion on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. She convinced her family to help rig a rowboat with a sail so she could meet him at the train station, according to the book.

They were married on Jan. 2, 1901, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Photo: President David O. McKay and Sister Emma Ray McKay celebrating their 62nd wedding anniversary in June of 1962.

Howard W. Hunter and Clara May Jeffs Hunter
Provided by the LDS Church History Library

Young Howard W. Hunter hitchhiked to California and did various jobs before working at the Bank of Italy and taking night classes. Thanks to his quick wit and friendliness, he made friends with a group who “shared his religious values and his zest for life,” according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

Among this group was Alma Nelson “Ned” Redding, who also worked at the bank, and Clara May Jeffs, whose friends called her Claire.

Howard and his friends went to a formal dance put on by the LDS Church. Ned took Claire, and Howard took a date, too. After the dance, their group went down to the beach. The women “tiptoed into the water,” but the men decided to go for a late-night swim while the women waited in the cars, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

When Howard couldn’t find his tie, Claire stayed and helped him find it on the beach.

They dated sporadically, and it was Claire who asked him to a dance and then later sent him a valentine, hoping to move things along.

After a three-year courtship, the couple married in the Salt Lake Temple on June 10, 1931. Claire passed away in 1983.

It was seven years later, on April 12, 1990, when President Howard W. Hunter, then president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, announced in the quorum’s weekly meeting that he was going to be married that afternoon. Aside from President Gordon B. Hinckley, to perform President Hunter’s sealing to Inis Staton, and President Thomas S. Monson, to be a witness, “no one else was invited” from the quorum, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

Howard W. Hunter met Claire Jeffs in Southern California. They were married and raised a family there before his call to service in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

George Albert Smith and Lucy Emily Woodruff Smith

George Albert Smith was 10 when he first met Lucy Emily Woodruff and knew “that he would love her forever,” according to “Courtships of the Prophets.” She was assigned to sit at the desk in front of him, and he would sometimes tease her. At one point, he decided to get her attention by dipping her braids in the inkwell, according to the book.

As they grew older, he stopped teasing her to get her attention, and she had several admirers, some of which were more well-to-do than George and his family.

Lucy and George wrote letters to each other, especially when George was working as a traveling salesman and serving a short-term mission, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.” Lucy was dating another man and couldn’t decide between him and George, and George asked her to make a decision even if it broke his heart.

She ultimately decided on George Albert Smith, and they were married in the Manti Utah Temple on May 25, 1892, as the Salt Lake Temple wasn’t open yet.

Photo: George Albert Smith’s wife, Lucy Smith, at age 19.

Spencer W. Kimball and Camilla Eyring Kimball
Deseret News archives

A young Spencer W. Kimball was determined to get to know Camilla Eyring and moved home to Thatcher, Arizona, in the late summer of 1917, where she was teaching at Gila Academy, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

He had a narrow window of time to get to know her before going back to school. He found she was living with her parents in Pima and rode the jitney bus to the academy. He would show up at the bus stop the same time Camilla did, under the pretense of visiting his friend Lawrence.

Camilla wrote, “We sat together on the bus and discussed Shakespeare and similar highbrow subjects, each hoping to impress the other,” according to the book.

The couple married that November while Spencer, who had been drafted, was waiting to leave with his contingent. Later, they received word that his orders were indefinitely delayed.

They were sealed in the temple in June of the following year.

Photo: A wedding photo of Spencer W. Kimball and Camilla Eyring.

Thomas S. Monson and Frances Beverly Johnson Monson
LDS Church

President Thomas S. Monson first saw Frances Beverly Johnson at the first dance he attended at the University of Utah as a freshman. When he saw her, he thought, “There’s a girl I want to meet,” according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

He didn’t meet her until days later when he ran into her standing with others, and he asked himself: “Do I have the courage? Do I have the faith?”

He went up and talked to the group, which included one young man Tom had been classmates with. Once Tom had Frances’ name, he looked her up, and “after waiting a respectable two days, he called and asked her out for a date that weekend.”

He later said “that decision would be the most important decision he had ever made,” according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

They continued to date, and he met her family, who connected him to the missionary that helped teach the Johnson family in Sweden. He also joined the Naval reserves during World War II and was away in San Diego for basic training.

The couple married in the Salt Lake Temple on Oct. 7, 1948.

Photo: Thomas S. Monson and Frances J. Monson on their wedding day, Oct. 7, 1948. The two were married in the Salt Lake Temple four years after they first met.

Harold B. Lee and Fern Lucinda Tanner Lee

Sister Fern Tanner had been a missionary in the Western States Mission for two weeks and three days when she met a newly arrived elder named Harold B. Lee on Nov. 14, 1920, which was also her 24th birthday, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

She was released as a missionary in July 1922. After Harold was released as a missionary in December 1922, he passed through Utah on the way home to Idaho and stopped by her home in Granger, where he saw her and met her family.

A couple months after returning home, he developed a hernia, and the surgery was to be performed in Salt Lake City, moving him closer to Fern. He was able to see her every day as he was invited to recuperate at the Tanner home, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

Later that year, he attended classes at the University of Utah and was in the Salt Lake area to court her. The couple married on Nov. 23, 1923, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Fern passed away in 1962, and Harold later married Freda Joan Jensen.

Photo: President Harold B. Lee served as president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1972-1973.

Ezra Taft Benson and Flora Amussen Benson
Provided by the LDS Church History Library

In the fall of 1920, Ezra Taft Benson was in Logan to check out the Utah State Agriculture College, now known as Utah State University, when he saw “a very attractive and beautiful” woman drive by in a red Ford convertible, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

Flora Amussen waved to Ezra and his cousin as she was headed to the dairy to pick up some milk, and she waved and smiled at the two men when she saw them on the way back.

He told his cousin that he was going to date the popular woman when he came to the school, and his cousin laughed, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

Just a few weeks later, Flora was visiting a friend, Ann Dunkley (Ezra’s cousin), in Whitney, Idaho, and attended the same ward as the Bensons. Ezra’s uncle Joseph, Ann’s father, suggested that Erza drive the two women on their requested trip to see the Lava Hot Springs, which worked in Ezra’s favor.

When he went to school, he asked her to a dance, undeterred by the fact that she had turned down others due to responsibilities she had during the intermission because she was student body vice president. He said he “didn’t mind sitting out a dance or two,” according to the book.

Flora was enamored with Ezra, but he had competition from others vying for her. He served a mission from 1921 to 1923, and when he arrived home, he rekindled his relationship with Flora. She decided to serve a mission and left in August 1924 for her assignment in Hawaii. He took a heavy course load at Brigham Young University in Provo to finish school by the time she returned in June 1926.

The couple got engaged on July 12, 1926, and were married on Sept. 10, 1926, in the Salt Lake Temple.

President Ezra Taft Benson and his wife, Flora A. Benson, walk and greet children.

Gordon B. Hinckley and Marjorie Pay Hinckley
Gerry Avant, Deseret News

Growing up on Seventh South Street in Salt Lake City, Gordon B. Hinckley and Marjorie Pay lived across the street from each other. However, because they went to different high schools and the Hinckleys spent the summers in East Millcreek, among other reasons, Marjorie wasn’t aware of Gordon until her senior year of high school, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

Gordon, who first noticed Marjorie when she was 8, invited her to the Gold and Green Ball, an important social event in LDS circles at the time. After that, she was aware of him, and their relationship continued and blossomed, according to the book.

Gordon was called to serve a mission in England in June 1933, and the couple wrote to each other during the two years he was serving.

After returning home, Gordon opted out of the Hinckley family trip to Yellowstone to spend time getting reacquainted with Marjorie, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on April 29, 1937.

President Gordon B. Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie, in front of Mexico City temple in 1983.

Joseph Fielding Smith and Louie Emily Shurtliff Smith
Provided by the LDS Church History Library

Joseph Fielding Smith was a “quiet introvert” who liked to read, according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

It was in part due to his shyness that it took two years for him to ask out Louie Emily Shurtliff, who was in Salt Lake City for a three-year course at the University of Utah to become a teacher. Their fathers were friends, and she was staying at the Smiths’ home during her studies.

It was love at first sight for him, but he wasn’t sure how to go about a courtship and was surprised when she accepted the date, according to the book. After their first date, she was less hesitant to accept another date, and soon they attended many socials and performances together. She would go home for the summers, and in the summer of 1896, he “made two trips of 100 miles each, riding his bicycle over a rutted road to see Louie,” according to “Courtships of the Prophets.”

The couple was married by Joseph’s father, President Joseph F. Smith, on April 26, 1898, in the Salt Lake Temple.

Louie passed away in March 1908. Joseph married Ethel Georgina Reynolds in November 1908, and they were together for almost 30 years before she passed away in August 1937. He married singer Jessie Ella Evans on April 12, 1938.

Photo: President Joseph Fielding Smith as a young man.