Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
Alma O. Taylor
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Alma Owen Taylor was born 1 August 1882, in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Joseph Edward Taylor and Lisadore Williams. He was baptized at age 8, on 6 August 1890. He attended the Latter-day Saints College, a church sponsored school, in Salt Lake City, at the age of twelve.1 Taylor, at age seventeen, studied at Harvey Medical College, School of embalming, in Chicago, and graduated first in his class. He went on to work in the family mortician business.2 He was ordained an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 19 September 1900.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the decision to open a mission in Japan headed by Elder Heber J. Grant on 14 February 1901. Elder Grant called three men to serve with him in the opening of the Japan Mission and Taylor, a member of Grant’s ward3 and a family friend, was one of them. Grant was a friend of Alma’s father and knew the family did well financially and that Alma had a keen intellect. Taylor was officially called, as a missionary 10 May 1901, at the age of 18. Before departure several benefits were held for the missionaries to help raise funds. Alma also took first place in the Salt Lake Stake’s Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (Y.M.M.I.A.) second annual speakers’ contest. His speech was entitled “My Spirit Shall Not Always Strive With Man”.4
Taylor was set apart as a missionary 18 July 1901, and left for Japan with Heber J. Grant, Louis A. Kelsch, and Horace S. Ensign, on 24 July 1901. A large crowd had assembled to see the missionaries off at the train station.5 Taylor expressed great excitement about leaving on his mission, “with most people the thought of leaving relatives and friends for so long a time as I may be gone on this mission would be very sad but with me the contemplation of the labor lying before me is so pleasant that I say goodbye to all with joy.”6 After arriving in Vancouver British Columbia they boarded the ship Empress of India 30 July 1901, and after a three week trip arrived in Yokohama, Japan, 12 August 1901.
Immediately upon arrival they found great opposition from other Christian denominations, one man denied them a place to board because they were “Mormons”. Taylor recorded that the man said “I cannot take you under any consideration”.7 During the next several weeks many newspaper articles were printed, attacking the missionaries and Mormonism. Taylor said that one Reverend told them “…all the preachers had upon hearing that Mormon missionaries were coming to Japan, united in the effort to crush us out.”8 The first several weeks of the mission were mainly spent studying Japanese and trying to get permission from the government to preach. During this time the four Elders dedicated Japan for the opening of the gospel on 1 September 1901. Taylor recorded that they all went to the woods and sang hymns and took turns praying for the Spirit of God and then “we again knelt in a circle and Bro. Grant offered up the dedicatory prayer.”9
After wading through lots of “red tape” they were finally granted permission, by the government to preach, in October 1901. But none of the missionaries were proficient enough in Japanese to be able to preach. They hired a Mr. Hiroi to teach them Japanese, and studied with him for three hours every morning. After a few months of training Taylor and Ensign became impatient with their progress in learning the language and asked President Grant if they could go out among the people, in order to learn the language better. On 5 December 1901, Taylor and Ensign moved into a Japanese, native style, hotel. Taylor’s first experience with Japanese life was not promising. Upon ordering dinner from the hotel he exclaimed “Oh! What a dinner!!! Ye crags and peaks, it was enough to kill a white man. For me to try to describe the meal would be folly, for words cannot well illustrate the horrors such grub gives to a person’s stomach.”10 But Taylor was able to adjust and learn the Japanese language and culture.
The mission had its first two converts in March 1902 and seemed destined for a bright future. The Church sent more missionaries to Japan in 1902, to help further the cause. By the end of the year Taylor had also succeeded in translating the first hymn into Japanese. “During the week I translated in connection with Bro. Nakazawa ‘We Thank Thee Oh God for a Prophet,’ and this evening we practiced the first verse as it has been set to music by Bro. Ensign.”11 This event proved that Taylor was well inclined toward learning the Japanese language and he was assigned to work on translating tracts, while serving as mission clerk.
President Grant was released as mission president in September 1903 and Elder Ensign was assigned to be the new president. President Ensign had a great desire to have the Book of Mormon translated into Japanese. He assigned all the missionaries to work on the translation, but by July 1904 Taylor had been assigned the full task of translating the Book of Mormon. Taylor expressed his delight in this assignment, “To say that my heart leaped with joy at being called to devote my time to the Book of Mormon does not express my feelings by far.”12 Taylor devoted most of his energies to the translation of the Book of Mormon for the next several years.
Taylor received word from Salt Lake on 27 June 1905 that President Ensign was to return home and that Taylor was to be the next mission president. Taylor was set apart for this duty 8 July 1905. At the time Taylor became President there were nine missionaries, including himself in the mission and to that point seven people had been baptized, although retention of converts was proving difficult as a few had been excommunicated. Taylor continued the translation of the Book of Mormon throughout his presidency and his crowning moment came on 10 June 1909 when the translation was finally finished. Taylor remarked, “…since the earnest, real beginning of the work not quite five years have elapsed. This labor has received my best efforts and the great majority of my time as my journal from that date shows.”13 The first bound copies of the Japanese Book of Mormon came off the press 6 October 1909.
<p>Once the labor of translating the Book of Mormon was finished, Taylor’s duty seems to have been completed as well; he was released from his mission 23 November 1909. After taking a tour through Asia, Taylor returned home 26 April 1910. </p>
Once at home Taylor returned to the mortician business, becoming a partner with his brothers Samuel and Joseph, in creating the Salt Lake Casket Company. Taylor left the company in March 1919 and in June of that same year he helped create The Intermountain Casket Company.
On 26 October 1915 Taylor married Eunice Angeline Holbrook, an English teacher who had taught at both Brigham Young College and the University of Utah. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple. They were unable to have children, but finally in February 1923, they were able to adopt their only child, whom they named Richard.
Taylor was often asked to speak at public engagements and was also asked to write an article for a church magazine, the Improvement Era, about President Heber J. Grant’s mission to Japan.14 He held several church positions, including second counselor of the Sunday School Board, and president of the Eighth quorum of Seventy. Taylor became president and director of the Intermountain Casket Company, April 1939, but with the outbreak of World War II his business faltered because of the lack of materials caused by the war. He decided to voluntarily liquidate the company and go into retirement in August 1943.15
Alma Taylor died 19 June 1947 in Ashton, Idaho, while on a fishing trip with his friend George A. Taylor. His funeral services were held 23 June 1947 and he was buried in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
1 Reid L. Neilson. “The Japanese Missionary Journals of Elder Alma O. Taylor, 1901-1910.” (M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 2001) , 46.
2 Ibid., 50.
3 Salt Lake Thirteenth Ward.
4 Neilson. 52.
5 Alma O. Taylor, “Diaries, 1901-1946.” MSS 166, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo. July 24, 1901.
7 Ibid. August 13, 1901.
8 Taylor., August 14, 1901.
9 Ibid., September 1, 1901.
10 Ibid., December 5, 1901.
11 Ibid., Saturday, November 1, 1902- Friday, November 7, 1902.
12 Ibid., July 16, 1904.
13 Taylor., Thursday, June 10, 1909.
14 Alma O. Taylor, “Memories of Far-Off Japan: President Grant’s First Foreign Mission 1901 to 1903,” Improvement Era, November 1936, 39.
15 Neilson., 613-614.
Britsch, Ralph Lanier. “Early Latter-day Saint Missions to South and East Asia.” Ph. D.
diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1968.
Jensen, Andrew. Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: a compilation of
biographical sketches of prominent men and women in the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1971.
Neilson, Reid L. “The Japanese Missionary Journals of Elder Alma O. Taylor, 1901-10.”
M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 2001.
Nichols, Murray L. “History of the Japan Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
day Saints, 1901-1924.” M.S. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1957.
Taylor, Alma O. “Diaries, 1901-1946” MSS 166, L. Tom Perry Special Collections,
Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo.
Taylor, Alma O. “Memories of Far-Off Japan: President Grant’s First Foreign Mission,
1901 to 1903.” Improvement Era, November 1936, 39.
Walker, Ronald W. “ Strangers in a Strange Land: Heber J. Grant and the Opening of the
Japanese Mission.” Journal of Mormon History 13 (1986-1987) : 20-43.