About the Collection
Charles Magnus Nielsen
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Charles Magnus Nielsen was born on 26 January 1856 in Christiania, Norway, to Christopher Nielsen and Maren Sophie Olafsen. Charles received little education as a youth, for from the age of ten he worked as a clerk in order to help provide for his poverty-stricken family. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 2 March 1872 and immediately began performing missionary labors in his native land. Of this time he later recorded, “I had to endure so much cold weather and poor clothes, and often had to sleep on the bare floor in the dead of the winter without any bedclothes, besides very poor food to eat.”1 At the young age of eighteen he became president first of the Arendal Branch of the Church, then of the Odalen Branch. In 1876, in order to escape poverty and live among their coreligionists, Charles and his family emigrated to Utah and settled in Sevier County. Charles worked in the nearby mines for a few seasons, then engaged in farming in Salt Lake County and in Springville, Utah County. In all three locations he served in the Church as home missionary.
After receiving a call to serve as a full-time missionary for the Northwestern States Mission of the LDS Church, Charles left Salt Lake City on 10 April 1883 and traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota. His willingness to share the gospel is evident even on the journey there; he noted in his journal, “We bore our testimony to great many on the train.”2 Besides Minnesota he also labored in Wisconsin and Nebraska, but found much opposition to his message. Some preachers even began calling him the “Utah-wolf,” and threats of tarring and feathering were made.3 But despite the hardships of sharing the gospel he recorded, “I feel thankfull [sic] to my heavenly Father for the prevelge [sic] to be a messenger of life and salvation.”4 Indeed, Charles did find success in his work, baptizing seventeen people into the Church. After a year and a half, Charles was released from his missionary duties on 30 September 1884. Demonstrating his humility and gratefulness he remarked, “I feel very preveledge [sic] to return to my home and friends in Zion.”5
Upon returning home Charles decided to abandon farming and obtained clerking positions at various establishments, including Barnes, Lewis & Company. During this time he studied law at nights and eventually became bailiff in the Third Judicial Court of Utah Territory. On 22 March 1885 he married Margaret Louisa Peterson, another Norwegian immigrant; they were blessed with seven children over the course of their marriage. In 1895 Charles completed his legal studies, was admitted to the bar, and immediately opened a private legal practice. In 1898 the citizens of Salt Lake County elected him as justice of the peace, an office which he held for five years. Ecclesiastically he helped preside over the LDS Scandinavian congregations and the Scandinavian Missionary Society in Salt Lake City.
In 1912 Charles was called to return to Scandinavia as a missionary for the Church. After arriving in Copenhagen he was appointed president of the Christiana Conference. During his tenure there 139 people joined the Church through baptism. Charles once again received the calling of home missionary upon returning to Salt Lake City from Norway. From 1916 to 1918 he worked as judge for the Juvenile Court of the Third Judicial District of Utah. A contemporary remarked that “as a judge his power was exerted to protect children, open for them opportunities for a better life, instill in their minds not merely a respect for the law but a belief in the essential kindliness of justice.”6 Following this term he continued his private practice until his death. Charles Magnus Nielsen passed away at home on 28 December 1940 at the age of eighty-four.
1 Charles M. Nielsen, “Diary, 1883–1892,” 12 September 1884. MSS 651, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
2 Ibid., 17 April 1883.
3 Ibid., 23 March 1884.
4 Ibid., 12 September 1884.
5 Ibid., 1 October 1884.
6 Cecil J. Alder, Utah, The Storied Domain (Chicago: American Historical Society, 1932), 2:118.
Alder, Cecil J. Utah, The Storied Domain. Vol. 2. Chicago: American Historical Society, 1932.
Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 7 April 2004 available from http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm.
Biographical Record of Salt Lake City and Vicinity Containing Biographies of Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present. Chicago: National Historical Record Company, 1902.
Jenson, 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. Vol. 2. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901–1934.
Lund, Anthon Henrick. Scandinavian Jubilee Album. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1900.
Nielsen, Charles M. “Diary, 1883–1892.” MSS 651, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Simmons, Ralph B. Utah’s Distinguished Personalities: A Biographical Directory of Eminent Contemporaneous Men and Women who are the Faithful Builders and Defenders of the State. Salt Lake City: Personality Publishing Company, 1933.