Mormon Missionary Diaries
About the Collection
Francis Washington Kirkham
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
Francis Washington Kirkham was born on 8 January 1877 at Lehi, Utah County, Utah, to James Kirkham and Martha Mercer. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by his father on 2 May 1885. Tragically, his mother, described lovingly by Francis as the “the best mother I ever had,” passed away in 1890, shortly before his fourteenth birthday.1 During his maturing years Francis spent much time helping his father in the family store and he began attending school in Lehi in 1889, reporting that he was “among the best students.”2 Four years later he gained admittance to Brigham Young Academy and graduated in 1894 as president of his class. Following this, Francis began studying piano and continued to help his father in the mercantile establishment.
Unexpected news came in February 1896 when Francis received a call to serve a mission to New Zealand. On 25 March 1896 he left his home in Lehi and traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, and then on to Auckland, New Zealand. He was immediately assigned to the Waikato District and started learning the Maori language. He recorded that “the study of the Maori language is about the hardest study I ever attempted,” but he was soon able to speak and understand without an interpreter.3 Francis did suffer somewhat from homesickness, his thoughts often turning to his family, friends, and girlfriend Sadie, and when his first letters from Utah arrived he exclaimed: “No one can realize the joy. I sought solitude then how I drank in those words.”4 But this did not prevent him from being a faithful missionary that labored to bring people unto Christ. After a long day of preaching, Francis recorded: “We had a glorious time today. The Spirit of the Gospel is here. I pray that God will bless us with honest souls.”5 After three years of devoted service, Francis was released from his mission; he left New Zealand on 17 April 1899 and returned home.
In October 1899 Francis was called on a short Church mission to Preston, Idaho, to establish the Mutual Improvement Association. In February 1900 he resumed his studies at Brigham Young Academy, and also began courting Martha Alzina Robison, whom he married on 2 January 1901. She bore seven children over the course of their long and happy marriage, six of whom lived to maturity. In August 1901 he obtained a teaching position at the Academy, but the following year moved to Raymond, Alberta, Canada, to manage the Raymond Mercantile Company. Here he became president of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, but in January 1904 decided to return to Provo to continue his studies.
After a semester at Brigham Young University, Francis attended the University of Michigan from 1904 to 1906, graduating with an A.B. in economics and history. He then moved his family back to Provo, where he was hired as a teacher by the political science department. This position was for him a “great anticipated experience,” and an opportunity “to help lead young people into lives of happiness and purity and great joy.”6 He pursued graduate work at Stanford University from 1908 to 1909, and attended law school at the University of Utah from 1910 to 1913. After graduating with his law degree he worked as Secretary of the Utah Tax Commission for two years, and following a six-month Church mission to New Zealand, was appointed State Director of Vocational Education. After two years in this position he completed graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley, in preparation for receiving his Ph.D. in Education, which he earned in 1931.
From 1924 to 1929, Francis worked as superintendent of the Granite School District in Salt Lake City and finished his doctoral dissertation. For the next six years he lived in New York City, laboring as Director of the National Child Welfare Association; during these years he also served on the White House Committee on Education. He returned to Utah in 1935 and was appointed as the State Director of the National Youth Administration, but after two years he devoted his time to establishing and managing a cooperative life insurance company. He also spent significant time writing, his most acclaimed work being the two-volume A New Witness for Christ in America, which defends the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. After the death of his wife Martha in 1941, he married Marguerite Burnhope Harris, on 18 November 1942. A third mission to New Zealand materialized in 1962; although the mission only lasted three months, Francis delivered over eighty talks to various congregations, many of them in Maori. The last years of his life were spent traveling with his wife and spending time with his six children, twenty-one grandchildren, and seventeen great-grandchildren. Francis Washington Kirkham died on 14 September 1972 at the age of ninety-five.
1 Francis Kirkham, “Diary, 1893,” 17 August 1893. MSS 772, L. Tom Perry Special Collection, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
3 Kirkham, “Diary, 1896,” 19 May 1896, MSS 772, LTPSC.
4 Ibid., 1 June 1896.
5 Kirkham, “Diary, 1896-1897,” 28 March 1897, MSS 772, LTPSC.
6 Kirkham, “Diary, 1900-1908,” p. 75-76, MSS 772, LTPSC.
Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 1 February 2003 available from http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm
Kirkham, Francis W. “Diaries, 1893-1902.” MSS 772, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Pardoe, T. Earl. The Sons of Brigham. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Alumni Association, 1969.