About the Collection

John Ephraim Swenson

by Jeffrey S. Hardy

See Diary

John Ephraim Swenson was born on 27 June 1878 in Ida Parish, Smaalene, Norway, to Gustave Swenson and Matilda Holstrom. At the age of eleven he emigrated with his parents to Lakeview, Utah County, Utah, but they soon relocated to Murray, Salt Lake County, Utah. As a youth in Murray he found employment as a smelter.

On 15 August 1902 John received a call to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). His initial appointment was to the Northwestern States Mission, but upon learning of John’s knowledge of the Norwegian language, the Church authorities changed his assignment to the Scandinavian Mission. Just before leaving he received his United States citizenship for which he had earlier applied. On 29 October 1902 he began his journey to Europe, declaring, “I feel willing to go and do my best and hope that I may fulfill a successful mission.”1 After completing the lengthy trip he arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 17 November 1902 and was called to labor in the Christiania Conference in Norway. As he departed he candidly remarked, “I stared a cold winter but I felt like going forth doing what I could for the sake of the Gospel.”2

John spent much time in Norway tracting from door to door, often spending two or three days away from home in the rural areas. For instance, from 30 June to 2 July 1903 he “sold 50 books, distributed 130 tracts, had about 30 conversations, visited 156 houses…and walked some over 60 miles.”3 Some opposition existed to the efforts of the LDS missionaries, however, as on 19 February 1905 when “meeting was disturbed, benches tipped over and one young man…wanted to fight.”4 He did succeed in baptizing a few people; on 5 August 1904 he recorded his first baptism: “I came back home…glad over the prospect and to think that I was the instrument in Gods hand in bringing this one to the fold of Christ.”5 Indeed, John loved serving as a missionary so much that when the time came for him to return to America he felt “as though [he] would like to stay another 2 years.”6 After receiving his official release, however, he journeyed home to his family, arriving on 25 May 1905.

On 16 December 1908 John married Maria Winther in Salt Lake City; they were blessed with three children, two boys and one girl. John served in the Utah National Guard and worked for the Denver & Rio Grande Western (D&RGW) Railroad for forty-three years. In 1948 he retired and relocated to Santa Monica, California. There, John Ephraim Swenson contracted pneumonia after an operation and died on 16 August 1957. He was buried in the Murray City Cemetery.


1 John Ephraim Swenson, “Journal, 1902–1905,” 29 October 1902. MSS 2273, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.

2 Ibid., 18 November 1902.

3 Ibid., 2 July 1903.

4 Ibid., 19 February 1905.

5 Ibid., 5 August 1904.

6 Ibid., 1 February 1905.


Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com, 2003. 15 March 2004, available from http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Search/frameset_search.asp

Deseret News. Obituary of John E. Swenson. 20 August 1957.

Jenson, Andrew. History of the Scandinavian Mission. Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, .

Swenson, John Ephraim. “Journal, 1902–1905.” MSS 2273, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.