Joseph Marion Tanner

Educator, Writer, Attorney, Secret Polygamist,
President, Utah Agricultural College (1896 to 1900)

Joseph Marion Tanner, BYA HS Class of 1878

Joseph Marion Tanner, Class of 1878

Brigham Young Academy High School
Class of 1878


Joseph Marion "Jay" Tanner was born on March 26, 1859. He was an American educator and a leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has been described as "one of the most gifted teachers and writers in the LDS Church in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries".

Tanner was born in Payson, Utah Territory, the second but oldest living son of Myron Tanner and Mary Jane Mount. When their son was about three years of age they moved to Provo, where he received his earliest education in the public schools.

From his fourteenth to his seventeenth year he was an employee of the Provo Woolen Mills. He worked during the day in the factory and attended a night school organized at Brigham Young Academy by Dr. Karl G. Maeser, Principal of the Academy.

The class originally consisted of some 26 factory hands who gradually lost their interest in the studies, and he finally became the only student of the class which continued during the entire school year.

It was during these night classes, at which he became the only student, that a friendship sprang up between the boy and Principal Karl G. Maeser a friendship that continued during Dr. Maeser's life.

At the age of seventeen he entered the Academy as a regular student and was a member of its first graduating class in the year 1878, thus becoming one of the first normal students -- teachers -- who graduated from the institution.

He remained at the Academy as a teacher of various subjects, especially of Mathematics, from his nineteenth to his twenty-fifth year.

In 1879 he became engaged in engineering work in the construction of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and in 1882 was appointed City Surveyor of Provo.

He married several wives during these years, in the Mormon polygamous tradition.

In 1884 he left for an LDS Church mission to Germany. Because of his profession as teacher he traveled extensively in America and Europe on his way to the missionary field, and was finally assigned to the Berlin conference.

Joseph Marion Tanner, Missionary

Joseph Marion Tanner, Missionary

From 1884 to 1887, he preached Mormonism in Europe and the Middle East. Along with Jacob Spori, he was the first LDS Church missionary to preach in Turkey where they baptized Mischa Markow and was the organizer of the first branch of the LDS Church in Palestine.

In the fall of 1885 Tanner was transferred to Turkey for the purpose of opening a mission in the Sultan's dominion. During the spring of 1886 he visited the principal Oriental countries bordering on the Mediterranean, and especially the Holy Land.

In Palestine he discovered an opportunity to open a mission among a group of German colonists who were relocating to the Holy Land with the idea that the chief feature of the gospel in these last days was that of "gathering".

A number of these Germans subsequently accepted the gospel and emigrated to America. After 3 1/2 years of missionary labor and travel in most of the countries of Europe and in the Holy Land, Tanner returned home, reaching Utah in December, 1887.

Owing to the ill health of Dr. Karl G. Maeser at that time, Tanner carried on Dr. Maeser's work at Brigham Young Academy for the remaining part of the year.

In the summer of 1888 Tanner was elected principal of the Brigham Young College at Logan, Utah, and the same year was appointed a member of the Church Board of Examiners, and the Church Board of Education at the same time conferred upon him the doctor's degree.

From 1887 to 1891, Tanner served as the head of Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah. He resigned his position in 1891 to take up a course of study at Harvard University, and there he passed three years chiefly in the study of law.

On his return from Harvard, Tanner entered the practice of law in Salt Lake City, where in 1896 he became the first Utah Supreme Court Reporter under the new State government. While occupying that office he edited the first five volumes of the Utah State Reports.

In 1896 Tanner was elected President of the Utah Agricultural College at Logan, a position which he held for four years until 1900.

Upon resigning his position as college president in 1900, he again entered the practice of law in Salt Lake City and became a member of the law firm of Ferguson, Cannon & Tanner.

In 1901, after a law practice that covered ten months, Tanner was appointed Deputy Superintendent of State Schools.

His career studies and teaching covered a wide range of subjects, including Mathematics, Languages, History, and Law. His subsequent travels and studies in Europe, Asia and Africa included most of the historical fields of those continents.

Pres. J M Tanner, Utah State Agricultural College

J M Tanner, Pres., Utah Agricultural College

In 1901, Tanner succeeded Dr. Karl G. Maeser, who had by then died, and became the Second Commissioner of Church Education for the LDS Church.

At the same time, he became the Second Assistant to Lorenzo Snow in the General Superintendency of the Church's Deseret Sunday School Union. When Snow died and was succeeded by Joseph F. Smith, Tanner became Smith's Second Assistant in the Church's Sunday School.

George Reynolds, Lorenzo Snow, J M Tanner, 1901 -
George Reynolds, Lorenzo Snow & J. M. Tanner ~ 1901
LDS Church General Sunday School Superintendency
Tanner retired in 1906 and emigrated to Alberta, Canada, where he farmed in the Cardston area.

From 1906 to 1921 Tanner wrote extensively for the Juvenile Instructor and Improvement Era, official periodicalx of the LDS Church. He wrote a number of books, including manuals for the church's Sunday School and a biography of John R. Murdock.

Tanner was a secret practitioner of plural marriage and had five wives. The first two were Josephine Snow and Jennie Harrington, married to Joseph on November 15, 1878 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He next married Annie Vilate Clark, BYA High School Class of 1883, on December 27, 1883 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He also married Carrie Amelia Peterson, BYA High School Class of 1893, and Lydia Matilda Holmgren.

His second wife, Annie Clark Tanner, accused him of abandoning her and their ten children.

From 1882 to 1883 Annie Clark attended Brigham Young Academy high school, where Principal Karl G. Maeser acclaimed her as the most brillant student in her class. One of her teachers was Professor Joseph Marion Tanner, and she was attracted to him.

Professor Tanner also made a strong impression on Annie's classmate, Alice Louise Reynolds: "I should be tempted to say he was the most handsome man I have ever seen."

On his first visit to the home of Annie Clark's parents, the circumspect Tanner brought along one of his first wives, Jennie.

Privately Jennie told Annie about her own father and mother's miserable experience with polygamy, explaining the aversion she felt for it, but concluded, 'I have no children although I have been married five years. I can't deprive Marion of a family, and of all the girls I know, you are my choice.' "

Annie became the plural wife of Joseph Marion Tanner in 1883. Tanner subsequently became President of Utah State Agricultural College, and Superintendent of Church Schools, and other high profile positions of leadership.

Anti-polygamy pressures demanded that Annie's marriage be kept secret. Her wedding night was spent in her parents' home. Six months later, Tanner married a third wife. "I had not seen the third wife, but I did wonder wherein I lacked that so soon he should take another wife."

When Tanner was called on a mission to Europe, "Annie Clark" supported him and herself as a school teacher. In 1888, pregnant with the first of her ten children, she went underground until the baby was born.

Throughout her marriage, Annie Clark Tanner, like many plural wives, was essentially a hard-working widow who continued to have children. "A woman in polygamy," she said, "is compelled by her lone position to make a confidant of her children. How much more is this true when that woman is left entirely alone."

Tanner married twice again. He died in Lethbridge, Alberta on August 19, 1927 and was buried in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Joseph Marion Tanner - Portrait

Joseph Marion Tanner - Portrait


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