Like all people of faith, Latter-day Saints (Mormons) like to gather inspirational quotes. Over time, the words become integrated into our souls, our values, and our culture. When the quotes come from “over the pulpit”, [i.e. spoken by a general authority, apostle or prophet in an official meeting of the church, or published in an official LDS magazine], then it is given much more weight, and considered for all intents and purposes, ‘living scripture’.
One of our “top 10″ living scripture quotes is commonly attributed to President David O. McKay, 9th prophet and president of the LDS Church (serving from 1951-1970)
“No other success can compensate for failure in the home”
For over six decades, this memorable sentance has wielded great power to motivate (and sometimes discourage) millions of parents! I recently gathered some interesting back story, along with an intriguing mystery about this quote.
1. NOT President McKay:
While it is important that President McKay DID use these words as part of two separate General Conference talks - April 1935, and April 1964 respectively [unavailable online], he was actually quoting someone else; J. E. McCulloch, to be exact.
2. Who was J.E. McCulloch?
Surprisingly, the oft-quoted James Edward [J.E.] McCulloch remains shrouded in mystery. An online search will give you hundreds of references [mainly by Mormon leaders quoting McKay quoting McCulloch]! However, I have tried and failed to find a bio or a photo of the man. Thanks to a great article published in 2004 by Russell Arden Fox at Times and Seasons, we know that McCulloch “lived in Nashville at the turn of the [20th] century, and served as secretary to the Southern Sociological Congress”. From what I have ascertained, Mr. McCulloch was a prolific author of books, as well as editor for Southern Sociological Congress essays, on topics of conservative values and societal trends. A listing of his literary output – totaling 73 - is found on GoogleBooks, with titles such as: “The Human Way: Addresses on Race Problems“, “Battling for Social Betterment“, and “Democracy In Earnest“.
3. Source of The Quote:
Our “success/failure” quote comes from J.E. McCulloch’s book entitled Home: The Savior of Civilization [ 1924, The Southern Co-operative League, 638 pages]. You’ve gotta love that title. Like all of his books, it is out of print, and sadly, unlike most of his other books, it is not scanned yet, nor available online (but consider, it is 638 pages). The good news is that a book synopsis pdf is available through online archives which gives a fascinating glimpse:
- “This is a large volume [638 pages] compiled for the use of families at their family altars. It consists of daily readings for the year, for the “home council” – the name given the family group in its religious studies.”
- “The quotations that serve as reading materials are gathered from widely scattered sources, ranging from the Bible…to selections from the prose and poetry of the renowned and less renowned…the purpose of the book, as the title implies and the introduction states is to make of the home “God’s garden of character; the soul may grow elsewhere, but it grows to perfection there“
- “The home should be the bulwark of civilization, the school of the spirit, and this book is the text which [McCulloch] evolved with his own family in his own home, with what he and his friends have felt to be good results. He is now passing on his program to any who are interested in keeping the family altar a supreme element in the home…” – AAPSS, scanned on JStor (emphasis added)
Wow! Just the outline of this book says so much about Mr. McCulloch’s deep commitment to home and family. It states here that the book is a compilation of scriptures, poems and quotes, so we still cannot be 100% sure if McCulloch is the actual author of the famous quote included in the book, or if he was also quoting! This is another ‘mystery’ part of our story, waiting for final confirmation.
4. The Mormon Connection
President David O. McKay’s legacy with the church includes fully implementing the Family Home Evening Program, (an idea first introduced in 1915 – given as “advice” to LDS parents – see history). Since 1964, Family Home Evening (affectionately abbreviated to FHE) has been a standard practice in Latter-day Saint homes. Mormon families set aside Monday night as the evening to be spent exclusively with their families – to sing together, study the scriptures, play games (and eat treats).
In some ways, Monday night becomes the “most sacred” night of the week for a Mormon – in the sense that as a lay congregation with many service responsibilities, this is the only night the church building is guaranteed to remain locked, and unlike Sunday’s or other days of the week, church responsibilities, service projects, choir rehearsals, meetings, and activities will NEVER be scheduled! It’s also an unspoken rule that Mormons don’t call other Mormons after 6 PM on a Monday night, in respect for Family Home Evening.
From the synopsis of his book, Mr. McCulloch had already instituted a very successful family home evening program of his own, which others were using, too! Did McCulloch’s program of holding ‘Home Council’, and his subsequent book encouraging the practice, have an influence on President McKay? Could it have prompted the inspiration to begin the full-fledged Church-wide ‘Family Home Evening Program’? Another mystery, but certainly feasible. Either way, McCulloch would be pleased to know that Mormons are “Keeping the family altar a supreme element in the home“.
It seems to me that Latter-day Saints have a lot to owe the mysterious J.E. McCulloch. If nothing else, I think it would be fair to say he holds the unique distinction of being the most-quoted-yet-least-credited-non-Mormon-by-Mormons. :) I would certainly be interested in learning much more about this fascinating man. [If you have detailed information, or actually possess a copy of his rare book, please contact me by leaving a comment!]
Although we usually only remember the famous McKay ‘one-liner’, the full McCulloch quote given by President David O. McKay is as follows:
“The home is the first and most effective place for children to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self-control; the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home” ( J. E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization , 42; in Conference Report, Apr. 1935, 116).
In 1972, President Harold B. Lee, first counselor to Pres. McKay, and later 11th President of the church, added a line to the McCulloch/McKay quote “over the pulpit”, which does a marvelous job of both softening and strengthening the message of this famous quote for all families:
Remember, paraphrasing what President McKay said, “No success will compensate for failure in the home.” Remember also that no home is a failure as long as that home doesn’t give up. “- Harold B. Lee, Ensign, Feb. 1972
AUTHOR NOTE: To all my fabulous, alert and very-eager-to-be-mystery-solving readers. Yes, I am aware there is a pdf offered by Sage Journals Online. At first glance, it looks like a pdf of Mr. McCullough’s book! Nope. Rather, it is an article published in the same year, 1924, and by the same press company. The article lists the synopsis of McCulloch’s “Home: The Savior of Civilization”, along with several other newly released books that year. It was essentially designed as a promotional ad from the publishing house, but it also provides fascinating insight. I have quoted this article extensively in #3 above.
I welcome any new info. And, as always, I hope to hear your thoughts and comments! – MoSop