At a conference in Amherst, Ohio, in January 1832, Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde were called to serve missions in the northeastern United States. The two reached Boston in June and within a month had baptized seven and were preaching in nearby Lynn. By the time they returned to Kirtland at the end of 1832, there were branches in Boston and New Rowley. During that time Joseph Smith had made a brief visit to Albany, New York City, and Boston in company with Newel K. Whitney.

During the 1830s, Massachusetts was an important destination for missionaries from Kirtland and other Church centers further west, and several branches were established. Following the organization of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1835, the apostles visited the eastern branches. During this trip they grouped branches into geographically defined “conferences” (in later years known as districts), the first time this had been done in the Church. In August 1835, they were in Bradford to organize the Massachusetts Conference, which covered the entire state.

In 1836, Joseph Smith traveled to Salem, Mass. — not far from his family’s ancestral home in Topsfield — with his brother Hyrum, Sidney Rigdon and Oliver Cowdery, spending a month in the town Joseph visited as a child recuperating from leg surgery. The Prophet and his companions came at the urging of Jonathan Burgess, who claimed to know the whereabouts of a buried treasure, the recovery of which would help the young Church meet its expenses. Two days after their arrival, Joseph received a revelation (D&C 111) assuring him that the Lord was pleased with their journey, “notwithstanding your follies,” and that “there are more treasures than one for you in this city.” After Burgess failed to locate the promised money, the word treasures was taken to mean potential converts, and missionaries in succeeding years frequently visited Salem, partly in response to the 1836 revelation. By May 1842, there was a branch of about 90 in the town.

Eight members of the Twelve conducted a three-day conference in Boston in September, and seven of them were again in Boston the following year to promote Joseph Smith’s candidacy for the presidency of the United States. In April 1844, the Prophet reported the Lord’s instruction that “wherever the Elders of Israel shall build up churches . . . throughout the States, there shall be a stake of Zion. In the great cities, as Boston, New York, &c., there shall be stakes.”

In 1845, Jedediah M. Grant wrote that Boston had more Latter-day Saints than any other eastern city — somewhere between 300 and 400. Those numbers declined in succeeding years as Brigham Young directed members to join with the body of the saints in the Midwest, and later in Utah. When William I. Appleby, presiding in the eastern states, came to Boston in 1847, he visited the four branches in the area, reported the Boston saints had not met for some time, and found only 30 “true hearted” saints. In 1849, President Young advised Wilford Woodruff to gather the saints to Utah the following year, and when he left Boston in March 1850, 100 local members accompanied him. Over the next four decades, Church activity in Massachusetts was minimal.

The first Latter-day Saints to return to Massachusetts were not missionaries but young people from Utah studying at one of the many schools in the Boston area. In the early 1890s, when future apostle John A. Widtsoe was at Harvard, there were at least 16 other Latter-day Saint students in Cambridge.

As part of the general expansion of LDS missionary work at the end of the 19th century, the Eastern States Mission was re-established in 1893, with headquarters in New York. Missionaries sought to locate old members but could only find the remnant of one branch and 55 Latter-day Saints in the mission’s several states. By 1900, there were eight conferences in the mission, including the New England Conference with headquarters at Boston, and 975 members of the Church. There was just one branch in Massachusetts and an average of eight missionaries in all of New England. During the early years of the 20th century there was considerable opposition to Latter-day Saint missionaries in Massachusetts and elsewhere in New England, some of it due to the Smoot hearings in Washington, D.C. These hearings were aimed to deny Reed Smoot of the Quorum of the Twelve his seat in the U. S. Senate.

When a Mutual Improvement Association was established in Boston in 1908, it only had 25 members. A branch was organized in nearby Lynn in December 1909, meeting in the hall from which the group had been “driven” some 12 years earlier. By 1917, when the United States entered World War I, conditions were improving throughout the mission, with increasing numbers of street meetings, more favorable newspaper articles, and new branches in Worcester and elsewhere in Massachusetts.

By 1930, there were five branches in the state and 350 members of the Church. The Massachusetts branches were small and all met in a succession of rented facilities.

In 1930, the Boston Branch rented a building across the Charles River in Cambridge, the home of the Latter-day Saint students from the West who were so important a part of the branch’s membership. Naomi B. Cranney, who arrived in Cambridge that year with her husband, a student at Harvard Business College, reported that there were only 10 permanent member families, the other members of the branch all being students who left the area at the end of every school year.

In 1937, the New England States Mission was created, with headquarters in Cambridge and responsibility for six states and Canada’s Maritime provinces. Mission president Levi Edgar Young, a member of the First Council of the Seventy, bought part of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s estate in 1941, including a thirty-room mansion used as a mission home, with the house next door being purchased as a meeting place for the Cambridge Branch. President David O. McKay dedicated the new facilities in 1943. President Young’s hope for a chapel on the site was realized when a modern structure was built to house the Cambridge Branch, the offices of the New England Mission, and eventually the Cambridge Institute of Religion. President McKay returned in 1956 to dedicate what quickly became the hub of LDS activity in Massachusetts.

In the meantime, Elder S. Dilworth Young of the Seventy who served as New England States Mission president (1947-1951) emphasized “country work,” in which elders traveled during the summer without purse or scrip. This effort brought spiritual growth to the missionaries but converts often lived too far away from branch centers to attend meetings regularly.

By the end of 1950, there were 637 members in the seven branches in Massachusetts, but another 200 were not part of any organized branch. One happy result of the country program was the 1949 baptism of Chandler and Edith Abbott in Foxboro, south of Boston, which led to other conversions and the organization of the Foxboro Branch in 1950.

During the 1950s, the Cambridge Branch membership doubled and new branches were established at Fort Devens, Georgetown, Billerica, and South Weymouth. The Boston District was divided and a new district established at Providence, R.I., that included Massachusetts south of Boston. Meetinghouses were constructed in several branches during the late 1950s and early 1960s and proved helpful in missionary work.

By 1962, the Church in eastern Massachusetts had grown to the point that President Henry D. Moyle of the First Presidency, assisted by Elders Harold B. Lee and Gordon B. Hinckley of the Quorum of the Twelve, organized the Boston Stake, with five wards (Billerica, Cambridge, Lynn, South Weymouth, and Weston) and three branches (Fort Devens, Foxboro, and Georgetown).

During the 1960s, helped by referrals from the Mormon Pavilion at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair, membership in Massachusetts more than doubled to 5,253, divided between sixteen wards and branches. The average size of LDS congregations grew from 91 in 1950 to 183 in 1960 and 328 in 1970. In 1966, during the mission presidency of Elder Boyd K. Packer, the Massachusetts and Rhode Island branches of the Providence District were incorporated into the Boston Stake. The western Massachusetts branches of Springfield, Amherst, and Pittsfield became part of the Hartford (Connecticut) Stake the same year, while Billerica, Fort Devens, and Georgetown, north of Boston, were moved to the new Merrimack (New Hampshire) Stake in March 1970.

A demographic study commissioned by Boston Stake President L. Tom Perry in the early 1970s showed the growth of the Church to be in the suburbs west of Cambridge, rather than in more ethnically diverse inner-city Boston, echoing a pattern observed in other metropolitan areas along the Eastern Seaboard. Thus, when a stake center was constructed in the late 1960s, it was built in suburban Weston. During this period, there was not only an increase in the number of LDS students at Boston-area universities and colleges but also an influx of young single men and women coming to the area to work or serve in the military, leading to the 1967 creation of the University Ward for students and singles and the division of that ward just a year later to form the University 2nd Ward.

In 1977, the Boston stake was divided to form the Providence Rhode Island Stake, which took in all of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. Four years later the new stake was itself divided to form the Hingham Massachusetts Stake, made up of the Massachusetts units south of Boston and a ward in Newport, R.I. Also in 1981, some of the Massachusetts units of the Nashua New Hampshire Stake were transferred to the new Exeter New Hampshire Stake. In 1987, the Springfield Massachusetts Stake was created, covering all of western Massachusetts and drawing in the Pittsfield Branch from the Albany New York Stake and the Worcester Ward from the stake in Boston.

In recent years expansion of the Church in the greater Boston area has largely come from efforts to bring the gospel to the inner city. The Boston Branch was established in 1984 as the Church’s first urban outpost in the area.

In the process, the number of wards and branches increased from eight in 1980 to 26 in mid-2004, leading to the division of the stake in 1998 to create the Cambridge Massachusetts Stake. In 2004, the two stakes included two student wards and two young single adult wards in Cambridge, four Spanish wards and branches, one Portuguese branch, one Haitian-Creole branch, and two wards with substantial numbers of members whose primary language was other than English.

Fueled by growth among ethnic groups, there was an increase in Massachusetts from 21 wards and branches in 1980 to 51 in 2004. During this same period the number of Latter-day Saints in the state tripled.

In recent years, the visibility of the Church in Massachusetts has also increased dramatically. In August 1984, the meetinghouse being built for the suburban Belmont and Arlington wards was severely damaged by fire. During the rebuilding process, there was a great outpouring of concern and support from the local community, with other churches inviting the Belmont Ward to share their facilities. A decade later, in 1994, Latter-day Saints were again in the news when Republican Mitt Romney, former bishop of the Belmont Ward and former president of the Boston Massachusetts Stake, made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat. The following year President Gordon B. Hinckley announced a temple would be built adjacent to the stake center in Belmont, which gave rise to a long legal battle with local residents who were reluctant to have another Church facility in their neighborhood.

When the Boston Massachusetts Temple was dedicated in October 2000 (after some 83,000 people attended its open house), court cases were still pending in relation to a state law regarding the construction of religious buildings and the height of the temple’s steeple. A U.S. Supreme Court decision settled the first case in January 2001, while a Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling four months later paved the way for completing the temple’s steeple and placing a statue of the Angel Moroni atop the temple in September 2001. The following year, Mitt Romney, a Republican, was elected governor of predominantly Democratic Massachusetts, with public awareness of his religious affiliation continuing to be high as he responded to the state Supreme Court’s ruling that same-gender marriages must be allowed in Massachusetts.

In 2002, membership reached 22,819. In 2005, membership reached 23,228.


Andrew Jenson, “Massachusetts Conference,” Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Richard S. Williams, “The Missionary Movements of the LDS Church in New England, 1830-1850,” thesis, 1969; LaMar C. Berrett, Sacred Places: New England and Canada, 1999; Betsey E. Williams, “History of the Mormon Church on the North Shore,” 1972, Church History Library; Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 1:295, 6:319; Richard O. Cowan, “Yankee Saints: The Church in New England During the Twentieth Century,” and Alan K. Parrish, “Harvard and the Gospel, An Informal History,” both in Donald Q. Cannon, ed., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint Church History, 1988; J.D. Williams, “Highlights in the History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Boston Area,” 1955, Church History Library; “Those Who Went Before: Pioneer Members in East and South Recall Rich Past,” Church News, 20 July 1991; New England Mission and Cambridge Branch Chapel Building, 1956; “Church Organizes 345th Stake in Boston,” Church News, 26 May 1962; Paul James Toscano, “The Boston Saints,” Ensign, February 1973; Janet Peterson, “Belmont’s Blessing in Disguise,” Ensign, April 1987; Sheridan R. Sheffield, “Boston: Gospel Rolls Forward in One of Nation’s Oldest Cities,” Church News, 28 September 1991; Larry A. Hiller, “The Brotherhood-Sisterhood Thing,” New Era, June 1992; Don R. Brugger, “Climate for Change,” Ensign, September 1993; Mark Small, “Stake Is Growing in History-rich Area,” Church News, 20 June 1998; Tammy Adams, “Fabric of Faith,” Church News, 25 October 2003; Jack Thomas, “LDS Spires Are Point of Friction in New England,” reprinted from Boston Globe in Deseret News, 7 December 1996; Carey Goldberg, “Boston Temple Is Rising Despite Constitutional Suit,” New York Times News Service story in Deseret News, 31 December 1999; “High Court Rules in Favor of Steeple for Boston Temple,” Church News, 19 May 2001; Christopher B. Daly, “Religion Resurrected as Political Issue: Beliefs Come into Question in Massachusetts Senate Race,” Washington Post, 10 September 1994; Michael Paulson, “Election 2002 / Religion, Heritage: Romney Win Seen as Sign of Acceptance of Mormons,” Boston Globe, 9 November 2002; General mission annual reports and stake statistical recaps, 1940-1980, Church Archives.

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