Harold Bingham Lee
Birth and Childood
Harold Bingham Lee was born on March 28, 1899, to Samuel and Louisa Bingham Lee in Clifton, Idaho. He was the second child of six born to the Lee family. Harold’s mother and father were devoted to one another, to their family, and to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They raised their children in a time when there was little powered machinery with which to cultivate and harvest the crops on their farm. The children were taught in their youth how to work hard and discipline themselves, which would prove to be significant in their future.
Later in his life, Harold explained: “I have thought of the discipline of the boy and girl of my youthful days in a rural community. We began to ‘do chores’ shortly after daybreak so we could ‘start’ with the day’s work by sun-up. When the day’s work was finished, we had yet to do our evening ‘chores,’ usually by aid of a lantern. Despite the fact that there were no wages and hour regulations or child labor laws, we did not seem to be stunted from our exertions. Sleep requirements did not admit of too frequent frivolities. Returns from our labors were small and usually came on a once-a-year basis at harvest time. Homes of that day went throughout the summer with but very little ready money but from our cow we were provided milk, butter and cheese; in our granaries there was usually sufficient wheat to be taken to the mill for flour and cereals. We had our own chickens and garden and fruits in season.”1
The Lord’s Protection
On numerous occasions, Harold was blessed and saved physically from accidents or illnesses. Harold recalled an important incident as being his ‘first intimate touch with divinity.’
He recalled, “As a young boy, I was out on a farm waiting for my father to finish his day’s work, playing about and manufacturing things to wile away the time, when I saw over the fence in the neighbor’s yard some broken-down buildings where the sheds were caving in and had rotting timbers. I imagined that that might be a castle that I should explore, so I went over to the fence and started to climb through, when I heard a voice as distinctly as you are hearing mine: ‘Harold, don’t go over there.’ I looked in every direction to see where the speaker was. I wondered if it was my father, but he couldn’t see me. There was no one in sight. I realized that someone was warning me of an unseen danger – whether a nest of rattlesnakes or whether the rotting timbers would fall on me and crush me, I don’t know. But from that time on, I accepted without question the fact that there were processes not known to man by which we can hear voices from the unseen world by which we can have brought to us the visions of eternity.”2
On two other occasions, it was his mother who would be the hands in which the Lord would work to preserve Harold’s life. When Harold was eight years of age, his mother asked him to get her a can of lye from the pantry. As Harold took hold of it, he slipped, and the can tipped and spilled all over him. Harold’s mother immediately grabbed him so he wouldn’t run, kicked off the lid of a large tub of pickled beets, and splashed cup after cup of red vinegar juice all over his head and body, neutralizing the lye.3
On another occasion while working on the farm as a teen, Harold gashed an artery on a broken bottle. Louisa was able to stop the bleeding, but the wound still became infected. She took a clean black stocking, burned it to ashes, opened his wound, and rubbed the ashes into it very thoroughly. Soon after, the wound healed quickly.3
Over the years, Harold would remember the love, devotion, and teachings his mother instilled in him as a youth. When he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Harold made this tribute to his mother: “I have been blessed with…a grand and lovely mother; one who didn’t display often her affection, but showed her love in tangible ways that, as a child, I came early to recognize as true mother love…”4
Education and Career
Harold’s parents encouraged and supported each of their children in their educational endeavors. Harold graduated from the eighth grade by the age of thirteen and then continued his education at the Oneida Stake Academy. The Academy was located in Preston, Idaho, where it offered classes in science, mathematics, biology, business, history, physical education, carpentry, music, and missionary work. Harold loved music, and during the first two years at the school, he learned to play the alto, French horn, and the baritone horn. As he matured, he began to take an interest in the school sports program, where he excelled in basketball. Harold graduated from the Academy in 1916 at the age of seventeen.
The summer after he graduated, he entered the Albion State Normal School located in Albion, Idaho, where he prepared to become a teacher. He remarked, “…This was a fine school, providing me some of the finest teachers of my lifetime. The laws of Idaho required a rigid test in fifteen subjects in order to qualify, and I spent an intensive study, losing twenty pounds in weight, but [I] gained my objective, passing the required examination with an average grade of 89 percent…I think I never absorbed so much knowledge as during the summers of 1916-1917 when I earned my second and third-class certificates.”5
Harold’s first teaching assignment was in a one-room schoolhouse in Weston, Idaho, where he taught twenty-five students in grades one through eight and accrued sixty dollars a month in salary. At the age of eighteen, Harold became the principal of a school in Oxford, Idaho, where he established the ‘Oxford Athletic Club’ and started a women’s choir. He would later recall his experience there: “I was principal of this school for three winters. Because my father had financed me through school, and I was staying at home, I turned over my paychecks from teaching school to him and then paid my extra expenses by playing in a dance orchestra.”
Mission, Marriage, and Family Life
At the age of twenty-two, Harold was called on a mission for the Mormon Church to serve in the Western States. This mission call meant that the money Harold had been sending home from his teaching position would be terminated, and his parents now would have to support him on his mission. After two years of service, Harold was released from his mission in December 1922.
While serving his mission, Harold met Fern Tanner, a fellow missionary. Upon returning from his mission, he renewed his association with Fern, and in November 1923, they were married. This union was blessed with two daughters, Maurine and Helen.
After further study at the University of Utah in 1922-23, Harold was appointed principal of the Granite School District in Salt Lake City, where he served for five years. In 1928, Harold resigned as the school principal to become the Intermountain Manager for the Foundation Press, Inc., and in 1932 he was appointed to the Salt Lake City Commission and won re-election in November of 1933.
Harold always thought of the needy. He was Stake president of the Pioneer Stake in Salt Lake City, and the depression in 1929 did not exclude the members in his stake. More than half of the members were unemployed. He spent endless hours and long nights worrying about the welfare of the members and how he could help them. After many hours of prayer, he was inspired to set up programs that would help care for those in need. That Christmas, when he realized that over one thousand children under the age of ten would be without gifts, he knew that someone needed to step up and help. President Lee said, “We found a second floor over an old store…We gathered toys, some of which were broken, and for a month or two before Christmas, parents came to help us. Many arrived early or stayed late to make something special for their own little ones. That was the spirit of Christmas giving—one had only to step inside the door of that workshop to see and feel it. Our goal was to see that none of the children would be without a Christmas…”6
The Welfare Program
The Great Depression continued into the 1930s, when, again, half the members of President Lee’s stake were unemployed. Throughout the years, the Lord had inspired His prophets to prepare the members for such a time as this. In 1935, prior to his call in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the First Presidency assigned Harold to work with a group of men in developing a welfare plan for the Mormon Church. The Lord had prepared President Lee throughout his childhood and into his adulthood to take on an important responsibility, that being the establishment of the Church-wide welfare program.
In 1941, Harold B. Lee was ordained an Apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. During his talk at General Conference, President Lee testified of this truly inspired program: “For the last five…years, I have labored, under a call from the First Presidency with a group of men in the development of and the unfolding of what we have called the Church Welfare Plan…I was astounded to learn that for years there had been before [the First Presidency], as a result of the their thinking and planning and as [a] result of the inspiration of Almighty God, the genius of the very plan that is being carried out and was in waiting and in preparation for a time when in their judgment the faith of the Latter-day Saints was such that they were willing to follow the counsel of the men who lead and preside in this Church…[This Welfare Plan] is God’s will, this is His plan…I know that the work that we are now advancing and unfolding has still greater potential possibilities. They will come to the extent that the Latter-day Saints will learn to do what they are told, but not until; and some of the grandest things yet to come can only come if and when we learn to listen to these men who preside as prophets, seers, and revelators.”4
Teaching the Church
President Lee traveled the world testifying to members and non-members alike of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Wherever he went, his love radiated for the members of the Mormon Church. He taught the importance of the priesthood in leading the Church and the strength of the priesthood in the home. He taught the importance of keeping all of God’s commandments and that if the members do, ‘therein lies the safety from the world.’ At the 1967 General Conference of the Mormon Church, Elder Lee re-emphasized to the members that the Church programs are to support the family. “Again and again has been repeated the statement that the home is the basis of a righteous life. With new and badly needed emphasis on the ‘how,’ we must not lose sight of the ‘why’ we are so engaged …Wise regional leadership can help us to do our share in attaining God’s overarching purpose, ‘to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.’
President Lee was not exempt from trials in his life. In 1962, after thirty-nine years of marriage, his wife Fern passed away. Three years later, he lost his daughter, Maurine.
Years before, when Harold had completed his mission, he called on a former missionary companion’s girlfriend named Freda Jensen. Freda remained unmarried for forty years until Harold met her again after the death of his first wife Fern. They married in June 1963.
Prophetic Calling and Death
Following the death of President Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee was sustained as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator on July 7, 1972. After serving eighteen months, President Lee passed away at the age of seventy-four.
For more information on the Mormon Church please see the following website:
1 “Decisions for Successful Living”, 1973, p.12-13
2 “Ensign”, Nov 1971, p.17
3 “Ensign”, “Louisa Bingham Lee: Sacrifice and Spirit”, Feb 1974, p.82-83
4 “Conference Report”, Apr 1941, p.120
5 “Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer”, Goates, 1985, p.48
6 “Ye Are the Light of the World”, p.345-7
Anita Stansfield began writing at the age of sixteen, and her first novel was published sixteen years later. For more than fifteen years she has been the number-one best-selling author of women’s fiction in the LDS market. Her novels range from historical to contemporary and cover a wide gamut of social and emotional issues that explore the human experience through memorable characters and unpredictable plots. She has received many awards, including a special award for pioneering new ground in LDS fiction, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Whitney Academy for LDS Literature, and also a Lifetime Achievement Award from her publisher, Covenant Communications. She has fifty-six published books. Anita is the mother of five, and has three grandchildren.