Meet President Elbert Duncan Thomas
Andrew Jenson, Vol. 4, p.225-227
Biographical Account Taken From the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia written by A. Jenson,
Church Historian in the Years 1917-29, Provided by D. Staples, Kansai Branch, Japan.
Thomas, Elbert Duncan, United States Senator and member of the Deseret Sunday School Union Board since 1929, was born June 17, 1883, in the 7th Ward of the old Salt Lake Stake, the son of Richard K. Thomas and Caroline Stockdale, who emigrated from England to Utah in 1863.
The associations incident to activities revolving around the old "Barnacle," a little theater built by his father, R. K. Thomas, for the use of his family and their neighbors, gave him an opportunity to meet leaders of Salt Lake's political and cultural groups. This resulted in his taking an interest in politics and dramatics. He and his wife (Edna Harker) both became widely recognized as amateurs in their youthful days on the stage. As early as 1898 as a boy speaker, he appeared at political rallies. When eight years of age Elbert D. Thomas was baptized by John Keddington and passed regularly through the Priesthood grades of Deacon, Teacher, Elder, Seventy, and High Priest. He was ordained a Seventy by George Albert Smith when he was set apart for a mission, and later became one of the presidents of the historic 3rd Quorum of Seventy. He was president of the 7th Ward M. I. A. and a member of the Pioneer Stake Mutual Board. He also served .for many years as president of the 17th Ward M. I. A. and as a member of the old Salt Lake Stake M. I. A. Board. Both in the Pioneer and Salt Lake stakes, he served as a home missionary. He is [p.226] at the present time (1936) a member of the High Council of the Salt Lake Stake, a member of the Stake Board of Education, and since 1926 has served as a member of the general board of the Deseret Sunday School Union tie was ordained a High Priest by Elder Joseph F. Smith, jun., in 1925.
With his wife, Edna Harker Thomas, who was for years second assistant general superintendent of the Primary Associations, he left for Japan in 1907, where he became secretary and later president of the Japan Mission. They were released in October, 1912, and returned home after a tour through Asia, northern Africa, and Europe. There is in the Japanese language one small book written by Brother Thomas entitled "Sukui No Michi," (The Way To Salvation), and a larger book of three hundred pages containing his writings. These writings are addresses and articles dealing with many gospel themes. They were first written in English and then translated into Japanese colloquial for oral reading. Later they were transcribed into the Japanese written language by Elder Lloyd O. Ivie and published by the Mission under the direction of Pres. Grant Ivins. Under Pres. Thomas' direction the translation of the L. D. S. Hymn Book was commenced. This translation continued until the entire L. D. S. Hymn Book was translated in such a way that the tunes as used in English could be sung in Japanese, and then it was published. The translation of the most significant sections of the Doctrine and Covenants and of Talmage's "Articles of Faith" were also begun. Dr. Talmage's book was later finished and published by Pres. H. Grant Ivins.
Brother Thomas finished the grade schools (the Grant School in Salt Lake City) in 1899 and went directly as a preparatory student to the University of Utah. As a student and a member of the faculty of the University he spent twenty-seven years.
He has received three academic degrees from three different institutions: A.B. (Utah, 1906), Ph.D. (Calif., 1924), and L.L.D. (Hon., U. of So. Calif., 1935). The last degree was conferred in recognition of "distinguished achievement in education and public service." As an undergraduate he majored in Latin and Greek. He took his doctor's degree in political science and oriental languages.
On returning from his mission, upon the recommendation of Professor Byron Cummings and Pres. J. T. Kingsbury, he was appointed by the regents of the University of Utah an instructor in Latin and Greek at the University. This marked the beginning of an educational career which has been varied. For six years he served as a University administrative officer, having charge of the secretary's and registrar's offices. As secretary of the board of regents, he administered the University's financial affairs. During the World war, along with the State and University funds, he was responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars of Federal moneys which the government expended through the University. From 1917 to 1922, he was chairman of the Military Affairs Committee of the University. Brother Thomas served as 2nd lieutenant in the First Infantry of the Utah National Guard in 1906 and 1907. From 1918 to 1924 he was a major in the inspector general's department, United States Reserves. In 1920 he was nominated by the State Democratic Convention for the office of Secretary of State.
His life in the Far East gave him Asiatic interests and he organized courses at the University of Utah dealing with Asia. This work brought him recognition in educational centers and as a result he has been honored with an executive committee membership in the American Council of Learned Societies. His book, [p.227] "Chinese Political Thought," is a result of this interest. He was made a member of the Carnegie European Conference of American Professors in 1926, which gave him the opportunity to study international organizations at The Hague, Geneva, and Paris. In 1934 he received the Oberlaender award for study in Germany. He is a member of the executive council of the American Society of International Law and has membership in the American Political Science Association and the Chinese Social and Political Science Association. He was awarded a medal for distinguished services in the social sciences by the Pi Gamma Mu national honorary fraternity, and is a member of Phi Delta Theta and Phi Kappa Phi.
From 1922 to 1924 he served as a teaching fellow in political science at the University of California and in 1933, when he left the University of Utah to assume his duties as a member of the United States Senate, he held a professorship in political science. In 1935 he delivered a series of lectures at the University of California on "Modern Political Trends As Reflected in Legislation."
In the United States Senate he serves on the committees of Foreign Relations, Military Affairs, Education and Labor, Mines and Mining, and the Pensions. He served as a member of the select committee to investigate the 1932 election in Louisiana. Appointed by Vice President Garner in 1935, he serves now as vice chairman of the Thomas Jefferson National Memorial Commission.
Brother and Sister Thomas have three daughters, namely, Chiyo, Esther (Mrs. Wayne Clayton Grover), and Edna Louise. (See also Bio. Ency. Vol. 2, p. 722.)