The Miller-Eccles Study Group was established in 1979 by Steve Eccles and Ron Miller.
At the time, Ron was Stake Mission President in the Arcadia California Stake and Steve was a member of the mission presidency. Steve had been attending the Mormon History Association annual meetings, having been introduced to that organization by Gary Smith, a local attorney.
After inviting Leonard Arrington, who was then the Church Historian, to a stake missionary fireside, Steve commented to Ron that it would be wonderful if Arrington could speak in a more personal setting, such as a private home, where questions might be taken after the presentation in format similar to the Mormon History Association meetings. Ron agreed, and so the first meeting was set up at Ron’s home in Arcadia. Both Ron and Steve invited friends and acquaintances and Arrington was invited back to talk in this setting. He gave a brief overview of the Church Historical Department organization and scope, then opened the meeting up to questions. The meeting commenced at 7.00 p.m. and people were still asking questions after 10.00 p.m. Those who attended donated money to cover the cost of bringing Arrington to Southern California.
That initial meeting was so successful that three additional meetings were held that first year. Since that time the group has met on the average of eight to ten times a year.
The group was formally organized as a non-profit entity on January 1, 1982. The original Board of Directors consisted of Steve Eccles, Ron Miller, E. Gary Smith, Robert McKenny and Gordon H. Moffat. Biographies of the current Board of Directors can be found at this link:
The group continued to meet at the Millers’ Arcadia home until 2000, when it moved to the home of Russ & Christie Frandsen in La Canada-Flintridge. In about 2005 the group expanded further to include an Orange County venue at the home of Morris & Dawn Thurston in Villa Park. After Steve & Daryl Eccles relocated to the Dallas Texas area in 2002 a smaller group began meeting in Texas on an occasional basis.
At about the same time as the Miller Eccles group was getting started, there was concern in some Church corners about academic freedom, the propriety of scholars speaking on controversial issues, and the advisability of study groups. On September 22, 1981, not long after Leonard Arrington’s appearance, he wrote an interesting letter to Steve Eccles in which he acknowledged the importance of groups such as Miller Eccles, especially in “outlying areas,” and noted that “it is probably easier for people in [Utah] to keep up to date on these matters, partly because of coverage in the local press, and partly because it is so easy for them to give a telephone call to one of our staff or to the General Authorities or to other Church employees, and of course, many of us speak every Sunday at Sacrament meetings, firesides, and other groups.” Brother Arrington then went on with a fascinating discussion of study groups in Utah:
I might say that the [Miller Eccles group] resembles in many respects a study group that Grace and I were invited to join when I was appointed Church Historian in 1972. It is called the Cannon-Hinckley Church History Study Club, which was organized originally in 1930 by members of the Cannon and Hinckley families to study the six volume Comprehensive History of the Church just published by B. H. Roberts. They spent several years studying that book, studied other books in Church history, and then began to have talks on aspects of Church History by invited speakers—General Authoritiies, Church administrators, and professional Church historians. Several General Authorities belong to this group, which meets once a month, including President and Sister Kimball, President and Sister Tanner, President and Sister Romney, President and Sister Hinckley…. Obviously General Authorities are very busy but there are always some of them present at every monthly meeting…. Recent talks have included, History of our Missions in Latin America, History of the Saints in the South Sea Islands, History of the Granting of Statehood to Utah, The Church and Education, Adam and the Dinosaurs, and Law and Religion.
I hope your group is doing well. As I think I mentioned to you when we were there, there are literally hundreds of these groups in Utah…. Before 1972 Grace and I lived in Logan and belonged to a study group there of Church people called “Solere,” which stood for social, learning, and religion. We felt great pride in that group which has met monthly since 1936, because from that group have emerged three General Authorities, two Temple Presidents, and several mission presidents besides Stake Presidents, Bishops, High Councilors and Relief Society Presidents. Oh yes, also a member of the Relief Society General Board.
The list of speakers who have appeared at the Miller Eccles Study Group is a veritable “who’s who” in Mormon thought. Meetings have dealt not only with Church history, but also with theological, sociological, political, artistic and international issues. Our speakers have included an apostle (Dallin H. Oaks), a Church patriarch (Eldred G. Smith) a Church historian (Leonard Arrington), and two assistant Church historians (R. Davis Bitton and Richard E. Turley) — though in the case of Elder Oaks and Brother Turley, their appearances predated their current callings.
We have heard from best-selling Mormon novelists (Levi Peterson, Orson Scott Card, Douglas Thayer, Lael Littke and Margaret Blair Young), the preeminent LDS movie maker (Richard Dutcher), renowned Mormon journalists (Peggy Fletcher Stack, Linda Sillitoe and Dennis Lythgoe), the foremost Mormon editorial cartoonist (Pat Bagley) and leading Mormon sociologists (Armand Mauss and Tim Heaton). Armand, along with Lester Bush, another former Miller Eccles speaker, were among the first scholars who wrote convincingly about issues involving race and Mormonism prior to the 1978 revelation on the priesthood.
Our guests have included revered Mormon essayists (Eugene England, Mary Lythgoe Bradford and Robert Rees), well-known organizational and management commentators (J. Bonner Richie), and scholars of Mormon Theology (Brian Birch and Blake Ostler). Some of our guests aren’t members of the LDS Church, but have written about it, such as a Pulitzer-Prize-winning historian (Daniel Walker Howe), the well-known non-LDS observer of all things Mormon (Jan Shipps), and the world’s foremost authority on the Utah War (William P. MacKinnon).
We’ve also had other important non-Mormon speakers such as Ken Verdoia (public television documentary producer), Hugh Hewitt (Emmy-winning host of KCET programs and author of book about Mitt Romney), Karen Torjesen (Dean of the Claremont Graduate School) and Reverends Cecil “Chip” Murray and Mark Whitlock (pastors of of the African Methodist Episcopal Church). Some of our speakers have been from the Community of Christ, which shares a common historical heritage with the LDS Church (William Russell, Roger Launius, Paul Edwards and John Hamer).
We’ve heard from highly regarded commentators on the Book of Mormon, such as Terryl Givens (By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion) and Grant Hardy (Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Readers Guide), both published by the prestigious Oxford University Press.
We’ve heard from members of our current Board of Directors, including Armand Mauss and Lael Littke (mentioned above), Rob Briggs (on Mountain Meadows and violence on the Utah frontier), Morris Thurston (on Missouri’s attempts to extradite Joseph Smith), Christie and Russ Frandsen (on mourning with those who mourn), and Dawn and Morris Thurston (on writing life stories).
We haven’t yet mentioned the renowned Mormon historians who have written some of the most influential books on Mormon history that have been published in the last thirty years, such as Richard Bushman (Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling), D. Michael Quinn (The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power), Gregory Prince (David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism), Todd Compton (In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith) and Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery (Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith).
And then there are Richard Turley, Glen Leonard and Ronald Walker (Massacre at Mountain Meadows); William Bagley (Blood of the Prophets), and Richard L. Anderson (Joseph Smith’s New England Heritage), Carol Cornwall Madsen (An Advocate for Women: The Public Life of Emmeline B. Wells), Thomas G. Alexander (Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff), Richard E. Bennett (Mormons at the Missouri, 1846-52) and Claudia Bushman (Building the Kingdom: A History of Mormons in America).
We have also heard from many of the scholars affiliated with the Joseph Smith Papers project, including Richard Turley, Richard Bushman, Dean Jessee, Ron Esplin, Terryl Givens, Richard Lloyd Anderson, Richard Jensen, Joseph Bentley, Morris Thurston, William Hartley and Grant Underwood.
Several of our meetings have featured more than one presenter — among them were panels on “Homosexuality and the Church” (Carlfred Broderick, Larry Langlois and Gaye Smith), the “History of the Relief Society” (Jill and Brook Derr), the “Office of the Patriarch” (Gary Smith and Irene Bates), “Writing a Life Story” (Dawn and Morris Thurston) and “The Bloggernacle” (Nathan Oman, Kaimi Wenger and Caroline Kline). Some of our presentations have been musical — including performances by Lisa Arrington, Michael Hicks, Charlotte Smirthwait and Marvin Perkins.
These are glimpses of past memories. We feel confident that our future will be every bit as bright. If you live within driving distance of one of our venues, or happen to be visiting in the area, we invite you to join us.