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farmer, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, President of the Mormon Church
Ezra Taft Benson was born on a farm near Whitney, Idaho, on August 4, 1899, the oldest of eleven children. He was named for his great-grandfather Ezra Taft Benson, who was with the first group of Mormons to arrive at Salt Lake in 1847.
Benson graduated from the Oneida Academy in Preston, Idaho, in 1918, after which he enlisted in the military. The First World War ended before he saw active duty, however. Following studies at Utah State Agricultural College and a stint as an LDS missionary in England, he received a a Bachelor's in Animal Husbandry from Brigham Young University (in 1926) and a Master's in Agricultural Economics from Iowa State College (in 1927).
Benson met Flora Smith Amussen while at Utah State Agricultural College. The two were married at the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 10, 1926, and eventually had six children.
After receiving his Master's, Benson returned to the family farm, which he and a brother had purchased from their father. In 1929 he was appointed Franklin County Agriculture Extension Agent. He and his family moved to Boise, Idaho, upon his promotion to Supervisor of all County Agriculture Extension Agents in 1930. In addition to his extension work, he served as executive secretary of the Idaho Cooperative Council.
Benson's work with the Idaho Cooperative Council took him to Washington, D.C., in 1939, as executive secretary of the National Council on Farmer Cooperatives. In that capacity he represented cooperatives before several congressional committees. During the Second World War he was part of the four-man National Agriculture Advisory Committee that reported directly to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Early LDS Work
Benson's first LDS Church mission was in England from 1921 to 1923. During his time there he served as Newcastle Conference clerk, Sunderland Branch president, and president of the Newcastle Conference. His rise through the "LDS ranks" began in 1938, when he was named president of the Boise Idaho Stake. After his move to Washington, D.C., he was made president of a newly established Washington Stake, in 1940. He and Spencer W. Kimball were called to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on October 7, 1943. Kimball became Benson's "superior" in the Church because he was the older of the two men.
In December of 1945, Benson was called by Church President George Albert Smith to head the Church's European Mission. In that capacity he visited over 100 cities in 13 countries and oversaw the distribution of 92 boxcar loads of food, clothing, medical supplies, and bedding. He also reopened missions that had been closed by the war.
Benson was appointed Secretary of Agriculture by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on January 21, 1953, and remained in that position through both of Eisenhower's terms. When he first took office agriculture was in trouble across the country, with low prices being paid to farmers and surpluses piling up in government warehouses. Throughout his tenure he advocated flexible price supports for farm products as a first step toward taking the government out of agriculture. Despite intense political opposition to his policies he won a number of significant legislative victories that provided some relief to struggling farmers and ranchers. A strong advocate for worldwide agricultural health, he met with heads of state, agriculture leaders, and farmers in over 40 nations during his tenure.
President of the Mormon Church
Benson retained his position on the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles throughout his tenure as Secretary of Agriculture, tending to his duties as such when time permitted, and resumed full time work with the Church after leaving office. He became President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on December 30, 1973, following the accession of Spencer W. Kimball to President of the Mormon Church. He succeeded Kimball as President on November 10, 1985.
As Church President, Benson emphasized the distribution and reading of the Book of Mormon in daily scripture study, missionary work, and gospel teaching. He also oversaw expansion of the Church's missionary work around the world, especially in Eastern Europe.
Ezra Taft Benson died in Salt Lake City on May 30, 1994. His funeral was held in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle on June 4, and he was buried near his birthplace in the Whitney City Cemetery.
Brigham Young University honored Benson in 1975 by establishing the Ezra Taft Benson Agriculture and Food Institute to help relieve world food problems and raise the quality of life worldwide through improved nutrition and better agricultural practices. A lifelong leader in the Boy Scouts of America, he received World Scouting's highest award, the Bronze Wolf, in 1989, the same year President George H.W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Citizens Medal.
Benson was the author of many books, including:
Farmers at the Crossroads
This page was last updated on January 26, 2017.