When General Conference Was Canceled + Other Conference Firsts

First time a prophet’s message was read in general conference by somebody else: October 1964

Following the advice of his doctor, President David O. McKay did not attend the October 1964 conference, but instead had his two messages read by his sons Robert R. McKay and David Lawrence McKay.

Photo from archive.org

First time conference talks appeared in the Ensign: June 1971

Photo from lds.org

The Ensign magazine was first published in January of 1971. During its first year of publication, it included an issue dedicated to sharing all the general conference talks. Prior to this time, the talks were printed in their own conference report booklet published by the Deseret News.

First time an Olympian spoke during general conference: April 1985

Before general conference talks were limited to general authorities and auxiliary members, Olympic gymnast Peter Vidmar was invited to speak at the 1985 priesthood session of general conference. You can still read his talk on lds.org

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First time a woman prayed in conference: April 2013

Though women had regularly offered prayers for the general women’s meetings, it was not until 2013 that Sister Jean A. Stevens, First Counselor in the Primary General Presidency, offered a prayer at the close of a general session of conference.

First time speakers used a different language in general conference: October 2014

Leading up to the October 2014 general conference, it was announced that speakers who wished to give their addresses in their native languages would be able to do so. Four members of the Quorums of the Seventy did so during that first conference. English subtitles were shown on the screens of the conference center during these talks, while those listening outside hear a live English interpretation. This practice was only continued for one more session of general conference, in April 2015. 

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Priesthood and Relief Society Meetings

First time the general priesthood session was added: October 1945

Though an evening meeting had been held as part of general conference since as early as 1942, following the end of World War II, it was officially published as the "General Priesthood Meeting" in the October 1945 conference report. 

Elder Joseph Fielding Smith was the first speaker at that session and said,

“It is my purpose tonight to plead with our brethren who hold the responsibility of conducting the priesthood for a better supervision of priesthood quorums. In a revelation give to the Prophet for the benefit of the first elders of this Church he said: ‘. . . thou shalt not idle away they time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known’ (D&C 60:13). Too many of those who hold the priesthood have idled away their time and have buried their talent. We would like to have a revival among all the quorums of the priesthood.”

October 1941 general conference. Photo from Utah State Historical Society

First annual women's meeting: October 1986

The first Relief Society conference was held in the Assembly Hall on April 6, 1889, in conjunction with general conference, and began a pattern of holding a fall conference for education and a spring conference for compassionate service, music, and similar topics until 1945. The first general women’s meeting, held the Saturday before general conference as part of conference, was introduced in 1986. It eventually evolved into the general women’s meeting, with a member of the First Presidency and a member of each woman-led organization presidency speaking. In 2013, the meeting was reorganized, with the general Young Women meeting to replace the general Relief Society meeting before April conference sessions. This lasted only one year, after which the two meetings were again combined, this time with an invitation to girls age 8 and up to attend both the April and October sessions. 

April 1956 general conference. Photo from Utah State Historical Society.

First time live broadcast of the General Priesthood Session on television and online: October 2013

Though other sessions of general conference had been broadcast for several years, this was the first time members of the Church were able to tune in to this session of conference from their own home.

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First time the general women’s meeting was held as part of conference: October 2018

With the announcement made in October 2017, general priesthood session and general women’s session will now be held annually in April and October respectively. This upcoming October 2018 general conference will mark the first time a session for the women will be held on the Saturday night of conference weekend instead of the week before. 

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First time the Tabernacle Choir sang at general conference: October 1865

Just after the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in August 1847, a group of them sang at a conference of the Church (though not general conference). This small choir grew, and in 1849, President Brigham Young asked John Parry, who had led an 85-member choir of Welsh converts during that year’s general conference, to formally organize a choir to provide the music for all future general conferences. A choir was formed that performed at every general conference after that, but it was not until 1865, just a few years after the announcement that a new tabernacle would be built to house conference goers, that this choir was first referred to in the conference minutes as the “Tabernacle Choir.”

The Tabernacle Choir in 1953. Photos from Utah State Historical Society.

First general conference hymn sung in the Salt Lake Tabernacle: “Praise, praise, O, praise the Great I Am!”

This hymn was specially composed for the occasion by Eliza R. Snow, accompanied by Joseph J. Daynes on the new Tabernacle organ. The text of the hymn appeared in the October 1867 Deseret News general conference minutes: 

Praise, praise, O, praise the Great I AM!
Sing glory, glory to the Lamb!
Let ev’ry heart a tribute bring,
And join to praise our God and King. 

O God, who form’d the heav’ns and earth—
Who sends the gushing fountains forth—
Who built the sky and made the sea,
Thou art our God: we bow to Thee. 

They servants, Lord, assemble here,
To praise and pray—to speak and hear:
O, let Thy Spirit on them rest,
And ev’ry humble soul, be blest.

While we convene from day to day,
Be in our midst, O God, we pray:
And let Thy mighty power be felt,
The dross, to burn—the gold, to melt. 

On mountain tops, a beacon stands:
Its light is seen in distant lands;
Like burning lamps, Thy Truth, O God,
And righteousness go forth abroad. 

Praise, praise, O, praise the Great I AM!
Sing glory, glory to the Lamb!
Let ev’ry heart a tribute bring,
And join to praise our God and King. 

The Tabernacle Choir at the 1956 general conference.Photos from Utah State Historical Society.

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*Note: Additional resources are found throughout the article, but many of the facts contained originally came from 150 Years of General Conference, found on lds.org. 

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