The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Blair, William Wallace
(October 11, 1828–April 18, 1896)

–prominent Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) missionary and official—was born in Holly, New York, the fifth son of James and Fannie Blair. He grew up and worked on a farm near Amboy, Illinois, until 1854. For several years he owned and operated a mercantile store in East Paw Paw, Illinois. Much of his life was dedicated to service as a missionary for the RLDS.

    The course of Blair's life was set by his conversion to the Latter Day Saint religion in 1851. He was baptized by William Smith, whose brother Joseph Smith II, founder of the movement, was killed in 1844. However, in less than a year Blair became disaffected with William Smith's teachings. When missionaries from the newly formed RLDS visited him in 1856, he felt led by the Holy Spirit to join the organization. The group fiercely opposed polygamy, and believed Joseph Smith III, son of the original prophet, would eventually lead them. Blair was baptized April 7, 1857, and ordained a High Priest the next day. Within a year he was an Apostle.

    No person except Joseph Smith III, who was the Prophet/President from 1860 until 1914, served in more offices or exercised more influence over the church than W. W. Blair during his lifetime. Blair's official activities included being church recorder (1859- 1860); on the board that established the first church paper, the True Latter Day Saints' Herald (1859); Apostle with extensive missionary activity (1858-1873); counselor to Joseph Smith III in the First Presidency (1873-1896); on the committee to contact Emma Smith Bidamon, widow of Joseph Smith II, to obtain and publish Smith's manuscript revisions of the Bible (1867); on the church's Board of Publication (1875-1896); associate editor of the church paper, the Latter Day Saints' Herald (1885-1896); and editor of the Saints' Advocate, a magazine designed to convert followers of Brigham Young in Utah (1875- 1885). Blair's missionary activity ranged from California to Massachusetts, with an emphasis on the Midwest. He made hundreds of converts across Iowa from persons connected with the original Latter Day Saint church or its offshoots. He was on the committee that, in 1874, selected the area of Lamoni, Iowa, as the new location for the church headquarters and its press.

    In 1885 Blair and his family moved to Lamoni. Blair's marriage to Elizabeth Doty in 1849 produced seven children, four of whom became prominent in Lamoni's mercantile, banking, real estate, and utility businesses and in local politics.

    Blair's numerous writings centered on defending the prophetic nature of Joseph Smith II, validating the claim that Joseph Smith III was his father's rightful successor to the Latter Day Saint church, and trying to solve internal disputes within the Reorganized Church. The last emerged from the membership's disparate doctrinal background and complex relationships among administrative groups in the church.

    W. W. Blair usually spoke his mind directly. That, and his tendency toward literalism and conservative interpretations of the scriptures, often embroiled him in controversies. He even occasionally found himself at odds with Joseph Smith III, who was generally more open to diverse expressions of the faith and tried to lead the church with a combination of patience and firmness. Despite their disagreements, Blair and Smith remained cordial: Smith prominently displayed a photograph of Blair in his home and named a son William Wallace.

    Blair died on April 18, 1896, at Chariton, Iowa, returning from a church conference to his home in Lamoni. With his sudden death, his church lost a staunch and talented supporter, and Iowa lost an influential religious leader who helped establish numerous congregations throughout the state.
Sources Blair's diaries are located in the Temple Archives of the Community of Christ church in Independence, Missouri. (The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was renamed the Community of Christ in 2001.) A son, Frederick B. Blair, edited and published his diaries from March 1859 to 1877 as Memoirs of W. W. Blair (1908). Articles, speeches, debates, and pamphlets are published in the Latter Day Saints' Herald, as is an obituary.
Contributor: Alma R. Blair