The first endowments for the dead in LDS history were performed on January 11, 1877, in the St. George Temple. Considering that performing endowments for the dead rewrote the nature of LDS temple worship and vastly multiplied reasons for temple attendance, it is a topic worthy of reverent consideration and appreciation. As much an invitation for increased work for the dead, it has been a call for increased consecration and obedience among the living.
The topic of endowments for the dead will be addressed through a series of questions. First, did the Prophet Joseph Smith teach the principle of performing ordinances for the dead, other than the ordinance of baptism, while he was alive in Nauvoo? Second, during the so-called “interregnum era” in Church history (1844–47), is there evidence for endowments for the dead in the Nauvoo Temple or during the Mormon exodus west? Third, what was the nature of temple work during the period without temples in the Great Basin from 1848 to 1877, and what were President Brigham Young’s views on the subject? Fourth, why did this ordinance work begin in the St. George Temple? And finally, what role did Wilford Woodruff play in the formative days of this new temple practice? As will become clear, it is far easier to explore where and when endowments for the dead began than to answer how or why.