Why and How Did Karl G. Maeser Leave Saxony? New Documents Offer New Insights

History and family history are frequently characterized by legends and traditions, some of which turn out to be inaccurate under scrutiny. For example, Roger Minert’s great-grandfather was said to have been a professor of modern and classical languages at the University of Cologne in Germany; he knew seven languages.1 Yet he managed to live as an immigrant farmer in Oregon for twenty years and die without having learned English. Careful research led to the discovery that he was actually the son of a farmer and grandson of a farmer in the town of Wylatkowo in the Prussian province of Posen, where he might have picked up a few Polish words to add to his native German. The decades-old story of that great-grandfather has now undergone significant revisions.

Several legends and traditions are incorporated in the histories written about Karl G. Maeser, the great educational icon of the Brigham Young Academy from 1876 to 1892 (fig. 1). Although it might seem that the life of the man considered by many to be the father of Brigham Young University would have been definitively treated by biographers, a number of questions have yet to be clarified. The answers to these questions do not alter Maeser’s character or accomplishments, but documents previously undiscovered can describe more closely the seminal events of his life. Existing biographies need not be overhauled or discarded, but slight revisions and additions might be appropriate.

These questions include, for example, What was Maeser’s actual status as a teacher in Dresden? Where was he employed in that city? How was his employment terminated? Did his conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cause him to violate the laws of his native Kingdom of Saxony? Did he have his son Reinhard baptized as an infant in the local Lutheran Church when Karl was already disaffected with that church and investigating Mormonism?

Other questions have been treated by scholars over the years but can be revisited thanks to newly discovered original documents. For example, Did Maeser bear the title of “professor” or “doctor” in Germany? How long did he teach at the private Budich Institute? Did he teach in a public school? Did he achieve the status of a civil servant? Was he ever arrested? Was there a public outcry against him before he left Dresden? Was he expelled from his native land—forced to emigrate to England? This article will deal with these questions and several others in an attempt to add critical details to the biography of Karl G. Maeser in Dresden before his departure for England in 1856.

Maeser Biographers

Karl Gottfried Maeser (German: Mäser) was born in Vorbrücke near Meissen (German: Vorbrücke bei Meißen), Kingdom of Saxony, on January 16, 1828.2 The published accounts of Maeser’s life are surprisingly few and far between. The first was a biography penned by his son Reinhard Maeser in 1928 (twenty-one years after the death of Karl G. Maeser);3 this history lacks source citations and was written by a man who was not even one year old when his family left Saxony. Reinhard’s daughter Mabel Maeser Tanner wrote a biography of her grandfather, based primarily on the stories told by her father;4 Mabel grew up in Beaver, Utah, and likely saw her grandfather only a few times (he died when she was seventeen). Alma P. Burton published a Maeser biography in 1953 that featured many quotations, but without references.5 Douglas F. Tobler, a longtime professor of history at Brigham Young University, wrote a Maeser biography in 1977;6 his treatment of the great educator’s life was the first to contribute documentary evidence on Maeser’s German beginnings. Finally, A. LeGrand Richards published a lengthy biography in 2014, the initial focus being the emergence of Maeser’s pedagogical philosophies during his days as a pupil in his hometown of Meissen, his secondary school days in Dresden, and his first professional teaching assignments from 1848 to 1851.7

Maeser’s own writings are sparse. Several scholars indicate that he kept a diary, but its whereabouts are unknown. He contributed to the Improvement Era a short account entitled “How I Became a ‘Mormon,’” but it encompasses barely three and one-half pages and ends on the evening of his baptism in Dresden in 1855.8 Finally, countless students and admirers have attributed anecdotes and presumed quotations to this beloved educator.

One of the more fascinating aspects of the story of Karl G. Maeser is that of his departure from Saxony in 1856 at the age of twenty-eight. Various authors have dealt with this event as one of no particular complexity or abnormality, while others have described it as an almost cloak-and-dagger experience. But only a credible account of the occupational status of this young teacher, his status as a citizen in Dresden, and his service as the president of the fledgling LDS Dresden Branch in the months following his baptism can set up the conditions under which he left his homeland. This article will provide such an account.

Maeser as a Novice Teacher

Richards offered a highly detailed description of Maeser’s secondary schooling in Dresden and his first forays into the world of professional teaching in Bohemia, a kingdom in the Austrian Empire. Maeser graduated in 1848 from Dresden’s Friedrichstadt Teachers College and then worked in the Bohemian Catholic town of Komotau as a tutor for a wealthy Lutheran family.9 He completed the required three years of service there in 1851 and retraced the forty miles north to Dresden, the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony. Reinhard Maeser wrote that his father next taught in a public school in Dresden, but this statement is incorrect (as described below).10 The Dresden city directories of 1852 and 1853 corroborate statements by Tobler and Richards that Maeser was listed as a schoolteacher.11 Both authors place Maeser in the private Budich Institute in the Neustadt suburb of Dresden in 1854, but a document recently discovered in the Dresden City Archive places him in that school as early as the school year of 1851–52.12 This was his first professional employment in Dresden.

The Budich Institute was established in 1846 by Hermann Moritz Budich. Maeser was therefore one of the first teachers employed there when he was hired in the fall of 1851.13 In 1852, his salary was 250 Taler, the highest among the school’s eleven teachers, and he was classified as a Hauptlehrer (head or master teacher).14 It would seem that he was very successful at that school for boys and girls, rising to the top position by his second year.15 Maeser remained on the faculty there until his departure for England in 1856. Toward the end of his life (1899), he indicated that his title at the Budich Institute was Oberlehrer (senior teacher).16

As a graduate of a teacher’s college (of which there were several in Dresden in 1848), Maeser was not awarded an academic title such as “professor” or “doctor.” It appears, from the Utah literature, that such titles were not applied to this German immigrant teacher until he was employed for short terms in several small schools in Salt Lake City, such as Brigham Young’s private family school (1865–67). Tobler addressed the question of Maeser’s purported titles in these words:

The traditional picture of Maeser’s early life depicting him as . . . a “professor” . . . who gave up wealth, position, and prestige to come to America for the gospel’s sake is, at best, an incomplete and distorted stereotype understandably fashioned by grateful family and students. . . . Maeser himself may have wittingly and unwittingly contributed to this image of his past in the minds of his Utah contemporaries by the absence of his own written firsthand accounts of his early life.17

Saxony was one of four German-language kingdoms in the 1850s, and its corpus of laws was impressively large, with several pages of legal codes devoted to teachers. For example, anyone who desired to achieve the status of ständiger Lehrer (tenured teacher) needed to meet the following conditions: (1) pass an examination given by an agency approved by the Ministry of Culture and thereby become a Hilfslehrer (teacher candidate);18 (2) serve for two years as a Hilfslehrer, a private tutor, or a teacher in a private school under the supervision of an established teacher and serve to that supervisor’s complete satisfaction; (3) pass a second examination following that term of candidacy; and (4) attain the age of twenty-one years.19

Maeser as a Professional Teacher

Karl G. Maeser was officially registered by the city as one of four new teacher candidates and teachers in private schools on April 26, 1851 (fig. 2).20 However, there is no evidence that he met the requirements for advancement during his five full years at the Budich Institute. If such is the case, perhaps Director Budich did not qualify as a supervisor under the law, or perhaps Maeser never took the second examination. In all likelihood, Maeser was not yet a tenured teacher in Saxony.21

The question of civil service status for a teacher was crucial in Saxony at that time. Civil servants (essentially career government employees) enjoyed important advantages regarding salaries, retirement benefits, and professional leaves, all of which generally led to higher socioeconomic status. This was certainly something that Maeser would have wanted to achieve someday as a competent teacher. Joerg Ludwig, senior archivist in the modern Saxony State Archive in Dresden stated that because Maeser’s status in the Budich Institute was only that of a teacher candidate in the eyes of the government, he could not possibly attain the status of civil servant.22 Nevertheless, despite his temporary status, Maeser would have been allowed to participate in the teachers’ retirement fund as early as 1851.23

In 1852, Maeser lived in the same building as the Budich Institute at Königsstrasse 7 in Dresden-Neustadt (fig. 3).24 The next year his address is shown as Alaunstrasse 6, also in the suburb of Neustadt. His walk to school each day from the latter address was barely one-quarter mile.25

Once established in his chosen profession, he was in a position to marry when he fell in love with Anna Mieth, a daughter of Carl Immanuel Mieth, the principal of a public school.26 The marriage entry in the records of the Dreikönigskirche in Dresden-Neustadt describes Maeser as “Oberlehrer an der Privatschulanstalt des Herrn Directors Budich” (senior teacher at the private school of Director Budich).27

Maeser as the First Latter-day Saint Convert in Saxony

By the time Karl G. Maeser married Anna Mieth on June 11, 1854 (fig. 4), in the Dreikönigskirche (Three Kings Church, located across the street from the Budich Institute in Dresden-Neustadt), he had developed a close friendship with Eduard Schoenfeld (Schönfeld), a public schoolteacher four years his junior. Schoenfeld was the husband of Anna Mieth’s younger sister, Caroline, and later indicated that “God so directed it, that [Maeser’s and my] life’s path ran together . . . , and we found ourselves acting as teachers in one of the large schools of the city of Dresden.”28 Because Maeser’s position in the Budich Institute has been established, we can assume that Schoenfeld also gained employment in that school.29

A. L. Richards wrote that Maeser’s first acquaintance with the LDS faith came when he read anti-Mormon literature.30 While investigating this strange religion, he also advanced from husband to father: son Reinhard Maeser was born on March 19, 1855, and baptized in the Dreikönigskirche one month later under the name Karl Friedrich Reinhard Mäser (fig. 5).

In July, Maeser began writing letters to LDS mission leaders in Denmark and Switzerland to request official Church literature.31 Little by little, Maeser became convinced, at least to a degree, that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints taught the true doctrine of the Christian religion and that perceived failings in the Lutheran religion could not be overlooked. Apparently, Edward Schoenfeld had similar thoughts.

In response to Maeser’s letters to LDS mission leaders requesting information and instruction, Elder William Budge was dispatched to Dresden.32 Maeser, Schoenfeld, and Edward Martin were taught, converted, and baptized clandestinely on October 14, 1855, in the Elbe River on the western outskirts of Dresden. Five days later, Karl’s wife, Anna, and four other persons were also baptized and the LDS Dresden Branch was organized in the Maeser apartment on Alaunstrasse (fig. 6). Visiting European Mission president Franklin D. Richards presided over these events.33

Both Franklin D. Richards and A. LeGrand Richards suggested that the fledgling branch of Mormons in Dresden drew the attention of the police.34 Neither Maeser nor Schoenfeld made any such claim.35 Thus, the question of contact with the police invites an examination of the laws of the Kingdom of Saxony regarding the rights of citizens to change church affiliation and to assemble. The royal law of February 20, 1827, reads, “The transfer from one Christian denomination to another cannot be prevented, as long as the person in question is at least twenty-one years of age and not mentally incapable of making that decision of his own free will.”36 It is interesting to note the use of the word Confession (denomination) rather than Kirche (church) in this statute. Paragraph 3 of the 1827 law forbids any church official from making defamatory statements about the new faith.

The law of church transfer was reaffirmed in 1836 and again in 1843 with this additional requirement: the church official was to keep a book in which he recorded the names of all persons transferring out of or into his church.37 The person wishing to leave the faith officially was required to report to the pastor of the current faith and receive a certificate from him. Unfortunately, the book containing the records of such cases within the Dreikönigskirche of Dresden-Neustadt has not survived.38 The royal laws did not stipulate that a person was required to make such a declaration. It is unknown whether Maeser formally withdrew from the Lutheran Church.

As indicated above, Maeser and his fellow LDS converts immediately began to meet to worship in their new faith. The royal statutes regarding the rights of citizens to meet are instructive and have been summarized as follows from the laws passed in 1850:

Par. 1: No special permission is needed to hold peaceful meetings.

Par. 2: If “public matters” are to be discussed (including religion), permission [to assemble] must be requested in writing from the local police office 24 hours in advance [“a public meeting” is defined as involving topics that apply to the general public].

Par. 5, section 3: Discussions regarding “immoral actions” are not allowed (contradictions to Christian doctrine are not interpreted as “immoral actions”).

Par. 6: Police officials (in uniform or otherwise) or their deputies may enter any meeting if they can show written orders to do so, but police officials are not required to visit every meeting.

Par. 18: No permission is needed to establish a society or association (Verein), but a Verein may be granted official status only by the government.39

According to these statutes, there was no law in 1855 requiring the Dresden Mormons to register their meetings and no penalty for not doing so. They did not request recognition of their association, so the city authorities would not have known of their existence or have been interested in them unless a suspicious neighbor filed a complaint. Thus, there is little probability that the police ever monitored the religious activities of Maeser and his friends.40

However, the new Mormon leader in Dresden was definitely in a quandary in his profession. Having questioned the teachings of his native Lutheran faith for several years, he now found himself in private opposition to Lutheran doctrines. The laws regarding teachers in Saxony stated unequivocally that teachers could be terminated by order of the Ministry of Culture for any of the following reasons: committing any offense forbidden a civil servant; maintaining relations with persons of ill repute (übelberüchtigte Personen) or immoral women; committing offenses that resulted in incarceration; and/or teaching any doctrine contrary to that of the religion associated with the school. Nine other lesser offenses were listed that could cause school officials to demand remediation for or the release of a recalcitrant teacher including lack of dedication, frequent absence, conduct unbecoming a teacher, misuse of teacher privileges for personal gain, disobedience, slander against school officials, and inappropriate relationships with pupils.41

The End of Maeser’s Teaching Career in Dresden

While it is difficult to imagine that Maeser would commit offenses that would invite reprimand or punishment, he was certainly in a position of risk as a Mormon when required to teach religious doctrines he had recently rejected. Because there is no documentation to suggest that Maeser was disciplined by the Ministry of Culture, it can only be theorized that he felt himself in an untenable position at the Budich Institute and thus resolved to resign his position. Schoenfeld described the action in these words: “We [Maeser and I] voluntarily, but cheerfully gave up our situations in Dresden.”42

There was essentially no way that Karl G. Maeser as a convert to Mormonism could have remained a teacher in good standing in Saxony. One cause alone (“maintaining relations with persons of ill repute”) would have provided his superiors ample cause for his dismissal. By 1855, newspaper readers in all German lands had heard of the Mormons in the United States and in general found the new church to be strange and such doctrines as polygamy to be abhorrent. If it became known that Maeser was a Mormon, his employment at the Budich Institute would likely have been terminated or his resignation required. Roland Hermann, director of the Dresden School Museum and archive, stated that Maeser’s presence in the school as a Mormon would have been “intolerable” (untragbar).43

The importance of the study of religion in schools in Saxony during the 1850s is emphasized by the laws that had been in force there since 1835. The priority of subjects to be taught is provided by article B1, section 29:44

1. religion

2. writing and reading

3. handwriting and spelling45

4. arithmetic

5. music and singing

6. science, geography, history (esp. German history)

By 1855, religious instruction in Saxony still allowed the exposition of only Lutheran or Catholic doctrines.46

Those same 1835 laws provide precise requirements for all aspects of schools, teachers, and pupils. Section 112 describes the ideal teacher:

If a schoolteacher is to be granted the important and honorable profession of educating and training our youth as we hope he will, he must have not only the mature understanding, knowledge, character, and capabilities required for the appropriate instruction and training, but must also have a healthy and robust body that is not hindered by weaknesses and deficiencies, as well as a genuine love for his profession and the associate energy [?] and modesty—above all a well-founded Christian lifestyle characterized by pure and pious behavior.47

Essentially all who knew Maeser would attest that he exemplified this standard. In his Utah years, Maeser would be quoted by many students and friends as giving this description of his personal code of ethics: “Place me behind prison walls—walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground—there is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape, but stand me on that floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first!”48

How could any man of such integrity maintain a teaching position in Dresden where he would be faced with the temptation to be disloyal to his charge in a school where the teachings were based by law on Lutheran doctrines? How could he continue to instruct pupils in doctrines he no longer espoused without the pupils noticing (and possibly reporting) the incongruence?

A. L. Richards suggested that Maeser’s activities following the baptismal event in October 1855 were carefully monitored by the police: “Both men [Maeser and Schoenfeld] must have been constantly attempting to avoid detection by the authorities” and “it was obvious that they were under careful scrutiny of the civil authorities.”49 However, no corroboration is offered for either claim beyond the recapitulation of missionary John L. Smith.50 On the other hand, whereas Maeser’s actions were tenable under the laws of the Kingdom of Saxony, it is not impossible that uninformed neighbors or overzealous police officials were curious about the actions of Maeser and the other new Latter-day Saints and made their curiosity known.

As an “intolerable” teacher, Maeser apparently grappled with the question of emigration for several months in 1856, while the number of local Latter-day Saints quickly grew to thirty-two. Eduard Schoenfeld’s brother Friedrich even established a branch of the Church in Leipzig, the second-largest city in Saxony.51 European LDS supervisor Franklin D. Richards invited Maeser to visit England during the Christmas holidays of 1855.52 While giving speeches in German to the Saints in England and Scotland, he was likely infused with the spirit of community the large Mormon congregations enjoyed there, and it is probable that he was involved in discussions about emigration to Zion (essentially defined as the Utah Territory at the time).

Maeser’s Departure from Saxony

A. L. Richards’s description of the departure of Maeser and his LDS friends in the summer of 1856 cannot be substantiated; he suggests that the police arrested Maeser and subsequently expelled him from his homeland:

After the departure of [several Mormons], Karl was arrested and confronted with the options of giving up either his newfound faith or everything that he loved in his homeland. He chose the latter. Most of his family, with the exception of his wife and child [son Reinhard], thought he was crazy and that surely his enthusiasm for this strange sect was merely a phase he would eventually outgrow. . . . The Maesers were forced to leave Saxony on July 2, 1856.53

Is it possible that Maeser was concerned about the legality of his new church affiliation based on his lack of knowledge of the existing laws on the transfer of church membership (cited above)? Had he heard gossip in the neighborhood, were people asking about gatherings in his apartment, had his employer observed any differences in his professional demeanor? Unfortunately, no documents treating any of these issues have been found.

The dates of departure of the Maeser and Schoenfeld families differ in the various accounts we have found. Schoenfeld later wrote of his departure with only his family on June 6 and that the Maeser family followed in August.54 Reinhard Maeser was slightly over one year old when his parents took him from his birthplace, but he later told his daughter that they left on June 6.55 Tobler’s chronology agrees with that date. A. L. Richards established a departure date of July 2.56

At a gala event celebrating Maeser’s retirement in Salt Lake City in 1892, Franklin D. Richards shared his account of the Dresden teacher’s departure, claiming that Maeser had “submitted to three or four investigations.”57 He supposedly boarded a ship for England from the Hamburg port. A. L. Richards cited this account as the most reliable version.

As it turns out, the account attributed to Franklin D. Richards is fraught with errors. First of all, Richards did not write the story but was simply quoted by a Deseret Weekly News reporter as having told this story (which happened fully thirty-six years after Maeser’s emigration).58 Maeser’s reported departure from the German port of Hamburg cannot be substantiated from records in that port, and the suggestion that a country can simply pass its undesirable citizens over the border to another country has no legal basis.59

The question of police involvement in Maeser’s emigration can be resolved through a careful examination of what may be the most valuable document preserved from this episode in the educator’s life: a birth certificate found in Special Collections in the Harold B. Lee Library of Brigham Young University (fig. 7). The certificate was issued by Pastor Johann Friedrich Ernst Stange of the Lutheran Church in Cölln, the suburb of Meissen where the Maeser family resided in 1828, and was meant to be used to identify the holder for all public and private transactions.60 It attests to the birth of Carl Gottfried Mäser in Vorbrücke on January 16, 1828, and gives the names of his parents. The lower one-half of the document was used to record information relative to military service in the Kingdom of Saxony, and the notation states that Maeser was classified as “unfit for service” and thus exempted on December 9, 1848.61

The notation on the reverse of the certificate is crucial to the biography of Karl G. Maeser (fig. 8). The phrase ausgehändigt nach Liverpool was written by a police official in Dresden on July 2, 1856 (contradicting any account that has him leaving the country in June). The rubber stamp affixed to the document does indeed bear the markings of the Dresden Police Office and thus gives rise to the theory that Maeser was arrested (or at least considered in violation of law) and subsequently deported. However, a look at the police system in Saxony (and in all major German cities at the time) allows an altogether different interpretation.

The German word for “police,” Polizei, is defined by the Duden German dictionary as “the security agency that is charged with maintaining public order.”62 Thus the term applies to many urban and rural offices—not simply to the criminal police. For example, the laws of the Kingdom of Saxony show sixteen different police offices for the city of Leipzig (Saxony’s second largest), including residential registration, welfare, traffic, markets, Sabbath day commerce, fire, construction, taxation, and commerce. Those offices and likely a few others existed in the capital city of Dresden in 1856.

Archivist Joerg Ludwig stated that Maeser would have presented this certificate in 1856 at the Dresden city office of emigration in support of his application to relocate to Liverpool.63 The rubber stamp applied to the document was used by many police offices at the time. The notation was approved with the telegraphic wording “ausgehändigt nach Liverpool” (literally, handed out to Liverpool). The word ausgehändigt is the key to the interpretation of this three-word phrase. Three dictionaries of the German language of the day all indicate that the verb aushändigen is defined as “to transfer an object to a person.”64 Thus the phrase written by the emigration official on the reverse of the Maeser ID should be interpreted thus: “Dieser Schein ist zwecks Auswanderung nach Liverpool ausgehändigt” (This certificate is issued to enable the holder to identify himself in Liverpool). Karl G. Maeser was never “handed over” to anybody when he left his homeland.

Reinhard Maeser was correct in writing that his father “left Saxony quietly,” but the latter, accustomed to keeping the laws of the land, previously sought official permission to leave.65 Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that he was at the time either under official investigation or a convicted criminal. He had broken no laws in his native land.66

The most credible account of Maeser’s departure from his homeland was written by Tobler in 1977 (despite the inaccuracy of the first sentence): “Neither political nor religious freedom, both of which Maeser craved, existed [in Saxony]. Neither did his chances for employment as a teacher, now that he had joined the Mormon sect. . . . He decided to take his family, fellow members, and friends, and join the throng who were leaving Saxony for a new beginning in America.”67

It appears that no administrative or police action was required to motivate Maeser and Schoenfeld to resign their positions. Had he remained in Dresden, Maeser would eventually have become known as a Mormon and probably faced dismissal from the Budich Institute. Ostracism by friends and neighbors would have prevented any substantial growth of the LDS branch there, as it did all over Germany in the nineteenth century, and Maeser would have led a secluded and isolated life. He could not have applied for employment in any other school—not to mention civil servant status. He likely would not have been able to practice his chosen profession in Saxony.

Apparently echoing her father’s words, Mabel Maeser Tanner described the departure from Dresden: “The professors [sic] resigned their positions in the schools and began actively to prepare for their journey to Zion. . . . On June 6 [sic], 1856, very quietly, the little company left their homeland, some never to return.”68

Several newspapers reported the activities of the Latter-day Saints in Dresden shortly after Maeser’s departure for England. For example, the Sächsische Constitutionelle Zeitung of August 6 featured a kind article; the writer stated that the Church was achieving some success in the German states and that a group of Mormons did indeed exist in Dresden, numbering perhaps sixty persons, including some of advanced education. They preferred to meet in secret and so far nobody had any complaints against them. The editor concluded his article with this pronouncement: “Most of them are preparing to escape their ‘slavery among the heathens’ as soon as possible. They want to emigrate and that would be a good idea.”69 This is further evidence that the story of police officials escorting Maeser out of the country is inaccurate.

The same newspaper published a second notice identifying Maeser correctly as a senior teacher, but erroneously as an “assistant apostle” to “Daniel Franklin Richard.”70 The final sentence is another corroboration of the fact that Maeser left Saxony of his own free will: “[Maeser] and teacher Schönfeld resigned their fine positions locally and departed as apostles for Liverpool, taking their wives with them (one of them being pregnant); later they will travel to Deseret (Zion) by the Great Salt Lake in Utah.”71 The article indicated that Maeser’s group had avoided contact with the police and that nobody had brought any charges against them.72

The fact that Maeser did indeed return to Saxony and his home town as the president of the German mission in 1867 is additional evidence that he did not leave that country as a criminal or even an undesirable. At the time, the Saints in and near Dresden were still few in number, but those who remained were thrilled to see him. Reinhard Maeser wrote extensively of the reception accorded his father in his hometown of Meissen: “The first of these [two visits] lasted from November 9, 1867, until February 17, 1868. At this time, he visited all members of the family and his old school friends and teachers, and bore many strong and faithful testimonials of the truth of the Gospel as he believed and knew it.”73

Maeser returned to Meissen in February 1870 for what would be his last visit. This time, he accepted the invitation to give lectures on several occasions. His family members begged him to give up the life of the Mormon convert and stay in Saxony (and to send for his family in Utah to join him). He was reminded of “his lost opportunities to become somebody in the world” and of “the possibilities of usefulness for you here [and] are all united in the call.”74 Such a reception and invitation would not have been possible had Maeser left Saxony in disgrace—an undesirable, a criminal, an expellee.

Summary and Conclusions

For more than four years, Karl G. Maeser had been a respected but untenured teacher in a Dresden private school when he became convinced of the truth of the restored gospel as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He exercised his right to leave the Lutheran Church—perhaps unofficially—and was baptized in his new faith on October 14, 1855. He exercised another right when he invited other converts to hold meetings in his home, where the Dresden Branch was established just days later. For several months, he worked to strengthen the small community of the Saints. While on a tour of the British Isles during the Christmas holidays that year, he developed a longing to join with the Saints in Zion. Realizing that he could expect to forfeit his profession in Dresden as a Mormon who rejected the Lutheran faith, he planned to emigrate with his family and friends. He resigned his position at the Budich Institute, applied for official permission to leave Saxony, was granted that permission, said goodbye to his friends, and left for England without fanfare in July 1856.

The fact that Maeser left his homeland without compulsion is an expression of his dedication to the faith he had recently embraced. He had been introduced to the concept of the kingdom of God on earth while in England and longed for a lasting association with fellow believers. Although there was no guarantee that he would ever teach again (especially if he left the German-language territories), he was willing to risk earthly security to follow God. This attests to the character of the man who would eventually teach again on a distant continent and in a different language.

Following an odyssey of five years, Maeser arrived in Salt Lake City and began his work as a teacher in several modest settings. The assignment he received from Church President Brigham Young in 1876 to direct the Brigham Young Academy would fundamentally change that institution and lay the groundwork for Brigham Young University, where Maeser’s legacy has lasted for more than a century.


Roger P. Minert received his doctoral degree from The Ohio State University in German language history and second language acquisition theory. He taught German language and history for ten years, and then became a professional family history researcher. Accredited by the Family History Library for research in Germany and Austria, he worked for twelve years as a private genealogical researcher. In August 2003, he became a professor of family history at Brigham Young University. The author of ninety books and articles, he just finished a book under the title German Census Records 1816–1916. Readers of BYU Studies might know his two histories of the LDS Church in Germany during World War II: In Harm’s Way and Under the Gun.

M. Ralf Bartsch was born in Dresden of a fourth-generation LDS family. After studying engineering and economics in Chemnitz, he worked for the East German Railways. Having been born very close to Karl G. Maeser’s hometown, he developed an interest in the educator’s early career and is leading an effort to acquire ownership of the Maeser family home. A longtime resident of Berlin, where he served as a bishop, Ralf is currently a family history missionary in Salt Lake City along with his wife, Beate. They have five daughters.


1. Roy T. Minert to son Roger P. Minert on many occasions: “Everybody in the family told me that story about my multilingual grandfather, so of course I believed it.”

2. The Kingdom of Saxony (Königreich Sachsen) was an independent political entity until the formation of the German Empire in 1871. Until 1918, it would be one of thirty-eight German states (several kingdoms, grand duchies, duchies, principalities, free cities, and one imperial province).

3. Reinhard Maeser, Karl G. Maeser: A Biography by His Son (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, 1928).

4. Mabel Maeser Tanner, “My Grandfather Karl G. Maeser,” 1, MSS SC 2905, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

5. Alma P. Burton, Karl G. Maeser: Mormon Educator (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1953).

6. Douglas F. Tobler, “Karl G. Maeser’s German Background, 1828–1856: The Making of Zion’s Teacher,” BYU Studies 17, no. 2 (1977): 155–75. Tobler also compiled in 1986–87 a chronology of events in Maeser’s life culled from many primary and secondary sources. Douglas Fred Tobler, “Chronology of Karl G. Maeser, 1986–1987,” MS 12845, Church History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City (hereafter cited as CHL).

7. A. LeGrand Richards, Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2014).

8. Karl G. Maeser, “How I Became a ‘Mormon,’” Improvement Era 3 (November 1899): 23–26.

9. Richards, Called to Teach, 24–25.

10. Maeser, Karl G. Maeser, 14.

11. Tobler, “Karl G. Maeser’s German Background,” 170; Richards, Called to Teach, 55.

12. Acten, die allgemeinen Angelegenheiten der hiesigen conceß. Privat- und Vorschulen betr. 1852 (Regulations Governing the Affairs of Private Schools and Kindergardens for the Year 1852), Stadtarchiv Dresden 2.1. V VIIa, 202 g.

13. Richards, Called to Teach, 50.

14. Acten, die allgemeinen Angelegenheiten.

15. Director Budich and his wife were also listed as teachers, but their salaries were not recorded.

16. Maeser, “How I Became a ‘Mormon,’” 23.

17. Tobler, “Karl G. Maeser’s German Background,” 156–57.

18. The term used in the Saxony documents is the dialect variant Hülfslehrer.

19. Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Sachsen vom Jahre 1835 (The Laws and Regulations of the Kingdom of Saxony from 1835) (Dresden: Meinhold und Söhnen, n.d.), 288, available online at http://digital.slub-dresden.de/werkansicht/?id=5363&tx_dlf%5Bid%5D=8288&tx_dlf%5Bpage%5D=336.

20. Acta ephoral: die Verpflichtung der Hülfslehrer und Privatschullehrer betr. 1850–1869 (Acta ephoral: The Obligation of an Assistant Teacher and Private Schoolteachers concerning 1850–1869), 7–8, Stadtarchiv Dresden 2.3.20 Verzeichnis 1, Generalia Nr. 40. Friedrich Eduard Schönfeld, Maeser’s best friend and fellow Mormon convert on October 14, 1855, was listed in the same registry.

21. Extensive searches for documents relating to this question were conducted in the Stadtarchiv Dresden and the Sächsiches Staatsarchiv Dresden.

22. Joerg Ludwig, email to Roger P. Minert, November 20, 2014.

23. Christine Stade, report to Roger P. Minert, January 22, 2015.

24. Living in the same building as the Budich Institute, Maeser could not logically have been employed in a public school. See A. LeGrand Richards, Called to Teach, 62. Unmarried male teachers in smaller German schools in that era commonly lived in the schools, a condition that made them available as supervisors of the pupils after hours.

25. The city directories featured the names of residents—not necessarily citizens. Maeser’s name does not appear in the lists of persons who applied for citizenship status in the city of Dresden from 1852 to 1857. Dresden City Archive 2.11 C XIX 200 Y and Z: Bürgerverpflichtungen.

26. Tobler wrote that Maeser was a teacher in Mieth’s public school in 1852 and 1853, but the 1852 Budich Institute salary report would leave Maeser time for only temporary substitute service in another school—if at all (Tobler, “Karl G. Maeser’s German Background,” 170). A. L. Richards stated that Maeser applied for a position in Mieth’s school but offered no documentation for the claim. Richards, Called to Teach, 61. Perhaps Maeser was hired by Budich only after failing to find a position in a public school but then enjoyed his work there well enough to stay for five years.

27. Dreikönigskirche Lutheran Church of Dresden-Neustadt, marriage 1854, Dresden City Lutheran Archive.

28. Edward Schoenfeld, “A Character Sketch of Dr. Karl G. Maeser,” Juvenile Instructor 36 (March 15, 1901): 180.

29. Schoenfeld, “Character Sketch of Dr. Karl G. Maeser,” 180.

30. Maeser, “How I Became a ‘Mormon,’” 24. See also Richards, Called to Teach, 89–90.

31. Richards, Called to Teach, 97.

32. Richards, Called to Teach, 99–100. Richards stated that Budge was sent to Dresden from faraway London as a teacher of English, because Mormon missionaries were not allowed in Saxony. However, there is no documentation supporting this claim, nor is there evidence that missionaries had attempted to preach there prior to this time. Richards, Called to Teach, 97.

33. [Franklin D. Richards], “Report of the Organization of a Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of L. D. Saints at Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony, 1855.” MS 391, CHL. This five-page document is attributed to Karl G. Maeser in the CHL catalog, but the title makes it clear that it was written by Franklin D. Richards. Maeser’s signature appears at the end of the document, possibly indicating that he was Richards’s scribe (the report was written in Dresden) or that he approved the contents.

34. [Richards], “Report”; and Richards, Called to Teach, 120.

35. Schoenfeld, “Character Sketch of Dr. Karl G. Maeser.” Again, the lack of extensive autobiographical writings by Maeser hampers the investigation.

36. Handbuch für den exekutiven Polizei- und Kriminalbeamten (Handbook for Administrative Officials and Police Officers), ed. Erich Wulffen, 2d ed., vol. 2 (Dresden: Lebmannsche Buchdruckerei und Verlagsbuchbandlung, 1905), 206, February 20, 1827, § 1, available online at https://books.google.com/books?id=zr0PAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA206.

37. Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Sachsen vom Jahre 1843 (The Laws and Ordinances of the Kingdom of Saxony from 1843) (Dresden: Meinhold und Söhnen, n.d.), 7, February 21, 1843, § 3.c, available online at http://digital.slub-dresden.de/werkansicht/dlf/8283/41/0/.

38. Ralf M. Bartsch, interview with the archive staff of the Lutherische Kirchenverwaltung Dresden, April 28, 2015.

39. Das Königlich Sächsische Gesetz, das Vereins- und Versammlungsrecht betreffend, vom 22. November 1850 nebst Ausführungsverordnung vom 23. November 1850 (The Laws of the Kingdom of Saxony Governing the Rights to Found Associations and to Hold Meetings as of November 23, 1850) (Leipzig: Albert Nienholdt, 1891), 5–53, available online at http://digital.slub-dresden.de/werkansicht/dlf/95900/15/.

40. A search for such police records was conducted in both the Stadtarchiv Dresden and the Sächsiches Staatsarchiv Dresden. Nothing of this kind has been found.

41. Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Sachsen vom Jahre 1835, 290.

42. Schoenfeld, “Character Sketch of Dr. Karl G. Maeser,” 181.

43. Roland Hermann, email to Roger P. Minert, February 13, 2015.

44. Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Sachsen vom Jahre 1835, June 6, 1835, § 29.

45. “Handwriting” was called Schönschreiben (writing all characters correctly) in schools throughout Germany until well into the twentieth century.

46. Catholic parishes were still rare in Saxony in 1855 but were tolerated because the king was a Catholic (due to a complex political and familial relationship with the royalty of Poland).

47. Gesetz- und Verordnungsblatt für das Königreich Sachsen vom Jahre 1835, June 6, 1835, § 112.

48. Burton, Karl G. Maeser, 71.

49. Richards, Called to Teach, 122, 124.

50. There is no way to know how accurate Smith was in his account of Maeser’s experiences. Indeed, did Maeser recount the story to Smith without exaggeration?

51. [Richards], “Report.”

52. Richards, Called to Teach, 124.

53. Richards, Called to Teach, 125. In the endnote regarding this story, Richards indicated that no documentation could be found to substantiate his conclusion.

54. Edward Schoenfeld, autobiography, 2, MSS SC 1076, Perry Special Collections.

55. Tanner, “My Grandfather Karl G. Maeser,” 8.

56. Richards, Called to Teach, 125.

57. Deseret Weekly News, March 12, 1892, 377. This route of emigration would have taken Maeser from the Kingdom of Saxony north through several German states on the way to the free Hanseatic city of Hamburg: Saxony (province), Anhalt, Mecklenburg, and Hanover. If the police had been involved, there would have been at least three transfers of custody.

58. Deseret Weekly News, March 12, 1892, 377. Maeser had already spoken that evening; one wonders whether he would have commented about Richards’s account.

59. Roger P. Minert studied the Direct Indexes, the Indirect Indexes, and the Direct and Indirect Lists of the comprehensive Hamburg Passenger Lists and found no trace of either the Maeser or the Schoenfeld families departing from June 1 to October 1, 1856. Direct Lists Index, microfilm no. 473070 and Indirect Lists Index, microfilm no. 1049068, Family History Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City. The families, whether alone or together, apparently left Germany from the port of Bremen—at that time the premier German port for emigrants.

60. Geburtsschein, Cölln, May 28, 1848, Perry Special Collections.

61. A. LeGrand Richards translated the term entbunden as “rejected,” but a more precise rendition is “released, excused, exempted.” Richards, Called to Teach, 126. Maeser reported for examination only because it was required, certainly not because he wished to serve as a soldier and thereby delay his educational career. His exemption dated December 9, 1848, was a blessing, because popular uprisings had occurred in Dresden early that year and were suppressed by soldiers in the employ of the king of Saxony. Had Maeser been involved in those violent confrontations, he might not have lived to experience a religious transformation.

62. Der Grosse Duden: Herkunftswörterbuch (The Great Duden: Etymological Dictionary) (Mannheim, Ger.: Bibliographisches Institut, 1963), 519–20. Other lexika trace the word back in time to “policey” meaning “policy”; any agency issuing “policy” needed an authority or an agent to enforce the “policy.”

63. Joerg Ludwig to Roger P. Minert, June 26, 2014.

64. Theodor Heinsius, Volksthümliches Wörterbuch der Deutchen Sprache (Popular Dictionary of the German Language) (Hannover: Hahn, 1818), 294; F. A. Weber, Handwörterbuch der deutschen Sprache (Dictionary of the German Language) (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1859, 84; G. J. Adler, Dictionary of the German and English Languages (New York: Appleton, 1863), 64.

65. Germanic family histories in the United States can cite countless cases of citizens of Saxony who decided to forego this procedure and simply leave for North America. Passports were not common in those days, and ship captains were not concerned with anything more than the ability of the passenger to pay the passage and the absence of disease.

66. With this evidence, A. L. Richards’s use of such terms as “careful [police] scrutiny,” “forced to leave,” and “exile from the fatherland” may be unwarranted. Richards, Called to Teach, 124–25.

67. Tobler, “Karl G. Maeser’s German Background,” 173. As described above, religious freedom was indeed a possibility, but one can imagine the social repercussions that may have resulted among those who left the dominant Lutheran religion.

68. Tanner, “My Grandfather Karl G. Maeser,” 8.

69. Stadtarchiv Dresden, Sächsische Constitutionelle Zeitung, August 6, 1856, Nr. 181, 723.

70. Stadtarchiv Dresden, Sächsische Constitutionelle Zeitung, August 6, 1856, Nr. 181, 723.

71. Stadtarchiv Dresden, Sächsische Constitutionelle Zeitung, August 6, 1856, Nr. 181, 723.

72. Stadtarchiv Dresden, Sächsische Constitutionelle Zeitung August 16, 1856, No. 190, 759.

73. Maeser, Karl G. Maeser, 59.

74. Maeser, Karl G. Maeser, 65.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 55:2
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