“No Other Success”: Unlocking The McKay McCulloch Mystery

Pres. David O. McKay with his wife “Ray”

Like all people of faith, Latter-day Saints (Mormons) like to gather inspirational quotes. Over time, the words become integrated into our souls, our values, and our culture. When the quotes come from “over the pulpit”, [i.e. spoken by a general authority, apostle or prophet in an official meeting of the church, or published in an official LDS magazine], then it is given much more weight, and considered for all intents and purposes, ‘living scripture’.

One of our “top 10” living scripture quotes is commonly attributed to President David O. McKay, 9th prophet and president of the LDS Church (serving from 1951-1970)

“No other success can compensate for failure in the home”

For over six decades, this memorable sentance has wielded great power to motivate (and sometimes discourage) millions of parents! I recently gathered some interesting back story, along with an intriguing mystery about this quote.

1. NOT President McKay:

While it is important that President McKay DID use these words as part of two separate General Conference talks –  April 1935, and April 1964 respectively [unavailable online], he was actually quoting someone else;  J. E. McCulloch, to be exact.

2. Who was J.E. McCulloch?

Surprisingly, the oft-quoted James Edward [J.E.] McCulloch remains shrouded in mystery. An online search will give you hundreds of references [mainly by Mormon leaders quoting McKay quoting McCulloch]! However, I have tried and failed to find a bio or a photo of the man. Thanks to a great article published in 2004 by Russell Arden Fox at Times and Seasons,  we know that McCulloch “lived in Nashville at the turn of the [20th] century, and served as secretary to the Southern Sociological Congress”. From what I have ascertained, Mr. McCulloch was a prolific author of books, as well as editor for Southern Sociological Congress essays, on topics of conservative values and societal trends. A listing of his literary output – totaling 73 – is found on GoogleBooks, with titles such as: “The Human Way: Addresses on Race Problems“, “Battling for Social Betterment“, and “Democracy In Earnest“.

3. Source of The Quote:

A Family, circa 1924

Our “success/failure” quote comes from J.E. McCulloch’s book entitled Home: The Savior of Civilization [ 1924, The Southern Co-operative League, 638 pages]. You’ve gotta love that title. Like all of his books, it is out of print, and sadly, unlike most of his other books, it is not scanned yet, nor available online (but consider, it is 638 pages). The good news is that a book synopsis pdf is available through online archives which gives a fascinating glimpse:

  • “This is a large volume [638 pages] compiled for the use of families at their family altars. It  consists of daily readings for the year, for the “home council” – the name given the family group in its religious studies.”
  • “The quotations that serve as reading materials are gathered from widely scattered sources, ranging from the Bible…to selections from the prose and poetry of the renowned and less renowned…the purpose of the book, as the title implies and the introduction states is to make of the home “God’s garden of character; the soul may grow elsewhere, but it grows to perfection there
  • “The home should be the bulwark of civilization, the school of the spirit, and this book is the text which [McCulloch] evolved with his own family in his own home, with what he and his friends have felt to be good results. He is now passing on his program to any who are interested in keeping the family altar a supreme element in the home…” – AAPSS, scanned on JStor (emphasis added)

Wow! Just the outline of this book says so much about Mr. McCulloch’s deep commitment to home and family. It states here that the book is a compilation of scriptures, poems and quotes, so we still cannot be 100% sure if McCulloch is the actual author of the famous quote included in the book, or if he was also quoting! This is another  ‘mystery’ part of our story, waiting for final confirmation.

4. The Mormon Connection

President David O. McKay’s legacy with the church includes fully implementing the Family Home Evening Program, (an idea first introduced in 1915 – given as “advice” to LDS parents – see history). Since 1964, Family Home Evening (affectionately abbreviated to FHE) has been a standard practice in Latter-day Saint homes. Mormon families set aside Monday night as the evening to be spent exclusively with their families – to sing together, study the scriptures, play games (and eat treats).

In some ways, Monday night becomes the “most sacred” night of the week for a Mormon – in the sense that as a lay congregation with many service responsibilities, this is the only night the church building is guaranteed to remain locked, and unlike Sunday’s or other days of the week, church responsibilities, service projects, choir rehearsals, meetings, and activities will NEVER be scheduled! It’s also an unspoken rule that Mormons don’t call other Mormons after 6 PM on a Monday night, in respect for Family Home Evening.

by Bruce Clovis Smith

From the synopsis of his book, Mr. McCulloch had already instituted a very successful family home evening program of his own, which others were using, too! Did McCulloch’s program of holding ‘Home Council’, and his subsequent book encouraging the practice, have an influence on President McKay? Could it have prompted the inspiration to begin the full-fledged Church-wide ‘Family Home Evening Program’? Another mystery, but certainly feasible. Either way, McCulloch would be pleased to know that Mormons are “Keeping the family altar a supreme element in the home“.

It seems to me that Latter-day Saints have a lot to owe the mysterious J.E. McCulloch. If nothing else, I think it would be fair to say he holds the unique distinction of being the most-quoted-yet-least-credited-non-Mormon-by-Mormons. 🙂 I would certainly be interested in learning much more about this fascinating man. [If you have detailed information, or actually possess a copy of his rare book, please contact me by leaving a comment!]

Although we usually only remember the famous McKay ‘one-liner’, the full McCulloch quote given by President David O. McKay is as follows:

“The home is the first and most effective place for children to learn the lessons of life: truth, honor, virtue, self-control; the value of education, honest work, and the purpose and privilege of life. Nothing can take the place of home in rearing and teaching children, and no other success can compensate for failure in the home” ( J. E. McCulloch, Home: The Savior of Civilization [1924], 42; in Conference Report, Apr. 1935, 116).

In 1972, President Harold B. Lee, first counselor to Pres. McKay, and later 11th President of the church, added a line to the McCulloch/McKay quote “over the pulpit”, which does a marvelous job of both softening and strengthening the message of this famous quote for all families:

Pres. Lee

Remember, paraphrasing what President McKay said, “No success will compensate for failure in the home.” Remember also that no home is a failure as long as that home doesn’t give up. “- Harold B. Lee, Ensign, Feb. 1972



AUTHOR NOTE: To all my fabulous, alert and very-eager-to-be-mystery-solving readers. Yes, I am aware there is a pdf offered by Sage Journals Online. At first glance, it looks like a pdf of Mr. McCullough’s book! Nope. Rather, it is an article published in the same year, 1924, and by the same press company. The article lists the synopsis of McCulloch’s “Home: The Savior of Civilization”, along with several other newly released books that year. It was essentially designed as a promotional ad from the publishing house, but it also provides fascinating insight. I have quoted this article extensively in #3 above.

I welcome any new info. And, as always, I hope to hear your thoughts and comments! – MoSop


  1. The online version of this article can be found online at
    and the pdf can be accessed free at many universities.

    McCullough, J. E. Home, the Savior of Civilization. Pp. 633. Washington, D. C. Southern…
    The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.1924; 116: 285


    1. Karen, Thanks for your investigative spirit! The link you have provided is not to the actual McCulloch book. Sage press offers a scan of an article published by the Annals of AAPSS which provides the synopsis of the book. (my reference in #3 above)


    1. Aussie – thanks for the investigative work. Unfortunately, I’m about 2 hrs. drive away, but perhaps can make a trip down in the near future. If there are any readers out there living on or near BYU campus willing to go to the library, photocopy the page in question and send me a PDF, let me know. Cheers!


      1. I happened to be sitting in the library reading this when i stumbled upon your blog. I looked it up and went to where it’s supposed to be, but unfortunately it’s not there right now, so I’m putting it on hold. When I get my hands on it I’ll send you a scan of the page.


  2. This is just so, so interesting I must say. I posted this morning on my blog about getting feedback on the top 50, 100 best books from an LDS perspective.

    Though the book be obscure, you have helped to raise it from its obscurity. I will be adding The Savior of Civilization to my list.

    Thanks MO.


  3. Enjoyed reading this. I’m wondering if any quotes at all are original, and I’m eagerly awaiting to learn whose idea this was before it was McCollough’s. As a quick example,I’d always heard that William James was the first person to say that man’s chief goal is to acquire, keep, and regain happiness (if it should be lost). I was a little taken aback when I learned that Aristotle said pretty much the same things.


  4. I have also seen people credit Benjamin Disraeli for this quote – “No success in public life can compensate for failure in the home.”

    He was the Prime Minister of the United kingdom from 1874 to 1880. He died in 1881.

    It is listed here as “Unsourced”

    IF it is correct, it may make him the rightful owner.


    1. Timothy, thank you for your interest. As you will find, the link you’ve provided eventually leads one back to the library route as discussed above. Former comments from those kind enough to investigate and track the book down have revealed that the full answer to our mystery still remains under lock and key. 🙂
      Thanks! MoSop


  5. President David O. McKay did not get the idea of family home evening from J.E. McCulloch. The idea of having family home evening came from the Granite, Utah stake in 1909 from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.


  6. LDS-FHE
    Granite Stake (Salt Lake City, UTAH)
    President Frank Y. Taylor
    began family evening in 1909
    Recorded in Improvement Era,
    January 1910, p176 & Journal History of the Church, May 1910
    Announced by First Presidency,
    Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund & Charles W. Penrose,
    April 27, 1915, Messages of the First Presidency, Vol. IV, p.337-8


  7. Here is another early quote that is quite similar. One from Thos W Parry Jr from The Rotarian Jan 1927 pp 13,14,50,64 speaking about the Boy Scouts. It’s at the top left of p 50. “No other success in the world of men can quite compensate for failure in our own home.”

    He was the DIrector of the St Louis News Service apparently http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/lbancelj20&div=17&id=&page=

    Fun thread.


  8. This past weekend in Stake Conference, Elder Rasband told a story about David O. Mackay. Weeks after the first time President Mackay quoted McCollugh he spoke at the University of Utah institute. One of the students mentioned the quote and asked him what “failure” meant. President Mackay, according to Elder Rasband, said, that a family is not a failure so long as it keeps trying. I suspect that President Lee was repeating what President Mackay had taught.


  9. “Following one of our recent general conference sessions, a troubled mother approached me and said, “I need to know what is meant by the statement, ‘No success can compensate for failure in the home.’” Knowing a little of the burdens this friend of mine carries in her mind and heart because of a rebellious, wayward daughter, I shared this meaning with her: I believe we start to fail in the home when we give up on each other. We have not failed until we have quit trying. As long as we are working diligently with love, patience, and long-suffering, despite the odds or the apparent lack of progress, we are not classified as failures in the home. We only start to fail when we give up on a son, daughter, mother, or father.”

    Marvin J. Ashton, April 1971


    1. Hi Doug, thanks for your follow up question. Yes, someone kindly sent a photocopy of the page(s). Ironically, the quote was not sourced. And so, the mystery continues! 🙂


  10. Just wanted to say thanks for this! I was trying to find the original talk but you confirmed to me that it is unavailable. I am giving a talk on this quote and find the “back story” invaluable! I will try to give the due credit to you as well as J. E. McCulloch! Thanks again.


    1. Hi Patti, I just came across this article and your post and saw that no one responded. Do you know if there’s a way that your copy of this book can be reproduced without you personally going through the laborious process of copying it page by page? I would love to read it! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Patti, do you still have the book pls? I’d like to have screenshots of the pages or chapter where it says that the Home is God’s garden of character….etc
      I’m really into this book and hope its not too much to ask.


  11. Conversely, no failure can overshadow success in the home. For those many parents who feel like failures in some ways, but have succeeded in what matters most.


  12. Thanks for the information on the quotation. President Lee was first counselor to President Joseph Fielding Smith not President McKay.


    1. Amazon information:
      James Edward McCulloch
      Home: the savior of civilization,
      Only 1 left in stock – order soon.
      Sold by Better World Books
      Product information
      Unknown Binding 1 pages
      Publisher Southern co-operative league (January 1, 1924)
      ASIN B000871TZU
      Best Sellers Rank #18,872,847 in Books


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