Matthias Foss Cowley

Lawrence R. Flake, Prophets and Apostles of the Last Dispensation (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2001), 419–421.

Matthias Cowley portrait

Born: 25 August 1858, Salt Lake City, Utah

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: 7 October 1897 (age 39)

Resigned: 28 October 1905

Disfellowshipped: 11 May 1911

Restored to full fellowship: 3 April 1936

Died: 16 June 1940 (age 81), Salt Lake City, Utah

Your name corresponds to that of an Apostle of old, and you shall perform a similar mission.” [1] So spoke President Joseph Young of the First Council of the Seventy in a blessing given to Matthias Cowley. When he was only twenty-three years of age, his boyhood friend and missionary companion, John W. Taylor, who later became an apostle, wrote the following to him: “If you are faithful, the day will come when you will become one of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in all the world.” [2] This was fulfilled fifteen years later.

Born in Salt Lake City, Matthias was left fatherless at the age of four. His mother later remarried a noted engineer, Jesse W. Fox, who reared her two children. Young Matthias helped his foster father in his work of surveying for the railroad, and as a result the boy’s schooling consisted of what he learned from his parents, from his own reading, and from a few brief sessions at the University of Deseret. This education served him well as a missionary, Mutual Improvement Association worker, author, city clerk, chaplain for the state legislature, and member of the Quorum of the Twelve. His books included The Life of President Wilford Woodruff, Prophets and Patriarchs, and Cowley’s Talks on Doctrine.

At the age of nineteen he filled a two-year mission to the southern states, and after only five months at home President Woodruff sent him back for two more years. The day the Logan Temple opened for ordinance work, 2 May 1884, Elder Cowley was married to Abbie Hyde. Among their children was a son, Matthew, who followed his father as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. While serving in the presidency of the Oneida Stake in Idaho, Matthias Cowley filled an assignment to help organize the Northwestern States Mission. Soon after his call to the apostleship in 1897, he returned to the southern states, touring that mission and the eastern states. During this trip he met the president of the United States, William McKinley.

In 1905, because of a disagreement with the leadership of the Church on the termination of plural marriage, Elder Cowley resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve along with his boyhood friend, Elder John W. Taylor. In 1911 he was disfellowshipped from the Church and remained so until 1936, when he was restored to full fellowship. At the age of seventy-eight, he served a mission for the Church in Europe and died a faithful Latter-day Saint four years later. [3]


[1] Edward H. Andersen, “Apostle Matthias F. Cowley,” Lives of Our Leaders: Character Sketches of Living Prophets and Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1901), 225.

[2] Ben E. Rich, “Apostle Matthias F. Cowley,” Matthias F. Cowley, Prophets and Patriarchs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Chattanooga, TN: Ben E. Rich, 1902), 298.

[3] See also Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History, 1901), 1:168–69.