Called to Serve

“Called to Serve” is one of only seven current Latter-day Saint hymns included in both the hymnal and the children’s song book, and according to hymnologist Karen Lynn Davidson, who was a member of the General Music Committee during the preparation of the 1985 hymnal, it was the very last hymn selected for the book. In fact, because of its long use in the Church as a children’s song it wasn’t originally in consideration for inclusion in the regular hymnal. But this changed during an April 1985 meeting at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square attended by every mission president of the Church. “In an event that had a powerful effect on all the Area Presidents, Regional Representatives, and mission presidents, including those who were about to depart for their new assignments, missionaries from the Missionary Training Center marched into the Assembly Hall singing ‘Called to Serve,’” wrote Davidson. “The effect was electrifying. An editorial in the Church News stated, ‘The impact of this experience was so moving that tears were flowing and deep emotions were stirred. It was an unforgettable spiritual moment. The shared feeling following that meeting was, ‘But of course “Called to Serve” is going to be in the new hymnal!’” (Davidson, 256)

“Called to Serve” was first published by the Primary Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1920, in The Primary Song Book, and has been included in every subsequent Primary song book. But this song is not of Latter-day Saint origin. It was copyrighted in 1914 by the Adam Geibel Music Company, and initially published in The Song of Praise: A Sunday-School Service for Children’s Day.

Called to Serve
“Called to Serve” in The Song of Praise (1914)

The original text was in three stanzas and has been slightly modified for use by the Latter-day Saints. The second stanza was dropped in Sing With Me (1969), the predecessor to the current Children’s Songbook (1989). With the exception of the third stanza, which was altered specifically for the 1985 hymnal, the most significant alterations occur in the first two lines of the chorus. The original reads:

Onward, ever onward, counting gain of earth as loss,
Onward, ever onward, as we glory in His cross;
Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing,
Joy our strength shall be, press forward ever,
Called to serve our King.

The Latter-day Saint version follows:

Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name;
Onward, ever onward, as we glory in his name;
Forward, pressing forward, as a triumph song we sing,
God our strength shall be; press forward ever,
Called to serve our King.

In The Song of Praise, and in every subsequent book in which this hymn has appeared (including the 1985 Latter-day Saint hymnal), the words are credited to Grace Gordon and the music to Walter G. Tyler. However, some time after the 1985 hymnal had gone to press it was discovered that Walter G. Tyler is merely a pseudonym of blind composer Adam Geibel (1855-1933). This information was updated accordingly in later printings of the hymnal. The author credit for the text remains unchanged as of May 2019, but as it turns out, Grace Gordon is also a pseudonym. According to the Catalog of Copyright Entries published by the Library of Congress, Grace Gordon is one of several pseudonyms used by prolific hymnist Elsie Duncan Yale.

Elsie Duncan Yale (1873-1956)

Elsie Duncan Yale
Elsie Duncan Yale, circa 1955, published in the Choir Leader, February 1955

Elsie Duncan Yale was born on October 21, 1873, in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Charles Crooker Duncan, was at the time of her birth the shipping commissioner for the port of New York, and had earlier gained notoriety as captain of the Quaker City, the steamship in which Mark Twain sailed for the Holy Land in 1867, and later wrote about in his book The Innocents Abroad. Yale’s mother, Hannah Leech Duncan, was a talented musician and sang for many years as a contralto soloist at St. Paul’s church in New York; she was also an organist for Reverend Thomas DeWitt Talmage’s tabernacle in Brooklyn.

After Charles Duncan retired in 1885, the family moved to Northfield, Massachusetts, the hometown of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. Yale attended Moody’s school for girls (Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies), where during summer conferences held at Northfield she had the privilege of meeting such distinguished religious leaders as Ira D. Sankey, Daniel B. Towner, and others. Upon graduation she entered Mount Holyoke College, in South Hadley, Massachusetts, but due to illness was unable to complete her education.

She was married on December 30, 1896, to Arthur Wells Yale, Jr., a physician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After an extended honeymoon in which they visited all the principal cities in the South and the East, the newlyweds returned to Philadelphia where they resided for more than two decades. They raised two daughters together: Ada Blanche, born April 1, 1898; and Dorothy, born November 20, 1900.

Yale’s literary career began in Philadelphia, shortly after her marriage, when she began sending her compositions to various publishers. She enjoyed immediate success, and her stories and poems were published in the Woman’s Home Companion, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, and others. She was at one time an associate editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal, and a staff writer for the Hall-Mack Company. She wrote hundreds of hymns, and is the author of a number of cantatas and plays. She often published her work under pseudonyms, including Grace Gordon, Louella Leonard, Dorothy Abbott, and Blanche Sprague. Among the prominent Philadelphian hymnists with whom she collaborated are Adam Geibel, C. Austin Miles, and J. Lincoln Hall.

Yale eventually divorced her husband, and with her mother and married daughters, relocated to southern California. In 1924 she moved to Colton, in San Bernardino County, where she taught Sunday School at the Jewell Memorial Methodist Church for many years. At the time of her death Yale was a member of Grace Episcopal Church of Colton, for which she had served as organist.

Yale died in Redlands, California, at Redlands Community Hospital, on January 30, 1956, after several months of illness. Following the funeral service she was cremated at the Mountain View Crematorium, and her ashes taken to the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, where she was buried.

Yale’s collaborator on “Called to Serve” was Dr. Adam Geibel, about whom much has already been written. Geibel’s biography can be easily found online, or in Karen Lynn Davidson’s Our Latter-day Hymns, pages 380-381.

*The date of Elsie Duncan Yale’s divorce is unknown, but occurred sometime between 1910 and 1920. In the 1910 US census she was still living in the household of Arthur Yale, but in the 1920 census she is listed as divorced.
*Elsie Duncan Yale’s sister, Frances Duncan Manning (1877-1972), was also a noted writer.

“Gossip of the week,” Philadelphia Inquirer, January 3, 1897, 32.

“Mrs. Hannah L. Duncan,” San Bernardino Daily Sun, September 1, 1930, 11.

Frank L. Cross, “Elsie Duncan Yale—Great Spirit,” Choir Leader, February 1955, 267.

“Mrs. Elsie Duncan Yale, Prominent Colton Writer Dies; Services Set,” Colton Courier, January 31, 1956, [1].

“Elsie Duncan Yale, Noted Author, Stricken in Colton,” San Bernardino Daily Sun, January 31, 1956, 20.

“Vital Records,” San Bernardino Daily Sun, February 1, 1956, 26.

Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-Day Saint Hymns: the Stories and the Messages (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1988), 256.

“Declarations of Pseudonyms and their Resolutions in the U.S. Catalog of Copyright Entries (Renewals),”, accessed April 5, 2004.

“United States Census, 1900,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 May 2019), Elsie D Yale in household of Arthur W Yale, Philadelphia city Ward 32, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 805, sheet 3A, family 39, NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm 1,241,473.

“United States Census, 1910,” database with images, Ancestry ( : accessed 11 May 2019), Mrs. A. W. Yale in household of Dr. A. W. Yale, Philadelphia Ward 42, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing enumeration district 1069, page 1B, house 7121, dwelling 26, family 27, NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1972.); FHL microfilm: 1375424.

“United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 May 2019), Elsie D Yale, Philadelphia Ward 42, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States; citing ED 1576, sheet 12B, line 56, family 261, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 1643; FHL microfilm 1,821,643.

“United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 May 2019), Elsie D Yale in household of Earl W Sprague, Colton, San Bernardino, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) ED 17, sheet 23A, line 8, family 631, NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002), roll 187; FHL microfilm 2,339,922.

“United States Census, 1940,” database with images, FamilySearch ( : 15 March 2018), Elsie D Yale, Colton, Colton Judicial Township, San Bernardino, California, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 36-23, sheet 61A, line 15, family 79, Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012, roll 288.

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