Primary Celebrates 135 Years

  By Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Sister Jean A. Stevens, and Sister Cheryl A. Esplin, Primary general presidency

  • 12 August 2013

This August the Church is celebrating 135 years of Primary, a program for children that began in Farmington, Utah, in 1878. Today, approximately one million children all over the world benefit from Primary each week in their wards and branches. 

Article Highlights

  • Primary was formally organized on August 11, 1878, 135 years ago, in Farmington, Utah.
  • Today, approximately one million children all over the world benefit from Primary each week.
  • Primary exists to help children and their families live the gospel in their homes.

“The Primary program has allowed children all over the world to experience the Spirit weekly through engaged learning and music. We express our gratitude to parents and Primary leaders and teachers.” —Primary general presidency

“What about the children?” Primary began as an answer to that question 135 years ago.

Bishop John W. Hess in Farmington, Utah, was concerned about the children in his ward, particularly the rowdiness of the boys. He called the mothers in the ward together and explained his concerns, and they talked about the importance of guiding the minds of young children.

Sister Aurelia Spencer Rogers listened and for the next several months pondered what could be done for the children. This motivated a discussion with Sister Eliza R. Snow, who visited Farmington in the spring of 1878.

Sister Rogers asked, “What will our girls do for good husbands, if this state of things continues? … Could there not be an organization for little boys, and have them trained to make better men?” (in Life Sketches of Orson Spencer and Others, and History of Primary Work [1898], 208).

Sister Snow met with President John Taylor, who authorized Bishop Hess to form an organization for children in his ward. Sister Rogers was called to preside over this new children’s organization, and she recognized her opportunity to participate in the work of salvation.

Although her first concern was for the boys, she felt the meeting must include girls, for singing was necessary and they needed the voices of the little girls to make it sound good.

The Farmington Ward Primary Association was formally organized on August 11, 1878. Sister Rogers was sustained as president, with Louisa Haight and Helen M. Miller as counselors. The presidency began by visiting every home in the ward over the next two weeks; 224 children were invited to the first meeting on Sunday, August 25, 1878, and 215 children (between the ages of 6 and 14) attended.

“The weekly meetings were held on Saturday afternoons. Children were taught lessons on faith, obedience, prayer, punctuality, and manners (specifically, the boys were encouraged to not take fruit from orchards and melon patches, and the girls were exhorted not to hang on wagons). Music became an integral part of the program, as did recitations, gardening projects, annual fairs, and lessons in home arts” (Janet Peterson and LaRene Gaunt, The Children’s Friends: Primary Presidents and Their Lives of Service [1996], xii).

Look where Primary has come since 1878.

A mural depicts Bishop John W. Hess, Aurelia S. Rogers, and other leaders at the first meeting of the Farmington Ward Primary Association on August 25, 1878; 215 children between the ages of 6 and 14 attended.

Today, approximately one million children all over the world benefit from Primary each week in their wards and branches. Primary leaders and teachers strive to support parents in their role to help children gain testimonies of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the restored gospel.

Children are voicing their feelings about their participation in Primary.

Primary general presidency: Sister Rosemary M. Wixom and her counselors, Jean A. Stevens and Cheryl A. Esplin.

After his Primary sacrament meeting presentation, Tanner, 10, from Worland, Wyoming, wrote, “On the last song, the organ joined the piano, and it sounded pretty good when the audience joined in with us when we sang ‘Hold to the Rod.’ I wanted to cry; I almost couldn’t stop it. I like Primary.”

As the Primary general presidency, we celebrate those humble beginnings in Farmington, Utah. The Primary program has allowed children all over the world to experience the Spirit weekly through engaged learning and music. We express our gratitude to parents and Primary leaders and teachers.

Today, Primary exists to help children and their families live the gospel in their homes. We celebrate the question asked by Bishop John W. Hess 135 years ago and the inspiration that Sister Rogers received to act. As a result, millions of children have been blessed.