Learning about Young Women: It Started with Jill

A speech given at June Conference, June 29, 1975

Learning about Young Women:

Bishop Vaughn J. Featherstone

Several years ago I heard Elder Marion Duff Hanks say:

“No one knows what a boy will be, we’ll just have to wait and see;

“But every man who stands in a high and holy place, a boy once used to be.”

And then President Tyler Woolley of the Fort Collins Colorado Stake said:

“No one knows what a girl will be, we’ll have to wait and see;

“But every lovely mother on this fair earth, a girl once used to be.”

I think there’s a need as never before for stake presidents, bishops, high councilors, and those who are priesthood oriented to care for the needs of the Young Women and the girls in the Primary. I believe, concerning these needs, that we need to have an understanding of special feelings that young women have.

One little girl wrote to a national magazine. Her note was a prayer:

“Dear God,

“Are boys better than girls? I know you are one, but try to be fair.”

We have six sons. Our first five children were sons, and I thought I had felt every emotion and feeling that a father and a husband and a church worker could feel. Our sixth child was a girl. She awakened in me emotions and thoughts I didn’t know existed in the human soul. I would be away from town on a business trip at a lonely motel room and after praying and then climbing in bed and reading the scriptures, I would start thinking about home. I would think, “I’ve got to get home to protect our little Jill; she needs me; she needs a father to be there with her.” She awakened these kinds of thoughts in me. The influence she has had on our home has been like magic.

A year ago, I went home about two weeks before Valentine’s Day and saw on our bedroom door a sack for my wife and a sack for me that our daughter had taped with masking tape on the door. She had one on each of the doors of her brothers’ rooms and one on her own door. Each night when I got home I would go to this little sack and look in and there would be a valentine to me—a homemade valentine from little Jill. I started anticipating each night on the way home. I would think. “I wonder what she has done this time?” Two nights before Valentine’s Day I said to my wife, “That sweet little twerp, I just can’t believe she’s for real. This is really exciting to me.”

And my wife said. “You men, you are all alike. You know, that little girl has made a valentine for each of you and each day she puts it in your sack and then each day she goes and looks in her sack and there’s nothing there.”

I felt like about two cents. I went downstairs and made twenty-one valentines and put them in her little sack.

I know a convert to the Church who came into the Church after he was married. When he was just five years old, he had a three-year-old sister. The parents were divorced and neither parent wanted them, and so my friend said that he and his sister were consigned to an orphanage. He said, “My little sister just clung tenaciously to me and to a little rag doll that she had. They took us to the orphanage and when we got there they separated us. They dragged my little sister away from me. She cried and didn’t want to leave and said, ‘Let me have my brother with me; don’t take me away from him.’”

They took the little girl and her little rag doll into one dormitory, and they took the little boy into another. The little girl just cried, I guess for the first full day she was there. Finally they said, “If you don’t stop crying we will take away your little rag doll.”

And so, I guess as only a three-year-old child can, after everyone had gone to bed that night—not trying to be deceitful or to hide, simply feeling a terrible urgency to find her brother—she climbed out of bed and found her way down hallways and finally out the front door. She saw the dormitories of the boys across the long lawn, made her way there, and eventually she was sitting on the bed with her brother’s arm around her—they had been reunited. In a few moments she was missed; they knew where to look. They went to the dormitory and found her and her brother sitting on the bed, talking. Of course, they separated them again. And he said, “Since that day I have never seen my little sister.”

Stories like this, pitiful plights of humanity, could have been solved, had they been members of the Church, by the priesthood—a father, a patriarch, a bishop, a stake president—someone who cared.

Ardeth Kapp, a member of the Young Women’s general presidency of the Church, tells a story of when she first started teaching school. She was teaching a group of girls (she says girls are all alike no matter what age they are) and as they came into her class a little girl came up to her and said, “I don’t want to be in your class.”

Ardeth said, “I couldn’t blame her; I was new, and I was kind of insecure. I thought, ‘Well, I don’t want to be here either.’”

But she said, “Why, Connie?”

“Well, I want to be in Miss Bingham’s class.”

Ardeth said, “I thought about Miss Bingham. She was younger and cuter [and I can’t believe that], and she had a prettier room than I did.”

So Ardeth said she understood and then during the next few weeks she tried to influence this little girl by all the principles she knew—she extended love, she cared for her, and she noticed that when she would come in she had bitten her fingernails halfway down. But each time it was always, “I don’t want to come to school.”

Finally one day they had a writing assignment and this little girl, halfway through the class period, came up to Ardeth and said, “I have finished my essay and I want to hand it to you now.”

And Ardeth said, “Just put it in the file and I’ll read it with the others tonight after school.”

“No. Please read it now.”

Ardeth picked up the paper and read it: “I hate you. You are ugly. You have funny looking shoes.” (Ardeth said, “When you are teaching school you don’t always have the most attractive shoes.”) And she said, “You have long black hair on your arms.” (Ardeth said, “I felt embarrassed and looked down. Sure enough, it was true.”) Then the essay said, “And besides that, your hair is a mess.”

Ardeth said, “We had been out playing tether ball at lunch and I suppose my hair was a mess. The first thought that came to my mind was, you little rascal, after all I’ve done for you—what ingratitude!”

But she said way down in her heart something welled up and said, “No, not that way.” Ardeth simply said to the little girl, “Connie, gee, your writing is improving. I’ve noticed you’ve indented your paragraphs; now work on your margins. Please put it in the file and I’ll look at it again tonight.”

The little girl stood there just looking at her. “Aren’t you going to scold me or something?”

Ardeth said, “I never wavered. I just looked at her.”

The girl went back to her seat. Ardeth said, “We kind of lost track of each other through the rest of the day and then finally that night I went to the file, and I found another letter from this little girl. It said something like this:

“‘Dear Mrs. Kapp,

“‘I love you. You are the only friend I have. I know you love me.’”

There are special needs for the little girls in Primary and the young women in the Aaronic Priesthood and the Young Women program, and there are special needs for the sisters that can only be supplied by the priesthood.

Not too long ago my little girl was sick. I got home about 7:00 P.M., just before my wife had to go to a meeting. She said as she walked out the door, “Jill isn’t feeling very well.”

I said, “Don’t worry, we’ll have a good time.” So Merlene left and I stayed with Jill, and we had a good time. I read to her and we just played a few games; and finally about 9:30 I said, “Sweetheart, why don’t you come upstairs and we will just rest and wait for your mother.”

So we went upstairs and I went into the walk-in closet and changed into my pajamas, came back out, and sat on the bed. Jill put on her little nightgown and climbed up beside me. I read to her awhile and we talked. Finally about 10:00 I said, “How are you feeling, sweetheart?”

She said, “Daddy, I don’t feel very well, and Mother said if I didn’t start feeling better I was to ask you to give me a blessing. Will you give me a blessing?”

I said, “Certainly.” So I got up and went into the walk-in closet, took off my pajamas and put on my suit and white shirt and tie and went back over to the bed. I had this little soul in her nightgown sit on the edge of the bed and I gave her a special blessing. Then I went back into the closet, took off my suit and white shirt and tie, put on my pajamas, and climbed back onto the bed.

Do you think she will remember the blessing? I don’t think she remembers the words of the blessing, but I don’t think she will ever forget that her father loved her enough and respected his priesthood enough to dress appropriately for that kind of a blessing. A woman deserves a priesthood holder, a righteous, pure-in-heart priesthood holder. A little girl deserves the same. A young woman deserves a bishop, who, under his stewardship, will really care.

Now my sweet wife has stood by my side through all of these years, and wives need special attention and special care. Sometimes I step on tender blossoms as I go through life, and I feel her needs and they are very precious. I remember when I spoke to the students at BYU, I shared with them something I would like to share with you. I quoted from King Arthur in Camelot when he talked about his wife, Guinevere; then I said, “This is how I feel about my wife, and I believe it is how we ought to feel about all the sisters in the Church, about our wives and our mothers, the lonely and the heartsick, the child in Primary, and every one of them wherever they might be.” King Arthur said:

“Proposition: If I could choose, from every woman who breathes on this earth, the face I would most love, the smile, the touch, the voice, the heart, the laugh, the soul itself, every detail and feature to the smallest strand of hair—they would all be Jenny’s.”

That’s how I feel about my wife. I think, brethren of the priesthood, now is the time when the needs are so great. Let’s provide the Primary children, especially the girls, with the best possible teachers you have in your ward. Give them the very best. And then for our young women, let’s furnish strong priesthood direction; give them people who care, who love and sustain these young women. Now is the time for us to be the kinds of husbands and fathers we ought to be—with the sisters, the Young Women, and the little Primary children. God bless us to follow the Prophet. He is a Prophet. I know it. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.