Sharing Time: How Primary Came to Be

How Primary Came to Be

Parents have always wanted their children to be happy. That’s why they teach them the gospel. Real happiness comes from living as Jesus taught us to live.

Over a hundred and eight years ago, some parents in Farmington, Utah, were worried about their children. They wondered how they could help them understand the gospel so that they would live happier lives.

Bishop John Hess was concerned about some of the children in his ward who were staying out late at night, and some who were behaving rowdy. He called a meeting of the mothers in the ward and talked about the importance of guiding the minds of young children.

Sister Aurelia Spencer Rogers was one of the mothers in the Farmington Ward. Aurelia loved children and wanted them to live the gospel. She thought about the things Bishop Hess had said.

Sister Rogers recorded in her journal: “I had reflected seriously upon the necessity of more strict discipline for our little boys. … What will our girls do for good husbands, if this state of things continues? … I had children of my own, and was just as anxious as a mother could be to have them brought up properly. But what was to be done? It needed the united effort of the parents.”

One day Eliza R. Snow, the General President of the Relief Society, had been to a conference in Farmington. The train back to Salt Lake was not due for some time, so Sister Snow decided to visit her friend Aurelia.

Sister Snow had no children of her own, but she had a great interest in them. She was a poet and a teacher and had written songs and stories for little children. She was pleased with Sister Rogers’s idea about an organization for little boys where they could be taught everything good, and how to behave. Sister Snow agreed to discuss the matter with the First Presidency, who later gave approval. A letter was written to Bishop Hess, asking for his permission to organize the children in his ward.

After Bishop Hess received the letter from Sister Snow, he talked with Sister Rogers and asked if she would be willing to preside over an organization of the children. Sister Rogers said: “I felt willing, but very incompetent. From that time my mind was busy thinking how it was to be managed … As singing was necessary, it needed the voices of little girls as well as boys to make it sound as well as it should.” Sister Snow agreed with Sister Rogers. “‘We must have the girls as well as the boys—they must be trained together.’” She suggested that the organization be called “Primary.”

On August 11, 1878, Bishop Hess set apart Sister Rogers and her two counselors, Louisa Haight and Helen Miller. He suggested that they visit every home in the ward during the next two weeks, which they did. They took the names and ages of two hundred twenty-four children and invited them to the first meeting.

The first Primary meeting was held on Sunday, August 25, 1878, in the rock chapel in Farmington.

Sister Rogers said, “Imagine our feelings as we stood before an audience of children who had come there to receive instructions from us. We were very weak indeed, but felt to lean upon the Lord.”

The meeting began with prayer; then the children were given instructions and taught to sing.

The children were asked to “see how much they could do for their fathers and mothers without grumbling.”

Children were also asked to not quarrel with brothers and sisters. Little boys were instructed to not go into orchards and melon patches that weren’t their own, and little girls were told to not hang on to wagons, a practice not only wrong but dangerous.

The reason for Primary is still the same: to help every child learn how to be happy by living the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we radiate the light of the gospel, the world will see how happy we are and want to live the teachings of Jesus too.

Happy birthday, Primary! We are glad to celebrate with eight hundred seventy-five thousand boys and girls everywhere.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Lori Anderson