Young Women—
Then and Now

by Janet Thomas and Lisa A. Johnson

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    It started with Brigham Young’s daughters. A lot has changed since then. But some important things haven’t.

    What did teenage girls think about 125 years ago?

    The list sounds awfully familiar—clothes, new ways to wear their hair, boys, friends, and fun.

    What did parents want for their girls?

    Again, the list is familiar—to help them gain their own testimonies, to learn the skills needed for a happy life, to avoid the temptations of worldly things.

    Exactly 125 years ago, in November of 1869, one father wanted to do something specific to help his girls. It so happened that this father was President Brigham Young. And the way he organized his own daughters soon spread throughout the Church. One evening he asked his older daughters to stay behind after family prayer. There were ten of them in their teens. He pointed out that other young ladies in the Church looked up to the Young girls as examples. He asked them if they would form the Retrenchment Organization. He asked them to meet together to study the gospel and to keep their clothing simple and attractive.

    Brigham Young’s daughters followed his request. But there were tears as they had to give up plans for copying the new dresses in the latest catalogs from back East.

    In a matter of two years, wards in the Salt Lake Valley had organized their young women into Retrenchment Societies. They learned to speak and pray in public, studied the scriptures, and continued their education.

    The young women’s organizations started to include sports and summer activities. The first official girls’ camp in the Church was in Murray, Utah. The young women from Salt Lake City rode the street car to the end of the line, then walked about a mile to an outdoor camp.

    The name of the organization changed to Young Ladies National Mutual Improvement Association, then to the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association. One hundred years ago, the activity nights were called Mutual just as they are today.

    In 1913 the girls were all called Beehives. In 1950, the Beehive girls became the first two years of Young Women. The next age-group was called Mia Maids. At that time, the 16- to 18-year-olds were called Junior Gleaners. Activities included sports, speech contests, dance festivals, plays, and service projects.

    In 1959, the Junior Gleaner name was changed to Laurels. Over the years, the Young Women organization has added Personal Progress, a series of age-group awards, and changed parts of the program to help young women reach their goals. The Young Women theme is repeated each week around the world in dozens of languages. World wide celebrations have been held. Thousands of young women all around the world meet each week to give service and learn more about Christ.

    Brigham Young said, “There is need for the young daughters of Israel to get a living testimony of the truth. … I wish our girls to obtain a knowledge of the gospel for themselves. … Retrench in everything that is bad and worthless, and improve in everything that is good and beautiful” (in Marba C. Josephson, History of the YWMIA, Salt Lake City: YWMIA, 1955, p. 2).

    The message has never really changed.

    Some Requirements for Beehive Girls in 1916

    1. Have a party with from 8 to 12 persons, with refreshments that cost no more than a dollar—and keep accounts.

    2. Learn to float in the Great Salt Lake. Propel yourself 50 feet. Learn to get on your feet unassisted.

    3. Without help or advice, care for and harness a team of horses at least five times. Drive 50 miles in one season.

    4. Care successfully for a hive of bees for one season, and know their habits.

    5. Pack a horse successfully.

    6. Build a tree house sufficiently large for two girls to sleep in.

    7. Pick 800 pounds of cherries or their equivalent in any six days.

    8. Clear sagebrush, etc., off half an acre of land.

    9. Identify 12 kinds of lace and tell the reasonable price and appropriate use of each.

    10. Raise three trees that bear food which attracts birds in winter.

    Speaking to Young Women

    And what about your leaders today? What do they want, hope, and pray for you? Recently, the Young Women General Presidency voiced their concerns at a specially broadcast Young Women’s meeting. Here is a shortened version of what they had to say.

    Photography courtesy of Church Historical Library and New Era files

    (Opposite) Whether in Brighton, Utah, in 1916 (inset) or in Wisconsin in the ’80s, camp is an important and fun part of the YW experience.

    (Opposite) From Salt Lake in the early 1900s (inset) to modern-day Oregon, service has always been important in the lives of Latter-day Saint Young Women.