Young Women—Then and Now


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. 1.

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

  2. 2.

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

  3. 3.

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

  4. 4.

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

  5. 5.

    Pack a horse successfully.

  6. 6.

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

  7. 7.

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

  8. 8.

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

  9. 9.

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

  10. 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.

[photos] Photography courtesy of Church Historical Library and New Era files

[photos] (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.

[photos] (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.

Growing Up Spiritually

Sister Janette C. Hales

Sister Janette C. Hales, Young Women General President, serves a worldwide sisterhood.

I have tremendous reverence for each one of you. My hope for you during these important years between the ages of 12 and 18 is that you are going from being a dependent child to becoming a righteous, problem-solving woman of faith. It is a mighty work you do during these years, and when you do your work well, you will build a foundation for a responsible and righteous life.

When your leaders encourage you in the Young Women program to get involved with Personal Progress, I hope you will understand that this represents much more than goal-setting and receiving recognition. The greatest goal is that you would constantly choose experiences that would exercise or strengthen your faith in our Savior, Jesus Christ.

It is so important in this day that we each build an inner core of spirituality. As you exercise your faith and feel that spirituality grow, you will begin to feel more secure. You will feel more confident. Gradually we will come to more fully understand what it means to completely trust in our Heavenly Father and stand as a witness of God (see Mosiah 18:9). As we become righteous, problem-solving women of faith, we will learn to represent Him and do His work.

I have a testimony of our Savior’s love for us. He understands our challenges. We were intended to have experiences that will help us know good from evil. We can’t be perfect alone. The atoning gift of Jesus Christ allows us to let go of our weaknesses and be strengthened by His perfection.

Faith Is the Answer

Virginia H. Pearce

“Why me?” That’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves during hard times. Family difficulties, loneliness, awkwardness, problems with school—“why did it have to be me?” What would help? What is the answer?

President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, said, “Of all our needs, I think the greatest is an increase in faith” (Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 54).

Could faith be the answer? We all know that more faith won’t make our problems disappear. But I believe as our faith increases, we become more able to not only survive the hard times but become better because of them. I believe faith is the answer.

Faith is the first of the Young Women Values: “I am a daughter of a Heavenly Father who loves me, and I will have faith in his eternal plan, which centers in Jesus Christ, my Savior” (Personal Progress, 1989, p. 7).

In everyday language, faith means I really believe that:

  • Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live, and they are in charge of this world.

  • They know me.

  • They love me.

  • They have a plan for my future.

  • I will obey the commandments, work hard, and trust in their plan.

Even talking about faith brings feelings of peace and steadiness, doesn’t it? I need more faith. You need more faith. I pray that Heavenly Father may increase our faith.

Closer to the Savior

Patricia P. Pinegar

Choosing to increase our faith in the Savior isn’t easy. It takes work, but the feelings inside of peace and joy and love are worth all our efforts.

What can we do to turn to the Savior? In the scriptures it says, “But without faith it is impossible to please him”; and to please him we must “believe that he is” (Heb. 11:6).

  • Choosing to believe is an important step. It has to be our choice. No one can make that choice for you. If I stand in front of a mirror and look myself in the eye and say, “I choose to believe in the Savior,” that helps me; then whenever I look in a mirror it reminds me of my choice.

  • Ask for help, then listen. Our Father and Savior want us to have more faith. Faith is a gift, but it must be sought after. We can seek after faith by asking for more faith in our prayers. Could we say, “Heavenly Father, please help me have more faith”?

    Harder than asking is listening. We can listen in our hearts and hear Their voice. We can listen in the scriptures and hear Their word. We can listen to our prophet and leaders and hear their testimonies of faith. We can increase our faith by “hearing … the word of God” (Rom. 10:17).

  • Practice turning to Him, practice thinking about Him. Increasing our faith does take more than choosing to believe and asking. It takes physical and mental action. It takes practice, diligence, patience, and obedience. We must be “doers of the word, … not hearers only” (James 1:22). We can practice living righteously by turning to Him, by thinking about Him, by following Him. And then we must help Him with His work by helping others.

I sense the tender feelings in your hearts. I feel that too. I believe we want to follow Him, to trust Him, to please Him, to live righteously, to increase our faith in Him. My testimony is that He loves us so much, that He understands, and that His light will comfort us and guide us as we come unto Him.