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14

An Elevation So High above the Ordinary

Senior and Junior Cooperative Retrenchment Association

Fourteenth Ward Assembly Hall, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory

October 11, 1872


Eliza Roxcy Snow (1804–1887) encouraged women attending a meeting of the Senior and Junior Cooperative Retrenchment Association on October 11, 1872, to elevate their thoughts, beliefs, and actions through study and service. She was instrumental in the development of the retrenchment organization in 1870. The idea originated when Brigham Young visited various settlements in 1869. He noticed a pattern of women spending an inordinate amount of time preparing extravagant banquets and neglecting their spiritual and intellectual nourishment.1 Young hoped that women would “retrench,” or reduce energy and time spent preparing lavish meals and engaging in excessive fashion. He invited Mary Isabella Horne, president of the Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward Relief Society, “to call the sisters of the Relief Society together, and ask them to begin a reform in eating and housekeeping.”2 Young, Horne, and Snow encouraged women to expand their priorities beyond domestic routines to also include broader issues of social reform, home manufacture, and intellectual and spiritual discussion.3

In her discourse, Snow referred to the role of women within the future organization of the “order of Enoch,” a reference to a Latter-day Saint scriptural text that described Enoch’s “City of Holiness, even Zion” in which the people were “of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.”4 Inspired in part by these scriptures, Brigham Young had encouraged economic cooperation through the establishment of cooperatives in Utah in the previous decade. The purposes, he taught, were self-sufficiency and the preservation of Latter-day Saint identity, especially in the face of the perceived threats of non-Mormon economic, social, and cultural intrusion into Utah Territory after the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. Women were encouraged to participate in the cooperative movement.5 They found ways to contribute their talents and resources, and they developed new skills. The Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association provided a location for women to gather, educate themselves, and contribute to the cooperative movement.

Snow served as one of six counselors to Horne, president of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association.6 Separate from the Relief Societies, which oversaw benevolent work within each ward, the Retrenchment Association crossed ward boundaries and focused on cooperative assignments given to women, including silk production, cooperative stores, grain storage, home industry, and medical classes. The movement supported a “senior” group for the older women and a “junior” group for young ladies.7 Unlike the junior groups, which met in individual wards, the Senior Retrenchment Association remained one large organization, meeting collectively in the Fourteenth Ward Assembly Hall in Salt Lake City.8 These semimonthly meetings generally opened with a hymn, a prayer, and a second hymn. Minutes of the previous meeting were read and accepted or amended. The president or presiding officer began with introductory remarks, sometimes reading a published article or giving a travel report, discussing local current events, or introducing a thematic topic. Attendees then expressed feelings in a discussion format, speaking as moved upon.9

At the forty-second meeting of the Retrenchment Association on October 11, 1872, Snow announced the commencement of a new physiology class for women. Sarah M. Kimball would direct the class and follow Young’s charge for women to be more engaged in education and medicine.10 Snow then talked about spiritual and intellectual edification, as well as the proper development of domestic skills as part of the cooperative movement.

Saints of God can be edified by nothing but the Spirit of God. We have attained to an elevation so high above the ordinary walks of life that nothing but the revelations of heaven would edify the Saints, their aspirations being so much higher. I was pleased with a remark in the minutes made by a sister saying it is uphill business.11 It is uphill, and if you continue you will attain to something much higher than those who go downhill. How much more satisfying to you it will be if we can look back upon our preceding years, having done what God required of us to do. They who are opposed to the course the young ladies are pursuing may seem to enjoy themselves for a while, but they do not know what it is to taste true happiness. It is but the gratification of the lower faculties of the mind; the higher emotions emanate from God. I am interested in my young sisters; they have taken a course that will elevate, prepare, and purify them for the presence of Goddesses in eternity.

Fourteenth Ward Assembly Hall

Fourteenth Ward Assembly Hall. Circa 1886. Several different types of women’s meetings were held in this hall in Salt Lake City, including retrenchment meetings and Mutual Improvement Association June conference sessions. Photograph by C. E. Johnson. (Courtesy Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City.)

This life is full of trouble. Then why should we concentrate our all in that which is fading and will pass away? My young sisters, do not grow cold, but be active in preparing yourselves to be of some use in the kingdom of God. Some seem to think they live for nothing but self-gratification. Our religion is not a fable; it is a reality. And if we live it so as to have the Spirit of God in our hearts, no matter what we are called to pass through, God is with us to comfort and strengthen us. I sometimes think we have all got to look upward, but it seems natural for women to lean sideways. That is not sufficient. My young sisters who meet together and have the Spirit of God in their hearts have a foretaste of eternal happiness.

Human knowledge can never impart the spirit and intelligence they possess.12 We may talk with some for a generation and yet cannot by words enlighten their understanding. If we have influence with God to penetrate their hearts, it shows them the difference between the things of God and the things of the world. It is necessary for the young to meet together and exercise in religion; it is just as much use to them as to any. We should consider ourselves immortal beings and live for immortality. We should improve every opportunity of treasuring up knowledge and everything that will have a tendency to enlighten our understanding and make us useful, but not for aggrandizing ourselves. We should live for others; in doing so we benefit ourselves. The person that does the most good is the happiest. I was blessed when a child in realizing the advantage and superiority of doing good to being useless. I devoted my early life to studying. How it makes my heart ache over the waste of time and physical energies of some of the young by devoting themselves to amusement instead of study.13 Not that I would discard amusement, but do not make a business of it. It then ceases to be a diversion.

I was very much pleased with the conference. In speaking of the people living so far beneath their privileges, President Young has said at three different times, “Yet out from this people the Lord will call a people that will do his will.” I have wondered how, when, and to whom is this call to be made. In his remarks one day during conference, President Young spoke of establishing a colony composed of those who had sufficient confidence in each other to bind themselves in an indissoluble band.14 Those that cannot see the order of Enoch will think it an excitement caused by the brethren. It rejoices my heart to see that God is working in our midst, and who are prepared to enter in? Those who have abided the whole law. When we all come to examine ourselves, we shall find the weaknesses of the flesh.

I am thankful to God that I am associated with good sisters. Know that many of them are thinking of something besides human grandeur and mortal wealth; know that you love and are seeking after things of God. Let us do it with our whole hearts. I suggest that we bring forward subjects that will improve and benefit us as daughters of the Most High. Let those things that are foreign to us be let alone. I would not have you think that spiritual exercises are going to perfect us. They alone will not do it. We come together to get our energies aroused to assist us in the duties of life. It is a difficult thing for mortals to take an even course, to devote to each duty that portion of time which belongs to it.

We want to study, reflect, pray, speak, sing, attend meetings, partake of the sacrament, seek out the poor and the needy and those who are losing the light of eternity from their bosoms. I do not believe in taking the course the sectarian world is pursuing, that is, looking after the heathen and neglecting their duties at home.15 Do not leave those that are nearby to reach after those that are far from us. Our labors for the advancement of the kingdom of God will not be lost; they are sure to meet with their reward. We may labor for other things, and they will perish as the grass. I would exhort the aged to use their influence with the young in trying to get them interested in educational matters. We want to be good housewives. Our young ladies should learn trades and get all the book knowledge that they can. But the perfect knowledge of domestic duties lays the foundation of a thoroughly accomplished lady. This constitutes a foundation upon which you may heap a great many of the finer accomplishments, and she will not become top heavy. But the ornaments are of no use if we are deficient in the other acquirements. To become queens and priestesses we must be business women.16 We are laying the foundation of the kingdom of God, and it is our duty to mold the character of this generation. We do not want to be ignorant in regard to the principles of the gospel or any department of education which elevates us for the field of action. We expect heaven to be of a higher and more perfect order and free from the weaknesses and impurity of the flesh.

Footnotes

  1. [1]While visiting Washington, Utah Territory, Young reportedly retired to bed while the women stayed up all night cooking. (Robert Glass Cleland and Juanita Brooks, eds., A Mormon Chronicle: The Diaries of John D. Lee, 1848–1876, 2 vols. [Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983], 2:114.)

  2. [2]Brigham Young, “Remarks,” Deseret News Weekly, Nov. 24, 1869.

  3. [3]Although the formal assignment was given to Horne, Snow played an important supporting role. Horne expressed concern about her ability to bear the responsibility of the new movement: “It was some time before I could gain sufficient courage to perform this labor, but Sister Snow urged me to do my duty, so with fear and trembling I endeavored to do so.” (Mary Isabella Horne, “Address of Mrs. M. Isabella Horne,” Woman’s Exponent 20, no. 18 [Apr. 1, 1892]: 138.)

  4. [4]Moses 7:18–19.

  5. [5]Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900 (1958; repr., Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1993), 195, 235, 251–254. Snow’s brother Lorenzo Snow organized a successful cooperative community in Brigham City, Utah Territory, starting in 1864. This initial experiment laid the groundwork for later attempts in the 1870s. (Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, 324–325.)

  6. [6]The other counselors were Zina D. H. Young, Margaret T. Smoot, Sarah M. Kimball, Phebe Woodruff, and Bathsheba W. Smith. (Susa Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1911], 34, 37.)

  7. [7]The junior group first became known as the Young Ladies’ Retrenchment Association; that name was later changed to Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association and eventually Young Women. (Eleventh Ward, Salt Lake Stake, Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association Minutes and Records, vol. 1, 1871–1877, Oct. 18, 1871, 1, CHL; Gates, History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, 150–151; “Death Closes Rich Career of Church Worker, Mother,” Deseret News, Mar. 24, 1937.)

  8. [8]Gates, History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, 36; see also Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 114–115. The development of different levels of the Relief Society and retrenchment organizations followed specific needs. Wards organized Relief Societies first, starting in 1867, while senior retrenchment meetings were held on a more central level, rather than in local wards. Stake Relief Society organizations commenced in 1877 to coordinate ward societies, and the semimonthly retrenchment meeting later morphed into the Relief Society general board. For more information on these organizations and for minutes of some of the first meetings, see Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook, and Matthew J. Grow, eds., The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 338–349, 353–357.

  9. [9]Derr, Cannon, and Beecher, Women of Covenant, 114.

  10. [10]Kimball explained that the class was actually an “educational society,” with implicit instruction for women to “make this grow into something that will benefit us.” (Senior and Junior Cooperative Retrenchment Association, Minutes, Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, looseleaf, 1871–1874, Oct. 11, 1872, 42nd Meeting, [1–2], CHL.)

  11. [11]At the beginning of the meeting, minutes were read from meetings of the Cooperative Retrenchment Association, the Salt Lake City Seventh Ward Relief Society, the Salt Lake City Ninth Ward Relief Society, and the Salt Lake City Eleventh Ward Relief Society.

  12. [12]When she was baptized in 1835 at the age of thirty-three, Snow recalled an experience in which she saw a candle with a long flame directly over her feet. “I sought to know the interpretation, and received the following, ‘The lamp of intelligence shall be lighted over your path.’ I was satisfied.” (Eliza R. Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” in The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher [Logan: Utah State University Press, 2000], 10.)

  13. [13]As a young woman, Snow learned secretarial skills by assisting her father in his public business. Her mother considered housekeeping an important foundation for all female accomplishments and felt that “useful knowledge was the most reliable basis of independence.” Snow’s parents taught her and her siblings the value of both labor and education; Snow remembered, “Book studies and schooling were ever present—intermingling with every other industry, not omitting music and singing.” In Kirtland in 1836, she taught at a girls’ school. (Snow, “Sketch of My Life,” 6–7, 10.)

  14. [14]Snow may be paraphrasing one of at least two talks that Brigham Young gave in general conference about building the kingdom of God through sacrifice and the future organization of select Saints in the order of Enoch. (Brigham Young, Oct. 9, 1872, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. [Liverpool: Various Publishers, 1855–1886], 15:158–167, 220–229.)

  15. [15]In the nineteenth century, the term heathen referred to peoples without a Judeo-Christian background, and many Christian sects were proselytizing in nations that lacked a substantial Christian presence. Some Mormon missionaries went to places such as South Africa, China, India, and islands of the Pacific during the second half of the century. (See William R. Hutchison, Errand to the World: American Protestant Thought and Foreign Missions [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987]; Rex Thomas Price Jr., “The Mormon Missionary of the Nineteenth Century” [PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1991], 83; and Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “heathen.”)

  16. [16]Latter-day Saints believed that through participation in temple ceremonies and faithfulness in their lives, they could become “kings and priests” and “queens and priestesses” in eternity. (Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Mormon Women and the Temple: Toward a New Understanding,” in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987], 90–91, 102–103.)