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Brigham Young, Discourse, February 4, 1869

Brigham Young, Discourse, Feb. 4, 1869, in “An Address to the Female Relief Society, Delivered by President Brigham Young, in the 15th Ward Meeting House, Feb. 4, 1869,” Deseret News [weekly] (Salt Lake City, UT), Feb. 24, 1869, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 31–32.

See images of the original document at, courtesy of J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

Early in 1869 Brigham Young was invited to “meet with, and give instruction to” the Relief Society of the Salt Lake City Fifteenth Ward; he accepted the invitation and requested that Relief Society officers from other local wards “and adjoining settlements” also be invited.1 The invited group assembled in the Fifteenth Ward meetinghouse in Salt Lake City on the afternoon of February 4, 1869, to hear from Young and other dignitaries, including Eliza R. Snow, Joseph Young, and Franklin D. Richards.2 The occasion was noteworthy since Young spoke specifically to women rather than to the usual mixed congregation.

In his address Young particularly underscored the need for women’s contributions to Latter-day Saint economic self-sufficiency. Since his April 1868 discourse emphasizing home industry and frugality,3 a significant economic change had taken place in the Salt Lake Valley with the establishment of Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) in October 1868.4 ZCMI was a church-sponsored wholesale association created by Latter-day Saints who were frustrated by the high prices they were often required to pay to non-Mormon merchants. Individual merchants, ward retail stores, and cooperative enterprises affiliated with the parent institution.5 According to Young, who was the president of ZCMI, the institution had been formed by “a number of our merchants and leading men” in order to “fill up the gap caused by our refraining to deal with those who are not of us, and … [to] supply the retail dealers and consumers with the goods they need at reasonable rates.”6

Young’s February 4 address was summarized in the Fifteenth Ward Relief Society minutes and in the Deseret Evening News the same day.7 A complete report was provided by David W. Evans for the weekly edition of the Deseret News, February 24, 1869. The latter version is reproduced below.

AN ADDRESS to the Female Relief Society, delivered by PRESIDENT BRIGHAM YOUNG, in the 15th Ward Meeting House, Feb. 4, 1869.

reported by david w. evans.

I am happy to have the privilege of meeting with you, my sisters, on this occasion. It is gratifying to me to see such marked signs of a lively action among those who profess to be Latter-day Saints, and who are capable of doing so much good as the female portion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Female Relief Society” is a very marked expression, and full of meaning, and brings more to my mind in contemplating the sex, than almost any other expression that could be used.

As the sisters are here from the Relief Societies in the various wards in the city, and perhaps some from a distance, I wish, in my remarks, to lay before them what I, as an individual, consider to be the duty of this portion of our community. Not that I expect to go into the full details; but to touch upon a few points in regard to their duties.

Before me I see a house full of Eves. What a crowd of reflections the word Eve is calculated to bring up! Eve was a name or title conferred upon our first mother, because she was actually to be the mother of all the human beings who should live upon this earth. I am looking upon a congregation designed to be just such beings.8

This life, that we now possess, is just as good, and fraught with as great interests, as any life that any being possesses in all the kingdoms that are, consequently I shall commence by saying to these, my sisters, it is their imperative duty before God, their families and their brethren to exercise themselves in the capacity in which they are placed, according to their ability, in order that they may magnify, promote and honor the life they now possess. Permit me, sisters, to say, that we are endowed with a capacity to enjoy and to suffer and to be delighted. Are we delighted with that which is obnoxious? No; but with that which is beautiful and good. Will we promote this? Yes. In the first stages of life we should know how to promote that which we desire, and which would cheer and comfort the hearts of individuals, communities or nations. To effect this should be the first consideration of all.

Here are young, middle-aged and aged women who all have experience according to that which they have passed through. On this point I reflect very much and talk but little. Let a young woman start out in life and magnify her existence by helping to fill the world with her posterity as mother Eve was commanded to do,9 and she should know, in the first place, how to conceive and bring forth that which she would delight in, and which would be a comfort, consolation and pleasure to her in her meditations. This is a matter that people think little about, and upon which but little is said, though there is a great deal yet to be said in regard to this particular point to the mothers and daughters in Israel. The inquiry arises how shall we do this? I can say, truly, we must possess the spirit of meekness, kindness and longsuffering; we must possess patience, that in patience we may possess our souls.10 We must seek to enjoy the spirit of intelligence that comes directly from Heaven. We should govern and control every evil passion, and order our lives so that we may enjoy the meek and humble spirit of the Lord Jesus. You know how apt we are, in certain cases, to be passionate, and how apt mothers are to be full of extreme desire; it seems as though every feeling of the soul was wrought up. I have known mothers actually ruin their posterity through giving way to the inordinate desires of their own hearts. You see some children who are naturally fond of strong drink, or who are addicted to swearing, lying and stealing. Mothers entail these things in a great measure upon their offspring, and although they may not realize it, yet it is so.11 My sisters will pardon me when I say there are portions of our community, who actually believe it is no harm to lie; others will steal, and their hands would have to be cut off to prevent their taking that which is not their own, for, just as sure as they come to something that they can secrete, they will do it. I attribute a great deal of this, to the lack of wisdom in fathers and mothers. You may think this is strange doctrine, and may believe that we have control of ourselves in every particular, but it is not so. We do have that power in a measure, and th[r]ough grace and fervency we can gain control over ourselves; but we have not this power naturally. With regard to traits of character we see marked difference, among children of the same family. We see one child with whom it is as natural to lie as it is to breathe; while with others of the same family it is quite different, and you may depend upon anything they say as being strictly true. I see some with whom it is natural to pilfer, and with others of the same family it is just the reverse. These differences in character among members of the same family have come under my observation, and your experience confirms the truth of these remarks.

Now for mothers to do their duty, for these matters depend far more upon the mothers than upon fathers,—they should be filled with patience and kindness, and should seek continually to sanctify themselves and to overcome their weaknesses. Some women have a longing desire for ardent spirits, yet by faith, and the close application of that faith in their prayers to God, they [p. 31] may so far overcome that desire that it will never affect their posterity. Others are given to evil in language, in deeds or in thoughts, which should be overcome in order that the ends of their being may be answered and a righteous posterity raised. For us to start correctly we should know how to produce our own spices [species] so that they may enjoy all the blessings that are in store for the faithful without their having such an immense struggle to overcome the sin that is within them.

If the mothers in Israel could bring forth their children so that they would never have an inbred desire to swear, or do a deed that they should not do, how much more easy and satisfactory it would be for such children to pass through the ordeal of life, than to be tried and tempted, often beyond their strength. I shall leave these points with you for your consideration, being satisfied that a word to the wise is sufficient.

I shall now say a few words to you, as mothers in Israel in a temporal point of view, in regard to your children and the sickness, and disease in general, to which they too often fall victims. Upon matters of this kind every mother should be well posted. Our bodies, especially in infancy, are liable to be filled with pain and distress; and our children often waste away and go into the grave through ignorance. I see many mothers who never take thought or care with regard to these things. A child will run out and play in the wet, get cold and, perhaps, in an hour or two is in a high fever. The mother is very sorry and pets and kisses the child, but does nothing to help it. Perhaps a child is taken sick in the night with the croup,—a disease which comes on suddenly, and which is quick in its operations. In great alarm the mother gets out of bed and lights the candle, and cries “Oh dear! oh dear! what shall I do?” and immediately sends for a neighbor or a friend who, she thinks knows what course to take in such an emergency. How much better it would be if the mother, herself, knew what to do to save her child! It is a mother’s duty and business to know how to treat such diseases. They may seem small matters to some; but they are great in their results: for if not met promptly, they carry our children to the grave. In many instances mothers lose their beloved ones through neglecting duties of this kind, when with proper care and attention their children might have been preserved and their neighbors would never have known that they had been sick. These matters should receive the special attention of our sisters, and I anticipate that I am talking to ladies who will pay attention and try to carry out these counsels; if they do, they will realize great benefits therefrom. I urge upon the sisters the necessity of paying some attention to the various diseases of childhood. The people around are afraid the small pox will be here soon; but if they knew what to do, they need not be afraid of it. The same may be said of the measles and the whooping cough. Not but that there are cases of these diseases occasionally, through the weakness of the system, that our common medicines will not touch; but such cases are rare, and if the counsels given are followed, many of the diseases incident to this community, and others as well, would be overcome.12

Now, my sisters, I will take up the subject of schools. I will commence by advising this congregation to pay attention to the education of their children.13 Some may think, “Oh we have our Selectmen appointed, our districts set off and every preparation made, necessary to carry on the education of our children, and we need not give ourselves any further trouble about it.”14 I will say that if the mothers and daughters in Israel will give their attention to this matter they will accomplish a good deal more in the same time than the men will. I advise the Female Relief Society of this ward to look after the education of their children, and I recommend the introduction, into their schools, of the Deseret Alphabet; not that the old method may be thrown away or discarded, but as a means of facilitating the progress of the children in their studies.15 If mothers will take this matter in hand, and will take measures to encourage their children and create an interest in their minds in relation to education, they will accomplish much more than the fathers can do. The fathers must be called upon to foot the bill, but it is the mother’s business to see that they are schooled.

Extending my remarks upon this subject I should say that the education of females ought to be more thorough and practical than it generally is. For instance, wherever our school mistresses find a natural turn in their female pupils for the study of mathematics, or of any particular branch of learning, a class ought to be formed for the special study of that branch of education. You will find but few, females especially, who have a natural inclination for the study of mathematics; but where it does exist, such a woman, when properly trained, is just as capable of keeping a set of books and occupying a seat in a countinghouse as a man; and the labor is not too arduous. To see a great, fat, lubberly-looking man, who ought to be conducting a railway train or using the pick and spade, sitting continually at a desk is disgusting to me. The females should learn book-keeping, then they would be able to attend to our mercantile operations. I recommend the ladies of the 15th Ward to commence this branch of study. If they commence first, they will have the credit for so doing; and if they progress faster than others they will have the credit of it, for a record of the doings of all these Female Relief Societies will be kept, and it will be known who were fervent and faithful in carrying out the counsels given them in order to enable them to magnify their high callings here on the earth.

We see the necessity of these things every day. Suppose a man, owning a little property, is taken away from his family, and his wife knows nothing about his business or books, or whether she has a dollar or ten thousand; her position would be much more advantageous if she had an acquaintance with book-keeping, for then, without the help of any other person, she could settle up the business of her deceased husband, call in his debts, pay them off, square up his accounts and possess what was left.

These things are neglected here and in the world too. See in the fashionable world, the education given to a young lady! It consists mainly of how to bow and curtsey, how to meet a gentleman, how to be graceful in a ball room, how to get into and out of a carriage, how to walk on the streets,—how high her clothes should be lifted or how many feet they should drag behind her; and in addition to this to thrum on the piano and have a smattering of French or Italian.16 These are what should be called female loafers; they are no good to themselves or anybody else. They cannot knit their stockings, make their dresses or underclothing or do anything useful.

It is quite right for the females of this community to know enough of the etiquette of the day to present themselves with propriety to their brethren, sisters and friends, and to strangers; but beyond what is required of etiquette for this is unnecessary and vain. In this respect many of our sisters are deficient; they manifest too great freedom frequently. A little of this reserve and etiquette is necessary, that we may be able to meet with and act with propriety and decorum among our brethren and sisters, and when we meet with and mingle among strangers. We have to meet with strangers, we are under the necessity of doing so, and we can not grow up and live and die in this ignorant innocence. Our sisters should know enough of etiquette to enable them to deport themselves like ladies in society, and besides that their education should be of that practical and useful character that they would be able to keep books, knit their stockings and to make every particle of clothing they need to wear.

You will see the same variety of taste and character among the female portions of the community as among the males. Among the latter you will find some with a taste for the various branches of mechanics, while others have a taste for being artists, naturalists, &c. It is just so with the sisters. One says, I would like to be a milliner, another a book keeper, another a telegraph operator, another a musician, &c.17 We never ought to employ a man to work as a telegraph operator, but we are under the necessity of doing so, for although we have taught a sufficient number of girls to work our entire line through the Territory,18 we are still compelled to employ men, for the simple reason that women are brought up in such ignorance that they know nothing about their duty; they do not seem to know but that it is perfectly right, without leave of absence, to run off to a party, or visit here and there for two or three days together. Their mothers do not teach them anything. They are like a plant in a garden that is allowed to grow without cultivation. Just as many branches as the main stem will send forth may grow, bud, blossom or die as they please, the tree is never trimmed or trained in the least. This is too much the way with the female portion of our community. It should not be so.

Why not the mothers of the 15th Ward commence and teach their girls what their duty is, and train them so that they will be a profit to themselves? There is one point in connection with this upon which I would give a word of caution, that is, never urge a child in its studies beyond its ability. This should be watched very closely. It is quite common in our day to put children to their studies and to hold them to them until they become mere machines, actually losing the balance and strength of their minds to that degree that they know nothing but what they read; their natural ability seems to be used up, or benumbed, so that it is useless. Parents and teachers should be careful to avoid this, and never urge a child beyond the power of its mental organization. Without doing this in the least our girls may be taught how to keep books and how to be good telegraph operators. How I should delight to see a wire stretched from here to my office, so that the presidentess of this society might make inquiries upon any topic connected with the welfare of this society without having the trouble to run after it. And then from this Ward to every other in the city, so that they could do business with each other without running through the mud.19

I streneously recommend this society to adopt this counsel. Then you might extend your business operations beyond telegraphy and book keeping. I do not see the least harm in the world in women learning to do any kind of light work that is lawful to do, such as knitting, for instance. We are importing knitting machines, and why not this Ward establish the business of knitting stockings to supply its members? The Ward, no doubt, contains men, women and children who are not well supplied with these useful articles of apparel; and some of them, not being able to knit them, are obliged, perhaps, to go without them unless they can obtain the privilege of working in somebody’s garden for them. Now, with a business of this kind started in the Ward, it would be a comparatively easy matter for all of its inhabitants, who wish to do so, to supply themselves.

Another branch of business that might be started with advantage is that of millinery. The ladies of the Ward ought never to go beyond its limits for any article in this line, and if the ladies of the Female Relief Society will take it in hand they will accomplish something useful. By establishing these branches of business you will be of great use and servise to your husbands, sons and brothers.

If you were to make men’s clothes there would be no harm in it. It is quite common for women to do this. And sewing machines can be obtained that will sew any kind of cloth, and if you had four, six or eight women associated together in this Ward in making men’s clothing, it could, if properly conducted, be made very profitable.

During the past season there has been great demand for clothing by men working on the railroad, and there never is a time but what it is in demand. Now suppose you had capital, and could make clothing, and were to keep a clothing store in this ward, you would find plenty of customers. Then if a man wanted a coat, or a suit of clothes or a pair of boots, he could be immediately accommodated, for you could ea[s]ily change some of your clothing for boots, and keep a supply of them on hand as well as clothing. If you had your telegraph wire you could send your orders into the city to the shoemaker, or other parties, and have them filled without delay, and be able to accommodate either saint or stranger with what they needed. Only get such movements started systematically, and you can make you abilities adapt themselves to the capacities and wants of the ward.

Another branch of business, in which children and aged people might be profitably employed, is that of making baskets[.] Basket willows could [be] planted and raised round the springs in this and other neighborhoods, and with them every kind of basket required by the ladies to market or visit with could be manufactured. You have, most likely, sisters in the ward who, while they are in the enjoyment of tolerable bodily health, are yet so far advanced in years, that they are unable to earn the necessaries of life by active labor; but their time might be used to profit in light labors of this kind. The same may be said of the aged brethren, and if a plan of this kind be adopted, you will find there are but very few who can not do something if you know how to set them to work.

The children, too, after school hours, can be employed to better advantage than running the streets. They can be taught to braid, and with kind words they would as soon sit down and braid a couple of yards of nice, fine, five, seven, nine or eleven strand braid after school for the day is over, as to spend the whole of their time in romping and playing. This would lay the foundation of the manufacture of straw hats and bonnets.

If the ladies of the Female Relief Society, and the sisters of this ward generally, will unitedly and systematically enter upon the paths here indicated, they will not only be able to supply the wants of this ward, but will actually call in capital from other wards. Some may say “How can this be if all the wards adopt a similar course?” In reply, I will say the wards will grow so fast that it will be a long time before we can supply ourselves.

After having referred to the various branches of business—including book-keeping, telegraphing, music, knitting, clothing, milinery, basket and foot-mat making,—which, if systematically conducted might be made advantageous and profitable by the sisters in this and other wards, I will now come to another branch of business I see that in this ward you have already a building reared for the sale of goods,20 which, I understand, you anticipate will be ready for occupation sometime in April. Suppose you start with $200 worth of goods, consisting of a variety of articles, such as the necessities of the ward demand,21 and you sell that stock daily and realize only five per cent on it, which is a very heavy per centage cheaper than goods have ever been sold in this city; in a week you get thirty per cent and in a short time one hundred per cent, which is a much higher rate of interest than is generally paid for money. If you will start this store, and will permit me to put in capital and take the same percentage that you get, I will furnish you five hundred or a thousand dollars to begin with immediately.

Take up the branches of business I have referred to, conduct them systematically, and use the means I have pointed out, and you will soon find it advantageous and profitable, and you will also find that the wants of the poor will be all supplied, and that they will produce more than they consume, for if they are looked after and cared for, they can probably be set at some labor by which they can sustain themselves.

In conclusion, I will say, if I have not gone sufficiently into details in regard to the business of this society, if you call on me at any time I will add to what I have already said, and give you any counsel you need.22 I feel now like concluding my conversation. God bless you, Amen.

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Brigham Young, Discourse, February 4, 1869, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, accessed June 19, 2024