In fall 1869 Brigham Young invited Mary Isabella Hales Horne, president of the Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward Relief Society, to lead Latter-day Saint women in an effort to simplify meal preparation and their apparel. Young extended the invitation in early November in Gunnison, Utah Territory, where he was visiting as part of an eleven-day tour of twenty settlements in southern Utah and where Horne was visiting some of her family.1 Young had become frustrated on his trip over the “multitudinous dishes” his various hosts had provided.2
When Young returned from the tour, he used the occasion of a Sunday afternoon address to describe the invitation he had given to Horne and to call for reform. Speaking in the Salt Lake City tabernacle on November 14, Young said: “If the people would like something by way of a change, I will propose something to them, as I did to sister Horne, the President of the Female Relief Society in the 14th Ward, who was at Gunnison, about 130 miles south of this place, when we were there. I invited her, when she returned, to call the sisters of the Relief Society together, and ask them to begin a reform in eating and housekeeping. I told her I wished to get up a society whose members would agree to have a light, nice breakfast in the morning, for themselves and children, without cooking something less than forty different kinds of food, making slaves of themselves and requiring three or four hired girls to wash dishes.”
In his address Young mocked dinner tables piled with “roast meat, boiled meat and baked meat, fat mutton, beef and pork; and in addition to this two or three kinds of pies and cakes.” He denounced the encouragement to family members “to eat and gorge themselves till they are so full that when night comes they will want a doctor.” Further emphasizing a return to plain living and self-reliance, Young reiterated his longtime priority of home industry. He advised, “If you want another revolution, let us go to and say we will wear nothing but what we make; and that which we do not make we will not have.”3
Young’s call for reform spawned a movement among women to simplify their eating and apparel, though public signs of the new movement did not appear until February. The “Great Indignation Meeting” held January 13, 1870, in Salt Lake City4 may have contributed to the delay, though another factor may have been Horne’s reluctance to carry out Young’s assignment. Horne later recalled, “It was some time before I could gain sufficient courage to perform this labor, but Sister [Eliza R.] Snow urged me to do my duty, so with fear and trembling I endeavored to do so.”5
On Thursday, February 10, 1870, Horne convened the first reform meeting at her home with “about twelve presidents of branches of the Relief Society.”6 At this gathering, the women decided to title their efforts “retrenchment” rather than “reform” and included in their name the word “co-operative,” presumably to indicate their new cooperation across ward boundaries as they sought, according to Horne, “to lighten the labors of the women and give them more time to devote to mental and spiritual culture.”7 The following minutes of this first Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Meeting were published in the Deseret Evening News, February 16, 1870.
minutes of ladies’ co-operative retrenchment meeting,
Held at the residence of Brother Joseph Horne, 14th Ward, Feb. 10th, 1870.
A representative from most of the Wards of the city was present. Mrs. Mary Isabella Horne was appointed President and Mrs. Sarah M. Kimball Secretary.
Meeting opened by singing; prayer by E. R. Snow.
President Horne stated the object of the meeting. All present expressed their sentiments upon the subject under consideration, and the following persons were appointed a committee to draft resolutions expressive of the feelings of the meeting:
E. R. Snow,
M. [Margaret] T. Smoot,
S. M. Kimball.
The committee proceeded to prepare resolutions, which were read before the meeting and unanimously accepted, of which the following is a copy:
Resolved:—That we, realizing the many evils growing out of the excess and extravagance which our present customs require in the great varieties of dishes demanded in table entertainments, do mutually agree to unite our efforts in sustaining by our examples Table Retrenchment in all of our visiting associations and social parties.
Resolved:—That, as health is the main-spring of happiness, and economy the way-mark to prosperity, we recommend a careful consideration of the results of our present mode of fashionable table serving.
Resolved:—That by carrying out the principles of retrenchment, the time, strength and means, redeemed from useless labor and waste, shall be devoted to noble purposes—such as instructing each other and the rising generation in the principles of physical and intellectual improvement, dietetics, &c.
Resolved:—That inasmuch as many of our good and worthy citizens are deterred from inviting company by the consideration that they cannot compete with their more affluent neighbors, and are thereby deprived of many rich and profitable interviews, we say that henceforth any table neatly spread, with no matter how plain, but wholesome, food, shall be considered fashionable.
Resolved:—That, as women of God, we feel it a duty incumbent on us, not only to manifest our “diligence in all good works,”8 but to unitedly exert all our power and influence to annihilate degenerating habits and customs, and in establishing such as will benefit future generations.
Resolved:—That we invite all good women to co-operate with us, by their influence and example to aid in this important enterprize.
On motion the meeting was adjourned till the 19th inst., in the Society Hall, 19th Ward.9
Dismissed by prayer by Mrs. Z. [Zina] D. Young.
After which Mrs. Horn carried out the theory of the meeting by seating the entire company at a neatly spread Retrenchment Table, the meal consisting of good bread and butter, with stewed dried apples, one kind of cake, blanc-mange,10 with cream and preserves, and cold water, where, with unclogged stomachs and unclouded minds, each enjoyed “a feast of reason and a flow of soul.”11
Mrs. Mary I. Horne, Pres.,
Mrs. Sarah M. Kimball, Sec.