During 1869 and 1870, Latter-day Saint women developed a distinct organization for young women, the first such organization in the church’s history.1 This organization, the Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association, was initiated in response to Brigham Young’s call for simplification in meal preparation, housekeeping, and clothing.2 The Young Ladies’ Department operated both in connection with and separately from the Relief Society.
The first young ladies’ organization consisted of Brigham Young’s adolescent and young adult daughters (ranging in age from fourteen to twenty-two), both married and unmarried. According to Maria Young Dougall and her sister Susa Young Gates, their father frequently spoke of the importance of organizing his daughters so that his family might “set an example to the daughters of Zion that would be worthy of imitation.” Indeed, for several months before the organization, Brigham Young had articulated the concern for reform to members of his large family, particularly to those who gathered for evening prayers at their Salt Lake City residence, the Lion House. Both Dougall and Gates recalled that the initial organization meeting for the Young daughters occurred on Sunday evening, November 28, 1869, two weeks after Young publicly called for reform in the Salt Lake tabernacle.3 This is traditionally considered the founding date, though the exact events of that evening are unclear; the daughters’ memories of the November 28 gathering seem to have been conflated with a similar Lion House gathering six months later. Notes in the Historian’s Office Journal for May 25, 1870, recorded that “at prayer time” Young assembled “quite a large number of his family together” along with church historian George A. Smith and his wife, Bathsheba W. Smith. Following prayer, Young told his family that “the eyes of the world were upon them also the eyes of the Saints. … He wished his wives and daughters always to adopt their own fashions and to set an example and as far as possible to manufacture what they wore.”4
On May 27, 1870, which should be considered the formal founding date of the young ladies’ organization, Young’s daughters organized themselves as the First Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association and adopted resolutions composed by Eliza R. Snow,5 one of Young’s plural wives and an avid proponent of reform.6 The resolutions, as published in the Deseret Evening News the following month, are reproduced below.7 Dougall recalled subsequent meetings where the Young daughters received instructions from older women, including Snow, then assisting with the organization of ward Relief Societies, and Mary Isabella Horne, newly elected president of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association.8 “We were to have resolutions and by-laws,” Dougall remembered, “and we were to retrench in our clothing.”9 Four days later, on May 31, the Second Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association was organized by another group of young women.10 Thereafter Retrenchment Associations were organized in various Salt Lake City wards and other settlements, following the pattern set here whereby older women encouraged and directed younger women. In Salt Lake City, the first “young ladies’ departments” both met on their own and joined with older women twice monthly in the Senior and Junior Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association. The young ladies’ departments soon became known as the Young Ladies’ Retrenchment Association; in 1877 the organization was officially renamed the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, often abbreviated Y.L.M.I.A.11
Adopted by the First Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Co-operative Retrenchment Association, S.L. City, organized May 27, 1870.
Resolved.—That, realizing ourselves to be wives and daughters of Apostles, Prophets and Elders of Israel, and, as such, that high responsibilities rest upon us, and that we shall be held accountable to God, not only for the privileges we inherit from our fathers, but also for the blessings we enjoy as Latter-day Saints, we feel to unite and co-operate with, and do mutually pledge ourselves that we will uphold and sustain each other in doing good.
Resolved.—That, inasmuch as the Saints have been commanded to gather out from Babylon and “n[o]t12 partake of her sins, that they receive not of her plagues,”13 we feel that we should not condescend to imitate the pride, folly and fashions of the world; and inasmuch as the church of Jesus Christ is likened unto a city set on a hill to be a beacon of light to all nations, it is our duty to set examples for others, instead of seeking to pattern after them.
Resolved.—That we will respect ancient and modern apostolic instructions. St. Paul exhorted Timothy to teach “the women to adorn themselves in modest apparel—not with braided hair, or gold or pearls, or costly array; but which becometh women pro[f]essing godliness, with good works.”14 Peter, also, in his first epi[s]tle,15 in speaking of women, says, “Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and wearing of gold, or of putting on apprrel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God, of great price: for after this manner in old time, the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves.”16 In a revelation given to the Latter-day Saints in 1831, the Lord said, “Thou shalt not be proud in thy heart; let all thy garments be plain, and their beauty, the beauty of the work of thine own hands.”17 All of which, we accept as true principle, and such as should be fully illustrated in our practice.
Resolved.—That, with a firm and settled determination to honor the foregoing requirements, and being deeply sensible of the sinful ambition and vanity in dress among the daughters of Zion, which are calculated to foster the pride of the world, and shut out the spirit of God from the heart, we mutually agree to exert our influence, both by precept and by example, to suppress, and to eventually eradicate these evils.
Resolved.—That, admitting variety has its charms, we know that real beauty appears to greater advantage in a plain dress than when bedizened with finery, and while we disapprobate extravagance and waste, we would not, like the Quakers, recommend a uniform, but would have each one to choose the style best adapted to her own taste and person:18 at the same time we shall avoid, and ignore as obsolete with us, all extremes which are opposed to good sense, or repulsive to modesty.
Resolved.—That, inasmuch as cleanliness is a characteristic of a Saint, and an imperative duty, we shall discard the dragging skirts, and, for decency’s sake, those disgustingly short ones, extending no lower than the boot tops. We also regard “paniers,” and whatever approximates in appearance toward the “Grecian Bend,” a burlesque on the natural beauty and dignity of the human female form, and will not disgrace our persons by wearing them.19 And, also, as fast as it shall be expedient, we shall adopt the wearing of home-made articles, and exercise our united influence in rendering them fashionable.
Mrs. Ella Y. Emp[e]y, Pres.20
Mrs. Emily Y. Clawson,
Mrs. Zina Y. Williams,
Mrs. Maria Y. McDougal [Dougall],
Mrs. Caroline Y. Croxall,
Miss Dora [Eudora] Young,
Miss Phebe Young,