When Latter-day Saints convened in the newly built tabernacle for general conference in April 1868, Brigham Young called a second time for the organization of ward Relief Societies. Only a dozen or so wards had responded to the initial call he had issued four months earlier.1 This second appeal and the commission of Eliza R. Snow to help establish Relief Societies provided the necessary momentum for wards to organize.2
In the 1850s charity was the main emphasis of the Relief Society. Now President Young tied the Relief Society to home industry and the movement for economic cooperation among the Latter-day Saints by inviting women to place themselves “in a condition to administer to the poor” by living frugally and more diligently pursuing cottage or home industries. The manufacture and sale of local goods kept what scarce cash there was in the territory, while excessive expenditures on imports threatened Latter-day Saint economic strength and independence.3 More imports would inevitably come to Utah with the impending completion of the transcontinental railroad. In this discourse Young emphasized the importance of women’s economic contributions and recommended, among other measures, that women cultivate and produce silk locally rather than import it. Through the 1860s Young had encouraged local silk production. A Deseret News editorial, “Culture of Silk,” published two weeks before Young gave this discourse, noted that Young “has an abundance of mulberry trees, which he has raised from seed imported by him, at considerable expense, from Italy and the South of France. These he has offered for sale; … there is, without doubt, great wealth to be derived from their judicious cultivation.”4 Young’s April 8 discourse, like so many he delivered, was filled with a wide range of what he termed “practical teachings,” including on marriage, fashion, women’s and children’s health, and farming.5
The following transcript is excerpted from the report of Young’s April 8 discourse made by George D. Watt for the weekly edition of the Deseret News, May 13, 1868.
By President BRIGHAM YOUNG, in the New Tabernacle, afternoon,
April 8, 1868.
reported by g. d. watt
6… I have a short sermon for my sisters. I wish you, under the direction of your bishops and wise men, to establish your relief societies, and organize yourselves under the direction of the brethren, and establish yourselves for doing business, gathering up your little amounts of means that would otherwise go to waste, and put them to usury, and make more of them, and thus keep gathering in. Let this be commenced forthwith. … Let the sisters take care of themselves, and make themselves beautiful, and if any of you are so superstitious and ignorant as to say that this is pride, I can say that you are not informed as to the and pride which is sinful before the Lord, you are also ignorant as to the excellency of the heavens, and of the beauty which dwells in the society of the Gods. Were you to see an angel, you would see a beautiful and lovely creature. Make yourselves like angels in goodness and beauty. Let the mothers in Israel make their sons and daughters [p. 106] healthy and beautiful, by cleanliness and a proper diet. Whether you have much or little clothing for your children, it can be kept clean and healthy, and be made to fit their persons neatly. Make your children lovely and fair that you may delight in them. Cease to send out your children to herd sheep with their skins exposed to the hot sun, until their hands and faces appear as though they lived in an ash heap. I call upon my sisters to lead out in these things, and create your own fashions, and make your clothing to please yourselves independent of outside influences; and make your hats and bonnets to shade you. I wish you, sisters, to listen to these counsels, and place yourselves in a condition to administer to the poor. Get your husbands to provide you with a little of this and a little of that of which you can make something by addoing your own labor. I do not mean that you shall apply to them for five dollars and ten dollars to spend for that which is of no profit, but manufacture something that will be useful as well as beautiful and comely.
You ought to enter into the cultivation of silk. Our bench lands are well adapted to the growth of the mulberry tree, the leaves of which produce the natural food for the silk worm. There is no better land nor climate in the world than we have for this branch of business. We can make ourselves independently rich at this business alone if it is properly pursued. There ought to be a plot of land in each ward devoted to the cultivation of silk, and a cocoonery built in the centre of it, and in the season thereof let the children of the wards who have nothing to do, and aged people, gather the leaves and feed the worms. The work is light and interesting, while the sales of wound silk, for which there is always a market to be found, will do much towards feeding and clothing poor persons that would otherwise be entirely dependent. …
Now, sisters, go to forthwith and get you an acre of land, and get the Bishops and the brethren to fence it, and prepare it for the reception of the trees, and go and help them; but be sure to wear a wide brimmed hat while doing it, so as not to get tanned with the sun and the wind. Go to and raise silk. You can do it, and those who cannot set themselves to work we will set them to work gathering straw, and making straw hats and straw bonnets; we will set others to work gathering willows, and others to making baskets; we will set others to gathering flags and rushes, and to making mats, and bottoming chairs, and making carpets. … I wish the sisters to lead out in the fashions. It is very little difference what fashion you produce. I would just as soon see you wear hats with wide brims as not, if you have that fashion that will give comfort and convenience and produce health and longevity. We wish to promote the longevity of the people. Tell your husbands to get you a heifer calf or two and some chickens, and you will feed them, and take care of them, instead of feeding pigs, and if your husbands have springs on their land, get them to clean them out and dam them up a little, and introduce the spawn of the best fish we have in these mountains, and collect all the information that has been printed, and which comes within your reach on the subject of raising fish. And raise your potatoes and parsnips and carrots to feed them with, adding a little corn meal, or a little oatmeal. We can raise fish here, and the cost will be one fourth less per pound than other meats. You may think that fowls are injurious to the garden; but they are not. They will pick up grubs and cut worms, and other destructive insects and the good they do in this respect will far over-balance any trifling injury they may do to young plants. They will keep your gardens clean of these pests, and fatten, giving you plenty of eggs to eat. Take care of them, and get a little patch of lucerne7 planted to give to your young heifer, and rear her until she gives you her increase. …
… Brethren, learn. You have learned a good deal it is true; but learn more; learn to sustain yourselves; lay up grain and flour, and save it against a day of scarcity. Sisters, do not ask your husbands to sell the last bushel of grain you have to buy something for you out of the stores, but aid your husbands in storing it up against a day of want, and always have a year or two’s provision on hand. A great abundance of fruit can be dried. There are but few families in this city who do not have the privilege of drying and laying up fruit. Yet the majority of families in this community, instead of using fruit that was dried last fall but one are using fruit dried last year when the grasshoppers were here.8 A year’s supply should be kept ahead, so that families would not be compelled to eat fruit that had been injured by grasshoppers and other insects. We should accumulate all kinds of nutritive substances, and preserve them from worms, which can easily be done. If we do not take care of ourselves, we shall have a very poor chance to be taken care of. If we will hearken to the counsel that is given to us we shall know how to sustain ourselves in every particular. Mothers in Israel, sisters, ask your husbands to take care of the sheep they have got, and not wilfully waste them; but multiply them and bring your wool to the factories to be manufactured, or trade it for yarn and cloth. The woolen mills which we now have in the country will work up a great deal of wool if they can get it.9 Who is there in our community that raises flax? Is there any attention paid to this culture? I think not, but it is, “Husband, sell your wheat, sell your oats to buy me the linen I want.” We shall in the future have flax machines here to make the finest of linen; and we can make the cotton and silk in abundance. I would urge the brethren of the southern country to plant cotton sufficient to supply the wants of the factories that are now in the country, and let us continue our labors until we can manufacture everything we want. All this is embraced in our religion, every good word and work, all things temporal, and all things spiritual, things in heaven, things on earth, and things that are under the earth are circumscribed by our religion. We are in the fastnesses of the mountains, and if we do these things, and delight in doing right, our feet will be made fast and immovable like the bases of these everlasting hills. We ought not to desire anything only on righteous principles, and if we want right, let us then deal it out to others, being kind and full of love and charity to all. My brethren and sisters, I have occupied considerable time; but I have not spoken one tenth of what I wish to say to you. By the authority that the Lord has granted to me, I bless you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.