Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » “Women Do Not Hold the Priesthood,” 1914

“Women Do Not Hold the Priesthood,” 1914

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 02, 2009

This address (its author is not named) appeared in the forerunner to the Relief Society Magazine. I am fascinated to see that many of the same questions or frustrations that plague some women today were stumbling blocks to women nearly a century ago, and to see how those women counseled each other in their rights and duties.

Would some be surprised to know that ours is hardly the first generation to feel a sting of disparity, or the need to tackle the issue head-on when they teach young women? Would it shake some firmly held opinions to discover that the 1971 correlation of the Relief Society did not disrupt some mythically independent women’s organization, and that the Relief Society always acknowledged the presidency of local priesthood authority? And notice how the Relief Society claims the “rightful jurisdiction,” even while submitting to priesthood authority, to settle questions (not just ask them) concerning the washing and anointing of the sick, among other matters.

As with all old documents posted on Keepa, I offer this for the sense it gives us of our own past, especially, in this case, the long history of women seeking to understand their roles in the Kingdom, not because it trumps any current instruction.


Occasionally inquiries reach the General Board concerning the duties and labors of new Presidents and Officers in the wards and stakes of Zion. The work of this society has been so long before the people, the method of conducting our meetings, of administering our affairs, has so long ago been settled by tradition and custom that it seems as if all ought to be familiar with them. And indeed, there are only general rules and general lines, which mark our labors. Wards, stakes and individual officers are allowed great liberty in the adjustment of details and in the conduct of their society affairs.

There is one rule, however, which should be written deep in the heart of every woman in this kingdom – and conned frequently by those who hold office in this great organization, namely, respect for the priesthood. No woman who slights or neglects this primary law of the church can hope to have that full degree of liberty and pleasure in her labors which is her privilege to enjoy.

We seldom hear the good old-fashioned counsel on this point that used to ring from our pulpits. But it is none the less a saving principle of the gospel. Obedience to law – obedience to the authority of the Priesthood.

Everybody is quite willing to admit that we should obey law – the laws of health, the laws of chastity, the laws of honesty, the laws of charity, and indeed all law and laws. Even those so-called laws of man, such as city ordinances, should be obeyed. And yet, could there be a law, without a law-giver and without an executioner of the law? What use would there be in having a law if there were no person to pronounce the law, no one to obey or to disobey it? No one to reward those who keep or punish those who break the law. Every community renders obedience to law, with few exceptions. If a law comes in contact with our prejudice or pleasures, we may try to evade the same, although we admit its justice. Today, women are restlessly trying to change laws in their favor. The women of this church should honor the law of God.

What is the Priesthood? It is the power to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel. Other churches have ordinances, many of them similar to those obtaining in this church; but none of them have the authority to administer those ordinances. This power and Priesthood was entirely lost during the Dark Ages, when the Catholic Church ruled the Christian world. By the way, there was one woman Pope appeared during those dark and stormy days in Rome. Associated with this Priesthood is the right of presidency. Out of this grows the functions and offices of the presiding authority; of the Church, and of every quorum in the Church. Those who preside over the auxiliary organizations receive their authority from the presiding Priesthood.

Women do not hold the Priesthood. This fact must be faced calmly by mothers and explained clearly to young women, for the spirit that is now abroad in the world makes for women’s demand for every place and office enjoyed by men, and a few more than men can’t enter. Women in this Church must not forget that they have rights which men do not possess. They have their own field, their own duties, their own privileges. It is cowardly to dodge this question in dealing with young women. But let the whole facts be stated. Then women will see how richly they are endowed and how righteously their place in this life and the life to come has been provided for.

Women in this Church, choose to be womanly. They choose to honor their fathers and husbands. They choose their own sphere and duties with that calm and gracious dignity which ensures to them a full life here and eternal happiness hereafter. There are some men, perhaps, that are the inferiors of some women, mentally, morally and physically. But a superior woman is not expected to look up to an inferior man in her own home – which is her sphere. When the one man comes who is the right one, he will be just one or more degrees superior in intelligence and power to the superior woman. But to all men, when in their priestly office, women owe the reverence due that priesthood. The man who holds that office and Priesthood may of himself be not the equal of some of the women who are associated with him in his ward or his public labors; but if he holds an office in the Priesthood and is sustained by his brethren in that office, women everywhere, as men who may be under his jurisdiction, should render that reverence and obedience that belongs of right to the Priesthood which he holds.

The women of the Relief Society have long ago proved the value of obedience to law, and to law-givers. So that, when we suggest to our new officers that they shall go to their ward or stake authorities for counsel, and shall never refuse that advice, we are only repeating the same things that have been told in this organization from its beginning. Especially was Sister Eliza R. Snow – that great Mormon woman who presided over the Society after we came to these Valleys, and those who have followed her, Sister Zina D. Young, Bathsheba W. Smith and our present President, Emmeline B. Wells – these have been insistent in their advice to the sisters to seek counsel of the Priesthood and to honor those who held it.

In any case where there is a question arising in your minds or between the members of your board, go to your bishop, or to the president of your stake and ask him or them for counsel. Then accept it. The presidency of a stake has complete jurisdiction over the saints who reside in that stake. All the quorums and auxiliary organizations are under their direct supervision, and their counsel on any given point would be final. The same with the bishop of any ward. It is true that the general board of any auxiliary organization has direct charge of the various stake and ward organizations under them; to arrange details of work, dates of conferences, mode of procedure, choice of officers, or plans and arrangements of all kinds. But if the bishop of a ward or the president of a stake should raise an objection to such plans or details, his wish would be paramount in his ward or stake – until such time as a harmonious settlement of the question at issue could be obtained between the general officers and that local presiding officer. This is the order of the Priesthood and this should be understood by all members. Men, as well as women, are subject to this law of the Church. Only so could there exist that perfect order which is the cornerstone of this kingdom.

We are asked concerning the customs of clothing our dead, washing and anointing the sick, the proper storing of grain, using outlines, choosing new officers; and all these questions come into the rightful jurisdiction of this society, and we will gladly answer according to the precedents of our Society. Yet any and all of these questions might be referred to the ward or stake Priesthood and their answers should be taken as final. We would always be glad to hear of such decisions, but would respect the authority in any given instance. This may be taken as the general rule or law of this Society.

Let the sisters of this Society study the organization of the Church, the wonderful plan of its foundation and thus acquaint themselves with the order of the Priesthood.

[“Address,” Relief Society Bulletin 1:2 (February 1914), 1-3.]



  1. Ardis,

    So this is how you start out ’09. It looks like fun. I’d like to emphasize the contested nature of the relationship between the Priesthood and the Relief Society and how this relationship has evolved over time. Is the Relief Society the organization Joseph Smith envisioned?

    Linda King Newell’s article “Gifts of the Spirit: Women’s Share” (Sisters in Spirit, Illinois Press, 1987) quoted Eliza R. Snow in 1884: “The Relief Society is designed to be a self-governing organization: to relieve the Bishops as well as to relieve the poor, to deal with its members, correct abuses, etc. If difficulties arise between members of a branch which they cannot settle between the members themselves, aided by the teachers, instead of troubling the Bishop, the matter should be referred to their president and her counselors. If the branch board cannot decide satisfactorily, an appeal to the stake board is next in order; if that fails to settle the question, the next step brings it before the general board, from which the only resort is to the Priesthood; but, if possible, we should relieve the Bishops instead of adding to their multitudinous labors” (p. 122).

    By 1884, the Priesthood (general rather than local) served as the “Supreme Court,” even for the RS, but it is interesting that the Relief Society went through its own channels up to the General Relief Society board. Newell argues that the Relief Society was intended to be a much more independent organization. Was she right?

    Comment by Alan — January 2, 2009 @ 10:28 am

  2. A bold start to the new year, Ardis. Seeing as that I plan to keep my spot in Keepa’s top 20 commenters for the coming year, I decided I’d better comment here. :)

    What would be interesting would be a comparison of this document with a similar pronouncement from the recent past (along, perhaps, with other addresses from the church’s earlier history and one from the mid-to-latr 20th century). What discursive tactics/approaches have remained consistent? Which, if any, reflect the specific historical contexts in which they were given?

    Comment by Christopher — January 2, 2009 @ 10:29 am

  3. The author uses the wonderful phrase “…according to the precedents of our Society” to describe a process for handling general questions. And yet, the sum and substance of the article leads one to the conclusion that there are no actual precedents. The bottom line: Obey the priesthood. That’s it.(“And indeed, there are only general rules and general lines, which mark our labors.”)

    Comment by Hunter — January 2, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  4. And, by the way, what the heck does this mean? [Speaking of an “inferior” man] “When the one man comes who is the right one, he will be just one or more degrees superior in intelligence and power to the superior woman.”

    I often hear the “men and women are equal but have different roles” line of thinking. But this quote seems to take things to a whole different planet!

    Comment by Hunter — January 2, 2009 @ 10:37 am

  5. heh, heh, heh — People who don’t “do” or read history seem to think that history is a simple matter of going to the library and looking up the answers, as if there were never anything ambiguous or contradictory. What does a document like this do to those easy assumptions? I don’t have the answers, but I sure do like the questions.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 2, 2009 @ 10:42 am

  6. This is an interesting document and one that deserves significant analysis. I’m away right now, so this is going to be from memory (if there are mistakes). The Bulletin was run for one year before it was turned into the RS Mag and was part of the reason for the demise of the Exponent (Wells’ tried to get the Exponent to be the official organ). Later that year, the First Presidency sent a long circular out affirming female ritual healing and explaining policy on the matter (not that such activities ever were indicative of priesthood). I have found during the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, there was significant dynamism in Church publication messages, depending on author/speaker, and venue. It’s been a while since I have read through the first years of the RS Bulletin/Mag, but I remember feeling a concious concervatism; which reflects, perhaps Wells’ and others’ desires to not rock the boat so much.

    Newell’s essay is nice start and I appreciate it; I do think it lacks a lot of context and is sometimes overly politicized.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 2, 2009 @ 11:22 am

  7. “But a superior woman is not expected to look up to an inferior man in her own home – which is her sphere.”

    Um. As in “don’t tell me how to cook the potatoes, dude, because that’s my sphere,” or if you married a dud you don’t have to look up to him? Hm. Either way, what an odd tidbit of advice.

    Comment by Jami — January 2, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  8. I have two reactions to this post. One one hand, when I read this:

    “When the one man comes who is the right one, he will be just one or more degrees superior in intelligence and power to the superior woman.”

    I am grateful that we no longer hear that kind of baloney from official sources. I’ve spent some time over the holidays reading an ancestor’s journal (a patriarch in the church), and it is common for him to use phrases such as “I chastised my wives for failure to give me proper respect and honor as their head, and commanded them to repent.” I find that to be mind-blowing. Mind. Blowing. A man who took that tack today would probably be laughed out of town, so I can recognize that we have actually made some progress and I am very happy that the message the comes from the pulpit these days concerning the ideal marriage is one of mutual respect and equality.

    On the other hand, when I read this:

    Women in this Church, choose to be womanly.

    It seems like we are still riding our tricycles around in the same cul-de-sac, exactly where we were a hundred years ago.

    Comment by Mark Brown — January 2, 2009 @ 12:34 pm

  9. Ardis, thanks for putting this up. I think it’s very useful to be reminded that Mormon women of past eras saw and wrestled with the same paradoxes that trouble (some) Mormon women today. Also, as you point out, it’s really important to keep remembering that there’s no Golden Age of Liberation of which Correlation spelled the end–our foremothers in the church, feisty though they sometimes were, were never proto-70s-feminists. Neither the RS-was-always-happily-subservient-to-Priesthood nor the RS-was-a-feminist-utopia-until-that-wicked-JFS/BRM/ETB (pick your villain)-came-along models do much to illuminate our past (or future).

    Comment by Kristine — January 2, 2009 @ 1:17 pm

  10. But Mark, at least we don’t find fish on those tricycles 😉

    Comment by Kristine — January 2, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  11. As a Ward RS President who has never aspired to being Bishop or head of my house, I do wonder at times what it would be like today if the Relief Society (and LDS Women) had some of the same opportunities of the past that have been removed or changed or discouraged:

    Our own building; control of our own money; washing and annointing women before giving birth; joining with our husbands in laying hands on our sick children while the priesthood holder gives a blessing; sisters laying hands on other sisters and giving blessings (as was done in the “Blessing Meetings” in Winter Quarters).

    However, other things have improved, such as the “superior men” and the feeling that men owned their wives and could dictate to them.

    Actually, right from the first organization meeting in Nauvoo, the RS was organized by the authority of the priesthood. And personally, I have a Bishop who will back me and go to bat for me with the Stake President when I have concerns. I also have a husband who respects and supports all of my interests and wants. So, I don’t really suppose that I would really wish any change.

    Comment by Maurine — January 2, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

  12. “When the one man comes who is the right one, he will be just one or more degrees superior in intelligence and power to the superior woman.” is totally mind-blowing, isn’t it? Apparently the whole idea of being evenly yoked is a new one.

    I took the advice about inferior males in our own homes to mean we wouldn’t choose to marry one. They would be visitors only.

    I wonder if this could have been in response to women wanting suffrage? Does anyone know the context of that time? Was this during the time of some push for women’s rights?

    It reminds me of one of the Funny Bones from some year(?) in which the father asked his daughter what did she and her friends want. She replied “We want to sweep the country!” and he said “okay, here’s a broom, you can start with sweeping the kitchen” or something like that. Remember that one?

    I’ve never studied the suffragist movement but it sounds to me like this might be a response to women’s increasing political empowerment in society.

    Comment by Tatiana — January 2, 2009 @ 6:23 pm

  13. Tatiana, the women of Utah had the vote from 1896 on (it was restored with statehood, after having been taken away by Congress during the polygamy battles), so the 19th Amendment had no effect for most Mormon women. They would have been interested in the national discussion over the amendment in states that were less enlightened than Utah, of course — which is what made the “sweeping” joke funny, I guess. (I do remember that one!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 2, 2009 @ 6:49 pm

  14. RE: #11
    I believe there was once a time when the sisters did have control of their own money, but I recall that it was sometime in the ’80’s when the Brethren finally got wind of what the actual balance was in the RS’s ‘pin money’ account. It was then decided that that was simply too much money for the sisters to handle on their own and the account was put under priesthood control. From that point onward a stipend was granted the RS from which payment for all of their expenses could be taken. (Likely, any unused amount would have to be returned at the end of the fiscal year.) The word that I had received was that from the time that the RS reorganized itself to meet the needs of Deseret, the sisters had been remarkably shrewd in their fund raising and investments. Last year, sometime, I believe Ardis published an article about President Eisenhower (I believe) wanting to meet the President of the RS to congratulate her on the Society’s highly successful wheat storage program. There was a also a great amount of revenue generated by the RS with this plan as well since the wheat was sold to the sisters for their own family storage. I believe that when the RS accounts were appropriated they were somewhere in the area of $50-100 million dollars. Obviously, a sum vastly too large to allow a bunch of sisters to have and to hold!

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — January 2, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  15. The Relief Society raised and disbursed its own funds until the correlation of the 1970s that involved such things as ceasing publication of the Relief Society Magazine by incorporating its purposes into the new Ensign; ending the practice of the Relief Society’s decorating and furnishing Relief Society rooms by putting those costs within the building budget; and ending the bazaars and other traditional fund raisers. Since that time, the RS has drawn its funds from the ward budget the same as every other ward auxiliary and handled those funds on the same basis.

    Velikye, your characterization is unjustifiably inflammatory and, I believe, has no factual basis in any of its parts. I’m not sure whether to be appalled by calling the funds “pin money” or amused by the complete misunderstanding of the wheat program. The RS wheat was sold during World War I. The women managed the funds generated from that sale until the 1970s (individual wards held shares of that general fund based on how much wheat they had had on account with the general organization when the wheat was sold, and the old wheat funds were specifically earmarked for maternity and newborn care), but the general organization never again dealt in wheat. Individual Societies often coordinated orders from ward members to buy wheat and other food storage items in bulk from third-party vendors, but not from the general RS, since the general organization handled no wheat after World War I.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 2, 2009 @ 8:08 pm

  16. Great start to the new year, Ardis. This overall issue really is fascinating.

    Comment by Ray — January 2, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

  17. I want RS autonomy back. Ray, can you fix that?

    Comment by Tatiana — January 3, 2009 @ 3:11 am

  18. #17 – How do you make the “sticking-out-its-tongue” emoticon? :)

    Comment by Ray — January 3, 2009 @ 7:36 am

  19. Hey, I have faith in you. Ask, and ye shall receive, right? 😛

    (Btw, if that one worked, it’s a colon then a capital P.)

    Comment by Tatiana — January 3, 2009 @ 8:04 am

  20. Ardis, with all due respect, the gist of the whole story is that the RS funds were appropriated/incorporated into the the general funds of the Church with Priesthood oversight. Was there some feelings and passion over that move by the sisters, you bet there was. My information came from a friend of mine whose mother was a member of the Relief Society Presidency and spoke of this at length to her family. I may have garbled some of the details, (After all, the mind is the first to go, it is said), but the fact remains the funds were substantial. Shocking as it might be, even a reprobate such has myself still has some connections to those who walk corridors of power within the Church and therefore can possess knowledge to which even such an august body as the Church Historian’s Office might not yet be privy. If this sister’s journal are donated by the family to the CHO you will have the opportunity to read all about it in far greater detail than her son shared with me.

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — January 3, 2009 @ 9:13 am

  21. Having read a history of the Relief Society (Women of Covenant) within the past year, the story of the Relief Society wheat stores and the details about who controlled what finances is hardly an unknown story. The book goes into many details about the transition.

    It’s not in any way a private story, the details of which are only known and controlled by one or two personalities or families.

    On the contrary, it took over a century to happen, during which time there were eight or nine different presidents of the Relief Society and probably as many presidents of the church.

    Would the Relief Society today have any more power if it had control over a large store of wheat? In what way?

    I personally think it’s wonderful that we no longer need to hold bazaars and crochet doilies and knit kleenex box covers in order to fund the operation of our local Relief Societies.

    In a ward like the one I attend (small ward, suburban/rural East Coast area) the necessity to raise money would place an extra burden on families already driving long distances to the church several times a week, getting up in the wee hours of the morning to drive children to early morning seminary, etc., etc.

    Being a Mormon is a different experience in areas other than Salt Lake City, and when one family involved [in a small way] in a major transition in the power structure and organization of the Relief Society [reportedly] takes the transition personally and feels like it is a personal affront, they forget the millions of church members living around the world in much different circumstances.

    Kind of a violation of the purpose of the Relief Society (Charity Never Faileth), wouldn’t you say?

    Comment by Researcher — January 3, 2009 @ 9:58 am

  22. Many women were unhappy with the changes at that time, Velikye, my own mother among them. I don’t deny that, and I’m pretty sure that Maurine, to whom you directed your first comment, would not deny it.

    My objection is to terms like “appropriated,” that the Brethren were so far out of the loop that they had only just “got wind” of the “actual balance” of funds held by the RS, and that any part of the correlation decision was based on a belief by the Brethren that the money “was simply too much money for the sisters to handle on their own.”

    By your characterization, the RS had been secretly managing an empire, concealing their actions from the First Presidency, who were so doddering that they had no idea what was going on, and when they finally found out, they were so vindictive that they stole money from its rightful owners.

    That’s what your words mean, and why I object. There is no call to be so polemical here, especially when reporting gossip. Personal experience is fine. Opinion is fine. Misunderstandings are fine. Pretending that stupid yet scheming male leaders of the church committed criminal acts against the women of the church is not so fine.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 3, 2009 @ 10:14 am

  23. Objection sustained.

    Comment by Jami — January 3, 2009 @ 11:30 am

  24. I think growing up with the men I grew up with gives me an automatically skewed view of male motives sometimes in how they regard women. So why was it that they took control of the funds, if not because women can’t or shouldn’t handle that sort of money (and power)? Why is RS no longer autonomous? Can someone please provide me with some good, true, right, and appropriate reasons why, so this won’t keep bothering me?

    Comment by Tatiana — January 3, 2009 @ 2:50 pm

  25. Tatiana,

    I’ll give it a try.

    The Relief Society was only one of the organizations that were brought under direct control of the priesthood by the correlation initiative. The others were the Sunday School organization, the Primary, and the YM and YW organizations. They all had their own budgets and operated with more autonomy than they do now. And we should also note that SS and YM presidencies were and are composed exclusively of males. It is inaccurate to think of the RS as being singled out for subjugation, since the other organizations received the same treatment.

    Comment by Mark Brown — January 3, 2009 @ 3:04 pm

  26. Continuing on with my previous comment and response to Tatiana…

    My mother was the stake YW president when these changes were being implemented, and I can remember some of her frustrations. All five auxiliaries had their own annual conferences, budgets, boards, and so on, and so there were inevitable conflicting priorities. It might be helpful to think of it in terms of a business organization where marketing, R&D, production, and the back office are sometimes in competition with each other in ways which are detrimental to the organization as a whole, and it is necessary for somebody at the top to exert enough control to assure that everybody understands the priorities.

    Comment by Mark Brown — January 3, 2009 @ 3:11 pm

  27. Tatiana, this is my personal opinion, worth what you’re paying, but I think that much of what happened in Correlation was the application of corporate practice to the church institution. Smart businesses were all about streamlining, systematizing, etc. through the 50s and 60s; Correlation was an attempt to apply this institutional wisdom to streamlining the bureaucracy of the church. The RS budget was incorporated not out of any sexist belief that the women couldn’t handle it, but out of a strong desire to make the flow chart of the church’s finances neat and tidy. My sense is that the RS’s loss of autonomy was largely an unintended consequence; it just happened to be the largest and most active of the auxiliaries to be enfolded under Priesthood leadership in this way. (Presumably, the Sunday School also lost some control over their budgets and curricula, but we don’t think about that because their activity was never as visible at the ward level). In any case, I really don’t think there was misogynist intent; there’s no question that the women were managing admirably, and I’ve never seen a hint that the Brethren thought otherwise.

    Comment by Kristine — January 3, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

  28. Tatiana, what is usually overlooked in a discussion about RS autonomy is that ALL the auxiliaries were autonomous: the RS, the Sunday School, YM and YW MIAs, and Primary all designed their own programs independently of each other, wrote their own lesson manuals, set their own goals, printed their own song books, and called on their members to make all kinds of commitments, without any coordination with the other auxiliaries.

    The RS wasn’t the only auxiliary to raise its own funds, although because of the nature of its calling (taking care of the poor and others in need) it raised far more funds than anybody else (the MIAs, Sunday Schools, even priesthood quorums, had yearly membership dues and fundraisers for their activities, but those of course required far less money than the RS’s charitable programs). The RS wasn’t even the only auxiliary to have its own magazine — the Sunday School printed the monthly Instructor, and the Children’s Friend was under the direction of the Primary. Besides the major magazines, each organization had its bulletins and directories and newsletters — a blizzard of paper left Salt Lake every month, much of it duplicating other publications (multiple bulletins from multiple auxiliaries claimed a “hymn of the month,” for instance, calling for that hymn to be sung in Sacrament Meeting; multiple separate bulletins gave differing inservice instructions to teachers from the various auxiliaries).

    The lack of coordination among auxiliaries meant that there was an incredible duplication of materials — how many song books do you need that have the same few dozen hymns, plus a few more songs peculiar to the auxiliary? And why does every ward and every family have to go to the expense to buy each of those song books? There were competing, conflicting, and overlapping programs among auxiliaries — at some points, there were turf wars among the auxiliaries, with the different groups claiming the right to conduct such-and-such training, and complaining that other auxiliaries were trespassing on their programs. The programs of each auxiliary could be incredibly complex, with awards and gadgets and bandlos and camps and festivals, which had worked wonderfully in rural Utah but which were far too complex to export to other places where church membership was sparse.

    The Improvement Era (closest thing to a general Church magazine then in print, although it had originally been the magazine of the MIAs) all through the 20th century prints pleas from the Presiding Bishopric’s Office pleading with auxiliaries to cut down on the number of Sacrament Meetings that they claimed for their programs — between missionary farewells and homecomings, and special programs by each of the auxiliaries, plus the Seminaries, plus BYU recruiters, and on and on and on, bishops were having difficulty scheduling any time during the quarter for a single Sacrament Meeting that we would today consider the typical Sacrament Meeting.

    Correlation brought all the auxiliaries — not just the RS — under a single, well-organized umbrella. Programs were streamlined and costs brought under control. Goals and programs were coordinated with each other so that the auxiliaries were no longer competing with each other for members and means, and so that you didn’t have the Sunday School calling for a special fast on the same Sunday that you had the YMMIA calling for a special celebratory party. The magazines were coordinated, with one each for children, youth, and adults, and most of the bulletins and newsletters were incorporated into those magazines. A lot of the gadgetry (flags, bandlos, awards) were done away with, at a savings of cost and complexity. Finances were all brought under the ward budget, with a single, uniform accounting and disbursing system.

    The women of the RS, I think, felt the effects of correlation strongest, because they were adults. (A child in Primary or youth in MIA just rolls with the flow, not aware of what those organizations had done 10 and 20 years earlier, the way the women were aware.) It was a hard change for many, no doubt about it. But correlation was not aimed at the Relief Society because the RS was doing anything wrong, or because men chose to dominate women. *All* of the auxiliaries were affected in very similar ways. We just have this — misdirected, in my opinion — community memory of a “Camelot” period in Church history when everything was roses and sunshine because we women did our own thing. Well, EVERY auxiliary did its own thing, which led to ever increasing chaos as the Church grew and spread.


    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 3, 2009 @ 3:31 pm

  29. Mark and Kristine were faster than me — I endorse their comments. We’re all suggesting different facets of the same development.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 3, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  30. Ardis, you know what they say about great minds…..

    Comment by Mark Brown — January 3, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

  31. Everyone else beat me to it. I will add only this:

    My parents were ecstatic that the changes occurred. They had eight children, and the chaos Ardis described that existed during their own upbringing would have been incredibly taxing on our family.

    Given the entire big picture, I am grateful for the new system – extremely grateful.

    Comment by Ray — January 3, 2009 @ 7:18 pm

  32. Ardis, I agree with your comment about the possibility of chaos in the Church today if each auxilary organization still had its own autonomy. With the size of the Church now, there is no way the organizations could keep doing their own thing any more than could each unit do its own thing. Despite some people feeling constricted (or restricted?) because of church coorelation, it was a step that needed to happen.

    Comment by Maurine — January 3, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

  33. Women in this Church must not forget that they have rights which men do not possess. They have their own field, their own duties, their own privileges.

    Was there more on what these are? Just curious.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 4, 2009 @ 9:52 am

  34. Matt, I think that “choosing to be womanly” and “acting in her sphere” (the home) carried a lot more specific images to women in 1914 than perhaps they do today, and that the lines with those terms were a solid listing of women’s duties and privileges. “True womanhood” was an often used code phrase for a recognized set of behaviors, attitudes, and goals. We’d need to have those explicated in detail today.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 4, 2009 @ 10:17 am

  35. Thanks for the explanations. That all makes a lot more sense to me now. I want to think about all this more and pray about it.

    Something else I want to ask people, those who have been kind enough to answer me: I read people like Claudia Bushman saying the church lost something between their childhood and now, that they loved growing up in the church, and their children and grandchildren don’t. Is that your experience as well? Is it true that we’re not retaining youth as well as we once did? Is the main difference correlation and streamlining, or is that an unrelated phenomenon?

    Is a messy, competitive system really bad? Is a centrally planned one really more efficient? I’m thinking of communism vs. capitalism. Is that a fruitful analogy to make, or is there no valid comparison?

    I can definitely see where the messy way was more difficult to control. Is control the most important feature we gained?

    I may sound as though I know the answers, but I don’t. I’m trying to decide what I think about this.

    Comment by Tatiana — January 4, 2009 @ 11:26 am

  36. Tatiana, I have spent most, not all, of my life in the West where there has been a strong Church presence — no matter how small the town my family happened to move to, there was always a fully functioning ward. Sometimes we had to drive as much as two hours to stake conference, but most of the time my ward and neighborhood were identical. I loved growing up in the Church under those conditions, with all the programs and cultural events — it was an entire lifestyle, and I didn’t need or want anything else.

    Now that I’m an adult, and now that I’ve lived in places where the Church is smaller and more scattered, and especially since I’ve come to know members from all over the world, I can’t imagine what a nightmare it would be to try to duplicate my childhood church on a world scale. The expense to members, in time as well as money, the logistical problem of translating all those materials and shipping them around the world, and adapting them to cultures where, say, colors meant something different symbolically, or where the German-style beehives of Utah made no sense culturally — all that gives me the heebie jeebies.

    Those of us who grew up in the church in those days *have* lost something, in an ethnic or cultural sense, and I’m nostalgic about the old days. But we haven’t lost anything that truly matters as far as the gospel goes. Take the individuality of chapel architecture as a single example — yes, we’ve lost architectural beauty and individuality, but as far as the gospel goes, does it really matter how the bricks are piled up around us? If the Saints in Utah and Idaho sacrificed something in that regard, it was so that the Saints in Rumania and Argentina and Mongolia could have any buildings at all. I feel the same way about the rest of the cultural baggage that we streamlined. It was nice, it was familiar, it was nurturing, it served a purpose, but it wasn’t an absolutely essential purpose.

    Maybe as we get more used to the international nature of the church, we will gradually develop a new Mormon culture that restores some of what we left behind, but in a new way, a way that serves international conditions. It took a couple of generations for the old Mormon culture to develop; I’m not surprised that it’s taking a few generations for a new culture to emerge.

    My 2 cents. I don’t have any knowledge of how youth retention rates now and then compare, nor any opinion on whether a correlated church culture has any effect on that retention.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 4, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

  37. Tatiana,

    It’s not hard to retain youth from a strictly statistical standpoint when there are no other options except open rebellion. I was raised in a small, rural Utah town – and church activity was pretty much the only activity choice for those who weren’t out to thumb their noses at everyone else. Now that the membership is spread out across the world, and a higher and higher percent of the kids have plenty of competing options, it’s no wonder the activity rate among them has dropped a bit. We still do better overall, however, than many (if not most) other denominations.

    The young adult activity rate, otoh, was just as low back then as it is now – when the youth leave home and are on their own, subject to all the pressures of independent life “in the world” without mommy and daddy and with LOTS of other options. The interesting thing to me is that the activity rate rises significantly after age 30 – I believe when the newness of non-church life wears off and full adult responsibilities start to weigh on many of those who had been inactive. Generally speaking, it is true that “when (the formerly active youth) are old they do not depart from it” – even if they do depart for a while during their early adulthood.


    We all long for “the good old days” – and we all tend to exaggerate just how good they were in comparison to our current, “new” days.

    If you are interested in a direct comparison to the Southern Baptist Convention (and a fascinating look at how some in that group are trying to address skewed reporting of “activity rates”), check out the following – and make sure to read the articles linked in it:

    Something the Southern Baptist Convention Can Learn From the Mormons

    Comment by Ray — January 4, 2009 @ 5:50 pm

  38. Thanks Ardis and Ray for helping me think through all this.

    Comment by Tatiana — January 4, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  39. I read people like Claudia Bushman saying the church lost something between their childhood and now, that they loved growing up in the church, and their children and grandchildren don’t.

    I grew up on the fringes of the Church in the Midwest, where all of my relatives still lived in Utah. My relatives had more “culture”, but we lacked nothing of substantive value. My wife grew up on SLC’s East Bench (ironically enough, after having moved there from the Midwest).

    What did my relatives and my wife have growing up that I didn’t? Primarily, the social aspects of Church membership, a Church on every corner, general familiarity with their beliefs in their social circles. But it wasn’t like we lacked for anything “important” in Ohio.

    Church organization as it was 30 or 40 years ago (or even 15-20) doesn’t scale well. I was a missionary branch president when the US had a standardized budgetary process — and the rest of the world didn’t. It was terrible trying to get people barely able to find food for their families to have to donate money for gas and light for the chapel. Those branches would never have “benefitted” from the riches that the RS in the 1960s would have amassed. The organization of the Church today scales just fine.

    Comment by queuno — January 4, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

  40. In reading these comments about correlation, I keep wondering how much money was saved in the long run, and how that money has helped the Church since then.

    I have heard enough to know that the Church is very careful with its funds, and continues to seek to find ways to save here and there. Count this as only hearsay, but I once complained about the fact that the new buildings often only have one bathroom (I am not a fan of circling the square buildings to find the one!), and it was pointed out to me how much bathrooms cost.

    So perhaps, we all end up sacrificing here and there, perhaps without realizing it, for a bigger picture. Maybe our buildings aren’t as lovely as we would want, or don’t have all the facilities we want. Maybe not having individualized organizations meant we lost something along the way. But what have we gained? How many temples have we built with money that might have been spent elsewhere, for example? How many buildings are in remote places because we don’t have multiple song books strewn across organizations (to use an example given above)?

    Call me a Pollyanna, but seeing correlation in this light suddenly makes it not something that took away autonomy, but brought a measure of unity — all organizations working together, trying not to duplicate efforts, etc, and that unity is exciting to me to think about. (Makes me think to Pres. Eyring’s most recent talk, too.) Sure, a correlated organization can have its frustrations, and sometimes it increases some time and effort in ways that weren’t there before, but this discussion has helped me look at it in a different way.

    I imagine there will be other procedural changes in the future as well, some that may at first hurt or frustrate a bit, or may not make sense, or may disrupt our comfort zones or even beloved, what to us is traditional, ways of doing things. This discussion has increased my desire to go with the flow, and trust that there are often things I don’t see or understand, even in the seemingly business-only decisions. I’m not so naive that I don’t realize that mistakes are surely made along the way — we are all human, right? But…maybe there’s more inspiration in the procedural process than sometimes we might think.

    Just maybe.

    Comment by m&m — January 4, 2009 @ 10:24 pm

  41. (Another example of something I have wished out loud for is newer manuals, and the response (again, unofficial, but intriguing to me nonetheless) was that this is another example of a money-saving thing — the need is recognized, but considered in a bigger-picture decision-making process that has priorities that may not always match our local view.)

    Comment by m&m — January 4, 2009 @ 10:26 pm

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