Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » I Have Even More Questions, 1898

I Have Even More Questions, 1898

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 30, 2010

From the Q&A-filled pages of the Juvenile Instructor, 1898:

Q. The question is frequently asked, “What will we do with our girls?” this being prompted by the number of young ladies who are growing to womanhood without much prospect of marriage.

A. This is a most serious question for Latter-day Saints. Probably no people on the earth place a higher value on the married relation than they do. …

A great many young men entertain wrong ideas concerning marriage. They appear to be reluctant to take to themselves wives, because they cannot furnish them with such homes as they think they ought to have, or as many of the girls are accustom4ed to. They hesitate, therefore, about proposing marriage. And even when they are engaged to some young lady of their choice, they delay marriage, hoping that they will be able after a while to furnish their brides with better homes. I know of some cases of this kind.

I happened to be in the company of a number of young people a short time since at an evening sociable, and in conversation with one of the young gentlemen present, found that he was many years past the marriageable age and was still a bachelor. This circumstance prompted the inquiry of the girls present as to how they felt about entering the marriage state. The question was asked, “if you loved a young man, and his circumstances were not as good as he would like them to be, would you be willing to marry him, and with him struggle to get a home and to furnish it?” there was quite a number of young ladies present, and without an exception they replied that they would be very willing to enter into the marriage state under such conditions. In other words, the moderate or poor circumstances of a lover, if he were a true man, would not deter them from marrying him or prompt them to reject his proposal for marriage. …

My experience teaches me that a girl who has an estimable man for a lover would gladly take him, even if he did not have as well-furnished a home as her parents might possess, or such as the young man’s own ambition might desire. She would be willing to commence with him, and by their joint exertions create for themselves a home that would be their delight through life to contemplate, because they had made it by their combined effort. …

Young men make a great mistake to postpone marriage when they reach the proper age. It is a groundless fear for any young man of industrious habits to think that he cannot support a wife. …

The girls ought to be married. But how can they marry if the boys do not propose? It is not yet the fashion for girls to do the proposing. Therefore there should be some teaching on this subject. A generation who marry reasonably early is a happier, a stronger and a purer generation than one in which marriage is deferred till alter in life.

Frequently a remark which I once publicly made concerning marriage is quoted to me. I said that any large element of unmarried young men in a community after they are twenty-four years of age is a dangerous element. Some, in speaking of it, have supposed that I referred to individual young men. Of course, this was not so. I did not refer to individuals; for there are many young men of twenty-four who, through being on missions or for other causes, are not married; but I referred to the danger to society of any considerable element of unmarried men over that age in a community. Does not the experience of mankind prove that this is correct? I certainly think so. I should deplore the increase of unmarried young men beyond twenty-three or twenty-four years of age in any of our communities, as I am satisfied that the effect on society would not be good.

Q. I have long been of the opinion that the Book of Covenants has not been taught or studied as extensively in the Sunday Schools as its importance demands, yet have not been able to see just where its special study can be taken up, except in the Theology class. Of course other grades can refer to its teachings on certain principles – word of Wisdom, etc.

A. The Book of Doctrine and Covenants is by its nature somewhat difficult to handle in the Intermediate Grades, and requires efficient teachers to handle it in a manner to make it interesting to pupils in these grades, except by occasional references. But we recommend its use where the scholars are sufficiently advanced to comprehend its teachings, especially as a book of reference for doctrine and church history.

Q. [A] correspondent asks where special instructions can be found in the Church works in regard to ward fast meetings and testimony meetings.

A. We have nothing special written on these points that we recall at the present time. But it has always been a custom in the Church of Jesus Christ to meet together for fasting and prayer, and, no doubt, bearing testimony also.

Malachi, in his 3rd chapter, 16th verse, says:

“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name.”

It is recorded that the baptized believers on the day of Pentecost “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

The 14th chapter of Acts contains an account of the labors of Paul and Barnabas among some of the branches of the Church, and the 23rd verse reads as foll0ows: “And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.”

Moroni, in his 6th chapter and 5th paragraph says:

“And the Church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.”

It is evident from these records and from Moroni’s that the same practice prevailed in the Church of Christ in those days that now prevails among the Latter-day Saints. The members of the Church met together in their local meetings as we now in our wards, and they met fasting and for the purpose of praying and bearing testimony one to another concerning their faith.

And wherever there is a Church of Christ organized, this has been, and is, and will be the practice among them.

Q. A correspondent writes to us from Idaho and asks questions concerning the propriety of reading standard novels in meetings of young people which are held. He does not make it clear as to the character of these meetings; but it has become very fashionable of late to form clubs composed of young ladies, where readings are given by one and another. In this case he mentions “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as one that is being read, and the justification for reading such works is that they convey good moral lessons. He has serious doubts as to the good effect of the reading of such works, and is inclined to not permit his children to take part in meetings where this practice is in vogue. This is a subject upon which there is some variety of opinion. There are good people who contend that works of the imagination, like novels may be read without injury. We have heard the claim made that they improve the language of those who read them, and make their literary style better, and give them a greater range of expression, and in this way have a good effect upon the readers.

There is no doubt some force in this view of the question; and if there were no other books in which good language is used and good styles of expression found, the argument would have force. But the facts are that there is scarcely any end to good, truthful works, written in excellent English and in fine literary style, that can be obtained for general reading without depending upon novels for these purposes. Such books furnish information which is of profit to the readers. But books of fiction feed the imagination, and fill the mind with unreal events and circumstances that originate entirely in the brains of the writers. Imaginary scenes are described, imaginary characters are depicted, and the effect upon the mind and the memory of the reader is injurious.

The reading of novels has a tendency to weaken the memory, for the reason that there is no necessity to remember the contents of a novel, because it is all fictitious. These works, being written in fascinating style in order to make them interesting to the reader, have the effect to make serious works tasteless and without interest. The latter do not contain enough to excite the imagination and therefore they appear dull to the novel reader. As a evidence of this, let anyone who is a habitual novel reader be consulted as to the other works which he reads, and it will be found, in nearly every instance, that he or she does not read history, or scientific works, or the bible or the Book of Mormon, or any of the sacred works which the Lord has given us. If no other bad effect followed the perusal of novels, this of itself should be sufficient to prevent the habit of novel reading being formed.

Q. Is it right for persons to say that they have a strong testimony of the truth of the Gospel if they are not in possession of the same?

A. Above all things, those who profess to be latter-day Saints should be truthful, and not claim knowledge which they do not possess.

There have been many instances, however, in the history of the people of the Lord where persons have arisen to speak and attempted to bear testimony, and while doing so the Spirit of the Lord has descended upon them in such power that they have been able to testify truly concerning the work of God and in a manner that would not have been possible for them to have done previous to their making the attempt.

It is not unfrequently the case that persons have evidence concerning the truth which they do not recognize as evidence, because they are looking for the evidence to be given them in some other form or manner than that in which they have received it.



  1. Once again I am condemned — twice over. I didn’t marry until I was 26 and I read novels voraciously.

    I did like the QA on testimony. I think the key point in a testimony is not what is said, but the statement of how something is known. “I know the church is true because angels visited me in my room last night and wouldn’t let me sleep until they had repeated scriptures to me three times,” is either a powerful testimony or an indication of ones sanity. If the former, I think the Spirit will convey the truth. More commonly one might report “I know the church is true because of the feelings in my heart which are a witness of the Spirit to me.” This too can be a powerful testimony. Testimony is, as with photographs, as much a matter of (remember to sing this part) P-R-O, V-E-N, A-N-C-E as it is of the message.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — April 30, 2010 @ 7:39 am

  2. How could I not love you, Eric? 🙂

    Endorsing that, think of testimony in the legal sense. I can’t imagine a judge allowing a witness to ramble on with “I love the district attorney” or “I’m so thankful for the bailiff” or “I know the court reporter is sweet.” Nor would I expect or believe a witness called to verify the signature on a check to testify to the details of a bank robbery he was not present for. But if every witness testifies truthfully to what relevant part of the matter which he knows, and how he knows it, including having his memory jogged during the course of testifying, everybody will be enlightened by the truth.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 30, 2010 @ 8:32 am

  3. Professor Valerie Hudson at BYU wrote an interesting book on the effects of a large population of single men on a community. Her paper explored it from a macro level, describing periods in Chinese and Indian history when this occured and led to social unrest and war. It was called Bare Branches: Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Populations

    I thought of her work when I read the first answer and how ahead of his time the author (GQC?) appeared to be.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — April 30, 2010 @ 8:42 am

  4. My wife, whom I married early, would have something to say about my reading habits. There was such a huge distrust of fiction by many of the 19th century church leaders, right up there with distrust of lawyers in the early 20th century by the next generation of church leaders. My own personal taste runs to just about anything that is printed, and I am currently in the middle of about 3 or four books, fiction, history, and one religious.

    However, as to the charge that too much reading of novels dulls the imagination, my Dad used to be a voracious reader of Zane Gray and Louis Lamour. More than once, going through boxes of old paperbacks in his garage, I’d find the same title, with two different copies with different covers. I’d ask him about it, and he’d say, “You know, I thought there was something familiar about it.”

    Comment by kevinf — April 30, 2010 @ 10:47 am

  5. Ha! I’ve also loved novels, and it’s remarkable how little I remember from them a few months after I’m done. I actually wonder if there isn’t some merit to his argument that novel-reading dulls the memory. When I read for pleasure, I’m sure not investing any mental discipline when I do it, and a few months later I can hardly remember anything at all. Nowadays, I can’t seem to remember anything I read even when it’s something I deem important. Is that due to slothful reading habits, or just old age?

    Comment by Martin — April 30, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  6. The last Q/A relates to Elder Packer’s statement about how sometimes a testimony is gained in the bearing of it. His statement is often twisted or taken out of context by critics.

    I think it was elder Hales who said that in belief/knowledge and faith/testimony, there is a continuum, and not a definitive dividing line. He said something like “faith is testimony, and testimony is faith.” Or it may have been elder Holland.

    My take on combining what Elder Packer and Elder Hales (or Holland) said, is that you can still legitimately bear testimony (or just go ahead and speak up, without any label of “testimony” or “testify”) by saying to someone “I believe that…” Not all testimony has to start out with the words “I know that…”

    Therefore, while you’re still at the “I believe…” stage, if you then speak to others using “believe” words, you give the Holy Ghost opportunity to further testify to _you_ of the truthfulness of the matter. And I think that’s the essence of Elder Packer’s quote. The Holy Ghost can “kick it up a notch” in the very moment you are speaking, and move you up from “believe” to “know.”

    And once you know one thing, then you can build on it by moving on to the next principle or concept (and not forsaking previous principles), believing it, doing it, speaking it, and eventually the Holy confirms more and more to you, line upon line, precept upon precept, etc.

    Therefore as one layer solidifies from “faith” to “knowledge” you can then build another layer of faith on top and continue the process.

    Comment by Bookslinger — April 30, 2010 @ 5:02 pm

  7. I think the marriage thing has morphed into a “having kids” thing. Meaning, I have heard perhaps 40-50 times people say, “our *house* [not an apartment] just isn’t big enough for a child right now”. One of those houses was in the 2200 sq ft range.

    How much space in which do people think it takes to raise a child?

    Comment by queuno — April 30, 2010 @ 7:15 pm

  8. The Juvenile Instructor attack on single men is very much like what we call “profiling” today. George Q. Cannon has painted every single man with the same crimes, but I am sure that if he were asked about certain men, he would have not seen them as a “danger to society.” His own first cousin, George John Taylor, President John Taylor’s eldest child never married. His business deals he kept his father’s large family financially secure. (He was one of the founding editors of the original Keepapitchinin magazine.) He also acted as father and mentor to the large Taylor family, while his father was kept busy taking care of his Church responsibilities. George Taylor served the Church as a member of the Salt Lake Stake High Council. George Q. Cannon would have respected John R. Park, educator and President of the University of Deseret (now the University of Utah). Park had a very brief nonconjugal marriage, but lived all his life as a single man. A few years before this article was written Evan Stephens, a never married man, was appointed director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Stephens would take that Choir to national frame and write more hymns for our present day hymn book than any other author. George Q. Cannon was a member of the First Presidency when Nephi Morris, a single man was appointed president of the Salt Lake Stake. Morris soon married after his appointment. George Q. Cannon surely thought these men he knew were assets to the Kingdom, just as when we get to know individual people of different cultures, it is hard for us to consider them threats to our society.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — May 1, 2010 @ 12:27 am

  9. My earliest testimony didn’t even start with an “I believe.” It was more of an “I am intrigued by the possibility that this might be true.’ Actually, my first reaction to the Book of Mormon was “Do people actually believe this?” I have come a long way.
    . . .
    So, are we saying that unmarried 26-year-old men are not menaces to society as individuals, but as a group society is menaced by there being too many of them?

    Comment by Eric Boysen — May 1, 2010 @ 1:43 am

  10. I think I am saying that single men are no more a menace to society than other groups, but I have not read Professor Hudson’s work. I am also saying that individual single men have been of value to society.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — May 1, 2010 @ 11:18 am

  11. I think “profiling” is a very good term for the “unmarried menace to society” argument, along with a great many other social issues (not that I want this to explode into a discussion of other issues where profiling is a factor): GQC no doubt knew many “overage” single men whom he would exclude from the “menace” category. Jeff identifies some of those men by name. GCQ admits as much when he says he “did not refer to individuals; for there are many young men of twenty-four who, through being on missions or for other causes, are not married” — although I have no idea how broadly he would consider “other causes” to be valid.

    Two points: First, if the family is the basic unit of society, and if people aren’t marrying and forming families, then society is threatened — by the mass, not by the individual cases. I think that’s probably one of the theories that informs GQC’s argument.

    And second, GQC is writing at a time when the Church is beginning to feel the effects of not having the plural marriage safety net to provide husbands for all of the LDS women who would like to be wives. The number and quality of unmarried/unmarriageable women is probably beginning to increase and be noticed, and parents are asking leaders for help.

    By attacking single men as being selfish, I think GQC is latching on to the only part of the equation he thinks can be changed: You can’t make the unmarried women disappear, you can’t marry them into polygamy (at least not to an extent great enough to solve the problem), but you CAN, theoretically, browbeat single men into marrying them.

    And isn’t that virtually identical to what we still do today? There are more active single women in the Church than active single men. You can’t make the women disappear. You can’t marry them to already-married men. You don’t really want to encourage them to marry outside the Church and risk their disaffection. So the only part of the equation you can address is the pool of single men who “haven’t done their duty.”

    You menaces, you.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 1, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

  12. Eric, in the context of China, their tens of millions of excess men (the number of men that exceeds the number of women) are seen by some as cannon fodder for any future military plans by China.

    China may send them over here to collect when the US defaults on the debts owed the Chinese. (They are currently our biggest creditor. It used to be Britain up until a couple years ago.)

    As I understand it, aside from the biological and cultural programming, one of the motivations for men to marry and have children is to leave a legacy.

    I don’t have the current numbers handy, but there are over 10 million “excess” males over the age of 21 now in China, and probably another 10 million under the age of 21. And the number is expected to grow.

    So what legacy can those excess men look forward to? Some say giving their all and putting their lives on the line for the motherland (or fatherland, however they say it there.) IE, literally giving their lives to their country.

    There has been a noted jingoistic nationalist miltaristic attitude among online comments made over the past 5 years or so by college students in China. (Again, I’m sorry I don’t have the references handy.) After readin some typical comments along those lines, it seems to me that young adults in China are getting prepped for something on a global scale.

    That’s one way in which the -group- has a negative influence but not individuals.

    Another way in which the -group- has a bad influence, but not the individual, is that large numbers of anything can form a trend, or at least remove stigmas for being in the group. There would be a tendency for larger and larger portions of males younger than the marriage age to view marriage as optional and not really needed, as in “Look at all those guys who aren’t married. Nothing wrong with them. So I feel no urgency to get married.”

    Granted, it would not affect the majority of younger males, but it would first affect the marginal cases, and then affect larger and larger percentages, under the heading of “margin creep.” Just like what happened when our society destigmatized out-of-wedlock births. It started out as “margin creep” (Hey, I want compassion for me and my baby too!) and now it’s “no big deal, it happens all over.”

    So yeah, we need to be compassionate to single moms and unmarried men over 25 (and, uh, the latter includes me) as individuals, but we also need to acknowledge that such conditions are not optimum, and that younger people are encouraged to get married before having kids, and well, to get married period. And if you aren’t ready to get married, at least work in that direction.

    Back to China’s excess males, on the plus side, if the church can eventually convert a lot of those ‘excess’ Chinese males, that may relieve the pressure on -our- “excess” single women in the church, and provide a husband-pool for them. The “excess” women in the church is almost world-wide, not just in the US. (Though I’ve heard there are pockets in Africa where the majority of members are male.)

    The Lord can take many bad things and turn it to something good.

    Comment by Bookslinger — May 1, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

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