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Girls at Home and Abroad: The View from 1903

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 27, 2011

John W. Taylor (1858-1916) was a son of Church President John Taylor, and an apostle. Two years after writing the following essay, Elder Taylor resigned (he would have been expelled against his will, had he not resigned) from the Quorum of the Twelve, and excommunicated in 1911, because of his continued performance of plural marriages and entering into such marriages himself in direct opposition to instructions of the First Presidency and his own Quorum. Not that those details are relevant to this post, but it’s what he is unfortunately best remembered for.

“There is no place like home” applies to none more appropriately than to the young ladies of Zion. And there seems to be no class among the Latter-day Saints who have a greater temptation to leave home, and home influences, than the daughters. The causes for the desire to leave home are varied, but the most common is the wish on the part of the ambitious young lady to become self-supporting and help father and mother, who are experiencing great difficulty in providing for their family, and in some instances are sacrificing what they need for their personal comfort to provide, in an ordinary way, for their family. The thoughtful, intelligent young woman takes in the situation at a glance. She looks with sorrow and unbounded sympathy upon the care-worn faces of her beloved parents,. A longing desire arises to do something to take the load from dear mother and father. Knowing as she does the humble circumstances of her parents, she hesitates to ask for a much needed dress, a pair of shoes, a hat or even a less expensive article, necessary to make up an ordinary outfit, that she may appear as others of her young friends.

Here comes the trial. She asks herself, “Can I not do something to help my parents and myself?” Thoughts crowd upon the active mind like lightning. The answer comes quickly, “Yes. I can help. I am young, strong, and willing to work, and I now, if I can only get work, I can lighten the burdens of my beloved parents and make their hearts rejoice. I can show them in a substantial way how much I appreciate their loving kindness to me.”

In the new light of ambition and inspired thought her young heart indulges in glowing anticipations as to what she will do for dear mother and father. How they will rejoice when they realize what a real help she is to them, and what a great pleasure it will be for her to do her part in the family circle.

Where can she get work? What, can she do?

Could anyone have better motives? No! The angels never indulged in purer desires. As the pure spring of water bubbles forth from the bosom of the earth, so do the tender thoughts of the young woman spring forth from an affectionate heart when she first leaves home to go forth in the path of business life. Here is the danger point!

I venture a few suggestions to young ladies at this juncture. They are prompted by an experience of many years’ travel among the Latter-day Saints.

Young ladies should be industrious; the desire to work is most commendable and praiseworthy. None, who are in good health, should be idle. The Doctrine and Covenants, section 68, verses 31 and 32, reads:

‘now, I, the Lord, am not well pleased with the inhabitants of Zion, for there are idlers among them; and their children are also growing up in wickedness; they also seek not earnestly the riches of eternity, but their eyes are full of greediness.

“These things ought not to be, and must be done away from among them.”

It seems we must all work, but where, how and when shall we work?

My advice to you is, if it is possible, stay at home with your mother until you are married – by all means do so. If circumstances are such that it is positively necessary that you leave your father’s home to seek employment, the greatest care should be exercised in securing work where your reputation will not be at stake, for “it is better to wear a faded coat than to wear a faded reputation.”

Many young women have lost that which is more precious than life, by working away from home at hotels, boarding houses, railway and mining camps, and other places where they have been unprotected. While their motives were pure and praiseworthy and they thought to bring unbounded joy to their beloved parents at home, they have brought a lifelong sorrow upon father, mother, brothers and sisters. In many instances they feel like they are outcasts from home. Could they but cancel their mistake and have it pass away as a dream, and they take their place in the family circle as they once did, they would willingly make any sacrifice to adapt themselves to the humble circumstances of home life.

I should as much expect a lamb turned out among hungry wolves to return home unharmed as a young woman who goes away from home, unprotected, to work at a mining camp, or similar place.

It is not a question of the motive of the lamb, or the young inexperienced girl. They are both pure and innocent, but it is the nature of wolves to destroy lambs and of wicked men to prey upon the pure and innocent.

In my view no greater evil prevails among the Latter-day Saints today than sending, or permitting their lovely daughters to leave the home of their childhood and wander abroad unprotected in the world to be preyed upon by the wicked. Who is responsible, the shepherd or the lamb?



6 Comments »

  1. Wow, those are pretty strong words. What year was the lovely series on employment options for women published?

    Comment by HokieKate — December 27, 2011 @ 7:11 am

  2. 1927.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 27, 2011 @ 8:20 am

  3. But it’s hard not to consider Taylor without reference to what he is “unfortunately best remembered for.” While these sentiments towards guarding the virtue of young women were probably fairly generally held within the church and the dominant American society coming out of Victorianism, how much of this was influenced by his apostate views on what he is best remembered for? (I guess I’m thinking “patriarchal oppression of women”).

    I mean, every choice is either to follow the Lord or the adversary. It’s just that this life is often so convoluted that those choices are difficult to separate out individually from our cultural and personal prejudices and contexts. The important thing for me is the direction we are moving.

    Taylor, moving towards apostasy for refusing the give up the “principle” may have been choosing unrighteous dominion over women over their personal development and full potential.

    Of course I have my own personal and cultural biases. While happy to have my 20-year-old daughter out of the home at that church school down south, I’m glad she’s not working in a mining camp.

    Comment by Grant — December 27, 2011 @ 9:56 am

  4. Wow. I’m currently reading the excellent biography Mormon Odyssey: The Story of Ida Hunt Udall, Plural Wife, and it is a case study of these points, with the oldest daughters needing to work to help keep the family from starvation.

    As far as polygamy goes, the Udall family was influenced by Matthias F. Cowley, who arranged and performed two post-Manifesto plural marriages in the family. One of them is my tie to the family and a reason why I’m finding the book such fascinating reading, and the other marriage was Rudger Clawson to Pearl Udall in 1904.

    This article is making me irate, thinking about the difficulties created for the women by these post-Manifesto marriages, not to mention the difficulties created by earlier church-recognized plural marriages. How can he talk about protecting women when he and Cowley were subjecting the women to such high levels of legal and ethical and religious risk?

    On the other hand, I do recognize that in certain cases plural marriage had been able to solve problems of a woman finding herself alone, without support, as will be illustrated in the next Eminent Women post, the story of Anna Charlotte Eldridge Hinkle Chidester.

    Comment by Researcher — December 27, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  5. This is the phrase that I think I find most egregious here:

    …they have brought a lifelong sorrow upon father, mother, brothers and sisters.

    Whatever happens to them in that mining camp, the worst thing is the shame that their family feels. Really7 I guess that repentance, compassion, and family support are all evidences of weakness on the part of the saints, in John W. Taylor’s eyes.

    Sorry, a bit harsher response than I normally would express. Interesting article, though, and very much a product of its time.

    Comment by kevinf — December 27, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

  6. This reminds me of an experience my grandparents had just a few years after Elder Taylor wrote this. Newly married and attempting to scrape together enough money for my grandfather to continue his schooling, they found work one summer–in different places. My grandfather worked as a miner (either in Mammoth or Lark, Utah) and my grandmother worked as cook on a ranch. My dad told once of a conversation he had with his father about that experience–wasn’t he worried about his new bride down among all those “wolves” at the ranch? Grandpa just chuckled and said it was those wolves that had to worry–a word or a look out of place from one of them and she would have put them in their place–and kept them there the rest of the summer. It may have been, he suggested, the best behaved mess hall on any ranch ever.

    (On another matter, I think my daughters have inherited some of that fire from their great-grandmother.)

    Comment by Mark B. — December 27, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

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