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Woman: Most Valuable Property, Most Precious Gift: The View from 1917

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 25, 2013

Late in 1917, as the United States prepared to enter World War I, the Relief Society began addressing the roles and needs and duties of women in wartime (matters that Latter-day Saint women in Europe, the Pacific, and elsewhere had been dealing with on their own for three years, by the way).

It is conceivable that sisters in Europe were blessed to be spared some of the counsel issued to American sisters …

ARE YOU CONSERVING YOURSELF?

The Nation’s Most Valuable Asset

The most valuable piece of property this nation possesses today is You, yourself. The most costly sacrifice which could be made would be your loss of health or life. The most precious gift you can turn over at your country’s call is your vigorous service in your home, first; in the Relief Society, and Temple, next; and then in ways of conservation and what public service you can render, after the demands made upon you by home and Relief Society are satisfied. No woman will help the war cause if she neglect her children or her home. No woman will aid the nation by neglecting her regular contributions to the needy in this Society, nor by attending war charity meetings when she has to stay away from Relief Society meetings to do it. And over and above all these – no woman will be justified before God, angels, or men, who crowds herself daily to the breaking point and beyond it, no matter how good her motive, nor how unselfish the labor she may be engaged in. The Father of our spirits is also custodian of our bodies, and He will hold us to strict account if we knowingly and deliberately shorten our days or make invalids of ourselves for others to nurse. We have just so much time, strength, and nerve force; it is our duty to wisely administer those resources.

Do What You Can, and What you Can’t Do, Don’t Do!

“Yes, but,”says one, “I am a leading officer in the Relief Society, and Mr. Hoover tells us we must do this, the State Council wants us to do that, and what am I to do?” Bless your soul, the great cities of this nation are crowded with childless women, women of means and ability for everything but real wifehood and real motherhood. Take it from me, the woman who has a home to keep, a husband, and a family of children on her hands, is doing quite all that the heavens and the earth ought to require of her. True, she may possess rare executive ability – she has to if she is a successful home-maker – and would enjoy using it in public office, and her heart may be torn with sympathy and longing to help when she reads the harrowing calls from the press, but, beat peace, Mother, you will do your full duty if you guard and guide your little ones and make home a haven of rest for husband and family. Let the army of childless women do the work for the army of hungry soldiers. There’s enough of them. It was said in Washington that a man was not to be exempted who had been married three years and was still childless. What a Daniel came to judgment there!

Fool Advice!

The floods of advice that are loosed upon our helpless heads, by writers who are paid to say things but whose experience is limited to a ten-foot flat-bedroom, would make a farmer’s cat laugh. The farmers are harangued, belabored and appealed to, to save the nation in this hour of stress. As a matter of cold facts, the farmers’ boys and hired men are drafted into the army, his wife and daughters are working twenty hours a day to can vegetables, fruit, or to dry it, while they are trotted to meetings and exhibits and demonstrations till their minds and bodies are in the same state of collapse which hovers over the overworked farmer’s head. No one need worry. High prices make us all economize. Meanwhile, the flat-dwellers in the city – non-producers every one of them, howl hysterically for the farmer to save the nation. Oh, that Mr. Hoover would send the space-writers to can the beans, and the clerks to hoe the corn!

Extravagant Economy.

Another amusing phase of this serious conservation question is the reams of recipes just out by popular magazines to “save bread” and other things. A late popular magazine gives a page of stale-bread recipes which call for eggs at 55c doz., molasses at 75c qt., sugar at 12c lb., milk at 15c qt., cream at 60c qt., and jelly at 40c a glass, butter at 60c lb., with which to use up a cup or more of stale bread crumbs. Nice economical advice that! While nuts, cracked pecans, at $1.00 lb., in various ways are suggested to take the place of 15c worth of hamburger steak. This is the day of the faddist and theorist. Still another piece of senseless advice to us out here in Utah is to have meatless days. Why, we have meatless months! Then they talk of breadless days! Gracious, don’t they know that rice and potatoes, as well as corn meal, are twice as expensive when it comes to satisfying hungry men and children! How can you get people to buy rice when they grow flour twice as cheaply? The magazines give pages of economy menus that make plain livers gasp because of their gross extravagance. When one observes the wicked waste of cafeterias, hotels, and eating-houses, one wonders why Hoover does not tackle the real source of waste. Hotels throw out and burn more than would feed the people of all the homes in the city. It is to laugh!

Our Duty to God, to Home, to the Relief Society, to our Country and to Ourselves.

What shall we do about all these matters, mothers and grandmothers? Try to have every one eat all that is taken on the plate. Be careful to use every possible bit of food material. Don’t burn bread or any foods in cooking them – this is the worst economical sin in the dietician’s decalogue. Do a little more patching. Make the old clothes last a little longer. Teach the children true economy. Don’t serve too much variety at any one meal. Where you have to buy milk, make gruel for children, to cut down expense. But don’t rob yourself nor your family of plenty of good, nourishing food. People who work hard need to eat well. Comfort and cheer your husbands in this difficult period. Be quiet and calm in your feelings, and do a little temple or genealogical work each week. Attend faithfully to your prayers, pay your tithing and keep the Word of Wisdom. When you can get out to assist in all this war work without overtaxing yourself or neglecting your home, do so. But above all things, cultivate poise, balance, peace and calmness. This is our highest duty to God, to our loved ones to our country and to ourselves.



9 Comments »

  1. Tell us how you really feel about childless urban dwellers.

    Comment by E. Wallace — April 25, 2013 @ 8:17 am

  2. Aha. They used to grow flour? Twice as cheaply? Is this one of those Earth with her ten thousand flours moments? No wonder they avoided being useless non-producing flat-dwellers.

    But I will take her advice not to “burn bread or any foods” as evidence that God wants us to eat our steaks rare.

    Comment by Mark B. — April 25, 2013 @ 8:20 am

  3. Be sure you aid the war effort by … doing exactly nothing at all out of the ordinary.

    And while the ranting about false economy is probably true, the (unknown) author completely misses the point about meatless and wheatless days. They were never intended, and so far as I know never promoted, as money-saving measures for the average consumer. The measures were intended to conserve critical food supplies for the army (those useless non-producing tent-dwellers). Doesn’t matter how cheap wheat was in Provo or Gunnison or Twin Falls; if it was all eaten up at home, there would be none for the army, or for the starving refugee millions in places like Belgium. So cough up the few additional pennies for rice, sisters. Gah.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 25, 2013 @ 9:23 am

  4. Are we sure this was written by a woman? See this:

    no woman will be justified before God, angels, or men, who crowds herself daily to the breaking point and beyond it, no matter how good her motive, nor how unselfish the labors he may be engaged in.

    Freudian slip? I know we are reading this from the perspective of almost 100 years later, but this doesn’t seem to be helping the cause of integrating the church into the larger culture, which was happening anyway. The ere of separateness and the “home industries” promoted by President Joseph F. Smith were already fading rapidly by this time.

    As a side note, my research about LDS soldiers in Siberia in WWI shows that privates in training camps in the US earned $9 a month, and when finally deployed and on the transports to Siberia, their combat pay bumped them to $19 a month, of which they had $6.40 taken out for life insurance. The idea of promoting economy does ring true under those circumstances, as many of the LDS soldiers were married, and had wives dependent on them and the meager pay of a draftee.

    Comment by kevinf — April 25, 2013 @ 10:50 am

  5. Yes, that’s my typo. The spacebar on my keyboard will not register unless it is struck in the middle, which is not where my thumb hits it. This means that no matter what I type — including very long documents — I have to go back and manually reinsert every single space. I’m sure this should have said “labor she” rather than “labors he” and that it was my faulty editing that caused the problem here. I’ll fix it.

    And you’re right about people needing to economize rather than splurge. I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. But the calls by the US Government and by the food conservation board headed by Hoover (pre-presidential days) referred to in this piece were not directed toward household expenditures. They didn’t ask people to eat alternative foods on Wednesdays because it would be cheaper for the wives of those soldiers; they asked people to eat alternative foods on Wednesdays in order to cut down national wheat consumption by one-seventh in order to save that wheat for the war effort. The Relief Society writer is confusing two distinct (and somewhat mutually exclusive) goals here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 25, 2013 @ 11:03 am

  6. But above all things, cultivate poise, balance, peace and calmness. This is our highest duty to God

    Really?

    Comment by The Other Clark — April 25, 2013 @ 11:38 am

  7. While there is a lot of ignorance in this, for example the view of non-farmers being non-producing parasites, I do like the counsel to adapt advice given on a national scale to local and personal circumstances.

    I do wonder how my g-g grandmother would have felt about this advice. She was serving as a Utah state senator at the time, heavily involved in the women’s rights movement, and heading up multiple war relief efforts.

    Comment by Amy T — April 25, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

  8. Thanks for that, Amy. Other good advice is to stay healthy and keep your family on track and be thrifty. I think it’s the tone more than MOST of what it says that is provoking my reaction. Well, that and the fact that Mormons are mothers, while the childless are others, so since they have nothing important to do, let ‘em take on the silly war work.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 25, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

  9. Mark B, I don’t know where you get your quick wit, but I always feel stupid making a comment because I am not funny like you are. Keep it up.

    Comment by Maurine — April 25, 2013 @ 11:23 pm

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