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“MIA, Our MIA”: Opening Social, 1920

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 12, 2013

The MIA (the Young Ladies’ – later Young Women’s – and Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations) were organized in 1869 and 1875, respectively, with a vague general mission to organize and “improve” the youth of the Church. Oh, they were each given some definite assignments in the early days (young women were to “retrench” or pull back from the fashions of the day, becoming more modest in dress and moderate in other forms of consumption, and the young men provided “home missionaries” to preach repentance in the stakes), but what “improvement” meant was more or less undefined.

We’ve seen a few of their early activities: questions assigned for answering at the next meeting; handwritten newspapers; vocational guidance for young men, and etiquette for young men. There were also religious lessons, and the Contributor, Improvement Era, and Young Woman’s Journal published other materials by and for the MIA.

In the early twentieth century, the role of the MIA was redefined. In part due to early correlation efforts which identified the Sunday School as responsible for young Saints’ spiritual education and the MIA as responsible for providing “wholesome recreation,” and in part due to increasing concern by parents and Church leaders about the growing independence of and modern dangers to youth (the automobile! scandalous music and dance!), the MIA became more structured and organized. The program of the Boy Scouts was adopted, and the Bee Hive Girls, a feminine form of scouting, was invented. The organizations were “graded” into classes according to age, and formal lessons were provided.

And recreation. Oh, the recreational mission of the MIA, how it expanded! Athletic tournaments, speech contests, roadshows, dance instruction, orchestras, entertainments of all kind became a regular feature.

At least by 1920, a special monthly activity was designed by the MIA General Boards for use in all the stakes, to be adapted in the missions as fit the circumstances there. The opening social for that year is described below; instructions for other activities in those years will follow in a new Keepa series.

OPENING SOCIAL, 1920

In-Door Track Meet

Divide the company into groups, each with a captain and a yell-master. Furnish each person with a crepe paper badge of the color representing his group, and a program of the sports. The captain selects those who are to take part in each event and should see to it that each member of his group is entered for at least one event. the manner of conducting the events is not announced until each event takes place.

1. Target shooting (Either men or women)
2. Shot put (Men)
3. Standing high jump (Women)
4. Obstacle race (Men)
5. Disc throwing (Women)
6. Marathon race (Men)
7. 50 yard dash (Women)
8. Rugby (Both)
9. Relay (Both)
10. Dance (All)

1. Target Shooting. The contestant stands (full height) over a milk bottle, places a bean close to his eye, and drops it into the bottle (if he can). Each contestant has three turns (one at a time) and the one who succeeds in getting the greatest number of beans into the bottle wins the event for his team.

2. Shot Put. Blow up a paper bag and tie it. The contestant who succeeds in throwing it farthest wins. Each should have three trials.

3. Standing High Jump. (A piano or organ will help considerably with this.) The idea is to select the lady who can sing highest by jumping from do to high do, re to high re, etc.

4. Obstacle Race. The contestants are started at one end of the room, run to the other end, thread a needle and return to the starting point.

5. Disc Throwing. The lady who succeeds in throwing a paper plate into (or nearest to) a ring twenty feet away wins this event.

6. Marathon Race. Each contestant is given two newspapers. He places one of them on the floor in front of him and steps on it with his right foot, places the other one on the floor in front of him and steps onto it with his left foot; removes the first paper, places it and steps onto it and so on until he has traveled around the room.

7. 50-Yard Dash. Each lady contesting is given a pair of scissors and a three yard narrow strip of paper (ribbon wrapping is desirable for this). Then she is told to cut it in two, lengthwise, without running off either side. The one finishing first and having the longest pieces is winner.

8. Rugby. Furnish a sheet and a feather (or if several groups are playing, one for each two teams). The teams stand on opposite sides of the sheet and hold it up under their chins. The feather is tossed between the two teams and all try to blow it to the opposite side of the sheet. Chalk lines should be drawn for the goals. When the feather drops back of a line the opposite side scores a point. If two games are run then the two winning teams play for final winner.

9. Relay. Each member of each team entering this event shall do as follows: use a hoop or a rope tied into a circle; go through it head first, run to the other end of the room, blow up a paper sack and pop it, return to starting place and go through the hoop feet first. then the next person in line goes through the same stunt and so on until the last one entered has finished. The team finishing first wins and their group scores. Each player is expected to do this withotu help from any one.

10. Dance. The team scoring the highest number of points should be entertained in a dance for the balance of the evening.



8 Comments »

  1. This is great! It caught me off guard. Does this mean the losers entertained the winners by dancing for them, or that the losers had to go home when the dance started?

    Comment by Carol — November 12, 2013 @ 9:09 am

  2. I don’t know, Carol! There may have been some 1920 convention of what it meant to be “entertained in a dance,” but I don’t know what it was. Yet.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 12, 2013 @ 9:20 am

  3. The losers become the orchestra, playing music for the dancers with kazoos, or, if unavailable, with combs and tissue paper.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 12, 2013 @ 9:33 am

  4. Standing High Jump. (A piano or organ will help considerably with this.)

    But, of course!

    Comment by David Y. — November 12, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

  5. When I read that about the piano helping considerably, I thought they’d have the girls jumping onto the top of the piano. Difficult with a grand, a bit harder with a spinet, and darned near impossible with an upright.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 12, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

  6. But, seriously (or as serious as one can be on this topic), I still remember the good old days when we had an “MIA Opening Social” every year in September. I even remember some friends “writing” a song at Scout Camp–not fit to be repeated in polite company, but what’s polite about Scout Camp?–where a reference was made to the “MIA Opening Social Dance.”

    And I remember how confused an elderly Italian convert, who joined the church here in New York, was by “M.I.A.”–which figured prominently in two songs in the old hymnbook: “M.I.A., We Hail Thee” which, with all due respect to Ruth May Fox, seems a bit over the top, and “Come Hail the Cause of Zion’s Youth” with its repetitious “M.I.A., our M.I.A.” I’m quite sure neither of those ever made it into any of our meetings, even the opening socials.

    Comment by Mark B. — November 12, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

  7. I totally missed out on these MIA activities.

    I do have a possible explanation for the phrase “entertained in a dance,” although it comes in a very roundabout conversation from when I was 14. My great-grandmother was aghast to hear that I would be going to Mormon dances. She was a Christian Scientist, and she told me that I shouldn’t go to dances, but if I did, I shouldn’t let any boy entertain me for the whole dance, or else my reputation would be ruined. I was confused, and told her so. She then told me if I let the same boy bring my punch all night, that I would get a fast reputation, and that I should make sure to allow myself to be entertained by as many different boys as possible.

    After quite a few more stops and starts, I was told that I not only should be careful who brought I danced with, who I let bring me punch and cookies, but also who I let take my coat to the cloak room, who I let help me put my coat on, *and when I was older* who I should only dance with, if I had gloves on, and who it was acceptable to remove my gloves for.

    So maybe everyone’s virtue was saved by having the losing teams serve the winning team? If not, I’ve got nothin’.

    Comment by Juliathepoet — November 12, 2013 @ 10:27 pm

  8. Could it be “entertained in a dance” meaning with a dance. So it would be “entertained with a dance.” Mormons were always honoring people with dances. They honored missionaries that were leaving or coming home with dances. Old Folks dances were not just for the old folks, but the whole community honoring the old folks.

    Comment by Jeffery Johnson — November 12, 2013 @ 11:33 pm

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