Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Girl Who Marries: The View from 1908

The Girl Who Marries: The View from 1908

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 13, 2014

Susa Young Gates had some ideas about the course of women’s lives – and family planning – imparted in the Young Woman’s Journal of February 1908 –

Concerning the Girl Who Marries

The joys, the cares, and the problems of the Girl Who Marries are as ancient and as honorable as Eve and her eldest daughter. Modern life may have lessened somewhat the primitive delight of supreme possession, increased the daily burden, and involved the many-sided problem; but, to all intents and purposes, the Girl Who Marries is duplicating the experiences of Eve’s eldest daughter; she has learned little from the experience of the ages or from her own parents. She wanders about in the paradisiacal garden of her delight, and to her taste all fruit is sweet, and all plants are food. But as her gradual awakening and expulsion from that garden comes to pass, she begins to see many things that have hitherto been mercifully hidden from her.

The modern Tempter is too often clothed like one of her girl friends, or like a round half-dozen of them; or this Tempter may be a near relative; her own mother has been known to assume this character, and even the family physician at times masquerades as a part of this Modern Chorus. Now-a-days too many do the work for His Satanic Majesty and sing this refrain: “Wait a year or two, or five, before you assume the responsibilities of motherhood.”

If a genuine, Latter-day Saint mother reads this article, she may be indignant that such things are imputed to her, or her cherished daughter. My dear sister and friend, if you are not one of the modern guilty ones, and your newly-married daughter is in the hands of nature and God, just skip this and read something else. but if you are a mother who has said or even thought words akin to those written above, or if you are a newly-married girl, or one about to be married, just sit down a few moments and listen to me. I will try, if I can get the Spirit of Truth for my guide, to unmask this evil and you shall perchance see this modern sin as I do.

In the first place, what were you born for? To grow up to womanhood, you answer; and then? To get an education, to teach school, or clerk in a store, and thus earn money to buy clothes, furniture, or a piano. And then? Now, you blush and exclaim – if you are the girl – “Oh, Aunt Su! What a shocking question!” I would answer these various questions of mine thus: You come on the earth to be a woman, to have experiences which will develop your life and faith, but above all things, you come here to marry and to reproduce your kind.

Ah, but I am told, such reasoning destroys the romance of love and marriage. Not a bit of it; we wouldn’t have to talk about romance, we would just experience it, if it were not that the terrible Tempter has crept into well-nigh every Garden of paradise.

“Newly-married girls should have a chance to get acquainted with their husbands and new conditions,” someone says, “before they begin to have children.” Then why didn’t the God of nature arrange it so she would wait a year or two after marriage before beginning her mission of motherhood? Then again, “a girl wants to have a little pleasure,” you say, “before settling down to life’s realities”; well, what else has she had through her girlhood? And what is the greatest happiness as well as the dearest pleasure in life? It is the hear the cry of your first-born child.

Still another class of tempters make a very good showing of the insistent demands of modern social life upon women, the demands of husband, and the numerous public duties and offices held by nearly all the bright young women in this Church; and, say these objectors to natural motherhood, “Doesn’t a girl want to go on growing and expanding all her life, even as her husband does, so that she may be a suitable companion for him? Does not the girl-wife want to keep up her mental expansion to keep pace with her husband?” And then there is the vexed servant-girl problem for a young wife to meet.

All these questions are so mixed with truth and error, and they need so much sifting in order to answer them intelligently and truthfully, that the limits of this discussion will only permit a general consideration of their merits. For there remains the last and really gravest objection of all, and the questioner knows that this last objection is a “clincher.” It is: “What about the health of my daughter; for these years of school-going or school-teaching, borne under false conditions, have so depleted her health and vitality, that she is already somewhat of a nervous wreck, even before her marriage?” What about the delicate girl?

The answers to all these questions and the solving of these modern problems lie sin our modern view of life. And, alas, most of us have acquired a sort of moral cross-eye or squint. You will notice that nearly half of the people in any given town are fitted with spectacles; the physicians will tell you the cause of this lies in defective diet, surroundings, light, and general hygiene. We are morally squint-eyed because our moral and social surroundings are defective, and we need mental eye-glasses affixed to our moral vision.

To begin with, God has told us in the first chapter of Genesis, and He reiterates it in the last chapter of Revelations, that we have come here for no selfish pleasure, no mere animal, or mental gratification, but for one supreme experience, that of willing and self-sacrificing parenthood. The whole heavens are founded on the law of parenthood; and this is and always has been considered the holiest and most sacred thing in the Universe; it has remained for effete civilization everywhere, in Egypt, in Rome, in Europe, and now beginning in America, to look upon willing and unrestricted parenthood as gross and undesirable. In all the history of the ages, Satan has no weapon so formidable, so deadly, and so sure to destroy individuals, as the varied objections and preventions which are directed towards parenthood.

Mothers, if your girl wants pleasure, needs rest or health, see that she gets it before she saddles herself on some innocent, loving young fellow, to become a drag and a pulling burden upon him in his hard race onward through life. Keep her out of high school and college till she is old enough and strong enough to stand the pace of modern school-life. If she wants to be a companion mentally to her husband, let her read as she rocks the cradle and think as she sweeps her floor; there is no reason why a mother shall not read and think. Thus she will find the noblest and purest delight ever vouchsafed to mortals or gods. If she is burdened before marriage with public offices let her resign most of them till her children are born and sufficiently well-nurtured to let her risk a little extra burden. If she lacks money to hire help, let her simplify her life, and not try to ape modern luxury in life’s daily appointments. Nothing is so good for health, sleep, comfort and longevity, as a reasonable amount of work, not drudgery, but intelligent labor, intelligently enjoyed.

If she has decided to get married, see to it that you fill her with the motherhood ideal. Fill her with delight at the thought of bearing the souls of the children of men. Our modern ideals, which are formed by our daily reading and conversation, are largely at fault, in this matter of unwilling motherhood. Girls want to be “always having a good time,” no matter who suffers to make that good time possible. Never, as you value your salvation in the kingdom of heaven, allow a word to pass your lips in favor of having small families, or of restriction of offspring. If you do, you may have to answer at the bar of justice some day to a charge of connivance at child-murder.

You may think this strong talk; but if you will take the trouble to listen for an hour to women talking to a young married woman, you may have your eyes opened. I know many physicians who say they know hundreds of women who said when first married they did not want children for a few years, for this or that reason; then, later, when they got ready to have them, outraged nature denied them their longing desire. And what mockery for such a woman to come to the Temple, or to ask the sisters to bless her that she may have children. To be sure, she may repent; but child-prevention, which is next to child-murder, has such a deadening effect upon the soul as well as the body, that the woman who engages in it, as well as the man who consents to it, becomes, as it were, hermetically sealed to spiritual things. They become wholly of the earth earthy. You will see such women hunting after all the fashionable and worldly expressions of luxury and culture; while their husbands gradually lose all taste for the pure, simple things of the gospel, and find their pleasure in wine, in horses, in business, in club-life, or in other worldly directions. You can pretty well determine who has been guilty of these things, for they bear their fruit.

Think and talk of the beauty, the joy, and the glory of parenthood; of the pleasures of married life, and of the delights which are known only to the fathers and mothers of the race. For as a man thinks, so is his life.

One of the wickedest ideas that has ever crept into this modern sin is the thought that if a newly-married woman fails to find her usual and regularly womanly expression, she is justified in using all sorts of means to bring about that regular expression. What dense ignorance of life’s most important secrets such reasoning implies! The beginning of life is made when there is the first union of life-forces. Indeed, from the moment the sacred vows of marriage are pronounced over the altar, the man and woman both are solemnly committed to protect the citadel of life at its fount from every invader within and without. The moral death is far more to be dreaded than the physical one; and that moral destruction of life begins in the unspoken wish to prevent children from coming into the world. If there are any physical or mental reasons why young people should not fulfil their parenthood vows, they should separate at once. No other method of prevention of offspring is or can be justified before God or man. Child-prevention is second only to child-murder. Child-murder begins at the moment an attempt is made to destroy the possibility of a child’s existence.

Our girls ought to be taught the truth.



  1. …trying to imagine the reaction if this were published in a church magazine nowadays…

    Comment by Amy T — June 13, 2014 @ 8:10 am

  2. It’d be wild, wouldn’t it?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 13, 2014 @ 8:12 am

  3. That big second to the last paragraph, especially the last half … Yikes!

    Comment by Gary Bergera — June 13, 2014 @ 8:40 am

  4. Hey, but she managed to sneak in a reference to female ritual healing!

    Comment by Mark B. — June 13, 2014 @ 8:51 am

  5. Gosh, I wish we had more references to His Satanic Majesty in Church materials! So Rolling Stones-esque.

    Comment by E. Wallace — June 13, 2014 @ 9:49 am

  6. Definately her father’s daughter!

    Comment by David R — June 13, 2014 @ 11:19 am

  7. “You may think this strong talk”

    Uh, yeah!

    Comment by David Y. — June 13, 2014 @ 4:06 pm

  8. P.S. Ardis, after reading the article, I realized that your introductory line is hilariously understated:

    “Susa Young Gates had some ideas about the course of women’s lives”

    Ha! “Had some ideas” is so passive and innocuous-sounding. It sets the reader up for a real shock! Good on you.

    Comment by David Y. — June 13, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

  9. 😀

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 13, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

  10. This is why in many of my prayers I thank God I was born in 1990! So interesting to read such a different perspective from just a century ago.

    What kind of birth control did they have in 1908 anyways? Was she just talking about the rhythm method?

    Also this line: “If there are any physical or mental reasons why young people should not fulfil their parenthood vows, they should separate at once.” Am I reading this wrong or is she saying that couples with infertility should divorce?

    Comment by Mel — June 13, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

  11. I don’t think she is saying that couples experiencing infertility should divorce. They’re still trying, to her way of thinking. It is the people with genetic diseases they are concerned about passing on or someone deemed ‘mentally deficient’who might pass that to their children. They’re the ones who should immediately ‘separate.’ I’m not sure what she would say about the women whose health might be compromised by another (or two or three) pregnancies.

    Isn’t it wonderful that she knows exactly what other people should do? I don’t even know what I should do half the time!

    Comment by LauraN — June 13, 2014 @ 10:49 pm

  12. Mel, if you’re interested in a serious exploration of this material, it might help to know that Susa Young Gates was interested/involved in the eugenics movement. Here’s a bit of an explanation:

    It may also help to understand that she had had a very difficult life and had lost many of her children to tragic deaths, and had suffered severely for a period of several years previous to this article.

    So, what kind of birth control did they have? Very briefly, they didn’t have modern innovations including the pill or hormonal IUDs, and wouldn’t generally have had access to safe surgical sterilization, although it was technically available, but otherwise, although safety and reliability were concerns, they had most of the methods available today.

    Widespread access to information and methods was limited by the Comstock Law, but still, birth control had led to a fairly dramatic reduction in birthrates, especially among upper-class women who had better access to materials and information about birth control, so this was a real concern at the time, a great cultural battle, and it would have been playing out among Gates’ family and acquaintances.

    About your final question, I believe she is saying that rather than use birth control, a couple should divorce if there is any reason they should not have children, or have more children. Better to divorce than use birth control, since, as she points out, any form of birth control (and even the praising of smaller families!) is pretty much the same as abortion, which she calls “child-murder.”

    Many or most modern readers would consider a good part of this article, whether in specifics or degree, bad advice or nonsense and contrary to current church policy, and that might explain why you don’t see many serious responses in the previous comments to this post. But it is definitely worth discussing if you’re interested in the subject matter.

    Comment by Amy T — June 13, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

  13. I also wonder if the reference to ‘separation’ actually referred to a formal divorce, or if it meant that people should remain legally married, but physically separate to prevent further pregnancies.

    Comment by LauraN — June 14, 2014 @ 3:44 pm

  14. How terrible for couples struggling with infertility. I struggled enough through the long spaces between ovulation caused by a medical condition, and a number of miscarriages. This amount of guilt on top of it would have put me in a depression death spiral. Shudder!

    Comment by Juliathepoet — June 15, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

  15. Oh, interesting consideration, Laura, I assumed she meant divorce because of the large number of divorces in her own family including her father’s, her aunts and uncles, her own divorce, her two sisters’ divorces, her many cousins who divorced, etc. Evidently there were many greater evils than divorce to the extended Young-Bigelow family.

    Julia, as tone-deaf as this article may be, Susa’s family did have extensive experience with infertility and miscarriages. Her mother, Lucy Bigelow Young, lost many babies to miscarriage, but did have her three daughters, Susa, Dora, and Mabel, and one adopted daughter. We know about her tragedies because Susa mentioned them in her writings about her mother.

    Also, for many years, Lucy Young was a well-known temple healer and would have worked closely with many women who were suffering pregnancy loss and infertility, and would have provided comfort and guidance to them.

    From writings like this, it seems that Susa didn’t inherit Lucy’s talent for healing, but she had formidable talents in other areas; for example, she was one of the primary founders of the Genealogical Society of Utah, now FamilySearch. It took a great force of personality to do that as a woman in that culture.

    Comment by Amy T — June 15, 2014 @ 6:25 pm

  16. Wow. Just… wow.

    Then why didn’t the God of nature arrange it so she would wait a year or two after marriage before beginning her mission of motherhood?

    Well heck, if we’re following the nature, we should just be marrying them all off at 11 or 12 then, right? If not, God would have arranged nature otherwise, right?

    I don’t like culture wars, because it makes someone who might otherwise be a centrist with slight opposition take a more extreme position, feeling a strong need to counterbalance.

    Comment by Ben S — June 15, 2014 @ 7:32 pm

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