Juvenile Instructor » Women at Home in the Beehive House
 


Women at Home in the Beehive House

By: Natalie R - March 22, 2013

A few years ago on a very rainy day in June in Salt Lake City, my husband and I took refuge in the Beehive House and enjoyed a tour led by one of sister missionaries.  While waiting to meet up with his family arriving from California, we spent the morning touring Temple Square and visiting the genealogy center inside the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The tour was very informative, but I never assumed the tour would ever directly pertain to my research. Of course, I was wrong. Ever since I discovered the Beehive House was used as a home for young female workers and students from the 1920s to the late 1950s, I have been intrigued with understanding how the Beehive House served as a space for young women throughout its history.

BeehiveHsExteriorDay_Detail

Constructed between 1853 and 1855, the Beehive House functioned as a home for Brigham Young. In 1856, the Lion House was built to provide more room for his growing family.  A close reading of the history of Beehive House illuminates how the space served as a form of sanctuary for some of Young’s wives and children as well as young Mormon women in the twentieth century. Clarissa Young Spencer, Brigham Young’s daughter born in 1860, wrote in her book Brigham Young at Home that even after her marriage the Beehive House still felt like her “real” home and it was a “place where love and perfect harmony existed.”[1]

The atmosphere of harmony felt by Clarissa Young Spencer was no doubt attributed to “co-operative idea of living” among the families.[2] Susa Young Gates also reported that she never remembers her father arguing with his wives or his wives having cross words with each other.[3] Brigham Young stated that if it were possible for him to provide all his wives with a home of their own he would.[4] According to Clarissa, he gave her mother Lucy Decker the title to the Beehive House under the direction that she would “never mortgage or give him the home.” He also set up charge accounts for each wife within the family store in the Beehive House and Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution.[5]  The feeling of independence and financial solvency no doubt led to larger feelings of cooperation between the wives and their children inside both the Beehive House and Lion House.

Of course, not all of Brigham Young’s wives had fond feelings toward the homes. The most extreme and infamous example of dissatisfaction of life with Brigham Young was Ann Eliza Young, who penned the book Wife No. 19, or, The story of a life in Bondage an autobiographical tell-all of her life as a Mormon and polygamous wife of Brigham Young in the late 1860s.  As a teenager, Ann Eliza Young lived in the Lion House during the week after the Church President summoned her to perform as an actress for the theatre alongside some of his daughters.[6] Because she knew several of Brigham’s children very well, Ann Eliza did not feel completely out of place in Lion House.  She commented that while Brigham’s children were not too pleased with the repetition of frugal dishes served for meals, they did not “dare have their complaints reach their father’s ear.”[7]  According to Wife No. 19, the Beehive House had reportedly become a place of hostility between a newer wife Amelia Folsom and Lucy Decker when Amelia was invited to live in the Beehive House. Ann Eliza Young recounted that Amelia never acknowledged Lucy and expected to be waited on by the older wife.[8] In her own book, Clarissa Young Spencer is quick to dissuade any rumors that Amelia was her father’s “favorite wife.”[9] Though it is necessary to recognize the sensationalistic nature of Ann Eliza Young’s recounting of her experiences in Wife No. 19, it provides a helpful juxtaposition to the mostly joyous memories recorded by Clarissa Young Spencer and Susa Young Gates.

The Church eventually purchased the Beehive House and it served as the official residence of Presidents Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith, who passed away in 1918. [10]  Several years before Joseph F. Smith’s death, the YLMIA began to contend with the issue of young women not attending their local MIA meetings because they were working in Salt Lake City and living away from home for the first time. Despite various attempts to promote attendance—including gathering the names of young women living in Salt Lake City from rural wards—the best solution seemed to be to develop a home for these girls.  This desire to provide a home for young Mormon girls fit within a wider tradition of Progressive Era religious and/or or reform groups seeking to fix the “plight of the working girl” by offering a social network, classes, and lodging to deter young women from falling victim to prostitution, alcohol, and, otherwise, being taken advantage of.[11] In November of 1910, General President YLMIA Martha H. Tingey wrote a letter to the First Presidency that stated “Feeling the urgent need of a home on the order of the Young Woman’s Christian Association, for many of our girls who come from the  country, who emigrate from foreign countries, and for girls who need rest rooms and a place where they may receive instruction in economy, cleanliness, purity…[12] In 1913, with the help of the Ensign Stake, Priscilla J. Riter helped ascertain use of a home located on the corner of First Avenue and E Street in Salt Lake City. That home, named the “Lucy Mack Home for Girls,” closed after just one year as the YLMIA reported that many young women were treating it as just a “boarding house.”[13]

The urgency for a home was felt again in 1919 shortly after Joseph F. Smith’s death when there were reports of out-of-town girls failing to find suitable housing. The executive board of the YLMIA successfully gained permission to use the Beehive House as a home for young women. It was understood that this home would serve as temporary accommodation until young women could find a permanent place to stay. On July 1, 1920, the Beehive House officially opened its doors as a home. The following guidelines were established to ensure its success:

  • Charges for each girl was between $6.00 and $8.50 for room and board
  • No one over twenty-five was allowed to live in the home
  • Residents were allowed to stay in the home for one year

During their stay in the Bee Hive House, young women were expected to gain knowledge of the city. Once their time in the home was over, the YLMIA and Beehive House Staff attempted to find them lodging with a Latter-day Saint family in a private home.[14]

From 1920 to its closure in 1959, the Bee Hive House hosted an average of eighty to eighty-three young women at a time. Young women could apply to their ward bishops for a space in the home. I am not sure if this was limited to young women living within certain proximity of Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, for many of the young women living in the home, they received notice that they had to leave by February 1, 1959.[15] The First Presidency decided to close the home in order to restore the house as it was during Brigham Young’s residency from 1854 to 1877. This caused a great inconvenience to several of the young women living and hoping to live in the home—there was often a long wait list to gain a coveted spot in the home. Many young women expressed that they would return to their family homes instead of trying to obtain a room in the city. [16] The young women were not the only ones distressed by the closure of the Beehive House to young women. Supposedly, “Aging grandmothers, only catching a phrase on television or radio news broadcasts, or seeing the headline in the newspaper, were irate, especially those that had had enjoyed Beehive residency during the decade of the ‘twenties.”[17]

Nearly twenty-one years after the Beehive House first served as a home for young women, the newly restored home was opened to the public. It took nearly two years to return the home to its original mid-nineteenth condition. A 1962 Improvement Era article by Helen Young Spencer Williams reported that the Temple Square Mission supervised the day-to-day operation of the Beehive House, and that young women served as guides.[18]  Today, it should not be lost on us that many of the young women missionaries, who lead tours of the Beehive House, are the same ages and in similar circumstances (being away from home for the first time) to the young women who inhabited that space from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Additionally, the house was an imperative space for many of Brigham Young female children and young wives, who inhabited the space during their own formative years. There is no doubt denying that the famed historical house was at the center of many well known and not so well-known Mormon women’s lives at one point or another from the mid 1850s to present day.



[1] Clarissa Young Spencer and Mabel Harmer, Brigham Young at Home (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1947), 37

[2] Ibid, 29.

[3] Susa Young Gates, “How Brigham Young Brought Up His Fifty-Six Children,” Physical Culture, February 1925.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Spencer and Harmer, 46

[6] Prior to her unexpected call to act, Ann Eliza Young commented that she would never marry Brigham Young. Upon hearing this Brigham Young questioned her as to why she said she would never marry him. See Ann Eliza Young. Wife No. 19, or the Story of a Life in Bondage. Being a Complete Exposé of Mormonism, and Revealing the Sorrows, Sacrifices and Sufferings of Women in Polygamy (Hartford: Dustin, Gilman, 1876), 376-7

[7] Ibid, 383.

[8] Ibid, 485.

[9] Spencer and Harmer, 80, 220.

[10] Helen Young Spencer Williams, “History Turns Back Its Pages: The Bee Hive House Restored,” Relief Society Magazine, August 1960, 510

[11] While my post does not offer a close analysis of the class differences between the women who began the home and the young women who occupied it, it is an important factor to consider for the impetus behind the development of the home. Historian Kathy Peiss writes that the “reformers who made working women’s recreation a social issue drew upon a complex set of Victorian ideals and assumptions. Their gender and class position served as lenses through which they alternatively perceived working women as unwilling female victims and as enthusiastic members of the promiscuous lower orders.”  See Kathy Peiss, Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), 165.

[12] Martha H. Tingey to First Presidency quoted in Marba C. Josephson, History of the YWMIA, (Salt Lake City: Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association, 1955), 157.

[13] Ibid, 159.

[14] Ibid, 162-3.

[15] “Famed Bee Hive House Closed as a Residence,” Deseret News, January 10, 1959.

[16] Ibid.

[17] “BEEHIVE HOUSE.” MSS 10690. Folder 5. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.
This is a typed four page documents with no legibly written author name.

[18] Helen Young Spencer Williams, “The Beehive House…A Monument to the Past,” Improvement Era, January 1962, 22.



10 Comments

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Natalie. I knew nothing of the Beehive House’s role in the 20th century. The idea of Brigham Young’s former home becoming a predominantly female space is both ironic and provocative, and deserves to be unpacked.

    Comment by Ben P — March 22, 2013 @ 8:28 am

  2. Wonderful essay, Natalie.

    When I was a child I would sometimes go to the school library and check out the fictionalized children’s version of Clarissa Young Spencer’s book, Brigham Young and Me, Clarissa (Doubleday, 1978). I always found it to be a charming and affectionate family portrait. Thinking about it now, it’s probably one of the reasons I’ve always liked Brigham Young and always will, despite issues of polygamy, race, etc., etc.

    Comment by Amy T — March 22, 2013 @ 9:52 am

  3. This is really great. Thanks, Natalie.

    Comment by Saskia — March 22, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

  4. Funny you should bring this up, because I blogged about my crap tour of the Beehive house just two days ago.

    You’re lucky yours was more informative. It would have been awesome to have learned any of this during my visit.

    Comment by Orwell — March 22, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

  5. Amy, I will have to look into that children’s book! I bet it offers a very interesting perspective.

    Ben, I was shocked to come across this information as well and am surprised not many others know about it as well.

    Thanks, Saskia!

    Orwell, thanks for the link to your post. I will check it out.

    Comment by Natalie R — March 22, 2013 @ 5:58 pm

  6. Excellent. Thank you.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — March 22, 2013 @ 11:02 pm

  7. Who knew? What a great post. This is a really interesting coda to its better-known history, and connects (in my mind, anyway) to not only the settlement-house movement but to networks of women’s boarding house alternatives, sort of Christian dormitories, established by the YWCA and others. A friend’s daughters were just housed in such a place in NYC this year, as a matter of fact.

    Comment by Tona H — March 23, 2013 @ 8:18 am

  8. I was completely unaware of the 20th century stuff as well. Really interesting. Thanks!

    Comment by J. Stapley — March 23, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

  9. Fascinating. Great stuff.

    Comment by WVS — March 23, 2013 @ 11:48 pm

  10. Also news to me. Really quite interesting.

    Comment by Ryan T — March 24, 2013 @ 6:57 pm