Juvenile Instructor » Young girls in Primary in the 1920s and 1930s
 


Young girls in Primary in the 1920s and 1930s

By: Natalie R - January 28, 2014

(or more accurately titled “How I Justify my Facebook Procrastination”)

A question I am usually asked about my research is why I end my study of Mormon adolescent girls and young women in 1930? The beginning year for my research 1869 is a pretty obvious choice—at least to me! 1869 is the year the Retrenchment Association was established and certain monumental events such as when the transcontinental railroad first traversed Utah and just a few short years before Mormon women could exercise suffrage in the territory. So why then end my study in 1930? First of all, the church celebrated its centennial year. Secondly, the year of 1930 (or thereabouts) is historiographically considered to be the end of the church’s transformation to be considered a part of mainstream America. In Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saint, 1890 – 1930, Thomas Alexander writes: “In the view of the relative isolation of Church members in the nineteenth century from the currents of social change in the remainder of the nation, the alteration of Mormon society by 1930 was nothing less than miraculous.” What did this so-called end of this transitional period specifically mean for adolescent girls and young women? Can it be considered a turning point for the young females adherents of the church?

These questions came to the forefront of my thinking about for my project when I saw a link to the online exhibit about the history of Primary posted by the Church History Museum. Feeling a bit daft that I somehow missed this online exhibit in my google searches that included terms like “Mormon,” “education,” children” and “why grad school?!”, I quickly took a look. The first section that caught my eye is titled “Building Tomorrow’s Homes.” Accompanying this picture below is an explanation of how in 1931 “Home Builders”(and the subcategories of Larks, Bluebirds, and Seagulls) was established as the program for 9 – 11 year old girls.

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The following picture is represents the bluebirds, the ten and eleven-year-old members “Home Builders” program in Primary. The website states in 1930 that the blue bird motto was “The World Needs Happiness Makers.”

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The motto for the nine-year-old Larks was “Love Lights the Way” as depicted in this 1929 symbol.

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What I find particularly remarkable about this picture is that it seems to be up to a young girl to not only be the “lighter” for the future but also that the responsibility seemingly rests with her to provide the love necessary for leading the religion and its adherents into the future.

It is clear from the first picture that young LDS girls in the late 1920s and 1930s were being inculcated about the importance of building a happy home.  Before this period was it a common occurrence for young women before their teenage years to learn about the significance of their future role within the home in regards to the theological significance of the family? How many primary lessons for these girls were directly and implicitly focused around their intended future roles as Mormon wives and mothers? Of course, many of the answers lie in  older primary lessons. However, I think many of these pictures and visual representations  present an interesting lens with which to view how the church leadership envisioned young girls’ centrality to the further continuation of the church as a thriving religion on its own  terms and in the wider mainstream United States.  In the first picture the juxtaposition of the cover of the Home Builders booklet featuring the young women looking toward the suburban looking home just placed above the saying “I will bring the light of the Gospel into my home” reveals the attempt to maintain a Mormon home within mainstream America.  If these images were being featured in lessons and materials aimed at girls between the ages of nine and eleven-years-old in the late 1920s and early 1930s, one can only imagine the indirect and direct messages that adolescent girls were receiving about their roles within the church.  In regards to my research, this online exhibit reveals that the church leadership was still very much concerned with maintaining girls’ religiosity and teaching them about their integral roles as female church members.  If anything, this online exhibit affirms the necessity of late night google search and facebook procrastination. In what expected places have you found valuable information for your research?



6 Comments

  1. Enjoyable post. Something to think about, coming off the heels of the era of the “new woman” and victory of suffragist movement. A state of tension with society seems to always be present in order to maintain a distinct identity.

    Comment by Brian Whitney — January 28, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

  2. Now you’re treading very much on my favorite era and one of my favorite topics! I appreciate your academic consideration.

    Primaries were not graded — not divided into classes by age — until early in the 1920s. Although there may have been some other method beyond home training to “learn about the significance of their future role within the home in regards to the theological significance of the family,” Primary probably was not such a vehicle. Primary materials represented in the Children’s Friend were much less specialized than they later became, focusing on Church history and general principles of health and good behavior, as well as on music and play and the other non-theological purposes that were the Primary’s chief early objectives, if only because the materials had to be suitable for adaptation to all children ages 3 to 14. That’s been my impression, at least.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 28, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

  3. Great stuff, Natalie.

    Comment by Ben P — January 28, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

  4. I sometimes type in “why grad school?!” myself, so glad to see I’m not the only one. Thanks, Natalie, this was fun. Also thanks to Ardis for a bit of additional information!

    Comment by Saskia — January 28, 2014 @ 6:37 pm

  5. Thanks, Natalie. Raises some great questions.

    Comment by Ryan T. — January 28, 2014 @ 6:43 pm

  6. Brian, Yes, I think about the “New Woman” all the time and how this potentially fits in. I am most interested in the leadership’s and older generation’s concerns about the new woman phenomenon.

    Ardis, thank you so much for the further background. It’s really interesting to see how the emphases changed (and stayed the same) over time.

    Comment by Natalie R — January 28, 2014 @ 6:52 pm