Church History

“Retrenchment,” Church History Topics



As the construction of the North American transcontinental railroad neared completion in the late 1860s, Church leaders were apprehensive about how it would influence the spiritual and economic lives of Latter-day Saints in pioneer Utah.1 During a tour of southern Utah settlements, Brigham Young became worried that some Church members were living extravagantly, wasting scarce resources, and forgetting the ideals of Zion. He expressed his concerns to Mary Isabella Horne, whom he assigned to lead a “retrenchment” effort to encourage women to be more frugal in food and clothing, develop home industry, seek economic self-sufficiency, and increase religious activity.2 The term retrenchment referred particularly to reducing expenses.3 For instance, a prominent educator, Catharine Beecher, taught young women to retrench from unnecessary indulgences as part of maintaining a financially sound household.4

Mary Isabella Horne

Portrait of Mary Isabella Horne, early leader of the retrenchment movement.

Assisted by Eliza R. Snow, Mary Isabella Horne founded the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Society on February 10, 1870. The organization was headquartered in Salt Lake City, but female leaders toured Utah Territory teaching women about retrenchment principles. The movement shored up community support for the ideals of retrenchment and connected local ward Relief Societies throughout the area.5

Brigham Young also called on his daughters to set an example of retrenchment for young Latter-day Saint women. Eliza R. Snow penned resolutions promoting simple, frugal clothing styles. Young’s daughters voted to adopt those resolutions and form the Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association.6 Other junior retrenchment groups were formed and were supervised by the Senior Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association. Within a few years, the Young Ladies’ Department led to the establishment of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, a Churchwide program for young women.7 The Senior Ladies’ Retrenchment Association continued under various names until approximately 1904.8

Related Topics: Brigham Young, Eliza R. Snow, Pioneer Settlements, Railroad, Relief Society, Young Women Organizations, Young Men Organizations