“A Salute to Youth,” Liahona, Nov. 2001, 25
Visualize the setting existing when in 1869 President Brigham Young established the beginning of the Young Women organization, called in those days the Retrenchment Society. He was disturbed about his daughters’ somewhat worldly interests and actions. He worried about their spiritual and intellectual development and was concerned over the growing trend toward materialism, commercialism, and sophistication among the younger Church members. His daughters seemed to reflect the general trend he had observed among the young women in Zion, whose main interests were young men, socials, theater, ice skating, sleigh and hay rides, picnics, and clothes.
As President of the Church and a former governor of the Territory of Deseret, Brigham Young felt personally responsible for the moral and social welfare of all the residents of the territory.
The young men did not seem to be such an immediate problem, as many were pursuing higher education and becoming well versed in the scriptures and preparing for missions. Others were kept busy in agricultural and industrial pursuits—building homes, stores, ward houses, roads, and working on the construction of the temple.
The family home required help from the young women, with miscellaneous household tasks and caring for the sick.
President Young’s thoughts turned to his own daughters, knowing their needs for improved womanly virtues and their qualifications for a more complete and abundant life.
He asked Sister Eliza R. Snow to notify all his family to assemble in the Lion House, as he had important matters to present to them. The scene in the quaint parlor was a memorable one. Following the evening family prayer, President Young dismissed his sons and younger daughters, looked around at the lovely faces of his older daughters, and said: “All Israel are looking to my family and watching the example set by my … children. For this reason I desire to organize my own family first into a society for the promotion of habits of order, thrift, industry, and charity; and, above all things, I desire them to retrench from their extravagance in dress … in your speech, wherein you have been guilty of silly … speeches and light-mindedness of thought. Retrench in everything that is bad and worthless, and improve in everything that is good and beautiful” (Susa Young Gates, History of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association , 8–10).
The word retrench may to this generation sound rather archaic and outmoded. The dictionary defines retrench: to cut down, reduce or diminish, curtail, to economize.
The last sentence of the quotation is thus made more meaningful. “Retrench in everything that is bad and worthless, and improve in everything that is good and beautiful.”
With mixed emotions, the daughters of Brigham Young accepted the challenge he had given them. Eliza R. Snow recorded his words and wrote the subsequent resolutions to guide the organization. She knew that as a prophet of God he had organized the Retrenchment Society through divine inspiration, not just for his own family, but for the benefit and blessing of all young ladies of the Church.
Soon they caught the spirit and became involved in striving to be “worthy of imitation.” Before a year had gone by, young ladies all over the valley were holding meetings in parlors, schools, and ward houses.
As Brigham Young watched the Retrenchment Society bless every Mormon community, he became concerned about the general welfare of the young men of the Church, especially during the winter months when time hung more heavily on their hands. In those early days the social structure was simple. There was very little in the way of sports or commercial amusement, and he felt the young men also needed a program of involvement. Junius F. Wells was given the assignment to organize societies among the young men of the Church for their mutual improvement. This led to the organization of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association. The Retrenchment Society thereafter, and until recent years, became known as the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association.
Brigham Young explained, “Ours is a religion of improvement; it is not contracted and confined, but is calculated to expand the minds of the children of men and lead them up into the state of intelligence that will be an honor to our being” (Deseret News, 15 June 1864, 294).