'Improve in everything beautiful': Young women forerunner organized among Brigham Young's daughters

What is today a worldwide organization of more than half a million young women, ages 12-17, began within the walls of President Brigham Young's home 125 years ago.

The Church's Young Women organization, as it is known today, was called the Young Ladies Department of the Cooperative Retrenchment Association when President Young organized it in the parlor of the Lion House on Nov. 28, 1869.The nucleus of the organization was President Young's older daughters with Ella Young Empey serving as president.

The Deseret News 1995-96 Church Almanac reports that the purpose of the organization, as the prophet told his daughters, was to "retrench in your dress, in your tables, in your speech, wherein you have been guilty of silly, extravagant speeches and light-mindedness of thought. Retrench in everything that is bad and worthless, and improve in everything that is good and beautiful."

In his address during the October 1969 General Conference, Elder Delbert L. Stapley of the Council of the Twelve reviewed President Young's concerns for his daughters. He said: "[Brigham Young] 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."

Elder Stapley continued, "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."

The benefits of an organization for young women was widely recognized and within a year there were retrenchment associations organized in several wards.

The creation of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Association in 1875 had an impact on the women's organization. Its name was changed to Young Ladies' National Mutual Improvement Association and the two organizations began meeting together on a monthly basis.

As the YLNMIA expanded, the first stake board was organized in 1878 and Elmina S. Taylor was called as the first general president in 1880 with Margaret Y. Taylor and Martha Horne Tingey as counselors.

President John Taylor presided over the first general conference of the YLNMIA in 1880 and in 1888 the first annual June Conference for both young women and young men was held. Its objective was to train the youth in physical activity, story telling and music.

The organization for young women began its own publication in 1889 - the Young Woman's Journal. The journal, which included lessons, became part of the Improvement Era in 1929.

With the organization growing internationally, the "national" was dropped from the name in 1904 and in 1934 the First Presidency approved the name "Young Women's Mutual Improvement Association."

After President Harold B. Lee introduced a correlation program in the early 1970s, the name of the YWMIA was changed to "Young Women" and was placed under the direction of the Priesthood Department. After that, a personal progress program and Young Womanhood Achievement Awards were instituted and the Young Women theme and values were introduced.

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