Timeline: When and how did the Primary organization begin? Take a look at its 143-year history

As the women, men and youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the mid-19th century became more involved in their various organizations, many people became concerned for the younger children. 

Aurelia Spencer Rogers, a 44-year-old mother of 12, worried that children were not being taught basic principles and values and would not be prepared to carry the gospel forward or be good parents or citizens, according to a history of the Primary organization on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

Feeling strongly about her concern, she discussed her thoughts and a plan of action with then-Relief Society General President Eliza R. Snow

With the approval of Church President John Taylor and after receiving a calling from her bishop, Sister Rogers began planning for the first meeting of the Primary Association. Children ages 4 to 14 were invited. 

Under the direction of priesthood leaders, the first Primary was held in the Farmington Rock Chapel on Sunday, Aug. 25, 1878, with 224 children attending. In 1880, the Primary was organized at the general Church level, with Sister Louie B. Felt called as Primary general president. 

Since then, the Primary organization has grown worldwide with more than 1 million children attending. 

Primary General President Camille N. Johnson participates in a presentation, titled “Supporting Children and Youth: A Broadcast for Parents and Leaders,” which was broadcast on Sunday, June 6, 2021.
Primary General President Camille N. Johnson participates in a presentation, titled “Supporting Children and Youth: A Broadcast for Parents and Leaders,” which was broadcast on Sunday, June 6, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Primary General President Camille N. Johnson said shortly after being sustained in the April 2021 general conference: “I relish this opportunity to learn from the children who are a reflection of the pure love of Jesus Christ.”

One of her favorite things about Primary is the “unique and special opportunity” for children “to recognize the influence of the Holy Ghost.”

“I think it’s particularly important as parents, leaders, mentors and stewards of the rising generation, we help children identify the Spirit when it’s evident,” she said. “If we create opportunities for the Spirit to be present, and help our children recognize and put a name to what they are feeling, we will provide them with a reservoir of spiritual experiences to draw upon for a lifetime.”

In an Aug. 11 Facebook post, President Johnson celebrated the 143rd anniversary of the Primary organization and invited her social media followers to share something they love about Primary. See their responses here.

Timeline

In honor of the Primary’s 143rd birthday this month, below is a timeline of some significant dates in the Primary organization’s history. For a more detailed timeline, visit history.ChurchofJesusChrist.org

1878 – First local Primary meeting held in the Farmington (Utah) Rock Chapel with Aurelia Spencer Rogers.

1880 – Primary organized at the general Church level, with Sister Louie B. Felt called as Primary general president.

1902 – Children’s Friend magazine first published.

1905 – The Primary Song Book published.

1922 – Seagull program introduced for girls ages 12–13.

1925 – Trail Building program introduced for boys ages 10–11.

1936 – The Guide Patrol, a youth group designed to prepare boys to receive the priesthood, is introduced.

1940 – Primary seal, colors and themes introduced.

1941 – First nursery class (children under 4 years of age).

1950 – Eleven-year-old Primary boys became involved in the Boys Scouts of America.

1956 – The name “Younger groups” was changed to “Junior groups” (3- to 6-year-olds).

1957 – New song “I Am a Child of God” was introduced.

1961 – The name “Junior groups” was changed to “Skylets” (3- to 6-year-olds).

1970 – CTR ring introduced.

1971 – Priesthood Preview program introduced.

1971Friend magazine replaced the Children’s Friend.

1980 – New consolidated ward meeting schedule — including sharing time — and new Primary curriculum introduced.

1980 – Achievement Days began as a quarterly activity for girls.

1989Children’s Songbook published.

1993 – New song “If the Savior Stood Beside Me” introduced.

1994 – Special First Presidency broadcast “Focus on Children” aired; “Teach the Child” video introduced during the broadcast.

2002 – Special video presentation for Primary by President Gordon B. Hinckley.

2003Faith in God program introduced, replaces Gospel in Action and Achievement Days.

2018 – Change in age advancement.

2019 – New song “I Will Walk With Jesus” introduced.

2019 – Church discontinues partnership with Boy Scouts of America.

2020 – With the new two-hour block schedule, singing time replaces sharing time.

2020 – As part of the new Children and Youth program, Achievement Days and Faith in God programs are replaced with Primary Activities.

2021 – First Face to Face-style event for children called “Friend to Friend” was hosted by the Primary general presidency.

Source: “Primary Organization Time Line,” Primary organization research guide, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.