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Church History

Library

Women in Church History

Research Guide

This research guide contains a section for each of the auxiliary organizations led by women and also includes a section on the general history of women in the Church. Within each auxiliary section, entries are organized by original sources, secondary sources, and magazines. Due to the number of collections in the library’s holdings, this guide does not include sources for specific individuals, although those materials are available. For more information about women in Church history or any of our holdings, we invite you to visit the library, explore our catalog, or contact us by using our Ask Us service.

 

Young Women Program


Original Sources

Meeting minutes, 1871–1874

These are minutes of the bimonthly meetings of the Senior and Junior Cooperative Retrenchment Associations. The record also includes minutes for the Young Ladies’ Retrenchment Society, a precursor of the Young Women’s organization, documenting several meetings held during the fall of 1874.

 

History of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, from November 1869 to June 1910

As described in the preface, this is the “first published history of the organized work of women in the Church.” This book was written by Susa Young Gates and tells the history of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (Y.L.M.I.A.) from its creation in 1869 to 1910, when the book was written.

Hand Book for the Bee-Hive Girls of the Y.L.M.I.A.

This handbook, published in 1915, was part of the first personal recognition program for the young women of the Church. Subsequent handbooks were issued almost every year and were issued in multiple languages. More of these handbooks can be found by searching the catalog for “Beehive girls’ manual” or by the call number M257.46 B414g.

 

Secondary Sources

History of the Y.W.M.I.A.

This 1955 history of the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (Y.W.M.I.A.) was written by Marba Josephson, associate editor of the Improvement Era and member of the Y.W.M.I.A. general board. The book includes several appendices with biographies of Y.W.M.I.A. general presidents; information on board members, stake presidents, and girls’ homes; slogans and themes for each year; and reading course books.

Keepers of the Flame

Written by Janet Peterson and LaRene Gaunt, this book provides biographies of each of the Young Women general presidents from Elmina Shephard Taylor to Janette C. Hales, as well as a time line of the Young Women organization. The preface of the book discusses the Nauvoo roots of the youth organizations in the Church.

 

Magazines

Contributor (1879–1896)

This monthly magazine was originally published with the Young Men’s and Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Associations of the Church as the intended audience. However, in 1889 the Y.L.M.I.A. began its own publication and the magazine changed its focus to the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association.

Young Woman's Journal (1889–1929)

Beginning publication in 1889, the Young Woman’s Journal was a monthly magazine for the young women of the Church. Indexes for the journal are also available.

Improvement Era (1897–1970)

The successor to the Contributor, this monthly publication was originally a magazine for the priesthood brethren, the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, and several other organizations. In 1929 the Young Woman’s Journal was discontinued, and the Improvement Era became the joint youth magazine. It eventually became the Church’s periodical for both youth and adults.

New Era (1971–present)

This monthly magazine replaced the Improvement Era and is directed toward the young women and young men of the Church.

 

Additional Resources

Helpful Search Hints

The Young Women organization has had a variety of names that may be used when searching, including:

  • Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association
  • Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association
  • Young Ladies’ Retrenchment Association
  • Young Women
LDS.org

 

Relief Society


Original Sources

Relief Society minute book, March 1842–March 1844

The minute book of the Female Relief Society organized in Nauvoo, Illinois, includes an account of the organization of the Relief Society and meeting minutes, membership lists, and instructions given by Joseph Smith and other Church leaders from 1842 to 1844.

Relief Society record, 1880–1892

This collection provides an account of the organization of the general Relief Society in Salt Lake City in 1880 and a record of Relief Societies established in wards and stakes. The records include annual reports, obituaries, speeches, minutes, and other information pertaining to Relief Society activities.

Relief Society handbook (1931)

This is the first edition of the Relief Society handbook, which was thereafter published on a regular basis. The first handbook includes a history of the Relief Society, biographies of the general presidents, organization procedure, and instructions for Relief Society organizations. It was published in multiple languages. More of these handbooks can be found by searching the catalog for “Relief Society handbook” or by the call number M257.22 R382h.

 

Secondary Sources

Elect Ladies: Presidents of the Relief Society

This volume, written by Janet Peterson and LaRene Gaunt, provides biographies of Relief Society general presidents from Emma Smith to Barbara Winder. The appendices include a time line and the membership list of the Nauvoo Relief Society.

Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society

Published in 2011 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and available in numerous languages, this book offers “a historical view of the grand scope of the work of the Relief Society” (Preface). It was written using historical accounts, personal experiences, scriptures, and words of latter-day prophets and Relief Society leaders.

The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History

This book was published in 2016 and contains a collection of original documents compiled by Matthew J. Grow, Kate Holbrook, Carol Cornwall Madsen, and Jill Mulvay Derr. This volume relates the history of the Relief Society in the 19th century, covering the years 1842 to 1892.

Women of Covenant: The Story of Relief Society

This book is a comprehensive history of the Relief Society from its organization in 1842 to its sesquicentennial in 1992. The first edition covers the tenures of Emma Smith up to Elaine L. Jack. Also included in the book is a list of general board members. It was written by Jill Mulvay Derr, Janath Russell Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher.

 

Magazines

Woman’s Exponent (1872–1914)

First published on June 1, 1876, the Woman’s Exponent was a semimonthly periodical published by and for Latter-day Saint women. The magazine included local and national news (as it concerned women), women’s sermons, minutes of women’s auxiliary and club meetings, articles on educational matters, health and dress guidelines, correspondence, editorials, and household hints. It was the unofficial publication of the Relief Society.

Relief Society Magazine (1914–1970)

This monthly magazine was the official publication of the Relief Society from 1914 to 1970 and replaced the Woman’s Exponent. An index to the magazine is available through BYU’s Harold B. Lee library. The magazine was published in multiple languages, which can be found by searching the catalog for “Relief Society Magazine.”

Improvement Era (1897–1970)

The successor to the Contributor, this monthly publication was originally a magazine for the priesthood brethren, the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association, and several other organizations. In 1929 the Young Woman’s Journal was discontinued, and the Improvement Era became the joint youth magazine. It eventually became the Church’s periodical for both youth and adults.

Ensign (1971–present)

The Ensign is the current official Church publication for adults. Beginning publication in 1971, this monthly magazine includes the visiting teaching message and other material of interest to the women of the Church.

 

Additional Resources

Helpful Search Hints

The Relief Society participated in both the National Council of Women and the International Council of Women, and their involvement in these organizations can be found by searching our catalog using these terms.

There are many interesting topics to study in Relief Society history, including suffrage, the Deseret Hospital, and the grain storage program.

LDS.org

 

Primary Program


Original Sources

Farmington Ward Primary Association minutes and records, 1878–1949

This collection contains the minutes of the Farmington Ward Primary, the first Primary organization of the Church, which was started by Aurelia Spencer Rogers. In addition to meeting minutes, the records document the organization of classes, donation collections, activities, and attendance lists.

Primary Association annual history: reports, 1980–1994

This is an annual history of the Primary, written by the Primary Association. The reports provide an account of presidency and general board decisions and activities during the presidencies of Dwan J. Young and Michaelene P. Grassli.

Primary Association history, 1999

This record gives a summary overview of the history of the activities, curriculum, leadership, and achievements of the general Primary Association from 1994 to 1999, as written by the Primary Association.

Primary Association scrapbooks

The Primary Association has created many scrapbooks documenting the history of the organization. While many of these scrapbooks are open to research, some may be closed to protect sacred, private, or confidential information. To see if a specific scrapbook is available, check our catalog. 

 

Secondary Sources

Sisters and Little Saints: One Hundred Years of Primary (1979)

Written by Carol Cornwall Madsen and Susan Staker Oman, this book tells the story of the history, growth, and development of the Primary Association. The appendices include a list of the general presidents, counselors, board members, and priesthood advisers from 1880 to 1978, as well as the development of class names, emblems, colors, and mottos.

The Children’s Friends: Primary Presidents and Their Lives of Service

This is a history of the Primary Association from Louie B. Felt to Patricia Pinegar. The appendix includes a time line of significant events and developments in the Primary. It was written by Janet Peterson and LaRene Gaunt and published in 1996.

Life Sketches of Orson Spencer and Others, and History of Primary Work

Originally published in 1898 by Aurelia Spencer Rogers, this volume consists of two parts. The first part is an account of the life of Aurelia Rogers and of her father, Orson Spencer. Part 2 gives an account of the formation and growth of the Primary Association, in which the author played a leading role.

 

Magazines

 

Children’s Friend

An official periodical of the Church, this magazine was published for children ages 3 to 12. It was published from 1902 to 1970, when it was replaced by the Friend.

Friend

First published in January 1971, this monthly magazine is the official publication of the Church for children ages 3 to 12.

Juvenile Instructor (1866–1929)

The first children’s magazine published between the Mississippi River and the West Coast, this magazine began semimonthly publication in January 1866. Started by Elder George Q. Cannon, the magazine was intended for the children of the Church. In 1901, the Sunday School took over publication, which continued until 1929, when the magazine, now focused on the needs and interests of teachers, was renamed the Instructor.

 

Additional Resources

Helpful Search Hints

The official name of the organization is the Primary Association, and most records are cataloged under that name.

Another topic of possible interest is the Primary Children’s Hospital, which was run by the Primary Association for a time.

LDS.org

 

Other search helps

The Church History Library is the repository for local and corporate records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To find source material on local unit auxiliaries or the general auxiliaries or their leaders, please search our catalog or contact the reference staff using the Ask Us button.

 

General History for Women of the Church


Heroines of the Restoration

This book, published in 1997, is a collection of biographies of 22 different women involved in building up the Church during the Restoration years. The book was edited by Barbara B. Smith and Blythe Darlyn Thatcher and illustrated by Melissa Lowe.

Mormon Sisters: Women in Early Utah

This book is based on a series of lectures given on Mormon women in Utah and includes information on specific individuals as well as groups of women, such as school teachers or plural wives, in Mormon history. There are two editions, one published in 1976 and one published in 1997. Both were edited by Claudia L. Bushman.

Mormon Women: Portraits and Conversations

Written by James N. Kimball and Kent Miles, this book tells the stories, acquired through interviews, of 14 modern-day, ordinary Latter-day Saint women from all over the world.  

Women of Faith in the Latter Days, Volumes 1–3

The Women of Faith in the Latter Days series highlights individual Latter-day Saint women, both prominent and obscure, born between 1775 and 1870. Using women’s personal writings, such as excerpts from letters, journals, and autobiographies, each chapter focuses on a woman’s specific life experiences, rather than attempting to provide a comprehensive biography. Each volume has an e-book that contains bonus chapters not included in the print edition. The series was edited by Richard E. Turley Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman Nash.

Women of the “Mormon” Church

Written in 1926 by Susa Young Gates and Leah D. Widstoe, this short book provides an explanation of Mormon women by two Mormon women and gives their view of the role of women in the Church.

Women's Voices: An Untold History of the Latter-day Saints, 1830–1900

This volume uses selections of primary source documents such as journals, letters, and diaries to relate the experience of Mormon women through their own records. The book documents the period of 1830–1900 and is arranged by time periods. It was written by Kenneth W. Godfrey, Audrey M. Godfrey, and Jill Mulvay Derr.

Helpful Search Hints

For more information about women in the Church, try searching our catalog with the subject term Mormon women. We also have records on many individual women in the Church, which can be found by searching by name in our catalog.