Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Relief Society’s ‘Mother’s Classes’

Thoughts taken from "History of Relief Society: 1842-1966." Published by the General Board of Relief Society in 1966.
 In my reading about Relief Society I learned that from the very beginning the Relief Society Sisters were always learning and seeking to be educated. In fact Joseph Smith said, "I now turn the key in your behalf in the name of the Lord, and this Society shall rejoice, and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time henceforth; this is the beginning of better days to the poor and needy, who shall be made to rejoice and pour forth blessing on your heads….as far as knowledge is concerned, it may extend to all the world." (History of the Church, IV:607)

I have always heard about Joseph Smith "turning the key" in behalf of the sisters. I have understood more clearly that he did use the priesthood and unlock the powers of heaven for these women and for us today. The history says that the women had to learn how to preside, how to present a problem, how to make and put a motion, how to pray and speak in public. It was noted in the book that this was an "all-encompassing event in the history of women's spiritual and intellectual advancement in the last dispensation. The key in very truth opened a door to reveal the radiance and eternal possibilities of woman's place in the gospel plan-in the home, in the Church, in the community and in those 'courts on high,' so eloquently described in later years by Secretary Eliza R. Snow." (page 21)

In the early days of Utah the women were encouraged to take an interest in educational matters. President Zina D. H. Young said, "In all things possible, let us endeavor to cultivate our home talent and stimulate our sisters to read, and to write, that they may be intelligent wives and mothers; read good books especially the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants." (Women's Exponent, Vol. 17, No. 22, April 15, 1889, p. 172).

At the turn of the century formal "Mother Classes" were set in place. The sisters loved to gather and bear testimony, sing together and then listen to a lecture. The sisters would meet together once a week and discuss business and have these classes. The first week was devoted to theology or later named Spiritual Living. The second week was designated homemaking. The third week was literature, later changed to Cultural Refinement, and the fourth week was Social Science later named Social Relations classes. Here is a breakdown of the topics for the year they studied as well as an overview of their general aim.

Spiritual Living
Studying theology and bearing testimonies was of great interest to the sisters. They used this week to increase their religious and spiritual development as well as to understand the doctrines of the church and to strengthen their testimonies. As you will see there was also a heavy emphasis on Family History work. Courses studied through 1966 were:

1914              Genealogy
1915              Gospel Themes and Genealogy
1916              Women in the Bible and Genealogy
1917              How and Where the Women of the Bible Lived and Genealogy
1918-1920     Book of Mormon and Genealogy
1921              Salvation for the Living and Dead
1922-1923     Phases of Practical Religion
192                The Parables of the Savior
1925-1928    Gospel Dispensations: Pearl of Great Price
1929-1931    Book of Mormon
1932-1936    Doctrine and Covenants
1936-1938    The Ministry of the Savior
1938-1940    The Ministry of the Early Apostles
1940-1941    The Restored Gospel Dispensation
1941-1944    Articles of Faith
1944-1947    Church History
1947-1951    The Life and Ministry of the Savior
1951-1957    Characters and Teaching of the Book of Mormon
1957-196?    The Doctrine and Covenants

HomemakingSewing was always the primary purpose of homemaking meeting. (I don't know how many times I read that. Sew. Sew. Sew.) The sewing program consisted of quilt making, hand and machine sewing, dressmaking, remodeling, millinery, darning, etc. There were other types of handwork that were included such as knitting, crocheting, weaving, painting, and flower-making. The purpose of the sewing was to brighten the homes of the women as well as provide useful skills. A good amount of time was spent making sure the sisters all new how to sew and do handwork. Also the ongoing humanitarian projects were always in progress for local needs (needy families, Indians, burial clothing, casket linings, newborn babies, etc.) as well as needs on a national or international scale that the general Relief Society asked them to participate in. Besides giving the sewn items to needy situations the completed sewing projects were used to raise money for a variety of reasons.

This weekly meeting also included a lecture to improve homemaking skills and problem solve with sisters. Here is a sample list of subjects studied:
  • 1935-1936    Consumer Problems
  • 1939-1940    Selection and Preparation of Food for Proper Nutrition
  • 1941-1942    Better Buymanship
  • 1942-1943    New-Fashioned Thrift
  • 1943-1944    Modern Housekeeping Methods
  • 1951-1952    Sewing-The Art of Mending
  • 1953-1954    Family Money Management
  • 1954-1955    Selection, Care and Use of Household Equipment
  • 1958-1959    Managing a Home
  • 1961-1962    Attitudes and Manners
  • 1965-1967    Development Through homemaking Education 
Social Relations
This class was a focus in home economics but I think there was some cross over with the homemaking classes. Examples of these classes include:
  • 1919-1921     Health and Sanitation
  • 1926-1927    Child Welfare
  • 1930              The Field of Social Work
  • 1930-1932    Personality Study
  • 1935-1938    A Study of Civic Sociology As a Foundation for Intelligent Living
  • 1941-1942    Education for Family Life-Foundations of Successful Marriage
  • 1942-1944    What "America" Means
  • 1944-1945    Modern Applications of Ethical Principles
  • 1950-1953    The Progress of Man
  • 1961-1962    The Place of Women in the Gospel Plan
  • 1962-1965    Divine Law and Church Government
Cultural RefinementThe purpose of this class was to study good literature. The hope was for the Relief Society members to deepen their appreciation for as well as to develop "discriminating reading tastes." Relief Society sisters were to see the enlightenment, spiritual uplift and enjoyment that comes from studying literature. Later the course included studying music and art. Here is another list for you:
  • 1914        Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  • 1917        Literature for the Home
  • 1920        Studies of Tennyson and Browning
  • 1921        Our Latter-day Saint Hymns and Their Authors
  • 1922        Latter-day Saint Hymns and Hymns of Christendom
  • 1923        American Literature: Colonial, Revolutionary, and New England Periods
  • 1924        American Literature: New England Period
  • 1925        Later American Poets, Including World War Poets
  • 1926-1927    Canadian Poets of World War, and American Novelists and Poets
  • 1928        Modern poetry
  • 1929        Modern Drama
  • 1929-1930    Biography
  • 1930-1932    The Short Story
  • 1932-1933    The Delight of Great Books
  • 1933-1935    Life and Literature
  • 1935-1936    Adventures in Reading
  • 1936-1938    Biography
  • 1938-1940    The Advance of the Novel
  • 1940-1941    The Modern Novel
  • 1941-1942    Humor in Life and Literature
  • 1942-1944    The Bible As Literature
  • 1944-1945    New Testament
  • 1945-1946    The Bible in Our Literature
  • 1946-1947    America As Revealed in Its Literature
  • 1947-1948    Literature of the Doctrine and Covenants
  • 1948-1949    Literature of the Latter-day Saint
  • 1949-1956    The Literature of England
  • 1956-1958    Shakespeare in Our Lives
  • 1958-1964    America's Literature
  • 1964-1966    The Individual and Human Values As Seen Through Literature
  • 1966-1967    Ideals of Womanhood in Relation to Home and the Family
Okay, really though. What does this have to do with anything? First it's just plain interesting to me and maybe it is for you also. The second is that this is our Relief Society History that Sister Beck asked us to study up on so here you go.

But what are we going to learn from it? For me I learn that God wants me to educate myself. I see that He wants me to tackle hard subjects and learn and DO hard things. He wants me to THINK and use my brain. It's about always progressing and improving yourself. This is done no matter what stage of life you are in. Whether we have littles or bigs or no kids at home at all these classes were useful to all of the sisters.

From this I see, like I've mentioned before, what I can focus on with my daughter. I see the subjects that are the most important for a woman in God's kingdom. It all comes back to nurturing in our role as wife and mother. All those skills and lessons helped those early sisters to magnify their calling and life's mission.
I believe that when we focus on what God wants us to do we will have confidence in our identity of being a daughter of God, wife, mother…. We will be filled with the Spirit and will happily and cheerfully serve our family and fellow mankind with a willing and joyful heart. We will not have place in our hearts for Satan's evil messages to take root. His message to us of pacification, entitlement and apathy will be easily rejected and we will not be led by his awful chains down to hell.

Sister Beck said, "Relief Society clarifies our work and unifies us as daughters of God in defense of His plan. In this day of mistaken identities, confusion and distraction, Relief Society is meant to be a compass and guide to teach the truth to faithful women. Righteous women today seek an outpouring of revelation to resist distractions, fight evil and spiritual destruction, and rise above personal disasters by increasing their faith, strengthening their families and providing relief to others." (Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society, Oct. 2010).

I pray I can choose God's plan for me each day and each moment. I pray I can reject Satan's lies. I pray I can choose to engage, for the time of passive warfare must end.


Kimberly said...

I find this all very interesting, thank you very much for doing the work of reading and then sharing it with us.

Jennifer said...

Thank you so much for posting all of this! I have found copies of the Relief Society history books and look forward to reading them. I am on the committee in my ward for the week-day Relief Society meetings and tried hard to steer our committee to more useful and needful things this year. Now I have an even greater vision of what the Lord wants for His daughters. And I see where I have much to learn (ahem... sewing). It will be a fun year!