This year (2020) marks the sesquicentennial of the founding of the Young Women organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Eliza R. Snow oversaw the organization of the first Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association on May 27, 1870, and assisted them in drafting resolutions.1 Membership was initially made up of the daughters of Brigham Young. Since then, the organization, like the broader Church, has evolved in response to ongoing revelation for changing times. As it has sought to cater to the needs of young women in a global context, the structure, curriculum, and programming of the organization have been changed and adapted over time. Many of these changes have yet to be researched and documented.
This article will discuss some of the basic details of how the Young Women theme has changed over time as well as how to locate sources for that information. This theme, designed to help young women know who they are, what their purpose is, and how to accomplish that purpose, was originally published in 1985. Three additional iterations have been published since then. The most recent version was published in 2019 and read by Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon during the October 2019 general conference.2
The new theme is unique in several ways but represents only the latest iteration of an evolving document; previous versions of the theme were released in 1985, 2001, and 2008, respectively. This, in turn, prompts several questions: Why have there been multiple iterations of the theme? How is each version different? Under whom (that is, which president/presidencies) were they released?
These research questions, and others, can be answered using collections available through the Church History Library, supplemented by a wealth of online resources.
Beginning with the Church History catalog, an initial search for “Young Women” may seem like the best way to commence researching available resources. Another approach would be to narrow that search by clicking on the “Archival Materials” filter on the left side of the search results screen. However, both of these approaches return thousands of search results, some of which are not publicly available. Archival collections created by the Young Women General Office or past presidencies, for example, are not generally accessible to the public. For this subject, it is more fruitful to instead search for published source material on each of the former iterations of the theme. Some of these published sources include:
• The Church History Library’s Young Women Organization Research Guide.
• The Church News.
• Local newspapers, such as the Deseret News.
• Other periodicals with Church content (LDS Living, for example).
• Official copies of the theme (published over time).
First Version (1985)
Beginning in the 1930s—and continuing through today—themes were used in the Young Women organization to encourage participants to live Church standards and learn how to set goals. Themes were often verses selected from scripture and were sometimes paired with statements showing how young women could apply those verses of scripture in their lives.3
Elements of the Young Women Organization Research Guide can help researchers find key dates and presidencies involved in the evolution of the theme over time.4 Toggling between the timelines provided in the guide and the section on “Young Women Presidencies” can help easily associate the updates with the individuals responsible for them. Some published sources are cited in the research guide, while others can be located using dates from the research guide (see examples below).
During the 1980s, Ardeth G. Kapp and her presidency sought to develop new programming and a new theme for young women throughout the world, precipitated by questions regarding the role of women. After much thought, research, and prayer, Sister Kapp, along with her counselors and members of the Young Women general board, drafted a new theme, seven mottos, and new programming.5 In 1985, at the first-ever fireside broadcast devoted to young women, a new theme with seven values was introduced.6 Using the Research Guide and its citations, which indicate the changes that happened in the fall of 1985, researchers can then easily look through issues of published content (for example, Church magazines, Church News, etc.) from that era for related stories. After searching through the available published resources, additional content can also be found online.
For example, proceedings of the 1985 event were summarized in the January 1986 issue of the Ensign. In her talk to young women during the fireside, Sister Kapp said, “We call upon the young women of the Church to awake, arise, and go forth. We call upon you to take your place, as modern prophets and Apostles have foreseen, to rise in power and glory and stand as lights and guides to the people in your own nation and especially your own families.”7 The Deseret News also published proceedings of the fireside, focusing on the remarks made by Gordon B. Hinckley, who was then an Apostle.8
This version of the Young Women theme provided clear and direct counsel on identity and life direction that later female leadership would build on.
2001 Revised Theme:
Margaret D. Nadauld, Young Women General President from 1997 to 2002, modified both the Personal Progress program as well as the Young Women theme that was developed under Sister Kapp’s presidency. While Personal Progress was simplified and streamlined, the theme received an additional phrase.9 A January 2002 New Era article explained, “Each Sunday, young women stand and say together the theme that helps each girl understand her identity, purpose, and destiny as a daughter of God. Part of that eternal purpose is to learn how to be part of a righteous, loving home, as a daughter and someday as a wife and mother. For this reason, the phrase, ‘strengthen home and family’ has been added to the Young Women theme.”10
Strengthening home and family has been a major focus from the leadership of President Nadauld through today. However, the evolution of the Young Women organization—and the Young Women theme, in particular—did not stop with her.
Hearkening back to the origins of Young Women, President Elaine Dalton called on young women to likewise turn away from the ways of the world and seek, instead, after better things. Early in her presidency, President Dalton and her counselors climbed to the top of Ensign Peak, overlooking Salt Lake City. From that height, they created a makeshift banner from a shawl and a walking stick. There they waved their banner, symbolically calling for the world to return to virtue. Specifically, they hoped that a return to virtue would also bring an increased number of young women prepared to enter the temple.11
Along with other program and structural changes to Young Women, President Bonnie Cordon and her counselors introduced a new Young Women theme in October 2019. President Cordon and her counselors have written and spoken about the new theme on several occasions and have even recorded a podcast about drafting it.12 Drawing inspiration from the work of her predecessors, President Cordon introduced several new principles to the theme. First of all, the subject shifted from “we” to “I,” reflecting any young woman’s personal identity, purpose, and mission. Rather than identifying only as daughters of Heavenly Father, the new theme focuses on being daughters of divine parents. The theme connects young women to Jesus Christ as they become His disciples. It stresses the importance of personal revelation and repentance while also connecting young women to their role in ministering to others. All those things help teens develop the personal commitment and worthiness necessary to enter the temple.13
Over the course of the past 35 years, iterations of the Young Women theme have provided young women with a sense of identity, direction, and purpose, while also reinforcing program and structural changes within the organization. Using the Church History Library’s Young Women Organization Research Guide, its cited sources, and other published sources in tandem with each other, the story of the theme’s evolution unfolds. What other Church history questions can you research using Church History Library research guides and published source material?