Primary Organization Research Guide
As the women, men, and youth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints became more involved in their various organizations, a concern for the children of the Church grew. Aurelia Spencer Rogers of the Farmington (Utah) Ward not only recognized that need but acted upon it. Like many other Church programs, Primary grew out of a ward effort. In 1878, Bishop John W. Hess organized the Primary in the Farmington Ward. He stated, “I hope parents will feel the importance of this movement—if any thing in this life should engage the attention of parents it should be the care of their children.”1 Sister Rogers was called as the ward Primary president and later as the Davis Stake Primary president. As a comfort to many Primary teachers of today, she reported that the first meeting “was not quite a success.”2
Eliza R. Snow, Relief Society General President, presided over the many ward and stake Primary presidencies. In 1880, Louie B. Felt was called to be Primary General President; however, Sister Snow continued to act as presiding officer. This organizational structure may seem unusual to modern researchers; however, they should remember this was a new program being operated by the wards and stakes. It took time to create a homogenous program. Additionally, unlike today, Sister Felt had several other callings besides being the Primary General President, including as ward Primary president, Sunday School teacher, and member of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (YLMIA). After Sister Snow passed away in 1887, Sister Felt and her longtime friend and counselor, May Anderson, worked together with the wards, stakes, and Primary board to develop a program that would be used throughout the Church. These early beginnings of trial, error, and education culminated in the Primary organization receiving approval from the First Presidency to publish its own magazine, the Children’s Friend.
When reviewing early Primary documents, you will notice that religious education was not the focus. Primary was originally designed to teach manners, early childhood education, and activities. Religion classes and Junior Sunday School were responsible for the religious education of children. It was not until 1929 that Primary took over the religious education of children.
Additionally, the Children’s Friend (1902–1970), the predecessor of the current Friend magazine (1971–present), was not created for children but rather for Primary teachers; it featured lesson ideas and plans as well as spiritual messages. The Primary General Presidency and general board hoped to find ways to guide and support Primary leaders and teachers who lived outside of major Church population centers. Gradually, more pages written specifically for children were included in the Children’s Friend, and its target audience changed from Primary teachers and leaders to the children themselves. The Primary General Presidency and general board moved the messages to leaders and teachers from the Children’s Friend magazine to newsletters such as the Primary Script (1956–1973) and Primary Dispatch (1973–1980). Lessons were included in lesson manuals and lesson manual supplements.
The Primary organization continues to develop and grow to meet the needs of today’s children. In 2019 and 2020, many changes were made to Primary, including the ages of advancement, curriculum, and activities.
1. Farmington Ward Primary Association Minutes and Records, vol. 1, 1878–1888, 1, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, accessed May 11, 2020, https://catalog.ChurchofJesusChrist.org/assets?id=4c7bbd06-d946-4485-98d4-85a026520a9a&crate=0&index=2.
2. “Correspondence,” Woman's Exponent, Sept. 1, 1878, 7:7, 53, Church History Library, accessed May 11, 2020, https://catalog.ChurchofJesusChrist.org/assets?id=7469ecb9-35e6-435b-84ff-cc20bcb5ce47&crate=0&index=4.