The Re­lief So­ci­ety bat­tles the rail­road

Serve Daily - - EMPOWERING LIBERTY - By Jesse Fisher

The Re­lief So­ci­ety played a star­ring role dur­ing the Saints’ third decade in the Utah Ter­ri­tory in the LDS Church’s ef­forts to pro­tect its eco­nomic unity from the an­tic­i­pated neg­a­tive ef­fects of the com­ple­tion of the transcon­ti­nen­tal rail­road.

In 1865, Brigham Young had sug­gested women or­ga­nize around the goal of pro­mot­ing in-home man­u­fac­tur­ing and self-suf­fi­ciency, and sev­eral such groups were or­ga­nized. Two years later, Pres­i­dent Young pub­licly called for the re-estab­lish­ment of the Re­lief So­ci­ety in ev­ery ward. Church His­to­rian Leonard J. Ar­ring­ton con­cluded that that call was mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to pre­vent the drain­ing of the wealth of the Saints by the mer­chan­dis­ers of the East who they an­tic­i­pated would tempt the sis­ters with in­ex­pen­sive tea and cof­fee as well as the lat­est fash­ions. This drain­ing of the Saints’ wealth would dam­age the com­mu­nity’s abil­ity to foster their own eco­nomic growth and self-suf­fi­ciency.

Ar­ring­ton then lists three ma­jor tasks for which the Brethren asked for the help of the Re­lief So­ci­ety. All three of them were de­signed to lessen the eco­nomic im­pact of the rail­road’s ar­rival.

The first was to launch the Young Ladies Re­trench­ment So­ci­eties, which were specif­i­cally mo­ti­vated by Pres­i­dent Young’s de­sire to dis­cour­age the young women from wast­ing their means on the fash­ions of “Baby­lon” that would only im­pov­er­ish them­selves and en­rich the mer­chants. The girls were taught to wear clothes of their own mak­ing as well as to “glean wheat, piece quilts, cro­chet, make hats, [and] knit stock­ings ....”

The sec­ond task asked of the Re­lief So­ci­ety was to as­sist in the launch­ing and man­age­ment of the co­op­er­a­tive gen­eral stores, in­clud­ing ZCMI. The sis­ters were asked to shop ex­clu­sively at the co­op­er­a­tives, set up their own co-ops to sell home­made goods, and even to in­vest in the co­op­er­a­tives them­selves.

The third task was to sup­port the home in­dus­try move­ment. Its lead­ers called upon ev­ery branch of the Re­lief So­ci­ety to “lay hold of this sub­ject of home in­dus­try ... and to take an ac­tive part in the great work of bring­ing about the per­fect or­ga­ni­za­tion of a self-sus­tain­ing peo­ple.” As a re­sult, among other ac­com­plish­ments, ev­ery one of the lo­cal Re­lief So­ci­eties had a silk pro­duc­tion project dur­ing the 1870s.

With the help of the Re­lief So­ci­ety, the com­ing of the rail­road did not re­sult in the im­me­di­ate swal­low­ing up of the Mor­mon econ­omy by the Eastern cap­i­tal­ists as had been an­tic­i­pated. That eco­nomic sub­ju­ga­tion was post­poned for an­other two decades.

Dis­cuss this ar­ti­cle at Build­ingZion. org.

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