“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” the statement released by the church in September of 1995 declares that “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are an heritage of the Lord’ (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.” These words first read aloud in September of 1995 by church president Gordon B. Hinckley were another powerful iteration among many since the church’s early days that reaffirmed the theological and cultural significance of children within Mormonism.
This month at the Juvenile Instructor we will be examining the history of Mormon childhood and youth. Central to this monthly theme is acknowledging the tension that lies between ideas of childhood and the actual experiences of children and adolescences. In 2000 at a History of Childhood conference, historians Joseph M. Hawes and N. Ray Hiner directly addressed this tension and the confusion that stems from it: “Childhood as a social construction, that is, the ideals and expectations that adults establish for children, should not be confused with what actually experience.” Official leaders, influential adults, and parents within the church were no different than other American adults in establishing a set of ideals that they thought their children should live. Unsurprisingly, Mormon children did not always live up to the ideals and expectations bound up with the older generation’s view of a proper Mormon childhood. Additionally, attached to adults’ visions of an idealized Mormon childhood were generational conflicts that emerged around critical junctures in the Mormon timeline: the migration westward, the end of church-sanctioned plural marriage, gaining of Utah statehood, and the Priesthood ban to name a few.
For far too long the history of childhood, children, and youth has not held a central place within the discipline due to several long held myths including the idea that children were not powerful historical actors and the perception that primary sources created by children were scarce if existent at all. Thankfully, these attitudes have begun to change as more scholars have embraced the historical study of children, childhood, and youth. Recent work by Mormon historians like Richard Ian Kimball and Rebecca de Schweinitz have led way in widening the historical study of children and childhood in Mormonism. We hope to contribute to and engage with this expanding conversation about the historical intersections of religion, age, and childhood/children’s history throughout October.
So, please join us this month as permabloggers and guests examine the idea of childhood and the experiences of children within the church’s history. There’s still plenty of room for additional bloggers, so if you would like to contribute, send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to be considered.