History of LDS Youth Programs

By May 17, 2018

The LDS Church recently announced that it will be severing its ties with the Boy Scouts of America and is creating a new program for all the children and youth in the Church. With this announcement, there have been discussions (here and here) about what these changes could mean for the youth programs in the Church, particularly for young women. Knowing the history of the LDS youth programs for the past one hundred years can help put all of these recent announcements in perspective.

The current Young Women organization began as the Young Ladies’ Department of the Ladies’ Cooperative Retrenchment Association, formally founded in 1870. Over time the organization went through several name changes, from the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (YLMIA) in 1877, to the Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association (YWMIA) in 1934, Aaronic Priesthood MIA Young Women in 1972, and Young Women (the current name) in 1974. As it went through all these name changes, the Young Women’s organization also created a variety of classes and programs for its members. The Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association (YMMIA), now known as Young Men’s, had parallel developments as it created new classes and activity programs. The Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) was the joint organization of these two programs for youth, young adults, and adults. They held a combined conference every year starting in the 1890s, called June Conference. The General Boards of YLMIA and YMMIA met together often to discuss the needs of the youth and develop activities and programs for their members.

Achievement programs for both the YLMIA and the YMMIA began around the same time in the 1910s. The option to the join the Scouting movement was first brought to the YMMIA in 1911. They initially created their own program, called MIA Scouts, that same year. [1] In 1913 the YMMIA formally affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America. The YLMIA also considered joining with a national organization to use their summer work and outdoor activities within their program, including the Camp Fire Girls and the Girl Guides (Girl Scouts). After a period of adopting the Camp Fire Girls Program (1913­–1914), the YLMIA leadership decided to create their own program instead, saying they saw it as “absolutely necessary for us to keep control,” rather than report to another organization. [2]

The YLMIA started its own program in 1915 called the Bee-Hive Girls, using the Camp Fire Girls as a guide. The purpose of the Bee-Hive Girls was “to perfect our womanhood—to hold to the faith of our fathers and to develop in our individual womanhood, drawing from all good sources to do so.” [3] Bee-Hive Girls began as a summer program available for all members of the organization, but morphed into its own class with specific ages and year-round work by the early 1920s. Bee-Hive girls remained the most complex achievement program within the Young Women organization, but leaders developed many other award programs for the different classes over the years.

Starting in the 1920s, the Young Men’s and Young Women’s organizations of the MIA developed classes that gave young adults more independence to organize and lead their own groups. The M Men and Gleaner classes were very popular within MIA and often did joint work together. This joint class continued until the 1970s. It was the M Men and Gleaner classes that developed the next achievement programs within MIA after Scouting and Bee-Hive Girls, with the Master M Men program introduced in 1932, and the Golden Gleaner program in 1940. These were parallel award programs that had the same overall requirements for both the M Men and Gleaners. [4]

The 1950s saw many changes within both the YWMIA and YMMIA, with the creation of new classes and new achievement programs. As a snapshot, here are the names of the classes in 1950: Special Interest (for adult women and men), M Men and Gleaner (a joint class for young adults), Junior M Men and Junior Gleaner (a joint class for older teenagers), Mia Maid, Explorer, Bee Hive, and Scout. In the YWMIA the Junior Gleaners, Mia Maids, and Bee Hives each had their own achievement programs with their own awards and jewelry. The Duty to God program began in 1955 to focus young men on their spiritual duties and supplement the Scouting work that was still part of YMMIA.

Many programs were simplified and consolidated in the 1970s as the Church worked to meet the needs of a larger global membership. A new culminating achievement program was announced in 1971 for both the Young Women and Young Men organizations, called the Personal Achievement Program. This program replaced all the previous class achievement programs, though Scouting still continued. [5] This program was short-lived. It was soon replaced on the Young Women’s side by My Personal Progress in 1977. The Personal Progress program was fully introduced in 1989 and has continued as the award program for Young Women, with simplifications to the program occurring in 2002, 2009, and 2010. [6] As the Personal Progress program has been adjusted, the Duty to God program for Young Men has also gone through changes, including more significant adjustments in 2002 and in recent years as the Church has gradually moved away from its affiliation with the Scouting program.

What does this long history of different classes and achievement programs for youth in the LDS Church teach us? The Church has a variety of class structures as well as activity and achievement programs in its past. The Young Women organization in particular has been open to making changes quite frequently. For over a century, youth and young adult leaders have tried to meet the needs of their members and create programs that provided leadership and development opportunities. This has included joint programs with both young women and young men, achievement and award programs tailored to particular ages that allowed exploration of a variety of activities, and opportunities for youth to lead their own classes and programs. Though frequent changes have been made, the structure of these youth programs has continued to focus on the needs of North American members. As the Church implements their new programs for children and youth over the next few years, it will be interesting to see how they draw inspiration from the many programs in their past, but also consider new ways to better meet the needs of a global church.

 

[1] “MIA Scouts,” Improvement Era 15, no. 3 (Jan. 1912): 287; L.R. Martineau, “M.I.A. Scouts,” Improvement Era 15, no. 5 (March 1912): 354–361.

[2] Ann M. Cannon, MIA June Conference Address, “Summer Work,” Young Woman’s Journal 25, no. 7 (July 1914): 449–450.

[3] Handbook for the Bee-Hive Girls of the Y.L.M.I.A. (Salt Lake City: General Board of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association, 1915), 3.

[4] “Y.L.M.I.A. Executives and Gleaner Leaders,” MIA Leader 7, no. 2 (Nov. 1940): 3–4.

[5] “New Priesthood Personal Achievement Program,” and “New Directions in MIA,” in Improvement Era (August 1970): 28–31.

[6] Elements of the Personal Progress program were introduced a few years earlier. In 1985 a new motto, simple theme, and the values were introduced. In 1987 a new logo and statements and symbols for the Beehive, Mia Maid and Laurel classes were introduced. The new Personal Progress book with all of these previously announced elements and more was released in 1989.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Categories of Periodization: Origins Current Events Gender Women's History


  1. May I say that 1970-1976 was the WORST time to go through the youth program, at least for girls? There was no coherence or continuity — even the name of the auxilliary changed a couple of times in there, with it being called Aaronic Priesthood MIA for a year or two before it changed again. For two or three years the so-called “achievement program” was limited to filling in the blanks in some cheesy booklets (Where does your name come from? What names do you plan to give to your children?). That program went away before anyone had a chance to do all six books. That’s the way it went all through those years, with lots of experiments but no opportunity to work toward anything, no sense of achievent or even completion. There were no awards, no certificates, no bandlos, no jewelry, just a lot of tedious lessons on babysitting and what qualities you wanted in a husband, and more weeks than not the only “activity” was standing in the gym to watch the boys play basketball. No, I’m not bitter, and of course I got over it long ago. 😉

    Comment by Ardis — May 17, 2018 @ 3:27 pm

  2. Thanks for this, Charlotte! I’ve been wanting to learn more about youth programs for some time and am looking forward to the history of the young women’s organization.

    Not specifically on the post, but last year I was teaching a class and every single woman in the class lamented not being able to do the “high adventure” programming that the boys did growing up. I hope that the new programs provide these types of opportunities for all if they want them!

    Comment by J Stuart — May 17, 2018 @ 8:22 pm

  3. I’m intrigued by the issue of control over the YW experience when they decided not to go with scouts. Why was there not a similar issue with YM? Was female scouting viewed as not conservative?

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 18, 2018 @ 10:29 am

  4. Ardis, yes the 1970s were pretty crazy to say the least. My line up there of the program being short lived does not really express all the confusion that there was during that period, with all the name changes, the journals/books, the ending of all the old programs, etc. So thank you for bringing that up.
    And J. Stapley, to your question. I think there was more debate around joining the Scouts within the YM program than is generally discussed. It did take them a few years to join up with the program, and leaders continued to debate remaining with the Scouting program through the rest of the 1910s and into the 1920s. I don’t think the issue on the YW side was that it was not conservative. In Ann M. Cannon’s MIA June Conference address that is referenced above, she talks about a variety of reasons for why they didn’t decide to affiliate with the national program. She mentions the concern about dues, that would be a hardship on the members. She also talks about how the Camp Fire Girls was a full program of its own, and they worried it would take over all of the time that the girls had in the YLMIA. But the big thing they settled on is that they wanted control of the program. They wanted to be able to shape their own program to meet the particular needs of their youth, and not have to follow the mandates of an external organization.

    Comment by C Terry — May 18, 2018 @ 2:25 pm

  5. “[It] was a full program of its own, and they worried it would take over all of the time” Glad to see that didn’t happen with Scouting on the YM side!

    Thanks for the summary. Interesting that the MIA covered all youth to 25 or so. It seems the current problem of young adults “falling through the cracks” is a result of the priesthood corrolation of the 1970s, then?

    And just to satisfy my curiosity, when did Junior Gleaners change names to Laurels?

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 18, 2018 @ 2:45 pm

  6. MIA even covered people into their thirties and forties. The Gleaner and M Men classes covered people in the twenties, but then the Special Interests, and then later the Young Marrieds and a few other classes were for people well above the age range we usually think of when we imagine MIA. The Gleaners and M Men programs did a decent amount with the Institute programs, and then when those classes ended in the 1970s the idea was that the Institute programs and the Relief Society and Priesthood Quorums were supposed to implement things that the MIA had been doing previously.
    Junior Gleaners changed names to Laurels in 1959. And the Mia Maid class name started in 1950. So for the current names of Beehive, Mia Maid, and Laurel, Beehive is the one that has been around the longest.

    Comment by C Terry — May 18, 2018 @ 4:32 pm

  7. Great post, C Terry!

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 18, 2018 @ 8:25 pm

  8. Great work! Hey, I’m doing a project where some of this might be helpful…

    Comment by LisaT — May 22, 2018 @ 7:26 am


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