In 1892, as the Jubilee Celebration of the Relief Society approached, Elvira S. Barney authored an article in the Woman’s Exponent entitled “Fifty Years Past, and One Hundred Years Hence.” She reflected on the fifty-year history of the Latter-day Saint Female Relief Society, noting that
Fifty years ago a journey was marked out by a master hand. The line was straight, but the road had many curves, to obscure our vision from hills, and bluffs beyond; and lofty peaks and vales below. With childish eyes we drew no bounds of distance, and willingly continued to fill the programme, and complete the journey.
In Fifty Years if we have climbed above the cliffs, we have obtained a magnified vision by which to scan more closely the lives of woman, (and man) and more safely tread.
Time now so precious — that we might build well; we must not recount all the labors or moments of the past, and our own time be wasted in backward idle gaze, for if to be computed, we can only reckon and add our future gain, to our present status.
What of Fifty years? It is behind us, we must look before us, some may yet reach it, but many are past it and with speed are rushing on with all our force and might; and if at twilight only we begin to do the labors of the day, we are too soon lost in the darkness.
Barney’s attention then turned to the future, and she offered her vision of what life would be like in the late twentieth century. Among other things, she predicted that “houses will then be built as by magic,” and that “our crops in the field will hurry their growth and maturity by scientific methods until the scriptures will be fulfilled that say, “The plowman shall overtake the reaper.” She imagined a scientifically advanced world in which “our horses will talk to us as well with written language. The waves of the seas will dance and be quieted, at the command of the scientist. The polar seas will be warmed and yield to the rays of the summer’s sun.” Furthermore,
The lessons that now seem so hard to the child, to cope with, will be as simple as the alphabet is to the sire, for as knowledge extends, the power of perception will be quickened with the advance of time, and on the nearing of God’s predictions, so will His power be made manifest, to not only move upon the scientist to unravel and explain what appears as mysteries and hidden powers but He himself, the Great Master of science, who holds the keys will turn them for mankind, in the day of His power and thus solve the now great problems.
While I find this attempt at prophecy fascinating as a religious historian, I find Barney’s closing comments moving and relevant to contemporary society — especially today on the 166th anniversary of the establishment of the Relief Society. She concluded with a humble call to charity by admonishing, “Let us then leave our neighbor’s weak points to strengthen our own.” She then quoted French agronomist Jules Guyot and American theologian Henry Ward Beecher:
Guyot says “that plants have three periods of growth. The slowest and longest is that of the root; the next fastest is that of the stem; and last and quickest is that of the blossom and fruit.”
Henry Ward Beecher in refering to this says, “I have been wont to think that the world grew by the root till the advent of Christ; that from the advent of Christ to our day, it has been growing by the stem; and that in the period in which we stand it is growing by the blossom and fruit. Changes that formerly required a hundred years for accomplishment, now require scarcely a score-things rush to their accomplishment. And I make this plea in behalf of woman, not without hope that I may see, in my day, an improvement in her condition.”
*Dr. Elvira S. Barney, “Fifty Years Past, and One Hundred Years Hence,” Woman’s Exponent 20:14 (1892), 110. The full article is available here.