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Family, Inc.

July 2, 2014


In class today we each rummaged through an earlier and a later edition of a Mormon periodical or church publication to look for what they said about the family across the first half of the twentieth century. We’d hoped to be able to develop a narrative about the family from the various patterns we found. After discussing a slew of advertisements, the Boy Scouts, two-and-a-half-minute talks, general conference addresses on marriage, sentimental articles that chastise drunken husbands, and much, much more, Richard said, “Well, I feel discouraged. There’s just too much to deal with. One of the benefits if you’re first in a field is you can create the master narrative, but it seems like rather than forming a master narrative, we would need a series of dimensional studies.” 

It was true. There’s too much. One interesting crossover we kept finding was corporate culture bleeding into the family. One colleague found an article in the Improvement Era from 1949 that depicted several teenage children making material demands of their parents. In response, the parents pulled out all the financial books and ledgers and renamed Family Home Evening to the Family Stockholders Meeting. All the kids got to see just what it took financially to make the family run, and once their eyes were opened, they saw the great folly of their requests. The article ended with the teenage daughter tearfully thanking her parents for being so wonderful and her brother moving to adjourn the meeting before things got “too sloppy.”

What was really funny, however, was the class discussion that followed. At least a third of the class told stories of how their family did something similar. We heard about family lines of credit from Mom and Dad, Dad Dollars, family credit cards, and all sorts of inventive ideas. Check out these Mormons.


As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, capitalism and America’s booming business was becoming a force for the family to reckon with. A piece from the 1924 Juvenile Instructor stated that a man’s job was his “best friend.” What else provided for his wife and children so and gave him so much joy in life?

My classmate read that example, and Richard said, “This really is rampant capitalism saying that your life was your work. It really makes David O. McKay’s famous statement revolutionary.” I’d never thought of President McKay’s famous aphorism in that context before. He said, “No success in life can compensate for failure in the home.” And suddenly I felt proud of my brother for choosing a career specialty that would allow him to be home more. Makes me wonder how I’ll navigate those choices when they come.


Today’s reading

Selections from

Conference addresses

Improvement Era

Juvenile Instructor

Leah D. Widtsoe, Women and Marriage Among the Mormons.

Relief Society Magazine



“We’re seeing lots of focus on athletics. And that has influenced the architecture of the church.” -Richard, referring to the conventional basketball court built into every LDS meetinghouse

“The basketball courts are still there. The stages and the kitchens are not.” -Claudia

“I remember the bishop dressing up as Beast from Beauty and the Beast and scaring all the children, and it really brought us all together.” -one of the seminar participants fondly recalling Gold and Green Balls

2 Comments leave one →
  1. rockin7h permalink
    July 4, 2014 7:36 pm

    Sharon, thanks for the post. Two comments: I can’t begin to count the number of hours I have spent in a church gym. There has been wonderful memories growing up and as an adult being a part of productive events in the cultural hall. Not only did I play a lot of basketball, but I have participated in plays, decorated for G&G balls, attended dances, listened to speakers and classes, enjoyed cultural arts events and displays and eaten lots of meals. It is a sort of civic center for a ward family.

    In regards to father’s choices for employment. I definitely think there was a stronger influence to pursue “impressive” careers that demanded more attention to the profession than the family in years past than now. Today young men are much more cognizant of the effect their career choice will make on their family than men were three to six decades ago. To pursue financial and professional dreams was of primary importance back in the day. That is one of the hallmarks of the baby boomers and the generation before them. It is not a characteristic of the Y generation today.

    Again, thanks for the post

    • July 7, 2014 4:55 pm

      I agree re: the gym. Its presence encourages talent, community, and creativity for its use. It makes me sad that the church isn’t stocking buildings with pianos as much these days. I can’t count the number of hours I’ve spent on or around or working with a church piano. Their ubiquitousness is part of the culture of Mormons knowing how to read, play, sing, and conduct music. I don’t think mass-distributed keyboards have quite the same effect. It’s like the difference between cheese and the “cheese product” fakery that is now available. No one I know learns to really love cheese via “cheese product.”

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