Relief in the Order

September 25, 2007 | 43 comments
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The town of Kingston, Utah, was settled as a United Order community, whose inhabitants pooled their economic, spiritual, and social resources and attempted to live the law of consecration from 1875 to 1882. Their main business was farming, supplemented by a major dairy operation, the raising of cattle and horses, and operation of a saw mill, grist mill, and woollen factory. They left excellent records in the form of an official Order journal, church minutes, and diaries of individual members.

In 1878, the women of the Order decided they wanted to form a Relief Society, as so many other wards had done, to encourage themselves in charitable works and to unite them more closely as sisters. There was an unexpected snag on the road to Relief Society, however – the goals of the United Order itself.

Kingston’s founding president was in favor of the Relief Society: “Some might say that in the Order there was not so much need of a Relief Society. But it was very requisite.” He encouraged the sisters to take care of the sick and distressed, to follow Brigham Young’s admonition to lay up grain against coming hard times, to learn silk raising and manufacture their own fine clothing, so long as all the sisters fared alike and did not raise one above another.

But the Order president died after only a few months, and his son, the bishop, assumed the Order’s major leadership roles. He did not endorse the Relief Society as whole-heartedly as had his father. He learned that the sisters had raised a fund to contribute to the building of temples and to aid missionaries. He objected to that fund as an unsanctioned drain on the Order: He “thought there was a little difference between the Relief Societies in the Order and those that are not, and if the Relief Society had raised a fund it had come out of the Order. He did not see where else it could come from.” If the women wanted credit for temple building, then he would permit the Order’s contribution (made at his discretion) to be partially credited to the Relief Society – but he disparaged their vanity in wanting to make a name for themselves among the other Societies.

He really didn’t seem to think there was any need for a Relief Society. They couldn’t relieve the wants of the poor, really, because all in the Order were poor together. When the women went into the fields after harvest and gleaned 50 bushels of wheat that would otherwise have been wasted, he insisted it be turned over to him in case the Order needed it.

He wasn’t even sure there was any need for a women’s organization to take care of the sick – the mandate had been, he insisted, specific to Nauvoo and was now unnecessary: “That was a very sickly locality and the object was to relieve the sick and afflicted, but now the Saints were in different circumstances. They were not sickly now.” Still, he grudgingly allowed that if anybody in the Order were to fall ill, it would be okay for the sisters to go do that person’s laundry. Otherwise, the Order “was sadly in need of women’s help,” so they should attend to their home duties and to chores in the communal kitchen.

The Relief Society meetings and minutes consist almost exclusively of testimonies borne, and the women appear to have been amenable to their bishop’s instructions and supportive of the Order. Still, there is a wistful tone to the testimony borne by the Relief Society president a few weeks after the bishop’s visit: “When she read, in the Exponent, the reports of other Relief Societies and what they were doing toward gathering the poor Saints, building Temples, and storing grain as the Sisters had been called on to do, and thought we were doing nothing, it seemed there must be something wrong.”

Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether this specific bishop was overstepping his bounds, this incident raises some interesting questions: In a society where members hold all things in common, is there any possibility – or any need – for material charity? Does living a higher law (in this case, the 19th century United Order), excuse you from a prophet’s temporal instructions (in this case, the mandate that women lay up grain)? What role would Relief Society play under the economic structure of a United Order?

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43 Responses to Relief in the Order

  1. Kyle R. on September 25, 2007 at 10:10 am

    If the United Order was being practiced in only one community, town or one district, there would still be outlying regions with a more traditional social set-up and distribution of rich and poor. In this case a Relief Society – while not having a logical function within the United Order itself – could focus on outreach activities, especially outreach to, say, women in isolated areas raising children by themselves under dire financial circumstances and in need of charitable help plus sisterly fellowship and support.

    Even within the area operating under a United Order system, a forum for women would be as legitimate and useful as priesthood meetings for men. In other words, even under a completely egalitarian and higher ordered society – men and women would still need to have their own spaces for discussion and sharing mutual points of view not so easily done in mixed congregations.

  2. Kaimi Wenger on September 25, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Great post, Ardis.

    We don’t think about it much today, with RS having become, in many ways, more of a general-purpose social organization for Mormon women. But it did really start life as a Relief Society. The assumptions of the time, highlighted by your post, are fascinating: If women aren’t meeting to help distribute material to the needy, what’s the purpose of having women meet at all? Wow.

  3. lamonte on September 25, 2007 at 10:30 am

    “In a society where members hold all things in common, is there any possibility – or any need – for material charity?” It seems there is always a need for charity. In a united order society it may not be required in the usual circumstances we see where charity is used to raise the lives of those who are in need of the basic needs to sustain life (food, shelter, clothing) but there are still times when someone is stricken with sickness and unable to do their fair share in that united order (caring for children, household chores, etc.) It seemed that in the story related above, the intolerant bishop was making assumptions about the intentions of the Relief Society sisters (“…he disparaged their vanity in wanting to make a name for themselves among the other Societies.”) but if the sisters were, in fact, not engaged in vanity and making “a name for themselves among the other Societies” they should have been willing to help whatever cause they were interested in without specific credit for their organization. Both the bishop and the sisters should have put their pride away and used the temple contributions for the intended purpose and not to build up either’s reputation. It is a shining example of why a united order will always have trouble functioning as long as mere mortals are in charge.

  4. JKC on September 25, 2007 at 10:31 am

    Even though the origin of the Relief Society was about charitable service and administering relief to the poor (as the name reflects), Joseph Smith quickly turned it into something more. It seems that he was about making it into a priesthood counterpart before he died. If this is true, if the Relief Society is a priesthood for women, then we might as well ask, “what role do priesthood quorums play in the United Order?” I think Kyle is right that one role of the Relief Society was to provide a “legitimate and useful forum” for women to discuss and “share mutual points of view.” But I think it was more than that—it was also a place to get together and exercise spiritual gifts.

    But of course, that raises the question of which version of the RS are we talking about? RS in Nauvoo under Joseph Smith, RS in Utah under Brigham Young, or RS as it exists now? Aren’t they each a little different?

    But to be fair to Ardis, I think she’s focusing more on material charity in general than the RS specifically.

  5. Kyle R. on September 25, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Yes, JKC, I forgot the exercise of spiritual gifts.

    On the purely economic question I find the United Order a fascinating concept. I’m curious to know how the United Order is meant to operate with regard to society outside its borders, since there will obviously be – even if a few days drive away – non United Order areas with people in need of material help the Relief Society could provide, with the particular women’s touch and perspective that might very well be needed. Is there any provision within the United Order concept for assistance to people – particularly women, widows and other women in need – who don’t live within the United Order itself? This sounds an ideal function for Relief Society sisters.

    And how would any funds diverted for this purpose be allowed or accounted for within the United Order itself. Basically, does the United Order theoretically do ‘foreign aid’? And would the Relief Society be a conceivably valid mechanism to administer it?

  6. Ardis Parshall on September 25, 2007 at 11:36 am

    What a great opening conversation! Thanks, all.

    As Kyle R notes, even if all within a United Order were fully provided for, there would always be people outside the Order who might need assistance — in the case of this Kingston group, that could be the non-Order family across the river whose home burned while they watched but could do nothing, or it could be missionaries, or it could be someone completely outside the broader church community (the “foreign aid” he later mentions). When every pair of socks or casserole that you might want to donate to relieve need belongs not just to you or your RS sisterhood, but to the entire community, though, how do you do that, exactly? Can the RS do anything on its own, or must it have the consent of the Order’s leadership? That takes us right to lamonte’s comment noting that the personal interests of mere mortals may interfere — and the more the charitable act is removed from the people who actually want to do the act (say, the sister who knitted the socks) to those who claim only an economic interest (say, the Order’s board of directors), it seems to me the less likely relief is to be offered, or at least the more likely there are to be obstacles.

    Also as Kyle R, and especially JCK, mention, RS has purposes beyond temporal charity. Women within the RS are sustained and supported by those social, spiritual, and perhaps priesthood functions. In the case of Kingston, you can get an idea of the kinds of support or spiritual fulfillment that the sisters are focusing on at the moment — they go through periods where virtually every testimony mentions something about drawing on the gospel to overcome the tendency to find fault with each other, or their responsibilities as Mothers in Israel to “train the rising generation,” often mentioning some specific kind of need among that rising generation. They discuss spiritual gifts, especially healing, and their gratitude for living among a people who have the gift of healing.

    RS always has been — and still is — about more than a platform for its members to improve their own temporal and spiritual lives. The spiritual gets top billing, emphasized by our meeting on Sundays. As perhaps one of the few T&S writers or readers who remembers RS lessons that taught doctrine once a month only, with the other weeks focusing on charity, education, and motherhood, and even when we used to meet during the week so that rousing work rather than well-coiffed testimonies were the order of the day, I may have a stronger feeling than most that RS is about *doing* — the *relief* that Kaimi points out. It was not just a once a year afternoon of assembling hygiene kits, but about near weekly assignments to scrub someone’s house, or outfit someone’s kids for a new school year, or teach someone budgeting and economical meal preparation. Even though there are still elements of *doing*, our current Sunday program emphasizes *being* — IMO.

    In responding to Kyle R’s query as to whether the RS is a valid mechanism for administering aid, yes, it is — the pattern is already established in the RS president’s major role in ward welfare. Beyond that, though, we’d have to get into a big discussion of the difference between the 19th century United Order and the Law of Consecration — one is an effort to implement the other, but they are not the same thing. That’s too much to go into for this post. I’d like to stick to Relief Society for the time being, please.

  7. Matt Evans on September 25, 2007 at 11:37 am

    Very interesting, Ardis.

    This shows why Zion will never be command-and-control. Good people want to do good directly and not merely provide the governing bureaucracy, no matter how much they trust it, more resources to do good indirectly.

    The early attempts to build Zion were doomed. Zion is not an economic order, it’s not a system. Zion is a people. A people who care for their neighbors as much as they care for themselves. Building Zion is simply (though this is not simple) the project of building a people who love their neighbors as themselves: each man working for the benefit of their neighbor. The United Orders didn’t fail to build Zion because they didn’t find the right system, they failed because they thought Zion was an order subject to systemization. Well, that and the apparent intractability of self-concern. Zion existed among the people of 4th Nephi not because they used a superior system, but “because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” Zion is the ultimate case of teaching the people correct principles, and letting them govern themselves.

  8. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Zion is not an economic order, it’s not a system. Zion is a people. A people who care for their neighbors as much as they care for themselves. Building Zion is simply (though difficult) the project of building a people who love their neighbors as themselves, each man working for the benefit of their neighbor. The United Orders didn’t fail to build Zion because they didn’t find the right system, they failed because they thought Zion was an order subject to systemization.

    The United Orders were crisis systems as much as they were serious attempts to establish Zion, so I don’t know if that criticism is entirely fair.

    That said, I generally agree with your point, though I would modify it. Zion is a people, not a system, but the system can encourage or discourage people becoming Zion-like. That’s precisely why what the Bishop did was a bad idea. Spontaneous, self-directed charitable acts are exactly the kind of thing the system should allow for and even encourage.

    Put another way, one could argue that Zion *is* a system, but one that can only be put in place by a Zion people. And the kind of system that will encourage the creation of a Zion people is probably different from the kind of system that the Zion people will create.

  9. Ardis Parshall on September 25, 2007 at 11:54 am

    Very good points, Matt. Systems or programs may model behaviors that help people realize what is needed (it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everybody), and may provide opportunities for services greater than individuals can muster, but no set of outward rules can substitute for inward conversion and active love.

    In the case of the Kingston Relief Society, the sisters truly wanted to DO something in a hands-on way — they went into the fields to glean, their contributed pennies went from one hand into another hand. It wasn’t enough for them to tend to the routine tasks of private life in order to make it possible for the impersonal Order to transfer funds the women never saw from the Order’s books to the temple books. They wanted to be actively, directly involved in doing good and relieving want. The Order, or at least how it was administered in this case, became a block to that desire — something Adam notes.

  10. Adam Greenwood on September 25, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    Systems or programs may model behaviors that help people realize what is needed (it doesn’t necessarily come naturally to everybody), and may provide opportunities for services greater than individuals can muster

    Excellent points. Systems can also reward behaviors.

  11. Kyle R. on September 25, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    Ardis, it seems from your descriptions that, being psychologically and socially realistic, a United Order community would in practice need to be a very outward-directed society. Is that part of the idea? In and of itself there would be, it seems to me, too many energies and capacities released by the nature of the United Order – freed up from economic and social competition under normal society – for a community practicing this sort of organisation to contain.

    Apart from anything else, the UO community would be so self-sustaining spiritually that an overflow of spiritual energies would be potentially as combustible as the stymied opportunities for individual initiative.

    Spontaneous, self-directed charitable acts are exactly the kind of thing the system should allow for and even encourage.

    Under a system with no individual profit motive, and no competitive materialism, there would have to be extraordinary scope for self-directed action of all kinds.

  12. Matt Evans on September 25, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    I actually think the bishop was right about the grain, according to the structure of the Orders. Everything belongs to the Order, everyone should work to benefit the Order, and the bishop is responsible for deciding how Order property is used.

    I would suggest that only people can model behavior. Systems and programs are limited to influencing behavior with incentives and deterrents. It seems to me that Brigham’s biggest mistake, or weakness, in trying to create Zion was preaching Zion while modeling the behavior of a wealthy man. So long as a leader lives in a Lion House mansion and has a 40-inch waist, people will interpret their calls to sacrifice everything for the kingdom, or the building of the Orders, in that context, understanding that those are things one worries about after one has a huge house and plenty to eat. (Studies have shown it is mildly effective to say, “Do as I say, not as I do. You must be better than I have been,” but I don’t know if it works in a religious/moral context, or if Zion-building church leaders said it.)

    Edit: I imagine this was one of the reasons for Christ’s warning religious leaders to not “love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues.”

  13. Ardis Parshall on September 25, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Ardis, it seems from your descriptions that, being psychologically and socially realistic, a United Order community would in practice need to be a very outward-directed society. Is that part of the idea? In and of itself there would be, it seems to me, too many energies and capacities released by the nature of the United Order – freed up from economic and social competition under normal society – for a community practicing this sort of organisation to contain.

    Maybe, in theory. Once — if — any United Order community actually produced even a modest surplus, yes. But in practice, no United Order community ever got beyond bare subsistence. Utopian goals didn’t free them from the necessity of feeding and clothing themselves, nor were they freed from the economic competition necessary to raise cash to purchase mill equipment from sources outside the Order. In reality there was nothing to share without killing off the community. The bishop said as much, when he told the sisters that sending their fund — raised by Order effort — outside the Order would “kill the hen that laid the golden egg” (his variation of that proverb).

    Matt is right, in the cold, hard, logic of the Order. If every grain and every penny belongs to the Order, then no individual, no Relief Society, has the right to dispose of it, even in charitable endeavors, outside the rules and agreements of the Order. The bishop, although tactless in how he stated things, was responsible for and entitled to use every quilt scrap and ear of gleaned grain that any member of the Order could produce.

    And yet … the women still felt a need to be directly involved in doing good, in ways that the rules of the Order could not endorse. The irresistible force of the charitable impulse ran into the immovable object of United Order realities.

  14. Kyle R. on September 25, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    So I guess a United Order reality television programme/experiment isn’t in the offing?

  15. Ray on September 25, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    Excellent discussion. Thanks.

  16. Bob on September 25, 2007 at 2:49 pm

    #14: Kyle, wrong: We have a show called “Survivor. If you read some of the good novels about this period, you can see why if failed. Backbiting, cheating, hoarding, driving people out for being lazy, others leaving to make more money, etc.

  17. mmiles on September 25, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Wow! Ardis good quesitons. Great post.

  18. Bob on September 25, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    I had a good friend who was a Baptist Minister. We would compare Churches. He said what he wished for most, was that he had a RS. He had to arrange all pot luck dinners, fund raisers, handle sick members, etc. or appoint someone…which always ended up with hurt feelings. His dream was to be able to pass that off to a permanent women’s group with a president with power to just do it, and he, just do the Sunday perching.

  19. Ardis Parshall on September 25, 2007 at 5:38 pm

    Yeah, Bob, but there is a big difference between a Ladies’ Aid auxiliary whose main purpose is to make the local congregation run more efficiently, and a Relief Society whose purpose is improving lives. Defining a Relief Society as the minister’s gofers is kind of like describing your wife as the one who makes breakfast and cleans the sink.

  20. Bob on September 25, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    #19: Ardis, You should see my duck’s back: I have done 40 years of marriage as Mr. Mom. 40 years as the ‘gopher’ of the house. My Baptist friend saw the women of his congregation as his backbone, and bemoaned the fact he could not give them power to act on their own, as Mormons appeared to be able to do. But what about Mormons (male leaders), has history shown them giving their women more power, or less? I say give the women back their power (the RS), they once used so well. Bring it on!

  21. Clair on September 25, 2007 at 10:33 pm

    That Kingston experience makes me wonder which would be the more difficult to live today, polygamy or the united order. Polygamy, being private within one family, might actually be easier. And yet, in our classes, the common hope is that polygamy will not return and that the united order will.

  22. smb on September 25, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    Ardis, sorry a bit off your fascinating topic (which seems to prefigure the move to “auxillarize” the general Relief Society in the twentieth century) do they write much about what it meant to have a communal kitchen and cafeteria? Were men involved at all in the cafeteria? What kinds of food did they eat? Did the women write much about missing the pleasures of a family table, did they exult in the shared experience of the meal? Or was it mostly, “another night of corn dodgers, wish we had more beef”?

    More to your point, there is a subtle question of power and community here. There are two ways to see the United Order: 1 is the conquest of selfishness and competitive capitalism, 2 is the formation of a perfectly integrated community. If 1 is correct, the RS would be entirely within rights to emphasize individual charitable work as a subset of the broader Zion community. If 2 is correct, then the Bishop’s son was expressing the vision of the United Order.

  23. Emily M. on September 25, 2007 at 11:52 pm

    Such an interesting discussion. Relief Society history fascinates me–I didn’t realize till a few years ago how independent an organization it used to be. But there’s no place for that independence in the United Order, if by “independence” you also mean “recognition for your efforts apart from your group.”

    It’s interesting to me that the bishop “disparaged their vanity in wanting to make a name for themselves.” Does he have a point, however tactless? Is there something more noble about their service because they were forced to be anonymous, to serve without recognition?

  24. Bob on September 26, 2007 at 1:29 am

    #23: My Grandfather worked many of the different forms of the United Order. He had a house and large lot in the Mormon Village, this was taken care of by the women (wife, four daughter, no Polygamy). It had a garden, a pig. a cow, horses, chickens, etc. He was assigned a family farm outside of town, to raise a crop, to raise his family. He then worked on the ‘Big Field’. which was owned by the Church in common. The men and big boys,would spend the weekdays on the farms, then come home on the weekends, All “surplus” going to the Church, after caring for nine kids. Clearly, efforts on the ‘Big Field’, came last. My Grandfather also let the Bishop know “when he had a surplus”, left from caring for his family. See my #16

  25. Kyle R. on September 26, 2007 at 4:41 am

    #16 Bob, it’s the plague of utopian experiments, that living in an economically egalitarian situation not only does not lead to social harmony, but seems to release particularly potent forms of social venality. Writing in the 1860s, Dostoevsky foresaw what selfish, hateful forces would be unleashed by the proposed communist experiment if the radicals of his time ever had their way in Russia, which as we know, they eventually did. He saw that organising human life as though it were a giant machine or beehive, but without a spiritual dimension, and without the lattitude for individual freedom and self-direction, would simply turn people nasty and resentful. “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need” of course sounded lovely, and was ultimately the socialist version of the Christian golden rule. (Atheism and Christian values clearly make strange bedfellows). Dostoevsky argued that the egalitarian community ideal, stripped of its spiritual source, and individual volition, would quickly go sour.

    The strange thing with the situation you mention, and with similar experiments in Scotland by religious communites, is that the added religious and spiritual dimension did not prevent a similar sourness from rearing its ugly head.

    So this brings us to Dostoevsky’s other argument, which was about volition. He said that no matter how rational and fair the organisation of a community such as Soviet Russia (or the United Order – very loosely compared as utopian ideas), people need freedom, they need to feel as though their efforts somehow accrue to them and are credited to them personally. If this doesn’t happen, they’ll start throwing spanners in the works or surrender to lassitude.

    Returning to the Relief Society question, it’s perfectly understandable how the sisters would feel the way they did. The quote by Ardis of the Relief Society president is actually quite heartrending:

    “When she read, in the Exponent, the reports of other Relief Societies and what they were doing toward gathering the poor Saints, building Temples, and storing grain as the Sisters had been called on to do, and thought we were doing nothing, it seemed there must be something wrong.”

    This “wistful” tone sounds very much like thwarted creativity, and a sense of powerlessness. What the United Order would need is a forum where a concern like this could be voiced. Relief Society sisters would need to feel they can go to the male leaders with such a concern and have it taken seriously, and some adjustment made for it. With things on a bare survival level, as Ardis points out, there may not have been scope for accomodating such a need at that historical moment. But ideally, the Priesthood leadership of an ideal United Order community would eventually have to accept the Relief Society, or some other female forum, as an adjunct rather than subsidiary advisory body. And this forum, or the RS, would have to have some chartered right to have it’s concerns acted upon, not merely ‘listened to’ as though they were obliged to perpetually enter into discussion with a begging bowl in their hands.

  26. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 6:40 am

    21: Clair, one thing that strikes me in reading through the hundreds of testimonies recorded in the RS minutes is the frequency with which the women give some variation of “I know that plural marriage and the United Order are true.” It’s never “Joseph Smith and plural marriage” or “the Atonement and the United Order” but those two principles in tandem. I’m not sure what that means, if anything, other than perhaps that these were the two areas of their faith that required the most effort to sustain. The women often spoke of how close they felt to each other, how they had never felt so at home before coming into the Order, and their sincere efforts to overlook each other’s petty faults in the interest of feeling even more united as an Order, so I have to believe that they were either sincere in reporting emotional/spiritual unity, or sincere in striving for that unity whether or not they were always successful.

  27. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 7:05 am

    22: smb, so many good — and tough — questions. I’ll try:

    do they write much about what it meant to have a communal kitchen and cafeteria? Were men involved at all in the cafeteria?

    Other than the recording of testimonies and the occasional talk by the bishop or a visiting stake/general RS leader, I have found exactly NO writings by the women of Kingston. The Order journal and the individual diaries I’ve located were all written by men, supplemented by much later reminiscences by children who had been in the Order. So it’s only possible to guess at the answers by reading between the lines. The Kingston Order did originally eat as one common group — the women were assigned week-long shifts in the kitchen, aided by one or two men who did the heavy lifting involved in preparing large quantities of food, and aided by bigger girls who waited on tables and washed the lighter dishes (not the pots). Women don’t figure in the Order journal much (I think that’s a function of the peculiar personality of the journal keeper), except when there’s an occasional disagreement in the kitchen which requires intervention from the Order management. BUT — after a number of months, general dissatisfaction (specific causes not recorded) with the “big table” resulted first in dividing into five “tables” each presided over by a member of the Order board, but still eating in the common dining room at the same time — and eventually to the return to each family preparing its own meals. The keeper of the Order journal mourned the passing of the common table and saw it as the first step toward disunion. Since the change in labor would have affected primarily the women, I have to assume they at least approved of, and perhaps instigated, the change, but I have no direct evidence. One single man who usually got his bread and other food items prepared by this woman or that appreciated the opportunity to negotiate with the women directly because some of them were better cooks than others, which again hints to me that some women enjoyed cooking and baking more than others did. All speculation and reading between the lines, though.

    What kinds of food did they eat? Did the women write much about missing the pleasures of a family table, did they exult in the shared experience of the meal? Or was it mostly, “another night of corn dodgers, wish we had more beef”?

    Bread and milk were the two constant staples. When they ran short of bread, or when the mill was not usable for some reason, bread could get pretty scarce and might be made out of bran, shorts, or even hops. Dinner often had to be delayed until the men finished milking because it was so essential to the meal. They raised cattle, sheep, and pigs, and meat was often on the table. Their extremely successful dairying operation provided plenty of butter and cheese for most of the Order period, as well as a ready source of cash when it was freighted to places like the Nevada mines. They raised potatoes, and had garden truck. There was a severe lack of fruit, and whenever business required somebody to go to Fillmore or St. George or Salt Lake, dried fruit was one of the items that was brought back. While I haven’t found any women’s voices speaking about the “big table,” it’s one of the details appearing consistently in grown children’s reminiscences — the kids apparently loved the big family atmosphere.

    More to your point, there is a subtle question of power and community here. There are two ways to see the United Order: 1 is the conquest of selfishness and competitive capitalism, 2 is the formation of a perfectly integrated community. If 1 is correct, the RS would be entirely within rights to emphasize individual charitable work as a subset of the broader Zion community. If 2 is correct, then the Bishop’s son was expressing the vision of the United Order.

    I’m not sure I understand the subtleties you intend, because I can see both elements in Kingston. The women speak constantly about striving for unity, for conquering backbiting and fault finding and for becoming of one heart. The journal keeping men also stress oneness and unity, and defend the integrity of their community and its assets against loss (their sheep sometimes — often — end up mingled with other herds, with help — or not — from neighboring sheep herders), and they fiercely negotiate with those who leave the Order to retain assets that are essential to Kingston’s survival and growth. That seems to fit your (1), but the unity part also fits your (2), so I must not understand the distinction you’re making.

  28. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 7:22 am

    23: Emily M, I may have misrepresented the women by referring to the Bishop’s scolding them for vanity, without background. I think the Bishop misunderstood what the women wanted in being able to make their own contributions to the larger church projects. It wasn’t, I think, that they wanted it known that Sarah had donated 85cts and Mary had donated 43cts, or even that they wanted the Kingston RS to appear on the roll of temple contributors. I think, rather, that what they wanted was the satisfaction of knowing they had made a direct, personal contribution even if nobody knew they had. That is, there is a greater sense of ownership, of involvement in the cause of Zion, if you knit a pair of socks for a temple mason with your own hands and get to put those socks into the box for shipment to Manti, even if nobody else knows that YOU knitted the socks. There is little sense of involvement when your Bishop directs a wagonload of flour — raised, harvested, milled, packed, and shipped by men — to be driven to Manti.

    The Bishop didn’t understand that, I think. He saw the women’s work in the kitchen and at the looms and in their families as making it possible for the Order to function, so that the Order could turn a profit and so that the Order could make a contribution. The women were part of the Order, so that contribution was also theirs. From the women’s pont of view, though, they did not see that washing dishes helped to build the Temple, especially when they knew that RS women in Salt Lake and Payson and Manti were raising funds as well as washing dishes.

    I do think it was the involvement in the cause that attracted them, not recognition.

  29. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 7:37 am

    24: Bob, it’s good to acknowledge that there WERE different forms of the United Order. They weren’t all formal communities involving every aspect of life, as at Kingston. There were communal fields and herds and workshops, and cooperative stores (like ZCMI), and other projects worked (or not!) by communally donated labor.

    25: Kyle R, I’m running out of steam in responding to all these great comments, so am afraid this won’t be all that your observations deserve. I did want to note — and endorse — the idea that leadership of an enterprise like a United Order community *does* need to counsel with its members in order for its members to make their fullest contribution to the Order. Yesterday I worked with the diary of a member of the Kingston Order. He was thoroughly converted to the principles of unity and consecration and worked hard. Kingston was his fourth attempt to live in the Order — no matter how many times Orders failed, he continued to try to make one work. Yet he did not last long at Kingston. He wanted to be assigned a stewardship — work at the grist mill, or with the sheep herd, *anything* — and when he was given an assignment like that, he threw himself into doing the best job possible for the Order. But much of the time, he wasn’t given a stewardship. He was expected to line up like a day laborer and be given a work assignment, never knowing what he would be told to do or even knowing how to do the task he was assigned. Like the women, he needed to feel like he was making a direct, personal contribution to the success of the Order, and not feel like an anonymous resource to be used with no more thought than the Bishop would use in assigning horses and oxen to their day’s work. He didn’t need personal recognition, just a sense of personal contribution. There should have been a mechanism for his reasonable needs to be addressed.

  30. Kyle R. on September 26, 2007 at 8:17 am

    Thanks Ardis, this is an endlessly interesting topic and I’ve really appreciated your expertise, comments, perspective and the fascinating details you’ve provided from your work. It would be wonderful to read another post on the United Order at some point.

  31. Adam Greenwood on September 26, 2007 at 8:21 am

    It would be wonderful to read another post on the United Order at some point.

    Second.

  32. smb on September 26, 2007 at 8:29 am

    Ardis, thanks. I say subtle when I’m trying not to be controversial. If you only or primarily are indicting capitalism, then various power centers could exist within the Order, such as the RS providing external charity. If you only or primarily are creating unity, then such alternate power centers would not be supported. that’s the basic point I was trying to emphasize.

  33. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 9:28 am

    Ah, I get it, smb. In that case, I’d say Kingston was genuinely about creating unity — they expected the Order to provide wealth as a byproduct of unity. They were looking toward a unified life because it was blessed, not away from capitalism because it was wicked. I don’t think that would preclude the RS from providing external charity, but the RS would certainly need the cooperation and agreement of the whole order or else the goal of unity could not be achieved. They needed a forum, as Kyle R suggested, for bringing their desires to the Order, with the possibility (but obviously not the guarantee) of persuading the bishop and board to give their projects the Order’s blessing and cooperation. Between the bishop’s autocratic personality (there is abundant evidence of that, although I haven’t given you enough here for you to be as sure as I am) and everybody’s inexperience in Order living, those councils and cooperation didn’t have time to develop.

    I’m working on this Order project through November, so I’m sure there will be related posts soon. You’ve all helped me work out ideas here — thanks!

  34. Idahospud on September 26, 2007 at 10:27 am

    Ardis, thank you for a most fascinating discussion. I look forward to your future efforts! Any chance of combining your earlier focus on specific saints (and women in particular) and life in the Order? I know you said that you haven’t found writings by Kingston women, but what about from other Order communities?

  35. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 11:04 am

    Idahospud, thanks for the reminder — I do need to get back to writing about individual women, and a woman in the Order would have unique elements to her story. While I don’t have the words of an Order woman, I do know quite a bit about some of them from the usual external sources. I’ll find one to write about.

  36. Emily M. on September 26, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Ardis, thanks for the clarification. I love the way you put it in #29: “He didn’t need personal recognition, just a sense of personal contribution.” That’s what the RS sisters were seeking, wasn’t it–that sense of personal contribution to the cause.

    Such an interesting discussion–thanks!

  37. Chad Too on September 26, 2007 at 1:06 pm

    Kingston, eh? That means I’m probably related to most of the protagonists in the RS story Ardis shares.

  38. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Aw, c’mon, Chad, tell me who you’re related to — the Kings? Savages? Whettons? Pratts? Nielsons? Syretts? All of the above? Write to me at AEParshall at AOL dotcom.

  39. Chad Too on September 26, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    We’ve danced this dance before, Ardis. See here, comment 8: http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=3771#comments

  40. Ardis Parshall on September 26, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Oh, duh, of course. That’s one of the trouble with pseudonyms. None of those were Order members, but there are certainly connections through the marriages of children. So I guess you aren’t going to cough up some previously unknown Order journal … my brief fantasy …

  41. Clair on September 26, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    26: Ardis, I believe their testimonies completely. It would be very hard for us to get to where they were in those principles. If we got there, however, I believe we would find the same blessings, and the same difficulties.

  42. Kyle R. on September 27, 2007 at 9:43 am

    I don’t know about Relief in the Order but there was this LDS Relief that just popped up with my daily African news feed today, which I thought readers might appreciate.

    http://www.accra-mail.com/mailnews.asp?id=2651

  43. Ardis Parshall on September 27, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Nice spotting, Kyle R — thanks for the link.

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