(and always has been).
Primary was born out of the need to civilize little boys; girls were included as an afterthought. Its founder, Aurelia Spencer Rogers, described its origins this way:
In August, 1878, I was called upon to preside over a Primary Association in Farmington. … And for some time previous to the organization of the children, I had reflected seriously upon the necessity of more strict discipline for our little boys.
Many of them were allowed to be out late at night; and certainly some of the larger ones well deserved the undesirable name of â€˜hoodlum.â€™ …
The query then arose in my mind could there not be an organization for little boys wherein they could be taught everything good, and how to behave. …
Sister Rogers spoke to Eliza R. Snow, the doyenne whose ideas, support and influence were vital to any widespread enterprise. â€œCould there not be an organization for little boys, and have them trained to make better men?â€
President John Taylor was consulted, and plans went ahead to organize what became the Primary Association.
Up to this period the girls had not been mentioned; but my mind was that the meeting would not be complete without them; for as singing was necessary, it needed the voices of little girls as well as boys to make it sound as well as it should.
After Sister Rogers sought permission to make this modification to original plans, girls were brought into Primary â€“ not chiefly for their own benefit, but to improve the program planned for the boys.
So Primary proceeded with both boys and girls. Lessons were developed, the Childrenâ€™s Friend was published, charity fairs were organized, childrenâ€™s hospital wards were established, and Primary became an established institution within the Church for children from ages 3 to 14.
Then along came Boy Scouts. The program was established in Britain in 1907, came to the United States in 1910, and entered the Church in 1911 with the organization of the first LDS-sponsored troop in Salt Lakeâ€™s Waterloo Ward. The Young Menâ€™s Mutual Improvement Association adopted Scouting as its recreational program in 1913. Because the national Scouting program involved 12- and 13-year-old boys, LDS boys of that age were transferred to the MIA program.
The girls were not. The 12- and 13-year-old girls were left in Primary. With the little children. Singing the same songs and watching the same flannelboard stories with the little children in the afternoon. Watching their brothers go out to evening activities with the teens and adults. Watching the boys do all the things Scouts do. While they sang songs. With the little kids.
These conditions continued for nine long years, until 1922 when the Church organized the Seagull program for 12- and 13-year-old girls. They remained part of Primary, not MIA, but the Seagulls were a sort of junior Beehive Girl program, with the girls learning to conduct their own sub-meetings within the Primary, preparing lessons for each other, teaching younger classes, and engaging in service projects. The girls existed in some sort of limbo, no longer lumped with the small children, learning new skills, but without the variety and scope of the Scouting activities provided to boys the same age. Only in 1934 were the 12- and 13-year-old girls transferred to MIA, over the very strong objections of the general Primary board, and permitted to participate in some of the same social and recreational activities that had been open to the boys for an entire generation.
Probably no other individual has had a greater influence on the overall Primary program as we know it today than LaVern Watts Parmley, called to the Primary general board in 1941 and Primary general president from 1951-1974. She presided over the Primary three times longer than any president since her time, and successfully transitioned the Primary from a program chiefly of the intermountain west to one that serves children worldwide, as well negotiating the move from a mostly autonomous auxiliary to one that functions in coordination with all other facets of the Church.
Sister Parmley was born on 1 January 1900 â€“ I know thatâ€™s not really the first day of the new century, but the date is still symbolic of her outlook, her construction of Primary to suit the needs of the modern era rather than strictly maintaining the habits of the old.
Importantly, she considered herself to be, in her own words, â€œa leader of boys.â€ She loved boys, considered them her â€œspecialityâ€ (also her own word), and devoted her life to meeting their needs. She spent time with boys, beginning with her eight brothers (she had two sisters, too, but those were much younger than she). She was something of a tomboy, playing football, basketball and handball, and working as farm labor as much as assisting her mother in the house. Her own children were two boys and a girl, whom she raised to be just as active as she was, playing basketball and volleyball and cheering for the University of Utah sports teams.
Her first assignment on the Primary general board was to revamp the boysâ€™ program. Her next call was as the counselor over the boys’ program in the administration of then-President May Green Hinckley. She retained supervision of the boysâ€™ program under the presidency of Sister Hinckleyâ€™s successor, Adele Cannon Howells. Heavily involved in Scouting, Sister Parmley became the first woman to serve on a national Boy Scout committee, and the first woman to receive the Silver Buffalo award. She served on the National Council of Boy Scouts and as a member of the national Cub Scout Committee. LaVern Parmley loved boys, and boysâ€™ programs.
Her first great challenge after her call as president in 1951 had to do with Scouting. In 1950, the national Boy Scouts had lowered the age of joining Scouts to 11. The Cub Scout program was also becoming wildly popular in the United States. Both facts negatively impacted the Primary â€“ at first, 11-year-old boys were expected to attend Primary on a weekday, and Scouts with the MIA on a week night. The double meetings were a burden on the boys and their families, and too many 11-year-old boys opted to attend Scouts and dropped out of Primary. Younger boys joined the Cub Scouts in droves. Since most packs were sponsored by community groups, there were conflicts between Primary and Cubbing schedules. Cubbing usually won. In some cases, Cub packs were also the boysâ€™ choirs at non-LDS churches, and a surprising number of boys skipped not only Primary, but Sunday School as well in order to participate in choirs with their friends.
Sister Parmleyâ€™s solution to the conflict was to incorporate Cub Scouting into the Primary program. This not only eliminated competition with other community groups, it also gave her the clout needed with the national Boy Scout program to win their permission for women to serve as Scout leaders for the 11-year-olds who remained in Primary. Den and Pack meetings, Pinewood Derbys, Pack-o-Fun, skits, blue-and-gold uniforms, badges and day camps and awards ceremonies, cool initiation rites â€“ all the activities and goodies that I remember peeking longingly at from the hallway as I grew up (my own mother was an avid Den Mother and Primary worker) entered Primary under Sister Parmley.
There was no comparable attention to the girlsâ€™ programs. The girlsâ€™ class names were changed (girls became â€œLihomasâ€ or â€œLittle Homemakersâ€), but a review of their lesson manuals and leadership books reveals no substantive alteration of their lesson topics or recreational activities.
Sister Parmley was responsible for other major developments in Primary (transforming the Childrenâ€™s Friend into a magazine for the children themselves instead of an inservice magazine for teachers, and transitioning to The Friend; building a new Primary Childrenâ€™s Hospital, then assisting in the Churchâ€™s divestment of all hospitals; instituting teacher training after discovering how many Primary teachers were converts without sufficient knowledge of basic gospel tenets). She popularized the song â€œI Am a Child of Godâ€ and oversaw the development of CTR rings and other lasting symbols of modern Mormon culture. Her greatest efforts and greatest love, however, was unashamedly reserved for the boys and their activities.
It was Sister Parmley’s vision of Primary, her goals and designs and priorities, in which all recent and current Primary presidents were raised. Later presidents have tweaked the program during their brief administrations, but none has made a major overhaul of the program as Sister Parmley did. Her model of Primary, with minor modifications, remains their model of Primary.
True? or no?