Elmina Shepard Taylor was a Mormon pioneer who traveled by wagon to Utah, and served as the first president of the Young Women’s organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called the “Mormon Church” by some). The “Young Women’s organization” is a divinely inspired organization in which all female youth (aged 12-18) are invited to participate. Elmina was an LDS woman leader who was asked by Brigham Young (the living prophet of God) on June 19, 1880, to lead the young Mormon women (Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, , page 267). This Young Women’s organization continues today and teaches youth concerning their Savior Jesus Christ. Worldwide, youth learn how to follow Christ’s example and live their beliefs in a world that increasingly doubts the existence of God. Young women are invited to grow closer to their Heavenly Father through prayer, scripture study, Sunday school lessons, service,and uplifting weekly activities with other youth.
Mormon Women leading the Young Women’s Organization
The Young Women’s organization began with the prophet Brigham Young’s counsel to his daughters on 18 November 1869 concerning their dress, eating habits, communication and spirituality. He told them, “There is a need for the young daughters of Israel to get a living testimony of the truth.” His daughters chose to follow the prophet and created the Young Ladies Department of the Cooperative Retrenchment Association—known as the Young Women’s organization today (Caroline H. Benzley, “134 Years Young!” New Era, November, 2003).
Brigham Young said:
I wish our girls to obtain a knowledge of the Gospel for themselves. For this purpose I desire to establish … a Retrenchment Association, which I want you all to join, and I want you to vote to retrench in … everything that is bad and worthless, and improve in everything that is good and beautiful. Not to make yourselves unhappy, but to live so that you may be truly happy in this life and the life to come (“Presidents of the Young Women Organization through the Years,” Ensign, June 2008, pages 40–45).
During her presidency from 1880-1904, Elmina worked closely with other Mormon women such as her first counselors Margaret Young Taylor (1880-1887), Maria Young Dougall (1887-1904), and second counselor Martha H. Tingey (who became the next president of the young women’s organization). Elmina said, “The aim of the leaders of this movement has been to cultivate every gift and grace of true womanhood, recognizing the fact that it is not the outward appearance but the forces which gather within the soul that go to develop the individual” (“Presidents of the Young Women Organization through the Years,” Ensign, June 2008, pages 40–45). Elmina accomplished this by creating the monthly Young Woman’s Journal, weekly activities (called “Mutual night”), Traveling Mutual Improvement Association (MIA) libraries and opening meetings on Sundays for both the young men and the young women. In 1904, she changed the organization’s name to the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (Young Women: Elmina Shepard Taylor [1880–1904]).
Mormon Women: Biography of Elmina Shepard Taylor
Elmina was one of many Mormon women who were challenged to live their beliefs. Elmina was born on September 12, 1830, in Middlefield, New York to David S. Shepherd and Rozella Bailey. She attended Hardwick Academy and later taught school in Haverstraw where she met her husband and first heard the gospel. She was baptized into the LDS Church on July 5, 1856, at the age of 25. She wrote of her conversion, “I fought against my convictions, for I well knew how it would grieve my dear parents…and I also thought I should lose my situation…. However, I could not silence my convictions, and…I went forth and was baptized” (Florence Smith Jacobsen, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Elmina Shepard Taylor, 1992). She married George Hamilton Taylor on August 31, 1856, and a couple of years later they traveled to Utah with an oxen team — a five month’s journey. She gave birth to seven children but three of those died in infancy (Florence Smith Jacobsen, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Elmina Shepard Taylor, 1992).
I can’t imagine what it would have been like to escape religious persecution by leaving my home and traveling across the plains and desert by wagon. I admire Elmina’s courage and faithful example as she lived her beliefs despite the persecution from her family and others. Watch a short clip about the faith of Mormon pioneers that traveled to Utah:
Elmina was one of many Mormon women who served those around her. She volunteered 26 years as the secretary for her local congregation’s Relief Society (organization for adult women worldwide) and 16 years as a member of the presidency of the Salt Lake Stake Relief Society Board (divine organization for women in the Salt Lake area) (Andrew Jenson, Latter-day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia, , page 267). In 1874 she was called as president of the Young Ladies Association of her ward (local congregation) which was a volunteer position she held until her death (Florence Smith Jacobsen, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Elmina Shepard Taylor, 1992).
At a conference of women’s organizations held June 19, 1880, in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, Elmina Taylor, although shy and reserved, was appointed the first general president of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association. Originally organized to help teenage girls focus more on spiritual and less on worldly pursuits (see Retrenchment Association), the association encouraged their study of gospel principles, development of individual talents, and service to those in need. Under her direction, the organization flourished. General, ward, and stake boards were appointed, lesson manuals produced, the Young Woman’s Journal inaugurated (1889), and joint activities established with the Young Men’s Association (see Young Men). President Taylor traveled thousands of miles yearly, giving instruction to ward and stake leaders. She became a member of the National Council of Women and, in 1891, three years after its organization, became an ex officio vice-president.
Elmina Taylor retained her office as president of the Young Ladies’ Association through her last illness, reading reports in bed until the day of her death, December 6, 1904. Her funeral was held in the white-draped Assembly Hall. The choir and ushers were members of the Young Ladies’ Association. President Joseph F. Smith, one of the speakers, summarized her life’s work: “She was one of the few in the world who had the light within her, and…power among her associates…. She was legitimately the head of the organization over which she was called to preside…. She was a strong character,…tempered and softened by the…spirit of kindness, of love, of mercy, and of charity” (“Death of Elmina S. Taylor,” p. 221). (Florence Smith Jacobsen, The Encyclopedia of Mormonism: Elmina Shepard Taylor, 1992).
Mormon Women Leading Today
I myself have been blessed by the young women’s organization and know that it is led by a prophet of God who directs Mormon women to lead the female youth worldwide. I invite you to learn more about standards the youth are taught today and blessings that come when one obeys a prophet of God.
Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.