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Early Utah Life


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Early Utah Life

  1. 1. UT History The Dancing and Dress Dilemma RACHEL RAWLE 12-11-13
  2. 2. 1 Dancing and Dress Parties, music, glamour, alcohol. All of these aspects are characteristic of the 1920s in America. Change happened all around. People were moving to the city and making more money, women started gaining prominence in society, fashions, especially for women, also changed dramatically and professional dancers invented new, crazy dance styles.While this is how the 1920s are characterized, we must consider if this was really the norm or not. A great place to look for an answer to this question is the West, specifically Utah. Utah was an extremely conservative state because large portions of its population were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints. The members of the church have unique and specific guidelines on behaviors and clothing. Because of this, it begs consideration of how the Mormons responded to the evolving cultural elements such as dance and dress in the 1920s.Research shows that the Mormons typically condoned the changing styles of dance and dress because they involved extremes in movements and fit, however, the church realized that men will be men and want to participate in them, so the church lovingly integrated compromises into society to help protect its members from the influences of Satan. Americans have always loved to dance and the Mormon people were no exception. Dancing was part of their culture from the very beginning. In fact, historians claim that dancing was extremely important in Utah because it was the most common amusement that people participated in (Holbrook, 11). The Mormons considered not only to be a fun, leisurely activity, but an activity that could promote health as well (Holbrook, 6). Because of this dual purpose, leaders in the church endorsed dancing. Brigham Young, a prophet of thechurch, was one of those promoters. While he was sometimes uneasy about dancing, on the whole he believed that “there [was] no harm in dancing. The Lord said he wanted his saints to praise him in all things”
  3. 3. 2 (Bitton, 18). Dancing seemed like a perfectly legitimate way to praise the Lord. Because of this endorsement by church leaders, dances became a regular event. They were typically held on Saturday afternoons in the church buildings, beginning and ending with a prayer (Mormonism, 150). These customs continue on today. This consistency shows that Mormons do, and always have, loved dancing.They recognized that it was a healthy, praiseworthy activity that helped to enliven the saints. When one is happy and healthy, he or she has much more control over their body and it becomes a lot easier to resist the temptations of Satan. This was seen as a definite plus for the Mormons. Although many Mormons loved and supported dancing, there was a group that opposed the activity. The opposition was concerned with affects that dances had on the people, especially the youth. These concerns formed very early on. In 1843 President Spencer W. Kimball, another prophet of the Church, voiced his fears about the “follies of the youth and their too frequent attendance at balls.” These actions not only drew the mind away from innocent amusements, but it led to other evil practices as well. For these reasons, President Kimball strongly opposed dances that went to the extreme in movements, closeness, and other actions. Unfortunately this was a usual occurrence (Holbrook, 5). Other people also saw the negative effects of dances. They saw that dances could occasionally lead people into bad company. These bad influences caused the people to stay up into the wee hours of the morning. Doing this weakened their bodily systems and led them to participate in reckless, uncontrolled actions (Holbrook, 5). The opposition realized that when people are participating in these activities, they are much more susceptible to the enticements of Satan. If dancing had even the slightest chance of corrupting the soul, then it should not be carried out.
  4. 4. 3 A perfect example of dances that some people did not support was round dancing. These were dances that required close embraces between couples, rather than the original group dances. Dances like the waltz and the polka were particularly looked down upon (Mormonism, 151). The introduction of these dances led to a Church-wide disapproval of round dancing. In order for all of the members of the Church to truly grasp the antagonistic feelings towards these dances, the First Presidency sent out an official statement declaring that dances that required close embraces and suggestive movements should be avoided (Bitton, 17). Objection toward these dances migrated into the newspapers. The prominent Women’s Exponent proclaimed their abhorrence with vehemence. They asserted that round dances had originated in brothel houses and they needed to stay there (Bitton, 19). The editors recognized the evil impacts of Satan in these dances. The First Presidency and the newspapers were not the only ones to pronounce their dislike for round dancing. Other prominent people like George Q. Cannon, a member of the Twelve Apostles, voiced his opinion as well. He stated that round dancing was not a healthy activity and he believed that it was improper for servants of God to participate in them (Bitton, 19). As these examples show, views about round dancing were extremely looked down upon. This was hard view though, because Mormons always enjoyed dancing. Dancing in a wholesome manner was an excellent activity to participate in because it happiness and health. As the dances got more risqué however, the Mormons became more and more adamant against them. Even if people claimed that they were trying out these dances because they were new, not because of their enticing sexuality and immorality, the majority opinion distrusted those ideas and wereagainst the dances (Wesson, 47).They saw that round dances had the potential to distract and confuse the minds of the saints.
  5. 5. 4 Although the Mormons did not like round dances because of their effects on people, the Church realized that the saints were still going to participate in them so their disapproval eased up a bit. A little hesitation still remained however. The older generation was worried about the sanctity of the youth, so as an extra precaution, they had people at dances that would walk around making sure they could "see daylight" in-between each couple. This showed the strains between religion and popular culture that the saints had (Bitton, 17). The Mormons wanted to accept the new cultural changes, but due to their conservative nature and their concern for the welfare of the saints, special actions and adaptations had to be made. This pattern continued into the radical time of the 1920s. Because the 1920s style of dancing was a lot higher paced and energetic compared to the calm waltz of previous years, the pattern of disapproval and eventual approval began again. The Foxtrot, the Charleston, the Tango and the Shimmie are examples of the types of jazz dances that were becoming popular. Because of the nature of these dances, it is clear to see why at first, Mormons rejected and resisted these dances. In fact, Elder Stephen L. Richards, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said of the Shimmie, that it "was one of the most fearful things ever introduced." He concluded by saying that "the problems of dancing were never quite so great" (Between Revivalism, 31). Because of these views, when the youth tried to participate in these new styles, they were reprimanded and told that they were not allowed (Mormonism, 151). These types of dances did not create the kind of atmosphere that the Church typically wanted at social activities. The Church preferred to have a wholesome environment where the spirit abided. In fact, in 1920 while these new dances were spreading like a wild fire, David O. McKay, a prominent Church leader, stated that the “atmosphere of the dance should be such that if any elder be called from the party to go administer to a sick person, he could leave with the same
  6. 6. 5 spirit that he would go from his elder’s quorum meeting” (Oliphant, 103). Having a clean, moral atmosphere during activities like dancing, was something the Mormons had always valued because it helped to protect the mind from the temptations of Satan. They did not feel however, that these new dances did this, so they tried their hardest to resist them. However, new techniques are hard for people to fight against, sostruggles against the new styles did not last for very long. Soon the Mormons gave into the natural man and began to participate in thenew dancing fads. At first, the Church's position was common sense and moderation when taking part in dances (Bitton, 25). However, historian Gary Kunz commented that the Mormons in the 1920s engaged in Jazz music just as much as any of the large cities that were fully participating in the new Jazz culture (67). He commented that Provo had jazz music playing at local halls which were filled with drunk, closely-dancing couples (Kunz, 67). The worst part of this whole phenomenon was that the youth shared in these practices. At parties, girls as young as 14 or 15 would dance cheek to cheek with the boys and would often stop to kiss them and hold them in close embraces (Kunz, 69). Because the actions at dances were getting so extreme, the compliance of the 1920s dances lessened day by day. Adults began sending in complaint letters about the inappropriateness of the dances. Some even went so far as to claim that the dances should be prohibited (Kunz, 69). Since the Church wanted its members to be in the world not of it, measures were soon taken. Different steps were taken to start curbing the lack of discipline in the youth. The older generation, as well as the Church, wanted to protect their young from the world of changing values and morals. In 1916 Church representatives came together to discuss a plan of action. They decided to form a program that required strict chaperoning of young girls at dances and
  7. 7. 6 other parties to make sure they were not dressing in the new, extreme fashions or taking part in the excessive dance styles (Between Revivalism, 25). Other actions were also implemented. Various boards were set up to make standards and rules for all of the social activities (Wesson, 51). Some stakes hired dance teachers and different wards also published a pamphlet on proper dance techniques (Between Revivalism, 26).Taking these kinds of steps not only helped to control the types of dances that occurred, but they also showed the youth the seriousness of the Church in watching over them and looking out for their welfare. These various efforts taken by the Church exemplify the attitudes of Mormons during the 1920s on the changing cultural aspects. They wanted their members to be able to take part in the enjoyments of the world, but under certain conditions. The high values that the Mormons had needed to be upheld in all aspects. In doing so, individuals are in more control of their body thus allowing them to more successfully resist the negative influences of the devil. So, while Mormons loved dancing, with the styles becoming extreme, they had to take precautions to make sure their morals were maintained.Overall, the Mormons did not like or accept the new forms of dancing. But in order to curb the natural man, the Church lovingly created guidelines through programs and proceduresto help direct the saints through this time of change. Dancing styles were not the only cultural element that shifted to the extreme end during the 1920s, fashion also evolved. During the first part of the settlement in Utah, Mormons wore the trends of the time. This was due to the fact that they had just come to Utah and they were not fully able to manufacture their own clothes quite yet. Thus, clothing was imported into Utah (Clayton, 93). Because the clothes were from outside sources, they were more likely to be the modern fashions rather than clothes tailored to Mormon standards. Due to this fact, around 1856 the Church leaders felt like there needed to be a cleansing of the society because the members
  8. 8. 7 were getting too involved in the worldly pleasures. These pleasures were distracting the saints from the more important ideals that the Church upheld. These concerns started the Mormon Reformation. During this time the saints were encouraged to start becoming self-sufficient in all things, including making their own clothes. Because of this, it was a lot more difficult to make the latest fashions (Clayton, 267). This resulted in the saints wearing simplified versions of them. Although this was the case for the majority, many people, including the wealthy, still continued to wear the modern styles (Clayton, 118). This resistance to the principles taught during the Reformation demonstrated to the Church leaders that the saints needed even more loving direction in order to protect them from the ideas of the world. Around the 1870s Brigham Young organized a retrenchment society for the women. This institution encouraged women to create their own fashions. The Church wanted to be rid of "Babylon's" fashions and the negative effects they had on the members, so the leaders took efforts to make this happen (Clayton, 268). Relief Society women took this job seriously and began raising silk worms so that they could produce their own fine clothing (Clayton, 188). These actions had the potential to be effective. Making their own clothes would likely lead to less participation in worldly fashions. However, the Mormonsare not perfect, so even after all of the attempts by the Church to get rid of “Babylon’s” fashions, members were still enticed with these fashions, so,their clothes ended up being simplified versions of them. The simplicity of the Mormon fashions was challenged when the 1920s came along and the styles started becoming extreme. The 1920s was the era when women started gaining more freedom. This newfound freedom expressed itself in dress. The scandalously clad flapper appeared. These fashions were dramatically different from what previous eras had claimed were acceptable for women to wear. Dresses were not tight and voluminous anymore, they hung
  9. 9. 8 straight from the shoulder and free from the body. The arms were bare and as the years progressed, the hemlines got higher and higher. Women also preferred to seem "boyish" so they would wear a flatting bra. Although this was the case, it was crucial to keep the feminine touch by wearing gaudy jewelry (Jailer-Chamberlain). These newly formed fashions epitomized just what the Mormons had been trying to avoid. The extremes of the new flapper fashion were going to start distracting the minds of the saints and make them more susceptible to the influences of Satan. Because of this, the Church's view towards the styles was less than positive. The Church openly voiced its opinion to the members about being cautious with the new fashions. With the radical flapper as the example for the new women's fashion, people could easily start forgetting their morals, thus becoming vulnerable to the enticements of the devil. Because of this, extra care was taken to help guide Mormon women in their clothing choices. Leaders strongly encouraged and emphasized that the women wear plain dresses. Plainness and modesty were traditionally associated with public virtue, so in order to maintain a virtuous society, the women needed to continue exemplifying those characteristics (Mormonism, 152). How to have a virtuous society is taught in school, so if the teachers and students are not dressing in a way to promote public virtue, then the lessons in school are all for naught. This is why modesty and plainness in clothing was necessary for teachers and students to adhere to. Joseph F. Smith spoke very strongly about women dressing in high fashion when teaching children (Mormonism, 151). Likewise, the students were not only pushed to wear plain dresses in school, but in school activities as well. An excerpt was posted in the Utah Daily Chronicle which discussed prom clothing. It states that it is very easy, with the extreme fashions of the time, to wear the wrong thing which "robs them of their modesty.” It continues that the people that wear the fads do not really realize what image they are giving off. "Evening gowns that expose
  10. 10. 9 thearms and shoulders too extensivelyare not becoming, not artistic andmost certainly not modest. A girlwho loses the least part of her modesty has lost part of her greatest charm" (1919).The Church truly condemned the new styles and the immodesty that they created because they taught all the wrong morals. Men and women alike despised these new fashions. One of Brigham Young's daughters, Susa Young Gates printed a brief poem in the Improvement Era that clearly stated her thoughts on the latest styles. She wrote, "Be the parcel, not the wrapper; be a woman, not a flapper" (1929). Clearly, she could see through the facade of the flapper style. She encouraged the women of the Church to have more substance to them than just clothes. Dressing modestly, unlike a flapper, would help the women to become better, smarter and more well-rounded, rather than just being a beautifully dressed girl that knows nothing. All Mormons recognized the unfavorable aspects about the new styles. They saw that this style of dress, or rather undress, was shamelessly exhibiting the human form (Bitton, 17). Mormons recognize that the body is a temple, so displaying it for the world to see is a sacrilege. The women were strongly encouraged to cover their "temples" and wear modest clothing. That being said, Mormons were still human, so participating in the latest fashion was bound to happen. Sure enough, the Mormons did end up somewhat giving in. Pictures taken of women in the 1920s showed that a lot oftheir dresses were fairly similar to the new styles, but with a few adjustments for modesty's sake. The dresses typically went about to the knee. The sleeves were either long or elbow length. They were a looser fit and had a dropped waistline. There was a variety of colors, but perhaps not quite as vibrant as the flapper dresses. These types of styles were commonly promoted in the newspapers. The Utah Daily Chronicle was constantly advertising for Siegel Clothing Co.This store had "the newest models of fabrics and colors" and
  11. 11. 10 "everything that fashion favors” (1919).The Manti Messengeralso took part in this promotion. In 1925 it displayed an article that discussed the success of the new tunic blouses. It declared that, "When the tunic-blouse arrived it made an immediate success for two very good reasons, first because it is a becoming garment and next because it simplifies the problem of a varied wardrobe" (3).This newspaper was trying to show some of the benefits of the new fashions. These were modest dresses that made women look lovely while also adding variety to their wardrobes. The various newspaper advertisements helped to encourage the participation of the saints in the new fashions. Although the new fashions were looked down upon, the Mormons continued their pattern of taking part in the styles but in a simplified, modest way. Most Mormons were not just going to throw their values out the window and start wearing extreme fashions like the flapper style. They had high standards and those were going to be met by every good saint. The Church recognized that participating in the fashions might leave members more vulnerable to the influences of Satan because those extreme fashions would distract the mind from more virtuous thoughts. That being said, the Church also realized that man would be man, so they sympathetically made compromises. Women, especially, were allowed to wear the new fashions but with the conditions of modesty. All in all, the Mormons despised the extreme fashions because of the position of vulnerability it left the saints in, but accepted them as long as the standards were kept. "Let not the brilliant prospects of a glorious millennium be clouded with such shadows as are threatened by customs and costumes and diversions of these licentious days" (Bitton, 17). This quote truly epitomizes the stance of the Church on the changing cultural aspects of dance and dress in the 1920s. The Church did not like the changes because they did not uphold the standards and morals that the Church encourages. The new styles of dance and dress were full of
  12. 12. 11 extremes. Extremes are never a good thing. However, there is always a way around them. Rules and regulations are methods of compromise. This is exactly what the Mormons did. They realized that everyone is human and will long for the new styles.In order to prevent a complete uprising from the members the Church allowed for participation in the new styles, but only following the rules set in place. The clothes had to be modest and the dances had to be approved by special boards. So although places in Utah, like Provo, had the same behaviors that characterized other places in the nation, through rules and regulations, the Utah Mormons were able to keep their uniqueness.
  13. 13. 12 Works Cited Alexander, Thomas G.,1935, author. Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-Day Saints, 1890-1930. Eds. Stein, Stephen J., 1940, writer of added text., Thomas G. Alexander, and foreword by Stephen J. Stein. Third edition ed. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012. Print. Alexander, Thomas G., 1935. Between Revivalism and the Social Gospel: The Latter-day Saint Social Advisory Committee, 1916-1922. . ., 1983. Print. Bitton, Davis, 1930-2007. "These Licentious Days": Dancing among the Mormons ..., 1977. Print. Clayton, Ruth Vickers, 1926. "Clothing and the Temporal Kingdom: Mormon Clothing Practices, 1847 to 1887." Thesis (Ph.D)--Purdue University., 1987. Print. Holbrook, Leona. Dancing as an Aspect of Early Mormon and Utah Culture. Ed. Leona Holbrook., 1978. Print. “It Does Not Pay!” Improvement Era, 1929. Utah Digital Newspapers. Web. 11 December 2013. Jailer - Chamberlain, Mildred. "Flappers in Fashion the 1920s." Antiques & Collecting Magazine 2003: 24. Print. Kunz, Gary C. Provo in the Jazz Age: A Case Study. Ed. by Gary C. Kunz. Thesis (M.A.)-- Brigham Young University. Dept. of History., 1983. Print. Manti Messenger, Jan. 2, 1925. Utah Digital Newspapers. Web. 11 December 2013.
  14. 14. 13 Oliphant, Bob. Dance: A Style of our Own. Ed. by Bob Oliphant. Utah: Bob Oliphant, 1990. Print. Utah Daily Chronicle, Mar. 27, 1919. Utah Digital Newspapers. Web. 11 December 2013. Wesson, Karl E. "Dance in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints 1830-1940." Thesis (M.A.)--B.Y.U. Dept. of Recreation Education., 1975. Print.