In the Young Woman's Journal, Emily H. Higgs began her summary of the first LDS Girls Camp experience with the following lines: “It is quite generally recognized that conditions surrounding our girls have greatly changed within the last few years.”
It was 1912, and the Young Ladies' National Mutual Improvement Association (a forerunner of the current Young Women and Young Single Adult organizations) were now full of working urban women. Leaders worried about the psychological impact of the monotony of factory and office jobs on these young women, and the confines and temptations of city life. They felt that spending time in nature offered spiritual and psychological healing, but recognized that most girls couldn't afford time at a summer resort. They also recognized that the book reports and handicrafts the MIA was offering the girls during the interim of its regular meetings were not interesting the girls.
Higgs declared, “Joy, rest, recreation and companionship under beautiful conditions is the rightful heritage of every girl whether rich or poor.” Although Higgs made it clear she thought these young women were spending too much money on worldly things (retrenchment ideology was alive and well during this period), it didn't stop her from trying to minister to them in their real conditions and needs.
With the help of other local leaders, Emily Higgs organized Liberty Glen Camp, the first LDS Girls Camp. Along the way, the needs of the girls were kept front and center. They did not simply feminize the Boy Scout programs the YMMIA had recently introduced – they created something new. They also emphasized keeping costs low so as many girls as possible could participate.
Camp was not a rigorous survival experience – it was a summer house. The girls shared cooking and cleaning duties, and were given lots of free time to pursue however they wished. They could fish, hike, wade and swim. Classes were offered about flowers, insects, birds, and plants. Once a week, they had a “Mother's Day” where families and ward authorities were invited, and hayrack rides, bonfires, concerts, and open air dances were part of the entertainment. The emphasis was on rejuvenating the working woman's soul.
:) And for those of you that have felt that your young women aren't roughing it enough, you should know that they had a large sleeping house with wire netting, cots, electric lights, telephone, and even a piano – their goal was modern convenience with the “luxuries” of an outdoor life.
The program was wildly successful and quickly expanded throughout the church, shifting along the way to meet the needs of the current generations.
I'm grateful for Higg's inspiration. When you read her writing, it is clear that she is somewhat baffled and disapproving of this new urban life, but rather than calling these women's needs self-inflicted and ignoring them, she focused her energies on reaching out and blessing them. I am grateful for the blessings I've experienced attending girls camp as both a youth and a leader.
Emily H. Higgs, May W. Cannon, Sadie G. Pack, “Liberty Glen Camp.” The Young Woman's Journal, Volume 24, page 31-34. Published 1913.
Richard Ian Kimball, Sports in Zion: Mormon Recreation 1890-1940. University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Liberty Glen: The First Young Women Camp, lds.org