Mormon Poor Relief: A Social Welfare Interlude

Mormon Poor Relief: A Social Welfare Interlude
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Mormon Poor Relief: A Social Welfare Interlude

Author Betty L. Barton

There has been considerable scholarship about the law of consecration in the early days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and about the more recent Church welfare plan, but there has been relatively little written about Mormon welfare in the period roughly between 1850 and 1930. Many of the early pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley faced starvation, so President Brigham Young created public works projects in order to give people jobs, acting under the belief that it is better to help people help themselves than to simply give them handouts. Unlike much of American society of the time, Mormons recognized that there were many uncontrollable factors that contributed to poverty; people were not entirely responsible for their unfortunate circumstances.

After the decline of Utah's united orders in the 1880s, the Church's hospital system and the Relief Society were the Church's sole welfare services. In 1919 the Relief Society organized a welfare department to help the poor. During the Great Depression, the Church emphasized that relief for the poor should be permanent, and wards and stakes began forming employment committees. The Church encouraged wealthier members to contribute to governmental relief agencies under the Roosevelt administration. Church leaders continued to emphasize that people should work for a living and were dismayed to learn of many Church members relying on the government. This attitude of self-reliance ultimately led to the formation of a "Security Program" and the end of a passive period in the history of Latter-day Saint welfare.