Ella Young Empey

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Ella Young Empey was the first president of the Young Ladies’ Department of the Cooperative Retrenchment Association. She was born on August 31, 1847, in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and married Nelson A. Empey in 1865. She died on September 7, 1890.

November 28, 1869 is the date many believe that Brigham Young gathered his older daughters together in the parlor of the Lion House and asked them to gain strong, living testimonies and to dress and act modestly. He had been concerned as he saw women dressing and living extravagantly. He saw a growing trend toward materialism and sophistication among the younger members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It seemed to him that the young women, his daughters included, were mainly interested in “young men, socials, theater, ice skating, sleigh and hay rides, picnics, and clothes.”[1] He asked his daughters to lead in an effort to “"retrench in your dress, in your tables, in your speech, wherein you have been guilty of silly, extravagant speeches and light-mindedness of thought. Retrench in everything that is bad and worthless, and improve in everything that is good and beautiful."[2] He wanted for them, and for all young women, “a more complete and abundant life.”[3]

On May 27, 1870, the first Young Ladies’ Department of the Cooperative Retrenchment Association was organized. President Young’s daughter Ella, became the first president at the age of 22. Ella Young Empey and her counselors—Emily Young Clawson (20), Zina Young Williams (19), Maria Young Dougall (19), Caroline Young (18), Dora Young (17), and Phebe Young (15)—met under the direction of Eliza R. Snow and drew up articles of association and resolutions. News spread of the association and within a year, Retrenchment Associations were formed in many wards in Salt Lake, Ogden, Logan, Provo, Brigham City, and Bountiful. Many of these were formed with the help of Eliza R. Snow, whom Brigham Young had tasked with organizing an association in the wards she visited and with promoting the cause of retrenchment among the older women in the Church.[4] As the organization spread, the name was shortened to Young Ladies’ Retrenchment Association.[5]

The emphasis changed from retrenchment to self-improvement and in the fall of 1877, the name of the association was changed to the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association. Three years later Elmina Shepard Taylor was named the first president. Today the organization is known as Young Women.