Mormons, Gender, and the New Commercial Entertainments, 1890-1920
The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
Society for Historians of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
In the early twentieth century, new forms of commercial entertainment—dance halls, movie theaters, amusement halls and parks, saloons and the like—emerged in urban areas, providing new ways for young Americans to amuse themselves. This essay explores the distinctive Mormon response to these new forms of amusement. Mormon leaders took up other progressive reformers' concerns about early twentieth-century amusements, but refracted them through a distinctively Mormon lens that was at once gendered and uniquely religious. Mormons rejected the progressive double standard that sought to constrain women's, more than men’s, participation in these new entertainments, focusing on restraining both genders equally. While many progressives held women more responsible for the sexual transgressions they worried resulted from these new forms of entertainment, Mormons held men and women equally accountable. Moreover, while other progressives sought (and largely failed) to provide alternative, more wholesome, entertainment for American youth, Mormons successfully provided family and Church amusements that kept their youth safely ensconced within the Church community. By the end of the 1910s, Church leaders had officially institutionalized the provision of amusement for its members and the Church formally became a social as well as religious organization.