Back in her youth, my mother belonged to a Catholic organization known as the Young Ladies’ Sodality. Over the years when she would reminisce about the days of her her youth, she would always mention the Young Ladies’ Sodality. It was an important part of her life for many years and she had many pleasant memories of her involvement with the group. She took great pride in being an officer of the group as well (treasurer).
I heard her stories many times over the years but I never thought to ask specifics of what the group was about. I know it was affiliated with the parish her family belonged to, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, in Detroit, Michigan, but I don’t know much else. So here I am reflecting back on her life and wondering why I didn’t ask her for more information about the Young Ladies’ Sodality (YLS). Since Mom is no longer with us on this earth, I’m left to do the research on my own. Here is what I’ve come to learn about the YLS…
The Young Ladies’ Sodality was a Catholic church society for young ladies that had four components: 1) Religion, 2) Purity & virtue, 3) Charity, 4) Social. The emphasis on each of these four parts seems to have differed somewhat from parish to parish and from age to age. There is plenty of evidence of these societies being in existence in Catholic parishes in the U.S. back in the 1800s. They may well have existed before that.
First and foremost, the YLS was a religious group. As these groups were formed in parishes they would establish a spiritual relationship with the Virgin Mary as their patron. If the local YLS was affiliated with the Mother Soldality in Rome members could receive indulgences and privileges granted by the Holy See. Members were usually required to receive Holy Communion once a month with the group and attend Mass together on Holy Days. They were also encouraged to pray the rosary often. The YLS provided guidelines for Catholic living and taught morals in keeping with the church.
Purity and Virtue
In the 1800s and early 1900s there seems to have been an emphasis on purity and virtue and the societies promoted that in a number of ways.
For instance, there were “rules” of comportment. These were usually not written down and spelled out specifically but rather were known by the elder women who were the sponsors and guides for the young ladies who were members. YLS members were expected to conduct themselves in ways befitting a group that was under the patronage of the Virgin Mary. They would have been expected to dress demurely, maintain a pleasant attitude to those around them (especially those less fortunate), respect their elders, and refrain from lewd language and behavior. Those who broke the rules risked being censured or expelled from the group.
In many parishes the members of the YLS were granted special privileges. As a result of this it was something of a prestigious group and young women deeply desired to become members. Examples of these privileges included: marching with the group (usually dressed in white with blue ribbons) and carrying the society banner in parish ceremonies and processions, at her wedding a member might be allowed white satin kneeler covers, special candles or flowers, and be allowed to present a bouquet of flowers at the altar of the Virgin Mary, and if she chose a religious life instead of marriage she would receive special prayers and Masses from her fellow members.
Acts of charity seem to have been a common denominator of the Young Ladies’ Sodalities and something they spent a good deal of time doing. They organized fund raisers most often to benefit their own parish. Often they would “sponsor” a stained glass window in the church, buy altar linens, ecclesiastical vestments, candlesticks, tabernacle curtains, nativity displays for Christmas, altar flowers, etc. They also worked to help those less fortunate. During WWI, at least one Detroit parish YLS sold and collected bonds to help victims in Poland. In older parish jubilee books it is common to find a list of items donated to the church by the YLS. These donations seem to be what the group was most appreciated for by the clergy.
Young Ladies’ Sodalities provided a good many social opportunities for young Catholic women. I have not been able to determine any specific age range for members but it appears that young women commonly joined at about age 14 (typically 8th grade) and could remain members until they married or joined a religious order. My mother was the treasurer of her parish’s YLS the year after she graduated from high school so I think it’s safe to assume that membership did not cease with high school graduation.
YLS groups commonly hosted dances, theatrical performances, lectures, and group outings, all within the framework of the Catholic church. This is where young girls learned socially and religiously accepted behavior at social functions… how to interact with the opposite sex in appropriate ways. Often parishes that had Young Ladies’ Sodalities also had Young Men’s Clubs, which were the young men’s counterpart to the YLS. The two groups would help each other out at events with such things as taking tickets at the door or in the coat check room. And it goes without saying that they interacted frequently at parish functions.
Membership in the YLS also provided a network of friendship and support. When my mother needed a third letter of recommendation (from someone with a title) to get a job she turned to a fellow YLS officer with her plight. That lady friend just happened to be dating a state Congressman at the time and she was more than happy to make a request on behalf of her “friend from church”. My mother got the letter and got the job at the Federal Reserve Bank!
At the time of the Silver Jubilee of Assumption parish’s Young Ladies’ Sodality, they had 150 members. Fifty-five of those members are pictured below (my mother is circled). This photo appeared in the YLS Silver Jubilee booklet.
Here is a picture of the ladies that were officers in 1937 and who worked diligently to put on a celebratory dinner and evening of music to mark the Silver Jubilee.
Today, Young Ladies’ Sodalities are virtually unheard of. There are a number of reasons for this but I think it’s safe to say that the main reason is that they simply lost their usefulness and popularity. Catholic church attendance is down and so is memberships in all church sponsored societies. Young girls no longer value purity and virtue the way they once did so joining a group that proclaims that publicly is no longer desirable. There are social opportunities around every corner, and online, for young girls and no “rules” to have to learn for how to conduct oneself. And charity works for the needs of the church… well, it goes without saying that young girls today are not much concerned with that. More’s the pity because the church still has needs… maybe more now than ever. They could use the energy and enthusiasm of youth to help with fundraising and prayer.
I suspect that Young Ladies’ Sodalities fell victim to the rise of women’s liberation in the 1960s and 1970s. A friend of mine was a member of her parish’s Young Ladies’ Sodality in the mid 1960s. I belonged to a parish just a short distance from her but I don’t remember there being a YLS at our parish in the late 1960s or early 1970s when I would have been of an age to join. Our parish had a “Teen Club” which had some similar objectives, fundraising and chaperoned social activities, but it was a coed organization and lacked the emphasis on purity or religion that the YLS once had.
Were you a member of a Young Ladies’ Sodality or was someone in your family? What were your experiences with the organization?