A Child’s-Eye View of the Mormon Silk Experiment

Utah’s 19th century silk industry was one of those projects encouraged by Brigham Young to stimulate home production and reduce Mormon dependence on a hostile world. Period literature is heavy on sermons advocating sericulture, treatises on raising worms and the mulberry trees they fed on, and praise for the quantities and artistry of finished articles.

What I’ve never seen before is the memoir of a child who assisted in the enterprise.

This reminiscence is by Beatrice Angelina Farley (Stevens) (1885-1941); her mother was Rachel Caroline Poulter Farley (1858-1938). They lived in Ogden.

When I was a very little girl, I remember that one day my mother was given a thimblefull of tiny silkworm eggs. She put them in a shoe box behind the kitchen stove to hatch. … Mulberry trees had been planted in many localities throughout the State, as silkworms thrive on their leaves. A fine row of these trees was growing across the street from our house. This may have influenced and prompted my mother’s venture.

In a very short time the shoe box was filled with live, crawling things which demanded food.

We children gathered leaves – arms full of mulberry leaves. Soon the box had to be exchanged for a larger one, and as the worms grew, it seemed to be a story of more and larger boxes, more frequent trips and larger armfuls of leaves from across the street. I can close my eyes now and hear the never ceasing rustling noise the worms made as they ate them. At last the furniture had to be taken from one bedroom and the entire space given over to this army of weavers to spin their cocoons.

It was a very busy six weeks from hatching time to the finished cocoon – an incredibly short time filled with intense activity. Mother was taught by Mrs. Margaret Kane when to dip the cocoons into boiling water, and also how to find the end of the tiny silk thread and reel it off into skeins. These skeins were taken to one of the three factories in Utah and woven into silk cloth and ribbon. Hundreds of yards of silk cloth and ribbon were manufactured through the efforts of the women, and were sent to eastern cities to be dyed …

Cross-posted from Keepapitchinin — click here to comment.