My husband sometimes says, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there" (L.P. Hartley). The organization and reorganization of the priesthood in the LDS Church definitely falls into this category, and I don't think most modern members of the LDS Church realize that. Yesterday I finished reading "The Priesthood Reorganization of 1877: Brigham Young's Last Achievement" by William Hartley, which brought some light to questions I've had about the priesthood.
The thing that struck me the most was how the priesthood got to the young boys, as it had not always been standard procedure. I also enjoyed thinking about women's issues of the time, and lastly learned when Church general authorities started receiving a stipend.
Priesthood to the Boys
In 1877, before Brigham died, he wanted to restructure the organization of the priesthood brethren to be more like Joseph Smith had taught (5). Before the restructure, things were really inconsistent: bishoprics without counselors (7), local presiding bishops (6), stakes were not equal to one another (5), some saints weren't officially in any ward even (8).
Brigham Young wanted basically one stake per county (15), so reorganized stake sizes ranged from 1500-4500 people (16). In reorganizing stakes, it was interesting because it doesn't sound like the prophet always picked the stake president. In many cases, the stake president was nominated, then voted on (16). I'm assuming this was a real vote, not just a complimentary sustaining vote, because in another case, a man was proposed to be the stake president and received many opposing votes. The solution was to have that man be a co-president with the previous president (19). Not something we hear of today.
Young also produced basically the first handbook of instructions that included how many men (based on the scriptures) should be in each quorum (96 elders, 48 priests, 24 teachers, 12 deacons). Wards were to combine quorums if they didn't have enough men to fulfill the number requirements (21).
So, to the point -- here's why boys were called "into the work": "Prior to 1877 there had been a stake deacons, a teachers, and a priests quorum, whose presidencies were sustained at each general conference. Wards often had deacons quorums but none for the teachers and priests. They did have groups of ward teachers, but these were not considered Aaronic Priesthood teachers quorums. The ideal continued to be to call mature men into these quorums, but in practice such men received the Melchizedek Priesthood, and the Aaronic quorums were plagued with vacancies. The only solution was to call boys into the work" (23).
One stake reported having 11 year old deacons; another stake typically ordained deacons at age 14. "The duties of priests and teachers to ward teach [with the older Melchizedek Priesthood men], and deacons to care for the meetinghouses, were not new. But with more and better supervised quorums, the work was accomplished more effectively. And it was done by youths, giving them some priesthood training before adulthood so that, presumably, they would make better Melchizedek Priesthood bearers" (33).
As I read, I of course, had women in mind and wondered what the women thought about the priesthood being now commonly given to these young men. Hartley mentioned that it was well received by the boys/men, but didn't mention how the women felt about it (33).
One interesting thing about women that Hartley did mention was in one stake, Erastus Snow, under the direction of Brigham Young, told the stake president he needed to stop 'going "heart and hand with the gentiles"' by "selling and drinking liquor dispensed at the LDS co-op store" or he'd be replaced. Snow told the women: "I advise you sisters to get together in the capacity of a Relief Society, and gut the store of every drop of liquor in it, and spill the liquor on the ground" (20). Now imagine getting advice like that from a church leader! In relation to today, I can see the same guidance in regards to pornography. The women haven't officially been asked by Church leaders to dash pornography to pieces, but there seems to be a movement by women to do something about it.
Because of the poor overall organization, some wards lacked Sunday Schools, Mutuals, and Relief Societies. The reorganization was good because it completed these auxiliary organizations -- the women now had their official organization under the direction of the bishop (33-34).
Have you ever wondered when general authorities started getting a living expense stipend? In 1877, Brigham wanted the Twelve to have even more broad duties than they'd had in the past, which would make 'it impossible for them to "pay any attention to their own private affairs."' At that point, they were able to receive a '"reasonable recompense for their services" from Church funds' (28).