Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Ads You’re Not Going to See Again Anytime Soon – Chapter 6

Ads You’re Not Going to See Again Anytime Soon – Chapter 6

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 16, 2008

We have discussed Beneficial Life and its connection with the church, and its heavy advertising on the back covers of church magazines, in an earlier post. For your entertainment and thought, here is a year’s worth of their advertising (1929-1931).

First we have two ads that make the purchase of Beneficial Life insurance practically the religious duty of every Relief Society leader —

And then we see morality plays depicting the woeful lives that inevitably follow when Daddy doesn’t patronize Beneficial Life, mixed in with the occasional glowing report of those whose fathers did love them enough to enroll. No emotional pressure here!

And my personal heart-tugging favorite …



  1. “So near her graduation dream?” Is that for daughter or young wife?

    Wow, these are dreadful, fascinating, chilling, hard to believe they are meant seriously.

    I’m guessing they’re not all that different from what appears in other popular periodicals of the time.

    I note “Heber J. Grant, pres.” in the bottom of many. Is there more than one HBJ or is that he did for a living?

    “I’m Heber J Grant and I approved this ad”…?

    Comment by jeans — September 16, 2008 @ 8:54 am

  2. jeans, that’s *the* HJG. Insurance was his business long before he became president of the church. Beneficial was one of those church-owned companies (many of them in the early 20th century) where the boards were practically indistiguishable from the Quorum of the Twelve. I know that looks really, really, REALLY strange now, but in reality it wasn’t much different from the 19th century when the necessities of life in that era (range land, wood and water resources, mineral developments) were managed by church leaders at the same level as Beneficial’s officers. Beneficial and other church-owned businesses were like Brigham Young’s “home production,” run for the benefit of the whole church (at least the Wasatch Front part of the church) rather than for the private benefit of a small group of investors. In the case of Beneficial, it kept insurance payments at home, paying dividends to Utah/Mormon investors with the money then still available to build up other local resources, rather than sending all the insurance payments to unknown investors in New York where it was of no further use to Utahns/Mormons.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2008 @ 9:20 am

  3. These depictions look like they are all from the 30’s, do you have dates from any of them?

    Have you had a chance to write anything up about JS manual resources?

    Comment by mmiles — September 16, 2008 @ 9:35 am

  4. Wow. Love those hats! Can’t say the same for the hairstyles, although they’re incrementally better than the “big hair” of the 1980s.

    By the way, how many Mormon kids of that era do you think were headed off to Princeton? (Can you say “stock art”?)

    Comment by Researcher — September 16, 2008 @ 9:41 am

  5. The two first are from 1929; the others are from 1930-31. They’re all from the back cover of the Relief Society Magazine.

    I have shied away from the Joseph Smith era, mmiles, both for blogging and in my professional work. There are so many people plowing that ground that the chances of my being able to contribute anything new and worthwhile are next to nothing. So I’ve focused on the second era where there are many records that have never yet been exploited, and on the 20th century which few people yet seem to think is historic enough to be interesting.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2008 @ 9:41 am

  6. hee, hee, Researcher, you skeptic! Next thing, you’re going to complain that Beneficial Daddies are valued only for their income!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2008 @ 9:47 am

  7. I think it’s fascinating that only men died early during this period! Obviously no need to insure the wives and mothers in these homes, because you could always hire a widow to do the cooking and cleaning. I wonder, though,if they had to provide their own uniforms.

    Somewhat more seriously, this look at the recent 20th century is quite eye-opening for the changes in LDS culture in just a couple of generations. There is much here for you to do, Ardis, and I love these posts. Keep them coming.

    BTW, my brother has found my grandfathers missionary journals again, and is forwarding me the missing pages about the Galveston hurricane of 1900. When I get those, I will forward a transcript on to you.

    Comment by kevinf — September 16, 2008 @ 10:04 am

  8. Cool, Kevin, thanks. That becomes eerily relevant this week, doesn’t it?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2008 @ 10:11 am

  9. It’s been a lot on my mind this week, yes. I think the storm that year was a full-on category 4, if I recall.

    Comment by kevinf — September 16, 2008 @ 10:20 am

  10. Of course, Princeton didn’t admit women students as undergraduates until 1969. Maybe the ad (with the prophet’s name at the bottom) is telling the girl that her hopes of a college education have been delayed for almost 40 years.

    I like the “two women” ads–I can see Sister Andersen taking it to her husband: “You want me to end up a maid for the Clawsons?”

    Comment by Mark B. — September 16, 2008 @ 10:24 am

  11. Kevin,

    Life insurance only makes sense to replace lost income, or if the decedent provided services that will now need to be paid for.

    Thus, it makes no economic sense to pay for life insurance for non-employed spouses, except to cover housekeeping/child care/child education expenses. Since the number of married, employed Mormon mothers in the 1930’s was likely very small, there wouldn’t have been much of a market for life insurance for mothers.

    And most men probably assumed that if their wife died, they would have no trouble in finding a beautiful, vivacious, hard-working, hot new wife whose love for her new husband would overcome any reluctance she might have in jumping into a household and becoming stepmother to a bunch of children.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 16, 2008 @ 10:32 am

  12. Oh, Mark, you’re soooooo romantic!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2008 @ 10:54 am

  13. I theorize that the “Graduation Dream” ad is showing a Barnard sweater on the bed. Thus her dreams of attending Barnard have been crushed. Re the poem: if I were the author, I would not want public credit.

    Comment by Justin — September 16, 2008 @ 11:23 am

  14. That’s funny, Justin. I didn’t read the poem until you mentioned it. Truly horrible.

    “Mary’s Mamma doesn’t cry.” No sentiment or grief here if the deceased was adequately insured!

    Comment by Researcher — September 16, 2008 @ 11:36 am

  15. Mark,

    Crikey, Mark, I’ll have to start inserting comments about “tongue firmly in cheek” or “Obviousman strikes again”.

    I loved your comment, though:

    And most men probably assumed that if their wife died, they would have no trouble in finding a beautiful, vivacious, hard-working, hot new wife whose love for her new husband would overcome any reluctance she might have in jumping into a household and becoming stepmother to a bunch of children.

    Isn’t there a cable channel dedicated to movies about that? Usually, though, the nice widower saves her from a pending marriage to a heartless workaholic with lots of money and a house in the Hamptons.

    Comment by kevinf — September 16, 2008 @ 11:41 am

  16. #7-#9: Since I am back on-line after two days without power (in OHIO, from just the remnants of the winds) and almost finished clearing my yard and assessing damages to my house from the tree that fell, these comments are “eerily relevant”.

    Great stuff, Ardis. I’m swamped trying to catch up on everything I’ve taken for granted for a while. It’s nice to come here and read your posts again. I actually enjoyed the simplicity of life without electricity, but this is one thing I missed.

    Comment by Ray — September 16, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

  17. Welcome back, Ray. I hope the damage isn’t too bad, and that you’ll have everything under control soon.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

  18. Ray, sorry to hear about the damages. Wish you the best.

    #7 & #9: Looking forward to the journals about the Galveston hurricane.

    #5: Ardis, unfortunately, too many people ignore 20th century LDS history and/or find it of little interest. Too bad. As we have seen with your wonderful posts, 20th century LDS history is quite relevent and interesting.

    It is interesting how the BL advertisements were for a Utah/Mormon audience. How much has changed since then with the changes in LDS demographics.

    Comment by Steve C. — September 16, 2008 @ 2:17 pm

  19. Reading my 11, Kevin, I see that it sounds stuffy and pedantic. My only grounds for requesting a reduction in sentence is that I don’t operate as well as I used to on three hours of sleep.

    Ardis–I didn’t say I believed those things! It would be interesting, though, to have a survey of attitudes about life insurance for non-employed wives. How many families have insurance on the husband’s life? On the wife’s life? How much? If on the husband and not the wife, why not? How does husband expect to deal with child care and other services provided by wife? (No derisive comments about Eliot Spitzer allowed here–I didn’t mean that!) Throw in some questions about remarriage–attitudes towards, when might consider, how do you rate the odds, is trophy wife/husband in the cards?

    You could survey about families where the wife is the primary breadwinner, but there aren’t many Palin’s around.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 16, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  20. Mark,

    Full pardon granted. Actually, my wife makes slightly more than me, BTW, but she argues that I am underemployed currently.

    Does AIG offer trophy wife insurance? Even just saying wife insurance sounds funny.

    Comment by kevinf — September 16, 2008 @ 4:28 pm

  21. Re: wife insurance

    One of the Funny Bones posts I have ready to go includes this one:

    “Is this the Fidelity Insurance Group?”

    “Yes, it is; how may we be of service?”

    “I want to insure my husband’s fidelity, please.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  22. RE: #20

    Don’t know if they do, Mark, but they (AIG) closed today at $3.75 a share. Why buy the insurance when you can buy a piece of the company?!?

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — September 16, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  23. Did anyone notice how old the 65-year-old couple with no job looks?

    Comment by Maurine Ward — September 16, 2008 @ 9:58 pm

  24. Having nothing but dry toast and tea for dinner will age you fast, Maurine! {g}

    There was one I didn’t scan that I probably should have. They may be the same “elderly” 65-year-old couple, except THEY bought Beneficial, so they are eating at a table with a tablecloth, set with fine china instead of chunky Woolworth’s rejects, and both are well dressed, well coiffed, and have no worries.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 16, 2008 @ 10:10 pm

  25. Some of it is clothing and hairstyle, which can make a person look older by being old-fashioned, but I believe that people today just don’t physically age as fast previous generations. It could be all the anti-oxidants, vitamins and stuff, and maybe just a better diet overall.

    Comment by Bookslinger — September 16, 2008 @ 10:59 pm

  26. Huh, I take it this was before Social Security came into being (for the old couple). How sad.

    Speaking of sad, the “Why, Daddy, Why?” is very far over-the-top! My goodness!!

    Comment by sister blah 2 — September 17, 2008 @ 12:01 am

  27. I find it curious that each family has two children, a boy and a girl.

    Comment by Researcher — September 17, 2008 @ 7:32 am

  28. Symmetry, like having both a salt and pepper shaker.

    Comment by BruceC — September 17, 2008 @ 8:36 am

  29. doh! I forgot the “tough-firmly-in-cheek” emoticon

    Comment by BruceC — September 17, 2008 @ 8:37 am

  30. Fun answer, BruceC, but it got me thinking. These ads are appearing less than two decades after Margaret Sanger began her fight for public access to birth control.

    Here is a small passage from her book The Case for Birth Control. You can read her book here.

    A few years of this [gynecological and obstetrical nursing] brought me to a shocking discovery– that knowledge of the methods of controlling birth was accessible to the women of wealth while the working women were deliberately kept in ignorance of this knowledge!…

    Statistics show us that the birth-rate of any given quarter is in ratio with and to its wealth. And further figures prove that in large cities the rich districts yield a birth-rate of a third of that of the poor districts.

    (Sanger, Margaret. The Case for Birth Control, A Supplementary Brief and Statement of Facts. New York: 1917, pp 6, 7.)

    At this time, portraying a family with two children was clearly shorthand for wealth. And of course the preservation of wealth is the whole point of life insurance.

    Comment by Researcher — September 18, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  31. #27 – There are always two; no more no less, a master and an apprentice. Which is she though, the master or the apprentice?

    #11 – That is pretty much the analysis my SAH wife and I did. I am insured enough to pay for only a couple of years until she can get a job and make her own way with the children though. I can’t afford enough to keep the family in style after my demise. She is insured too, but at a lesser level, not because she is not valued by me, but simply to cover the cost of child care. We just can’t afford more, and it probably would not be the first priority even if we had a bigger check coming in.

    #13 – Was Barnard Princeton’s “sister.” If so, the young coed probably cheers for Princeton’s teams and by leaving school may also be leaving behind the opportunity for marriage to a Tiger. Maybe she is better off this way.

    3 Ne 6:12 And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — September 18, 2008 @ 7:51 am

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