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The Improvement Era and the “Era of Youth”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 20, 2009

The Improvement Era began publication in November 1897 as the official organ of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations. The Young Woman’s Journal, in print since October 1889 as the organ of the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Associations, merged with the Era in November 1929 to become the “Organ of the Priesthood Quorums, the Mutual Improvement Associations and the Schools of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” The magazine appeared monthly until December 1970, and was replaced the following month by The Ensign and The New Era.

Both the Era and the Journal were obviously intended to be read by young people as well as their leaders: Both magazines carried stories every month about church programs and activities for teens, missionary stories, and articles about preparing for life’s duties while one was still young and at home. Especially in its earliest decades, the Era printed at least as much material from secular scholarship (Biblical studies, psychology and educational theory, health studies) as it did purely LDS writing. Perhaps that was aimed as much at the magazine’s adult readers as its younger ones, but there was no clear dividing line between “this is for adults” and “this is for kids” and I have no reason to doubt that older teens and precocious younger ones read much of what was printed.

Somewhere along the line, the Era ceased being the magazine of the young people and became entirely geared toward adults. I don’t know just when to date that change – after World War II, surely, but it was too gradual to be able to point to a particular issue and say “this is when it happened.”

By February 1960, the editors realized the youth of the church had been left behind. That month they began including a short section called “Young People, here’s something for you!!! a sparkling new section” in that issue, christened the “Era of Youth” by the July 1960 issue.

The “Era of Youth” was a 10-20 page section of the Era, heavy on photographs, cartoons, and white space, often printed in the very center of the magazine, without page numbers, so that it could be pulled out as if it were a separate publication. Dating was by far the most frequently covered topic – how to date, what not to do on a date, how not to despair if you weren’t dating. Other issues gave generic pep talks: “Do what you know is right. Take a stand. Identify yourself as one who has the gumption to stick by your standards in spite of what ‘everyone else’ is doing” (October 1961).

Sometimes I see short but solid articles; most often, though, the “Era of Youth” was marshmallow fluff, expecting little of young people and offering them even less. (In. My. Opinion.) As a sample, I have reproduced the entire “Era of Youth” from the March 1964 Era. This is it. The sum total of guidance, inspiration, and support offered directly to the young people of the church in March 1964.

Thank heavens for the arrival of the New Era in January 1971.

 

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Words are fascinating. They’re tools and symbols and games, if you like. They’re a collection of letters or a mood maker.

They sound alike and spell different — tear and tier or not and knot or pray and prey.

They look the same but mean something else — litter and litter. What’ll you have puppies or scrappaper on the lawn? [sic]

Take the o from board and you’re talking about poets. Add an s to hear and you are in the clipping business. Change mad to dam and tort to trot. Rhyme cord and fjord and tasty and pasty. Scramble the letters in slat and you are low man on the totem pole.

Say square and what you mean depends upon your generation.

Say surf and today you are talking about athletics on the dance floor instead of at the beach.

The bat of an eyelash or the tilt of the head can change no to yes in a moment. Yes, words are fascinating. Taking a new look at some old words in your life is a gay way of spending a day and might possibly give you an insight into making the most out of what you are to work with, whether it’s words or opportunities and talents!

And that’s what this issue is all about.

Elaine Cannon

DISCONNECT your social life from your church life and the outcome is apartheid.

SHY Why? You are a child of God. And that’s something. And so is everyone else. So why be shy?

LOVE: a splendid way of feeling, not to be confused with any less lofty emotion.

TELEPHONE: is a tool is a terror is a trial is a treat — depending on who is doing the calling and how.

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FACSIMILE: something which you might do until the real thing comes along — unless you are talking of love, or life itself.

SAFETY: Be safe in your driving … you’re [sic] whole future is pinned to it.

BOYS who learn to use their priesthood just as they learn to use a car accomplish great good for Heavenly Father (in his name and for his purposes) among his children on earth.

ELEPHANT: good for joke telling but better for reminding that remembering is smart for people as well as elephants.

GIRLS say the poets are sugar and spice and everything nice. Would rollers and hair spray be more near the truth?

PROPS in your life: legs sturdy from exercise; conscience pricked by the Holy ghost; mind quickened by learning, parents who love you.

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TWIST your thinking like your dancing, twist your friends around your finger, twist your dad’s arm to get your way and one day you’ll wish you’d played it straight.

SCHOOL: a building to some, a system to others, a precious time in your life to the wisest among you.

OVERWEIGHT: he who eats much gains much; also loses much!

DOUBLE date doubles dating pleasure on a more the merrier basis.

UPSIDE DOWN values can bring heartbreak. Putting first things first, top things on top, takes some self-discipline but reaps rewards.

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TRIO: can be fun when it’s a singing situation but not so fun when it’s two-is-a-couple-but-three-is-one-too-many.

PURE: what soap is and everyone ought to be.

EMBARRASS a friend thoughtlessly, and you may find he is one no longer.

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RESIST temptation and tattling and compromising your standards, no matter what.

LONELY AND TOGETHER: if all the lonely ones got together, what a happy crowd that would be.

JUMP around from friend to friend, from job to job, from hobby to hobby and you get nowhere, very fast.

ADD to your knowledge of the gospel and add strength to your convictions.

HIGH principled people walk tall!

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SQUARE up your behavior and round out your life.

DISAPPEAR: concentrated effort in the right direction can make most bad habits disappear.
 
CAREER: it isn’t so much what you do as how you do it. Plan, dream some, prepare, and then perform when that day comes.

BOAST of your busyness and you’ll soon find yourself with nothing to do.

ECLIPSE is a sun thing or a moon thing but it can happen to people when a bright star is on the scene.

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LOUNGE in front of a TV set, around the house, the church, the street light, the corner store and watch the rest of the world go by. Lounge is another way of saying lazy.

CONSCIENCE can be a young adult’s best friend. Cultivate one!

COZY: Peace of Mind creates a cozy feeling.

ADJUST

SKIING is like life … uphill and downhill and tracked with exciting patterns.

DEPTH: in your innermost part, in the very depth of your soul you should know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is his kingdom on earth. Pray for this knowledge.

Say what you mean — and mean what you say



23 Comments »

  1. That is the weirdest, most postmodern thing I bet was ever published in the “Era.” Not to mention depressing . . . that “Overweight” thing especially.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 20, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

  2. D’ja like how boys were using the priesthood while girls were using rollers and hairspray?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 20, 2009 @ 4:28 pm

  3. Oh yeah, really liked that.

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 20, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

  4. Cool typography, but complete sugary fluff. Wow. Completely unreal. Maybe that explains a lot about my parents.

    Comment by Melissa — January 20, 2009 @ 5:14 pm

  5. Rad. The content may not be there, but someone had fun designing that.
    It reminds me of the “Mormon Ads” that they’d pass out to us in seminary…as if seeing someone painted into a corner would help me realize that I shouldn’t lie, cheat and steal.

    Comment by Chris Esplin — January 20, 2009 @ 5:36 pm

  6. Exactly, Chris, I was thinking “Mormonad Beta release 1.0″.

    Also, any clue what this really means:

    ECLIPSE is a sun thing or a moon thing but it can happen to people when a bright star is on the scene.

    All that time learning how to “Be a Star Shining Brightly” in primary, and then some not so subtle guilt about it as a teenager.

    Comment by kevinf — January 20, 2009 @ 5:55 pm

  7. That is the whole thing? Wow!

    I’ll make sure my kids never complain about the New Era.

    Since I sit in my “lounger” to blog, one of these really hits home. :)

    Comment by Ray — January 20, 2009 @ 7:06 pm

  8. Don’t worry, Melissa. If your parents were anything like me, they didn’t read it either.

    Comment by Mark B. — January 20, 2009 @ 7:50 pm

  9. Fascinating. I have a hard time taking it seriously. Elaine Cannon is still around, I think–someone should ask her about it

    Comment by Amy — January 20, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

  10. (Sorry, Mark; my spam filter choked on you again. I had hoped it had learned better.)

    Elaine Anderson died in 2003; she and Marion D. Hanks were the chief authors of the “Era of Youth” all through the ’60s.

    Although these are corny, they wouldn’t be out of place, I think, used once in a while the way MormonAds are — I was just overwhelmed when they went on for page after page after page, and when there was nothing else offered that month. Most of the “EOYs” I’ve noticed tend to be just as fluffy. I’ll look for one that wears a little better than this one to put up for contrast, but this is genuinely representative.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 20, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  11. My parents are two of the most Mormon Orthodox people I know, but it’s a good thing I wasn’t alive when this came out, because they would have shredded it…

    I don’t think I can remember the context, but ETB or GHB or someone said something about how the youth of the Church don’t need gimmicks – that they are searching for meat and potatoes and deep spiritual content in Church lessons and materials, and that we do them a disservice if we resort to gimmickry to ‘entice’ them to the Church.

    Comment by queuno — January 20, 2009 @ 11:41 pm

  12. I’m stilllll wondering about this!

    “And that’s what this issue is all about.” Yeah, still not sure what the “that” is referring to. “Telephone,” “Facsimile,” “Elephant,” “Twist,” “Embarrass,” “Jump,” “Square,” “Eclipse,” “Lounge,” “Skiing” . . . ?

    (I’m glad I could bring a few more commenters to this post for you.)

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 21, 2009 @ 5:21 am

  13. This publication is rather peculiar. What was their goal? What did they think it would accomplish and why? (Just wondering out loud.)

    I would like to point out, however, that in these days of computerized everything, we probably don’t appreciate that the typesetting of these pages was a major artistic endeavor.

    (But just because it was major doesn’t mean it was worth doing.)

    Comment by Researcher — January 21, 2009 @ 8:36 am

  14. queuno, Mark B. (whose comments the spam filter likes to munch for breakfast) located the talk you were recalling in #11 — J. Reuben Clark, Jr. in an address to CES teachers in 1938, called The Charted Course. A copy is here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 21, 2009 @ 9:04 am

  15. I feel like I should defend Elaine Anderson Cannon and Marion D. Hanks. Both really important in Church history. Their work with the youth of the Church was outstanding and important. It is easy to judge people without knowing the context, issues involved, and the Church hoops that they had to get past. Elaine Cannon was general president of the Young Women, 1978 to 1984 and Marion D. Hanks was a member of the First Quroum of the Seventy and Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve for almost forty years, 1953-1992. I remember thinking that it was nice to have Elder Hanks a General Authority, when he was so young and interesting.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — January 21, 2009 @ 11:13 am

  16. I know this is more about the transition from the Improvement Era to the Esign/New Era. I have also seen the “Liahona: The Elder’s Journal” be replaced with the “Liahona” which today is mostly a foreign langauge version of the Ensign. When did that change happen?

    Comment by BruceCrow — January 21, 2009 @ 11:31 am

  17. “Liahona: The Elders’ Journal” went out of publication in 1945. The current Liahona is much more recent than that (sometime in the ’90s?). It’s a case of recycling a great name, not a continuation of one journal by another.

    One problem about not liking something in church history is that it inevitably comes across as an attack, or at least a denigration, of someone’s best efforts. I know that both EAC and MDH (both of whom my own mother knew very well and favorably as high school classmates and coworkers on the school newspaper and yearbook) made outstanding contributions, especially to the youth of the church. They may even be the ones who recognized that the old Era had become something that didn’t appeal to teens of the ’60s, and may deserve full credit for trying to do something about that. I’m just not sure, from our current perspective, that the “Era of Youth” was always what it could have been — certainly the New Era does a better job, even given the differences in space available to do that job.

    I promise to post a sample of a better “Era of Youth” so that this particular example doesn’t form anyone’s entire impression of those efforts.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 21, 2009 @ 11:41 am

  18. That matches what I know. I first saw the Liahona on my mission to Hong Kong in 1991. The split between the English/non English versions does come across as little odd.

    You are right. We should be careful judging the quality of another’s service when seen through hindsight.

    Comment by BruceCrow — January 21, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

  19. Thanks for the link, MarkB and Ardis. I think ETB or GHB had been citing Clark. This was the essence of what I remembered.

    Comment by queuno — January 21, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

  20. (Wait. You mean you *can’t* judge things from the past in a modern-day light? Better not let that secret out, or the Bloggernacle may have to shut down… :) )

    Comment by queuno — January 21, 2009 @ 5:25 pm

  21. Shhhh! Our little secret, queuno!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 21, 2009 @ 6:28 pm

  22. Interesting comments. I knew Elaine well . . .and Elder Hanks as an acquaintance . . . both incredible and powerful people. I thought it would be important for you to know that the two of them were the masterminds of the New Era. They were inspired to forge new ground for the changing needs of the young people in the Church when they created the magazine. You must understand that the 50s and 60s were innocent times compared to now. They were addressing the times they lived in – but made major changes as the world changed and challenges for young people grew. We all owe the both of them so much.

    Comment by Patti — February 8, 2009 @ 7:17 pm

  23. Thank you, Patti. Realizing that I had misrepresented the later work of both Elaine Cannon and Marion Hanks (although this issue is fairly typical of the early years of “Era of Youth”), I posted again, a few days after this post, another, later issue of the “Era of Youth” that has much more substance than this one. It’s easy to see signs in that later “EOY” of the future New Era.

    Thanks for commenting, and for so tactfully defending the editors.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 8, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

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