1965 “For the Strength of Youth”

Youth

Publisher’s Note: J. Seth Anderson toils in Outer Blogness at Boy Meets Blog and was recently featured in Jordan Currier’s Disciples. We could use a few more dispatches from the southerly ends of the Morridor around here at MSP and Seth promises to help us do something about that.

I have come into possession of a 1965 version of “For the Strength of Youth.” The Church has published 9 editions of this pamphlet beginning in 1965, then in 1966, two in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1972, 1990, and 2001. This particular version I have is a time-capsule of a Mormon Church and a Mormon culture that I never knew.

The 1965 edition is prefaced with a short letter from the First Presidency: David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown, and N. Eldon Tanner. This “treatise” as they call it was prepared by general officers of the Young Men’s and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Associations, “the Brigham Young University” and a large group of representative youth. The First Presidency admonished that all members of the Church familiarize themselves with the “suggestions” and “conform to the regulations set forth.”

The 1965 edition is only 16 pages long, with large print and sketches of exceedingly Caucasian, middle-class Utahans.
The topics covered are:

Dress
“Grubbies,” Curlers, Hair Fashions
Good Grooming
Dating
Acceptable Dancing
Clean Living

One of the things I find most interesting is that there are no scripture citations in the 1965 version, nothing is pinned down to what was then current doctrine. The only reference to deity is in the preface where the First Presidency reminds the reader that conformity to established rules is a “necessary prerequisite to the blessing promised to those who obey and keep His commandments.” But unlike the version of “For the Strength of Youth” that I grew up reading, the one from 1965 has a good-natured, well-meaning tone like you are reading a personal letter from a grandparent; it does not feel dogmatic. Many of the recommendations are good advice, things like being polite and expressing appreciation. And some of the advise makes me roll my eyes and laugh. The pamphlet states, “A ‘real lady’ does not go out in public, to the market, or to shops with her hair in curlers.”
I also enjoyed the advice about dancing, “The dance should not be a grotesque contortion of the body such as shoulder or hip shaking or excessive body jerking.”

I was surprised by the theme running throughout the 16 pages. Yes, it is a little overbearing in parts, but the reader is often asked to use wisdom to make a good decision.

The current edition of “For the Strength of Youth” is 44 pages, the list of topics is much longer and all are framed in doctrine with scriptural references. I came of age in the 90s and was asked to give talks using the 1990 edition of “For The Strength of Youth” as a reference. I also read it often while searching for answers to my questions. The pamphlet made explicit the rules and commandments I was supposed to be following, I didn’t have to use wisdom.

I suppose one could argue that we live in more difficult times so more guidance would be necessary, and thus a longer pamphlet. I don’t buy that. In 1965 people were still having sex and using drugs, the country was in the middle of a costly war, an oppressed minority was standing up and demanding equality, and a far rightwing political movement was calling everyone who disagreed with their ideology communists and socialists.

In the 2001 edition the First Presidency states in the preface that god has given commandments and that the “guidelines” in the pamphlet are true principles. In other words, the issues contained in the current version are black and white, the thinking has been done, these are the rules and if you’re not living up to them you are not living up to the commandments.

At least that’s how I felt reading the pamphlet as a Mormon youth and maybe that’s why the 1965 edition surprised me: it’s a relic of a church I never knew, a reflection of a culture pre-correlation, and a reminder that members were at one time not nearly as micromanaged as they are now.

19 thoughts on “1965 “For the Strength of Youth”

  1. There is an online copy of it here.

    The parts about dress do seem like the beginnings of micromanagement:

    “Few girls or women ever look well in backless or strapless dresses. Such styles often make the figure look ungainly and large, or they show the bony structures of the body.”

    “Girls should not dress like boys or try to give a masculine appearance.” They give precise details as to when slacks are acceptable for women.

    The Handbook of Instructions has also tripled in size since the 1960s, from 125 pages to 403 pages in 2010. I agree that the infusion of scripture into these documents is interesting. It’s almost like without it, people might wonder why.

  2. The empire strikes back against the emerging youth culture. That could have been a good thing since elements of the youth culture were self-destructive.

    My only qualm is the check list nature of those messages. The brethren might have achieved more if they had laid out the principles that are the foundation of proper conduct.

  3. Yikes! Now I need to read the original. I really love posts that talk about “the way things were” in the church. They make me realize how much has changed and how much control the church exerts over its members.

  4. @ Lisa – I laughed out loud.

    The increase in scriptural and doctrinal references is probably due to the fact that in the 60’s, it was accepted without question that children should do what adults tell them to. Adults do not have to give reasons for their orders, because to even dialogue with a young person about why such and such is the right thing to do contradicts the “children should be seen and not heard” mentality of the early 20th century. The elderly leaders in SLC who developed the book probably took it for granted that children would just take the advice at face value and do as they’re told.

  5. Interesting reflection! My mom showed me a copy of this (she still had hers from 1965) when I was a teen. I’ve always remembered the curlers thing, because it seemed so ridiculous when I read it (this was around 1996 – by which point I was already comfortable wearing pjs to buy groceries).

  6. we need to bring back that curlers advice.

    They should be banned.

    Also, to make the advice multiracially aware, let’s ban wearing doo-rags in public. C’mon, my black brethren. We can do better than this.

  7. Heh. I came of age in the ’70s, somewhere midway between the 1965 and 1990 iterations. I don’t remember much about what we boys were taught, except for cleanliness and (of course) haircuts; IIRC “modesty” was pushed harder on girls tight clothing and skirt length (that was the era not just of miniskirts, but of the subsequent “midi” and “maxi,” seemingly tailor-made to please the most prudish Mormon heart).

    From my time at BYU I do recall with a certain amused fondness the ubiquitous “pioneer dress” thing half flower child, half polygamous cult… 🙂

  8. Ha, things were different then in a some ways for sure. I do remember learning in institute classes how the church had long since been undertaking an effort to frame all of its programs and counsels around Christ and “the gospel” to bolster them and make it explicit how they stemmed from doctrine, the most recent effort being the newly Christ-centric logo. Even on my mission, investigators would come to church and wonder why we focused so relatively little on Christ in our meetings, so I can only imagine that thirty years prior, people read pamphlets like that and wondered if we even believed in Jesus.

    I can’t help but wonder if that effort to bring in Jesus’ teachings and scriptural references was based on making everything more “Christ-centered” but created a monster in the process, an unnecessary perversion of pure doctrine by mingling the philosophies of men with scripture. I wonder if the concept of “wise general counsel” and self-government as spelled out by Elder Oaks several years ago was formerly more accepted but has been lost to an attitude of submission to authoritarian edicts due to the supposed urgency and escalation of spiritual warfare.

    I’ve found it refreshing to see occasional recent tone and instruction which may indicate a trend towards separating “standards” or “advice” from pure doctrine…but I’m not holding my breath.

  9. I cant help but wonder if that effort to bring in Jesus teachings and scriptural references was based on making everything more Christ-centered but created a monster in the process

    So the customary picture of Jesus on the wall of a Mormon home was not there in the 60s?

    I’m wondering how much modern-day Mormonism was developed as a response to outsiders saying, “Why don’t you emphasize this?” Or, “Why do you believe in that?!”

  10. Even on my mission, investigators would come to church and wonder why we focused so relatively little on Christ in our meetings, so I can only imagine that thirty years prior, people read pamphlets like that and wondered if we even believed in Jesus.

    Well, we might believe in Christ the Viking, these days but we still don’t believe in the Sermon of the Mount.

  11. Im wondering how much modern-day Mormonism was developed as a response to outsiders saying, Why dont you emphasize this? Or, Why do you believe in that?!

    Legacy Mormons are obsessed with what others might think about them. It is pretty easy to exploit that insecurity.

    The sad thing is, of course, that the brethren value the opinion of those who look down on Mormons the most: Southern Baptists and other holy rollers, even though the open minded folks are the most likely converts.

  12. I just read the 1965 edition. It seems like there are plenty of “shoulds” in there (a LOT of them), although the tone is very different. As a mother, I appreciate that when I send my child to church they are getting instruction not just about “religion” but also about appropriate overall behavior. Many people today want everything very separate, but as a parent I don’t. My kids need to brush their hair and be polite and believe in Jesus and wear appropriate clothing for the activity and shower daily and not smoke and be honest and study at school and be kind to others and avoid sexual behavior. It is obvious to me that it benefits my kids when there are others (and other sources like the Strength of Youth pamphlet) who are helping them learn these things.

  13. Good for you, JKS. Bear in mind though that Jesus could have cared less about respectability. He was hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes and entered paradise in the company of a murderer.

    Whatever they are teaching in that pamphlet may be good or bad advice but it surely isn’t Christian.

  14. Alan and Seth-Ancient Israel was given the opportunity to “use their own wisdom” with the original 10 commandments. When the Lord determined that they couldn’t use their agency properly, he had to micromanage them too. That took about 40 years in the wilderness. (Let’s see 1965 till now-about 40 years). Maybe some of us didn’t listen to the prophet the first time around.

    Hellmut-As far as the company that Christ associated with-He associated with sinners long enough to teach them to repent and live a better life. Are you saying that if a person associates with people other than tax collectors and prostitutes he is not living a Christian life or is it just members or leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that you have a problem with?

  15. Thanks for sharing your copy of this pamphlet, I got a little giggle out of it. Things have certainly changed since 1965. I am personally grateful for the updated copies of “for the strength of youth”. Being also from the “pink pamphlet” era I find the new copy a lot clearer on subjects. There is no way you can read between the lines and justify your sins. I gave a copy to my friend at work who had questions about my standards. He took it home and read the entire thing, and after that really respected my stand on certain subjects.

  16. I am a convert to the church – baptized in 1957. How I wish I would have had the wonderful guidelines, something to refer to like “For the Strength of Youth” when I was a teen! Most long time members of the church realize the wonderful blessings they have by following a living prophet. We used this wonderful pamphlet as an aid in raising nine truly wonderful children. We lived in much simpler times – hippies and all. We weren’t plagued on every side with garbage in the media like we are now. The youth of today are living in different times than they were years ago. I use a clothes dryer rather than a clothes line, a computer rather than a pen and pencil, the world wide net rather than the limited number of contacts I had for so many years. I love and appreciate the leaders of the church and the organizations and truly appreciate their wisdom and guidance. I LOVE the new For the Strength of Youth” and give it to my grandchildren. Micro-managed? Not the youth of today! They simply will not be micro-managed and are some of the most vibrant people I know.

  17. Micromanaged???? The new For the Strength of Youth pamphlet teaches the principles behind the standards. It teaches the “why”. And as far as it not being centered around Christ…..the purpose of the book is a guide for youth to qualify themselves for the companionship of the Holy ghost, which enables them to be closer to Christ. It is a help and reference for those striving to be closer to Christ.

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