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:
“Grubbies,” Curlers, Hair Fashions
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.