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Making An [In]delible Mark: Nineteenth-Century Mormon Girls and Their Manuscript Newspapers


Making an (In)delible Mark: Nineteenth-Century Mormon Girls and Their Manuscript Newspapers

By Jennifer Reeder

On June 1, 1878, Amelia M. Hansen wrote in the Young Ladies’ Star, “Dear sisters it was quite unexpected to me when my name was called to write a piece for our paper, as we are young, and have not much experience, but we often hear those that are placed over us, say there is a great work for us to do; we have got to work out our own salvation and not wait for somebody else to work it out for us.” Hansen, a member of the Brigham City First Ward Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association (MIA), was contributing to the first issue of the organization’s manuscript newspaper. In her short essay, she expressed fears about writing while at the same time she boldly encouraged her adolescent peers to speak up in their community. 1

The Brigham City Young Ladies’ Star was one of a couple dozen manuscript newspapers produced by nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint teenagers. Beginning in 1877, the Young Ladies’ and the Young Men’s MIAs created a location for Mormon adolescents to socialize, receive religious instruction, and develop a distinct identity. A close examination of Utah young women’s manuscript newspapers demonstrates first their context and history, followed by insight into the creation of Mormon adolescence, and then the development of agency and authority of young women in Utah.

First, information exchange of handwritten newspapers presented a distinct opportunity for Utah young women to participate in and take advantage of communication through cheap and accessible media: pen and paper. Before the 1867 invention of the toy press—a small, mechanized, movable printing press—young people were drawn to the dissemination of information via pen and paper. 2 The difficulty in production—actually handwriting each paper— belied the inevitable temporality of the process.

Kenneth Faig called holograph amateur newspapers “fragile entities,” not only because of the tediousness and difficulty of copying them, but also because of the challenge of preserving them. 3 And yet the few that remain extant indicate their value to writers, readers, and those who preserved them. Nathaniel Hawthorne and his sister Marie Hawthorne handwrote a family newspaper, the Spectator, for two months in 1820. 4 Other youth-oriented popular authors produced manuscript newspapers, including Louisa May Alcott and, later, Lucy M. Montgomery. Perhaps the most well-known manuscript newspaper was the fictional Pickwick Portfolio, published by the March sisters and described in the 1868 novel Little Women. Alcott wrote from personal experience with newspapers; she and her sisters organized their own manuscript newspaper. Both the Alcott paper and the March paper inspired others, including the Lukens sisters in Pennsylvania, to create manuscript newspapers. 5 Members of the Bliss family wrote the Amherst Juvenile, a children’s paper, in Massachusetts in 1874. 6 The Young Ladies of the Independent Literary Society in Jacksonville, Oregon, produced the Honeybee in 1874, “devoted to Art, Wit, Poetry, and Science.” 7 Each of these publications, whether they were known by young, Mormon women in Utah or not, contributed to the larger culture of American adolescent manuscript newspaper.

An April 1886 issue of the Advocate, a manuscript newspaper issued by the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of the LDS Ogden First Ward. Handwritten newspapers provided Utah girls with a space to develop their own agency and authority. —

An April 1886 issue of the Advocate, a manuscript newspaper issued by the Young Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Association of the LDS Ogden First Ward. Handwritten newspapers provided Utah girls with a space to develop their own agency and authority. —

LDS Church History Library

Both territorial publications and the Mormon press influenced the manuscript newspapers by girls in Utah. The Deseret News was the first printed newspaper in Utah in 1850, and others quickly followed. The Salt Lake Tribune commenced in 1870, and by 1885, there were five significant Salt Lake City printed papers. Dozens of manuscript newspapers circulated throughout small towns in Utah Territory that could not obtain a press, including the Heber Herald and the Sanpitcher of Mount Pleasant. 8 The Vepricula, a St. George newspaper, was written, edited, revised, criticized, and rewritten in each author’s own handwriting from 1864 to 1865. 9 In Payson, Utah, members of the Philomathean Society published the Philomathean Gazette, dedicated to the love of learning; the paper included poetry, travel accounts, stories, and correspondence. 10

As the press in Utah developed, so did particular readerships. In January 1866, George Q. Cannon began printing the Juvenile Instructor, purportedly the first children’s magazine west of the Mississippi River. The magazine served as the official voice of the LDS Sunday School until 1929, when it was renamed the Instructor, and continued until 1971. 11 Young women often hand-copied essays and poetry from the Juvenile Instructor into their manuscript issues.

The Woman’s Exponent, owned and published by LDS women from 1872 to 1914, was dedicated to such issues as polygamy, suffrage, and Relief Society reports, and often included reports from young women’s manuscript newspapers. Many of these hard copies no longer exist beyond their second printing in the Exponent, so the Exponent became an important form of preservation for these “fragile entities.” 12 The pattern of devotional writing and personal narrative among Mormon women filtered down to their daughters as girls mimicked their mothers in their own manuscript newspapers.

Young women of various communities along the Mormon corridor in the Utah Territory engaged in similar activity with their institutional newspapers. While they did not have access to (nor could they afford) toy printing presses, they used their ready resources of pen and paper. The first known paper was created in St. George. The Young Ladies’ Diadem, like most other papers, was edited by a different young woman each issue and included personal writings from several writers. 13 Manuscript newspapers soon appeared among young women’s groups in Bountiful, Pinto, Brigham City, Fairview, Goshen, Hyrum, Fountain Green, Ogden, Taylorsville, and Orderville, spanning from 1877 to 1924.

Young women’s publication efforts influenced young men to mirror their efforts. The Ogden First Ward young women started their paper, the Advocate, in April 1886, with a decorative masthead. Ten months later the Ogden First Ward young men produced the Surprise. In the first edition, one young man wrote: “Dear Editors: could we as young men, only partially see the good to be derived, to us, by the fostering and sustaining of a ‘Manuscript Paper’ in our association, we would esteem it one of the greatest privileges within our reach, as well as a source of encouraging self-development to frequently contribute our ‘little piece’ to the life and improvement of the same.” He went on to note that “some excellent articles have appeared in the ‘Young Ladies’ Advocate,’ and why should we not show some of equal, if not of superior merit?” 14 Some teen girls and boys combined efforts on joint manuscript newspapers, such as the Beehive, produced by the combined MIAs in St. George in the 1880s and 1890s. 15 The historical context of manuscript newspapers and other Mormon publications, along with a catalog of Utah young women’s productions, demonstrates the value of this largely unnoticed historical medium.

The masthead of the Young Ladies’ Diadem, a manuscript newspaper created in St. George, Utah. The motto reads “Prove all Things / Hold Fast that which is good.” —

The masthead of the Young Ladies’ Diadem, a manuscript newspaper created in St. George, Utah. The motto reads “Prove all Things / Hold Fast that which is good.” —


Secondly, young women’s manuscript newspapers mark a significant transition from childhood to adolescence to adulthood with a distinct emphasis on late-nineteenth-century Mormon female teen identity. The development of American adolescence occurred over the second half of the nineteenth century. The shift of the market economy and the subsequent redefinition of the middle-class family fostered a period of change for youth no longer required to contribute to the family economy. 16 The institutionalization of education, specifically public high schools, created a new space for young women to both express and eschew expectations of Victorian domesticity. 17

Mastheads from two editions of the Beehive, a manuscript newspaper issued by the LDS Young Men and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Associations in St. George, Utah. —

Mastheads from two editions of the Beehive, a manuscript newspaper issued by the LDS Young Men and Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Associations in St. George, Utah. —


Education was important to Mormon settlers in the West, and local LDS congregations organized elementary schools in the 1850s and 1860s. The transcontinental railroad in 1869 introduced additional access to American culture and influenced the creation of district public schools. While Brigham Young established academies along the Mormon corridor, and other denominations followed suit, Utah’s first territorial legislation regarding free public education did not occur until 1890. Public secondary education did not become viable until the 1910s. 18

The organization of the Young Ladies’ and the Young Men’s MIAs set a location for the creation of a specific Mormon adolescence. By the end of 1870, every local ward in the Salt Lake Valley had organized groups, following in nearly every settlement in the territory. 19 Just like high schools in the East developed school newspapers, many of these Mormon adolescent associations also produced manuscript newspapers. 20

Additionally, LDS publications influenced a developing Mormon adolescence. Junius Wells inaugurated the Contributor in 1879, an institutional printed paper for the Young Men’s MIA. As the founder of the Young Men’s MIA, his intent was to provide a medium for youth to develop literary talent. 21 The Contributor ran until 1896, seven years after Susa Young Gates founded the monthly Young Woman’s Journal. The Young Woman’s Journal included curriculum, fiction, and personal experiences, written mostly by adult women for young female readers, and ran until 1929, when it merged with the Young Men’s Improvement Era. 22

Young authors addressed the topic of adolescence directly in their manuscript newspapers. “The young especially—should take their stand,” wrote one author in the Beehive in 1888. 23 An article in the Little Girls’ Magazine specifically addressed “the little girls of our association,” assuming a perceived difference between younger and older girls. “Learn all you can, now, while you are young, for now is the best time. When you get larger, you will find that there are many things for you to attend to that you do not think about now.” 24 In the same issue, editor Juie Ivins addressed her “dear little friends, as the greater portion of our members belong to this class.” She reminded them that they would soon be “grown up young wom[e]n.” 25 Manuscript newspapers provided a space for Mormon female adolescence to ferment.

Third, young women’s manuscript newspapers allowed girls to establish community and to create an emerging adolescent female agency. “Editress” Annie E. Bentley intended the Young Ladies’ Diadem to be “a benefit to our little society.” 26 Janie McAllister, in another publication, wrote “I think these meetings unite and bring us together as nothing else can, and I feel doubly blessed in coming.” 27 The St. George Little Girls’ Magazine editors took pride in their work: “we can have the nicest little paper in the world.” 28 Bentley, also in St. George but writing for a different newspaper, remarked on their “barren country,” which “proves that although we are in an isolated location we are not forgotten.” 29 These young women from a small town in southwestern Utah inserted themselves within a global sphere.

Membership in an identifiable community presented space for personal authorship. The Vepricula, an 1860s manuscript newspaper compiled by St. George men, admitted “the motivating force which produced this unusual newspaper was undoubtedly an intense hunger for learning and a strong desire for self expression.” 30 Manuscript newspapers illustrate how teenage girls participated in a larger public discourse, although that discourse was admittedly limited by technology and local readership. “Auntie Lou” literally issued a call for articles in the Little Girls’ Magazine, listing people by name. “If we don’t hear from them in our next paper, we will think they are sick, or have turned traitor to the course, and forsaken us entirely.” 31 Many writers used pen names, something they had surely seen among writers in the Woman’s Exponent and other printed publications. This was a common feature for manuscript papers; even the men’s Vepricula used pseudonyms. 32 Name, fake name, or no name, the girls had a site for expression.

The St. George Little Girls’ Magazine, November 12, 1879. The motto reads “Perseverance conquers all things.” —

The St. George Little Girls’ Magazine, November 12, 1879. The motto reads “Perseverance conquers all things.” —


Initially authors often expressed fears or insecurities in writing. “Rose” opened her article: “as this is my first attempt in writing, you must excuse me and I will try and do better next time.” 33 Rhoda M. Young wrote for the Young Ladies’ Diadem, “It is with a feeling of diffidence, that I take upon me the responsibility of editing this issue of our monthly paper. And as this is my first attempt, I hope you will excuse anything that is amiss with my efforts . . . . I hope it will prove satisfactory to all.” 34 Preliminary efforts led to increasing empowerment based on experience.

Manuscript newspapers provided a location where young girls could explore and develop their female agency. Juie Ivins, in the Little Girls’ Magazine, employed male examples of character but then she encouraged her readers: “Oh! girls, let us strive and pray always to be delivered from such characters, for they are sure to bring misery and degradation to all with whom they are connected.” 35 Her council positioned St. George young women as active subjects with their own form of agency in social relationships, influenced by LDS doctrine. 36 In another article, Ivins keenly observed, “We can scarcely find two persons who are alike in everything. They may strongly resemble each other in some one or more particulars, but still, if we will observe closely we will see those that are so many different traits of character.” She encouraged the young women to develop their minds as well as their individual gifts. 37 Annie Bentley bravely asserted: “Let us then go to with our might and talents God has given us.” 38 Rhoda Young invited readers to write for the Diadem: “It is a unity of effort, a little time and labor given by all, to make the paper a success. I am sure we all ought to try and do our part, by contributing an essay to the paper.” 39 Maggie Ivins emboldened readers to “learn for ourselves.” 40 Each of these young women recognized her abilities, even as adolescents, with pen and paper.

In conclusion, the production of manuscript newspapers was significant. “Charity” wrote in the Young Ladies’ Diadem: “I hope the girls will not forget it is paper day and that they will all write something for the paper and that it will be an interesting one.” 41 The temporality of the medium, however, belies a sense of loss of historical records. So few manuscript newspapers remain extant today; many are known only by second-hand report and are rarely used by historians today as a viable historical source. Separate issues of the Philomathean Gazette exist today in three different archival collections: the Utah State Historical Society, Brigham Young University’s Special Collections, and the LDS Church History Library. 42

Despite their fragility and loss, the nineteenthcentury manuscript newspapers written by Mormon girls in Utah render valuable information about technology, community identity, and female agency. Placing these publications within the larger American context situates Mormon young women in the newly developing transitional period of adolescence.


1 Amelia M. Hansen, “Slander,” Young Ladies’ Star (Brigham City, UT), June 1, 1878, 2, manuscript, LR 988 22, LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City (hereafter CHL).

2 See Paula Petrik, “The Youngest Fourth Estate: The Novelty Toy Press and Adolescence,” in Small Worlds: Children and Adolescents in America, 1850–1950, ed. Elliott West and Paula Petrik (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992).

3 Kenneth Faig, “Passion, Controversy, and Vision: A History of the Library of Amateur Journalism,” in One Hundred Years of the Fossils: 1904–2004, ed. Kenneth Faig Jr. and Guy Miller (Springfield, OH: Potpourri, 2005), 1.

4 “Hawthorne: Bicentennial Exhibition at the Phillips Library,” Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, accessed October 2016, pem.org/sites/hawthorne.

5 Daniel Shealy, “The Growth of Little Things: Louisa May Alcott and the Lukens Sisters’ Family Newspaper,” Resources for American Literary Study 30 (2006).

6 Amherst Juvenile, 1874, Bliss Family Papers, 1834–1921, Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College, Amherst, Massachusetts.

7 Honeybee, 1874, manuscript, Special Collections, Knight Library, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.

8 Chad Flake, “Early Utah Journalism: A Brief Summary,” in Utah’s Newspapers: Traces of Her Past, ed. Dennis McCargar and Yvonne Stroup (Salt Lake City: University of Utah, 1984), 9–25.

9 “Forward,” “The Vepricula” or Little Bramble (St. George, UT), typescript, 1, MSS A 6091, Utah State Historical Society, Salt Lake City, Utah (hereafter USHS).

10 John Redington, Philomathean Gazette, February 24, 1873, manuscript, MSS A 2591, USHS. An 1872 edition had a female editor, E. Dixon. Philomathean Gazette, 1872, manuscript, MSS SC 1319, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah (hereafter HBLL).

11 Ruel A. Allred, “Juvenile Instructor,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 777.

12 See, for example, the Fairview Young Ladies Companion piece published in the Woman’s Exponent 8, no. 3 (July 1, 1879): 81, and the Goshen Gem article, published in the same issue.

13 Young Ladies Diadem (St. George, UT), 1877, manuscript, MSS A 1051, USHS. See Roy Atwood, The Handwritten Newspapers Project, handwrittennews.com/ category/1877, accessed October 21, 2016.

14 Ogden First Ward YMMIA, Surprise (Ogden, UT), February 1887, manuscript, LR 6391 29, CHL.

15 Beehive, 1886–1889, manuscript, MSS A 1053, USHS.

16 Mary Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790–1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

17 Jane H. Hunter, How Young Ladies Became Girls: The Victorian Origins of American Childhood (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002).

18 Frederick S. Buchanan, “Education in Utah,” in Utah History Encyclopedia (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1995), uen.org/utah_history_encyclopedia/e/ED- UCATION.html, accessed October 20, 2016.

19 Elaine Anderson Cannon, “Young Women,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1616–19.

20 See Lucille M. Schultz, “Editing the Jabberwock: A Formative Experience for Nineteenth-Century Girls,” in Blue Pencils and Hidden Hands: Women Editing Periodicals, 1830–1910, ed. Sharon M. Harris (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004), 3–19.

21 Petrea Gillespie Kelly, “Contributor,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 320.

22 Petrea Kelly, “Young Woman’s Journal,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1615–16.

23 Observer, “A Few Lines,” Beehive, April 10, 1888, 3, manuscript, MSS A 1053, USHS.

24 [Juie Ivins], untitled, Little Girls’ Magazine, November 12, 1879, 3, manuscript, MSS A 1052, USHS.

25 Juie Ivins, “To the Little Girls,” Little Girls’ Magazine, November 12, 1879, 10, USHS.

26 Annie E. Bentley, “Editorial,” Young Ladies Diadem (St. George, UT), March 13, 1878, 1, USHS.

27 Janie McAllister, “My Attendance at These Meetings,” Little Girls’ Magazine, November 12, 1879, 9, USHS.

28 Aunt Lou, “Letters from Aunt Lou, Letter 2nd,” Little Girls’ Magazine, November 12, 1879, 5, USHS.

29 Bentley, “Editorial,” 2, USHS.

30 “Forward,” “The Vepricula” or Little Bramble, 1, USHS.

31 Aunt Lou, “Letters from Aunt Lou, Letter 2nd,” 5, USHS.

32 According to the Vepricula, “‘Veritas was Orson Pratt, Jr; ‘Signor’ was George A. Burgon; ‘Cerus’ was Joseph Orton; and ‘Mark Whiz’ was Charles Lowell Walker.” “Forward,” “The Vepricula” or Little Bramble, 1, USHS.

33 Rose, untitled, Little Girls’ Magazine, November 12, 1879, 7, USHS.

34 Rhoda M. Young, “Editorial,” Young Ladies Diadem (St. George, UT), January 30, 1878, 4, USHS.

35 Juie Ivins, untitled, 1–2, USHS.

36 See Catherine A. Brekus, “Mormon Women and the Problem of Historical Agency,” Journal of Mormon History 37, no. 2 (Spring 2011): 59–87.

37 Juie A. Ivins, “Editorial,” and “To the Little Girls,” Little Girls’ Magazine, November 12, 1879, 1, 10, USHS.

38 Bentley, “Editorial,” 2, USHS.

39 Young, “Editorial,” 4–5, USHS.

40 Maggie Ivins, “Prayer,” Little Girls Magazine, November 12, 1879, 8, USHS.

41 Charity, “Always Tell the Truth,” Young Ladies Diadem (St. George, UT), March 13, 1878, 3, USHS.

42 Philomathean Gazette, 1872, HBLL; Philomathean Gazette, February 24, 1873, USHS; Philomathean Gazette 4, no. 18 (1875), manuscript, box 5, fd. 9, reel 6, Isaiah M. Coombs Collection, MS 1198, CHL.