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  • The Young Woman's Journal:Gender and Generations in a Mormon Women's Magazine
  • Lisa Olsen Tait (bio)

In the spring of 1888, Susa Young Gates, thirty-two years old and serving with her husband and three young children as a Mormon missionary in Hawaii, began writing letters to friends and relatives in Utah, seeking support for her newly-focused literary ambitions.1 Gates, daughter of Brigham Young and a well-known writer in the Mormon community, had been contributing stories, sketches, and miscellany to Mormon and national publications for some time. In a discussion with her husband Jacob earlier that year, as she told the story to her correspondents, he had suggested that she concentrate her literary efforts in one direction. "I wish you could get a position on the Exponent as Associate Editor," he said. You could "come in under Aunt Em [Emmeline Wells, editor of the Exponent], and you two together . . . take a renewed hold on the little paper."2

Fired by this idea, Gates wrote to Emmeline Wells, editor of the Woman's Exponent, a semi-weekly paper published in Salt Lake City as the official organ of the LDS women's Relief Society. Gates, never at a loss for self-confidence, approached Wells directly about the idea. "I think I could safely promise to suit you," she ventured, but she also made it clear that she had ideas of her own about improving the publication. Offering to "invest some money of my own" in the business, Gates proposed that she would "wish to see the paper altered as to paper, cover, size, etc." "Many little items suggest themselves to me as possible improvements," she continued.3 To another correspondent, she made her vision even more explicit: "Could it not be made feasible to turn it to a monthly magazine with better paper, a cover, and in short advance to a good woman's magazine."4

The Exponent scheme turned out to be a nonstarter, but Gates's correspondence yielded a new plan: she would launch a monthly magazine for the young women of Mormondom as the official organ of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Associations (YLMIA).5 (See Figure 1.) First issued in October 1889, [End Page 51]

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Figure 1.

The Young Woman's Journal commenced publication in Salt Lake City in October 1889 as the official organ of the Young Ladies' Mutual Improvement Associations of the LDS Church. Image courtesy of Church Archives, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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the Young Woman's Journal became an important voice in the Mormon community and provided a platform for Gates as a commentator and fiction writer. During her tenure as editor, from 1889-1900, Gates pursued her vision of making the journal, as she put it in one editorial, "your ideal of a perfect woman's magazine."6 Gates's comments suggest that she conceived of her publication in relation to other periodicals—local and national—and that the concept of a "woman's magazine" had a certain power and shape in her mind.

In particular, three features of the "woman's magazine" paradigm interacted with Gates's immediate, Mormon context to structure the Young Woman's Journal. These were the understanding of the women's magazine as a public female space, the sisterly editorial voice, and the dialogism—sometimes dissonant—of the magazine form. At the core of the Young Woman's Journal was a specific generational voice, addressing itself to the "girls" in response to the pressures and transitions registering in Mormondom during a pivotal decade. Moreover, the Young Woman's Journal was unique among magazines of the period in using the women's magazine form to target a "young woman" audience. This generational dynamic, while rooted in concerns particular to the LDS community, invites us to ask broader questions about the generational aspects of women's magazines and about the role of those periodicals in shaping the developing concept of adolescence.

Mormons and Magazines

We must first understand the historical and publishing context for the years of Gates's editorship. After their forced emigration to the Great Basin at midcentury...