“New Pioneers … On the March!”

June 2, 2007 | 7 comments
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What does today’s Deseret Morning News editorial have in common with my 1941 copper medal bearing the legend “Our Standard Bearer” over the likeness of President Heber J. Grant?

The editorial warns that:

Tobacco ads are like mildew. You just think you have the stuff under control and it crops up again out of nowhere. For tobacco, the latest outbreak is coming in colorful, attractive ads in the “big slicks” – trendy, top-end magazines like Vogue, Glamour and Harper’s Bazaar. The ads are sandwiched in among features on beauty, style and health to give off the aroma of healthy living.

The truth is, they stink.

June 7, 1941, was the opening day of June Conference, in the days when the church auxiliaries held huge multi-day conventions to present the themes of the coming year’s work, to engage in festivals of dance, music, and speech, and to listen to counsel from general authorities directed to the needs of the individual auxiliaries. In 1941, the opening day of the M.I.A. conference was capped off with a youth rally in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

Planners expected 7,000 to attend. Estimates are that 10,000 crowded into the Tabernacle, stood at the doorways, and strained to understand the scratchy P.A. system from the sidewalks and lawns. The theme “New Pioneers … On the March!” rallied LDS youth to recommit themselves to the avoidance of alcohol and tobacco.

The audience joined in a rousing opening song, “Shall the Youth of Zion Falter?” followed by the invocation. Then the crowd fell silent as they listened to a half-hour dramatization of the Mormon pioneer story, broadcast over KSL Radio, courtesy of Utah Woollen Mills, who had surrendered their regularly sponsored program in honor of the grand rally.

Next came the most anticipated half hour of the program, accomplished through state-of-the-art technology. Young people in the Tabernacle engaged in short two-way radio interviews of prominent people throughout the United States: Representatives of ice skater/actress Sonja Henie in Hollywood and automobile magnate Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan; football coach Alonzo Stagg in Stockton, California; LDS radio stars the King Sisters in New York City; co-founder of Johns Hopkins hospital Dr. Howard A. Kelly in Baltimore; Lt. Elwin F. Quinn of the U.S. Army Air Corps stationed in Richmond, Virginia, and others, praised their listeners for turning from the popular image of “cigarettes and cocktails” as necessary to the modern, sophisticated life. Each explained how clean living had contributed to his or her own success.

No one spoke of cancer or emphysema or heart disease, whose link to tobacco was then unknown. Some did address health concerns: Lt. Quinn said that “jittery men don’t make good aviators,” and Coach Stagg advised them to“give yourself and your future a fair break. Athletes addicted to use of tobacco do not possess the endurance of athletes free from it.”

Speakers also addressed the issue of image: Actor Rad Robinson assured his hearers that in Hollywood “people admire a person who doesn’t smoke or drink.” The King Sisters declared that “observing the Word of Wisdom has brought us nothing but respect and admiration, even in the most sophisticated environment to which our profession calls us.”

Although they were not available for interviews during the rally, movie stars Gene Autry and Jeannette MacDonald, and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, sent messages to the gathering, commending LDS youth for their commitment.

Following an additional half hour of music and pageantry, and an address delivered by closed circuit radio from the sickroom of Heber J. Grant, all present pledged, on their honor, to abstain from tobacco and alcohol. Each was given a copper pocket piece to remind them of their pledge every time they fingered the medal.

The speakers’ comments, and even more the printed comments and “scare” information in the brochure given to participants, all seem quaint and simple today. Yet they served their purpose, alerting LDS youth that advertising could lie, no matter how clever it appeared, and that good and successful people, LDS and not, stood together in their commitment to what in 1941 was called “clean living.”

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7 Responses to “New Pioneers … On the March!”

  1. m&m on June 2, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    Ardis, thank you for sharing this. Very interesting.

    And that editorial was great, too!

  2. Jonathan Green on June 2, 2007 at 7:44 pm

    Ardis, something about this seems to perfectly capture the spirit of the time, as if President Grant’s message were delivered to the eager listeners letter by letter via Flash Gordon decoder rings.

  3. Ardis Parshall on June 2, 2007 at 10:15 pm

    m&m, glad you liked it. It’s always nice to have you comment.

    Jonathan, you get it. There’s a vintage silverplate feel to whole event, isn’t there?

  4. Kevin Barney on June 2, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Ardis, how did you come by that medallion?

  5. Ardis Parshall on June 2, 2007 at 11:25 pm

    Kevin, I bought it from a Utah antiques dealer. I’m always on the lookout for Mormon memorabilia priced somewhere between CTR refrigerator magnets and Emma’s hymnbook. Like the good little girl I infrequently try to be, I immediately checked the church museum catalog to find out if they needed this as a donation; they already had three examples, so I got to keep it with a clear conscience.

    It would be more fun to say it had been carried for years in my mother’s coinpurse and saved her in a moment of critical temptation, wouldn’t it?

  6. Ben H on June 3, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    I love to hear about this kind of event. It reminds me of the way the church felt when I was a kid, only a few years earlier of course. And yet in some ways maybe more like it than the church today? International growth and correlation have really changed things.

  7. Russell Arben Fox on June 3, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    “International growth and correlation have really changed things.”

    Indeed they have. This story–and, as Jonathan said, the whole spirit of the time really–makes me think again about tight Utah Mormon world my grandmother knew. Closed circuit radios and copper pennies and LDS music stars the King Sisters: what a wonderful little world it must have been. Thanks for another reminder, Ardis.