The Church and Its Magazines


The Ensign of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bids a warm and cordial welcome to its pages to members and friends of the Church throughout the world.

We welcome new subscribers. We welcome former readers of the Improvement Era, the Relief Society Magazine, the Instructor, and the Millennial Star, publications that have served nobly for many years.

The Ensign, along with two other magazines—the New Era for the young people of the Church and the Friend for the children—which are also making their appearance this month, make up a family of correlated Church publications, initiated and published under the direction of the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve. Thus, they are official Church organs, priesthood directed and controlled. Subscription responsibility has been given to stake and mission presidencies, bishoprics, and branch presidencies.

It is the hope of Church leaders that every English-speaking family in the Church and many of our friends will subscribe to the Ensign and read it regularly and that the New Era and the Friend will be in every home where there are young people and children, to be read and enjoyed by them.

From these magazines will be selected the material for the unified magazines that are being published in sixteen languages for the benefit of the non-English-speaking members of the Church.

The editors, staffs, and advisory committees of the magazines, following the charge given them by the First Presidency and the Twelve, are pledged to use the best talents in the Church to produce quality products—magazines that will be worthy of the great missions assigned to them: strengthening the faith of Church members, promulgating the truths of the gospel, and keeping members abreast of vital and current Church policies and happenings.

The magazines will contain material of general interest calculated to inspire, inform, and build testimonies in the gospel of Jesus Christ. More specific aims are to provide wholesome literature for all members of the Church; to furnish reading material that will help Church members increase their faith and develop strong testimonies; to give insights into the workings of the Church, its policies, and its progress; to explain the principles of the restored gospel; to help members apply gospel principles to everyday living; to teach everlasting truths, such as virtue, honesty, integrity, and loyalty; to represent the Church to nonmember friends and investigators in an impressive way; to answer questions and give guidance concerning current topics.

From the beginning of the Church in this dispensation, the printed word has played an indispensable role. The printed word from the Holy Bible led Joseph Smith into the Sacred Grove that spring day in 1820. The engraven word from the golden plates, transformed into the printed word of the Book of Mormon, testified of the truthfulness of the Bible and revealed many precious gospel truths to man. Added to these, the revelations that became the Doctrine and Covenants and the printed history and instructions in the Pearl of Great Price make up the standard works of the Church.

Periodicals—newspapers and magazines—likewise have played a vital part in the restoration of the gospel and the establishment of the Church. Some of these publications had long lives; some short. As the needs and circumstances of the Church change, so do its periodicals.

As one reviews the history of publications in the Church, he is likely to be amazed, as we were, by the large number of periodicals published by the Church in its relatively short history and the many changes that have been made over the years.

It is important for an organization to have a “voice,” and it was especially vital for the young Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, organized under the direction of God by the Prophet Joseph Smith on April 6, 1830, to have a means of disseminating information concerning the Church, the gospel, and the revealed word of the Lord to members and nonmembers alike.

Volume one of the documentary History of the Church reveals that “a conference was held [in 1831] in which Brother W. W. Phelps was instructed to stop at Cincinnati on his way to Missouri and purchase a press and type, for the purpose of establishing and publishing a monthly paper at Independence, Jackson county, Missouri, to be called the Evening and Morning Star.” (P. 217.)

This was the first periodical to be established by the Church. In a prospectus issued by Brother Phelps in February 1832, it was stated that the time for accomplishing the purposes of the Lord was rapidly approaching. “Therefore,” the prospectus revealed, “in fear of Him (the Lord), and to spread the truth among all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, this paper is sent forth. …”The editor also wrote that “in addition to being a herald of Israel’s return to the favor of God, and a messenger of the everlasting Gospel—[the journal] will also contain whatever of truth or information that will benefit the Saints of God temporally as well as spiritually.” (DHC 1:259.) The Evening and Morning Star was to be issued monthly, according to the prospectus, at $1.00 a year until it should be deemed wise to publish it oftener.

The first issue came from the press in June 1832, from a printing plant that was reported to be 120 miles farther west than any other printing plant in the United States at the time. The journal was published for fourteen months before the printing plant was attacked by a mob, which smashed the type and destroyed the press on July 20, 1833.

But the Church still needed its voice, so another press was obtained and the publication was started again in December 1833 in Kirtland, Ohio, under the editorship of Oliver Cowdery. Just ten months later the makeup of the journal was changed, as was its name. The reason given for this was: “As the Evening and Morning Star was designed to be published at Missouri, it was considered that another name would be more appropriate for a paper in this place [Kirtland], consequently, as the name of the Church has lately been entitled the Church of the Latter-day Saints, and since it is destined, at least for a season, to bear the reproach and stigma of this world, it is no more than just that a paper disseminating the doctrines believed by the same, and advocating its character and rights should be entitled The Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate.” (DHC 2:167.)

The first issue of this publication contained, among other things, a summary of the important points of Church doctrine, signed by Oliver Cowdery. Frederick G. Williams and later the Prophet Joseph Smith himself were publishers of the journal. The thirty-six issues of the Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate were chiefly doctrinal in nature and contributed much to the education and strength of the faith of the members of the Church.

In October 1837 the name of the publication was again changed, this time to the Elders’ Journal, and it was edited and published by Joseph Smith, Jr., Thomas B. Marsh, Don Carlos Smith, and others until August 1838.

It is hard for us to even imagine the extreme difficulty under which those brethren worked and published the magazines during those trying times of persecution. They were able to publish only two issues of the Elders’ Journal at Kirtland, as in November a mob burned the printing house and destroyed the press and type. Publication was resumed in the summer of 1838 in Far West, Missouri, but mob activity became so violent that only two issues appeared.

It was during the summer of 1838 that 2,000 men, under the leadership of General Samuel D. Lucas, surrounded Far West and forced the evacuation of the city. Facing the prospects of again losing the valuable press, the brethren decided to try to hide it, so by night they dug a deep hole in the backyard of a Brother Dawson, carried the press out of the building, lowered it into the hole, and covered it and the type up with dirt. There it remained until the spring of 1839, when it was dug up and taken by wagon to Nauvoo, Illinois. After it was cleaned and repaired, it was put back into service printing a publication, the Times and Seasons. Concerning this, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote in his journal: “In June, 1839, he [Don Carlos Smith] commenced making preparations for printing the Times and Seasons. The press and type had been resurrected by Elias Smith, Hyrum Clark, and others, from its grave in Dawson’s yard, Far West, where it was buried for safety the night that General Lucas surrounded the city with the mob militia. The form for a number of the Elders’ Journal was buried with the ink on it. The types were considerably injured by the damp; it was therefore necessary to get them into use as soon as possible, and in order to do this, Don Carlos was under the necessity of cleaning out a cellar through which a spring was constantly flowing, as the only place where he could put up the press.” (DHC 4:398.)

The Times and Seasons was successively edited by Don Carlos Smith, Joseph Smith, Jr., and John Taylor and published by Don Carlos Smith and Ebenezer Robinson until the Saints were driven from Nauvoo. The 131 issues of this publication chronicled the growth of Nauvoo and the progress of the Church. They contained numerous articles on the gospel and related subjects, along with the news from the missionary fields and items of interest and importance concerning Latter-day Saints.

There are in the journal of the Prophet Joseph Smith a number of references to the Times and Seasons. Let’s look briefly at some of them:

Friday, January 28, 1842: “I received the following revelation to the Twelve concerning the Times and Seasons, given January 28, 1842—‘Verily thus sayeth the Lord unto you, my servant Joseph, go and say unto the Twelve, that it is my will to have them take in hand the editorial department of the Times and Seasons, according to that manifestation which shall be given unto them by the power of my Holy Spirit in the midst of their counsel, saith the Lord. Amen.’” (DHC 4:503.)

November 15, 1842: “Wrote for Times and Seasons the following: ‘Valedictory. I beg to inform the subscribers of the Times and Seasons that it is impossible for me to fulfill the arduous duties of the editorial department any longer. The multiplicity of other business that daily devolves upon me renders it impossible for me to do justice to a paper so widely circulated as the Times and Seasons. I have appointed Elder John Taylor, who is less encumbered and fully competent to assume the responsibilities of that office, and I doubt not that he will give satisfaction to the patrons of the paper. As this number commences a new volume, it also commences his editorial career.” (DHC 5:193.)

On April 19, 1843, the Prophet Joseph Smith was giving instructions to the Twelve. To Brother Taylor he said: “John Taylor, I believe you can do more good in the editorial department than preaching. You can write for thousands to read; while you can preach to but a few at a time. We have no one else we can trust the paper with. …” (DHC 5:367.)

October 4, 1845, when the Saints were being forced to evacuate Nauvoo, Elder Richards moved “that the next number of the Times and Seasons close that paper and that the minutes of the conference be published in the Nauvoo Neighbor.” (The Nauvoo Neighbor was a weekly published by the Church.)

In 1840 a majority of the twelve apostles were in England, conducting their affairs as a quorum. In May they started publication of the Millennial Star. The prospectus of this periodical said that it would “stand aloof from the common political and commercial news of the day. Its columns will be devoted to the spread of the fulness of the Gospel—the restoration of the ancient principles of Christianity—the gathering of Israel—the rolling forth of the kingdom of God among the nations—the signs of the times—the fulfillment of prophecy—recording the judgments of God as they befall the nations whether signs in the heavens or in the earth, blood, fire or vapor or smoke … and ushering in of his [Christ’s] universal reign upon the earth. It will also contain letters from our numerous Elders who are abroad, preaching the word both in America and in Europe, containing news of their success in ministering the blessings of the glorious Gospel.” (DHC 4:133.) The publication met these lofty ideals in a very real way.

In addition to the Millennial Star, many first editions of important contributions to Church literature have been released from British presses before their appearance elsewhere. The Journal of Discourses is such a contribution. This project was commenced in 1854 by George D. Watts, the first man baptized by divine authority in England, who was appointed by President Brigham Young to report and publish sermons delivered by the leaders of the Church and others.

In those early days several publications were also issued from the eastern states. Two of these were the Gospel Reflector, published in Philadelphia, and the Prophet, published weekly in New York City by Parley P. Pratt and others. (Later the name was changed to the New York Messenger.)

As the Saints pushed westward in their great trek to the Rocky Mountains, a newspaper was begun by Orson Hyde in Kanesville, Iowa, under the title of Frontier Guardian. A semimonthly paper, it was published for three years.

The Deseret News, which began publication in 1850 as the first newspaper in the Mountain West, has been an organ of the Church for over a century. The press upon which the first issues were printed was purchased in Boston by W. W. Phelps with the financial assistance of the Saints in Philadelphia. Howard Egan brought it west by wagon. This newspaper was published as a weekly for many years, then as a semiweekly, and eventually as a daily.

Many other publications have been issued in other parts of the United States and the world as the necessity arose. Some of these were: the Mormon, Wasp, Seer, Liahona, Forerunner, Historical Record, Zion’s Home Monthly, Zion’s Young People, Amateur, and Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine.

The first publication printed in the interest of an auxiliary of the Church was the Juvenile Instructor, which was begun in 1866. In 1908 it was changed from a semimonthly to a monthly magazine, having become the property of the Sunday School in 1900. Chiefly a children’s magazine to 1930, it has been credited as being the first children’s magazine published between the Mississippi River and the Pacific coast. In 1930 its name was changed to the Instructor, and it became primarily an organ of the Sunday School and its officers and teachers.

The Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association was given a voice through the Contributor, published for the YMMIA from 1879 to 1896 by Junius F. Wells. A year and one month later the Improvement Era was started, with President Joseph F. Smith and President B. H. Roberts as editors and Elder Heber J. Grant, who later became the President of the Church, as business manager.

In 1929 the Era was merged with the Young Woman’s Journal, which had been published by the YWMIA since 1889.

The Relief Society published a magazine called the Women’s Exponent between 1876 and 1914. Beginning in January 1915, the name of the magazine was changed to the Relief Society Magazine, and the magazine continued to be published as an organ of the Relief Society until December 1970.

The Children’s Friend, a monthly periodical published by the General Board of the Primary, was begun in 1902.

The decision in 1970 to terminate the publication of the Improvement Era, Instructor, Relief Society Magazine, Children’s Friend, and Millennial Star and to replace them with three new publications was not an idle or hasty move. It came about only after a great deal of study, planning, and prayer.

This new alignment will make it possible for us to combine our efforts to make the Ensign the best religious magazine for adults published anywhere in the world. Placing it and the non-English unified magazine in every home will make it possible for the messages of the Church leaders to reach every family in the Church monthly. The New Era will give the young people of the Church a fine magazine of their own. The Friend is so planned as to contain material that will start planting the seeds of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, love for the truths of the gospel, and loyalty to the Church and its leaders.