Restoration and Church History
Church Periodicals

“Church Periodicals,” Church History Topics

“Church Periodicals”

Church Periodicals

The publication of periodicals has been a vital aspect of Church communication from the Church’s earliest years. At the time of the Church’s founding, newspapers were among the most important vehicles for disseminating information in the United States. Editors often influenced opinions on religion and politics, and some of the earliest historical sources related to the restored Church were attacks printed in newspapers hostile toward the Church. Latter-day Saints quickly learned the importance of having access to their own press. Publishing newspapers allowed the Saints to represent their own views, combat false rumors, communicate with each other across distance, and share the gospel. Many of Joseph Smith’s revelations and inspired translations were published for the first time in Church newspapers.

The evening and the morning star

The first issue of The Evening and the Morning Star, the Church’s earliest newspaper.

Early Latter-day Saint Newspapers

At an 1831 Church conference in Hiram, Ohio, William W. Phelps was commissioned to purchase a printing press in Cincinnati while en route to Missouri.1 As a member of the Literary Firm, an early Church committee tasked with overseeing Church publications, Phelps established a printing office in Independence, Missouri. There he issued the first Church periodical, The Evening and the Morning Star, beginning in June 1832.2 The newspaper was not long lived, however, as vigilantes destroyed Phelps’s press in July 1833.3 After purchasing a new press, Church leaders relocated their printing operations to Kirtland, Ohio, and began publishing the Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate. In October 1837, that publication was replaced by the Elders’ Journal of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Unfortunately, by January 1838, the county sheriff had seized the printing office and confiscated the Church’s press. The office was destroyed by fire on January 16.4

When the Saints were driven from Missouri in 1838, they avoided the loss of another valuable printing press in Far West by burying it in a Church member’s yard immediately before evacuating. There the press remained until it was reclaimed the following spring. It was then transported to Nauvoo, Illinois, where it was repaired and used to publish the Times and Seasons, a newspaper that chronicled Church business and day-to-day life in Nauvoo.5

In May 1840, members of the Quorum of the Twelve began publishing the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star while on their mission to England. Published first in Manchester and later in Liverpool, it became the Church’s longest-running periodical and was vital to the growth and support of the Church in Great Britain.6 Latter-day Saint missionaries established sister periodicals throughout the Church’s missions in Europe and the eastern United States. Among the earliest and most influential of these was the Skandinaviens Stjerne, first issued in 1851 in Copenhagen. It gave the Danish and Swedish Saints access to the prophets’ sermons, featured letters from emigrants who had gathered to Zion, and reproduced translations of material from the Millennial Star and the Deseret News. Missionaries in Wales, France, and Germany offered similar content in local languages with the publications Prophwyd y Jubili (also called Seren y Saints), l’Étoile du Déséret, and Zions Panier, respectively.7

In 1847 in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, Church leaders again commissioned William W. Phelps to purchase a printing press and transport it to a new Zion to be built in the Great Basin. The first issue of the Deseret News came off this press in Salt Lake City in June 1850.8

Relief Society and Auxiliary Periodicals

While Deseret News editors covered general Church and civic events in Utah and surrounding Latter-day Saint settlements, some prominent Church members created periodicals that addressed specific topics and audiences. In 1866, Elder George Q. Cannon launched the Juvenile Instructor, a periodical designed to teach the gospel to children and youth. Louisa Lula Greene, Brigham Young’s 19-year-old grandniece, began the Woman’s Exponent in 1872, and Emmeline B. Wells, later the Relief Society General President, replaced her as editor in 1877. The Woman’s Exponent supported women’s rights and proclaimed the restored gospel, two causes Wells viewed as being interconnected. Neither periodical was owned by the Church, but both enjoyed significant circulation and discussion among Church members.9

First Issue of Woman's Exponent

The first issue of the Woman’s Exponent, an early periodical published by Latter-day Saint women.

Soon the general boards of several Church organizations began their own publications. The Contributor started in 1879 for young men, the Young Woman’s Journal started in 1889 for young women, and the Children’s Friend started in 1902 for children.10 The Contributor was succeeded by the Improvement Era in 1897. In 1900 the Sunday School general board purchased the Juvenile Instructor and expanded the magazine’s educational mission from focusing on children and youth to including all adult Church members.11 During 1914 the Relief Society general board published a monthly bulletin, and beginning in January 1915, the board launched its own magazine, the Relief Society Magazine, which superseded the Woman’s Exponent.12

Correlation of Church Periodicals

These various Church periodicals enriched members’ lives for many decades. However, with rapid Church growth and global expansion in the 1960s and 1970s, Church leaders realized the need for more coordinated communication. They ended the publication of auxiliary- and mission-run magazines in an effort to deliver a unified message. The first issues of the Ensign for adult members, the New Era for youth, and the Friend for children began publication in January 1971.13

Ensign Magazine, 1971/01

The first issue of the Ensign, published in January 1971.

In 1971 the Church also began to select, translate, and publish content from the three correlated magazines in periodicals for non-English-speaking members throughout the world. By 1990 this effort included 20 different magazines, each with its own language-specific title and a section devoted to local content. In 2000, these international periodicals were renamed Liahona.14

Related Topics: Early Missionaries