25-Year-Old Men Menace to Society

MYTH: Brigham Young said that all unmarried men over 25 were a “Menace to Society.”


Professional football star Steve Young, in a 1996 interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, gave the non-LDS community a rare glimpse at a common Mormon myth. In discussing the pressure of being 34, single and Mormon, Steve said:

"You want to talk about the pressure I feel? Brigham Young once said…that anyone over 27 years of age that’s not married is a menace to society. So here’s my grandfather telling me to get with it. You don’t think I feel the pressure? I guarantee it."[1]

A simple google search of the phrase “Brigham Young ‘Menace to Society” yields dozens of hits pertaining to this alleged quote. But although the age varies depending on who is telling this myth, they all have one thing in common, no original source or documentation of the quote.

Wikiquote.org attributes the quote to Brigham Young, saying that “Any young man who is unmarried at the age of twenty one is a menace to the community,” but the quote has no source.[2] Quotes-museum.com references the exact same quote as Wikiquote.org, and also fails to provide a citation.[3]

In a letter sent to Meridian Magazine, a man by the name of Doug laments the difficulties of being single in the LDS community. He says:

"Yes, I often feel judged for being single ... like it's somehow a sign of spiritual weakness. I'm sure it's tough for single women for all the obvious reasons, but for single men in the Church we have the added burden of being frequently reminded that we are not fulfilling our priesthood duty. People love to quote Brigham Young, who apparently said that any single man over the age of 27 is a menace to society. Did he really ever say that?"[4]

Doug is not the only one to question the authenticity of this alleged quote. On May 31, 1963, speaking at the Commencement Exercises as President of Brigham Young University, Ernest Wilkinson stated:

"Of the men graduating tonight, 62 per cent are married; 38 per cent unmarried. Of the 472 women graduating, 23 per cent are married; 77 per cent single. As to the single men, I need merely to repeat the admonition attributed to Brigham Young, “Every man not married and over twenty-five is a menace to the community.” I asked Dr. Lyman Tyler yesterday if he would document this for me, but he said he had been trying to document it for years; he had given up, so you will have to accept it either on faith, or as apocryphal."[5]

Although it is possible that Brigham Young made this comment, the current renditions have become somewhat apocryphal. To date, no authoritative source has been identified and the ages varies from twenty-one to twenty-seven.

Reporter Huan Hsu alleges that the quote did not originate with Brigham Young, but rather with George Q. Cannon. Referring to the “Menace” quote, Hsu stated:

Actually, Brigham Young never said that. The closest thing is something George Q. Cannon, a church apostle, said in 1878: “I am firmly of the opinion that a large number of unmarried men, over the age of 24 years, is a dangerous element in any community.… [6]

George Q. Cannon actually did make the above quote in a talk about keeping members of society employed and not idle. Cannon full statement, in context is:

"Our boys, when they arrive at years of maturity and can take earn of a wife, should get married, and there should not be a lot of young men growing up in our midst who ought to be, but are not married. While I do not make the remark to apply to individual cases, I am firmly of the opinion that a large number of unmarried men, over the age of twenty-four years, is a dangerous element in any community, and an element upon which society should look with a jealous eye. For every man knowing himself, knows how his fellow-man is constituted; and if men do not marry, they are too apt to do something worse. Then, brethren, encourage our young men to marry, and see that they are furnished employment, so that they can marry."[7]

It is very likely that the original “Menace” quote came from Elder Cannon’s statement, but how did it get attributed to Brigham Young? Well, the explanation could be as simple as the telephone game: As the myth gets passed from person to person it was gradually changed. It may have gradually been attributed to Young because he was the President of the LDS Church at the time and carried the most authority.

One thing is for sure, what was originally a phrase of condemnation, today is commonly invoked as a jest. It was referenced in the movie “Singles Ward” and was the subject of a short comedic operetta entitled “The Menace of Society” about a young man laments his single “menace” status, is dumped by his girlfriend for a recently returned missionary, but eventually is given hope by a former “menace.”

In the end, we can’t really know why the quote was attributed to Brigham Young, but I’m sure this myth will persist. there will also be some members who will continue, with or without proof, to believe it came from Young, and choose, in the words of Ernest Wilkinson, to take it “on faith.”

[1] Mike Wallace interviewing Steve Young on 60 Minutes, 1996. quoted by Huan Hsu, “The Church of Latter-day Singles,” July 29-Aug. 4, 2005. http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/cover/2005/cover0729.html. Retrieved March 25, 2009
[2] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Brigham_Young#Unsourced. Retrieved March 25, 2009
[3] http://www.quotes-museum.com/quote/96075. Retrieved March 25, 2009
[4] McBride, Erin Ann and Caldwell, Juli Hiatt, “Where’s Waldo?” http://www.meridianmagazine.com/singlethought/050825waldo.html. Retrieved March 25, 2009
[5] Ernest L. Wilkinson, BYU Commencement Exercises, May 31, 1963, quoted by J. Stapley on September 28th, 2006 on http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2006/09/did-brigham-hate-your-501s/. Retrieved March 25, 2009
[6] Huan Hsu, “The Church of Latter-day Singles,” July 29-Aug. 4, 2005. http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/cover/2005/cover0729.html. Retrieved March 25, 2009
[7] George Q. Cannon, Annual Conference at Salt Lake City, Sunday morning, April 7, 1878. Reported by George F. Gibbs. Journal of Discourses, vol. 20, p.7

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