A Very Brief History of Wee Wisdom
For nearly 100 years, Unity published a children’s magazine called Wee Wisdom. It is so fondly remembered that in 2019, Unity created a retrospective booklet for nostalgic adults, tracing the history of the magazine and including a sampling of the stories, poems, and artwork that enthralled children for decades. This article is excerpted from the retrospective booklet, which is still for sale.
At one time, Wee Wisdom® was the longest-running children’s magazine in America. It was born in August 1893 from the heart of Unity cofounder Myrtle Fillmore, who was editor of the monthly periodical for nearly its first 30 years. Her three boys were key assistants, starting before they were 12.
As the story is told, Myrtle had a vision in the early days of Unity. She saw herself surrounded by crowds of people, many of them unruly children. A voice within asked, Who will take care of the children? And it answered, You are to take care of the children; this is your work.
In the first issue of Wee Wisdom, Myrtle wrote, “The mission of Wee Wisdom is not to entertain the children but to call them out. To be always entertained is to be dwarfed and dependent. To be ‘called out’ is to follow the harmonious law of the soul’s unfoldment.”
Encouraging, Engaging, Enthralling
Wee Wisdom was part of a Golden Age in children’s literature. Characters developed during that half-century included Mary Poppins, Long John Silver, Peter Pan, Peter Rabbit, Mowgli, Dr. Dolittle, The Hobbit, and Winnie-the-Pooh. Children’s magazines flourished too, but Wee Wisdom outlasted them all.
The character-building ideals of Wee Wisdom are thoughtfully phrased, not in religious language but in universal language acceptable to all faiths and creeds.
Through the years, Wee Wisdom was filled with children’s stories, Bible lessons, puzzles, riddles, recipes, paper dolls, comic strips, craft suggestions, pages to color, songs, prayers, and always, always poems. Wee Wisdom was also known for sometimes breathtaking artwork, the first of it created in 1919 by Rickert Fillmore, Myrtle’s then-adult son.
The names of Lowell, Rickert, and Royal Fillmore appeared in Wee Wisdom occasionally as authors and more often when their mother wrote about them. Even as boys, the three took over editing the magazine while their parents were on vacation and always featured the work of children.
Today, Wee Wisdom would be called interactive. Children were encouraged to write letters, send poems, and create stories for publication. Myrtle Fillmore directly addressed the children in her columns—she always called herself Ye Editor—as if they were chatting on the front porch. The magazine staff made a point of responding to children’s letters.
The Unity Village News, celebrating Wee Wisdom’s birthday in 1971, said, “The character-building ideals of Wee Wisdom are thoughtfully phrased, not in religious language but in universal language acceptable to all faiths and creeds. Perhaps this is one reason why the magazine is accepted in thousands of schools and libraries all over the country.”
Serving Children’s Spirituality
Many of Wee Wisdom’s readers had no idea it came from Unity. Although the Unity name was never hidden, the magazine focused on Truth teachings and practical ways for children to use them.
Unity was struggling financially when Wee Wisdom began, and, in its 98-year run, the children’s magazine never broke even. Subscriptions steadily declined and by 1991 the little magazine might have seemed downright quaint in the era of Game Boys, Terminator movies, and Pearl Jam.
Connie Fillmore, then president of Unity School of Christianity, broke the sad news in a letter to employees in August 1991:
“Nearly 100 years ago, my great-grandmother Myrtle Fillmore, along with the help of her three sons, founded WEE WISDOM Magazine. Her expressed intention at that time was to serve the developing spiritual needs of children. How often through the years I have heard quoted her stirring words, ‘Who will take care of the children?’
“It is with a sense of nearly overwhelming irony, therefore, that I write you this letter. You see, after months of detailed analysis and prayerful deliberations, the Board of Trustees of Unity School has made the decision to cease publication of WEE WISDOM, effective with the December 1991 issue.”
Judy Gehrlein, last in the line of Wee Wisdom editors that had begun with Myrtle Fillmore, wrote to children in the final issue, “Our purpose has been to help you discover the finest and best qualities within yourself.”
This retrospective booklet can’t begin to do justice to the many colors, features, and personality of Wee Wisdom through the decades. (Bound volumes are in the Archives at Unity Village.) We only hope this glimpse of Wee Wisdom stirs memories in those who loved it and reflects one of the shining achievements of Unity for those who were born too late.
Excerpted from the booklet, A Wee Wisdom Retrospective.