Students watching a "mental hygiene" film.
A scene from one of the films.
Meet Wally and Carolyn, two young people who will go on a date Friday night.
They exist on film — a "mental hygiene" film from the years following the Second World War. The term "mental hygiene" is a way of describing instructional movies with titles like "Dating Dos and Don'ts", "Mind Your Manners," "Are You Popular?" and "Narcotics: Pit of Despair." Topics also included posture, highway safety, and juvenile delinquency.
Ken Smith, the author of "Mental Hygiene": Classroom Films, 1945-1970," gave Lost and Found Sound a tour through the fascinating and largely forgotten world of these movies.
The films were shown in classrooms across America as tools of social engineering, made to reshape the values and attitudes of students in the late 1940s and 1950s. They generally were wrapped up in simple, tidy 10-minute packages.
More than 3,000 of these movies were made over nearly three decades. Now, fewer than half of them survive, and often only one or two battered prints. Most schools and libraries dumped the bulky films when video came in. The copies that remain are scattered among university and museum archives or private collectors.