Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown – The Passing Fad of Coueism

Émile Coué

“Every day in every way I’m getting better and better”

If you were a fan of the Pink Panther movies, you will remember this line. In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Commissioner Dreyfus is in an mental health hospital, having been driven crazy by his Inspector Clouseau. His “therapy” is to repeat the phrase on a regular basis, “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” Of course, it only works until Clouseau shows up.

Fifty-odd years earlier, people around Youngstown were repeating this very sentence as a result of a series of excerpts from the work of French psychologist Émile Coué. Beginning December 7, 1922, the Vindicator printed portions from his book, Self Mastery Through Auto-Suggestion. Each day in the Vindicator, short excerpts from his work would appear on the front page, like this one from December 9:

The basic idea was that positive thoughts could overcome whatever may ail you. People were encouraged to repeat to themselves “Every day in every way I’m getting better and better” twenty times or more. Coué believed that two selves existed in every person and that positive thoughts could overcome bad thoughts and that by auto-suggestion, a form of hypnosis, these positive thoughts could result in the healing of both physical and psychological maladies. Underlying this idea was the belief that ideas occupying the mind can become reality. He didn’t preach against medical treatments but believed his auto-suggestions could enhance other healing measures.

Title Page of Self Mastery from Internet Archive

It may be that the publication of these excerpts were timed to go along with Coué’s visit to the United States from France in early 1923. As far as I know, he never visited Youngstown. But for a time, his ideas took Youngstown and other parts of the nation by storm–and like a fast-moving storm front, they passed. A Boston Herald investigation six months after found that while most “healed” by the Coué method felt better initially, they relapsed into their previous ailments soon after. In addition, much of the medical established shunned him, if the could not openly oppose him.

While have heard of Coué today, his signature phrase has passed passed into the culture. The Wikipedia article on Coué lists twenty-one instances in literature and film where it is used between 1922 and 2012. One wouldn’t dream of seeing similar material in what is left of today’s paper, but little articles of “positive thought” were not uncommon on the editorial and other pages of the Vindicator in the 1920’s. It was a different time.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.