Most early American periodicals for children were edited and published by adults, but some notable ones were produced by teenagers. The publications won’t be remembered for the quality of the contents, but what they lacked in quality, the editors more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Some periodicals were written or edited by the young, but overseen by adults. The Juvenile Key (1830-1837) was famously printed by Zerui’ah-Juan Griffin, Joseph Warren Griffin, and George Griffin, but edited by their father, publisher Joseph Griffin. Boys at the Orphans’ Home in Germantown, Pennsylvania, set the type for the first year of
The Busy Bee (1866-1874), while students at the North Carolina Institution for the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind set type for The Deaf Mute Casket (1861-1865). Students at the Cherokee Female Seminary published Cherokee Rose Buds and A Wreath of Cherokee Rose Buds in the 1850s; students at the Cortland Academy in Homer, New York, published The Juvenile Literary Cabinet in 1823. Factory workers in Lowell, Massachusetts—many of them teenagers—published the Lowell Offering (1840-1845), which was organized by Abel Charles Thomas, and the Operatives’ Magazine (1841-1842). And uncountable magazines were carefully created by hand for family (the “Home Casket,” 1858) or schoolmates (“The Violet,” 1860 and 1861; “The Floral Wreath,” circa 1855).

But some young publishers had greater ambitions, producing works for a wide audience. Thomas Donaldson, jr (age 15), handwrote copies of The Weekly Magpie (1859) until it became too popular: “Formerly, it was in manuscript, but the demand for copies daily increased, so that we were not able to supply even one half of the applicants,—thus depriving the world of this enlightening and refining influences of this popular journal, and retarding, for some time, the march of civilization.” [editorial. 1 (18 June 1859); p. 3] Thomas Gray Condie (age 15) founded The Juvenile Port-folio (1812-1816), which had several hundred subscribers; G. M. Dilworth (age 16) edited Young America (1856-1858) for two years. Origen Bacheler (age 18) edited the Juvenile Gazette for another publisher when it appeared “for a few months” in 1818; Oliver Kendall (age 14) kept afloat his own Juvenile Gazette (1827-1828) for a year by sending out sample issues and advertising widely.

Like many adult editors, these young entrepeneurs worked hard, often writing much of what went into each issue. “No Contributions are inserted from persons over 15 years of age,” Donaldson declared in early issues of the Magpie, though he raised that age to 15 1/2 when some contributors aged out. Dilworth “[set] all his own type and [worked] off his own paper, on a hand press, besides writing editorials, selecting copy and doing all the etcetras which belong to the publishing of a newspaper.” [May 1857, p. 3] Ross Alley (age 16), who apparently established a new periodical each time his family moved in rural Indiana, built his printing press from a cider press when he began to publish the Youth’s Casket (1850-1852) and the Genius of Youth (1852).

For the most part, the publications were small-scale versions of periodicals for adults. Quite literally: most of these publications were only four pages, with a page size under nine inches high; Oliver Kendall’s Juvenile Gazette could almost be hidden by a poker card.

Contents also mimicked publications for adults: poetry, stories, essays. Poems describe how “Death bore the cherub from us, to the tomb” or bewail a rabbit dead “of too much cherishing.” [M. Louisa Chitwood. “Mementoes.” The Genius of Youth 1 (1 June 1852); p. 4. “The Tale of a Rabbit.” Weekly Magpie 1 (9 July 1859); p. 15] The Magpie and the Port-folio printed serialized stories stuffed with adventure and melodrama and “phrenzy”-filled romance: “I wept my hard fate in the arms of my juvenile lover,” a character declares in the Port-folio, “who, exasperated almost to phrenzy, vowed destruction on himself unless I would consent to become his wife, without the knowledge of my father”—which turns out to be a bad idea. [“Bromley Melmot.” 3 (4 March 1815); p. 33] In the Magpie, Sir Victor, Sir Tristram, Sir Ottonitz, Sir Wigmund, and Sir Mardin go to slay a dragon for noble ladies who say “prithee” and “methinks” and faint on cue. As in periodicals edited by adults, fiction could be didactic: Kendall published a three-part story (all of six paragraphs) in which Nancy No-Point demonstrates the importance of understanding punctuation.

Essays allowed these editors to explore a variety of subjects. Dilworth listed useful personality traits and explored “How the Birds are Treated in Japan” (first sentence: “Very kindly.”). [“Keep It Before Yourself.” Young America 2 (May 1857); p. 1. “How the Birds are Treated in Japan.” 2 (May 1857); p. 2] Kendall reviewed various childrens’ sports and games in a series of one-paragraph essays, noting prudently that flying kites was “against the law, for horses are often frightened by them” and that when playing Blindman’s Buff, “the little boy or girl that is blinded should move slowly and carefully lest a broken nose be the consequence.” [“Flying the Kite.” Juvenile Gazette 1 (1 March 1828); pp. 59-60. “Blindman’s Buff.” 1 (16 February 1828); p. 52] Condie’s Port-folio had much to say about matrimony. In the Port-folio, women were to juggle an astonishing number of traits: “softness of manners, complacency of countenance, gentle unhurried motion, … a voice clear and yet tender, … internal strength and activity of mind, capable to transact the business or combat the evils of life; [and] a due sense of moral and religious obligations.” [“Rudiments of Taste, and a Polite Female Education.” 1 (3 July 1813); p. 150] A correspondent, however, noted that women couldn’t hope to please everyone: “If women are of a disposition, gay, lively, and cheerful, they are then censured as bold, forward, and assuming; if they are thoughtful and reserved, they are stigmatized by the epithets of prudes, mopes, &c. so that however prudent and consistent their conduct may be, they are sure to fall under the lash of some male tongue, which is accustomed to utter nothing but slander.” [C. Letter to the editor. 3 (1 April 1815); p. 51] Donaldson’s breezy editorial comments point out that “The youth of the neighborhood would find it greatly to their advantage to devote themselves more to athletic exercises, (and as some one suggests) less to girls” and announces that “The other day Miss E. D., in the course of her morning ramble, was so fortunate as to find a mammoth toadstool …. It will be remembered that Miss E. D. is the same young lady who secured 36 tadpoles some time since; she has, from her infancy, shown a full appreciation of the animal and vegetable kingdoms; and has been particularly active in securing rare specimens of them.” [“The Nest.” Weekly Magpie 1 (2 July 1859); p. 12]

That many of these periodicals weren’t published long also imitated those published by adults. The Weekly Magpie lasted six months. Kendall’s Juvenile Gazette ended after a year. Young America folded a few months after Dilworth handed it over to another editor. Some editors “aged out” of their own publications: at age 18, Ross Alley founded The Forest Rose and at 19, The Literary Messenger—both for adults. At age 20, Thomas Gray Condie shifted from editing a periodical for children—The Juvenile Port-folio—to one for adults—the Parlour Companion, which he published for almost two years. Only one seems to have made any kind of a career in publishing: Origen Bacheler edited the Anti-Universalist as an adult and wrote several books. Oliver Kendall built organs; Thomas Condie became a lawyer. (Ross Alley died at age 20.) As editors, none of them produced great literature, but what they did produce often has a sort of wonky charm (and some very creative spelling).

Where to read some of the periodicals: The Juvenile Port-folio is available in the American Periodicals Series and the American Antiquarian Society databases. Young America and the only known issue of Genius of Youth are reproduced in the American Antiquarian Society database.

The first American magazine for children began with the nation. The Children’s Magazine wouldn’t impress us today. No cover illustration—in fact, no illustrations at all. Just 48 pages of cheap-to-produce text: stories, essays, poems, a series on geography, and four rather dense sermons. The magazine apparently lasted only four issues (January through April 1789), but it established a number of traditions for the almost-400 American periodicals proposed or published for children before 1873.

Like every children’s periodical published after it, The Children’s Magazine was intended to be educational: “It is a general complaint among the teachers of schools,” the editor asserts, “that children want some lessons, written in a familiar style and on entertaining subjects, to conduct them in their progress from a Spelling-Book to such reading as is found in the American Selection, Scotts Lessons and the Art of Speaking. It is also a complaint that children are obliged to read too long in the same book; by which means the subjects become familiar and cease to command the attention. To remove these complaints, is the design of this publication.” (“Preface.” Jan 1789: iii)

Here, “educational” means geography lessons without expensive-to-produce maps, a series on arithmetic, and advice on morality. A lot of advice on morality, from “rules for the life of business” and essays on the “pernicious effects of dram drinking” to proper behavior of children. Boys are admonished not to become drunkards, to keep good company, to do “every thing for some good end” (“Rules to be observed by those who remove from their Native Places.” Feb 1789: 92), and to “summon fortitude to bear pain like a man.” (“The Little Boy Who Behaved Like a Man.” Jan 1789: 21) Girls are— Well, there seem to be a lot of rules here for girls. Be sweet, be submissive, be Christian, be gentle: this is the advice woven into many of the poems. The stories get more complicated. Yes, Emma learns to control herself after accidentally killing her puppy in a fit of temper (“The Passionate Child Reclaimed.” Feb 1789). And, yes, the “Female Adviser” asks, “Can there be any thing more disgusting in a young female than an unbecoming forwardness of behaviour, which we must always attribute to the high opinion she entertains of herself?” and proves that, no, there isn’t. (“To the Editors of the Children’s Magazine.” March 1789) But the women in a series of moral tales walk a treacherous path: they can drive their husbands to drink both by keeping their houses too clean (“The Over-neat Wife.” Feb 1789) and by not cleaning house enough. (“The Notable Daughter.” March 1789)

While a number of later periodicals for children were founded by individuals, others were the products of publishing houses who saw an opportunity to expand the consumer base: Our Young Folks (Jan 1865-Dec 1873) was Ticknor and Fields’ magazine for children; Cincinnati, Ohio, printer Howard Durham founded two papers for children in the 1850s. Hudson and Goodwin, of Hartford, Connecticut, probably saw The Children’s Magazine as a sure money-maker. After all, the company published and distributed textbooks, captivity narratives, poetry, religious works, and works for children—all of which could have fed into the magazine.

Because, like every periodical of its time and every periodical after it, The Children’s Magazine reprinted material that had already appeared elsewhere. “[T]he Editors are already furnished with a variety of materials for this work,” the January 1789 “Preface” points out, and, yes, they very much were. Except for that preface, every piece appearing in the magazine’s four issues had been published the year before in one of two magazines printed in England by John Marshall: The Juvenile Magazine or The Family Magazine; or, A Repository of Religious Instruction, and Rational Amusement, edited by Sarah Trimmer. While the Juvenile Magazine included works appropriate for its young audience, the Family Magazine was very definitely for adults. The Family Magazine accounts for the sermons, the essays on temperance, the business advice; it also accounts for a reading level well above the seven- to 12-year-olds for which The Children’s Magazine was intended.

The original sources explain the very “British” tone of The Children’s Magazine, where class distinctions are clearly defined and all schoolboys live at a boarding-school. Poor cottagers are humble and grateful for the charity of their upperclass betters, who condescendingly educate them on arithmetic and morality. While the pieces reprinted from The Family Magazine appear to have been printed exactly as they appeared in England, those reprinted from The Juvenile Magazine are more “localized”: a teacher lays down a “crown piece” in the English version of a schoolboy’s letter (The Juvenile Magazine Jan 1788: 12) and a “crown piece or dollar” in the American. (The Children’s Magazine Jan 1789: 14) A man walking in the Strand in 1788 walks through Boston in 1789. Miss Harriot Truelove has never before seen London in 1788, but has never before seen New York in 1789, though even here she stays with Lady Racket, enjoys evenings at “cards, balls, or the play-house,” and mentors the daughter of a “poor cottager.” (“Familiar Letters on Various Subjects.” Jan 1789)

When The Children’s Magazine apparently ended its run in April 1789, that may accidentally have solved a problem for the editor. “The Schoolboy” as published in England (April 1788) includes a page-and-a-half description of the glories of the British system of government which fell out of the version published in Connecticut (April 1789). And the next installment of the serial as published in England extolls the British legal system through the mock trial of a schoolboy. So, the death of the magazine meant the editor didn’t have to cut, rewrite, or simply ignore a rather entertaining piece that American audiences might not appreciate.

And when the magazine ended so abruptly, it was in keeping with another tradition for American children’s periodicals: many later periodicals didn’t last beyond a year. Some found few subscribers after producing a sample issue; some didn’t get to the sample issue stage. Subscribers didn’t always pay; profit margins were too slim to keep the enterprise going.

Why did The Children’s Magazine fail? Distribution may have been a major factor: the magazine was advertised in Connecticut and Massachusetts, but the early postal system made distributing a magazine difficult. There may not have been enough citizens willing to take a magazine just for their children. And it’s tempting to think that some who were willing to subscribe also had received John Marshall’s English magazines and were noticing an … overlap.

The schoolboy in the April 1789 issue injures himself jumping over a hedge into a ditch and is gently admonished by his teacher, who hopes that “the next time, prior to jumping over a hedge, you will observe well, whether there be a ditch on the other side.” (“To the Editors of the Children’s Magazine.” April 1789: 153) It seems good advice for editors, too: there may be hidden obstacles on the way to success. But, luckily, while there were a lot of ditches in the history of early American periodicals for children, there also were a lot more hedges.

Where to read it: The American Periodicals Series I (18th century) has January, March, and April issues, though the March issue is incomplete. The American Antiquarian Society Historical Periodicals database reproduces all four issues; January and April are reproduced from originals in the Library of Congress.


Bloomer girls, 1852

November 22, 2015

As someone who hasn’t even owned a dress for the last 25 years, I tend to be more charmed than amused by 19th-century attempts at “dress reform.” Those loose trousers under yards of drapery look much more comfortable than the skirts sweeping the ground, the mud, and—as Esther puts it in Bleak House—“all the light objects” in the room.

Yes, all that drapery makes the wearer look like a pantalooned armchair. But the alternative was dragging ten or fifteen yards of fabric through your day. (Which, besides being uncomfortable, could be dangerous: one of the Merry Cousins burned to death when her skirt got too close to a fireplace.)

Francis Woodworth had a different reaction. As a former minister, he was culturally conservative. But when it came time to write about the new style of clothing, he seems to have been remarkably sympathetic, pointing out how practical it would be for walking in the woods. Still, he didn’t really approve.

This piece from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet includes a rather wonderful illustration of what may be a variation of Bloomer dress. Other illustrations I’ve seen feature gathered trousers topped by a knee-length dress that makes even a slender young woman look like a ruffled pumpkin. The clothing here is just as drapy, but the calf-length skirt looks pretty graceful.

Still, it didn’t catch on. It was superceded by the hoop skirt, which—as Harriet Beecher Stowe points out in Household Papers—could require twenty yards of fabric.

Blue jeans are just so much simpler.

(And why was it called “Bloomer dress”? The style became associated with Amelia Bloomer after she adopted it and enthusiastically promoted its use. Even though she dropped the style, the name stuck.)

“The Bloomer Dress” (from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, October 1852, pp. 110-113)

two women in Bloomer dress

My readers have all heard of the Bloomer costume, no doubt. But probably very few of them have ever seen a lady with the dress on. Have you ever seen one worn, reader? and if you have, what did you think of it? Was it becoming, or otherwise? Presuming most of the boys and girls who read these pages have never seen one, and knowing that there is a great deal of curiosity afloat about the thing, on the part of those who are unacquainted with it, I must present a picture giving an accurate representation of the dress, as it is worn by some of our western ladies.

Now, my friend, what do you think of it? “It looks odd,” you say. So it does; there’s no disputing that. Every new style of dress looks odd. Do you remember when the ladies wore large bonnets? I suppose not. You are hardly old enough. But I remember the time very well, when my mother wore a bonnet of such a monstrous size, that it was about as much as she could do to go through a door, if the great thing flared out to its full width. Now how do you think your mother would look with one of these great umbrellas on her head? Why, you would laugh outright, to see her or any one else walking the streets with such a bonnet on.

I can remember, too, when the men used to wear a hat, the crown of which was small enough to fit the head at the brim, but which was almost twice as large on the top. What a curious-shaped thing it was, the great bell-crowned hat! If it should make its appearance now, in our streets, don’t you think we should all laugh at it, and call the fashion unbecoming and absurd?

But recollect that when the hat was worn, and was considered in the fashion, there was very little or no complaint about the absurdity of it. Nobody laughed at it then. At least, I never heard of any one’s laughing at it. So of the monstrous bonnet. It was fashionable once, and then it seemed becoming enough. The ladies did not laugh at the thing and make fun of it. And so it is with all fashions. They are not generally regarded as so much out of the way, until some other fashion comes along, and then, after a little while, the old one seems odd and queer. Now, as you say, the Bloomer dress looks odd enough. Well, the reason may be because it is so entirely unlike anything else which the ladies wear or have worn.

“There! Uncle Frank likes the Bloomer dress. How he praises it up.”

No, my little friend. You are too fast. I don’t say that I should like to see our ladies generally dressed in this style. I am not prepared to say that. I am not sure that I should be pleased, if I should see all the women and all the little girls about the streets dressed as Mrs. Bloomer recommends. On the whole, though a man ought to be a little diffident about laying down rules for the regulation of the dress worn by the other sex, on the whole, I think, if the ladies should come to me for my opinion, (a thing, by the way, which I have not vanity enough to expect,) I should most likely go against the general use of the Bloomer dress, while I might recommend some change, for the sake of convenience, in the present style of dress.

I can’t help thinking, and must say, that, aside from the appearance of the thing, the Bloomer costume must be very convenient in the country, if one has to ramble about the fields and forests much, and, it seems to me, that a lady must miss a great many of the luxuries of country life, if she does not take such rambles. I have been out with ladies, before now, on a botanical tour, when I could not avoid noticing that their mode of dress was very inconvenient for that kind of business; and at such a time, I don’t know that it would have struck me as at all unbecoming or improper, if those ladies, instead of the ordinary dress, had worn a genuine, out-and-out Bloomer suit, just like the one you see in the picture. However, we men may think what we will about the Bloomer dress, and say what we will about it, I presume that our mothers, and sisters, and wives, and daughters, will take the matter into their own hands, and decide it for themselves. The great majority of them don’t like it. That is clear enough, and it does not appear now as if it would get to be a common mode of dress very soon. Its origin, if there were nothing more, is unfavorable to its popularity. It did not come from Paris, and we in this country, as all the world knows, have set up the Paris dress-makers and milliners for our guides.

One of the fun aspects of researching American children’s periodicals and books before 1873 is seeing how they deal with prehistory. It’s interesting to see how writers dealt with the increasing disconnect between religious tradition and scientific explanation. But it’s especially entertaining to watch dinosaurs change with decades.

Okay, mostly one dinosaur: the iguanodon. The first American work for children to show dinosaur illustrations appears to be the frontispiece of Peter Parley’s Wonders of the Earth, Sea, and Sky, reworked by Samuel Griswold Goodrich from one in a British book as Goodrich asserted ownership of his creation: “Peter Parley.”

EarthfrHere are the pterosaur, the plesiosaur, and the ichthyosaur, which in the nineteenth century belly-crawled on land because it hadn’t yet been established as a water-dweller.

Goodrich appears also to have published the first illustration of an iguanodon for children in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1842. It’s … unfamiliar:

Iguanodon, from Robert Merry's Museum, 1842The mighty (and mighty low-slung) iguanodon roars to the sky, while a duckish plesiosaur glides serenely through a prehistoric pool. It will look familiar to anyone who’s seen the first volume of The Wonders of Geology, by Gideon Mantell; the frontispiece is John Martin’s “The Country of the Iguanodon,” with an iguanodon which is lunching on one reptile roaring in pain as it is attacked by another reptile. The iguanodon in the Museum is the middle dinosaur in Martin’s picture.

It looks fairly sleek by comparison with one appearing in The Children’s Friend thirty years later:

1872ChFrPAIt’s … Hmm.

illustration of a short-legged dinosaurIt’s sturdy, low-browed, no-necked—almost stereotypically Neanderthalish. At least it’s off the ground.

And it’s accompanied by some old friends:

ichthy1872It’s our old pal, the ichthyosaur, still scrambling about on the land! And is that the plesiosaur beside it? (The stocky little critter in the foreground looks almost un-reptilian.)

The later iguanodon shows up in the work of Waterhouse Hawkins, who made life-size recreations of dinosaurs for a London park. We’ve changed it again: the horn that 19th-century naturalists put on its nose is now believed to be the thumb.

I like the 21st-century iguanodon, but I rather miss the seal-like version from 1842.

(Oddly enough, while the word “dinosaur” was first used in England in 1841, it hasn’t yet shown up in any pre-1873 works for children that I’ve seen. Stay tuned.)