NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICAN CHILDREN & WHAT THEY READ:
Some of Their Magazines
Over 380 periodicals for children were founded in the U. S. before 1873. Learn more about them at “American Children’s Periodicals, 1789-1872,” an ever-growing descriptive bibliography.
Works on pre-1873 American children’s periodicals are listed or transcribed in a separate bibliography.
Puzzles appeared in most nineteenth-century American magazines for children. The Puzzle Drawer is a selection of puzzles printed in Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet and Robert Merry’s Museum. They range from the easy to one designed to be impossible. Try your wits! (And your patience!)
Youth’s Companion is one of the best-known—and long-lived—American magazines for children; in 1872, it absorbed Robert Merry’s Museum. Late in its history, the Companion featured the works of prominent writers for children and adults and was a literary force to be reckoned with; early in the century, however, it was intended to edify, edify, edify—and very occasionally to entertain. Founder Nathaniel Willis wanted young readers to learn stern moral values of “piety, morality, brother love" from the stories and poems printed in each four-page issue: the Companion delivered “no sectarianism, no controversy”—and, for a lot of later readers, no entertainment, either.
Pieces generally appeared in various departments, such as “Editorials,” “Learning,” or “Benevolence.” “Moral Tales” usually were long, genteel pot-boilers featured on the front page. By the 1860s, the departments had been secularized: “Scraps for Youth,” “Children’s Column,” and “Variety” were the three major sections. I’ve indicated which department each piece appeared in.
While the Companion didn’t have covers until after 1872, its banner changed several times in its first 43 years, as shown in a collection of images and commentary.
Images from the Companion are featured in a wallpaper for your desktop.
Like most early 19th-century American magazines—for children or for adults—the Companion shared illustrations with other periodicals. “Double Vision: Recycling Illustrations in 19th-Century American Magazines” is a little gallery of examples.
A less-than-glowing review of The Soldier’s Orphan; or, History of Maria West (December 1829) sparks a rebuttal which is itself rebutted by the editor of the Companion.
“The Busy Bee” (August 10, 1831) is a Nursery piece which provides a glimpse of the sterner lessons of early stories for children, though it’s difficult to understand what moral lesson readers were to draw from the story.
“Heroism” (October 12, 1831) presents the ideal mother during the American Revolution, who sends her sons to war.
“The Choice of Companions” (October 12, 1831), a Morality piece reprinted from the Sunday School Journal, reminds readers that friends could influence them for good or for ill.
“Lucy Nelson, the Boy-Girl” (November 30, 1831), by Eliza Leslie, is a Nursery piece describing the comeuppance of a lively tomboy, which tells us a lot about early 19th-century gender expectations.
“A Little Girl Who was Burned to Death” (January 11, 1832) is a description of the death of Minerva Walden, and an example of dying “in the exercise of a triumphant faith.”
“Little Edward” (February 8, 1832) is an Editorial describing the death of a pious young boy and encouraging other children to learn about the afterlife.
“Another Story for Boys” (January 7, 1846), by Orpha, is a Narrative emphasizing that the humble can do well—if they work hard—and that the proud inevitably will suffer.
“Lines, on the Death of W.” (January 14, 1846), by S., reflects on “the happy death of a child” and comes startlingly close to hinting that we won’t be missed much when we’ve died.
“The Farmer and Soldier” (February 12, 1846), by Lydia Sigourney, is a Narrative intent on deglamorizing the life of soldiers.
“Repining and Repentance” (February 12, 1846) is a Nursery piece in which a girl learns to value helping her mother over berrying with her friends.
“The Two Houses” (February 12, 1846) is a Morality piece making a startling contrast.
“The Snow Storm” (February 12, 1846) is a piece on Benevolence that emphasizes that, even to a child, play isn’t as satisfying as duty.
“Child’s Grief” (April 2, 1846), by Mary Ann, is a Nursery piece about the death of a child, which provides an intimate look at family life.
“My Schoolmates: The Contrast” (June 5, 1846), by Abby, is a Moral Tale showing that beauty is no substitute for intelligence and good character.
“My Schoolmates: The Inquirer” (June 12, 1846), by Abbie, is a Moral Tale in which seeming to have everything doesn’t mean one isn’t spiritually hollow.
“My Schoolmates: The Victim” (June 19, 1846), by Abbie, warns girls to be careful of their health, in a Moral Tale.
“My Schoolmates: The Widow” (June 26, 1846), by Abbie, is a potboiler in the guise of a Moral Tale.
“The Boy Who Loved Truth” (June 26, 1846), by Julia A. Fletcher, presents to young readers a model of uncompromising truthfulness.
“My Schoolmates: Kate Kennedy”(July 2, 1846), by Abby , is a Moral Tale which explains that a young woman may be intelligent, beautiful, and sensitive, but still may not be a good role model.
“My Schoolmates: The Sensitive Plant” (July 9, 1846), by Abbie, is a long Moral Tale about self-confidence, 19th-century style.
“Hay-Making” (July 23, 1846) is a paean to country living, with a warning to children about unripe fruit.
Two celebrations of American Independence Day (July 23, 1846) carries on the theme of the joys of country living by contrasting American Independence Day in Boston and in the country.
“Jane Graham; or, ‘I Shant Marry That Man’ ” (July 23, 1846) is an amusing story with a tacked-on moral.
“Pleasant and Profitable” (August 27, 1846), a Nursery piece, cautions children that reading the wrong kind of books—or not reading at all—will keep them from going to heaven.
“Self-Denial; or, The Two Cousins” (January 7, 1847), reprinted from another source, focuses on a primary theme of early 19th-century American works for children: that study and self-denial are paramount if one is to live correctly.
“The Stolen Girls” (June 10, 1847) is a piece about two enslaved African girls who are adopted by a white man. The piece alternates between sympathy for the girls’ family, and satisfaction that at least the girls have found Christianity.
“The Water-melon Boats” (August 12, 1847) describes antebellum Georgia and is one of the few pieces published in the Companion to take slavery casually.
“The Indians: Week Day School” (August 12, 1847), by Sarah, describes a Native American settlement and holds up the children as good examples, in a Learning piece.
“Little Susan, the Poor-House Girl” (August 12, 1847), by J. A., is an Editorial on the uncertainties of life—a favorite theme in the Companion—and on how grateful readers should be not to be orphans.
“Boys of Sixteen” (August 19, 1847) warns teenaged boys that those who don’t have employment by their mid teens may find themselves unemployable.
“The Strawberry Woman” (September 9, 1847), by T.S. Arthur, is a Moral Tale explaining that frugality has a price.
“Vanity Punished” (September 9, 1847) is a Morality piece that emphasizes its lesson again and again and again.
“Miss Before Teens” (September 23, 1847), by Giles M’Quiggen, humorously describes pre-teens acting like miniature adults, in a Moral Tale.
“The Shoes” (September 23, 1847), by J.A., reminds readers that words can hurt—and shows readers a surprisingly disrespectful child, in an Editorial.
“Dress and Address” (December 30, 1847), by Nathan Sargent, explores peer pressure concerning clothes, in a Moral Tale.
“Girl Stealing” (December 30, 1847) is a Narrative about a crime that seems surprisingly modern—though the assumed motive isn’t.
“I Think I Will Not Change” (April 13, 1848) is a Religion piece emphasizing the importance of observing the Sabbath on character.
“Kate and Her Kitty” (May 25, 1848) is a Nursery story with a very long history.
“Tearing Open the Rosebud” (June 8, 1848) is a short Variety piece warning that young women were being forced to grow up too fast.
“Fifteen Young Men” (September 13, 1848) describes the dire fates of young men who don’t go to church on Sunday.
“My Fortune’s Made” (November 23, 1848), by Mary Alexina Smith, is a humorous Moral Tale about a woman who relaxes after she marries.
“Bread Upon the Water” (November 30, 1848), by T.S. Arthur, reminds us that even the simplest kind act can be rewarded.
“Popular Similes” (November 30, 1848) reminds us that even the most overused cliches are essentially poetic.
“Letter to the Editor” (December 28, 1848), by M. C. Sawyer, is a lively reminder to readers to pay for subscriptions—one of the most pressing concerns for 19th-century American magazine editors, who sometimes carried subscribers for years.
“Hints for Children” (April 12, 1849) provides a quick guide to manners in a Variety piece that points out to the rowdier just how “ill-bred” some of their actions are.
“Tomo and the Wild Lakes” (July 19, 1849), by the Rev. John Todd, is a romance reprinted from The School Friend and obviously inspired by James Fenimore Cooper: a young white man rescues his sweetheart from Mohawks, with the help of a Native American friend. Todd may be the critic of womens’ rights against whom “Gail Hamilton” inveighed in her Woman’s Wrongs, in 1868.
“Life in the Woods” (July 19, 1849) is a short piece reprinted from a newspaper which praises Henry David Thoreau’s life as an example of admirable frugality. While the piece describes his tiny cabin by “a pleasant little lakelet,” he was by this time no longer living near Walden Pond; Walden would be published in 1854.
“What the Steam Engine Does” (July 19, 1849) happily lists the kind of work done by steam-powered machinery at the time.
“The School-Mistress” (September 13, 1849), by M. W. D., shows us a couple of teachers, and a little romance.
“Sabbath Scholar Drowned” (September 13, 1849) uses the death of a child to remind the reader to be prepared for death.
“A Step from the Altar to the Tomb” (September 13, 1849), by J. E. E., is a warning reprinted from the Richmond Christian Advocate, that death can come unexpectedly.
“The Old School House” (November 15, 1849), by J.A., is an Editorial less about the school than it is about anger.
“Thy Will Be Done” (November 22, 1849), by W., is a Moral Tale emphasizing that wealth can become poverty, and real consolation can’t be bought.
“The Wanderer’s Return” (November 22, 1849), by M.W.D., is a little slice of melodrama.
“Unhappy Elopement” (November 22, 1849), by “A Methodist Preacher in Maine,” is a tiny melodrama involving elopement, death, and a family’s separation.
“Unnatural Children” (November 22, 1849) is a caution to parents reprinted from Recollections of Maternal Influence.
“You Will Be Wanted” (November 22, 1849) is a Moral piece that manages to be inspirational.
“Young Men” (November 22, 1849), by Charlotte Gilman, extolls the “conscientious" youth who defies the temptations of the world.
“A Good Girl at School” (November 22, 1849) is many things to many people.
“Hints to Young Men” (November 22, 1849) mainly boil down to “read”.
“Effie Somers” (May 30, 1850), by W., explores the importance of Christianity to a character who literally has no other joy in life.
“Who Will Make a Good Wife” (May 30, 1850) contrasts good and bad wife material and reminds the reader that “happiness and misery” depend on a wise choice.
“True Courage” (August 3, 1854), by “Aunt Kate,” puts a very 19th-century twist on school bullying.
“Snake Fascination” (August 24, 1854), reprinted from the St. Louis Herald, is an urban legend of long standing.
“Indian Youth’s Newspaper” (September 7, 1854) included information on and two pieces from the Cherokee Rose Buds, a magazine published by the students at the Cherokee Female Seminary.
“Miss Warner’s Prejudice” (August 16, 1855), by Lesina, presents the value of education in a woman’s life, in a Moral Tale.
“Singular Adventure of a Lost Child” (August 23, 1855) concerns a five-year-old lost for nearly a week while looking for the family cow.
“Give Your Child a Paper” (August 23, 1855) is advice that might strike readers as not entirely unbiased.
“Rules for Winter” (January 3, 1861) provides a glimpse of life before central heating.
The Companion gave its readers several small stories about relationships between Union soldiers and animals, two subjects sure to interest young readers.
“The Opera Cloak” (June 6, 1861) mingles economic responsibility with social responsibility, as a chain of events shows the consequences of not paying a debt.
“How a Man Feels When He is Shot” (October 3, 1861) is a reprinted piece probably intended to give readers a better understanding of soldiers were experiencing in battle.
“The Knitters” (December 26, 1861), reprinted from a newspaper, points up one way women at home could add to the comfort of Union soldiers.
Eye and Ear Notes (1865), by “Uncle James”—abolitionist James Redpath—is an often-raw collection of incidents before, during, and just after the Civil War. Redpath was for a few months an Army correspondent and appears to have had something to do with schools for ex-slaves in South Carolina. Anti-Union retaliation in eastern Tennessee; John Mosby’s nephew; a slave auction in Richmond, Virginia; the first black May Queen in Charleston, South Carolina—the 13 essays cover a wide range of subjects and provide some unforgettable images.
In 1865, the Companion printed several brief pieces on children and changing times which explored the desire of former slaves to be educated, the quickness of young laborers, and the idea that children should consider themselves works in progress.
Some science and technology notes from 1865 include how lead pencils were made, an apocryphal story about early trolleys, and some astonishing announcements about early inventions.
“Our Exchanged Prisoners” (January 5, 1865) presents the gritty realities Union soldiers experienced in Confederate prisons.
“The Capture of Savannah” (January 5, 1865) is a jocular look at Sherman’s march through Georgia.
“Neglected Children” (February 23, 1865) mixes fact and sentimentality in the story of a boy who goes astray.
“White Slaves” (March 9, 1865) explores the ramifications of the legal definition of slavery in a piece apparently written for its illustration, which may have been engraved after one which appeared a year earlier in Harper’s Weekly. A month later, the Companion included a story based on the concept of a mistress learning that she is herself a slave (see below).
“The Inauguration of President Lincoln” (March 9, 1865) is both news piece and editorial.
“The Would-Be Lady and the True One” (March 16, 1865), by Mrs. P. P. Bonney, explores the theme that leisure is more shameful than work—and gives an ideal of housewifery still difficult to live up to.
“A True Story” (March 23, 1865) is a reprinted piece exploring the excesses of Southern treachery and pride in a way that seems symbolic.
“Turn About, Fair Play” (April 13, 1865), by Augusta Moore, mingles the idea of Southern arrogance with the definition of race, as a brutal little Southerner learns that she is really a slave; the theme of slave children with white fathers already had been broached in the Companion a month earlier.
The Companion covered the assassination of Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865 in a series of pieces describing events and moralizing on the participants. Several pieces are gathered here, including “The Great National Tragedy,” “Booth and Bad Literature,” “The Conspirators,” and “The Execution.”
“Sugar-Making by the Indians” (May 18, 1865) describes how 19th-century Ojibwe people made maple sugar.
“Imagination or Affectation” (July 13, 1865) comes to conclusions surprising for 19th-century works, as a woman whose delicacy is the wonder of her peers, either is or is not unmasked as a fraud.
“A Soldier To-night is Our Guest” (August 10, 1865) reminds us of the honor due soldiers defending the nation.
“Going into Business for Himself” (August 31, 1865), by Mrs. P. P. Bonney, explores the consequences of disrespect for parents and for education, as two boys run away to start their own business.
“Not Complimentary to Utah” (October 28, 1869) is a libel on a beautiful state—but a very funny joke.
“What a Bore!” (February 2, 1871), by Helen C. Weeks, describes the new pneumatic tube subway built under the streets of New York City by Alfred Beach. Only one station and a short section of track were built.