19th century children’s magazines
The Rare Book and Victorian collections contain a wide variety of periodicals printed in the US and Great Britain for children and young adults. They offer an intriguing glimpse into the experiences of juvenile readers on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as how adult authors socialized children into gender and class roles.
Many publications provided their young readers with educational articles intermixed with uplifting fiction. Especially in magazines published by religious organizations, such as The Children’s Magazine, issued by the General Protestant Episcopal Sunday School Union in New York, or The Child’s Companion and Juvenile Instructor, issued by London’s Religious Tract Society, pious and moral fiction is interspersed with true stories from foreign missions and religious instruction. The illustration at the left comes from the popular serialized novel “Willy Maitland,” a tale of the short and exemplary life of a pious little boy, found in the 1862 volume of The Child’s Companion and Juvenile Instructor.
Juvenile magazines betray prevailing attitudes toward gender roles. In England, periodicals like The Boy’s Own Paper and The Union Jack printed adventure and sports stories and tales of heroism for boys. These stories promoted an ideal of manhood characterized by moral rectitude, Christian values, bravery, and protection of the weak. In contrast, girls’ periodicals in Victorian England provided “elevating” stories for young ladies, teaching them to fulfill their duties as sisters and daughters in preparation for duties as wives and mothers.
In magazines like The Girl’s Own Paper, fiction was interspersed with poetry and articles on homemaking skills and dress and grooming. Stories aimed at girls often preached gratitude for one’s blessings and the supremacy of domestic responsibilities over creative pursuits. These tales differ in tone from girls’ stories appearing in juvenile periodicals across the Atlantic. In the American children’s magazine St. Nicholas (founded 1873), girls are portrayed as socially and economically independent than their English counterparts. Contributions by Louisa May Alcott and others describe girls in artistic, musical, and performing careers; by the late 19th century, St. Nicholas was publishing stories about women college students.