November 28, 2012

TEEN LIFE WAY BACK WHEN: What Did Teans Read? Part 1

I write fiction for girls ages twelve and up and all of my books are set during the Victorian Era in America.  Those of you who follow my blog know that I love all things nineteenth century.  I wondered – what did girls and young women read for magazines in the late 1800’s?  Did they have a Seventeen Magazine equivalent and if so, what was in there? I decided to find out.

It turns out that before the late nineteenth century, magazines for children were not differentiated by gender.  Both boys and girls read the children's periodicals such as Harper's Young People, Pepper and Salt and Youth's Companion, to name a few. A look into some volumes of Youth’s Companion from 1877, showed games and puzzles, features about royalty, politicians, world events and exotic locations.  The serialized stories were almost always morality tales involving poor children, orphans or dead children.  And often the story revolved around a child teaching an adult a lesson.  Consider this passage from an 1877 volume of Youth’s Companion:  Marshall is a ten year old boy.  His family has been wronged by a Mr. Hogan. Marshall had this exchange with his parents:

“The more fault you!” said his father.  “After that man’s treatment of you and all of us!  I’m ashamed of you, Marshall!”
But now kind-hearted Mrs. Morrison seconded her son, and said, -

“For the sake of his poor wife and children, Philip!   Think how we should feel if you were hurt in that way.  And consider – what I have heard you say many times – that it isn’t Mr. Hogan himself, but the bad spirit which drink has put into him, that does these things.” When a girl reached puberty and became of marriageable age, she put her hair up and her hem down and presumably switched from reading children’s magazines to lady’s magazines. Two prominent women’s magazines in the 1800’s were Godey’s Lady’s Book and The Ladies’ Home Journal (which is still extant today).  Both journals were formulaic:  articles on politics, royalty, world events, a serialized story, a patriotic article, sheet music, advice columns for both men and women.  Almost all of the articles on world events were written by men.  Articles on women’s fashion, babies, children and homemaking were written by women.  There was always an article on cooking, home decorating, fashion, and a feature for children. There were no articles on dieting, dating, sex, make-up or exercise - beyond advising girls that outdoor pursuits were healthful. 

As for Seventeen Magazine, no such equivalent existed back then. 










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