Anti-Slavery Issue and Children's Magazines: 1820-1860
By the 1820’s the issue of slavery in the southern states had become fraught with controversy. It was by no means a clear-cut difference between Northern and Southern states; many Southerners were against it and many Northerners tolerated it, feeling it was a problem that the South must solve. Most early anti-slavery societies, though, arose in the North and many made efforts to spread their views by publishing. William Lloyd Garrison’s Liberator, published weekly between 1831 and 1865, had a Juvenile Department; the paper became the organ for the American Anti-Slavery Society which Garrison started in 1833.
Among the earliest children’s magazines was the Juvenile Miscellany (hereafter JM), begun and edited by Lydia Maria Child, and published in Boston from 1826-1834. It included occasional pieces that dealt with the problem of slavery; Child herself was an ardent abolitionist, but the slavery issue was inflammatory, and to keep her subscription base with the parents and grandparents who paid for it, the problem had to be treated with caution.
Another early periodical, The Slave’s Friend (hereafter TSF), appeared in 1836, published by the New York Anti-Slavery Society; it was specifically addressed to young readers and included abolitionist fiction, poetry, and articles. Like the Liberator it was published not only for the already-converted, but also in hopes of influencing the lukewarm and undecided. There was no question of its single-minded intent.
While TSF and JM had relatively brief runs, the Youth’s Companion (hereafter YC) ran for over a century, from 1827-1929, starting as a weekly family newspaper and later aimed strictly at the young. Its editor, Nathaniel Willis, declared in his Prospectusfor his new magazine what he felt was needed for the youth of America, and outlined how he intended to help in the important work of preparing American children for the scenes and duties which awaited them. Willis, in this statement, was thereby addressing the hopes and beliefs of Americans of the early 19th century, who did hold the conviction that an American child of this new generation was destined for a uniquely promising future, and that this required a new juvenile literature designed expressly for that child. Fiction there might be, but not light fiction; no, it was to be instructive and improving, to aid the parent in the moral development of the child. For the parent, not the school or even the church, was to be the major force in developing the child’s highest potential, and of the two parents, the mother was thought to be supremely qualified to inculcate, to influence, to teach by example.
So much, in fact, was assigned to the woman’s role that today we can well believe that appropriate, wholesome, ‘safe’ reading-matter for the child was a boon to the mother. And into this breach, ready to fill the gap that had earlier existed in the field, when most...