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  • The "Omnipresent Aunt" and the Social Child:Lydia Maria Child's Juvenile Miscellany
  • Etsuko Taketani (bio)

NA-TION. Nation: people who are governed by the same laws, who live in the same country, and speak the same language, are called a nation.

—Eliza Robbins, Primary Dictionary . . . for the Younger Classes in Schools (1828)

The inaugural issue of the Juvenile Miscellany(September 1826), a pioneer in children's magazines,1 inscribes in American history a moment in which children act as politically motivated social beings. In "The Little Rebels," for example, a drama "[f]ounded on fact" (48), colonial children in Boston claim from the British their right to fly kites and ice skate during the War of Independence. With this act, the children challenge their status as colonized objects and claim their position as self-governed subjects. As I will demonstrate, this drama and others like it in the Juvenile Miscellany significantly herald the conjunction of postcoloniality and American childhood.

As "The Little Rebels" suggests, the Juvenile Miscellany is marked by a decidedly nationalistic tenor,2 a tenor that, furthermore, was primarily inscribed by women. Edited by Lydia Maria Child (1802-80), the periodical drew to its pages a number of popular women writers. Contributors included Eliza Leslie, Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Lydia Huntley Sigourney, Hannah Flagg Gould, Sarah Josepha Hale, Caroline Howard Gilman, and Anna Maria Wells (Karcher, First Woman 66-67). Child was also often a contributor, and she created for herself an alter ego known as "Aunt Maria."3 As Thomas Wentworth Higginson later recalled in Contemporaries (1899), Child was an "omnipresent aunt, beloved forever by the heart of childhood" (108).

Children did indeed love "Aunt Maria" and her periodical. The popularity of the Juvenile Miscellany among children of the early national period was attested to by Caroline H. Dall in the Unitarian Review in 1883: [End Page 22]

No child who read the Juvenile Miscellany edited by [Lydia Maria Child] will ever forget the excitement that the appearance of each number caused. . . . The children sat on the stone steps of their house doors all the way up and down Chestnut Street in Boston, waiting for the carrier. He used to cross the street, going from door to door in a zigzag fashion; and the fortunate possessor of the first copy found a crowd of little ones hanging over her shoulder from the steps above. . . . How forlorn we were if the carrier was late!


Although Child observed that subscriptions came in large part from the "rich and fashionable people" in Boston,4 the children's republic founded in the Juvenile Miscellany does not duplicate that bourgeois social world of the northeastern United States. The "little rebels" in the periodical, for example, reproduce the nationalistic ideology of America's Founding Fathers by mimicking their own fathers' claim of independence, but the children's authority is ultimately limited. For the children in the Juvenile Miscellany are not always affiliated with their fathers, the dominant sociopolitical group, but are more often allied with marginalized groups such as Native Americans, Irish immigrants, free people of color, and women.

Child's concern with disenfranchised groups in general is well known. Indeed, as Carolyn L. Karcher observes, "Twice during her eight-year tenure as editor," Child "risked her reputation by espousing the cause of [racial] Others": first, with the 1829 publication of The First Settlers of New England, which attacked the U.S. government's Indian policy, and second, with the 1833 publication of An Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans, which crusaded against slavery (Karcher, First Woman 151-52).

I am particularly intrigued, however, by the effect of the association of children with "racial Others" in Child's Juvenile Miscellany and the way in which the figure of the child emerges as an "Other" in the early national period. The magazine, I suggest, politicizes the relation between adults and children by aligning children with marginalized groups, thereby both explicitly and implicitly offering a critique of domestic colonialism. In a familial representation of American society, the children function as the disenfranchised, held under the patriarchal custody of the dominant, enfranchised group. In this respect, I argue, provocative stories...