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  • Youth Periodicals, Patriotism, and the Textual Mechanics of Civic Mobilization
  • Philip Keirle (bio)


At the turn of the twentieth century, youth periodicals remained unchallenged as the principal mass medium for the amusement and education of the nation's young. The most prestigious and successful of these periodicals were lauded for the quality of their contributors and their positive role in the literary and moral acculturation of their subscribers.1 Yet mass-circulation publications like the Youth's Companion and St. Nicholas, to cite two of the most popular and esteemed periodicals, were far more than repositories for wholesome and high-quality fiction and verse. They were also filled with advice columns, articles on health, sports, and science, current affairs pieces, editorials, children's pages, puzzles, anecdotes, competitions, advertising, and so on. In publications as tightly edited and as dedicated to moral uplift as were these high-brow youth periodicals, these myriad departments presented a fairly coherent set of values, ideas, beliefs, and prejudices to their readerships.2

Traditionally, scholars of youth periodicals have focused on their literary content, the contributions of particular authors, and the role of juvenile fiction in the cultural transmission of certain values, ideals, and beliefs.3 More recently, scholars have fixed their sights on the advertising contained in mass-circulation youth periodicals to get a sense of the role these publications played in the market socialization of American youth at the turn of the century.4 With the notable exceptions of Richard J. Ellis and Cecilia Elizabeth O'Leary, scholars have generally ignored the role of periodicals in the civic socialization and civic mobilization of American youth.5 In this article, I explore this mutually constitutive process through an analysis of the Youth Companion's role in defining the contours of a civic identity for youth—as a set of behaviors, values and ideals—and at the programs developed by key personnel at the Companion in the attempt to mobilize youth in the enactment and performance of this identity. [End Page 29]

In To the Flag, Ellis identifies those at the Companion responsible for the development of the Pledge of Allegiance, the motivations for developing a ritual designed to promote Americanism, patriotism, and fraternalism among youth nationwide, and the process by which the Pledge came to feature in the public school celebrations of Columbus Day in 1892. The fraternal dimension of the Pledge is identified as a response to the atomizing influence of industrialization, while the intent to promote patriotism and familiarize youth with the traditional values of the nation is identified as a response to the potentially destabilizing threat of mass immigration from countries unfamiliar with these values. Ellis's work is particularly strong in outlining these anxieties, in detailing the values, desires, and prejudices of those responsible for the Pledge, and in describing the success of these men in eliciting the support of educators, the press, and politicians in making the Pledge a central part of the nationwide public school celebrations of Columbus Day in 1892.6

Yet Ellis's work remains an initial foray into the role of periodicals in the civic socialization of youth, one that can be profitably built upon. The aim of this article, then, is to cover crucial dimensions of this socializing-mobilizing process that have been missed. In the first section of the paper, I explore a range of techniques implemented through the Companion that were designed to mobilize youth in the performance of ostensibly patriotic acts. Specifically, I look at the way certain patriotic projects were developed, advertized, and monitored to promote both local patriotic activity and a sense of a broader, nationwide civic community of patriotic youth. The intra- and intertextual mechanics of this process are crucial to register, and I provide insights into the ways a range of other material featured in the periodical—editorials, fiction, and so on—were used to formulate, package, and promote the ideas and values of patriotism and good citizenship to youth at the end of the nineteenth century.7

In the second section of the paper, I provide further insights into the role of the Companion in attempting to forge a sense of what it meant to be...


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pp. 29-50
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