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  • Introduction: Children’s Periodicals
  • Courtney Weikle-Mills (bio)

Young people have been a part of the history and culture of American periodicals from the nation’s beginnings. Perhaps most obviously, apprentices laid the type for many early newspapers. Seventeen-year-old apprentice David Clapp, whose journal about his experience resides at the American Antiquarian Society, added his voice to the chorus of adult voices extolling the political importance of such work:

It is astonishing to what a degree periodical publications have increased in the United States the last 20 years. The readiness with which people subscribe to new publications evidences their public desire to obtain knowledge. . . . While the liberty of the press is unlimited, and the knowledge and experience of the most learned and literary men are conveyed to the public through these useful vehicles, there is no danger of Monarchy, Tyranny, and usurpation taking place, for the Minds of the people being so well informed, and having experienced the blessings of a free and republican government, the very design of overthrowing it will be detected.1

Not surprisingly, given Clapp’s perception that the transmission of knowledge was a major goal of periodicals, children and youth were part of the readership for such texts, including those that are usually studied with respect to adult audiences. At least two child diarists in the AAS collection, Sally Ripley and Edmund Sewall, wrote about reading newspapers, transcribed poems and stories, and collected clippings.2 Fifteen-year-old diarist James Lawrence Whittier became a newsboy and delivered papers.3 Publications quickly emerged that were designed to address young people directly, often with education and political aims. According to Pat Pflieger, “Between 1789 and 1873, over 370 periodicals for children were published in the United States.”4

Yet, children and youth did more than aid the transmission of the thoughts of “learned and literary men” and receive such transmissions. They also produced [End Page 117] their own manuscript periodicals as early as the 1790s. A bound volume of a handwritten newspaper, the “Juvenile Muse,” also resides at AAS and contains original stories, poems, and musings on events, including some rare children’s reactions to the Revolutionary War and the French Revolution. It is worthy of note that the contributors to the “Juvenile Muse” disagree about politics. One writes about the “evils of a monarchical government” while another suggests that there is “as much liberty under a kingly government as any other.”5 They also write about topics that could hardly fall under the rubric of “knowledge,” including the death of a dog, witches, and cake stealing.

As these examples suggest, periodicals offer an opportunity for considering how young Americans have been instructed about their world and for examining their own cultural productions. Fittingly, the essays in this special issue analyze the history of their contact with periodicals in light of two important interventions in the study of children’s literature and childhood: first, the growing emphasis on the ways that the category of child has been inflected by subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) instructions about race; and, second, the relatively new focus, coextensive with the discipline’s turn toward childhood studies, on uncovering how actual children may have performed and contested identities related to age and race and thereby contributed to the formation and functioning of these categories. Periodicals are important to both areas of interest because such texts were integral to many on-the-ground efforts to address racial relations and because many offer a chance to access young people’s self-representations, in some cases through their authorship, editorship, and circulation of periodical works.

Essays by Spencer D. C. Keralis and Karen Li Miller build on recent scholarship that has argued that the idealized understanding of childhood that developed in the nineteenth century cannot be fully understood without tracing the simultaneous development of categories and efforts related to race. Both essays focus particularly on periodical editors’ investments in white children and how their publications instructed audiences to participate in activism related to non-white, enslaved, and foreign children. Keralis’s essay shows how tropes of pets and pet-making in the Slave’s Friend (1836–1839) taught white readers how to...


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pp. 117-120
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