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  • Transforming Student Periodicals into Persuasive Podiums: African American Girls at Lincoln High School, 1915–1930
  • Henrietta Rix Wood (bio)

In the early twentieth century, African American girls at Lincoln High School joined young people throughout the United States who were producing school-sponsored periodicals. Like other students, Lincoln girls wrote accounts of their academic, athletic, and extracurricular activities for their school yearbook and newspaper. As students at the only public secondary school for African Americans in Kansas City, Missouri, Lincoln girls also used these periodicals for rhetorical purposes that reflected the agenda of professional African American publications such as the Kansas City Call and the Crisis. Composing poetry and prose that encouraged race pride, self-help, racial solidarity, and middle-class values, Lincoln girls attempted to construct community and counter the prejudice that they encountered in a predominately white city during the Jim Crow era.

In the process, these young women complicated assumptions about the content and functions of school periodicals, which have not been widely explored as a discursive site. In separate studies, Reed Ueda and Jane H. Hunter analyze the newspapers of several East Coast coeducational high schools for white students in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and both scholars concur that these publications fostered youth culture. Lucille M. Schultz assesses the newspaper of a prestigious private school for girls in Boston that enabled girls to see themselves as writers and editors, but she notes that students did not address complex social issues, as did Lincoln girls.1 This essay contributes to the fledgling body of scholarship on school periodicals by registering the voices of African American girls in historical narratives of this genre. It also recognizes their participation in the racial uplift movement that was promoted by local and national, professional African American periodicals, including the Kansas City Sun (1914–1925), a newspaper whose editor vowed to address concerns “that tend to inspire and uplift the race”; the Kansas City Call (1919-present), a newspaper that criticized local racist practices and had a circulation of 16,737 in 1927; the Crisis: A Record of the Darker Races (1910-present), the official [End Page 199] publication of the National Association of Colored People, edited by W. E. B. Du Bois from its inception until 1934; and Half-Century Magazine (1916–1925), which was founded by Kathryn E. Williams in Chicago and claimed seventy-five thousand readers by the early 1920s.2

By the time that Lincoln girls began to use their yearbook as a persuasive podium in 1915, school periodicals were an established genre. One of the first secondary schools to start a yearbook was Waterville Academy in Waterville, Maine, which began to publish the Evergreen in 1845. Glen Kleine notes that the popularity of yearbooks was propelled by picture albums that appeared in schools after the Civil War.3 The postbellum spread of secondary schools also roused enthusiasm for yearbooks, which usually were called “annuals” in the late nineteenth century. The proliferation of school periodicals was encouraged by factors ranging from the rise of professional periodicals to the expansion of public secondary education to advances in print technology. In 1885, there were about thirty-three hundred professional periodicals, not including newspapers, in publication in the United States; by 1905, this number had increased to about six thousand. During the same era that professional periodicals became increasingly prevalent, high school enrollments surged. Less than two percent of American adolescents attended secondary schools in 1870; by 1910, twenty percent of boys and girls went to high school. This growing group of students took advantage of the advent of inexpensive printing presses and began issuing yearbooks, newspapers, and literary magazines.4

In 1910, educator Allan Abbott referred to “the flood of school journalism spreading the country over” and noted a recent exhibition of sixty newspapers, magazines, and yearbooks from New York City schools that represented a fraction of the “hundreds, if not thousands” of similar periodicals in the country. Individual students benefited from producing these publications, according to Abbott, “and for the school at large the paper does as much or more.” A student periodical disseminated news and kept a permanent record of events. Abbott added that it also...


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