- Selections from the Akron Offering:A Ladies’ Literary Magazine
On April 5, 1849, a prospectus appeared in an Akron, Ohio newspaper for a new “Magazine for Ladies!” to be edited by Calista Cumings, an unmarried educator in her thirties or forties. Her prospectus promised an “intellectual, literary bouquet” that would gather articles to unite the rich and the poor in the appreciation of creative literature and would offer “remarks on various subjects connected with the welfare of mankind in general.” Sold “at so low price as to be within the reach of all,” the “lowly Offering” would be made with a “humble hope” to satisfy readers without the use of “Engravings or Fashion Plates.”1 From May 1849 to April 1850, the Akron Offering appeared in monthly, thirty-two page numbers filled with original and selected tales, essays, sermons, poems, and editorials.
Editorial comments suggest that Cumings would not publish articles without knowing the full name of the author, but most authors signed their work with pen names or initials. There was no pretension to worthiness of lasting fame. As the author of “American Literature,” an essay in the February 1850 number, writes, “No sensible person will believe that the most able authors are generally those who rise up and claim their place beside wide known names, and lay their volumes proudly upon the dusty old tomes they have scurrilously imitated, but on the other hand, we see the most valuable minds the most reserved and isolated, so that in the present scrambling of the multitude, we miss them” (369).
In its day, the Akron Offering was barely noticed by readers outside Northeastern Ohio, and since then it has been missed by readers and scholars of American literature as well. The magazine, however, rewards study. Many items are of high literary quality, and a patient examination of even the more amateur productions yields valuable information for readers interested in better understanding the history and literary history of Ohio and the early American [End Page 79] west. In May of 2013, the University of Akron Press made the magazine readily available with the publication of The Akron Offering: A Ladies’ Literary Magazine, 1849–1850. This critical edition of the full run of the magazine provides all the text of its more than 160 items and an introduction that describes the early history of Akron, the biography of its editor Calista Cumings, and the process of printing a magazine in Akron in 1849. The introduction fully describes the editorial method for preparing the text, and the magazine is comprehensively annotated throughout. Quotations, allusions, historical figures, news events, and local histories are explained, and the sources for selected materials are identified. This issue’s “From the Periodical Archives” presents a sample of the Akron Offering for the readers of American Periodicals.
In the summer of 1849, Akron was less than twenty-five years old. A flourishing canal town of several thousand people, it served a larger population of farmers, merchants, and migrants as an important hub of western traffic. It was a good time and a good place for western literature. Its location on the Ohio and Erie canal makes the Akron Offering an example of the “decentralization of literary life” that Ronald J. Zboray describes as the result of the transportation revolution, which so altered book and magazine distribution in the 1840s and 1850s.2 In the antebellum decades, western readers were perhaps more interested in promoting and nurturing the growth of western authors than they would be after the Civil War. There was an expectation that Ohio would soon be equal, in literary output, to any of the eastern states. It was not yet clear or certain that continuing improvements in printing and transportation technologies would lead inevitably to a national literary marketplace dominated by the publications of just a few cities.3
Two related qualities of the Akron Offering distinguish it from the eastern magazines that are better known today. First, it was a “humble” magazine; it emulates the shrinking violet. One original poem actually describes a beauty pageant of flowers that ends with the judge looking past the graceful Lily, the brilliant Tulip, the Jasmine and...