American Childhoods is a multi-authored series that looks at childhood in America from a range of perspectives as diverse as childhood itself. Contributions come from an array of disciplines and methodological approaches and aim to shed light on social constructions of childhoods and experiences of children in America. Look for new posts on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. If you're interested in becoming either a one-time or regular contributor, please write to Patrick Cox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Dr. Pflieger:
This is fascinating! As a fashion historian, I was curious to see how fashion was viewed by teens, and found some really interesting results. In The Juvenile Port-Folio, I found a tale of a mother who was more concerned with fashion over religion, which led to her daughter's death by consumption after catching a cold (and we now know these two aren't actually related).
There's definitely enough material here for me to expand and start my next research project. And, I already have. Thanks for sharing!
This is a fascinating post. I found myself wondering how the young editors mentioned here covered politics, if at all, especially since some of the publications coincide with the sectional crisis / Civil War / Reconstruction. Abolitionists certainly wrote and published for adolescent readers, I wonder how many of their readers tried their hands at publishing.
Assistant Professor of History
University of New Mexico
Dr. Pflieger, Thank you for sharing!
This may also be of interest to our colleagues over at H-Childhood ( https://networks.h-net.org/h-childhood ) and The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing ( http://www.sharpweb.org/main/sharp-l/ ).
Most early American periodicals for children were edited and published by adults, but some notable ones were produced by teenagers. The publications won’t be remembered for the quality of the contents, but what they lacked in quality, the editors more than made up for in enthusiasm.
This is a useful introduction, but it blurs differences in gender imaging and purposes between the early Girl Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls and understates the early animosity of top BSA leadership toward Girl Scouting. Whether memories of these conflicts endure today is of course an open question. The Boy Scouts of America’s longtime Chief Scout Executive James West, along with other BSA leaders, helped Luther Gulick and Charlotte Gulick to design Camp Fire Girls so as to fill a social niche analogous to Boy Scouting while averting any suggestion that these were imitation Boy Scouts.
To augment this, you might explore the history of the Baden-Powell Service Association (BPSA), which has always been coed and inclusive since its founding in 2006 in the US. Currently the organization is wrestling with how to maintain its stance as "traditional" scouting based on Baden-Powell's original writings while also maintaining its mission to be coed at all levels, since of course B-P focused his efforts on boys, as well as taking to task the issues of cultural appropriation in the "Indian lore" etc.
On October 11, 2017, the Boy Scouts of America announced they would begin accepting girls in their ranks. The landmark decision came on the heels of previous decisions to reverse longstanding policies on barring gay scouts, 2013, and gay scout leaders, 2014. All together, the BSA promoted these policy shifts as signs that the organization was evolving, becoming more diverse and inclusive, while continuing to adhere to their own clear-eyed mission of developing all American youth into the right kinds of American citizens. Well, maybe not all—Atheist children, for instance, remain
Thanks for these comments.
Indeed, Ellen, it seems to be a very nostalgic view of children at Christmas: harkening back to some pre-consumerist American Christmas celebration. Like many nostalgic views of childhood, it looks back to a time that may not have existed, right? It seems like a family centric Christmas only came into common practice right alongside a consumerist Christmas. Family-centric, non-consumerist Christmas celebrations are less throwbacks and more a turning away from historical trend and current practice.
An intriguing article. From your description, it seems that Highlights wants to push a non-consumerist and pro-family vision of Christmas. 19th and early 20th century magazines were always pushing hand-crafted gifts (even as their ads promoted consumer goods). It almost sounds like a conscious throwback to some ideal of family-centric, non-consumer Christmas, though the absence of both Santa Claus and Jesus would be less common in earlier pubs. I wonder how the recent Highlights would compare with early children's magazines such as The Youth's Companion.
Ah hah, those Highlights magazines in doctor's offices, school libraries, and everyplace with a children's focus do have an angle or have had many different angles over the years. Your historical analysis of the magazine's picture game about what's wrong in a picture and how it has changed from different publication years was good to think about. It takes so much time and research to see patterns in any body of work and you're doing it. It helped to see the different personal, consumer, and academic perspectives, too. This world of children's consumerism...
[Editors' note: this installment of American Childhoods is the first in a three-part series by Leah Phillips on thoerizing young adult literature.]
[Editors note: this installment of American Childhoods is the first in a three-part series on the political history of Seventeen magazine from 1944 to 1970.]
Horror films of the new millennium have taken a particular interest in children and children’s culture. In fact, if we consider the top-grossing horror films from the past three years (according to www.the-numbers.com), we find that over half—including the top film of each year--focus on the perspectives and experiences of children and young adults—5 in 2017, 4 in 2016, and 8 in 2015.
I’ve been thinking about Stranger Things. I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while, in fact: first because I couldn’t wait to see it, then because I didn’t enjoy it, and now, after some reflection on why that was, because I think I’ve stumbled upon something interesting.
[Ed note: Mary Ann's's essay comes to us as a preview of her upcoming talk, "Virgins, Sluts, and Victims: Narratives of Girls and Sex in Young Adult Literature," at the Midwest Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association.]
[Ed note: Bridgid's essay comes to us as a preview of her upcoming talk, "Religious Themes in YA Literature: Using Where Things Come Back and the Religious Lens," at the Midwest Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association.]
Thank you Paige! I will check out that article!
Great post! I recently wrote an article, "Join The Club: African American Children's Literature, Social Change, and the Chicago Defender Junior," in Children's Literature Association Quarterly that may be of interest. It looks at the children's section of the Chicago Defender Junior and how it helped establish a sense of identity and community for black youth, starting in the 1920s: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/660184
What is the relationship between how African American children are depicted in popular media and the ways in which black children in the United States are often considered prone to violence and criminality? Children of color are often discussed through a “problem frame” such as crime, drugs, urbanization, poverty, or lack of education.
One doesn’t have to look far to find evidence that racism is alive and well in the U.S., where schools and the population in general are becoming increasingly diverse. Equally apparent is that some folks just aren’t having it. When, recently, white nationalists, neo-Confederates, and members of the Ku Klux Klan took to the streets of Charlottesville with their message, “white lives matter,” I have to say I was shocked but not surprised. I felt a visceral sense of shock and disgust at the news photo of torch-carrying whites, gathered en masse, shouting their message of exclusion.
The first American magazine for children began with the nation. The Children’s Magazine wouldn’t impress us today. No cover illustration—in fact, no illustrations at all. Just 48 pages of cheap-to-produce text: stories, essays, poems, a series on geography, and four rather dense sermons. The magazine apparently lasted only four issues (January through April 1789), but it established a number of traditions for the almost-400 American periodicals proposed or published for children before 1873.
Regardless of what side of the political spectrum a person lands on, there is no denying that the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States has had a profound, and many would argue, a negative effect on American culture. One of those effects is a disturbing rise—and in some ways an acceptance of—racist language and race-based violence.
Regular Contributors to American Childhoods
Filipa Antunes, film, media, and popular culture
Ryan Bunch, children, music, and popular culture
Patrick Cox, toys, literature, media
Tessa Mazey-Richardson youth, pop culture and gender history
Debbie Olson, children in popular culture
Pat Pflieger, 19th century children's magazines
Leah Phillips, contemporary YA Literature
Karen Renner, evil children in pop culture