Newsstand: 1925: St. Nicholas

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

Overview

           The publishing company Scribner and Sons initially produced St. Nicholas Magazine in 1873 as a children’s magazine intended to mirror the style and characteristics of Scribner’s popular offerings of Scribner’s Monthly and The Century Magazine. During its run from 1873 to 1940, St. Nicholas proved to be one of the best known magazines for children. With the solid financial backing of Scribner, St. Nicholas editors were able to attract talented contributors, while enjoying the use of skilled authors and illustrators already working on Scribner’s two adult periodicals.

 

The Birth

 

           As early as 1870, Scribner’s Monthly co-founder Roswell Smith was planning to launch a children’s magazine, and Smith was working closely with Charles Scribner and Dr. Josiah Gilbert Holland to bring their idea to life. Scribner’s Monthly and The Century Magazine were successful business ventures, and both magazines enjoyed success for six decades. Scribner’s founders planned for the new children’s magazine to parallel the two adult offerings, providing high-quality entertainment, and communicating the “style, attitudes, and values of an established, secure, upper-middle-class culture, creating a sociointellectual pattern that touched several generations of readers” (Kelly 377). The founders offered the editorship of the new magazine to successful children’s book author Mary Mapes Dodge. Dodge was the author of the popular book, Hans Brinker and His Silver Skates, and was the previous editor at the periodical Hearth and Home. In an article written for Scribner’s Monthly for July 1873 Dodge hinted at her ideas of what a children’s magazine should be. Not wanting a children’s magazine to be a “Milk and water variety of the periodical for adults” Dodge insisted that “A child’s magazine is its playground” (Mott 501). With Dodge at the helm, the first issue of St. Nicholas hit the newsstands November 1873. The first issue was a large square octavo with 48 pages and it sold for twenty-five cents. Initial circulation was 40,000 copies. An anonymous note in the Scribner’s Monthly for November 1873 addressed the birth of St. Nicholas by commenting “Whether we shall lead the little child, or the little child shall lead us, remains to be seen” (Kelly 378). The publishers made it plain the family of Scribner-owned magazines would operate in a harmonious manner, helping “each other in the work of instruction, culture and entertainment” (378). The support of the parent organization gave St. Nicholas a healthy head-start, allowing full access to the strong and deep bench of authors and illustrators. The first issue contained articles, stories, and poems, and Mrs. Dodge included her own editorial titled “Jack-in-the-Pulpit.” St. Nicholas was a high quality magazine printed by the DeVinne press with plenty of illustrations supplied by the artists and wood engravers already doing work for Scribner’s (Mott 501).

Acquisitions

 

           Whereas magazines for children usually enjoyed success, some periodicals were absorbed by others. St. Nicholas acquired smaller magazines, adding to its circulation and talent pool. The Riverside Magazine for Young People appeared in 1867 and was picked up by Scribner in 1870, just three years before the launch of St. Nicholas. Riverside was the creation of Horace Elisha Scudder who was an editor with Boston publisher Houghton Mifflin for three decades. Although the Riverside Magazine was recognized as brilliant, it was “A cold brilliance, of the sort that made it unlikely that the magazine could create the sort of affection among its readers that St. Nicholas developed” (Kelly 369). Scudder failed with Riverside, but continued a successful career editing with Houghton Mifflin and The Atlantic Monthly.

           Other children’s magazines absorbed by Scribner for St. Nicholas were Our Young Folks and The Children’s Hour in 1874, The Schoolday Magazine and The Little Corporal in 1875, and Wide Awake in 1893 (Kelly 378). Each acquisition allowed St. Nicholas to add new authors and new subscribers.

 

Editorial Philosophy

 

           Mary Mapes Dodge published an essay in Scribner’s Monthly outlining her philosophy on children’s magazines. Dodge argued a juvenile magazine should be natural and entertaining. Dodge outlined her editorial policy in clear forthright language:

To give clean, genuine fun to children of all ages.

To give them examples of the finest types of boyhood and girlhood.

To inspire them with a fine appreciation of pictorial art.

To cultivate the imagination in profitable directions.

To foster a love of country, home, nature, truth, beauty, sincerity.

To prepare boys and girls for life as it is.

To stimulate their ambitions—but along normally progressive lines.

To keep pace with a fast-moving world in all its activities.

To give reading matter which every parent may pass to his children unhesitatingly (Meigs 280).

Dodge wrote that there should be no sermonizing in the magazine, but that the children’s magazine should be a pleasure ground.

Content

 

           St. Nicholas contained non-fiction articles in five categories: Travel or Geographical, Biographical, Historical, Scientific, and Practical Matters. Fiction came in four categories: Technical, Fantasy, Historical, and Domestic. Some articles were produced in serial form spanning several issues, including fictional stories like “Barry Locke, Half-back” by Ralph Henry Barbour, and non-fiction articles like “A Child’s History of the World” by V. M. Hillyer, both of which appear in the July 1925 issue of St. Nicholas.

In addition to fiction and non-fiction contributions, St. Nicholas also created several different departments over the years to focus on specific areas of interest, much like the parent magazine, Scribner’s Monthly. These departments came and went, with some lasting longer than others. One of the most popular and long-lasting was The St. Nicholas League, an organization of the readers of St. Nicholas. The League motto was “Live to learn and learn to live”, and the emblem was the “Stars and Stripes.” The St. Nicholas League awarded gold and silver badges each month for the best original poems, stories, drawings, photographs, puzzles, and puzzle answers. No one eighteen or older could compete.

Other popular departments included “The Letter Box,” featuring correspondence from young readers, and “The Riddle Box,” with all contributions coming from young subscribers to the magazine. A special current-events department, “The Watch Tower,” featured timely news and information on domestic and international affairs.

In his article “The Utopia of St. Nicholas: The Present as Prologue” in Children’s Literature, Fred Erisman explains the content of St. Nicholas was predicated on two themes and three questions. The first theme was that “The well-rounded person must have a general understanding of the world and its history,” and the second theme was that “The individual can benefit from the examples of others” (67). The three questions which Erisman proposes as didactic in nature were “What is the world like? How does the world operate? How can I best get along in the world?” (67). Erisman contends St. Nicholas was created to walk young people through these theme-driven questions with the intention of instilling in them “The basic ideals of middle-class America – a clear-cut sense of right and wrong, a regard for the Puritan work ethic, and a sense of personal responsibility” (66). The answer to what the world is like was addressed in articles like Theodore Roosevelt’s “Hero Tales of American History” in the 1895 issues, and V. M. Hillyer’s “A Child’s History of the World” in the 1925 issues. To answer the question of how the world operates, articles of scientific and technical subjects were included, like George Ethelbert Walsh’s article on energy resources, “What a Lump of Coal Can Do” in 1904; and A. M. Jacobs’ article on breakthroughs in parachute technology, “Stepping Out in Mid-Air” in 1925. The final question of getting along in the world was addressed in practical articles for the reader on the “environment, the organization and operation of his culture, and assorted skills and accomplishments likely to be of use to him” (68). Cleveland Moffett wrote articles on “Careers of Danger and Daring” in 1901, and Gertrude L. Warren wrote “Summer Camps for the Four-H Clubs” in 1925.

Though Erisman admits the primary purpose of St. Nicholas was entertainment, he insists the entire content is didactic. Erisman claims the content “supplies cultural ideals, standards, and models to assist the young reader in directing his life. It reinforces at every turning the child’s sense of his place and role in a middle-class world”(68). However entertaining and informative St. Nicholas may have been, it was plainly designed to steer young people in the direction favored by upper middle-class values.

 

The Peak

 

           St. Nicholas enjoyed many good years, but the close of the nineteenth century may have been the best days. In an essay written for Essays Mostly on Periodical Publishing in America, “The St. Nicholas and the Serious Artist,” Elizabeth C. Saler and Edwin H. Cady proposed that 1894 was the pivotal year for St. Nicholas. It was that year in which the magazine published “Tom Sawyer Abroad” by Mark Twain, “Brownies” by Palmer Cox, and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” by Rudyard Kipling. Throughout its history, the magazine enjoyed the participation of “heavy-hitter” authors like Louisa May Alcott, John Burroughs, Robert Louis Stevenson, Lord Tennyson, John Greenleaf Whittier and others (Saler 165). However, as original editor Mary Mapes Dodge began to hand over the editorial reigns to her successor, and competition heightened from magazines like Boy’s Life, the strength of St. Nicholas began to be challenged.

 

The Decline

 

           Frank Mott reports that as St. Nicholas moved into the twentieth century, “it showed, to a critical eye, a certain flagging in vitality, perhaps less regard for high literary standards, and a slow but alarmingly regular decline in circulation”(504). Mrs. Dodge died in 1905, and was succeeded by Clarke. After twenty-two years as editor, Clark retired, having made no significant changes, and was unable to strengthen the magazine’s circulation in the face of a growing number of low-priced, mass-market magazines. St. Nicholas was sold twice between 1931 and 1940, devolving to “a soft-paper, large-type, picture-book version, rather than in the slick-paper format of its past” (Kelly 379). In 1939, Time Magazine ran a story in its October 23 edition reporting that St. Nicholas would begin selling exclusively in Woolworth stores across the nation “as a picture magazine for elementary grade-school children.” The price was dropped to ten cents, and the magazine contained crude drawings of animals to be cut out. The final issue of St. Nicholas was published just one year later.

—Contextualization by Michael Richards

 

Works Cited

 

Erisman, Fred. "The Utopia of St. Nicholas." Children's Literature 5 (1976): 66-73. Project Muse. Web. 9 Nov. 2010.

Kelly, R G. Children's Periodicals of the United States. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984. Print.

Meigs, Cornelia. A Critical History of Children's Literature: A Survey of Children's Books in English from Earliest Times to the Present. New York: Macmillan, 1953. Print.

Mott, Frank L. A History of American Magazines 1865-1885. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1938. Print.

Saler, Elizabeth C., and Edwin H. Cady. “The St. Nicholas and the Serious Artist.” Essays Mostly on Periodical Publishing in America: A Collection in Honor of Clarence Gohdes. Ed. James L. Woodress and Clarence Gohdes. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1973. Print.

click cover for magazine

July 1925

Genre

Children’s Magazine

Publisher:

Scribner & Company: 1873 - 80

The Century Company: 1881 - 1930

American Education Press: 1930 - 34

Educational Publishing Co.: 1935 - 40

Place of Publication:

New York, NY [Columbus, OH 1930-34]

Years of Run:

1873 — 1940

Frequency of Publication:

Monthly

Circulation in 1925:

70,000