01/08/03
Our Young Folks
    by Rita Smith

"Our Young Folks" is an illustrated magazine for children published monthly for nine years from January 1, 1865, through October, 1873, when it was absorbed into St. Nicholas Magazine. Written for children between the ages of 10 and 18, its editors trumpeted it as "the best juvenile magazine ever published in any land or language." They rejected "dull and trashy articles as worthless, taking all possible care to procure reading that shall furnish entertainment and attractive instruction."1

Although the magazine was New England in flavor it was read by young people throughout the country and even abroad. It maintained a high standard of quality throughout its years of publication. There are articles and stories by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles Dickens, and Louisa May Alcott and poetry by John Greenleaf Whittier and Henry W. Longfellow. Simarly the art work met demanding standards, including a number of fine illustrations by Winslow Homer. When the magazine began to run music, the editors chose pieces by Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. The magazine includes both fiction and non fiction. As with much children's writing of this era, some of the fiction is obviously moralistic and didactic, but other stories are more subtle and readable, although these also teach children what is important; what the standards of behavior are and what goals are admirable.

The non-fiction is wide ranging. For example, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who wrote "The Story of a Bad Boy" contributed a series of essays called "Among the Studios" which describes the studios and work of contemporary artists. There are biographical sketches with portraits, pieces on the Civil War, nature, physical science and health. Dio Lewis wrote an article entitled "Physical Health: To the Young People of America" decrying the poor physical condition of American youth and praising good posture and exercise. He followed this with another article on the benefits of daily sunbathing entitled: "A Few Plain Words to My Little Pale Faced Friends."

Throughout the run of the magazine, it is evident that the editors of "Our Young Folks" took their readers seriously and there is little condescension toward them. Implicit in the articles and stories is the belief that even young children can become competent in many areas, that older children can make valuable contribu- tions to their families and to society, and that children matter.2

1 Friedberg, p. 330.
2 Ibid., p. 337

Sources
Friedberg, Joan Brest. "Our Young Folks: An Illustrated Magazine," in Children's Periodicals of the United States, R. Gordon Kelly, ed. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, c1984.

Copyright 2003 Rita Smith

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