Academic journal article Journalism History

Lydia Maria Child: Editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1841-43

Academic journal article Journalism History

Lydia Maria Child: Editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, 1841-43

Article excerpt

This article examines Lydia Maria Child's editorship of the National Anti-Slavery Standard, the newspaper of the American Anti-Slavery Society, from 1841-43. Before becoming the editor, she edited her own magazine for children, worked with her husband at their newspaper, and wrote numerous fiction and nonfiction works for juveniles and adults. As an editor, she espoused objectivity, derided sensationalism, and applied her own inclusive formula for building circulation, emphasizing material with broad appeal to both men and women while reducing the emphasis on politics. She succeeded in doubling the Standard's circulation but did not satisfy the more strident members of the AASS, who wanted more militancy. She also introduced a popular personal column, "Letters to New-York," which attracted wide attention.

Hailed at her death in 1880 by the Springfield (Massachusetts) Republican "as the head of journalism in America as we now understand it," Lydia Maria Child blazed a trail that the vines of yellow and progressive journalism quickly covered.1 John Greenleaf Whittier described her as the most popular literary woman in the United States. She was recognized as the Martha Stewart of her day for her bestseller The Frugal Housewife, which was first published in 1829, and beloved as the founder and the editor of a popular magazine for children, Juvenile Miscellany, which she published from 1826 to 1834. Then, the readers rejected her for her bold attack on slavery and racism. Today, she is remembered for an often-misquoted poem about Thanksgiving: "Over the river and through the woods to grandfather's house we go."2

Journalism history textbooks either have not mentioned Child or given her short shrift. Such books as Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women in Journalism, Great Women of the Press, and Brilliant Byline made no mention of her. Upfront the Footnote identified her as Lydia Marie Child and gave her a three-sentence description. Frank Luther Mott's A History of American Magazines credited her for contributions to the Ladies' Magazine, the Broadway journal, and the Columbian and quoted from a review that she wrote and from a review about her work. Mott's American Journalism mentioned William Lloyd Garrison and the Liberator but omitted Child. Leonard Teel's examination of her editorship noted the impression that her editing left with critics, which stemmed from her neutral approach, but did not focus on the standard of objectivity that she tried to practice or on her famous column, "Letters from New- York." Other academic research and books discussed her literary merit, but while they included discussion of her editorship, they did not examine it journalistically.3

When Child died in 1880, writers tried to explain the lack of recognition for her contributions. The examination of her career fell short of what she deserved because her time had passed and newspaper editors had no sense of history. "Mrs. Child's best work was with a former generation," one observer noted in 1994.4 According to Michael Schudson in 1995, during the nineteenth century, indeed during Child's time, "news" and "reporting" were invented, and thus editors focused on the now, on current intelligence and not on a woman's accomplishments of forty years past.5 Consequently, her distinguished career faded.

Childs literary work and activism led her to develop an impressive resume that seemingly qualified her to become the editor of an anti-slavery newspaper. First, she earned a living as a writer and editor, working as founder and editor of Juvenile Miscellany, a magazine for children, from 1826 to 1834, when she wrote more than forty stories or essays for the magazine. Starting in 1828, she also worked as a writer and editor for the Massachusetts Journal, a newspaper started by her husband. She contributed approximately thirty fiction pieces and forty nonfiction essays to it, and the Journal reprinted several of her Juvenile Miscettany essays. …

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