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Periodicals for Girls (and Boys)
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Deadly attack of a wolf upon a man, and heroic conduct of the man's wife. 1867. LC-DIG-ppmsca-02883 DLC (scan from b&w copy photo in Publishing Office)
bibliographic record

The Library's long runs of children's magazines provide a valuable resource for the study of girlhood, especially of the white middle class. An impressionistic survey of many titles held by the Library reveals that when the stated audience is “boys and girls,” most of the text appears to focus on boys. Perhaps further study will reveal otherwise. Nonetheless, changing views of girls can be found in the volumes of children's magazines such as Youth's Companion (1827-1929, incomplete, AP201.Y8 fol) and St. Nicholas (1873-1943, AP201.S3; microfilm 05422, reels 591-99). Careful perusal of these titles shows, for example:

  • kinds of stories considered appropriate for children
  • moral lessons advanced
  • behavioral strictures on young girls
  • how these all varied over the years
Girls are often described as sweet, grave, earnest, busy, pretty, little, and obedient. Titles such as Young Israel (1871-77, AP222.Y6) and Young Judean (1937-78, AP222.Y73) belie the Christian bent of so many of these magazines, but usually depict girls in the same terms.

Magazines whose primary audience was girls seem to supply far more female role models than magazines addressed to all children. In girls' magazines, for example, famous women were the subjects of many of the biographical articles, and serial tales centered on female heroines. Although plots were not as adventurous as those with male heroes in general children's magazines, they depict girls as active, resourceful, intelligent beings.

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“Editor Polly Pigtails at Work.” Polly Pigtails' Magazine for Girls, Spring 1953, cover (AP201.C18). General Collections.

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Shifts in just one title show how images of girls changed (and stayed the same) over the years. The premier issue of Polly Pigtails' Magazine for Girls (1953, AP201.C18) contains fiction and articles on cooking, sewing, avoiding clutter, and staying thin (“Why So Fatso?”). Forty years later in the October 1993 issue of YM (AP201.C18), a jazzier title for the same magazine, fictional accounts are out, and the articles are “Is He Boyfriend Material?” “Super Models,” and “Surviving 3 Socially Scarring Situations.”6 Cooking, sewing, and making handicrafts have given way to lip gloss, interracial dating, and advertisements for books on how to kiss. Historians of girlhood could have a field day with long runs of magazines such as this. Although the focus is primarily on the lives of white middle-class girls, the slow emergence of girls of color in print sources in the last quarter of the twentieth century is a story worth exploring.

The creators of girls' magazines intended to inform and shape girls into the model of womanhood considered appropriate for the day. These childhood magazines enable us to study girlhood and also serve as a fascinating source to trace the development of the ideal woman—to see how she has evolved and how she has remained the same over the past two centuries.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kelly, R. Gordon, ed. Children's Periodicals of the United States. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984. PN4878.C48 1984 MRR Alc. [catalog record]

LC CALL NUMBERS: AP200 (pre-1880), AP201 (main call number for general children's magazines), AP222 (Jewish), AP230 (African American).

SAMPLE LCSH: There are no subject headings for most general children's periodicals.

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