Monday, February 22, 2010

The Origins of the Green Meadow Club

The Bedtime stories featuring the cast of characters and the settings that Burgess would use for the next 50 years were established in 1910. Three stories were printed in Good Housekeeping and Old Mother West Wind was published in 1910. In June of 1911, the People's Home Journal published a single story of Burgess's, "Danny Meadow Mouse Learns Why His Tail is Short." Harrison Cady was the illustrator (he would go on to become, though not immediately, Burgess's regular illustrator) and an editorial introduction invoked the Uncle Remus comparison.
For our boys and girls especially we are publishing this month a charming little Thornton W. Burgess, whose book Old Mother West Wind has made him famous and who is hailed as a second Uncle Remus. This story is too good for any of our boys and girls to miss. And we surmise that very few of our grown-ups will fail to finish the story after reading the first few paragraphs....

The People's Home Journal is now largely forgotten (except by Burgess/Cady collectors!). It was a monthly household-oriented magazine published from 1885 to 1929. It claimed a circulation of about 900,000 when Burgess started contributing, putting it on par with other "household journals." (Note Good Housekeeping's circulation during this era was only around 300,000.) See the 1911 table below for details.

Here's a 1922 ad from McClure's (regrettably, Google Books lacks a full view copy).

Beginning in April, 1913 (he had begun his daily newspaper story in February of the previous year), Burgess provided a monthly Mother West Wind-style story with illustrations by Cady. This lasted until the journal ceased publication in 1929. These would be called the "Green Meadow" stories, after one of Burgess's main story settings.

The People's Home Journal already had a "club" for children, established only few issues earlier, titled "Aunt Mary's Attic Club." This featured the main adult voice in the Journal's children's page--Aunt Mary--and was initially a kind of adjunct to the Journal's club for grown-ups, "The Sunshine Society." Here's the solicitation (February 1913)
Will You Join Our Club?
Don't you think it will be jolly to have a club and call it "Aunt Mary's Attic Club"? Many of our boys and girls are already hoping we'll do this, and I'd like to know that every one of you are in favor of the plan. Of course there won't be any dues, and the only requirements for membership are that you read the children's page of THE PEOPLE'S HOME JOURNAL and remember our watch-word, "Happiness." All who write to me before March tenth, saying they want to join Aunt Mary's Attic Club will have their names entered on the list of charter members....
It is worth thinking a moment about the functions and purposes of these sorts of clubs. On the one hand, they are (and were) well-known tactics for boosting/maintaining circulation. They are essentially engagement tools, offering opportunities for readers to interact with the editors of the publication and with other readers. The renewal of a subscription is a means of maintaining membership in the magazine's community. On the other hand, because they do bring large numbers of people together, they can be used for directed social good. The Journal's "Sunshine Society," for example, promoted cheerfulness in the face of life's adversities as a way of making the world a better place (though as some critical scholars have noted, this approach was actually a good way of deflecting readers away from any meaningful social activism).

By March, Aunt Mary's Attic club already had many members and Aunt Mary's proposal was to have all club members start a garden. I've embedded the column below:

Then in May, 1913, the Attic Club was gone, replaced by the Green Meadow Club (though "Aunt Mary" would still figure as an editorial voice for a little longer). The editors claimed the idea came from readers [UPDATE: In fact, the idea came from Burgess himself].

The central feature of the Green Meadow page was the Burgess story and its Cady illustration. For the first few installments, the story was followed by a contest announcement, in which children were asked to submit their own experiences with the animal featured that month (for cash prizes). Here's the page for June, 1913.

(Note that Happy Jack Squirrel would play a central role in another Burgess club during WWI).

In subsequent months, there would be more emphasis on nature study.

Tomorrow: The Green Meadow Club pledge

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