Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bedtime Story Personal Letters

Note: This will be the last regular post I make to the Thornton W. Burgess Research League. My sabbatical is over and I need to begin to shape this material into suitably scholarly form. I thought I would leave you with something to chew on for a while.

In September, 1915, Thornton Burgess began writing a weekly column designed to appear on Sundays in newspapers running his bedtime story feature and hosting a Bedtime Story Club. (The Boston Daily Globe, which apparently didn't have a club, ran reprints of Mother West Wind stories instead). These were called "personal letters"--Burgess addressed his readers directly and attempted to guide club activities. In many ways this column prefigures the Radio Nature League, not just in the kinds of concerns addressed (feed the birds, make bird houses) but in the way Burgess tries to create a personal connection with his audience.

Google News Archive offers access to these personal letters via its Milwaukee Journal collection. Not all of them are indexed, but I was able to browse through a few months worth to give you links to the first 25 or so of these columns.

You may remember that the Bedtime Story club concept was an invention of the Kansas City Star and was then picked up by other papers, most notably the New York Globe. The Milwaukee Journal first announced the club on May 20, 1915.

To read the copy, click on the image below.

Children were instructed to clip a coupon from the following Sunday's paper to become a member (and receive a cool badge). It wasn't necessary to formally sign a pledge to be kind to animals; club membership was enough.

Here's the coupon

The club was advertised again the following week. Three thousand had signed up; the Journal wanted tens of thousands.

As far as I can tell, the club's main business for the first few months was a story contest. That changed, however, when Thornton W. Burgess himself became the effective club leader.

Here's the opening column, dated September 26, 1915.

Burgess charges the membership to be "kind to Mother Nature's children" and "protect them from their enemies", adding that he wants to make the club a "tremendous power for good." He also invites readers to imagine that he has a personal relationship with each one of them.

Below I've listed a number of personal letters, stretching into March 1916. Have fun!
October 3, 1915
October 10, 1915

October 17, 1915

October 24, 1915
October 31, 1915
November 7, 1915
November 14, 1915
November 21, 1915
November 28, 1915
December 5, 1915
December 12, 1915
December 19, 1915
December 26, 1915
January 2, 1916
January 9, 1916
January 16, 1916 Scroll Up
January 23, 1916
January 30, 1916
February 6, 1916
February 13, 1916
February 20, 1916 Scroll up
February 27, 1916
March 5, 1916
March 12, 1916

From here on the Google indexing and scanning gets very spotty. The column, however, would continue for a little while longer.

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