It was called St. Nicholas Magazine and, as Weekend Edition literary detective Paul Collins tells host Scott Simon, it was started by Mary Mapes Dodge, a popular 1870s children's author.
According to Collins, St. Nicholas launched in 1873 and was full of sheet music, illustrations, and needlepoint and stamp collecting tips. But what really set it apart was its young contributors.
"You would often see kids sending in letters to Victorian children's magazines and occasionally they'd run a picture that a kid had sent in or a little poem or something like that," Collins says, "but [St. Nicholas] would actually give over 12 pages at the end of the magazine for this department. So it was really a major part of the magazine and, by a lot of accounts, it was the first section that a lot of kids turned to when they got their new issue."
On Mildred Augustine, one of the magazine's young contributors
That's a name that's not going to ring many bells for most people, but she became better known a decade later, in 1929, as Carolyn Keene — which was her pen name — and that was for writing the first Nancy Drew books. She wrote quite a few of the early ones, actually.
This is a piece that she sent in in 1919, when she was 13 years old, and it's titled called "The Courtesy":
"Mrs. Gardner sat gazing out of the window. In her lap lay a letter. The door opened and her daughter Andrea entered the room. Mrs. Gardner, smiling faintly, said, "I have received a letter from Aunt Jane, who will arrive next week to spend the winter with us." For a moment Andrea was too surprised to speak. Then she burst into tears.
"A week later Aunt Jane arrived, parrot, umbrella, baggage, and all. She was even worse than Andrea had imagined."
On future famous writers' non-literary contributions
The first time that Eudora Welty got into the magazine, it was for this kind of lovely pen-and-ink drawing of a beach scene, which is not what you would necessarily think of with her work.
But you really get a sense of ... the creative roving around of kids before they've established their literary identity: F. Scott Fitzgerald sent in photography; Faulkner sent in drawings; [future short story and sports writer] Ring Lardner — I especially like this — he sent in poetry and puzzles.
On the magazine's focus on nature
One thing that's really kind of striking about the magazine was that it really had an emphasis, and quite deliberately, on a love of nature and the outdoors. And part of the idea behind the [magazine] itself when they started this was they wanted to get children thinking about nature, writing about it; they wanted children to empathize with nature and with animals. The idea being that it would really help them also empathize and understand their fellow people as well.
One thing that I found kind of funny about this was that E.B. White kind of cracked the code pretty early on. It was actually a neighbor kid that said, "Well, if you want to get published in the magazine, write something nice about an animal." ... He later on talked about it as being the first time that he could remember really deliberately pitching something for what he knew an editor wanted.
On the modern magazine that most closely resembles St. Nicholas
Probably the closest thing might be something like Stone Soup, which is a magazine that's been around since the '70s which has features [and], I think entirely, art by children. It kind of is working off the same idea.