Our Young Folks - An Ethical Guide for Children
Our Young Folks was a children’s magazine that ran from 1865 until 1873. Although the magazine didn’t last long, it was widely read by children across the country and even abroad, and circulation eventually exceeded 75,000 (Kelly 345). The magazine began publication just four months before the end of the Civil War, and during this time of upheaval Our Young Folks was an ethical guide for the nation’s children. Nearly every story offers the reader a moral, and children were continually urged to put others before themselves.
One of the ways Our Young Folks gave its readers moral instructions was by setting ...view middle of the document...
Another story which offered children a selfless role model was “The Beautiful Gate.” The hero of this story is a crippled slave boy who dies as a result of his effort to warn Union soldiers of an impeding Rebel attack. The description of the boy as he set out to save others despite his own health is a heart-wrenching example of selflessness:
. . .he limped painfully over the steep road, each moment feeling a sharp sting
of pain stabbing the injured limb. He was no hero, poor little Cud! and the tears
rolled down his thin cheeks; but he never thought of turning back. . . Poor Little
Cud! Fiery thrills of pain were burning out his life, but he made a mighty effort
to speak . . . . “Tell ‘em- tell ‘em de Rebels are comin’ mighty quick; git ‘em
ready for ‘em,- go-” Then the myriads of wheels stopped grinding, the pain
slipped silently away, and Cud fainted. (Pierson 54-55)
Cud was one of many selfless martyrs in the pages of Our Young Folks, and his story is a clear example of how the magazine gave its readers guidance by setting examples for how they should behave.
The altruistic characters of Our Young Folks did not have to die to demonstrate their virtuosity. In “Kitty; A Fairy Tale of Nowadays” the main character teaches children to be kind to others, no matter what their station may be. The story begins by telling children not to make fun of people who speak differently (Kitty’s received her birthday money from a Quaker uncle). A second moral lesson for the reader soon follows, as Kitty speaks of how character is more important than beauty:
I cannot tell you the color of her eyes; I only know that there was a kind, tender
expression in them, which almost took away the ugly look of the rest of her face,-
like some people you and I love. They are plain enough, that is a fact; but a good
beautiful spirit dwells in their hearts, and looks out at their eyes, and all little
children (who know more than you dream of) love them at once. (Aunt Fanny 45)
Kitty was speaking of the birthday fairy, who has come to help Kitty spend her money; the fairy scolds guilty readers by explaining her appearance: “It’s enough to make one ugly to see all of the selfishness and quarreling, and wicked conduct that I have to see in my travels round the world” (45). Thus, readers are told how not to behave.
“Kitty” is another example of a story in Our Young Folks that gives children guidance by setting examples of how they should conduct themselves. Kitty first spends her money by buying a doll for a poor little girl who she sees staring longingly into a shop window. When Kitty sees three starving and freezing children whose mother is dead and whose father is an injured soldier, she buys groceries and wood for the family, and she even hand-feeds the wounded father. The narrator...