Social Media Use on the Rise Amongst Teens…in the 1860’s

Social Media Use on the Rise Amongst Teens…in the 1860’s

12 min read

| By Gale Staff |

What comes to mind when someone mentions social media?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, social media is defined as “websites and computer programs that allow people to communicate and share information on the internet using a computer or mobile phone.” The same dictionary defines social networking as “the use of websites and other internet services to communicate with other people and make friends.”

Although the terms are relatively recently coined (in their current context), social media and social networking aren’t new.  Let’s look at a very brief (and grossly incomplete) history of spreading the news, making friends, and exposing your thoughts and interests to a wider world.

“Correspondence.” Amateur Record [Atlanta, GA], 15 Feb. 1898, p. 5. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44We5. Accessed 30 Apr. 2018. Gale Document Number: GALE|FYIWKH368102036
Considering how digitally connected society is, it is not unusual to read about social media usage increasing among tweens (preteens), teens, and young adults.  Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and many other apps all have loyal followings with young people.  These social networks keep today’s youth connected for purposes of entertainment, friendship, news, homework, and a sense of belonging to something greater than themselves (perhaps that last point is a little too deep).

Now, let’s consider social media and social networking among the youth from a different time period, namely the 19th century.  Our focus will be the United States (less Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada, and our medium will be amateur newspapers.

Since I’ve been working with the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) to provide a true and faithful digital archive of their amateur newspapers, let’s read their description:

The amateur newspaper occupies an unusual place in the history of journalism. An amateur journal is a periodical created to afford pleasure to its readers as well as to its editor and its publisher. The rage to publish, rather than profit, is the motive that most often induces people to become amateur journalists; and, throughout the history of the genre, most but not all amateur journalists have been juveniles.

The AAS goes on to state the very first amateur newspaper published in the United States was the Thespian Mirror, edited by John Howard Payne in 1805.  There were just a handful of papers published in the six decades thereafter, when these amateur journalists had to write their papers by hand, pay a professional printer to turn out a finished copy, or build their own printing press.  During the 1860’s, a sea change occurred when small hobby presses became more widely available and amateur newspapers truly began to roll off the presses.

Why are these papers important? 

“Amateur newspapers constitute one of the earliest youth subcultures, at a time when the concepts of both “youth” and “subculture” were still very much under construction. They offer fascinating insights into the development of adolescence as a category, particularly its inextricability from ideas of race, gender, and class. Their appeal is admittedly idiosyncratic: like many subcultural “scenes,” the amateur press tends to be solipsistic, consumed by inside jokes and controversies, and often formulaic, despite their professions of wildness. Often amateur journalists seem determined to shut out a wider world and build a separate one of their own, even as the tensions of their times inevitably crept in (and even their desire for a world of their own is itself shaped under those pressures). But their self regard is part of their interest, I think. They are trying to make adolescence–the primary criterion for amateurdom–meaningful in a period of dramatic social change.”

—Lara Cohen, Professor of English at Swarthmore College

“Biography No 1.” Hub, June 1877. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44XB7. Accessed 30 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|UYTABP886955039

Who were these amateur journalists? 

“The majority of the amateur newspapers were written, edited, and published by teenagers aged 12-20 using desktop publishing machines, on borrowed printing presses, or even by hand.  Thousands of these newspapers were printed all across North America, from urban to rural settings, allowing ordinary citizens to express themselves and their views through publishing.  The newspapers are important to cultural and intellectual historians in that they allow us to understand how the younger generation viewed the world in the 19th century.”

—Dr. Jon Wells, Professor of History at the University of Michigan

Amateurdom or “the ‘dom”, as its members called it, was concerned with what was going on where they lived and in their own social network.  They communicated the news of the day, wrote short stories and poetry, proffered their opinions through editorials, created puzzles, advertised goods and services, reported on sporting events and entertainment, and expounded upon a variety of other topics.  Essentially, the youth of the 19th century were quite similar to today’s youth when one considers the things that interested them.

To finish off this journey into the social media and networks of the past, let’s look at some of the things these young adult amateur newspaper editors were writing about:

LOVE

Love, that which makes our hearts flutter.  Romantic love.  Unrequited love.  Love poems.  Love stories.  Love of God.  Love for one’s mother.  Love was often on the minds of young amateur printers.

 

SCHOOL

Just as with young people today, school was a popular topic for discussion.  From social issues to school supplies to the latest school news, it was all fit to print.  I must admit a fondness for the title of one of the papers; The Waste Basket very aptly applies to a lot of my early writing endeavors.

 

SPORTS

Fun and games were just as popular in the 19th century as they are today.  Baseball, boxing, rowing, cycling, and roller skating are just a few of the athletic pursuits covered.  It’s quite fun to read about what interested young people of days past.  I particularly enjoyed finding “The Song of the Roller Skates”.  Swoop-a-hoo!

 

PRINTING AMATEUR NEWSPAPERS

What would an amateur newspaper editor be without a way to print their papers or share tips of the trade?  Amateur editors wrote about their hobby, offered advice and best practices, and advertised the tools necessary to promote it.  Now, who would like to purchase a printing press of their own?

 

PUZZLES

Aside from the more serious business of reporting the news, discussing the latest pastime, or writing poetry, some amateur editors enjoyed creating puzzles for their readers.  Many of them are just as much fun today as they were back then.

 

CARTOONING / ILLUSTRATION / JOKES

Sometimes you just need a good laugh.  Cartoons and jokes can be found scattered throughout the pages of the amateur newspapers.  All joking aside, some of the editors created some wonderful and engaging illustrations and illustrated stories.

 

PETS

Today, one can find cat videos and puppy pictures all over social media.  While you won’t find Grumpy Cat or the latest batch of cute kitten pictures in the pages of the Amateur Newspapers, you will find writing about pets and animals.  I particularly enjoyed “The History of the Kilkenny Cats” and the practicality expressed by the writer of the article on “Hens”.

 

BEAUTIFUL DESIGN

While it doesn’t really have a direct bearing on writing or social networking, in the later years of the Golden Age of Amateurdom, many of the papers incorporated some truly amazing graphic design.  One can imagine these amateurs going on to successful careers in advertising agencies, publishing houses, or newspapers and other periodicals.

This little stroll through the social media networks of the 19th century was brought to you courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, Amateur Newspapers, and Gale Primary Sources. I encourage you to explore the amateur newspapers yourself to discover a fascinating history of youth culture in early North America.

Learn more about the release of our new digital archive, Amateur Newspapers from the American Antiquarian Society, with our Press Release

 

Sources
Love:
1. Doulourex, Troclearis Tic. “Love.” High School Stylus, Mar. 1881, p. 5. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44HW7. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number:GALE|GBZXTI823069530

2. Edkins, Ernest A. “Love.” Investigator [New Britain, CT], 1 Jan. 1892. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44He8. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|LAYVMW316609109

3. “Love.” Spy [Hawkinsville, FL], 25 Apr. 1880. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44HJ3. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|SPDHTI178630685

4.”How He Brought Me into the Banquet of Perfect Love.” Banner and Banquet of Love, Feb. 1869. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Hm0. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|RPZPAI925578765

5.Caruth, Jean. “Mother Love.” Criteria, January-April, 1898, p. 6. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44J62. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|HAFBOU106213102

School:

1.One of Them. “School Girls.” High School Stylus, Jan. 1881, p. 2+. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44JL2. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|OKODRV133752047

2. “School Squibs.” Empire State Amateur, Sept. 1882. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Ka1. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|OYGXMQ596180526

3. “The Waste Basket.” Waste Basket, 25 Feb. 1885, p. 3. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Ko3. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|BMKLLA893955572

4. “The School News.” School News [Monticello, IL], 28 Feb. 1883. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Jv7. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number:GALE|VNUCPR275273059

5. “School Supplies.” School News [Monticello, IL], 28 Feb. 1883. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44JWX. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CYUWJD455701460

Sports:
1. “Judd Man’F’G Company.” Amateur Press [New York, NY], Dec. 1886. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Mj2. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|TKIZWK857656467

2. “Sporting Goods.” Spy [Albany, NY], Apr. 1884. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44N59. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|PBBEYR612492946

3.”Multiple Classified Advertisements.” Search-Light, July 1899. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Ky4. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|GIGIDZ503692485

4. “Athletics.” Ruby [Providence, RI], February, 1877-May, 1879, p. 10+. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44ML8. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|ZCNZOF572284767

5. Stackhouse, G. E. “Base Bawl.” Old Glory, 15 Sept. 1900. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44L85. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|ZGJRKC465254173

Printing Amateur Newspapers:
1. “Multiple Classified Advertisements.” Amateur Printing Press, Dec. 1877. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44LX4. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|EUEGRZ347092663

2. Engleman, Louis. “Zincography.” Odds and Ends [Detroit, MI], Oct. 1880. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44M38. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|EVISLK321786784

3.”The Power of the Press.” American Monthly, July 1897, p. 9. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44MA0. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|OCPSCC446143400

4.”A Few Instructions to Amateur Printers.” Amateur Printing Press, Feb. 1878. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Lf5. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|YHAVRR737146532

5.”To Mix Colors and Make Tints.” Amateur Printing Press, Dec. 1877. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Lp4. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|XGQASL356114251

Puzzles:
1. “Puzzles.” Union [Providence, RI], May 1862, p. 4. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44P82. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|BMDBKZ331120545

2. “Puzzles.” Puzzlers’ Own, Aug. 1879. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44PG3. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|HSQWIN864009822

3. “New Puzzles.” Climax, 15 Nov. 1883, p. 3+. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Pm0. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|NYFXFP427533094

Cartooning/Illustrations/Jokes
1. “Johnny.” Excelsior [New York, NY], Nov. 1886. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44SV4. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|XPUDSD493408105

2. “A Tale of Woe.” Owl [Brooklyn, NY], Oct. 1882. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44SN7. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|XTKYAC089624598

3. “Our Gallery.” Boy’s Herald [Delaware, OH], Nov. 1879. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44S81. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|QYWYWD112137582

4. “Just over the Way.” Genius, May 1888, p. 65. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44RJ5. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|WOSEPX104621429

5. “Hands off, Politicians.” Illuminator for Young and Old, 15 July 1890, p. [1]. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44SjX. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|GAHFRQ461624035

6. “A ‘Vulgar’ Cartoon.” Illuminator for Young and Old, September, 1891-October, 1891. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Qq2. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|FPCRMG354620670

7. Smith, Edwin Mikel. “Cartoon No. 1.” Thunderbolt [New York, NY], Oct. 1872. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Qy3. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|KBEXTA694305425

8. Yates, John H. “The Old Man in the Model Church.” Corn City’s Compliments, Sept. 1874, p. [53]+. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Ri2. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|UMMNQN704716566

Pets:
1. “Snakes as Family Pets.” Torrington Advertiser, 17 May 1883. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44VR0. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|HBTPGO703260695

2. “Hens.” Owlet [Worcester, MA], 1 Apr. 1882. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Vi0. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|AYUCPB679454963

3. Gibson, Alec G. “My Pet Dogs.” Columbia, Apr. 1896, p. 54+. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Us0. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|HWAEJF075350736

4. W. F. M. “A Chapter on Dogs.” Union Park Gazette, Nov. 1872, p. 14. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Ub5. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|HOMMMA461361155

5. Skagy. “About Cats.” Merrimac Monthly, Aug. 1879. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44V80. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|PNOLDQ455689857

6. “History of the Kilkenny Cats.” Boys of the East, Feb. 1876, p. [17]. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44VF3. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|EDXMRE237395253

Beautiful Design
1. “The Messenger.” Messenger [Oshkosh, WI], Summer, 1885. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Sx5. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|IKZWQR042083280

2. “The Evergreen State.” Evergreen State, Feb. 1896. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Sc7. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|JYBGSH461762208

3. “Leaves from the Press.” Leaves from the Press, July 1897. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44Rr3. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|YWRMIP441772375

4. “The Stork.” Stork, Dec. 1898. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44SF4. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|UQTOEQ194053842

5. “The Post Boy.” Post Boy [Watertown, CT], June 1888. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44R88. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|FDTZZO544389119

6. “The Fern Leaf.” Fern Leaf, May 1891. American Amateur Newspapers, http://tinyurl-as01.dev.gale.web:8080/tinyurl/44RU2. Accessed 27 Apr. 2018.
Gale Document Number: GALE|KJEJMP879944842

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