Website Review

19th-century American Children and What They Read


19th-century American Children and What They Read is a website born of a passion for exactly that—material written for children, and occasionally by children, in the 19th century. Site creator Patricia Pflieger, an English professor at West Chester University, is interested in popular books and magazines that are not well known today.

Topics range from morality tales to slavery to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. A poem entitled "Skating—Woman's Rights" asks why a woman should not skate when "She can walk, and run, and ride." Fear of revealed ankles does not persuade the author that women should not partake of the newest fad.

For this project, Pflieger has purchased, transcribed, and made public a significant number of primary sources, as well as bibliographies and scholarly works. The section called "Children" provides an eclectic sampling of materials, from letters, adoption notices, and articles about raising children to writings by children, including scrapbooks, exercise books, letters, and a diary. There is no clear rationale for the inclusion of items beyond availability.

"Magazines" offers more than 200 transcribed articles, jokes, letters, and illustrations from 12 publications, as well as a "small gallery" of magazine covers. "Some of their books" provides complete transcriptions for 27 books for children as well as articles and reviews of the books and of children's reading by 19th-century adults. In addition, the site makes available seven essays by Pflieger and comprehensive bibliographies on social history, children and child rearing, Samuel G. Goodrich, and children's author Jacob Abbot, among others. Pflieger annotates many of the materials, providing historical context (sometimes very brief) and bibliographic information (usually). Text is almost always transcribed and Pflieger acknowledges possible omissions and errors. Unfortunately, originals of the materials are generally not available.

Despite the eclectic nature of the offerings, Pflieger has created a wonderful resource for teachers, students, and researchers interested in children, publishing, and literacy in the 19th century. Navigating the website requires patience, but it is worth the journey. First created in 1999, the website has grown without a cohesive structure or search engine. All materials are included on the three comprehensive lists: title, subject, or date. Clicking on an item from the index sometimes leads you to the top of a browse page where you must search for a link to the item. Other times, you move directly to the location on the browse page that links to the item. Occasionally you move directly to the item itself.

This website provides important primary sources and ideas for studying the history of children, a topic that young people often find fascinating. This rich, if slightly quirky website, allows for deeper examination of the reading materials that shaped children's lives and the voices of children as they read, wrote, and grew.

Reviewed by Kelly Schrum, George Mason University

How to Cite This Source

"19th-century American Children and What They Read," in in World History Commons, [accessed December 1, 2021]
Thumbnail of a older photograph depicting a girl sucking her thumb
“19th-century American Children and What They Read is a website born of a passion for exactly that—material written for children, and occasionally by children, in the 19th century.”