"Dear Dot" Children's Letters
Designated children's pages became quite common in regional newspapers in the early 20th century, providing a range of stories, news items, illustrations, quizzes, poetry, and competitions, with occasional contributions from children themselves. Since 1886, however, pages written for and by children headed "Dot's Little Folk" had appeared in the weekly Otago Witness, under the editorship of William Fenwick (not to be confused with eminent older brother, George, who controlled the influential Otago Daily Times). Just over a decade later, in 1898, the popular New Zealand Farmer magazine, edited by Gerald Peacocke, developed a similar children's feature section entitled "Children's Post Office." Both Fenwick and Peacocke took a personal interest in the contributions of youthful correspondents and were successful in fostering a sense of club membership. "Dot's Little Folk" ("DLF") received badges, chose their own pseudonyms (but had to supply their full names and addresses), and frequently acknowledged each other at community functions. As with "Uncle Ned" of the "Children's Post Office" page in the Farmer, "Dot" would often print a short response at the end of a correspondent's letter. It was not commonly known at the time that Fenwick and Peacocke were the first "Dot" and "Uncle Ned" respectively. After the Otago Witness ceased publication in 1932, the Otago Daily Times carried on the "DLF" tradition until the end of that decade.
"DLF" contributors wrote in from all over the country, though the majority of correspondents came from farms and small settlements in the lower South Island. The "Children's Post Office" also had colony-wide input. Very few correspondents were Maori. The costs of paper and postage, shyness, and the challenges of writing in a second language may have been some of the reasons for the cultural imbalance.
Dear Dot,-My teacher took us all over to Glenorchy on the 11th to get us used to the children before the examination. I saw Soldier Boy, Soldier Boy's Mate, Mountain Lily, and Forget-Me-Not. It was very rough coming back in the launch, and I got soaking wet with the spray. Our examination has been put off. I am wearing glasses now. The steamer Ben Lomond began to whistle coming up the lake when the news of peace came through. Mum got the cowbell and I got the school bell, and we made a great noise with them. My brother Harry has a hen sitting on 12 eggs. Postman Henry and all the other D.F.L. will be able to come home now, won't they, Dot? We have two nice little bay foals named Peace and Victor. They were both born about the day peace was declared. Peace has a white star on her forehead and a white nose. Victor has a white star also, and a white hind foot. They are such dear wee things. We also have two little puppies. Their names at Tot and Vaux. They carry away anything they can get. The paradise ducks have wee ones out in our lagoon at present. We have a hen with one chicken out of 10 eggs. Christmas is not very far away now. I will close now. Love to Mother's Little Helper, Daddie's Right Hand, Shepherd Lad, Mother's Mate, Beverly, Mountain Maid, and Soldier Boy, not forgetting your own dear self.-Yours truly,
MOUNTAIN GENTIAN (Kinloch)
Dear Dot,- I hope you and all L.F. are free from this dreadful influenza. I received the badge that you sent me, and I hope I won't lose it like the other. The news of the armistice with Germany was very good, but owing to this terrible epidemic, we really cannot rejoice when many people are suffering and in distress. We have had some nice fine days lately, so I hope they will continue, as I think it helps to kill the influenza. Love to all the L.F., also yourself.- Yours truly,
Dear Dot,-I have read the D.L.F page every week for a long time, so I thought I would like to write too. I am 13 years old, and have left school. We have a pony to ride. This season has been a backward one, but the grass is nice and green now. Ocean Pearl, Golden Daffodil, and Tweedle-dee are my cousins. There are a good many men gone from here to the war. I am so glad that peace has been declared, and I think everyone is. Love to the D.L.F. and yourself.-Yours truly,
LILY OAK (Catlins)
(I am glad you have decided to write to the page, Lily Oak, and hope to hear from you again.-DOT.)
Dot's Little Folk. Otago Witness, November 27, 1918, 57. Annotated by Jeanine Graham.