The Little Corporal
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The Little Corporal, published monthly from July 1865 to June 1875, was one of the first nationally popular American children's magazines. The Corporal got its start when Alfred L. Sewell, a Chicago publisher, was asked to raise money for the Northwestern Sanitary Fair. The event was organized by the U.S. Sanitary Commission and the proceeds were dedicated to healthcare and relief efforts for Union Troops. As Sewell explains in the December 1866 issue of the magazine, he did his part for the war effort by printing "album pictures" of Old Abe, the eagle mascot of Company C, Eighth Wisconsin, who flew with the company through 37 battles and skirmishes. He then formed "The Army of the American Eagle," offering enlistment to boys and girls who sold copies of the picture and promotion in ranking the more copies sold. According to his article, Sewell donated $16,308.93 to the Fair. Afterward, as he wrote in the July 1865 issue, he founded The Little Corporal: "Your precious letters, your sweet heart-words, and your earnest patriotism, seemed to breathe into my spirit a new life, and I said, 'O that I had some medium through which I might talk to my gallant children's army.' Then the good thought spoke to me again, and said, 'Here is The Little Corporal, send him as your aid-de-camp. Tell him what to say, and let him take besides a bundle of good things to refresh and amuse your little soldiers by the way.'"
Building on Sewell's military theme, The Little Corporal's cover featured a young man in a Zouave's uniform and Old Abe the eagle. Its purpose as stated on the cover of each issue was "Fighting against Wrong, and for the Good, the True and the Beautiful," and it billed itself as "An Original Magazine for Boys and Girls and for Older People who Have Young Hearts." Each issue contained fictional stories, poems, educational articles on scientific or historical topics, tidbits of wisdom for young readers in the form of short stories and essays, letters from readers, and occasionally songs.
Sewell published and edited the Corporal alone until May 1866, when Edward Eggleston, already a contributor to the magazine, became his partner. Eggleston produced a large portion of the magazine's content, hiding his monopoly with pseudonyms like "Private Queer." Eggleston left the Corporal in December 1867 to pursue other work, as Sewell paid him little. In July 1867, Sewell hired Emily Huntington Miller as an associate editor, and in 1870 her husband John E. Miller left his teaching career to help Sewell publish the magazine. In the February 1871 issue, Sewell placed an editorial explaining that he was leaving the magazine to "enter another business, in which a smaller money capital is required," but he felt that there was "no man or woman living [besides Emily Huntington Miller] into whose hands I could give it up with less sorrow, because I can feel so sure that under her care it cannot but continue its upward and onward course." The June 1871 issue was the last to bears his name. The Millers continued to print the magazine monthly until June 1875.
According to R. Gordon Kelly, Emily Huntington Miller used less military terminology and printed fewer adventure stories and non-fiction articles than her partner had, focusing instead on "domestic fiction:" stories "portraying family life and conventional moral values" (Children's Periodicals 281). After she became an editor, Miller, like Eggleston before her, provided much of the magazine's content. She contributed serialized stories, poems, and moralizing tales, some published under her own name, some published under pseudonyms like Olive Thorne. Beyond her own work, she relied on a small group of regular contributors to fill the pages of the Corporal: some of these were popular children's authors of the day such as Mary A. Denison, Sarah Woolsey (contributing to the Corporal under the pseudonym Susan Coolidge) and Harry Castlemon; other contributors included Lucia Chase Bell, Ellis Gray, Josephine Pollard, and Mary E.C. Wyeth.
In 1875, The Little Corporal was absorbed by the newer children's magazine St. Nicholas, which swallowed up several other similar publications in the same year. According to Herbert E. Fleming, historian of publishing in Chicago, The Little Corporal's downfall was economic: the magazine was published at a low price to make it accessible to children, but national advertising was not yet common and Sewell and Miller could only sell local advertisements for low prices. The Corporal also faced ever-increasing competition from a growing list of national children's magazines. Eventually, every copy of The Little Corporal was printed at a loss and the Millers were forced to sell. Emily Huntington Miller wrote in the June 1875 issue of St. Nicholas, "After ten years of faithful service, the 'Corporal' has been put upon the retired list. We have had a long, brave march together, and it is hard parting company. You will miss your leader, and we shall miss the words of courage and devotion that came from the gallant army, East and West, North and South. But remember, none of you are mustered out of service. Your new leader, St. Nicholas, enrolls his soldiers by the same pledge under which you first enlisted—'For the Good, the True, and the Beautiful'—and the 'Corporal' feels safe and satisfied in leave you to his guidance."
The library holds issues of The Little Corporal dating from November 1870 to January 1874. Volumes of the magazine contain six monthly issues (January-June and July-December). The library's collection is continuous between these dates, except that it inexplicably lacks the January and March 1873 issues. No November 1871 issue was printed as the Corporal's offices were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of October, 1871.
The issues from 1870 to June 1871 are printed by Alfred L. Sewell and John E. Miller and edited by Sewell and Emily Huntington Miller. Beginning in July 1871 the issues are printed by John E. Miller alone with Emily Huntington Miller as sole editor (see historical notes above). All issues held by the library are examples of the second format of The Little Corporal: Emily Huntington Miller was instrumental in the conversion of the magazine from octavo to quarto with larger print and more illustrations in 1869.
Each issue contains stories, poems, non-fiction articles, and an editorial section at the back. Behind the editorial in each issue is a section for letters to the editor called "Prudy's Pocket:" readers write to "Prudy" to introduce themselves or share a story and ask her to put their letters in her "pocket" for safekeeping. Following "Prudy's Pocket" is "Private Queer's Knapsack," a page of games and puzzles. Included in "Private Queer's Knapsack" each month is the "Picture Story," a series of illustrations without a printed story line so readers can create their own. Prudy is a persona created by Emily Huntington Miller and illustrated as a young woman at a writing desk; in addition to presiding over readers' letters to the magazine, she is named as the author of moralizing stories that appear in the Corporal, such as "How Tommy Went to the Circus" (XII-1, p.14-16). Private Queer was originally a penname of editor Edward Eggleston, though the feature continued after he left the magazine. It was renamed "Work and Play, Conducted by Private Queer" in the May 1872 issue after The Little Corporal absorbed a small children's magazine called Work and Play. The Little Corporal often ran serialized stories for one volume or for a whole year, especially after Emily Huntington Miller assumed the editorship. Miller herself was the author of many of these stories, such as "Summer Days at Kirkwood" (July 1871-May 1872) and "Uncle Dick's Legacy" (November 1872-July 1873). The Little Corporal also held a story competition in 1871 with a prize of $500: Helen C. Weeks won the competition with her story "Dora," which appeared in monthly installments throughout 1872.
Most of the poems in the magazine are less than a page long. Common themes include: Christian imagery or a Christian moral, e.g. "Eva's Prayer" by Mary B.C. Slade (February 1871) or "Anor's Prayer" by Ellen Porter Champion (August 1871); themes from childhood, e.g. "Baby Courtship" by E.T.R. Going or "When You Were a Little Girl" by A.H. Poe; and the seasons, e.g. "April Showers" by L.M. Blinn (April 1873) or "When it is Summer" by Edgar Fawcett (July 1872). Poetic features include a poem for each month of 1871 by Laura D. Nichols and poems for the Christmas holidays every December.
Non-fiction articles take many forms. Some are written as letters from far-away lands, such as "My Ride with the Prince" by "Uncle Bill" (January 1871) or "Nelly Thurlow's Letter from Switzerland" (August-September 1872). Some are essays intended to teach children how to behave morally, such as "Quick Temper" by Patience Waite (December 1870). Others are stories about true events intended to amuse and instruct, such as "A Ride on a Cow-Catcher" by Mrs. Mattie L. Holden (December 1870). Many of the non-fiction articles are essays on the natural world written in a light didactic style. Birds are a special favorite topic of these essays: Mrs. Parizade V. Hathaway contributes a column called "Birds and Their Ways," which appears in several issues from 1872, and "H.M.M." often writes about birds and other animals in illustrated articles with clever titles like "The Bird with a Pickaxe" (July 1872) and "The First Sewing Machine" (September 1872). Beyond teaching children about the natural world, the Corporal encourages children to pursue artistic interests with narratives such as "John Flaxman, The Boy Designer" by Mary B. Willard (March 1872), essays such as "Art and Industry," contributed by Horace Greeley (December 1871), and instructional series such as "Art Amusements," eleven illustrated lessons on making wax flowers (January-December 1871). The Corporal also instructs its readers about foreign cultures and peoples in articles such as "The Chinese New Year" and other articles by Mrs. Fanny R. Feudge (January 1871), "Ning Chu" by Rev. J.D. Strong (April 1872), and "Chat about the Red Man" by Mrs. Mattie L. Holden (January 1871). The authors of these cultural articles often adopt a condescending tone.
Of particular interest among scientific articles is "Aunt Silva's Lesson in Geography," by Mrs. Geo. M. Kellogg (September 1872). The article aims to teach readers that the world is round instead of flat, but the scientific teaching is packed inside a narrative, a not uncommon technique in the Corporal. Aunt Silva is the black nanny of a young white girl, who learns on her first day of school that the world is not flat. She rushes home to tell Aunt Silva and the two begin a vehement argument, with Aunt Silva taking the position that the world is as flat as a griddle cake. Aunt Silva's speech is written in exaggerated dialect. At the end of the story, Aunt Silva agrees that her charge is right and the two make up, but her final line reads, "Dat's what comes uv ignunt niggers talkin' 'bout white folks' consarns."
Many of the features of The Little Corporal are illustrated, including the front cover. A few stories and poems in each issue are illustrated, and many of the non-fiction articles describing wildlife are accompanied by illustrations as well. Each issue also bears an illustrated frontispiece. Often the frontispiece illustrates a story or poem in the issue, in which case the text of that feature refers the reader to the frontispiece, e.g. "The Rivals" by Gerald North (February 1872). In a few issues, the frontispiece stands alone; frontispieces unrelated to articles grow more common in later issues (e.g. Vol. XVII). In the August 1871 issue Emily Huntington Miller includes an editorial entitled "Engravings on Wood" explaining how engravings are made for the magazine.
The editors of the Corporal give additional wisdom to children in the editorial section of the magazine. Editorials written by Sewell and Miller together contain both information about the magazine (prices, notes to contributors, etc) and little stories or discussions of moral topics. Editorials written by Miller alone tend toward scientific and moral teaching, e.g. "Compositions.--Didn't-Think.--A Pretty Experiment.--More About Birds" (May 1873). Miller changed the format of her editorials in December 1873, renaming the section "Eyes and Ears" after publishing several issues without editorials in late 1873. In December 1873, for example, "Eyes and Ears" contains nine short paragraphs on topics ranging from birds eaten as delicacies in Italy to how salt is produced.
Each issue of The Little Corporal has advertisements on the inside of the front cover and on both sides of the back cover, and a few pages of advertisements in the back. The publishers advertise for publications related to The Little Corporal in the "Publishers' Department," the last numbered pages of each issue. Behind that are several pages called "The Little Corporal Advertiser," alternating between ads for Sewell and Miller's other publications and a wide variety of paid advertisements. For example, the "The Little Corporal Advertiser" in the November 1870 issue also advertises for Sewell's The Sunday School Workman, Pocket Scripture Atlas, and The Little Corporal's School Festival , in addition to seeking agents to sell "White's Patent Newspaper Files" for the publisher.
Many of the advertisements are for material to be used by Sunday School teachers. For example, the February 1872 issue has advertisements inside the front cover reading, "Sunday-School Papers. Very Cheap and Splendidly Illustrated!" and "Canvassers Wanted! –for– The Christian at Work, Semi-Monthly; Good Words, Monthly…" both placed by H.W. Adams of New York. The February 1872 issue also illustrates nicely the variety of other ads to be found in the Corporal. The front of the ad page at the back of the issue advertises The Little Corporal and other publications of John E. Miller. The back of the ad page has ads reading "The Manhattan Silent Family Sewing Machine. Agents Wanted in Every County in the United States!"; "Giles, Bro. & Co., 384 Wabash Ave., Chicago, Manufacturers and Dealers in Watches, Jewelry, Silver-Plated Ware…"; "Game of Numbers by E.D. Wright and Co., Springfield, VT"; "Chicago Pulpit… In itself a library of Christian knowledge and instruction…"; "Kidder's Pastilles, A sure relief for Asthma. Stowell & Co., Charlestown, Mass."; "Printing Presses, Havens and Co., West Meriden, Conn."; "Watch Free to Agents to sell Holiday Goods. Address, at once, Latta & Co., Pittsburgh, Pa."; "Cheap Farms! Free Homes! On the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad…"; "The Ladies' College of Evanston"; "Plant's Farmers' and Gardeners' Almanac for 1872. Address L.G. Pratt & Co., St. Louis, Mo." and "From Forced Sales. Ladies' Solid Gold Hunting-Case Watches… Ladies' Frosted Watches, Ladies' Enameled Watches… F.J. Nash, 712 Broadway, New York."
Of special interest is content related to the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871. The Little Corporal's offices were burned, leading the Millers to discuss the fire and its effects in subsequent issues. The December 1871 issue features a frontispiece donated to the magazine by Thomas Nast: the corporal raises the a sword in one hand and an American flag in the other amid smoking rubble with the caption, "The Little Corporal will like 'Phoenix rise from its ashes to immortality,' and continue to fight for the good, the true and the beautiful." The editorial section of the issue tells "More About the Fire" and advertises for a new publication by Sewell "containing a great variety of incidents of the late fire" which was eventually titled Scenes, Incidents and Lessons of the Great Chicago Fire. "Prudy's Pocket" holds letters from readers asking about the fire and sending their subscription money in advance to aid The Little Corporal's recovery, and the publisher's notes from the issue proclaim that the Corporal is "Routed by Not Conquered" and asks children to renew in advance (191). Several issues from 1872 also handle the fire, such as "A Picture Story of the Chicago Fire" (January 1872), the editorial "Relics of the Fire" (March 1872), "The Year After the Fire," and update by J.B.T. Marsh (November 1872).
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Ellen Williams
- Finding Aid Date
- 2012 June 6
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources' "Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives" Project.