Last week I made an exciting find. No it wasn’t the Lost Colony, but it was a great artifact. While rummaging through the storage area I found the 1899 circulation records for the Wilson School Library. The over-sized ledger book lists 288 students and their check-out history for 1899 and part of 1900. This ledger is of course a great genealogical record but also an invaluable window into the reading habits of small town, white children of the American South at the end of the Victorian era. Of course the children could only choose books from the school’s collection, of which I have no idea how large it was, but each title that is checked out is listed next to the child’s name.
Gender roles during this period were much more defined and reinforced than today (Women’s gender roles may have become more fluid during the Civil War, but they gradually went back to the Victorian default afterwards. ). Given this you would assume that boys check out books about history (war), the outdoors and adventure and the girls check out books about homemaking, family and girl’s adventures. Let’s analyze two of the scamps: May Lovelace and Jack Ellis and figure out what books they were reading.
Small Boys and Co. -not sure what this is.
Elsie Dinsmore-a Christian themed book series set on plantations in Virginia.
Elsie’s Girlhood (ditto)
Little Men -Sequel to Little Women, checked out twice.
Childhood Favorite Library (?)
Winter Amid the Ice -Adventure novel written by Jules Verne in 1855.
In Ole Virginia -Thomas Nelson Page’s book of idealized stories of antebellum life, checked out twice.
Queechy -a novel of orphans, servitude, Paris and unrequited love-sounds like a blast!)
Free Joe -The opposite of In Ole Virginia. This book was written by the compiler of the Uncle Remus tales, Joel Chandler Harris and is a surprisingly modernistic story of a free Black man that can’t find a place for himself in the small town in Georgia that he lives. The enslaved Africans Americans reject him out of jealousy of his freedom and the poor whites are intolerant of a potential competitor. For a book written by a Southerner of this period, it is quite a honest look into Antebellum society.
Our Bessie -a book about a sweet girl in England, you can read it on project Gutenburg.
Indian Larry Tate -not sure what this is or what the handwriting says.
Kidnapped (The classic adventure by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Elsie’s Holidays (another mirthful Elsie adventure.
Three Bright Girls (family stories set in England.
Satin Wood Box -Not sure what this is about but I believe that it is a mystery.
Red Rock (I’m at a loss on this one
Flag of Distress –A tale of the South Sea, adventure.
True to the Old Flag -One of the 99 historical novels that GA Henty wrote during his lifetime. This book was unique in that it was about the American Revolution from a Loyalist’s perspective.
Mamyat’s Tales -Not sure what this is, there is a Mamyat trail in Andorra.
Stone Creek Wreck –Subtitled a Modern Will o’ the Wisp. I believe that it is about a train wreck.
Red Rock -I wish that I knew what this was because May checked it out also.
The Young Marooners (on the Florida Coast)-Also called Robert and Harold. This book is about a family who sails out of Charleston, SC only to become stranded on the wild Florida Coast. A land of savage Timeshares!
Mosby’s War Reminiscences– This book about John Singleton Moseby, the Confederate cavalry leader, would have been eaten up by young Southern boys in this era of the Lost Cause. Confederate war leaders were looked upon as near demi-gods except for maybe Gens. Braxton Bragg and James Longstreet.
Doing His Best-Can’t find any information on this book. Self help?
John G. Paton– An autobiography of a Scottish missionary in the New Hebrides Islands, now called Vanuatu.
Young Scout- It may be a book about Young’s Scouts, an elite army group during the Philippine-American War. But the war started in 1899 so I am not sure if it would be to soon to have a book out.
Final Reckoning- A book about an young boy on the frontier of Australia, Christian themed.
From the Throttle to the President’s Chair- The life of a railway worker.
Boat Club-Also called The Boat Club or the Bunkers of Rippleton: A Tale for Boys
Jack Hazzard no 2: A series of Adventure novels
With Wolfe in Canada- An account of the English General James Wolfe’s victory over the French at the Battle of Quebec. According to Wikipedia the books by this author, GA Henty, are still very popular among Christian home schoolers, although every book is about war.
Facing Death- Not sure what this is, but it sounds like war.
In Freedom’s Cause- Robert Bruce and William Wallace fight the English. What could be better than that? A GA Henty novel.
Lion of the North (A Tale of the Times of Gustavus Adolphus)- This is another GA Henty novel and it chronicles the life of the Protestant champion of the Thirty Years War, King Gustav II. He did make Sweden a world power but I imagine that some would read it for the accounts of his victories over Catholic forces (the end of the 19th century very anti-Catholic due to the influx of Catholics to the US from Ireland), at least until he died in battle.
The Young Carthaginian- The fourth GA Henty novel. This one is about Hannibal, and of course, war.
Looking closely at the circulation records of these two students reveals the gender differences in book selections that I mentioned at the beginning. Jack does not stray from books that I have labeled as “boy” books. Six of them are about war and the rest are mainly adventures involving men. May’s selections are a little more diverse. Most of her books were family stories or girl’s adventures and unfortunately I could not discern a few of May’s books, but she does have some of what I would consider “boy” books, with those being Kidnapped and Winter Amid the Ice. Free Joe is also an interesting selection in that is more of a morality tale with a definite point of view on what the author thinks are societal failings in the Antebellum South. Also, many of the books that most of the children chose have Christian underpinnings. This is to be expected in a time that was still very affected by the several “Great Awakenings” of the nineteenth century. But these are just two students, so one of my colleagues (one who loves Excel much more than I do) is typing up all the students and their circulation records into a spreadsheet so that we can see what we can infer from the data. It would also be interesting to compare it to modern children’s circulation records (but I might would need a grant for that lol) I will post the data from 1899 soon.
Tyler Anbinder, Nativism and Slavery (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994)
Whites, LeeAnn, The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (University of Georgia Press, 2000)
Fogel, Robert William, The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism (University Of Chicago Press, 2000)