YOUTH’S COMPANION. Encyclopedia of American Journalism

Nathaniel Willis launched the Youth’s Companion (1827–
1929) on April 16, 1827 with Asa Rand in Boston to provide righteous stories that could not find space in Willis’
publication, the Boston Recorder. In the era of keeping
the Sabbath, Christians were expected to spend Sunday
contemplating the Lord, and the Youth’s Companion staff
hoped to save souls. The staff changed the title on August 9,
1834, to Youth’s Companion and Sabbath School Recorder
and on May 20, 1836, to the Youth’s Companion.
Although Willis tried to entertain while edifying, his
newspaper resembled Bible tracts. The Youth’s Companion
shifted from Puritanism to Victorian sentimentalism after
Daniel Ford became editor in 1857. For five years, Ford kept
Willis’ name on the masthead and ran didactic stories. But
after 1860, he featured adventure and humorous stories—
sometimes without a moral but never containing crime or
sex. He borrowed short items from other periodicals including French, German, and English magazines.
Ford, a devout Christian and astute businessman, sought
lively fiction and articles that upheld Victorian standards.
Ford and his partner, John Olmstead, parted ways when
Ford offered coupons to subscribers. Olmstead considered
such tactics bribery.
In 1872, Ford merged Merry’s Museum with the Youth’s
Companion. Theodore Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, William James, Willa Cather, O. Henry, Mark Twain, Bret
Harte, William Dean Howells, Winston Churchill, Lincoln Steffens, William Cullen Bryant, Thomas Huxley,
Jack London, John Quincy Adams, Francis Scott Key, and
Emily Dickinson contributed poetry, short stories, and
think pieces. By this time, while the original purpose of the
magazine continued to be apparent, its goal had also come
to include providing “wholesome entertainment for the
children of democracy” (Kelley 1974, 4). The circulation
of the monthly magazine also increased dramatically from
about 4,800 when Ford and Olmstead took control to about
480,000 by the mid-1890s. By then, many of the magazine’s
first young readers had introduced the Youth’s Companion
to their own children.
To protect his privacy, Ford published the paper as the
Perry Mason Company, which became Perry Mason and
Company, in 1900. Most modern readers recognize “Perry
Mason” as Earl Stanley Gardner’s flamboyant detective. As
a boy, Gardner enjoyed reading the Youth’s Companion.
Ford claimed that the Youth’s Companion staff, not Francis Bellamy alone, had written the Pledge of Allegiance and
felt the magazine deserved credit for originating the loyalty oath. In fact, the Companion’s new home, not far from
Boston’s Public Library, was a five-story, brownstone that
became known as the “Pledge of Allegiance” Building.
The World’s Fair edition of Youth Companion on May 4,
1893, made history twice—first for amassing 650,000 subscriptions and second in selling a single ad for more than
anyone had ever paid before; the lithograph of the winning
Paris Salon Painting of 1891, “The Awakening of Cupid,”
cost Mellin’s Foods $14,000.
After the Columbian Exposition, subscriptions returned
to normal levels. Circulation figures rose steadily from
1892 until 1907. Like the rest of his staff, Ford’s name never
appeared in the magazine until after he died in 1899. The
next two editors had worked as staff members for many
years. The first, Edward Stanwood, served until 1911 when
Charles M. Thompson took over. When Ellery Sedgwick,
who owned the Atlantic Monthly Company, bought Youth’s
Companion in 1925, it had 305,445 subscribers. He merged
it with the American Boy in 1929.
Further Reading
Baer, John W. The Pledge Of Allegiance: A Centennial History,
1892–1992. Annapolis, MD: Free State Press, Inc., 1992.
Gillian, Avery. Behold the Child: America’s Children and Their
Books 1621–1922. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1994.
Kelly, R. Gordon. Children’s Periodicals of the United States.
Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984.
——. Mother Was a Lady: Self and Society in Selected American
Children’s Periodicals, 1865–1890. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1974.
Meigs, Cornelia et al. A Critical History of Children’s Literature.
London: Macmillan Company, 1969.
Mott, Frank Luther, A History of American Magazines: 1850–
1865. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938.
——. A History of American Magazines: 1885–1905. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1957.
Peterson, Theodore, Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1964.
Tebbel, John, and Mary Ellen Zuckerman. The Magazine in
America: 1741–1990. New York: Oxford University Press,
Paulette D. Kilmer