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A History of the Fairfax Herald

By Anne McCrery, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

Founded in 1882 by Captain Stephen Roszel Donohoe, the Democratically-affiliated Fairfax Herald was published weekly in Fairfax, Virginia, where it served as the area’s dominant newspaper for many years. Fairfax, located near Washington D.C., underwent significant industrialization and population growth throughout the twentieth century, with the city’s population reaching 21,970 and the county’s reaching 455,021 by 1970, around the end of the Fairfax Herald’s run. In 1880, however, just prior to the Herald’s founding, the town of Fairfax had only a population of 376, while the county had a population of 16,025. The community was largely agricultural, producing “corn, wheat, oats, butter, hay; livestock,” according to the 1890 Ayer and Son’s American Newspaper Annual.

It was in this small farming community that S. R. Donohoe founded the Fairfax Herald, bringing the town its first printing press, advertisements for which stated: “Equipped with Type Setting Machine and Steam Press. All kinds of job printing. Splendid advertising medium.” The Fairfax Herald was four pages long and 20 inches by 26 inches in size originally. It had a circulation of 1,225 in 1904, 900 in 1911, and 1,000 in 1920.

FH 1886Born February 1, 1851 in Loudoun County, Donohoe was successful in multiple ventures of public service, in addition to his prolific career in newspapers. He served in the Spanish-American War as a lieutenant with the Fairfax company. He then served as Treasurer of Fairfax County between 1889 and 1891; state senator for two terms, beginning in 1900; Auditor of Public Accounts of Virginia from 1910-1912; a member of the State Tax Commission in 1914, and Federal Prohibition Director of the State, beginning in 1919. Moreover, he is listed as a director at the National Bank of Fairfax in advertisements appearing for the … read more »

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Seeing the light of capitalism–Virginia Electric and Power Company ads in the McCarthy era.

By Anne McCrery, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

Emblematic of Cold War era America, these anti-socialist advertisements for the Virginia Electric and Power Company appear in issues of the Fairfax Herald from the 1950s. These ads emblematically reflect America’s fears over the internal threat of communism, driven by McCarthy’s anti-communist efforts, such as the formation of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. One ad reflects the fears created by this political climate, urging people to “help your friends and neighbors see the danger.”

They also seek to assert American superiority, with one ad saying, “forbidden would be a frequently used word if you had the unhappy task of teaching young Russians…you couldn’t tell them that in America opportunity is unlimited…”

In many respects, an electric company advertisement seems a strange place for fear-mongering propaganda; however, during this time technologies that served to make life more convenient and comfortable were lauded as symbols of capitalism’s success and America’s superiority. This would later become epitomized in the 1959 “Kitchen Debate” between Richard Nixon and Nikita Krushchev, wherein Nixon presented a model American kitchen, adorned with modern appliances, and argued that the conveniences it offered were evidence of capitalism’s superiority over communism.

April 25, 1952.

April 25, 1952.

September 7, 1951.

September 7, 1951.

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Reading between the lines: the Comstock Act and ads for the treatment of “female complaints” from the Fairfax Herald.

By Anne McCrery, Virginia Newspaper Project Intern

If you read a newspaper from the late 19th century, you’re liable to be bombarded by various medical advertisements—treatments for catarrh, scrofula, and “watery-blood;” cure-alls like sarsaparilla and cod liver oil (described in an ad found in the Fairfax Herald as “palatable as milk”); and vegetable compounds that passionately avow efficacy in curing cancer.

Cancer

“Mason’s Vegetable Cancer Cure is the greatest triumph of the age.” From the Fairfax Herald.

Amongst these medical advertisements appear a multitude of supplements for treating “female complaints.” On first glance, these treatments appear to be simply another amusing example of 19th century medical quackery; however, these were not just any pills—these were abortifacients.

Abortion was a relatively common method of limiting family size in the 19th century, an era lacking in other forms of birth control; however, women did not truly consider themselves to be pregnant prior to the “quickening” of the fetus, the point in which she could feel the fetus move, usually around the fourth month of gestation. Abortifacients, therefore, were taken to relieve “obstructed menses.” Traditionally abortions were induced by ingesting home-remedies prepared with toxic herbs, such as pennyroyal, to induce miscarriage. By the mid-19th century abortifacients were widely available commercially, appearing frequently in newspaper advertisements which described the products in vague and euphemistic terms.

Despite the commonality of abortifacients in the 19th century, the emergence of anti-abortion campaigns in the mid-19th century ultimately led to the prohibition of abortion that lasted until the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. Moreover, the Comstock Act of 1873 banned the circulation of abortifacients and information about them, including advertisements, as they were deemed “obscene.”

Despite the restrictions placed on abortifacients in the late 19th century, advertisements for them continued to … read more »

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