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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.
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 »
Question: What do the following five quotes have in common?
“‘Pep! That’s what we want and that’s what we’ll get,’ Mr Archer H. Brown, director of Pep Club told a STAR reporter today.”
“It was in the dull grey mist of the morning that the enemy planes droned towards Pearl Harbor, and it was on that morning that the most treacherous trick ever played became known to the world. Bombs fell. Bombs from enemy planes on our base of Pearl Harbor! Treachery! This one word alone filled the air as reports came over the radio to all parts of the United States. People alone in the streets shouted to one another about it. Mothers whose sons were at the base sobbed quietly, fearing death and disaster for beloved ones. We, the American people, finally saw the light and knew that now the whole world would be at war.”
“Oh, Mama! I’ve found out where they make horses. I came by a shop where a man was finishing one; he was just nailing on his last foot.”
“Urging the working of all creeds without intolerance of each other, Rabbi Colin, Dr. Boyd, and Father O’Connell spoke to assembly on Monday. Rabbi Colin’s vivid illustration of the joined fingers making a forceful fist against hatred drove home this idea.”
“I hope my column this week will help someone who may be wrestling with a problem that always comes to light about this time of year. Of course, I am referring to the choice of Christmas presents. . .Father can always use a cigarette lighter and a carton of cigarettes, toilet articles, clothes or jewelry.”
Answer: They are all quotes taken from high school newspapers. And while academic newspapers cover topics from the silly to the serious, they provide a unique opportunity to … read more »
Richmond’s Style Weekly published an engaging cover story about “Children of the Streets of Richmond, 1865-1920,” a book recently published by local writer, Harry Ward.
We’ll let the article do the talking, but suffice it to say, the book covers a lot of ground about an era of Richmond history that often makes the state capital sound like a wild west boom town: 5-6-7 year old newspaper boys, a rasher of neighborhood gangs, red light districts, and other sordid stories describe a city quite different from the one we know today. Which is no surprise given that many of the tales told took place over 100 years ago.
As it relates to Fit To Print, the author appears to make good use of newspapers to support his research into an array of court cases.
The Virginia Newspaper Project recommends the Style Weekly article as the images and text provide a glimpse of Richmond history now gone but not lost thanks to thousands of stories and reports found in our local newspapers.
The last of the Triple Crown’s three stakes races will be run at Belmont Park tomorrow. In the history of the Triple Crown, its winners number only eleven–will there be a twelfth added to this illustrious group of thoroughbreds on Saturday? If American Pharoah wins the Belmont Stakes, he’ll be the first to take the crown since 1978. As you’ll read below, it was not until War Admiral’s win in 1937 that the term “Triple Crown” was used to describe the “great turf stakes of the season.” Here’s a look back at the eleven horses who managed the exceptional feat as seen through the Richmond Times Dispatch:
Sir Barton, 1919
Gallant Fox, 1930
War Admiral, 1937
Count Fleet, 1943
Of historical anniversaries noted large and small, what follows is of the second type and left unremarked, if not here within this very blog. Last Friday was the one hundredth birthday of the first issue of the Princess Anne Times, not a delicate imprint of royal society from a tiny office tucked within Windsor Castle, but a record of life from the southeastern corner of Virginia.
33 of the 95 counties of Virginia possess a name of royal origin, but Princess Anne is no longer among them. The county disappeared from the map in 1963, closing a 272 year history when it was incorporated into the much larger independent city of Virginia Beach. The chance observation of the newspaper’s birthday suggested an additional incentive to announce its arrival a few weeks ago to Virginia Chronicle, The Library of Virginia’s digital newspaper archive managed by the Virginia Newspaper Project.
To the person who turns his back to the Atlantic and faces west from the Virginia Beach boardwalk and wonders, “How did this happen?”, the Times offers propitious clues. The current population of Virginia Beach stands near 450,000, making it the state’s most populous city. The reader of the Times in May of 1915 shared residency with about 438,000 fewer. Here’s the complete front page for that first issue (with a stage direction to the far left column).
They assigned themselves a mission and it was propelling this county forward … read more »
The Virginia Newspaper Project wishes mothers everywhere a very happy Mother’s Day.
The idea for a Mother’s Day was originally conceived by Anna Jarvis, after her own mother’s death in 1905. The work her beloved mother, Ann Jarvis of Grafton, West Virginia, had done as a peace activist, Civil War nurse, and Sunday school teacher inspired Anna to want to create a day honoring “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”
In May 1908, Senator Elmer Burkett, a Nebraska Republican, introduced a resolution to the Senate to establish a nationally recognized Mother’s Day. While many had already embraced the idea of signifying a day to honor mothers, creating an official holiday was met with resistance by some lawmakers.
By a vote of 33 to 14, the Senate referred the Burkett Resolution to a Judiciary Committee. The 9 May 1908 issue of the Alexandria Gazette reported on the proceedings of the committee and the resistance with which the resolution was met: “There are some things so sacred that they are belittled by such a movement,” said committee member Fulton, “If we are going into this thing, there should be a father’s day and a grandfather’s day and then bring in our cousins, our uncles, and our aunts.” Another committee member, Jacob Herold Gallinger, said he “never heard of this movement and he did not need to wear a flower to remind him of his mother.” Another senator called the idea “absurd” and “trifling.”
After years of persistent pressure by Jarvis to establish the holiday, West Virginia became the first state to officially celebrate Mother’s Day in 1910. By 1912, “every governor in the land [had] issued proclamations calling upon the people to spend one day. … read more »
The Virginia Newspaper Project is excited to announce several new additions to Virginia Chronicle, the Library of Virginia’s digital newspaper database.
First, thanks to a generous private donation, the Evening News of Roanoke from 1903-1913 is now available. Look for more Roanoke newspapers to be added to Virginia Chronicle in the coming months, including earlier editions of the Roanoke Evening News, 1915-1922 of the Roanoke World News, 1883-1901 of the Salem Times Register, 1900-1917 of the Salem Times Register and Sentinel and the Roanoke Times from 1899-1910.
Also available now on Virginia Chronicle, antebellum, Civil War and Reconstruction era newspapers from the Huntington Library in Huntington, California. Some of the Huntington additions enhance holdings already available, while others are entirely new:
Finally, the Princess Anne Times, a newspaper published from 1915-1918 out of what is now Virginia Beach, has also been added. . .but more on that coming soon. . .
To review, here’s a newspaper roll call of the five daily newspapers (there were also weekly papers – four of them religious) in Richmond in late March at the close of the Civil War: the Richmond Examiner, Enquirer, Whig, Sentinel and (leaving no doubt about its frequency) the Daily Dispatch.
They publish in the war years (the Sentinel beginning in 1863) despite a “decrease in advertising, the shortage of ink and paper, the strike of printers, the loss of skilled workman by conscription, and…a depreciation of the currency, causing prices to rise to unprecedented levels,” as Lester Cappon writes in his introduction to Virginia Newspapers 1835-1935, a ready reference at the Project.
There’s no work around or compromise with fire, however, and the destruction of much of the city center April 3 (a Monday) one hundred and fifty years ago – marked with much ceremony here in Richmond over the weekend – left only the Whig capable of printing a narrative of the chaos accompanying the city’s surrender. And only after the approval, announced in an editor’s note, of the occupying Federal commander.
Given our task as preservers of Virginia’s newspaper heritage, we’re also interested readers. This includes the present day 21st century descendent of the Daily Dispatch, The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Especially when they reproduce the past in such compelling fashion as they did in last Saturday’s edition.
Something on page 2 caught our eye:
What’s that again? April 1, the last issue of the Daily Dispatch? What then of the April 3rd issue we have in hand and read in preparation for the blog the Friday previous? Bear in mind, if you’re an archivist, this advances the tingling onset of mystery and intrigue. Already we brooded with some … read more »
On Monday, April 3, the city burns. The following day Lincoln walks the still smoking ruins and the capital faces occupation by the Federal Army. April 9, about 90 miles west, Lee surrenders his force. And on the 14th of the month, the President is assassinated.
But on March 30, the beguiling calm of routine jurisprudence prevails in city court. The Examiner reports:
Only four days later, as the planned warehouse fires move beyond anything resembling a plan, the “presiding” Mayor Mayo sits within a carriage heading east to the Union lines, a note of capitulation on his person.
Anarchy, a massive munitions explosion its overture, plays out in the daylight, a wretched, sour bacchanalia no court can address.
The Examiner office yields to the inferno and has a share of black space on the map above. The Daily Dispatch and the Enquirer were consumed too. The winds favored the Whig. It’s their map.
Tomorrow, March 21, 2015, the Library of Virginia is co-hosting what promises to be a fascinating two city symposium To Be Sold: The American Slave Trade from Virginia to New Orleans. Noted speakers will discuss the slave trade between Richmond and New Orleans–how it operated and its impact on families and communities. Unfortunately, all spots for the event have been taken, but don’t despair! The event will be streaming live and filmed by the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab for later viewing through the Library’s website.
Featuring distinguished scholars Maurie McInnis, Charles B. Dew, Alexandria Finley, Calvin Schermerhorn, and Phillip Troutman, the first half of the event, from 9 am to 12:45 pm, will be held at the Library of Virginia. The afternoon session will shift focus to the Crescent City, as Walter Johnson, Stephanie Jones-Rogers, Larry Powell and Adam Rothman will be telecast from the Williams Research Center in New Orleans. Attendees will have the opportunity to engage in discussions with panel members in both cities.
This highly anticipated event is in conjunction with the Library’s To Be Sold exhibit, which examines the slave trade in Richmond and the “second passage” or the forced passage of slaves from the Upper South to the Deep South. To tell the story, the exhibit relies on a wide variety of primary source materials from receipts and census records to slave inventories and newspapers—central to the exhibit, are oil paintings done by nineteenth century English artist Eyre Crowe, depicting slave markets in Richmond and Charleston, S.C. The collection of materials used in the exhibit, drawn from the Library and other institutions, powerfully conveys the devastation of slavery and the slave trade.
Because this is the Fit to Print blog, we’d like to mention newspapers and their part in telling the … read more »