Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Committee Chair

Mattingly, Carol, 1945-

Author's Keywords

Literacy; History; Periodicals


Periodicals--United States; Periodicals--History; Literacy--United States--History


This dissertation examines popular periodicals in the late 19th- and early 20th-century America as pivotal artifacts in the history of literacy education. It first reviews current histories of literacy, writing instruction, and magazines at the turn of the century, and then concentrates on the formation, circulation, and function of agricultural journals and of two women's periodicals, Harper's Bazar and The Ladies' Home Journal, between 1880 and 1910. In analyzing this collection of periodicals, this dissertation outlines both how magazines provided audiences with explicit instruction in reading and writing practices, and how editors and readers constructed unique, contextually-specific, definitions of advanced literacy. Finally, this dissertation argues that periodicals not only illustrate a collection of literacy practices and pedagogies vital to expanding our understanding of how people have engaged questions of literacy in different historical contexts, but also that popular magazines offered readers identities to assume in their reading and writing experiences. Following the introduction which surveys the scholarship on literacy history and argues for the importance of magazines in this history, the dissertation is divided into four chapters. The first three chapters each examine Harper's Bazar, The Ladies' Home Journal, and the agricultural publications, respectively. Chapters Two and Three concentrate on how these two different, but influential, women's magazines deployed two separate conceptions of literacy, with Harper's Bazar framing ideal literacy practices as part of the communal learning present in women's clubs, and with Ladies' Home Journal urging its readers to see themselves as critical buyers and sellers in a literary marketplace. Next, Chapter Four examines how farm magazines articulated an imperative for farmers to contribute to the press in advancing agriculture as a profession and defined good writing as a forum for education. Finally, the conclusion integrates the previous discussions of both the women's and agricultural journals to demonstrate how all of these popular publications articulated literacy identities for their audiences that granted writers authority as mentors in their textual communities and emphasized the value of readers' contributions.