June 2020


Volume 46, No. 2, June 2020

The June issue contains articles by Amber Roessner, Wendy Melillo, Ronald Rodgers, and Stephen Banning, as well as an essay on archival collections by Sandra Roff. Interested in reading these articles? Get information on subscribing here.

Article Abstracts

“The Voices of Public Opinion: Lingering Structures of Feeling about Women’s Suffrage in 1917 U.S. Newspaper Letters to the Editor,” L. Amber Roessner (Teaching Essay)
Answering continued calls for a cultural approach to the study of women’s history, this article explores what social historian Raymond Williams referred to as lingering traces of “structures of feeling” about women’s suffrage in letters published in the U.S. commercial periodical press. Through a discourse analysis of 225 letters to the editor published in five prominent U.S. newspapers, alongside other relevant primary and secondary sources, this study offers insight into the production of letters to the editor as an act of strategic communication by suffragists and anti-suffragists, the regulation of letters to the editor by news gatekeepers and agenda-setters, and the consumption of letters to the editor by newspaper readers in 1917, a pivotal year in the decades-long cultural struggle over women’s suffrage. This article contends that these contested editorial spaces were important strategic sites where the negotiation of common-sense logics that continue to inform our present-day discourse unfolded.

“Democracy’s Adventure Hero on a New Frontier: Bridging Language in the Ad Council’s Peace Corps Campaign, 1961–1970,” Wendy Melillo (Podcast)
Since its birth in 1942, the nonprofit Ad Council viewed its public service advertising campaigns as important propaganda weapons to fight communism. The 1961 Peace Corps program trained newly recruited volunteers to recognize communist propaganda tactics abroad and guard against them. Both institutions used direct language when discussing communism in their internal documents but made no mention of communism in the outward facing Peace Corps campaign press releases, fact sheets and advertisements. Instead, each used bridging language where the theme of promoting democracy abroad created a contextual meaning based on myths about heroes, frontier conquest, adventure, and renewal. The bridging language allowed the Peace Corps to use the ad campaign to recruit volunteers as adventure heroes promoting democratic values on new frontiers while artfully masking the true purpose of the program—to help the John F. Kennedy administration slow or halt the march of communism in the Third World.

“The Social Awakening and the News: A Progressive Era Movement’s Influence on Journalism and Journalists’ Conceptions of Their Roles,” Ronald Rodgers (Research Essay)
This study examines the relationship of the press to a general awakening of the social consciousness in American society popularly known as the “social awakening” during the last decade of the nineteenth century to the early 1920s. It explores how this “awakening” influenced notions about the mission of journalism and ideas about the profession as one of service and what effect the trope of the “awakening” had on journalistic content. To do so, this study explores the long conversation, commentary, and analysis about news ethics hinged to “the social awakening” as part of a moral argument about news and service to society that trumped the demands the market made on the mission of journalism. This study finds the progressive-leaning journalists, journalism educators, and other thought leaders of the time gave primacy—through the aegis of the “social awakening”—to the expanding responsibilities of news to society. It illuminates how the “awakening” constituted the ideal of journalists as agents in service to society and the newspaper as a public utility, leading to early soundings regarding the concept of “constructive journalism” and other service-oriented forms of journalism that still have resonance today.

“’Determined to Suppress Everything Like Free Speech’: Lincoln’s Private Letters Reveal Aggressive Use of Newspaper Censorship,” Stephen Banning
This research contrasts two times President Abraham Lincoln suppressed the American Civil War opposition press. Original letters from Lincoln and those involved in the suppressions shed light on Lincoln’s involvement. The findings suggest that Lincoln himself allowed press suppression to continue even when it would influence a local election. Contrary to some beliefs, it appears Lincoln did not soften his approach to press suppression during the latter part of the Civil War. The question “What did the President know and when did he know it?” has never been properly answered. This research examines the actual letters among suppression principals including President Lincoln to acquire a feeling for what was specifically being said, and not being said, at the time, specifically, Lincoln’s attitude toward free speech. At the time, some suggested Lincoln allowed speech to be suppressed, while others have claimed he did not. Many books have documented Lincoln’s public words on the subject, but Lincoln’s private letters are even more revealing in the case of press suppression.

ESSAY: “Brooklyn, New York’s Lost Publishing Past Revealed, 1806-1870,” Sandra Roff
Aspiring nineteenth-century authors sought outlets for their creative works, and publishing in periodicals was one option. Although the earliest American cities published the first periodicals in the country, Brooklyn, New York, with its close proximity to New York City and growing population, also contributed. Periodical research has revealed many of these nineteenth-century Brooklyn publications, but many have remained hidden in archives, libraries and in little read or consulted bibliographies and catalogs. With the advent of twenty-first century technology, discoveries of new additions to periodical literature are possible and continue.