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St. Nicholas in July

Author Rita Smith
Air Date 7/18/2000

St. Nicholas in July Transcript

As editor of the 19th century juvenile magazine, St. Nicholas, Mary Mapes Dodge wrote an essay outlining her editorial philosophy. Two ideas in particular standout in this essay. First is her assertion that an “ideal juvenile magazine must be natural and entertaining…and second, the magazine must be unabashedly didactic; that is, it must convey–albeit subtly–a definite system of ideals and values.”(1)

Two of those ideals are courage and truthfulness, and there is an entertaining story in the July 1900 issue of St. Nicholas which illuminates the rewards of possessing these virtues. The story takes place in Virginia during the Civil War. Eleanor is a little girl whose father has left to fight with the Confederate Army. She and her friends have never seen a Yankee soldier, and they have often wondered, somewhat fearfully, what they would be like.

Eleanor’s mother tells her that her father is a secessionist or a secesh.

“I’m a secesh, too,” Eleanor declares, “and I’d like to be a soldier like father.”

“A soldier must be brave and loyal to his colors,” her mother explains. “That means he must be true and always tell the truth, no matter what it costs.”

The Yankees arrive and set up camp on the outskirts of town. The children, including Eleanor, creep close to the camp to get a better look. One of the soldiers spots the group and invites them to come into the camp. Two of them immediately run away. He talks to the remaining four and asks whether they are rebels or Yankees. The children talk among themselves. “Maybe they will shoot us,” one little girl, named Eunice says, “unless we say we’re for the Yankees.”

“But that would be a lie,” exclaims Eleanor. “We’re not for the Yankees and you know it.”

“I’d rather be for the Yankees than be shot,” Eunice responds.

When he asks for an answer, one little girl says, “I-I’m for the Yankees, sir.” Another one says, “If you won’t shoot me, I’ll be a Yankee for a little while.” The fourth refuses to answer at all. Only Eleanor is left.

“And you, my little lady, whom are you for? The Yankees?”

“No, I’m a Secesh. I’ll live a Secesh, and I’ll die a Secesh. That’s what I am. Now, if you want to, take me and shoot me.”

The colonel was so impressed with her loyalty, courage, and honesty that he caught her in his arms, lifted her on to his shoulders and carried her into the town to a shop, where he bought her a gift.

The lessons of honesty and courage were not lost on the other children, and hopefully, not on the readers either. Just look!” one of the children exclaims, “That’s what she got for telling the truth. Just look! I don’t believe I’ll be afraid next time.”

(1) Kelly, R. Gordon. Children’s Periodicals of the United States, p. 379

Kelly, R. Gordon, Children’s Periodicals of the United States. Westport,Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1984. Watson, Annah Robinson, “Eleanor’s Colonel,” in St. Nicholas Magazine, New York: The Century Company,July, 1900. p. 826-27.

Posted in Literature