First, thanks so much to Nancy for letting me be her guest today. Second, thanks to all the members of Write by the Rails who participated in the Endless Possibilities Blog Tour, it has been a great adventure! The Prairie Star – An 1850’s Anthology Women’s History Month has me thinking about women, yes, but mainly women writers. Those of you who know me or are familiar with my writing, know I like to illuminate the stories of everyday people from the past, that so often have parallels with our own. When settlers went west they didn’t leave everything behind. They brought many cultural traditions to their new communities as a way to socialize with new neighbors and bring some feeling of civilization to newly formed towns.
Today I would like to introduce you to the ladies of the Kansas Philomathic Literary Society. This group, formed in Topeka, Kansas, held its first meeting during the winter of 1855-1856 in Union Hall. The first Saturday of the month was set aside for lectures, with the other Saturdays for discussion and literary readings. In 1857, the Society began producing a handwritten “journal” called the Prairie Star, which featured the poetry and prose of its members. All punctuation and spelling has been left as in the original documents.
The “mission statement” of the group is poetical as presented in the prospectus: We have christened our paper the Prairie Star, Seeking a name synonymous with our far Western and beautiful land, and from these broad and fair Prairies we will endeavor to send forth Such Sentiments as will serve a beacon light to those around us, pointing them to all that is Noble, fair, and truthful.
In the January 24, 1857 inaugural issue, Maria Martin, the journal’s editor, opened with reflections on settlers’ perspectives as they huddled inside for the winter: “With the early days of the bright New Year, while the cold searching winds Come sweeping o’er these broad prairies, entering every creek and crevice of our Kansas Homes, We circle round our quiet firesides, each busy with his or her own thoughts, thankful for the measure of peace which now is ours after the distracting Scenes of the past year- The man of business as he rests from his daily toil, thinks of his prospects, how much the receipts of his last years labors were. How he will provide and act for the future. The Mother thinks of the home She has left, of the valuable Schools, the many advantages which formerly surrounded her youthful family and earnest hopes that the Same may ere long Surround her and hers, in this there far Western Home. The young wife with busy thoughts intent, building up in her imagination her little home with all of Nature and Arts adornments . . . but bright dreams for the future occupy her every thought. And the young man, and blooming maiden full of gaity and mirth, and bright anticipations, Transplant to there new homes, Some of the Scenes and enjoyments of former homes. First, and most valued among we consider out ‘Literary Society’….”
Certainly, our writing groups today are different from the Philomathic Society in many ways. But think about why your own writing group came together – camaraderie, a shared interest in writing, and perhaps educating each other and the community. Consider the Prairie Star as the Society’s anthology, with its goal to enlighten their neighbors. Unlike many anthologies today, printed on Create Space or other electronic means, each Prairie Star issue, and each copy of each issue, was handwritten. What an undertaking and what an accomplishment. The editor expressed the group’s desire to produce a quality journal. Although, the group was primarily ladies, they did not discriminate in accepting submissions as the editor points out: “…Our lady friends we hope will rally around aiding us with there contributions of Poetry and Prose, and not only from the ladies but we trust our male friends will lend us the cheering smile, and kindly word, and think it a priviledge to occasionally Send us a few thoughts by the more practicable pens for our mutual benefit and of wit and humour a share to enliven our pages and amuse our hearers….”
So now, near the close of Women’s History Month, let us raise our pens to the ladies of the Kansas Philomathic Literary Society.
Writer and artist Linda S. Johnston enjoys combining history, art, and nature in her writing. She began reading pioneer diaries in 1986 and never stopped. Her first book Hope Amid Hardship: Pioneer Voices from Kansas Territory, is a collection of pioneer writings about the happy side of life in early Kansas and includes watercolor sketches throughout. To learn more about Linda and her writing, please visit http://www.lindasjohnston.com