Sunday, November 20, 2016
Abigail Goodrich Whittelsey:
Pioneering Magazine Editor
The Rev. Samuel Goodrich and his wife, Elizabeth Ely Goodrich, must have had a great love of letters. Their marriage produced two significant 19th Century writers and one of America’s first woman magazine editors.
And Abigail Goodrich Whittelsey’s magazines sometimes gave wonderful glimpses into the private life of the Ridgefield Congregational Church’s third minister.
Abigail Goodrich was born in 1788 on West Lane, just two years after her father came to Ridgefield. Mr. Goodrich served the First Congregational Church until 1811 when he moved to a congregation in Berlin, Conn., where he died in 1835.
Her brother, Charles Augustus Goodrich — who wrote a dozen books on history and on religion — was born two years later. Another brother, Samuel G. Goodrich — popularly known as Peter Parley, author of more than 100 books, mostly for children — was born six years later.
Abigail grew up in Ridgefield and undoubtedly through her father’s ministerial connections, met the Rev. Samuel Whittelsey, a Congregational minister in New Preston. They were married in 1808 and eventually moved to Canandaigua, N.Y., where her husband managed the Ontario Female Seminary, a private high school for girls, and where Abigail served as a matron. In 1828, the Whittelseys moved to Utica, N.Y., and founded their own girls seminary.
While there, she became involved in a networking group for mothers, called the Utica Maternal Association. In 1833, the group decided to publish a periodical, “Mother’s Magazine,” with Abigail Whittelsey as editor. The aim was to provide information on how to be a good mother — always with a religious slant. A year later, the Whittelseys moved themselves and her magazine to New York City, and by 1837, “Mother’s Magazine” had a circulation of 10,000 copies. It was even being reprinted and circulated in England.
Abigail’s husband died in 1842 and she began getting help with the magazine from the Rev. Darius Mead, a brother-in-law, who was an editor of “Christian Parlor Magazine.” In 1848, “Mother’s Magazine” merged with a rival, “Mother’s Journal and Family Visitant,” and Whittelsey soon opted to bow out of the operation after the new publisher decided to add pictures and more “popular” material to the magazine.
However, in 1850 she and her son, Henry Whittelsey, founded a new publication, “Mrs. Whittelsey’s Magazine for Mothers”; it lasted three years.
Whittelsey would use her own life as examples in articles she wrote in her magazines, and sometimes they would tell of growing up in Ridgefield. In an 1853 issue of “Mrs. Whittelsey’s Magazine for Mothers,” for instance, she related this story about her father, the Ridgefield minister:
“My parents had six children when the eldest was but eight years of age.
“I love to recall to mind my father’s sunny face, always beaming with love and good-will to one and all. How often have I seen him sit with the three youngest children on his lap at a time, with all the rest about him, telling us stories of his boyhood — about his early companions — his college feats — his skating and ball-playing — his fishing and hunting excursions — his catching a whole flock of pigeons in a net at a haul, and quails in snares made of horse-hair, and now and then a young fox or a young raccoon.
“He would often sit in his chair and pretend to be fast asleep and snore and snore away. One child would be hold of one hand, another of a foot, another of his eyelashes, another of a lock of his hair, and so on; and presently, he would spring forward and manage to catch us, one and all, and bring us all into a heap on the floor together.
“But when he said, seriously, ‘Children, it is time to stop,’ we all quickly found our seats, and were as whist [quiet] as mice; there was no more play; not a whimper of noise after that.
“We all knew too well, even the youngest child, that we made too great a sacrifice of our own comfort and gratification when we displeased our father. We would not afford, for trifles, to lose the sunshine of his face, or his delightful companionship.
“It was too great a punishment for any of us to see him look displeased.”
Late in life, Whittelsey moved Colchester, Conn., where she spent her final years. She died in 1858 at the age of 70 and is buried in Berlin, alongside her father and mother.
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