When something – anything – to read was a blessing

Ladies Home Journal April 1910, The Stage and its People

This report on “The Stage and its People” from the April 1910 Ladies’ Home Journal is something you or I would find eye-glazingly dull. (Take it from me; I tried to read it.) But if you were a housewife living in a remote place like Queensborough in April 1910, I bet you would have found it a very welcome escape from day-to-day life, and would have read every word.

I did a post the other day about the interesting stuff I’d found in leafing through three very old (1910, 1920 and 1924) magazines that a Queensborough friend and neighbour had found in his attic and kindly shared with me. As those of you who read that post will know, I was kind of making fun of a lot of this vintage material. The ads truly were priceless, focusing as they did on bunion cures, the merits of lead-based paint, and the ease of use of a huge ironing contraption that looked like it might eat a housewife alive.

But even while I was (gently, I hope) poking fun at this vintage printed material, I couldn’t get one more serious thought out of the back of my mind. It was this: how precious those three periodicals would have been to Anna Leveridge.

Who was Anna Leveridge?

To answer that, I’ll direct you to a post I did in June 2012. It was a report on a remarkable book I had just finished reading (having been steered toward it by a Queensborough-area friend and fellow history buff) called Your Loving Anna. The book is a collection of letters home to family in England by Anna Leveridge, who came to the wild and unforgiving Country North of Belleville (to quote the title of Al Purdy’s brilliant poem) as a settler in the early 1880s. The letters recount the hardships – but also, it must be noted, the joys – of her large family’s struggles to make a farm and a living in the northern part of Hastings County.

(Your Loving Anna had long been out of print, and still was when I wrote that post last year. Since then, however, it has been republished, and is available at [among other places, I imagine], the wonderful Old Hastings Mercantile in Ormsby, which is not far from where Anna and her family homesteaded.)

One of the things I was most struck by in Anna’s letters was the frequency of her pleas to her family to send reading material. She so desperately longed for news of the outside world and really, just anything printed that would relieve the tedium of the long, cold, hard days and nights. It is difficult for us, supplied as we are with televisions and radios and phones and computers that can provide us endless hours of connection with the outside world, to imagine what it would be like to be in a cabin in the isolated north woods with no nearby towns or even neighbours, no easy means to get to any towns – and little or no reading material.

Ladies' Home Journal April 1910, The Newest Crocheted Doilies

I don’t suppose too many of my readers would find this report on “the newest crocheted doilies” of much interest – but I bet readers in rural areas in 1910 sure would have.

So even while I looked through small-print articles like the one atop this post – “The Stage and its People,” from the April 1910 edition of the Ladies’ Home Journal; a less interesting report on current happenings and trends in the entertainment business you are unlikely ever to find – I was thinking about how Anna and women like her would have read, and re-read, every word of that small-print article. And every other article in the magazine. Of what a precious gift the three periodicals that my neighbour shared with me would have been to her, and what brightness they would have brought to her days and nights.

Here I am, in a tiny hamlet in a somewhat remote and very rural area of Ontario, and I am connected to all of you and the entire world right now thanks to the miracle of this laptop I’m typing on and the internet. And I have a telephone and DVDs and hundreds of books right here in my house. I would never have an excuse to be bored, or to feel cut off from the world. We take all of this for granted, don’t we? Just think what Anna would say if she could see what our rural life is like compared to what hers was – not very many miles up the road from Queensborough, but in many ways light years away.

It is a reminder, I think, to be thankful for all that we have. Most especially for easy connection to the farthest reaches of the world around us.

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