Dodge was adamant that the magazine should not be “a milk-and-water variety of the periodicals for adults. In fact, it needs to be stronger, truer, bolder, more uncompromising than the other… Most children attend school. Their heads are strained and taxed with the day’s lessons. They do not want to be bothered or amused, nor petted. They just want to have their own way over their own magazine.”
|Mary Mapes Dodge
When the first issue debuted in November of 1873, Dodge explained why she chose the name St. Nicholas.
Is he not the boys' and girls' own Saint, the especial friend of young Americans?... And what is more, isn't he the kindest, best, and jolliest old dear that ever was known?... He has attended so many heart-warmings in his long, long day that he glows without knowing it, and, coming as he does, at a holy time, casts a light upon the children's faces that lasts from year to year.... Never to dim this light, young friends, by word or token, to make it even brighter, when we can, in good, pleasant helpful ways, and to clear away clouds that sometimes shut it out, is our aim and prayer.
The magazine had a section entitled, “For Very Little Folks” with easy to read stories in large type. It also had puzzles, math and word games, stories, and even a feature for older children to contribute their own writing. Because Dodge knew many other writers, she tapped them for contributions to St. Nicholas. Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel Little Lord Fauntleroy first appeared as a serial in 1885. Burnett also contributed a novella, Sara Crewe. Louisa May Alcott, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain also sent contributions to the magazine. The illustrations were of good quality, often in brilliant colors.
In 1881, upon the death of her oldest son, Dodge abdicated most of her editing duties to William Fayal Clarke, but she continued to work for St. Nicholas until her death in 1905.
The magazine changed hands several times until its demise in 1943. St. Nicholas magazine can be found on online auction sites and sites that sell old publications and books or on the Gutenberg Project site. The periodical offers a fascinating look at one of the ways children could amuse themselves, especially during the long winter months in the Old West.