History of Early Amateur Journalism in New York


Walker F. Ruttenber began publishing The Index from Newgburgh in 1871 at the age of fourteen. His “salutatory” essay in his first issue is well done and deserves reprinting in part:


“The newspaper is the medium for the exchange of thought among men. Through it they relate their experiences in agriculture, mechanics and commerce, and develop the intricacies of Science and Art. Men are but boys of larger growth, and that which is a necessity of their more mature years is equally a necessity during that period in which they are preparing themselves to become men. The world of boys, while it differs in degree, is no less a world of improvement in which experiences are related and instruction obtained. Yet boys can only talk with boys at their local play-ground. The man’s newpapers don’t talk to them, although they sometimes talk at them in language so learned that it leaves no impression. ‘Good Boys,’ is always their theme, as though they were never anything else themselves; never had their faces washed when they had rather be excused; never sent to the corner for speaking in company; never kissed by the girls when they were babies, or fled from their approach before they knew any better; never had their first boots, or their detested school teacher; never hacked cherry trees, or caught flies…. Thanks to the boy who, if he did not invent printing, sent out the first amateur newspaper. He deserves much at the hands of this generation of boys and of all future generations, for, even without knowing it, he opened the long closed intercourse between them, and gave to their world a star of first magnitude. And as each successor leaps into the field and commands the attention even for a brief period, a new link of friendship is found, and a new element added to the happiness of those hitherto sitting in the darkness of the Tribune and World.


“Such are the sentiments of ‘your humble servant,’ brother school-mates, and in appearing before you with my first speech…I beg to remind you that you ‘can scarce expect one of my age’ to be anything but a boy. As such, may I not ask you to make my little paper the channel through which you will communicate your experiences to your fellows? Write to me, for I am a boy with you, and we will talk together….”


Amateur Journalism flourished in New York State from early days, and its editors took a prominent part in the affairs of the National and Eastern Associations. On August 26, 1873, at Syracuse, a State association known as the Empire State A.P.A. was formed. L. N. Hershfield was President, W. A. Fiske, Vice-President, and Charles R. Sherlock, Treasurer. In May, 1874, it met in Bath, electing Fiske President and Gerrit S. Griswold, Vice-President. Meeting in Rochester in July, 1874, Fiske was re-elected and W. E. Leaning was chosen Secretary. January 2, 1875, it met in Utica, and H. K. Brown was chosen President, and the next July, at Cooperstown, Leaning was made President. Its next meeting was held July 19, 1876, at Syracuse, and H. N. Soule was elected President, but interest in the National Association, just formed, caused the State organization to languish. A meeting was held, however, in Watertown in July, 1877, and A. M. Knickerbocker was made President.


On November 30, 1878, a New York State A.P.A. was formed in Brooklyn, Charles H. Young being chosen President, W. F. Babcock Vice-President, and Will T. Scofield Official Editor. It met in Albany, May 30, 1879, and in Syracuse, November 4, choosing as its officers Charles J. Ficke, President; James J. O'Connell, Vice-President; Thomas H. Parsons, Official Editor. Its last meeting was in New York City, November 18, 1880.


In the meantime a Western New York A.P.A. had been formed on March 7, 1877, at Buffalo. Miss Delle E. Knapp called it to order, and Miss Libbie Adams and Miss Knapp were appointed to draft a constitution which was adopted. John B. Sewell, Jr., was chosen President, Miss Adams Vice-President, and Miss Knapp Official Editor. It developed little activity, but in May, 1884, at Buffalo it was re-organized, with Alfred B. Osgoodby as President. In August, at Rochester, Harry J. Heislein was chosen President, and the next January, meeting in Syracuse, Ernest A. Edkins was elected to that office. In the following July it was merged with the Empire State A.P.A., which had been revived in July, 1883, with Warren J. Brodie as President, and Louis Kilmarx Official Editor.


A meeting of the New Empire State was held in Albany in 1884, and in January, 1885, meeting in Syracuse, Emery S. Pugh was chosen President and Charles N. Andrews Editor. July 13, 1885, at Utica, the Western New York Association united with it, and Howard L. Pinckney was elected President. In Brooklyn, in December, a split in the Association occurred. One faction presided over by Brainerd P. Emery met at Newburgh, March 9, 1886, and changed its name to the New York State A.P.A. But in Brooklyn, on May 30, both Associations were dissolved, and a new organization formed called the Knickerbocker A.P.A., with J. Rosevelt Gleason as President, Harry E. Batsford Vice-President, and W. W. Carpenter, Editor. The Knickerbocker A.P.A. had a successful career for several years, meeting in Newburgh in July, 1886, with Howard L. Pinckney President and J. R. Gleason Editor, succeeding conventions and officers being as follows: January, 1887, Buffalo, Nathan N. Block, President, H. L. Pinckney, Editor; July, 1887, New York, Henry Wolffe, President, J. J. Ottinger, Editor; January, 1888, Albany, officers re-elected; July, 1888, Rochester, Bernard A. Connerly, President, W. J. Brodie, Editor; January, 1889, Binghampton, Edwin A. Goewey, President, Eugene F. Pugh, Editor. The Empire State A.P.A. was re-organized at Albany, May 30, 1891, Moses H. Grossman, President, and John J. Ottinger, Editor.


Local organization also began early. The amateurs of New York City in October, 1872, formed the New York A.P.A. Its first officers were: William N. Stewart, Webster Literary, President; I. Jaroslauski, Vice-President; Franklin Barrett, author, Secretary; C. B. Vaux, Medium, Treasurer; L. N. Hershfield, Editor of the official organ, the Thunderbolt. It met monthly at the homes of the members. In 1873, through amateur theatricals and in other ways it raised funds to send three of its members, Miller, Jaroslauski and Stewart, with William Howe Downes, to the Vienna Exposition. Many of the members retired to engage in professional work soon after this, and the Association ceased its activities.


It was revived on September 6, 1876, with John Hosey as President. Its meetings, often strenuous in character, were held in Pythagoras Hall, on Canal street, near the Bowery, now part of the approach to the Manhattan Bridge. During the National A.P.A. campaign the Association became involved in bitter partisan battles. Hosey was strongly opposed to Gerner for President. Finally Gerner’s friends, including Charles C. Heuman, Maurice Benjamin, Henry Kahrs and Charles K. A. Watkyns, withdrew and formed a rival organization called the Empire City A.P.A. Both Associations sent large delegations to Long Branch, but after the convention was over, both soon passed out of existence.


On June 14, 1878, a new organization was formed called the Metropolitan Amateur Press Club with Charles H. Young as President and Thomas W. Tressider, the poet, Editor. It did not live long, but on April 20, 1881, another association was organized called the Manhattan Amateur Journalists Club. Its officers were: Frank J. Martin, President; Charles J. Ficke, Vice-President; John F. Walsh, Jr., Secretary; James L. Feeney, Treasurer; William F. Buckley, Editor. In August another split occurred and the Metropolitan was revived, but its life was short. The Manhattan held meetings monthly until 1885, Louis Kempner, Joseph Dana Miller and Henry Jacobs serving as President besides Martin, who was given several terms.  Otto W. Henschel was active in New York in 1899.


An active amateur of this period was Isaac Blanchard, a New York boy printer, who later became a "roller boy," or "printer’s devil," in a large Canal street printing plant. That was his one and only connection throughout his life. In due course, the printer's boy went up the line until he found himself in entire ownership of the printing business he had served as a boy. The Blanchard Press, Inc., became justly famous for fine printing, and its President and chief owner won a deserved reputation as one of the most outstanding employing printers of New York. During Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, Mr. Blanchard was offered appointment as head of the United States Government Printing Office at Washington. He frankly told the President that he would have to decline the appointment because of the demands his own business made on his time and attention. The President then asked Mr. Blanchard to name the best man for the place, and he was understood to have received the appointment.


In 1901, during the campaign for National officers, rival local clubs sprang up, but were short lived. Maxwell H. Mayer was President of the Knickerbocker Amateur Press Club, and Anthony E. Wills, of the Metropolitan. In April, 1905, the Gotham Press Club was formed with Edwin B. Swift as President. C. Fred Crosby, Charles W. Heins, James F. Morton succeeded to the presidency. In 1922 it was revived with Rheinhart Kleiner as President, and E. Dorothy Houtain, Editor. In 1923 Edward S. Grace was President.


In Brooklyn a Church City A.P.A. was formed in 1875 with Edmund H. Graves President, but the next year most of the members joined the New York association. In 1908 the Brooklyn Amateur Journalists Club was formed, John W. Smith being its first President. In May, 1912, at its 38th meeting its name was changed to the Blue Pencil Club. It meets monthly at the homes of its members, and is still in active existence. It publishes an official organ called the Brooklynite.


Local clubs were formed at various times in Buffalo, Utica, Syracuse, Albany, Binghamton.


Following those amateurs whom we have called the Pioneers, one of the earliest of New York's editors was Amos R. Mereness, of Martinsburg, who, beginning in 1860, issued the Boys' Journal for several years. It had a large circulation. The next year Charles Scribner, afterwards the well-known publisher, began publishing Merry Moments, with his brother, in New York City; and Arthur B. Hoeber issued the Dew Drop, later called Our Story Teller. The next three years saw many amateur journals published in New York City. Among them were the Composing Stick, William F. Miller, editor; Union Park Gazette, started in 1870 by John V. Black, editor through the June, 1871, number when editorial duties were assumed by F. L. Brooks, leaving Mr. Black as publisher; Webster Literary, W. N. Stewart, editor; Cornucopia, William S. Hillyer, editor; Medium, C. B. Vaux, editor.


Ours was published by Arthur and Alice Thatcher of New York City beginning in 1870; it moved to Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts as of June, 1871. Punch and Judy, published in 1871, billed itself as “The Only Comic Amateur Published.” The editor is anonymously listed as “Lord Nozoo” but is believed to have been J. Fred Demarest; this journal was a beautifully printed four-pager. The Sentinel was published throughout 1870 and 1871 from Italy Hollow by E. M. Smith and C. A. Rounds. It is a double sheet of four columns, printing fiction, puzzles, and a good deal of advertising.


William H. Lewis (“Ivanhoe”) and George Allyn Beebe broght forth The Rosebud from Brooklyn in 1871. By the December, 1871, number, Mr. Beebe had withdrawn from the paper. In the November, 1871, issue there is a report from “the editors, proprietors and publishers of the Amateur Press of New York, Brooklyn and vicinity” in which it was resolved to “offer to each and every Amateur paper or magazine in Chicago, which was in any way damaged by the late fire, to fill out their subscription lists with any one of our papers free, for the period of three months; or, if their journals are so damaged as to necessitate the suspension of the same, we are ready to enter into negotiations with them to fill out the entire term of their subscription lists.” This was a very generous offer and a sensitive subject in an avocation in which most journals failed before fulfilling paid subscriptions.


The True Democrat began publication in 1870, claiming in the April, 1871, number to be the only amateur paper with “the right to have an opinion [on national politics] and the courage to fearlessly express it.” Strong words from the thirteen year old editor, F. B. Spriggs. This comment was part of a large discussion throughout the ‘Dom whether national politics has any place in amateur journalism. This is a well produced, large journal sponsored in part by ads from his attorney father’s office.


A little later, in 1874-8, amateur journalism in New York City was at its peak. Its papers were not only numerous but of excellent quality. In 1874 the first amateur paper to be issued as a daily made its appearance in the Williamsburg district of Brooklyn. The name of this paper was the Daily Amateur Press. Its publisher was Irving Judson Keyes, who did the editing, composition and presswork. This paper continued publishing for more than a year. Its principal literary feature was a "serial" story from the prolific pen of "Aleck E. Mahdlo," of Wilmington, N.C., whose pseudonym spelled backwards reveals the name of Edward A. Oldham. His serial story in the Keyes publication continued for some time and was "still going strong" when the Press was discontinued in 1875.


In 1875 John Hosey issued Defiance, and the next year with Joseph P. Clossey, published the famous paper, Our Free Lance. The Eclipse was issued by Charles H. Class. A little later came Our City Boys, Frank J. Martin, editor; the Budget, Henry G. Kahrs; Pierian, Alonzo P. Brown; Golden Days, John F. Walsh, Jr.; Manhattan Journal, F. W. Koch; Our Own Journal, Charles J. Ficke; Pilot, J. Rosevelt Gleason; Boys of Gotham, William W. Delaney; Empire City Journal, Charles K. A. Watkyns; Echo, Fred M. Cornell.


In Brooklyn one of the early publishers was William B. Henry, who for five years, beginning in 1873, issued a large paper called the Brooklyn Amateur. Charles E. Heuman published the Favorite, and Edmund H. Graves the Enterprise, while the Flag was issued by H. F. Wilson, and Will K. Graff published the Idler and later Our Graphic. Alexander Black began his journalistic career by publishing an illustrated amateur paper entitled the Young Idea. Brooklyn a little later saw the Excelsior, Charles H. Young, editor, and it was followed by a succession of papers and editors, among them the Enterprise, Gus Weinberg; Waverley, William F. Buckley; North Star, Duncan S. Wylie; Fire Fly and Phoenix, James J. O'Connell; Le Critique, Charles K. A. Watkyns; the Plaindealer, George W. Baildon; Our Choice, Harry E. Batsford.


Outside Greater New York, Buffalo has gained great prominence in amateur circles. In 1869 E. H. Hutchinson published the Young American, from that city, and the next year Deshler Welch, later Grover Cleveland's biographer, issued Great Expectations, an excellent paper. The same year E. M. Smith published the Sentinel from Italy Hollow, and in 1871 Newburgh had three papers, the Collector D. W. Jagger, editor; the Index, W. F. Ruttenber, editor; and the Laurel, published by the Milligan Brothers. Poughkeepsie had the Young Cadet, G. W. Willis, editor.


During the next few years amateur papers were numerous in the State. Among them were the Nut Shell, B. G. Parker, Gouverneur; Our Gem, Charles R. Sherlock and Will A. Fiske, Syracuse; Amateur Press, W. E. Leaning, Fly Greek; Charlie Crosby's Journal, North Salem; Boys' Argus, 0. M. Jefferds, East Randolph; Young Type, Frank E. White, Glens Falls. Small but very attractive papers were the, Little Critic, published by David H. Halsey in Newburgh, and the Empire Boy issued by Griswold and McWain from Batavia. In 1874 Miss Libbie Adams, one of the foremost of the early girl amateurs, began the publication of her paper the Youthful Enterprise in Carbondale, Pa.; however, later in 1876 she removed to Elmira, N.Y., and issued the same paper from there. Miss Adams, known as a gifted poet under the name of "Nettie Sparkle," not only edited her paper, but set the type herself. It was a large ten-page, thirty-column journal. And the same year, in Buffalo, another young lady, Miss Delle E. Knapp, started a paper called Queen City Enterprise. She also gained note as a poet as well as an editor. In 1876, also, W. F. Babcock, of Hoosic, issued a very large paper called the Centennial, and Frederick B. Hicks of Rochester sent forth the Sun. In 1878 Buffalo had three papers, the Amateur, edited by Charles G. Steele; the Tomahawk, issued by John Fischer, and Our Blade, Thomas H. Parsons, editor. Elsewhere were published the Press in Yonkers, William H. Rowe, editor; Boys' Mail Bag, Marvin E. Stow, Tray; Amateur Courier, R. W. Burnett, editor, Cuba; Boys' Reporter, Earl N. Blood, Attica; Boys' Review, Franklin W. Heath, Ithaca; Our Sanctum, W. T. Scofield, Philadelphia. The famous Boys' Herald was published in Batavia in 1878 by M. D. Mix and R. W. Onderdonk. In Genesco. Our Weekly, later the Empire State Amateur, was issued by Warren J. Brodie.


During the ten years following 1880 numerous journals were issued. The names and editors of many prominent papers of this period follow:


Boys of Gotham and Paragon, James F. Kavanagh, Brooklyn; the Capitol, William R. Nicholls, Albany; Mohawk Warrior, Schnectady, Coles V. Veeder; Spear and Cyclone, Louis P. Lang, Syracuse; Norm, M. F. Boechat, and Nulli Secundus, John J. Ottinaer, Buffalo; Argus and Orion, Eugene F. Pugh, Eastern Courant, Emery S. Pugh, and Criterion, Ernest A. Edkins, Utica; Sentinel and Athenia, Brainard P. Emery, and Highland Breezes, W. W. Carpenter, Newburgh; Forest City Spark, F. A. Partenheimer, Ithaca; Trojan Times, E. Q. Daly, Troy.


In Harlem, New York City, William C. Bambaugh published a very neat little paper called Marguerite, and elsewhere in the city were published the Nonpariel and Union Lance, Louis Kempner; American Eagle, Louis Kilmarx; Amateur Press, T. Ludlow Chrystie; Our American Youth, George J. Boehm; Meteor, J. J. Mack and Howard L. Pinckney; Sunflower, T. S. Pryor; Mistletoe, J. Parmly Paret. In Brooklyn papers and editors were the Diamond, A. J. Wagner and F. E. Williams; Quiver and Bijou Magazine, Charles N. Andrews. In 1891 in Brooklyn Charles Hanson Towne issued the Unique Monthly, type-written and illustrated by hand- drawn pictures.  Franklin C. Johnson was active in Boonville in 1894.


In more recent years, from 1900 to date, New York has seen Arrows by Charles W. Heins, the magazine Fiction issued in Brooklyn by Anthony E. and Louis C. Wills, and Hesperides, published in New York City by John L. Peltret. Later New York City sent forth the Rain Bow, edited by Miss Sonia H. Greene [later to marry Howard Philips Lovecraft], and the Courier by Miss Helene E. Hoffman, and the Brooklyn Zenith, issued by Georoe J. Houtain; Mount Vernon had the Girls’ Enterprise edited by Emma L. Hauck, while much later in New York City Edna Hyde McDonald issued Inspiration and Bellette, and in Brooklyn George W. Trainer published the Scribbler, Empire and the Sun.


A notable paper was Swift's Weekly, edited and published by Edwin B. Swift from 1905 to 1909 -- 208 consecutive issues.


In recent years one of the finest examples of typography and editing, has been the Scarlet Cockerel, by Ralph W. Babcock, Jr., of Great Neck.


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