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The Archer Collection: Child Culture Reflected In Children's Literature

Folklore, music and poetry

Folklore, music and poetry illustrate the character of culture in an enduring way by interweaving work, daily life, patriotism, and culture. Nursery rhymes were verses or chants, sung by adults to small children. In the United States rhymes and jingles from various origins were grouped together as Mother Goose nursery rhymes. Games, rhymes and chants played spontaneously by groups of children in playgrounds, streets, or other places where they were not supervised by adults were passed on from one generation to the next with variations and innovations. Poetry has been used as a means of teaching and entertaining children for centuries.

Cover from Games and Songs of American Children collected and compared by William Wells Newell. [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1883] Newell was a folklorist who studied games and songs within the context of society.

Moral education and Sunday School literature

Children had few literary options in the early nineteenth century, so publishers who distributed to Sunday schools began to fill the need for children's literature. Moral tales (didactic fiction), which were first written for children in the mid-eighteenth century, became the predominant genre of literature for children. In many communities, parish workers would distribute reward books, or tracts designed to teach virtuous conduct.

The Archer Collection abounds with examples of Sunday school literature and fiction that imparts moral education, including materials from the following publishers:

American Tract Society
American Sunday School Union
Carlton and Porter for the Sunday-School Union
Lane & Scott for the Sunday School Union of the Methodist Episcopal Church
Weekly lessons in serial form

This illustration comes from Simple Susan and other Tales by Maria Edgeworth and illustrated by Clara M. Burd [New York: Macmillan Company 1929]. Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849) has been described as "the first English classic writer for children." The story called "The purple jar" is an example of a moral tales at its best; it tells how a girl who chooses to purchase a beautiful purple jar over a much-needed pair of shoes.
This image is from Bibles Pictures for Our Little Ones (1902) a series of Sunday-School cards issued by a Midwestern publishing company.


Etiquette(conventional decorum), is the observance of proprieties of rank and occasion, and etiquette books were a natural evolution from moral and religious education. The Archer Collection has examples dating from The Young Gentleman and Lady's Monitor, and English teacher's assistant (1803) to works presenting proper conduct for today's children

Goops, the creation of the American author and illustrator Gelett Burgess, first appeared in the San Francisco literary magazine, The Lark, as a satire on intellectual attitudes. The rhyme called "Books" comes from Goops & How to Be Them: A Manual of Manners for Polite Infants, with 90 drawings [New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1900].

Ephemera, scraps and artifacts

The collection also is rich in children's artifacts, which do not appear in the on-line catalog (InvestiGator). Marguerite Archer collected paper objects, illustrations, scraps, paper dolls, calling cards, bookmarks, greeting cards, postcards and trading cards, items which complement the book collection. These non-book materials are interesting because they show how children utilized everyday objects to play and learn. The Archer Collection has manuscripts that were written or compiled by children such as scrapbooks, autograph books and memento albums (compilations of personal items such as locks of hair, correspondence, drawings, pressed flowers, etc.), along with writing samples, such as an indenture and a manuscript copy of song lyrics.

The Archer Collection has a diary written by Francis Rawn Shunk (1788-1848), who served as Governor of Pennsylvania (1845-1848). The diary describes his impressions of the Battle for Baltimore (1814).

This postcard was also an advertisement for an insurance company.
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