Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of blog posts regarding Virginia female newspaper editors by our Transforming the Future of Libraries and Archives Intern for 2023, Elena Cario. Elena is majoring in English at Christopher Newport University. She worked with the Library’s Virginia Newspaper Program during the summer of 2023. Keep an eye out for the next installments in the coming months.
In order to provide moral and religious training to children, in 1855 Mrs. E. P. Elam began editing the Family Christian Album, a monthly periodical dedicated to concerned mothers. Though the exact end date of her publication is unknown, Elam’s magazine ran from at least 1855 to early 1856, during which time thirteen issues were printed by Clemmitt & Fore in Richmond, Virginia. In introductory remarks to readers, Elam claimed that she was prepared to “Encourage the desponding, reprove the negligent, to urge the slothful to action, and I will endeavor to discharge it.” Her purpose with the Family Christian Album was to aid mothers in opening their children’s minds through religious instruction.
The Family Christian Album contained a multitude of poems, short stories, and anecdotes, all of which Elam used to emphasize her point that “a good education is a better safe-guard for liberty, than a standing army or severe laws.” For her first poem, Elam included a beautiful piece using the setting sun as a metaphor for death, entitled “The Death of the Righteous.” She included poems like this throughout her issues, either written by herself or sent in for publication by readers. Elam also published moral stories that were simple and short, like “A Relic,” and longer pieces that continued through multiple issues like one titled “Idolatry.” These poems and stories all had religious aspects to them, but Elam’s words had the ability to speak to anyone whose gaze landed on the pages.
The emphasis on literature, temperance, and education in the Family Christian Album was similar to a concurrent publication called the Kaleidoscope, also edited by a woman, Rebecca Hicks. In fact, each “editress” published a promotional piece about the other in their respective publications. “The Family Christian Album – Is the name of a new Magazine just published in Richmond, under the editorial management of Mrs. E. P. Elam. We wish success she so eminently deserves. Virginia literature is looking up, and we think Mrs. Elam will do much towards elevating the taste, and morals of her native State,” Hicks wrote in the Kaleidoscope of February 7, 1855 on behalf of Elam.
Elam returned the gesture in the Family Christian Album of April 1855, writing, “Among our multitudinous exchanges are several which are edited by Southern Ladies, and their weekly visits are hailed with pleasure. ‘The Kaleidoscope,’ published in Petersburg, Va., is a graceful sheet, and can boast of an editress who is talented, spirited, also a free independent writer. Longevity and success attend Mrs. H and her southern enterprise.” It is highly possible that Elam and Hicks knew each other, being that there were not many women editors at that time, and were supporting each other because of it.
There are similarities between the Family Christian Album and the Kaleidoscope, including their opinions on temperance and focus on literature. In We Mean To Be Continued: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia, author Elizabeth Varon writes that both Hicks and Elam were “the most outspoken female temperance activists in Virginia.” They diverged in that Hicks produced a newspaper that was progressive and outspoken about gender inequality, while Elam seemed to reject this idea. Both Elam and Hicks decidedly wrote for the women of Virginia, but they had opposing visions of a woman’s place in the world.
Both women wrote columns titled “Woman’s Rights” published on separate occasions. In her “Woman’s Rights” articles, Hicks spoke boldly and clearly about women being more than just fashion, dress, and entertainment. She firmly believed that women must be given access to the same educational and career opportunities as men. Elam, on the other hand, had different views on what “woman’s rights” meant. “Like all things else she [woman] is only beautiful in her legitimate station, and cannot thrive or appear to advantage, elsewhere,” Elam wrote in the May 1855 edition of the Family Christian Album. Elam then compared the station of woman to a plant that cannot thrive outside its natural environment, saying when “they are in an unnatural situation…they appear distorted and ungainly.” Elam believed that women thrived in what she called their “legitimate station,” as mothers and wives in the home. “She has rights undeniable: the loved ones ‘at home’ depend on her for happiness,” she wrote, “and ’tis her right, her privilege to labor that they be not disappointed.” Women’s current place in the world in 1855 was the right place, according to Elam.
As the Family Christian Album might have run for only a little more than a year, it is possible that Elam ran out of money to continue the endeavor. Elam did not include any ads in her magazine, and may have only relied on subscriptions for the Family Christian Album, which was advertised in the Alexandria Gazette, the Daily Dispatch, and the Daily Express until February 1856. Little is known about Elam’s personal life, but we know her professional life did not meet her own definition of a woman’s “legitimate station.” Editor may not have been her only job title, and if she is the same E.P. Elam cited in an article from the Daily State Journal of July 1872, which is likely, she went on to become the principal of a school for African American children in Petersburg.
It is important to note that Elam’s message stayed consistent throughout the first volume of The Family Christian Album. Her confidence seemed to grow the more she published, and her topics started including sections like “Woman’s Rights,” “Temperance,” and “Politics.” In her editorial viewpoints, E. P. Elam was not as progressive as some of her contemporaries, but she was an important voice among early women editors. Thirteen issues of Elam’s Family Christian Album are in the Special Collections of the Library of Virginia.
To read more about Rebecca Hicks and her newspaper the Kaleidoscope, check out the Library of Virginia’s previous blog post in this series, A Pen as Sharp as Glass: Rebecca Broadnax Hicks’s Kaleidoscope.