Monday, July 18, 2016

"To the Girls" (The American Agriculturist, 1846)

The American Agriculturist, published in New York City, burst onto the agricultural periodical scene in April, 1842. While its editors' agricultural experience may not have been as deep as that of the old timers running other farm papers, its editorial vision was state-of-the-art. It stressed original content while other publications relied on copious borrowings from their exchange networks. Every issue included an extensive summary of items from overseas agricultural publications. And it introduced sections, such as a "Ladies' Department," to broaden its readership. Its innovations brought tension, the Agriculturist's editors frequently complaining when other farm papers stole their original material, particularly their foreign news summaries--the subscriptions to such papers costing a substantial sum.

In its May 1846 issue the Agriculturist ran an article in the Ladies' Department directly addressing girls. We've talked previously about the gendering of bird protection. "To the Girls" made explicit the special role girls were to play in this project. The editorial persona, "Old Lady," began:
For a long time I have wished to have some communication with my young friends, the country girls, and bespeak their aid in the protection of our mutual pets, the birds, that are inviting our attention and kindness by their sweet songs and gentle and coquettish ways. They flock around our dwellings, and, if properly invited and noticed, accept our hospitality and repay us a thousand fold for all that we bestow upon them. When we take the trouble to provide a few houses for them, how readily are they taken possession of, and how fiercely guarded, should an intruder dare to rob them of their home; showing how dear to them is their possession, and giving us the assurance that nothing is required but shelter and protection to have flocks around us, and they sufficiently tame to be our household friends and companions. But especial care should then be taken to guard against the thousand dangers that beset them in the shape of boys and cats, their mortal enemies [my emphasis]; and worse than useless will have been all our trouble, if these deadly foes are suffered to molest them...The following notes ... I offer to you now, that you may be in time to prepare the houses, get rid of the cats, and persuade the boys by kind entreaty and gentle remonstrance to suspend their hostility, for their own interest as well as your own gratification. 
"Old Lady" proceeded to offer long passages from her "journal" detailing her observations of a pair of song sparrows as they fed their nestlings, calculating, like Bradley's correspondent, the number of worms (320) that must have been destroyed in a day, thus preserving her flowers and fruits.
 Now, my dear girls, can any of you read this extract and not feel grateful, not only to the Old Lady, but the sweet birds who are rendering you so much service whether you do anything for them or not?
She went on to detail the benefits and encouragement of several species: sparrows, swallows, catbirds, bluebirds, and wrens that can be tamed and observed, warning, appropriately that bluebird and wren boxes "should be kept at a respectful distance" from each other.

The gendering here is obvious, the stress on domestication (tame "pets") and "sweetness" and "gentleness" being rather prominent. At the same time, the "fierceness" of responses to threats to the home would be something informing future bird protection efforts. Observing the insect-damaged fruit that might have been saved had cats not destroyed so many bird nests, she responded:
"Alas no! and all this from my ungrateful cats; so the cats, petted and beloved as they have been, must die, all but Tabby, who shall be taught better things if possible."
Love for birds produced a strikingly ruthless attitude towards cats. 

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