A Forgotten Center of Periodical Publishing: Brooklyn, New York.

By Sandra Roff

From the collection of the Research Library of the New York Public Library, 42nd street

From the collection of the Research Library of the New York Public Library, 42nd street

Publishing periodicals was an exciting step in advancing knowledge and providing information to a news hungry audience. Philadelphia, Boston and New York in the early part of the 19th century established themselves as publishing centers and they all had newspapers, book publishers and an active periodical press. As their respective populations grew so did the demand for periodicals that were cheap, portable and served as an outlet for aspiring authors. These publishing centers as early as the late 18th century published magazines and journals many of which proved to be short lived. By the beginning of the 19th century the readership grew and so did the number of successful magazines.

While these three cities competed with each other for publishing prominence, there was another growing presence in the periodical world. Brooklyn, New York considered the first suburb of New York City was just a ferry ride across the East River and its population increased substantially during the 19th century leading to a demand for more intellectual pursuits. Spooner’s Brooklyn Directory for 1824/1825, listed the census of Kings County taken in August, 1820. Kings County consisted of Brooklyn, the Navy Yard, Bushwick. Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend and New Utrecht and had a total of 11,183 occupants. [1] As the county began to fan out and settle areas beyond Brooklyn Heights, the citizenry founded more libraries, literary societies, schools, clubs and other venues appropriate for new magazines and journals.

The periodicals published in Brooklyn in the early years were elusive, and Luther Mott, the premier periodical historian of the 20th century, in his monumental, multi-volume work, A History of American Periodicals did not record any Brooklyn periodical published before 1850. His books written in the 1950s and 1960s did not have access to the Internet, so with today’s tools we can add to the body of knowledge by identifying what Brooklynites were publishing.

From the collection of the Research Library of the New York Public Library, 42nd street

From the collection of the Research Library of the New York Public Library, 42nd street

Mott’s claim of no pre 1850 periodical coming from Brooklyn has a grain of truth. There is some dispute in the various listings whether The Collegian; or American Students’ Magazine had its origins in Brooklyn or in New York City. On the title page, digitized by the database, American Periodicals there is no publication information and on the last page of the first issue, it is too blurry to determine without a doubt that it says Brooklyn, 1819. However, in the copy of this issue that is available at the New York Public Library the last page clearly says Brooklyn, January 1819. On the envelope that the periodical was in, New York was crossed out and Brooklyn was written over it as the place of publication.

Tracing this periodical to Brooklyn is an exciting find, validating that Brooklyn was by 1819 trying to establish itself as a place where intellectual talents could be nurtured. The small population was not a deterrent to the editors who remain unidentified to solicit work from authors. In the introduction to Volume 1, Number 1, January 1819, the introduction addresses the collegians:

We have commenced, with a view uniformly directed to your advancement in intellectual knowledge, and for your amusement, the publication of a PERIODICAL WORK, to be supported by literary contributions principally supplied by yourselves. Here a field is presented for the exercise of your various talents: “ample verge and room enough” to evince ability and genius, in the different departments of literature which you study. In THE COLLEGIAN young authors have an opportunity “to try their first short excursions,” and juvenile bardlings to soar on the wings of infant genius. Your friends and fellow-students will read your pieces with interest; their virtuous emulation will consequently be excited; and your preceptors and parents will see who do credit to their instructions, to their hopes, and to their families, and who are to be the sages of future times... Whatever illiberal Europeans may assert, we are confident there is no dearth of talent in the western hemisphere: and we hope to render THE COLLEGIAN not only entertaining and instructive, but worthy the attentive perusal of classical readers.[2]

From the collection of the Research Library of the New York Public Library, 42nd street

From the collection of the Research Library of the New York Public Library, 42nd street

Our nation was still in its infancy in 1819 and colleges were just beginning to develop student life activities, among which were student publications. The earliest student publication known to date is the Literary Cabinet, which Yale students produced in 1806. This magazine, along with those that followed were all short-lived, lasting only until the editors graduated. According to Dean Grodzins and Leon Jackson, The Collegian was the first unchallenged attempt at a national student journal.[3]

Which colleges were actually represented in its pages cannot be completely verified since some pages in the two published issues were not available. However, there were articles by Yale, Princeton and Columbia College students, with Columbia having the most entries. In addition, there was an article written by Alexander Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton. In summation, this publication was the beginning of a tradition of college periodicals that continued to grow in the 19th century.

It was several decades before Brooklynites published another periodical. However, with this early foray into the publishing world, Brooklyn joined its neighbor, New York as an active participant in the intellectual and cultural currents of the times. The Brooklyn citizenry went on to have a rich publishing industry, trying their hand at an array of publications in many fields of interest. With a little help from the Internet new and exciting finds can help enrich our understanding of the past.

Sandra Roff is Professor and Head of Archives and Special Collections at Baruch College.


[1] Alden Spooner, Spooner’s Brooklyn Directory 1824/1825. Brooklyn, New York: Published by Alden Spooner at the Office of the Long Island Star, 1824: 52.

[2] “Introductory,” The Collegian, or American Students’ Magazine. Vol. 1, No. 1 (January 1819): 1-2.

[3] Dean Grodzins and Leon Jackson, “Colleges and Print Culture,” in A History of the Book in America, Vol.2 An Extensive Republic Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840. Edited by Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2010: 330