“No Better Means of Building up the Empire”: Representations of the British Colonial Life in Girls’ Periodicals

Elizabeth Dillenburg, The Ohio State University at Newark

Rising literacy among children and the greater affordability, availability, and variety of literature in the second half of the nineteenth century made magazines and periodicals a powerful instrument in educating British children about the empire and cultivating imperial myths. Periodicals served both to instruct readers about colonial history and geography while also encouraging girls to participate in the colonial project by presenting a vision of empire in which girls could play an active, vital role. This presentation explores representations and discourses about colonial life and childhood that emerges in these children’s periodicals, focusing in particular on two categories of newsletters. The first were produced by the Girls’ Friendly Society (GFS), an organization that sought to educate and emigrate working-class girls to the colonies. Regular features in these newsletters, like “Our Colonies,” detailed what life was like for girls in various regions throughout the empire and provided advice for readers who wished to emigrate there. The second category of periodicals are school newspapers from elite girls’ schools in Britain, including the Cheltenham Ladies’ College Magazine, The Roedean School Magazine, and North London Magazine. Like GFS newsletters, these newspapers presented a largely benign, inviting view of colonial life and reinforced the civilizing imperative of colonialism by contrasting the apparent backwardness and “tiresome customs” that marked colonial girls’ lives with the privileged and elevated position of British girls. However, within these seemingly superficial, one-dimensional portrayals, there emerge glimpses of tensions within the colonial project and girls’ resistance to such stereotypes and prescribed roles. Situating these newsletters and newspapers within wider discourses about girlhood in this period, this presentation explores these tensions and examples of resistance and analyzes how class, race, and geography mediated the roles that girls were supposed to play in the British colonial project.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 215. Depictions of Difference in Children's Periodicals