Social Media in the 20th Century
Back in June, The Wren’s Nest launched the first phase of an interactive version of the Harris family tree. The second phase came at the end of July/early August and with it, my discovery of just how awesome Joel Chandler Harris’s daughter-in-law, Julia Collier Harris, was. The third phase of the Harris family tree interactive is now available and includes labels for 22 of the family’s members.
This was nearly double the number of labels from the previous two phases. In addition to the generous help of Harris’s descendants (Linda Harris and Annette Shakespeare), I quickly found myself up to my eyeballs in obituaries and wedding announcements – courtesy of memberships to Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com – trying to find out everything I could about each person. I also discovered something about 20th-century newspapers that I didn’t know was a trend:
“Social Items” and “Personals.”
Now, when I hear the term “personals,” I think about personal ads. The advertisements that were like a cross between Craiglist postings and online dating profiles. Basically, a place in the newspaper in which you either try to sell something or try to find a partner.
It also makes me think about the song, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”
But that’s not what these Personals and Social Items contained. Instead, I found announcements like these:
“Mr. and Mrs. Frank Rowsey, who have been residing at the Biltmore hotel, have returned to their home, The Brier [sic.] Patch, on Old Plantation road, for residence.”
“Mr. and Mrs. Joel Chandler Harris III will move to Montgomery, Ala., October 1, where they will make their future home.”
“Miss Burdeene Blechele, of Canton, O., and Misses Gretchen and Brownie Miller, of Lexington, KY, are visiting Misses Lillian and Mildred Harris.”
And there were plenty more examples over the course of many decades (you may notice these examples are from 1943, 1928, and 1900), mostly alerting readers to people’s movements or travels.
It seemed oddly familiar to me and for a little while I couldn’t figure out why. And then it hit me:
These are basically like modern day social media status updates. But in print media.
Evidently, people used to share when they were going on a trip, moving to a new city, or newly engaged in the newspaper the way we share the same news now on our Facebook or Twitter feeds.
I suspect that in sharing this “revelation,” my millennial age is showing. In retrospect, it almost feels silly that I didn’t know this existed or even considered how this type of information was shared before online social media or widespread phone use. But I guess I assumed it was done in a more intimate way; through personal letters or phone calls to specific people. Not as public announcements that anyone reading the newspaper could read.
I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.