Frances Keyes’s time as editor (late 1937-1939) marked a profound shift for the magazine. Her goal for the publication was to make it as popular and “outstanding” in the fields of history and genealogy as the National Geographic Magazine was in its respective field. And while the DAR said that the goal was not to make money, Frances promised to increase circulation and cut costs by making the magazine something somebody would subscribe to out of interest, reaching all the members of the DAR as well as appeal to the general public.
This page will be an examination of the magazine, using Voyant, Mallet, and hand counts – pulling from every issue beginning with the first publication in 1892 all the way through Frances’s last issue as editor in 1939. The only exclusions are the meeting minutes of the board and the Continental Congress, as they are not typical magazine issues and follow a different format.
Appealing to the Masses
The biggest and boldest change was the name from the Daughters of the Revolution Magazine to the National Historical Magazine, probably in part to appeal to an audience outside the DAR. Covers and typeset were more extravagant, and illustrations and photographs were abundant. With this came a switch from the typical content found in the magazine to articles that could reach a larger base. Fiction, already a staple in women’s magazines by the 1920s, was integrated into the publication. Frances also stopped including copious amounts of genealogical information, as well as the pages that had been dedicated to the meeting minutes of the annual congress. She also created a “Contributors, Collaborators, and Critics” section to the magazine, where which enabled her to create a dialogue with her readers, something that was not in previous magazines.
This word cloud has a relatively even distribution of word use, and all of the words, especially “american, memorial, new, flag, chapter, president, members” describe the general message of the magazine throughout its first several decades – a focus on the DAR, its members, and building and strengthening the society. The word “memorial” points to the movement in the organization to begin funding and placing memorials dedicated to the soldiers and battles of the American Revolution. While the magazine generally had historic articles and chapter events, there was also an issue published dedicated to the annual Continental Congress in order to connect members across the continent and make them feel involved in an event they probably could not attend. This focus on structure is seen with the words”chapters, congress, meeting, daughters,” and the emphasis on people in power like the president general and the regents, meetings, the construction of continental hall, dedicating memorials, and community service.
After Frances became editor, the words are far less evenly distributed. In fact, many of the words disappear or lose significance. A notable change occurs with the words “daughters,” and “members,” some of the most popular words before, become barely noticeable in the issues Frances edited. There is far less emphasis on the DAR as the subject of the magazine, but rather as a sponsor of the magazine. Perhaps because the society was already established, it did not need promotion and it was now time to focus on promoting just the magazine. New words like “said,” “came,” and “went” signal the introduction of fiction to the magazine.
Politics of the Magazine
A large aspect of Frances’s time as editor was the stark depoliticization of the magazine. While the organization never became openly involved in political elections, the DAR did advocate for legislation regarding their two greatest national concerns: communism and immigration.
As seen in both charts, there was a drastic decrease in discussions and mentions of both subjects. While all mentions of communism, Bolshevism, and socialism were decidedly negative, discussion of immigration and immigrants oscillated between wanting to help with assimilation and extreme anti-immigration rhetoric. This shift away from politics is part of a larger move on Frances’s part to attract a larger audience and eliminating unrelatable content from the magazine that alienate a non-DAR reader.
Another interesting trend while Frances was editor was the increase in representations of race. The inclusion of fiction allowed for greater representations of African Americans than previous years, as seen in the great jump in numbers after she became editor. Given the DAR’s exclusion of women of color from becoming members of the organization, and their active refusal to recognize the contributions of African Americans in the American Revolution, it is notable that there was an increase in mentions of African Americans in articles and stories that were dedicated to and thematically centered around the American Revolution.
This is not to say Frances was a progressive civil rights advocate, for almost all, if not all, African Americans mentioned throughout her tenure and even before are slaves. One instance of ‘real life’ people of color is a recent dinner party in Washington D.C., where a man is dressed in colonial attire manning the door, and a “mammy” downstairs cooking beans over a fire. But the increase of representation in the magazine for a society that denied and downplayed the roles of people of color in the American Revolution is notable.
The depictions of slaves play up a number of the conflicting stereotypical depictions of slaves: hardworking, lazy, wise, ignorant, worldly, naive, and superstitious.
Another interesting trend in the magazine was not referring to slaves as slaves, but rather as servants or maids. There can be a number of reasons for this, the most likely one is to gloss over the hero’s participation in the slave trade while at the same time making them a kind and benevolent slave owner.
Were Her Efforts a Success? How?
Yes! Frances greatly, and quickly, increased circulation after becoming editor. The new look and content of the magazine was applauded by many people, and Frances often had more compliments than criticism in her editorial section. An article published in the Washington Post in February 1938 noted that the February issue was a “sell-out” and the DAR ordered 3,000 additional copies for the March edition. Now the magazine was less focused on the DAR, and more focused on actual content. Gone were the long lists of chapters and their happenings, gone was the annual publication about the Continental Congress, no more was the section devoted to genealogy that had little relevance outside the DAR. Instead of making the magazine feel like a members only publication, Frances pushed to make it more inclusive and appealing to the average person. She was able to get over two thousand new subscribers to the magazine with no decline during the summer months, something that was unusual for the magazine. While some discontinued their subscription in protest of change, the overall outlook for the magazine was extremely positive going into 1939.
Cummings, Florence. “Severence of Shelburne.” National Historical Magazine, August, 1939.
Frazier, Corinne. “A Man was Found.” National Historical Magazine, December, 1937.
“Mrs. Keyes Takes Post on Magazine.” Washington Post, September 15, 1937.
Tucker, Gertrude and Hopkins, Pauline. “The Beauty of Belvoir.” National Historical Magazine, March, 1938.
“D.A.R. Told Magazines is ‘Sell-Out’: Mrs. Keyes Orders 3,000 More Copies for March.” Washington Post, February 9, 1938.