Town Topics: The Journal of Society

06 May 2016

Gender and Sexuality | History

Everyday Life & Women in America c.1800-1920 features a full run of the rare periodical Town Topics: The Journal of Society (1887-1923) from the New York Public Library. Town Topics was a weekly periodical offering literature reviews, short fictional stories, sporting news and financial advice. The periodical actually began as The American Queen but the name was changed to Town Topics when Colonel E.D. Mann assumed the editorship in 1891. As well as the name the success and the tone of the magazine were also set to change.

Town Topics v. 51 (1904). Image ©New York Public Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 

Under Colonel Mann’s leadership the periodical remained an essential source for art, music and literature but also developed into a publication that offered gossip and society news on the much read and highly anticipated social pages. The periodical became a must read-for the wealthy members of the great families like Vanderbilts, Astors, and Whitneys; as a guide book for the nouveaux riche on where to go and who to be seen with; and for normal people for whom the often shocking gossip about the superrich provided good entertainment.

Mann obtained these scandalous stories about the New York elite by bribing and blackmailing household staff and eavesdropping employees of upper-class establishments. The stories were then printed in the column entitled Saunterings. Mann didn’t always directly name the lady or gentleman he was referring to in the article. Instead he would cleverly print the story revealing the latest society scandal, often an affair, without divulging the identities of those involved. The article would then be followed by a shorter general piece about a wedding or party. Those mentioned in these harmless short notices were often the subject matter of the juicy article that had preceded it. The below clip is a collection of articles from Saunterings discussing ‘certain American women’ and ‘Mr. and Mrs. X’ …


Town Topics v. 52 (1904). Image ©New York Public Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 

Not everyone however enjoyed the stories or success of Town Topics. Mann was sued by a stockbroker he attempted to blackmail about an extramarital affair and later went on trial for perjury; a case sparked by comments made about Alice Roosevelt in Saunterings. Although Mann was cleared of perjury Town Topics failed to hold readers’ interest as the tales of high society gossip began to dwindle. Town Topics ceased publication in the 1930s and although known best for its social pages the periodical offers a valuable insight into the New York social world of both men and women during the height of the Gilded Age.

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About the Author

Sarah Hodgson

Sarah Hodgson

I am an Editor at Adam Matthew, an academic digital publisher of primary source collections in the arts and humanities. I have had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects including Mass Observation Online and African American Communities.