A Fanny Fern Reader

Selections by a Pioneering Nineteenth-Century Woman Journalist

By Fanny Fern
Edited by Emily E. VanDette
Introduction by Emily E. VanDette

Subjects: American Literature, New York/regional, Women's Studies, Nineteenth-century Studies, American History
Hardcover : 9781438498522, 308 pages, July 2024
Expected to ship: 2024-07-01

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Table of contents


I. "These are some of the annoyances of authors; but, verily, they have their rewards too": On Authorship and Authors

Borrowed Light, from Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, 1853
Mrs. Adolphus Smith Sporting the "Blue Stocking," from Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, Second Series, 1854
American Female Literature, Letter from Fanny Fern, June 16, 1854
My Old Ink-Stand and I; or, the First Article in the New House, July 19, 1856
Answers to Fern Correspondents, November 15, 1856
To Literary Aspirants, December 6, 1856
Leaves of Grass, May 10, 1856
Charlotte Brontë, June 6, 1857
Facts for Unjust Critics, June 13, 1857
To Writers, August 22, 1857
Fresh Leaves, by Fanny Fern, October 10, 1857
International Copyright, November 28, 1857
A Rainy Day, February 20, 1858
A Leaf for Paul Pry, June 19, 1858
A Sketch for Paul Pry, March 26, 1859
Pleasures of Authorship, February 23, 1861
Answers to My Own Correspondents, March 2, 1861
Unscrupulous Authors, April 20, 1861
Literary Beginners, March 26, 1864
Who Shall Decide When Doctors Disagree, October 26, 1867
Punishments and Rewards of Authors, March 2, 1872

II. "Mr. Chairman, I rise to say, that there are no faults of sex; that there exist only faults of individuals": On Society's Rules and Roles for Men and Women

Sober Husbands, from Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, Second Series, 1854
Hungry Husbands, from Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, Second Series, 1854
Feminine Waiters at Hotels, from Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, Second Series, 1854
The Last Bachelor Hours of Tom Pax, January 19, 1856
Tom Pax's Conjugal Soliloquy, February 9, 1856
Summer Travel, July 12, 1856
Moral Molasses; or, Too Sweet by Half, October 4, 1856
A Gauntlet for the Men, February 21, 1857
Lady Doctors, April 11, 1857
On Voices and Beards, April 3, 1858
A Chapter for the Brethren, May 22, 1858
Hear! Hear!, June 12, 1858
Gimcrack Furniture, December 18, 1858
A Hint for Shopping Husbands, March 19, 1859
"Oh, the Extravagance of Women!," July 16, 1859
Why Rosa Bonheur Don't Marry, December 31, 1859
Male-Mischief, February 25, 1860
Books of "Advice to Women," March 17, 1860
"Pencilings by the Way," March 31, 1860
Guilty or Not Guilty, April 7, 1860
A Hue and Cry from the Other Side of the House, May 5, 1860
Male-Gossips, July 28, 1860
What Constitutes a Handsome Man, March 16, 1861
A Stone for a Glass House, April 27, 1861
A Bit of Injustice, June 8, 1861
Lady Letter-Writers, June 15, 1861
Tell Us, August 31, 1861
An Offer, March 22, 1862
Tit for Tat-Tling, March 29, 1862
Which?, May 24, 1862
Back Track on the Platform, March 30, 1872

III. "These are bold words; but they are needed words": On Women's Rights

The Weaker Vessel, from Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, 1853
Has a Mother a Right to Her Children?, April 4, 1857
A Word on the Other Side, October 24, 1857
"Where Have I Been, and What Have I Seen?," December 19, 1857
Is Not Woman Capable of It?, December 26, 1857
Lady-Skating, March 20, 1858
"What Is My Opinion about Woman Voting?," May 29, 1858
"Independence," July 30, 1859
Was She a Heroine, or a Criminal?, October 8, 1859
Shall Women Vote?, June 30, 1860
On the Fence, November 9, 1861
A Public Evil, February 1, 1862
The Women of 1867, August 10, 1867
Woman's Qualification to Vote, May 23, 1868
Woman's Millenium, from Ginger-Snaps, 1870
Women on the Platform, from Ginger-Snaps, 1870
Clubs for the Working Men, March 16, 1872

IV. "I wish I was mother to the whole of you!": On Behalf of Children

Children's Rights, from Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, 1853
Children in 1853, from Little Ferns for Fanny's Little Friends, 1854
The "Favorite" Child, February 28, 1857
Parent and Child; or, Which Shall Rule, May 9, 1857
The Child Whom Nobody Can Do Anything With, January 23, 1858
To My Little Ledger Friends, April 10, 1858
A Word for the Children, July 3, 1858
A Whisper to Mothers, April 16, 1859
A Nursery Thought, April 14, 1860
A Whisper to Mothers, August 25, 1860
How to Look at It, May 4, 1861
A Word to Parents, July 27, 1861
Mercy for Children, November 30, 1861
The Use of Grandmothers, May 23, 1863
A Chapter for Mothers, May 30, 1863
A Chapter for Parents, August 29, 1863
A Grandmother's Dilemma, June 30, 1866
What Childhood Should Be, October 19, 1867
Grandmothers, June 15, 1872
How to Put the Children to Bed, from Caper-Sauce, 1872


A Word to Parents and Teachers, March 14, 1857
One More — "Last Word," October 29, 1859
Philanthropy in the Right Direction, March 24, 1860
The Children's Day, June 2, 1860
Writing "Compositions," June 9, 1860
At Last, November 24, 1860
Half a Loaf Better Than No Bread, February 22, 1862
A Fatal Error, February 11, 1865
Will Parents Take Heed?, from Caper-Sauce, 1872

V. "How I longed to sit down in those little tents, and talk with those heroes of Gettysburg": Select Commentary about the Civil War

The Time to Speak, June 1, 1861
Baby-Regiments, August 24, 1861
Election-Day, December 28, 1861
Holidays and Holy-People, January 11, 1862
A Fifth Avenue Scene, July 4, 1863
Our City Camps, September 26, 1863
The Chief Obstacle to Enlistments, March 5, 1864
Unwritten History of the War, from Folly as It Flies, 1868
The History of Our Late War, from Ginger-Snaps, 1870

VI. "More than angelic are these soul-responses": On Grief, Suffering, and Compassion

New York, from Fresh Leaves, 1857
A Word to Shop-Keepers, June 20, 1857
Mother's Room, August 15, 1857
What Shall We Name the Baby?, August 22, 1857
To Young Ladies, December 5, 1857
What Came of a Violet, May 8, 1858
Blackwell's Island Number I, August 14, 1858
Blackwell's Island, Number III, August 28, 1858
Sympathy; or, Straws for the Drowning, May 21, 1859
Night and Sleep, December 24, 1859
Vivid Life, August 3, 1861
Whose Business Is It?, September 28, 1861
Poisoned Arrows, May 10, 1862
How They Look at It, May 30, 1863

VII. "New York, with all thy faults, I love thee still": On Life in the City

Greenwood and Mount Auburn, September 6, 1856
Knickerbocker and Tri-Mountain, October 11, 1856
Knickerbocker and Tri-Mountain, Number 2, October 18, 1856
Living in Brooklyn, January 2, 1858
Why I Like New York, June 5, 1858
The Rival Cities, December 18, 1858
A Phase of City Life, October 22, 1859
A Housekeeper's Views on Street-Cleaning, December 3, 1859
Dear Crazy Gotham, June 22, 1861
New York Parks, September 21, 1861
Central Park and Boston Common, November 16, 1867
About Some Things in New York Which Have Interested Me, from Folly as It Flies, 1868
A Morning at Stewart's, from Folly as It Flies, 1868
The Working-Girls of New York, from Folly as It Flies, 1868


Trip to the Caatskills, Number One, September 12, 1857
Trip to the Caatskills, Number Four, October 3, 1857
Notes of a Summer Tour, Number VI, October 9, 1858
A Broad Hint to New Haven, August 3, 1867

VIII. "Coats and trowsers have the best of it everywhere": On Gendered Fashion

A Law More Nice than Just, July 10, 1858
A Law More Nice than Just, Number II, July 17, 1858
Give It Up, January 7, 1860
A Voice from the Skating Pond, February 1, 1862
Sense and Shoes, February 8, 1862
Fashion Edicts, April 26, 1862
What May Be Done in the Country, September 14, 1867

IX. "What a pity all editors are not gentlemen": On Newspapers and Editors

Editors, from Fern Leaves from Fanny's Port-Folio, 1853
A Breakfast Reverie on Ledger Day, November 6, 1858
For Whom the Cap Fits, November 20, 1858
Comic Tragedies, October 29, 1859
A Word to Editors, January 21, 1860
Gentle Shepherd Tell Me Why?, February 16, 1861
The Fly in the Ointment, from Ginger-Snaps, 1870
Some Hints to Editors, from Ginger-Snaps, 1870

X. "I am sick of flummery and nonsense and humbug and pretension of every kind": On Pet Peeves, Nuisances, and Miscellaneous Grievances

A Headache, March 21, 1857
In the Dumps, July 4, 1857
A Hot Day, August 15, 1857
Aunt Peckey, January 15, 1859
Have You Ever Seen Him?, January 29, 1859
Going to Move, April 9, 1859
A Social Nuisance, May 7, 1859
A Gauntlet for a Vermonter, May 14, 1859
Clumsy People, May 28, 1859
Uncourteous Audiences, February 4, 1860
The Whistling Nuisance, March 3, 1860
"When I Was in Paris," April 28, 1860
Smoking in the City Cars, July 21, 1860
An Honest Growl, November 17, 1860
Compulsory Shopping, February 9, 1861
The Reason Why, March 2, 1861
Canes, May 11, 1861
Noseology, January 18, 1862
Modern Martyrs, February 1, 1862
Educational Mistakes, April 5, 1862
An Unpleasant Truth, May 17, 1862
Kinks, May 25, 1867
My Grievance, from Caper-Sauce, 1872

XI. ". . . there are days when it is simply blessing enough to be alive": On Life's Simple Pleasures

Breakfast, March 14, 1857
Fanny Fern on Sleigh-Riding, January 5, 1861
Spring Time, May 18, 1861
Buoyant People, November 23, 1861
Rainy Days, November 30, 1861
Something to Love, January 11, 1862
Unsought Happiness, August 24, 1867

Works Cited and Select Bibliography

The most complete collection of works by the nineteenth century's most famous and groundbreaking woman journalist.


In the middle of the nineteenth century, the highest paid and most famous newspaper writer in the US was a woman known to the world as Fanny Fern, the nom de plume of Sara Payson Willis. A Fanny Fern Reader features a selection of Fern's columns, mostly from her years as a weekly columnist for the New York Ledger, along with an introduction that shares the remarkable story of Fern's perseverance and success as a woman in a male-dominated profession. For readers in her own time, Fern's frank and unbridled social commentary and boldly satirical voice made her a household name. Fern's subversive and witty commentary about social mores, gender roles, childhood, authorship, and family life transcend time and continue to resonate with and entertain readers today. A Fanny Fern Reader is the most extensive collection of Fern's newspaper writings to date and includes several works that have been out of print for over a century, making this author's writing on a wide range of issues accessible for readers within and outside of classrooms and academic settings.

Emily E. VanDette is Professor of English at the State University of New York at Fredonia. She is the author of Sibling Romance in American Fiction, 1835–1900 and lives in Fredonia, New York.


"This collection would fill an important scholarly void by providing an organized collection of Fanny Fern's writings, divided helpfully into topical categories. Scholars and readers no longer will need to search through the disparate sources to find Fern's writings about various subjects. It could be used in American literature course, women's literature course, history courses, women's history courses, journalism courses, and American Studies courses." — Debra Brenegan, author of Shame the Devil: A Novel

"Offers academics in the fields of American periodicals and journalism history, as well as lay readers, a selection of writings from a compelling nineteenth-century writer who was perhaps the best-known woman columnist of her era. It would work well in undergraduate courses in journalism, American periodicals, and women’s literature." — Cynthia Patterson, Associate Professor of English, University of South Florida

"VanDette's A Fanny Fern Reader offers us a beautifully comprehensive volume of essays from Fanny Fern, who was nineteenth-century America's ruling titan of wit among newspaper columnists, and the highest paid of all of them … And this stunning volume of essays does her justice, providing a modern context for reading the many themes across her oeuvre … This book could be used in history courses, women's and gender studies courses, children's literature, journalism, early American literature, 19C American literature, [and] women writers…" — Christina Katopodis, CUNY Humanities Alliance, Graduate Center, CUNY