Pilgrim Life

Life magazine was a different sort of periodical in its first incarnation, from 1883 to 1936, than after, when photographs characterized its style and substance. The earlier Life was all about illustration, and all the famous graphic artists of the era contributed to its pages: everyone from Charles Dana Gibson to Norman Rockwell. It seems to have been a humorous society magazine with some very cutting caricatures, and as I was leafing through a succession of Thanksgiving “numbers” I found a very dark view of the “Ye Merrie New England Thanksgiving of Earlier Dayes” by illustrator F.T Richards from 1895. Dark. Even Hawthornesque, you might say.

Life Thanksgiving Puritans 1895

Pilgrim LifePuritans and Witches 1895

And quite a departure from the more playful portrayal of Thanksgiving Pilgrims published in Life and other contemporary periodicals in the first decades of the twentieth century: First Thanksgivings, amorous encounters and myriad in-the-stocks scenarios. Then the war comes and changes everything for longer than its duration, followed by the cult-of-celebrity culture that still seems to define us.

Life 1904-11-

Life 1910-11-03

Life 1913-11-06

Life1923-11-22 (2)Life covers from 1904, 1910, 1913 & 1923.

6 responses to “Pilgrim Life

  • FairytaleFeminista

    I’m shocked at how biting the early pictures are, but I’m also heartened by their honesty. We can’t deny we have a complicated past.

  • mfearing

    I get the sense that in 1895 they were still willing to incorporate a more gothic infused sensibility in commercial art whereas just a bit later it gets more or a romantic influenced POV (meaning the sensibility not just the theme!) In the 1923 Life cover there is an ironic detachment that seems almost modern to me.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Again, you dig deeply and come up with some great illustrations. True, the early illustrations were “Hathornesque.”

    “Unbidden Guests” provides “food for thought.” Unrealistic in that the early Plymouth settlers who observed Thanksgiving were not in well-lit, well-warmed cozy cabins, but in rude hovels at that point. The plight of the poor onlookers has justifiably received more attention in late years.

    As always, good stuff …

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