March 10, 2021
Louisa Klinkhart: Starr Reporter?
(We got carried away with this title. Blame it on a year of pandemic fatigue. But there is a Klinkhart connection – or we’ll try to make one!)
The first frame of the very first Brenda Starr: Reporter comic strip, on June 30, 1940, has Brenda at her typewriter lamenting, “Ho-hum. Birth and Death notices are all I ever get to supply the Globe with . . .”
To be fair, she probably got to cover parties, visits, family reunions, graduations, vacations, and other such things, but we know what she’s talking about: the local social column.
Long before we shared these things via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other “social media” platforms, society columns began to appear in the early 1800s, usually in more prominent urban papers, focused on the antics of “high” society.
By the 1880s, the practice spread to rural papers, but rather than the exploits of the rich and famous they reported on their own, local readers, friends, and neighbors. These columns are still with us today: just pick up a copy of the latest issue of our own Cobleskill Times-Journal and have a look (online there’s even a “Social News” tab!)
Community social columns are nearly always unsigned, but they were and still are almost exclusively written by women correspondents. Like Brenda Starr.
Or, perhaps, Louisa Klinkhart . . .
What makes us think Louisa Klinkhart was part of this tradition of reportage? Here’s the scoop.
In the 1880s and 1890s, a Sharon Springs column appeared regularly in the Canajoharie Wide-Awake Courier, often the longest and liveliest of the local columns. We’ve read all of these columns in a digital trove of early papers we discovered, and there is something unusual, something we don’t find in the other social columns:
Nearly every column contains mini-advertisements for Klinkhart’s hardware
and the latest goings-on at Klinkhart Opera Hall.
Why does this stand out? Because columns from other communities rarely include plugs for local businesses, and the entertainments they mention are usually school or church-related socials, lectures, and concerts.
Here’s a selection; you can judge for yourself.
(Use the arrows or swipe across to view the next slide.)
Fun and curious, don’t you think? Here’s what we think is going on:
- The prominent and rather insistent appearance, week after week, of these sly “advertisements” into the social column suggests someone involved with the Klinkhart enterprises was likely responsible.
- We know that Louisa Klinkhart was very involved in the business end of Klinkhart Hall and with the hardware store (to her detriment, one might say!)
- As Louisa appears to have been the only female member of the family involved directly with the business, she is ipso facto our reporter!
A circumstantial case, to be sure, but a strong one. Until someone presents us with compelling evidence to the contrary, we’ll hold that Louisa Kineman Klinkhart was Sharon Springs’ own “Brenda Starr: Reporter.”
We’re in the process of transcribing these columns in their entirety. It will take a while, but it should be worth it. (This is where we found the report of the fabulous Gun Club Ball, reported earlier in the Arsenic and Old Klinkhart post, and there is more to come.)
Today, 19th century social and community columns are a primary source for genealogical and local history research. They offer a unique look at the community from earlier days, turn up long-forgotten or overlooked details, and they sometimes have a unique perspective on more far-reaching non-local events as well.
Starting soon, we plan to feature some of these columns in Klinkhart History Notes so check back later for more about Sharon Springs and Klinkhart Hall in the 19th century.
In the meantime, you can help us write the next chapter in the history of historic Klinkhart Hall . . .
“Society Reporting.” Wikipedia, 2 Mar. 2021. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Society_reporting&oldid=1009821941.
“Before Facebook, Society Columns Provided News—and Community.” Columbia Journalism Review, https://www.cjr.org/tow_center/facebook-society-columns-community.php. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.
Canajoharie Wide-Awake Courier digital archive at Old Fulton New York Post Cards. https://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2021.