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The New York Ledger

Eight-page weekly story paper, published in 1855 to 1898.

Late one afternoon, when they had been sliding and were coming home warm and breathless, Mrs. Boast said, “Laura, come over to my house a minute.” / Laura went with her and Mrs. Boast showed her a tall stack of newspapers. She had brought all those New York Ledgers from Iowa. / “Take as many as you can carry,” she said. “When you get them read, bring them back and get some more.” -By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 22, “Happy Winter Days”

I always wondered why Mrs. Boast had those stacks of Ledgers, and why Ma didn’t seem to object to them. It turns out that according to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl manuscript, the Ledgers were owned by the Masters family in Walnut Grove, and Laura read the stories by herself during odd moments when she didn’t have any hotel duties. If this story is true, Caroline Ingalls probably didn’t know Laura was reading them.

The New York Ledger, first published by Robert Bonner in 1855, was one of the earliest and most successful storypapers. Storypapers, also called “six-cent weeklies,” were weekly newspapers that featured an array of serialized stories, poems, humor, fashion, and current events intended for the entire family. These papers enjoyed enormous circulation. By 1870, The New York Ledger claimed an audience of 377,000 readers. With columns devoted to love, marriage, and baby care, The Ledger catered to a predominantly female readership. Its serialized stories focussed heavily on romance (domestic and historical) and its illustrations included many images of women. Format: 8 pages, with a front-page illustration (sometimes signed by the artist and/or engraver) and additional images inside each issue. Last issue published in 1898.

That’s a Christmas ornament of a stack of Ledgers, each of the little newspapers in the stack has a different cover from an actual newspaper and is an uncut 8 pages printed on newsprint. I used the same “back” page from an 1879 issue that I own and scanned, but (shhhh) the other interior images are cover scans as well. You can’t really tell the size of the ornament from the photo, but the front pages are 2.5 x 4 inches; you can read the headlines and date on each issue!



Continued Story. Wilder mentions the New York Ledger in the Little House books only because of the continued story it contained. Portions or chapters of a longer story would be printed in parts in consecutive order in daily or weekly papers, in hopes that readers would continue to purchase issues in order to learn what happens in the tale.

In 1879, the New York Ledger ran a continued story titled “The Heir of the Castle. A Tale of the Norman Conquest.” It involves a beautiful lady lost in the Druid caverns. Could this be the story Laura mentioned in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Chapter 22, “Happy Winter Days”? The illustration shown here is from the issue dated March 22, 1879.


New York Ledger (SSL 22; PG)
     continued story (SSL 22)