With the recent 10 year anniversary of Facebook and various other forms of social media such as Twitter and Instagram becoming increasing ubiquitous in our lives, there are often reports of the end of privacy for everyone. However, if you take a look at newspapers from the late 1800s and early 1900s, you have to wonder when privacy in one’s social life ever existed. As the quote above about Mr. Stewart’s catch from The Danbury Reporter shows, no news was too small to be printed. Newspapers provided a variety of resources for citizens that we now often turn to the internet for, from publishing serials such as Sherlock Holmes, ads from assorted businesses, the weather, train schedules for the day or week, and crop pricing, in addition to the regular news of the day. So it makes sense that the media of the day also was social in nature.
Small town newspapers in particular had weekly features that described in detail all the goings-on in town, including the very mundane of “Mr. Jones has a cold this week. We wish him well.” Sounds an awful lot like a tweet if you just add in a hashtag or two, “Heard @MrJones has a cold this week. #feelbetter #boosickness!” In towns with just a few hundred people, where everyone likely knew who you were anyways, one’s social network was indeed the whole town and these local news sections provide a recording of what was happening on a weekly basis.
Called a variety of names from “Local News,” “Items of Local Interest,” etc, these sections of the paper were usually a page or two after the main headlines of the day. It is not always obvious who wrote the columns, but some do identify it as being “Club News,” being pulled together by the social women’s clubs in the area. Others, such as the Asheboro Courier pictured above, make appeals from the paper’s editors themselves to send in items to be published. Those with a more social club focus saw such columns as being primarily for women, such as the Rocky Mount Herald, which called their section, “Of Interest to Women.”
Other papers, such as the Forest City Courier and the Elm City Elevator, had a mix of both social and more business items in their local news and called their section, “News Items in and Around Forest City,” and “Personal Paragraphs.”
For those researching the daily lives of people around the turn of the 2oth century, these sections of newspapers can be a rich resource, not only to learn who was sick and who was visiting from out of town, but these sections also contain information about social gatherings in town, such as camp meetings, lectures, and openings of businesses such as mills and restaurants. The newest technology can also come up in the local news items, as the telephone line mention shows below.