Today is Halloween, and with the approach of this holiday, we have taken an opportunity to look at its evolution as expressed in the Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library periodicals collection. These publications, which span the 19th and 20th centuries, offer a great view of cultural shifts and trends in opinions and practice.
Halloween has grown from its origins as a Celtic harvest festival and a Catholic celebration of saints and martyrs to be one of America’s favorite holidays. Popular magazines from over the past century illustrate the evolution from a simple children’s amusement to an extravaganza for people of all ages, and from a small domestic celebration to an $8 billion retail event.
The October 1892 issue of the Ladies’ Home Journal mentions “Hallow-e’en” in two articles about the folk traditions associated with the holiday. Many of the activities involve children and youth. These activities are simple affairs and incorporate items that the average family would have had around the house—apples, corn kernels, small coins, and more.
More than 60 years later, in the October 1958 issue of Seventeen magazine, readers are directed to make a “Halloween mobile” from common craft material and Q-Tip brand cotton swabs. The accompanying illustration from Seventeen captures aspects of the holiday as seen in the Ladies’ Home Journal from October 1892: apples, basins of water, and romance. However, Seventeen has chosen a much more immediate focus on the possible romance of the holiday. Elsewhere in the issue, there is an article on the still-popular Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF program, which—while certainly not a commercial venture—offers premade kits for sale.
The full-blown commercialization of Halloween can be seen in the October issues of Martha Stewart Living. Stewart’s Halloween crafts have become popular enough that the issue is full of advertisements for mass-produced decorations and for a special all-Halloween supplementary edition. Party food is accessorized with supplies ranging from $2 to $2,350. Adult and pet costumes are featured. This is a far cry from the corn kernels of 1892 or the Q-tip brand cotton swabs of 1958.
Whether you choose to celebrate this holiday by bobbing for apples, making your own Halloween mobile, or decorating with a lavish budget, the Schlesinger Library wishes you a happy and fun-filled Halloween!