Bert Adams: Public Discourse: Ads and Letters in TMN
When The Monthly News (TMN) began in 1942, there were no subscriptions. A few friends and family bought it, but no one wrote “letters to the editor.” The Rest-Well Tourist Home (sounds a little like a funeral home), near Valley Forge, advertised in the first edition: “Innerspring mattresses, clean, comfortable rooms, bath and shower – all for $.75 to $1 a night, or $4.50 to $7 a week.”
But by January of 1943, TMN was reporting a circulation of 125, and contained ads from Cowan’s Flower Shop, several kinds of furniture polishes at Wayne Hardware, and Miss Watson and Miss Love’s Violin and Piano Studio. Others paying for space in January, 1943, included C. N. Agnew Realtor, the Wayne Hotel, and George Park and Sons, Hardware.
The beginning of 1943 also saw the launching of a new column, with the following statement:
SUBSCRIBERS COLUMN: Is there something you would like to
see printed in the Monthly News? With the next issue we hope to
start a Subscribers Column to give you this opportunity. Any short
poem, letter to the editor, favorite recipe, joke or bit of humor, or
any short article will be welcome. Those items meeting the high
ideals of this paper will be printed in the order in which they are
received. We request your help with this new column.
The next month (February, 1943) letters began to arrive. We excerpted one from Columbiana, Alabama: “I saw one of the papers you publish and I think they are swell. I want to congratulate you on your good work. Keep sending them.” Another reader wrote a What-Not:
“What’s your name?”
“Watt’s my name.”
“Yeah, what’s your name.”
“My name is John Watt.”
“Oh, never mind. I’ll be around to see you this afternoon.”
“All right. Who’s this, Jones?”
“No, I’m Knott.”
“Well, will you please tell me who you are, then?”
“My name is Knott.”
And then they both got sore.
At the bottom of the first Subscriber’s Column, the following note appeared:
“WE APOLOGIZE. Please forgive us for getting the paper to you late this month. This is because of the Editor, Sports Editor, and Circulation Manager all having had measles.” We also explained the move to a single staple rather than two in TMN as the result of the armed forces needing the metal.
By the same edition, the number of ads had tripled. They included those noted above, but also the Wayne Hotel, St. Mary’s Laundry, Don Gorham Life Insurance (Gorham was a friend of the News Editor, living in Philadelphia), Kenilworth Inn, Emidio de Joseph and Son – Ladies and Gentlemen’s Tailor, and Main Line Grill Diner: “It’s like eating at home to dine here.” For the next three years the ad variety continued to grow.
The Subscriber’s Column received enough letters that Editor Will had to become selective in what he published. In April, 1943, an April Fool appeared:
“I once had a little dog Difo.
I got him when he pas a wup.
I staught him to tand on his lined hegs.
And hold his lunt fregs up.”
Will also received the following from Robert Mitchell, former art teacher at Radnor High School:
“I have just now found time to read your ‘Monthly News.’ It’s just swell.
The writing is very lively – a style I like for a news-letter. It has a serious
quality, too, that commands respect. I shall miss not being there to see it
grow. Good luck to a worthwhile project.”
In May, 1943, Penn Cornell sent in the following Chinese Proverb: “It is better ro remain silent and appear ignorant, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Another letter stated: “There’s so much good in the worst of us, And so much bad in the best of us, That it little behooves any of us, To talk about the rest of us.” Gilbert Guffin, a Pastor in Jasper, Alabama, while complementing TMN, closed with the comment: “You are doing a better and more important work than you realize. Keep it up!”
Once in a while a letter would include a puzzle to solve. Here is a somewhat dated one from George Mitchell, Social Studies teacher at Radnor:
“There are three missionaries and three cannibals, all on the same side
of a river. They have one boat which will hold two people at once. All
three missionaries can row, but only one cannibal can row. How can
you get all six of them to the other side of the channel without at any
time leaving more cannibals on either side than missionaries, or the
cannibals will eat the missionaries?”
In July, 1943, W. C. Jackson, President of Kurtz Lumber Company in Akron, Ohio, and a nephew of News Editor Adams, wrote that he is “particularly anxious to keep abreast of world events in these troubled times and I believe your publication would be a valuable addition to my sources of information. . . .” Will received this letter from Ruth Myer, Business Manager of the American Observer Magazine, in Washington, D.C. He published it in the first Anniversary edition, September, 1943:
“I am wondering if you would not like to exchange The Monthly News
for the American Observer. . . . You certainly do a fine job on TMN all
the way through. If the other members of the editorial staff are about
your age, I think your work is remarkable.
I’d certainly like to know how you came to start TMN, how you are
making out financially, and so on.”
Michael Pinto, the Adams family’s barber in Wayne, began to advertise in November, 1943, as did Domenic Manzi, tailor. In the same edition the editors included a Christmas gift suggestion:
“GIVE YOUR SERVICE BOY A GIFT HE’LL ENJOY
A gift subscription to TMN to be sent anywhere in the world for
no more than the usual mailing cost! Starts with the January edition –
only $.48 through June, 1944. It is $.24 for 3 months. Fill out this
blank and give it to whoever brings the next edition to you.”
The next month, one letter was very specific on what the subscriber liked about TMN: “I liked particularly your column on ‘Definitions not found in Dictionaries,’ and your paper gave me a real opportunity to get up to date on the football games and standings.”
Sylvia Beebe, a girl in Bert’s class, and later the Assistant Business Manager, sent in the following tongue-twister:
“Betty Baughter bought some butter. ‘But,’ she said, ‘this butter’s
bitter. If I put it in my batter, it will make my batter bitter. But if I
buy a bit of better butter, it will make my bitter batter better.’ So
she bought a bit of better butter and put it in her bitter batter, and it
made her bitter batter better.”
J. C. Robbins, the President of the Northern Baptist Convention sent in a short article entitled “A Call to Brotherhood,” which was published in March, 1944.
Most, but not all, letters were complimentary. But one criticized Sports Editor Bert for glorifying Notre Dame, after its great season of 1943. The subscriber, a Baptist minister, was not pleased with the favorable discussion of a Catholic school. The eleven-year-old Sports Editor had a hard time accepting the criticism.
In June of 1944 we requested more Letters, saying that they “have almost stopped coming in altogether. KEEP YOUR COLUMN ALIVE.” The next month several letters arrived in time for publication, including one from a chaplain in the South Pacific, and a new one from Dad’s friend, Fred Ristine – the most regular writer of letters to TMN.
The final edition, January, 1946, included 12 ads – the usual, plus Albrecht’s Flower Shop, Watkins’ Tea Room, Lynam Electric, and 20th Century Realty. The last published letter, from Rose Rowe, closed with this comment: “It is, of course, obvious that the younger generation of today makes the world of tomorrow. If The Monthly News is an indication of how our younger generation is thinking, then we may hope for a finer and better world of tomorrow. . . .” While TMN may have been a useful youthful account of the World War II period, it is unclear if it led to a “better world.”