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Weekly Reader: An Important Part of Classrooms for Many Years

Weekly ReaderSeveral generations of Americans remember Weekly Reader as a source of news in the classroom.

The goal of the four- to eight-page weekly paper, which was distributed via the classroom, was to bring awareness to children of what was happening in the world, so that one day they might become daily newspaper readers.

Schools purchased the publication in bulk, and a nominal fee (about $2 in the 1950’s) was collected from parents to offset district charges. (Schools generally had money for those who could not afford it.)

The weekly was distributed on Friday afternoons, and must have offered a welcome relief to teachers who were ready for something to fill the final afternoon before the weekend. 

The First Issue of Weekly Reader

The first issue, published September 21, 1928 and primarily aimed at fourth graders featured a lead story about the childhoods of two presidential candidates in the 1928 election: Al Smith and Herbert Hoover. The headline read: “Two Poor Boys Who Made Good Are Now Running for the Highest Office in the World!”  As the publication evolved, it came to include a lead story, a regular column Weekly Readeron innovations as well as photographs, cartoons, discussion questions, and puzzles and games that were tied into current events in some way.

The company knew it had a hit on its hands when the circulation of the publication reached 100,000 during the first year and grew to a high of 13 million in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. It is estimated that two-thirds of American adults grew up reading My Weekly Reader. 

The Idea for Weekly Reader

The idea of creating a newspaper for children has been largely attributed to Eleanor M. Johnson (1892-1987), who had been an educator in York, Pennsylvania, before taking over as long-time editor in 1934.

The start of the publication actually pre-dated Johnson’s participation. As early as 1902 the American Education Press existed and distributed a weekly newspaper for high school students called Current Events.

In 1928, a salesman, Harrison Sayre of Columbus, Ohio, suggested the idea of distributing a simple newsweekly for elementary school students. He was soon on board at American Education Press to develop the publication.  Sayre established himself as managing editor and hired Martha Fulton, a writer for children, to work as editor.  Fulton began with the first issue (September 21, 1928) and remained editor for several years. In later interviews, Sayre gives Fulton a great deal of credit for coming up with the right formula for the weekly.

Eleanor M. Johnson, was Director of Elementary Schools in York,

Weekly Reader
Eleanor Johnson

Pennsylvania (1926-1930), when she was hired by My Weekly Reader, as it was then called, as a freelance editor of the back page. IN 1930 she moved to Lakewood, Ohio where she was assistant superintendent of curriculum. She continued on with AEP as a freelance editor.

In 1934 she was hired to be editor-in-chief of My Weekly Reader. She served in that capacity until 1966. When she retired, she continued to work as a consultant to the company.

 Viewpoint Closely Monitored

Weekly Reader was sometimes criticized for its narrow perspective on the world.  World War II was described to young readers as a time when “thousands of American men [in the Army] are learning to

Weekly Reader summer edition
summer edition

cook and sew.” The publication also touted one of the benefits of war being the development of many inventions that were being created in response to the needs of the time (butter that would not spoil, dishes that did not break if dropped, etc.)

Later, the Civil Rights movement was all but ignored, and while the Korean War was written about to some extent, the Vietnam War was avoided.  Clearly, controversy was avoided.

The Los Angeles Times quoted from a speech given by Eleanor Johnson in 1942 where she described the publication’s philosophy: “…We promise to do our share in guarding America’s children from the hazards of fear, tensions, and frustration and to contribute to emotional stability through the inspiration and reassurance that the carefully selected current content of My Weekly Reader brings to children. Ours shall be a positive philosophy of optimism.”

By the end of the 1950’s, different versions of the weekly paper weeklyreaderexisted for children in first through sixth grades. There were also curriculum-specific magazines for middle and high school students, including areas such as health, science, careers, reading, and writing.

In 2007, Weekly Reader Corporation became part of The Readers Digest Association. That company tried to create a viable online version but was unsuccessful.  In February 2012, Weekly Reader was acquired by its competitor, Scholastic. The publications have joined forces and are now re-branded as Scholastic News/Weekly Reader.

If you would like to share your memories of Weekly Reader, I would be delighted. Please use the comments section.

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50 thoughts on “Weekly Reader: An Important Part of Classrooms for Many Years”

  1. Pingback: Dick and Jane: Story of These Early Readers - America Comes Alive

  2. I grew up in the 1960’s and remember the excitement when our teacher told us that it was time to distribute the new edition of the Weekly Reader. I have particulary strong memories of the issue about the fire in Apollo 1. It’s too bad you can’t get PDF versions of past issues.

  3. Thank you for posting…I too remember. And yes, wouldn’t it be great if you could download certain issues?

  4. Well, my main memory of Weekly Reader is that, in first grade, I got in trouble for writing my name on mine in cursive instead of printing it. Had to spend three days of recess sitting in the classroom with my head down on my desk while the other kids went outside to the playground.

  5. Oh I am so sorry. I think most of us have had some sort of experience in school where we’re left thinking, “What?” Thank you for posting. It’s one of those things you never forget.

  6. My husband and I were reminiscing about our weekly readers today…can’t remember how it came up! He grew up in rural Wisconsin, I in suburban New York. Thank you for providing the answers on publication to satisfy our curiosity!

  7. Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. When I was a kid, I certainly didn’t understand how Weekly Reader could truly impact lives. Today I read 3 newspapers…maybe Weekly Reader was the beginning.

    Kate

  8. I remember looking forward to Fridays when I was in 3rd grade in the early 1950s. I still remember the Headlines such as Mt Everest being conquered for the first time.

  9. Ronald K. McHaney

    Just as I was beginning to recover from election angst, somebody apparently decided it might be fun to replace Ron’s missing angst by reminding me I’m old enough to remember the Weekly Reader…. :)

  10. I looked forward to reading My Weekly Reader in elementary school and would love to browse the 1964-1968 issues again. Are there no copies or online records of them anywhere? It was a wonderful time in school when the newspaper arrived. The news generated a lot of discussion in our classes. What fun!

  11. I have not found any online records. You might try your local library…otherwise, there are some random copies for sale on sites like ebay and Etsy… When I was double-checking so I could answer you, I noted that some people seem buy a few as gift for friends or family….a fun idea! Hope you are able to find one! Kate

  12. At the breakfast table I was thinking about how much I enjoyed the weekly reader in the 50’s in elementary school. Thanks for giving me a great look back.

  13. I, too, loved the Weekly Reader, as I remember enjoying reading about Prince Charles and Princess Anne who were close to my age. I am 70. Also, I was so excited to learn about Alaska and Hawaii when they became states. In high school, Current Events, was interesting to read in my American History class, with different views written about current events included in the editorial section. Then, when I became a teacher, my students liked the updated papers.

  14. How wonderful that you took the experience into your own teaching. Thank you for posting.

    Kate

  15. I too remember the Summer Weekly Reader that was delivered to our house. I would roll it up, put it into the waistband of my shorts & climb the dogwood tree in the back yard to read it. That way my brother could not bother me !

    I also remember that my older sister subscribed to a magazine called Jack & Jill. They always had lovely front cover art.

  16. What a great memory…thank you for sharing it.

    And you’re right…I hadn’t thought of Jack & Jill in years!

  17. What a great treat to get ever week. Our school was a little disadvantaged I guess. As I remember we shared it at school and couldn’t take it home. Passing it from student to student in your row. Best memory was reading about the Dead Sea scrolls still being found. I believe first grade 1953.
    Many thanks!

  18. How wonderful that you have strong memories of it, and kudos to the school for figuring out a way for it to be shared with everyone. Thank you for posting.

  19. We burned all of ours behind the school with some old model airplanes and sparklers :(

  20. That is too bad. Today I hear from people who are looking for copies! It’s hard to judge the value of things when you’re living through an era.
    Thanks for posting.

  21. Kathleen Chojnacki

    I could hardly wait for each new Weekly Reader! I can’t remember what year we started getting them. First grade was 1958. It started my love of reading that continues to this day! I turned 70 this past week, and I have a Kindle packed full and more books than shelves! Thank you for reminding me of this wonderful school treat!

  22. I, too, am going back to Weekly Reader days lol with the space program. I am turning 80 May 1st. I’m not sure when it was posted but I would love for today’s youth to see the picture of what was to be our first space station. It was round in shape and I remember thinking how fantastic it would be to go to that space station. Do you know where we can find this article , in the early 50’s in the Weekly Reader?

  23. You post a great question…Random copies of Weekly Reader can be found on eBay that doesn’t offer a very efficient way to search for a story. (If any reader has suggestions, I welcome it!) But in the meantime, I’ve found a page that shows the circular station you describe. I do not have rights to post the individual photo, but you can certainly go to these listings to see it: https://www.google.com/search?sxsrf=ALeKk00GSffaOQV-0aEfXvUtEYssfuXOmw:1619281601959&source=univ&tbm=isch&q=images+skylab&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjG2bOFppfwAhX-FzQIHeclCfcQjJkEegQIBBAB&biw=1536&bih=722
    The Russians actually launched the first space station, the Salyut (1971). Skylab (1973) from the U.S. followed.

  24. I remember a cartoon strip called Squiffy Good Citizen the most. Wish I had just one copy of that little strip. I have called some of my friends who do volunteer work or public good works that name. I did, however, find that Squiffy actually means “slightly drunk”!!!

  25. I did not know that. I’m sure the editors at Weekly Reader would be horrified if they had ever realized! Thanks for posting.

  26. My husband and I both remember that in our WeeklyReader we were told that one day we would cook on paper plates, in a microwave. Really caught our attention Started 1st grade in 1948

  27. I seem to recall that my school district replaced Weekly Reader with a more news-oriented publication called something like Young Citizen that tilted right. Does anyone else remember something like that?

  28. Hi Ron,
    If we’re lucky maybe we will hear from someone else on this. I looked to see what I could learn, however. There is nothing descriptive about the “Young Citizen” publication other than on vintage ones being sold, but I found one Young Citizen that was produced by Scholastic and was to teach civics. Perhaps that was it? But then there is another listing for something that is more like a newspaper, also called Young Citizen. The lot being sold is from the 1950s, but of course, that may not fully describe what and when it was available. Thank you for mentioning this, and I hope that another reader may recall this other publication. Stay tuned!

  29. I have so many fond memories of the Weekly Reader I Friday afternoons! My all time favorite story was about the killer bees making their way to the US from South America.

  30. Thank you for posting. How terrific that you remember a specific story! And yes, Fridays…

  31. Could we order books from the Weekly Reader? There were books that I loved as a child and it seems like we ordered them vs. going to a bookstore.

  32. I don’t believe so, but other readers may have better memories on that. I believe the book ordering in schools was maintained by Scholastic. They ran the book fairs but they also handed out a 4-page sheet from which you could order.
    Does anyone else have a memory of ordering from Weekly Reader?

  33. This My Weekly Reader article (http://dreamsofspace.blogspot.com/2017/04/my-weekly-reader-oct-5-1959-weather-is.html) was likely responsible for my tree hugging tendencies. Additionally, based on this article indicating man had a role in global warming and climate change, My Weekly Reader was clearly an early purveyor of fake news, targeting the you innocent minds of children across our nation. Certainly among the first examples of the “lyin media” :-)

  34. Thanks for posting. Many people have wanted to retrieve copies of My Weekly Reader. Your source has actually found some copies of them. It is too bad they aren’t online.

    So you are no longer a “tree hugger?”

  35. Can you tell me if there was a Weekly Reader about the teacher that was picked to go into Space with the Challenger space shuttle? I have a clear memory of discussing this thoroughly when this was about to happen and then of course watching the disaster happen live with millions of other kids around the World. It was the second time as a child that I felt like my innocence was stolen if that makes sense. I also remember a Weekly Reader that talked about the Election when Ronald Reagan won. I don’t remember if we did a classroom VOTE on our own or if it took place using the Weekly Reader.

  36. Thank you for posting. Unfortunately, there is no way to search through an archive of Weekly Readers. Wouldn’t it be great if there were? So many people would like a peek back.

    The story about the teacher in space would have been a natural for Weekly Reader…and of course, no one knew it would end in disaster. Your memories of the topics covered are very likely to be exactly what the newsletter covered. Makes perfect sense.

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