A Gift from Miss Carrie Lee

Charlotte Hays | Posted on 09/01/09

After paying a call on Miss Carrie Lee, who in her day had been what once was unself-consciously (and respectfully) known as an “old maid schoolteacher,” and who was, moreover, a dear old friend of my late grandmother’s (Nanny was partial to schoolteachers and clergymen), I received a gift in the mail from Miss Carrie Lee: Wee Wisdom, “a magazine for boys and girls.”

A subscription in my own name was quite exciting, and I looked forward to each issue. Wee Wisdom would continue to come for many years, overlapping with Seventeen, and still arriving when, no longer wee, I enrolled in college. But in the halcyon era when I first received it, Wee Wisdom was a source of pleasure and edification.

Wee Wisdom was published by Unity, founded by in the 1880s by Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, and was part of the New Thought movement, a loosely defined group that emphasized a metaphysic of healing, optimism, and prayer. It was not traditional Christianity, though there were occasional stories such as “Jesus’s Twelve Helpers.” Miss Carrie Lee, if memory serves, was devoted to the Unity movement.

Wee Wisdom might seem hopelessly trite to children of a more sophisticated era. But I found it deeply attractive. The color illustrations were beautiful, though in retrospect they were already beginning to look dated. Each issue featured a paper doll and I must tell you that the undergarments worn by Debbie Lou, one of the many paper dolls, looked like granny’s corset or perhaps a medieval chastity belt. Debbie Lou didn’t do skimpy. Children were pictured “peeling apples with Grandma” or trying out new stilts as mom, dad, sis, and the dog looked on. But mostly Wee Wisdom aimed at instilling valuable lessons for life. It described itself as a “character-building” magazine.

A look at old magazines reveals some of the character-building lessons: “I’m happy when I do what’s right, When not a single task I slight,” was a not very subtle bit of instruction. “I know the surest way to gain a friend is to be a friend,” was another. You get the picture. I wasn’t the only child who doted on the magazine — the future novelist Sidney Sheldon, at the ripe old age of ten, sent them a poem, which became his first published opus. Alas, it accidentally appeared with the byline of the uncle who had sent it in for young Sidney.

The magazine ceased publication in 1991. As I look back, I think it genuinely was character-building. Character is often simple rather than complex — you know, performing your allotted tasks according to your obligations and being a good friend. I’m sure Mama made me write Miss Carrie Lee a thank-you note — which was a wise thing to do — but here goes again: Thank you, Miss Carrie Lee, for a very wise publication. Really, it was better than Seventeen.

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