The New Era

New era (Sauk Rapids, Minn.) 1860-1861  Browse the title

When William H. Wood and Julia A. A. Sargent Wood took over Jeremiah Russell’s Sauk Rapids Frontierman in early January 1860, they re-christened it the New Era in tribute to the “goaheadativeness” of Sauk Rapids’ new post-frontier phase of development. But new also was the paper’s moderate but firm antislavery Republicanism, and its one-page “literary department” under Mrs. Wood’s editorial direction. The New Era continued for less than a year, ceasing publication abruptly in late November following the election of Abraham Lincoln. But in its short life it set important benchmarks for both literary aspirations and pluralistic tolerance, and furthered the journalistic career of one of Minnesota’s early “scribbling women.”

Julia Sargent, known by her pen name of Minnie Mary Lee, met and married fellow New Hampshire native William Wood when both were teaching in a Kentucky academy, and moved with her lawyer husband to Sauk Rapids in 1851. Her sentimental poetry and genre pieces found early outlets in eastern journals like Arthur’s Home Magazine, and lent some cultural cachet to the Frontierman during the initial months of Wood’s 1855 editorship. Now the New Era gave the Woods a chance to improve this model.  

The front page of their six-column, four-page weekly regularly showcased Julia Wood’s own poems and stories steeped in the domestic sentimentalism of the era, as well as those of other Minnesota women and of friends from Boston and Kentucky. She also made space for book notes and sermon reviews; editorials encouraging local philanthropy and physical exercise for women; and her own vividly realized sketches of “Life in the Woods” in early Sauk Rapids, prairie fires, pleasurable visits to an “Ojibway” village and a sugar camp, multicultural 4th of July festivities, and the like.

In his “political” pages, William Wood too continued and extended the Frontierman’s earlier engagement with the diversity of Upper Country life.  He printed the memoirs of Rev. Sherman Hall, missionary to the Ojibwe; made room for news of German Democrats across the river, unwelcome in Jane Grey Swisshelm’s Republican St. Cloud Visiter; and gave full coverage to an attack on “our Chippewa neighbors” by a Dakota “war party”. “We believe now, as always,” editorialized Wood, “that the horrible massacres and frightful tortures of which the pale face has been the victim, have been brought upon his own head by his own wanton cruelty, and his utter denial of the Indian’s right.” The New Era’s dedication to Macaulay’s maxim that “Freedom is the only safeguard of Government, and Order and Moderation are necessary to Freedom,” similarly governed the New Era’s carefully reasoned Republicanism in the debates of the 1860 presidential campaign.

The Woods briefly took over the St. Cloud Union, the pro-Union Democratic paper that Sylvanus Lowry published on their plant early in the Civil War, but after her husband’s 1870 death, Julia Wood returned only periodically to newspaper editing. She wrote regularly for journals and newspapers, and as a Catholic convert, explored her new faith in a series of novels. She died in 1903.