A Historical Look at Newspaper Social Pages in Olympia

“The Olympia Daily Recorder will be glad to hear of the social affairs of Olympia people, their trips to other cities and visitors who are here.”

This was the notice that ran above a few dozen column inches of copy in an Olympia newspaper in the early 1900s.

social pages olympia
The wedding of the daughter of the governor drew Olympia society north and a mention in the hometown paper. Photo courtesy: Library of Congress.

Social listings and columns have been an important part of local newspapers for decades. Wedding and engagement announcements, births and deaths obviously top the list. Neighborhood correspondent columns, club notices and anniversaries were also vital parts of a newspaper’s culture, however.

All of Olympia’s newspapers ran social listings in one way or another throughout their existence.

The story covering the engagement party of a young Thurston County scion – Leo F. Schmidt – and his soon-to-be wife was a fairly typical example of the style of writing:

At a charming affair at the John R. Mitchell home, Main and Maple Park, yesterday afternoon, the engagement of Leo F. Schmidt was announced by Mrs. Mitchell, aunt of the bride-to-be at a luncheon at which a dozen guests were entertained. The luncheon was a very pretty and highly enjoyable affair.

Leo F. Schmidt is the third son of Mr. and Mrs. L.F. Schmidt of Tumwater and has also lived here since childhood. The couple remains a favorite among the young people of Olympia.

By the 1960s local newspapers still offered several pages of social items, including separate pages for club announcements, engagements and weddings.

social pages olympia
The Neighborhood news columns brought in society news from outside Olympia. Photo credit: Library of Congress.

The Olympian in the 1970s carried at least two separate columns just on the social life in the city. One column, called “Mainly About People,” ran in the front section and seemed more like a person-on-the-street, day-to-day life column.

Further back in the paper, in the section reserved for the wedding and engagements announcements, the column called “Here and There” ran. It was written by Elsinor Mayfield, the “Women’s News” editor. This column was different in that it focused on social calls, notable engagements and anniversaries as well as club news.

By the 1980s the entire third section of The Olympian was called “Personal Side” and still included club notices, personal news and events listings. The section eventually began to include a sizeable amount of non-locally-written lifestyle content.

The entire social content of the paper in the 1990s was crammed into one feature column in the third section called “South Sound People.” Finally, by the 2000s the personal column was removed totally from the paper. At that point the paper was just running engagement and wedding announcements, all on one page.

social pages olympia
The engagement of the scion of the family owners of the Olympia Brewery was one of the most notable of the era. Photo courtesy: Seattle Public Library.

This decline in personal news in the local paper is not isolated to Olympia. Most newspapers in the country moved away from this kind of content in the same way.

The best analogy for the kind of role newspapers used to play is illustrated by what we see in social media today. We observe our friends at a party, we reveal our engagements, and we post our vacation pictures, all on social media.

The difference between what we do now and what newspapers did then is that one’s social life was presented to the entire community through the newspaper. While not everyone’s life was or could be written about in the paper, those personal details that were focused on were available to all. While surely the newspapers excluded people from coverage, now we decide who to prevent from receiving our personal news.

Use our Social Pages to share your life cycle news in Olympia and beyond. To learn more about having your engagement or marriage announcement published (for free!) on ThurstonTalk, click here.  Our Social Pages also share birth announcements, obituaries, and Thank You notes.

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