Samantha at the World's Fair

Samantha at the World's Fair by Josiah Allen's Wife (Marietta Holley)

Illustrated by Baron C. De Grimm

Published by Funk & Wagnalls Company, New York - London and Toronto, 1893


By Doug Boilesen

The following are phonographia highlights from Samantha at the World's Fair by Marietta Holley.

Chapter XVIII's "The Electricity Building" describes the wonders of electricity in 1893 featuring the Electric House "all fitted up from basement to attic with electricity." A phonograph in its parlor offers selections from "operatic or sacred music or comic songs....Or if they want to hear Gladstone debate, or Chauncey Depew joke, or Ingersoll lecture, or no matter what their tastes are, they can be gratified. The phonograph don't care; it will bring to 'em anything they call for."

The book itself is an example of what has been called "fair fiction" where a 'fair' like the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 is the setting for the story. For Samantha and her husband Josiah their rural Jonesville home is "the very centre of the earth" making Jonesville and their Chicago Exposition visit the primary stage sets for the humor and satire of author Marietta Holley.


Samantha and Josiah Allen are simple Jonesvillians traveling to the big city of Chicago and their rural dialect and comments remind me of the early recording artist Cal Stewart and his Uncle Josh Weathersby character and Punkin' Centre stories which included visits to New York City, Coney Island and Boston. Uncle Josh had his Deacon Witherspoon; Josiah and Samantha had their Deacon Henzy; Uncle Josh had Punkin' Centre; Joshiah and Samantha had Jonesville. Samantha and Josiah's visit to Chicago and its World's Fair is secondary to Samantha's contemporary focus and comments on politics, religion, prohibition, woman's rights, and a preference for just being at home. Likewise, Cal Stewart said all he ever wanted to do with his stories was make people laugh.


Samantha and Josiah at the Fair






For Friends of the Phonograph there is only one paragraph describing the phonograph and three other references to Edison -- not much, but perhaps proportional in comparison to Holley's greater interest in social issues like women's rights which were said to be what she really cared about. Nevertheless, it's no small compliment to say that the phonograph "will bring to 'em anything they call for."

The following summary reveals that Holley never went to the World's Columbian Exhibition or any of the other places she wrote about in her 10-book travel series (other than Coney Island):

"She wrote over 25 books, including one collection of poems, two dramas and one long poem, between 1873 and 1914. Among her novels was a 10-book series that detailed the travels and married life of Samantha and Josiah Allen as they journey outside Samantha's rural hometown, which was similar to Holley's own. Holley herself spent most of her life close to her family's farm; aside from Saratoga and Coney Island, she never actually visited the places to which she sent her fictional protagonists; she instead depended on maps, guidebooks, and descriptions for the necessary details... Many contemporary writers and suffragists held her in high regard; her famous friends included Susan B. Anthony, Twain, and Clara Barton. Anthony frequently asked Holley to give speeches at suffrage conventions because of Holley's support of women's suffrage, but she refused public appearances." Wikipedia - Marietta Holley



Samantha at the World's Fair on the Internet Archive is an easy source for accessing the complete book.

For the current list of "fair fiction" literature see VINTAGE FICTION INVOLVING THE 1893 WORLD’S FAIR.

See other phonographia "fair fiction" examples in PhonoLiterature.



Extract from Chapter XVIII - "The Electricity Building" (With the Electric House and the Phonograph)

"Oh, what a house! what a house!"



The Electricity Building of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition at night. (Image from Graham, Charles S. The World’s Fair in Water Colors. Mast, Crowell & Kirkpatrick, 1893.) Source: The City of Wonders -












Samantha's comment about her husband Josiah and Edison - Page 582