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Born in 1865, Elizabeth Towne was the daughter of one of Oregon’s earliest pioneers. In 1900, at age 35, she reversed her father’s footsteps and headed east to Holyoke, where she became a pioneer in her own right.
Though never an official publication of the New Thought Movement, Nautilus was most probably the most widely read of the many that have appeared over the years, and was very influential. It was a private enterprise of its editor, Elizabeth Towne, who, originally a Methodist, had taken up New Thought and become a teacher.
She married at quite an early age, but the marriage proved to be an unhappy one which ended in divorce. She had to support herself and her children. At one period, while still living in Portland, Oregon, she felt the need for added income. Her schooling had been interrupted by her early marriage and she had no background of business experience; but one day, as she tells it herself, it suddenly came to her that she should undertake to publish a small periodical. She had no capital with which to begin it, but secured some help from her father, $30 per month for a six-month period, and so launched the magazine which by a kind of inspiration she chose to call Nautilus.
In May, 1900, Elizabeth brought the Nautilus to Holyoke, Massachusetts, and there married William E. Towne, a book and magazine publisher and distributor, and together they eventually built up a substantial and even profitable business in the publishing and distribution of the magazine and of New Thought books. The first issue of Nautilus made in Holyoke, June 1900, was 4,500 copies, and the printer's bill was just $36.93, including the wrapping. Within a short space of time this little four-page paper had grown to be a handsome illustrated magazine. Almost 50,000 of Nautilus were mailed out of Holyoke each month, besides the big subscription book business done by the firm. It was far and away the largest customer of the Holyoke post office. It took four girls a whole week to wrap up a single issue of Nautilus. All this had grown from the most modest beginnings.
On Sunday morning of December 9, 1910, Holyoke woke up to find that a smart fire had broken out and gotten enough headway during the night to destroy the home of one of Holyoke's very prominent families and reduced one of its flourishing enterprises to a state of utter disorganization. It was the home of Mr. and Mrs. William E. Towne, and of Nautilus. Now people who lived in the neighborhood were sure to stop and take note of the very interesting and unusual building that had risen from the ashes of the old home of Nautilus. Every day people were asking what that building is. It was too large for an ordinary city home, built too lavishly to be an apartment house, and it did not proclaim industry from its many windows and generous porches. Strangers usually decided that it was a school house--and that was not a bad guess either. For years the Nautilus office had been known as the high school annex because its editor, Mrs. Elizabeth Towne, insisted that all of her employes shall have been trained in some high school.
Home of Nautilus
If Elizabeth Towne was proud of anything more than any other thing, it was of the office girls. She selected them with great care and they looked like a sewing club or a lot of college girls, more than anything else. "Our office supplies schooling as well as work," says Mrs. Towne. "We teach the best methods we know for doing all kinds of work believing that responsibilities honestly discharged and all work efficiently and good-willingly done make for character, and character makes for success and happiness and health. Honest work for the worker's sake is the first principle of our business. We 'graduate' our workers just as a school does--when a helper reaches the place where she no longer grows by doing our work, we are glad to present her with our little 'Well done,' as a sort of diploma, and pass her on to new opportunities. In the ten years of our experience with Holyoke girls, we have had over seventy in our employ, for periods ranging from six weeks to more than seven years. Many of the finest positions in the city and elsewhere are now filled by girls who are glad of what they learned with us. Several are applying efficiency methods in their own happy homes. We are proud of our girls."
It is quite evident that Mrs. Towne was very much the editor of Nautilus, and she wrote constantly for the magazine and published numerous books and pamphlets of her own and others' on New Thought lines. Her husband was the associate editor and wrote most of the Nautilus advertising, in addition to publishing his own quarterly, American New Life, and carrying on his regular work of selling books by mail. Mrs. Towne's son, Chester, who carried the first issue of Nautilus down to the post office, on his shoulder, was associated with the magazine also as Chester Holt Struble, managing editor and advertising manager. These three formed the trinity that evolved the bigger, better, brighter Nautilus, exponent of New Thought, self-help, and human efficiency through self-knowledge.
Many famous New Thought writers contributed to Nautilus at one time or another. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, Edwin Markham, Anne Warner, Edward B. Warman, Horatio W. Dresser and Orison Swett Marden are among the well-known helpers who contributed some of their best work to Nautilus. William Walker Atkinson, one of the leading New Thought writers of the time, also joined the staff of writers.
The Nautilus business was incorporated as the Elizabeth Towne Company, a close corporation. The Elizabeth Towne Company owned the magazine and carried on all the subscription business connected with the publishing of Nautilus, as well as the publishing and distribution of books by Mrs. Towne and other New Thought authors.
While Nautilus had been thus growing and expanding, its editor's books were selling by the hundreds of thousands. Mrs. Towne was the author of thirteen books of various sizes, and the publisher of many more. One of her own books reached a sale of a hundred thousand copies, and Experiences in Self-Healing, which contains the life story of the author, covering a period of twenty years, also had a tremendous sale.
Besides her editorial, book making and home making life, Mrs. Towne was a lecturer of note, having crossed the continent on lecture tours. She has a generous paragraph in "Who's Who?" the standard American Hall of Fame. She was a member of the International Lyceum Club. In Holyoke she was deeply interested in local philanthropic work, with a special fondness for the Holyoke Boys' Club.
Her twelve years' residence had made her an ardent Holyoker, and a lover of all New England. People who met Mrs. Towne are at once impressed with the qualities that created her success. She had a message and the brains to present it well. She had high courage, rare judgment, a most attractive personality and with all these an immense capacity for hard work. These qualities mean success in any path in life. They have led to the practical application of the motto of Nautilus that appeared on the title page of every issue:
In 1924 Elizabeth Towne was elected president of the International New Thought Alliance and assumed editorship of the INTA periodical Bulletin also.The size of Bulletin doubled in a short period from around sixteen pages per issue to as many as thirty-two, and once even fifty-six under Mrs. Towne's editorship. Nor was this the only change effected by Mrs. Towne. The Bulletin assumed a sprightliness of manner reminiscent of the Nautilus. Nothing Mrs. Towne had anything to do with could fail to register something of the enthusiasm and energy which was her natural character.
Begun in 1898, Nautilus continued for more than fifty years until in August, 1953, Mrs. Towne announced that the advancing years of the editor and the increasing costs of production made it seem wise to discontinue publication with that issue.
A letter from a former president of INTA recalls his
Elizabeth Towne walking arm in arm down the street one day with poets
Markham and Ella Wheeler Wlcox, an impressive sight as he recalled it.
Elizabeth Towne was without doubt one of the more colorful characters
the history of the New Thought Movement.
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