In the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth century, “boy books” became a popular genre of juvenile fiction. On display are sports-themed boys books, a subgenre of boy books. Heavily influenced by the “muscular Christianity” movement, boy books aimed to mold American boys into productive citizens.
The apotheosis of the model American boy is Frank Merriwell, the hero of Gilbert Patten’s most popular series of boy books. Able to take a punch that would incapacitate a normal human being and possessing remarkable intelligence, admirable courage, and athletic prowess, Frank Merriwell embodied truth, honesty, charity, humility, duty, sacrifice, and mercy toward his enemies. His enemies were never enemies for long. After Frank beat them in a fair fight that he did not start, his enemies would “come around” and end up as his friends. Frank Merriwell has been cited as an influence by notable people such as Woodrow Wilson, Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, and Christy Mathewson.
The other boy book series on display were also very popular for generations of American children and certainly influenced expectations of American masculinity in the twentieth century, an important reason that these books are now objects of scholarly study.