In 1914, you needn’t smile when you said ‘hillbilly’

“The most fascinating example of the term’s mid-1910s usage, and the one that best illustrates the still unformalized nature of the term ‘hillbilly,’ is the monthly literary magazine written and published beginning in 1914 by students at Asheville High School in North Carolina, simply entitled ‘The Hillbilly.’

“One might expect a cartoonish mountaineer with a slouch hat and rifle as the cover illustration. Instead, the title page of the first several years’ editions feature a highly stylized female visagein the manner of Aubrey Beardsley with flowing tresses and exotic neckwear. The use of gothic print for article and poem titles, the high quality of the paper, and the lack of any discussion of the meaning or significance of the magazine title all indicate that ‘hillbilly’ had not yet developed the stereotyped meaning that it later would but instead was used as a nearly apolitical regional marker….

“More than 10 years would pass before this publication began to adopt more standardized mountain imagery.”

— From “Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon” by Anthony Harkins (2003)


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