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Elizabeth Towne was both a writer and a publisher of New Thought works. Founder of the Nautilus Magazine which had the largest circulation of any New Thought Magazine. She published many New Thought authors. Because her press was a private company, she managed to avoid much of the "spiritual politics" that later came to plague the New Thought movement and eventually decimated the Divine Science denomination.
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Elizabeth Towne was originally a Methodist, then took up New Thought and become an excellent teacher and publisher of many New Thought writers.
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, it 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 she was inspired to call Nautilus.
Not too long after, she began to scour the social landscape for a man in her newly chosen field and true to her intent, in May, 1900, Elizabeth married William E. Towne, a book and magazine publisher and distributor, bringing the Nautilus to his hometown of Holyoke, Massachusetts. Together, they eventually built up a profitable business in the publishing and distribution of the magazine and New Thought books. Once Elizabeth was partnered with William, the magazine sales boomed. In June 1900, a month after they were married, William began publishing the Nautilus and distribution jumped to 4,500 copies. The printer's bill was just $36.93, including the wrapping. The partnership paid off handsomely and within a short space of time her little four-page paper grew into a handsome illustrated magazine. William was responsible for financing and marketing and soon approximately 50,000 copies of Nautilus were being mailed out of Holyoke each month in addition to a hefty subscription book business. It took four girls a whole week to wrap up a single issue of Nautilus and the delivery to the local post office was by far the largest in the area.
On Sunday morning of December 9, 1910, Holyoke woke up to find that a fire had broken out at the printing plant reducing this flourishing enterprise to ashes. The home of William and Elizabeth Town was destroyed. The site became a tourist destination, with people stopping to and commenting on the situation. But, like a phoenix, a new and better building rose from the ashes. People gossiped about the new building, speculating as to what it was. Exceeding the size of an average city home, and too lavish to be a set of apartment houses, the construction bewildered the locals. It has spacious porches and plenty of glass. Eventually the buzz settled on the thought that it was a schoolhouse which was not far off the mark. Over time, the Nautilus offices had acquired a reputation for being a finishing school or high school annex because its editor, Mrs. Elizabeth Towne, had a firm and steady vision as to how her employees should behave and the customary requirement for employment was a high school diploma.
Elizabeth was meticulous in her screening of the young women who would work in her newly acquired enterprise. William, the consumate publisher focused on marketing and left the marketing the editing or the day to day creative process to Elizabeth.
Glancing through the many windows of the publishing house, many said it looked like a sewing club or a sorority. Mrs. Towne did not take long to understand the way the wind was blowing and began to emphasize the fact that "Our office supplies schooling as well as work." We teach the best methods we know, believing that responsibilities honestly discharged and work done efficiently and good-willingly make for character, and character makes for success and happiness and health. She would further illucidate her philosophy, by observing that 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."
The division of labour was quite evident, with Mrs. Towne being the editor of Nautilus, and William focusing on the financial aspects. He was the perfect support system for her desires. She wrote constantly for the magazine and yet had enough time to write and publish numerous versions of her own books and pamphlets supporting New Thought arund the Globe. 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 also associated with the magazine 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 soon incorporated as the Elizabeth Towne Company, a private 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 together with her husband was now 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:
"Build thee more stately mansions, oh my soul!
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low vaulted past!
Let each new temple nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!"
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 seeing Elizabeth Towne walking arm in arm down the street one day with poets Edwin Markham and Ella Wheeler Wlcox, an impressive sight as he recalled it. Elizabeth Towne was without doubt one of the more colorful characters in the history of the New Thought Movement.