In 1857, a group of men met at the Omni Parker House Hotel. They had come to be known as the Saturday Club, an intellectual group with fluctuating membership that included most of Boston’s literary elite. On this particular occasion, their circle included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Russell Lowell, as well as two newcomers to the table: the ardent abolitionist and assistant publisher Francis Underwood and his employer, Moses Phillips. The subject of discussion was a monthly magazine to represent not just the work of American—rather than British—writers, but the spirit of the emergent American voice. As the Declaration of Purpose later stated,
“It will not rank itself with any sect of anties: but with that body of men which is in favor of Freedom, National Progress, and Honor, whether public or private.”
Holmes supplied the name, Phillips agreed to print it, and in November of the same year, the first issue of The Atlantic Monthly was published. The offices then were housed in The Old Corner Bookstore and moved several times before settling at 8 Arlington Street in 1919; The Atlantic would eventually take over much of the building, including a rear addition added in 1923.
The Atlantic quickly rose to prominence for the quality of its writing, including work from its founders as well as Louisa May Alcott, James Baldwin, linguist Noam Chomsky, Roald Dahl, civil rights activist W.E.B. DuBois, Albert Einstein, publisher James Thomas Fields (who served as editor from 1861 to 1871), Robert Frost, historian Edward Everett Hale, Nathaniel Hawthorne, poet Ted Hughes, Henry James, writer Sarah Orne Jewett, Helen Keller, Stephen King, environmentalist John Muir, Sylvia Plath, Gertrude Stein, Harriet Beecher Stowe, President Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, activist Booker T. Washington, writer Edith Wharton, and President Woodrow Wilson. In 1862, The Atlantic paid $4 for Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” In 1870, it serialized the memoir of Anna Harriette Leonowens, The English Governess at the Siamese Court, which was turned into the musical The King and I. In 1927, The Atlantic bought a story called “Fifty Grand,” by the then-up-and-coming author Ernest Hemingway. In 1963, it published an essay by Martin Luther King, Jr. entitled “The Negro is Your Brother,” better known today as “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”