We’ve Come a Long Way Baby: Reading Material for Women

cheryl_stjohn_logo.jpgIn the early 1880s Godey’s Ladies Book was the only reading material available for women. Louis Godey considered himself an authority on proper reading for women, on fashion and even household hints. Godey’s magazine also contained recipes and some fiction.

Cyrus Curtis published a farming magazine called Tribune and Farmer. In 1883 he decided to broaden the appeal of his publication and added a women’s supplement called The Ladies Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper.

1886 ladies home journalThe supplement was so popular that after a year, Curtis’s women’s magazine became an independent publication with Curtis’s wife Louisa Knapp Curtis as editor for the first six years. She dropped the last three words in the title in 1886 and the magazine became The Ladies Home Journal.

ladies_home_journal_1893The couple wanted to attract a million subscribers. Some people just set their sites too low, you know? They went about achieving their goal by asking well known authors of the day to write articles and short stories. Writers like Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain attracted subscribers, and circulation continued to climb even when the rate was raised from fifty cents a year to a dollar in 1889.

Louisa eventually retired and their son-in-law took over as editor. Edward Bok added advice columns to the mix. Helen Keller contributed an article on neonatal blindness. Because of the connotation that neonatal blindness was almost always caused by a venereal disease, that article lost the magazine subscribers.

ladies-home-journalBy 1903 The Ladies Home Journal surpassed the million subscriber goal, regardless. Good Housekeeping has been on the market since 1885 and Vogue since 1893, though none of the other publications held the same broad appeal as The Ladies Home Journal.

Today The Ladies Home Journal continues to be one of the leading magazines for American women, offering commentary on issues such as politics, religion, health and child-rearing. You can find one in every doctor and dentist’s office in the country. Amazing, huh?

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20 thoughts on “We’ve Come a Long Way Baby: Reading Material for Women”

  1. Interesting isn’t it, that so many men were (and ARE!) determining what women read. And isn’t it amazing that some magazines have been around “forever”? As different as these covers look, just think of how, even though times have changed, women still find the need to read about fashion, cooking, serious subjects all in one place!

  2. Wow that magazine has been around long time. It has some very informational things in it, of course we love reading about fashion and cooking.

  3. When you think about it, it’s only been during the past hundred years that women have made decisions regarding their own reading, marriages, birth control, health care–everything.

    I can’t imagine the isolation the women must have experienced. We think we go stir crazy after a week in the house with our kids, and we have TV, news, and the Internet! Unless they lived in a city, they had a only few books and perhaps an outdated newspaper or two. I wonder what dinner conversation was like.

    “What’s new?”
    “Nothing. What’s new with you?”
    “Nothing?”
    “What did you do today?”
    “I made breakfast, fed the baby, washed diapers, hung them up to dry, swept the floor, made lunch….”

  4. Cheryl,
    I still love Ladies Home Journal. My fave has always been their “Can This Marriage Be Saved?”

    Did any of you know that Catherine Beecher, sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote a book for women on decorating the home and giving household advice? Really interesting. I think it came out soon after the Civil War. Can’t remember the name. A good source for homemaking in the 19th century.

  5. Good Morning Cheryl,

    I still look at Ladies Home Journal. It has always been one of my favorite magazines.

    To think about not being able to do the things that you want is unthinkable

    Thanks Cheryl

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  6. My mother subscribed to all those old magazines, LHJ, Good Housekeeping, McCalls, etc. when I was growing up. I read them from cover to cover.
    Hate to say it, but I think they were better then than now. Some of the fiction was wonderful. I really miss those short stories and book excerpts.

  7. I admire the women who lived in previous centuries so much…I recommend watching the 1900 House or other similiar shows from PBS. I got to watch them from the local library.

  8. When I was researching the book I’m finishing up right now, I found so much advice for women on making their homes perfect to reflect well upon their husbands. They were even told that they were more appealing to their men if they busied themselves with handiwork of an evening – embroidery, decopage, that sort of thing.

  9. Great post Cheryl, I didn’t relize that The Ladies Home Journal had been around that many years, very interesting!

  10. i’ve read some experts from old magazines and the advice is really entertaining and crazy at the same time
    the role of women has sure changed a lot!
    i would have been desperate for something to read if i lived back then!

  11. Love the post, Cher! Wow, I didn’t know Ladies Home Journal had been around so long. That’s amazing. It takes people with vision to make differences in society. The Curtis’s were certainly that. I’m glad women got the right to make their own choices, however small. Astounding how a seed of an idea can grow and spread into a forest.

  12. Hi Cher, great info on some very favorite magazines. My gramma subscribed to all the ladies magazines. I loved the McCall’s paper dolls.

    I too miss the short stories in magazines, but I have found some grat holiday recipes in these magazines. oxoxoxox

    Yay, Louisa May!

  13. Cheryl,
    Great information. I used to read LHJ all the time but haven’t read it in years. Not sure why. Now you’ve inspired me to pick up a copy.

    I’m going to ask my husband tonight if he finds me more desirable when I’m knitting or sewing. That should get an interesting response.

  14. I remember Betsy McCall, the paper cut out doll. I loved cutting her and her clothes out. I remember how much time we took playing with her.

    Times have sure changed.

  15. Interesting post.
    I have several copies of The Ladies Home Journal from around 1917. They were published during WWI and have many war related articles. Many are of the support the troops type. The articles and advertisements are interesting. Even more than books of the period, these magazines are an excellent “you are there” view of the time.

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