A Nineteenth Century Woman’s Reading Material


LindaEarly magazines had a tough go and it was due mainly to distribution difficulties. There was no easy way to get the periodicals into the hands of women. It often took weeks and months for mail to travel via stagecoach.  Another factor was the fact subscriptions were very expensive at $2 and $3 dollars a year, especially for non-essential things. Most folks back then were hard pressed to come by that kind of money. In the larger cities, some magazines resorted to accepting pork, corn, cheese etc. in lieu of cash.

Nineteenth century women were often starved for something to engage their minds and relieve the tedium of their lives but before Godey’s Lady’s Book their choices were severely limited. Godey’s was the most widely circulated before the Civil War. The magazine was in circulation from 1830 to 1878. The magazine was owned by Louis Godey with Sarah Hale as the editor. Women loved reading articles they could relate to. While fashion plates were included in every issue, the magazine was geared toward the ordinary woman who was less educated.

Godey Lady's BookLadies Home Journal began in 1883 and was in circulation for 131 years. Sadly, the July 2014 issue will be the last. It was the first magazine to attain one million subscribers and it was one of the first periodical to tackle some of the problems of the nineteen century such as suffrage, family planning, marriage advice, and child rearing.

Good Housekeeping came along in 1885. The thirty-two-page biweekly sold for $2.50 a year. It offered advice on home decorating, cooking and dressmaking but also carried puzzles and quizzes. It’s still in circulation today and publishes ten editions around the world. Their Seal of Approval has become a gold standard for quality in everything.

Cosmopolitan began in Rochester, New York in 1886 by Paul Schlicht who after sufffering financial difficulties due to the $4.oo a year subscription price sold the magazine to John Walker. To bolster interest in the periodical, Walker set out on a railroad tour of the New England states, giving the memoirs of either Ulysses S. Grant or General William T. Sherman to new subscribers. By 1896 the Cosmopolitan had secured its place as a leading periodical. The Hearst Corporation acquired the magazine in 1905.

Ladies Home JournalVogue was born in 1892, House Beautiful in 1896, National Geographic in 1888 and finally Scientific American in 1845.

There were others of course like the New England Kitchen Magazine in 1894 and the Delineator which included dress patterns in every issue, but the ones I’ve listed were the leading sellers. But probably it was rare for one of any kind to find its way into a pioneer woman’s hands.

After the struggles of Godey’s Lady’s Book, it seemed a periodical explosion took place. I had no idea some of these went back so far. I’ll bet you didn’t either.

If you had lived back then and had the money, which one would you most likely have subscribed to?
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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

26 thoughts on “A Nineteenth Century Woman’s Reading Material”

  1. Thanks, Linda! A very interesting post! I think women would have been drawn to something like this just for the fact that they were WOMEN and that it drew them together! I know the price was prohibitive but it was something that was strictly for them at the time. Sure a lot of women couldn’t relate to things on the pages but still, I’m sure it was very enjoyable to them!

  2. Hi Valri……I’m so glad you liked my subject. I do think women have always needed things like magazines and books and schools. We just want to know what’s available and out there, even if it is unattainable. I love reading PEOPLE magazine and seeing what the celebrities are wearing and what they’re doing that is newsworthy and not because I have a goal of becoming an actress.

    Thanks for stopping by and have a great day!

  3. Hi Linda, fascination post. I had no idea some of those magazines went back that far. I’d sure like to get my hands on an early House Beautiful magazine for an upcoming book.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Hi Margaret…….I’m glad you liked my post. I found this information in a book I have called “Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things.” It’s full of interesting subjects. I thought Ebay might have an early copy of House Beautiful but the earliest I found was 1925. An 1896 copy would be a great find. Surely someone has a copy. If I run across it, I’ll let you know.

    Have a wonderful day! Blessings and hugs.

  5. I knew about LHJ & GH being around for a long time… the others are a bit of a surprise… Godey’s Lady’s Book was an unknown to me…

  6. What a fun, fascinating post! I had to idea these magazines dated back so far! I am sorry to hear that Ladies Home Journal will no longer be published. What an amazing circulation it achieved!

  7. My mom had a subscription to McCall’s. I went and checked and in it’s first, very short, version called The Queen, it started in 1873.
    I loved that magazine, with the Betsy McCall cut out doll and the clothes you could cut out and dress her in.

    such simple pleasures back then.

  8. What a great post, Linda! I love finding scans of these old magazines online. Especially the fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazar, The Delineator, and Peterson’s Magazine. Such a gold mine for historical research!

  9. Hi Colleen……..I’m glad you stopped by to leave a comment. I always appreciate it. Godey’s Women’s Book was the only magazine for women for some time. They ran some interesting articles in it and was full of advice on almost any subject. I’m going to try to blog about some of the stuff very soon.

    Take care and have a great day/evening.

  10. Hi Britney……..I’m glad my blog caught your fancy. Like you, I had no idea some of these have been around for so long. I, too, think it’s sad that Ladies Home Journal is folding after such an amazing run. Really the Internet is hurting so many of these publications. Just a shame.

    Have a fun day!

  11. Hi Mary………I remember McCall’s very well. We didn’t have a subscription though. They’d already stopped the practice of accepting cheese and pork as payment. LOL! But I remember those Betsy McCall cut out dolls and the clothes too. I lived and breathed for my paper dolls. I was obsessed. My baby sister and I used to create long, drawn out stories for them and let our dolls act them out. Funny, but I sure didn’t feel a bit deprived back then. I pity kids today because they don’t know how to entertain themselves and use their imaginations.

  12. Hi Karen…….I, too, love when I run across the actual articles and things online that was in the magazines. Makes interesting reading and it really does help with research. I’m going to have to find out more about the Delineator. I’ll bet it had some great stuff in it.

    Hope you have a wonderful day!

  13. Hi Linda! What an interesting post! I have always been a lover of magazines and would have probably taken Ladies Home Joirnal as I have off and on over the years. I hate to hear that it is coming to an end. I find it so amazing that some magazines have been around so many years. I had no idea!

  14. Hi Melanie……..Thanks for coming by. Glad I could tell you something you didn’t know. I’m sure women in the 1800’s were starved for something to read and look at, especially after a long day of cooking, washing, taking care of kids, and countless other chores. There was certainly no shortage of work. The magazines relieved some of the tedium of their lives and that was always welcome. I take a few magazines and always enjoy looking at them.

    Hope you enjoy the rest of the day!

  15. Linda, for as far back as I can remember, my mom subscribed to Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping. As she got older, she rarely read them for much of anything except the recipes. But I think she felt comforted to have them coming every month and it reminded her of “the old days” when those magazines would be passed around within the family, then family to family. This was a very interesting article!

  16. I had no idea that these Mags were that old. I would have enjoyed looking at any of them. How many folks were able to read?? during those early years? Of course there had to be pictures. Would love to see one today. House Beautiful? Wow! I would like to see that one.

  17. I would probably liked the LADIES HOME JOURNAL. I have several copies from about 1914-16, during WWI. The pictures and articles are very interesting. It kept up with current events and issues.

  18. Hi Cheryl…….Getting a magazine used to be a rare treat and, like you said, treasured and shared with everyone. My mom never got a chance to read magazines. She was too busy trying to help my dad make a living. I know she probably would’ve liked Good Housekeeping though with all the neat recipes and things. I’m so glad you liked what I brought to the table. Take care of yourself.

  19. Hi Mary J……..You’re right, a lot of people didn’t know how to read. But there were many more who could and I’m sure they treasured each magazine they were able to buy. I, too, was amazed that so many magazines went back that far. Just amazing. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  20. Oh, Patricia……How wonderful that you have those old copies of Ladies Home Journal!! What an amazing thing to have. I can’t even imagine kind of stuff was in them. Very interesting. I’m sure you cherish them. I know I would! I have some teen magazines from the 1950’s and some of Elvis. I guard them with my life.

  21. I have a compilation of early magazines, but I am not sure what it is. I think it started with a B. It is buried someplace in a box, so I can’t check. Burwell’s or something like that I think.
    Reading these is like looking through a window to the past.

  22. Linda,

    I didn’t know how far most of these went back, especially Cosmopolitan. I thought that one started in the 60s or 70s. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post.


  23. As I am a long time subscriber to Good Housekeeping a like to think I would have subscribed when it first came out. I’m not familiar with LHJ.

  24. Patricia……I can only imagine what it’s like to browse through these old magazines. The fashion, the prices, the funny articles written in their flowery language. Just so neat. I’m sure your magazine that starts with a B is safe and secure where you put it. At least I hope so. Take care.

  25. Hi Kirsten…….I’m so glad you enjoyed my post. It was fun learning about these things as I wrote the blog. Such amazing stuff. Cosmopolitan and Vogue magazines totally threw me. I didn’t know they started so long ago. Very interesting.

  26. Hi Laurie G………Thanks for coming by and leaving a comment. I’m glad it caught your fancy. I love all this old stuff. Research is one of the best parts about writing. I always enjoy reading Good Housekeeping. I don’t subscribe to it though. I always see it in the doctor’s office.

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