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?