Women's Magazines from the Pratt Library Collections
Part 1: Ladies' Books
Magazines created specifically for women readers emerged during what historian Frank Luther Mott called the “Golden Age of Periodicals” in the United States. In 1825, fewer than one hundred American journals were published regularly; by 1850, readers could choose from among approximately six hundred titles.
This period was also an age of expansion and reform, and questions about women’s place in a changing society were anxiously debated. The titles below offer a fascinating look at what was considered appropriate reading material for middle-class women during this time.
The Periodicals Department holds the following titles:
- The Ladies’ Literary Cabinet (1819 -- 1822)
- The Ladies’ Companion (1834 -- 1844)
- The Ladies’ Garland (1837 -- 1849)
- The Ladies' Pearl and Literary Gleaner (1840 -- 1842)
- The Lady's World of Literature and Fashion (1843), which turned into
- The Ladies' National Magazine (1843 -- 1848), which became
- Peterson's Magazine (1848 -- 1891)
- The Ladies' Repository (1845 -- 1876)
The similarity of their titles suggests the similarity of their contents. Sober in appearance and tone, “embellished” only with black and white engravings, these magazines were designed to fill female leisure hours with instructive as well as entertaining content, much of it reprinted from other published sources. Each issue generally included a serialized novel or short fiction, poetry, household hints or recipes, and descriptions of the latest fashions. Biographical sketches of notable women, tidbits of history and travel, and sheet music for piano were also included.
The above editorial on “Woman’s Mission,” (Ladies’ Garland, Nov. 1848) reflects both the reformist spirit of the age and the popular view of “woman’s sphere”--the home.
The outstanding woman’s journal of the era was Godey’s Lady’s Book (1830 -- 1898) [housed in Pratt's Special Collections Department]. It contained the same type of content as the earlier magazines, but of higher quality. Its beautiful color plates inspired its competitors to upgrade the quality of their illustrations as well, as the picture gallery below reveals (click on each image for a larger view):
What these magazines did not contain were articles on politics and on the pressing social and economic questions of the day. Yet they were not entirely conservative in their views on women. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey's Lady's Book, frequently advocated for women's higher education and entrance into the professions, especially medicine. Ann Sophia Stephens, who oversaw the equally popular Peterson's Magazine, was committed to publishing the works of women writers and was a successful author in her own right.
Many of these journals did not last beyond the middle of the nineteenth century, when a new group of titles emerged that explicitly tied womens' interests to the home, family, and fashion.
Read about More Women's Magazines from the Pratt Library Collections.