the ladies’ magazine -- 7/27/23

Today's encore selection -- from Lady Editor: Sarah Josepha Hale and the Making of the Modern American Woman by Melanie Kirkpatrick. Sarah Josepha Hale was the first female editor of a magazine, a publication called the Ladies’ Magazine, which was owned by the Rev. John Lauris Blake of Boston. She presided as editor from 1828 to 1836, when it was acquired by Philadelphia’s Louis Antoine Godey and merged with the Lady's Book and Magazine, better known by its later name, Godey's Lady's Book. Hale moved from Boston to Philadelphia to edit the new, combined magazine from 1837 to 1877.

"The Ladies' Magazine's first issue was a trumpet fanfare for what was to come. Over the following nine years, Hale never let up. Every issue of the Ladies' Magazine had something to say on the subject of women's education. The magazine quickly became the national bulletin board for developments in women's education around the country. It was the go-to place for learning about new schools for women, educational philosophy, teaching techniques, innovative educators, and more.

"She urged women to study chemistry, biology, geology, phys­ics, minerology, and other sciences -- subjects that tradition­ally were considered too taxing for the female intellect. She published reading lists and self-study advice for readers who wished to extend their knowledge and improve their minds. She cited the benefits of physical activity for girls and women, pooh-poohing prevailing notions that women were too delicate for exercise or that it was improper for girls to behave like boys.

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale, painted by W.B. Chambers and engraved expressly for Godey's Lady's Book by W.G. Armstrong.

"In an 1830 letter to Catherine Fiske, head of the school Fran­ces Ann and Josepha attended in Keene, New Hampshire, Hale showed that she practiced what she preached when it came to her own family. 'I have written to my daughters many directions respecting their exercises,' she told Miss Fiske, 'and I wish you would use particular care that they do exercise .... Children will play if it is allowed them, but young misses who are studiously inclined need some stimulus to active exercises.'

"Hale vigorously defended learned women who were derided as 'bluestockings,' a derogatory term for women with intellec­tual or literary interests. She found the word repulsive -- re­flecting prejudices that should be stamped out. She rejected it, too, as injurious to the cause of higher education for women in that it demeaned their intellectual accomplishments, discourag­ing others from pursuing academic learning. She spoke bluntly about the 'evil' to which educated women are subjected. 'It is to have cultivated minds, and yet be confined to a society that does not understand and cannot appreciate their talents and intelli­gence. This frequently occurs.'

"She pushed for public funding of institutions of higher educa­tion for women. Of the 131 American colleges that received pub­lic support, she noted despairingly in 1835, the number that ad­mitted women was zero. She urged private donations to women's schools, excoriating Mrs. Christopher Gore of Boston -- widow of a former governor of Massachusetts -- for leaving a bequest of $50,000 to Harvard University rather than for the purpose of founding an institution that educated women. She asked, 'When will women learn that the most effectual way in which they can promote the great interests of literature, morality and piety, is to provide for the instruction of their own sex?' She pressed this cause for the rest of her life, including in connection with her work on the founding of Vassar College in the late 1860s.

"As for female employment, she advanced the idea of vo­cational training for women that would lead to remunerative work, and she published articles advocating that women be trained for jobs as nurses and cooks -- occupations traditionally filled by men. She railed against schools for women that em­phasized such traditional feminine pursuits as singing, draw­ing, fancy needlework, and playing the piano while neglecting academic excellence. Students at such schools might master fashionable accomplishments, in her opinion, but they didn't receive an education.

"Starting in 1829, the Ladies' Magazine's second year of pub­lication, Hale began to publish profiles of the best schools for young ladies around the country, delineating their education­al philosophy, curriculum, staff, and rates. One example will suffice to show Hale's method. In December 1833, she devoted four and half pages to a description of Miss Fiske's Young La­dies Seminary in Keene, New Hampshire -- a school she knew well since her two daughters attended it. Miss Fiske's school of­fered a four-year curriculum that included astronomy, geology, chemistry, botany, algebra, geometry, and other subjects not usually considered suitable for women. Miss Fiske is quoted approvingly on her goals for her students: 'We expect woman to be qualified to think with candor -- act with justice -- counsel with kindness -- and direct with wisdom.' This is a magnificent mission statement for any school -- then or now, for women or for men. The cost of attending Miss Fiske's school was one hun­dred dollars for forty-eight weeks of tuition and board plus six dollars for fuel. There were extra charges for languages, music, and art. 

"Hale gave similar treatment to numerous other schools for girls, including Catholic schools, whose academic rigor she ad­mired but which she saw as in competition with schools run by Protestants, the country's dominant faith. Her aim was twofold: to provide information to parents considering schools for their daughters and to share information with teachers and adminis­trators who could learn from the examples of others. In addition to profiling schools, she also published articles by or about the prominent female educators of the day, including Emma Wil­lard of Troy, New York; Catharine Beecher of Hartford and later Cincinnati; and Sarah Pierce of Litchfield, Connecticut. Willard, whom Hale met when their sons were cadets at West Point, be­came a close friend. Hale wrote admiringly of Willard's work in the Ladies' Magazine and published several of Willard's essays. Their friendship foundered when Hale appeared to favor Wil­lard's estranged second husband, who proved to be a reprobate.

"By 1835, Hale began to write optimistically about the pace of change regarding attitudes on educating women in a new col­umn bearing the headline, 'Progress of Society.' Using the edi­torial 'we,' she commented:

Seven years ago when our Magazine was first commenced but very little public attention was paid to this subject. We would not be understood as boasting that our labors alone have wrought this change, but we may claim that we have pursued a systematic and persevering course in endeavoring to do this -- and now we scarcely open a newspaper, a periodical or a new book that does not contain sentiments respecting the capacities and powers of women.

"By June 1835 she was ecstatic to report about the progress made toward the establishment of Mount Holyoke Female Sem­inary in South Hadley, Massachusetts. Reporting that $10,000 had been raised for that project, she enthused that 'the great work of beginning is accomplished .... Soon, very soon, a permanent system of Female Education will be established in our land.' Mount Holyoke received its charter as a teaching semi­nary in 1836 and opened its doors in 1837.

"Hale's introduction in the first issue of the Ladies' Maga­zine also promised that the new magazine would be thorough­ly American. It would contain 'well written communications, whether poems, letters, sketches, tales, or essays, descriptive of American scenery, character, and manners.'''



Melanie Kirkpatrick


Lady Editor: Sarah Josepha Hale and the Making of the Modern American Woman


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