Copyright - May not be
reproduced without permission from: Victoria
Godey's Lady's Book
was perhaps the premier lady's publication of the nineteenth century.
It's publisher, Mr. Louis A. Godey made publishing history when he chose
as the magazine's editor, the widowed Mrs. Sarah Josepha Hale, and in July
1830 together they set out on a publishing journey that would last sixty
Sarah was a
remarkable woman whose accomplishments outside of editing the Lady's Book
were many. She championed for women's rights and a national holiday when
women were considered inferior in every aspect to their male counterparts,
and were given scarcely any respect or recognition in a male dominated
society. Sarah knew no fear and tirelessly pursued her beliefs until her
Mrs. Sarah Hale is
a case study in perseverance and she proved to the world that a woman
could be a lady and yet achieve anything she set her mind to. She may
have had moments of doubt, but she never lost site of her goals, and she
never gave up her efforts to see them through to fruition.
Godey's Lady's Book might be described as the nineteenth century's
equivalent of Good Housekeeping. It contained articles on fashion along
with elaborate fashion plates, some of which were in color, housekeeping
hints, tips on caring for the sick, the latest receipts for foods and
beverages of all sorts, and a generous supply of stories and poems.
While the fashion
plates are interesting to look at and study we should remember that these
were not what the average woman of the period was wearing. They were
extravagant and lavishly trimmed - expensive to make, difficult to
impossible to launder, and a luxury to own. They might be compared to the
Paris fashions of top designers today - certainly not something the
average woman wears.
journalists of the period recorded in their diaries they had not seen such
a magazine for the duration of the war, and those of lesser means might
not have had the luxury of subscribing either prior to or following the
Southerners did not have the luxury of enjoying Godey's on any regular
basis throughout the war varied but included difficulty with delivery, and
a devastated economy.
One of the first things the blockades did was to interrupt mail delivery
in the South. Diarists just about always recorded passages about the
difficulty of getting mail delivered to loved ones caught on the other
side of the blockades. They went to great lengths to find people with
passes to travel outside the blockades who were willing to smuggle their
precious letters out and mail them from outside the blockades. These were
sometimes sewn into the lining of garments so they wouldn't be found if
published in Philadelphia so once the blockades went up delivery to women
in the Confederacy was interrupted almost immediately. One of the first
tasks the Confederacy had to do was establish its own postal system,
design its own stamps, and try and restore mail delivery, but this still
did not eliminate the problem of mails coming into the Confederacy from
other parts of the country.
There were over a
million square miles of territory in the Mississippi Valley between l830
and l850 that were so sparsely settled, and so remote that there was no
regular mail delivery even prior to the war. Many families could not
communicate with loved ones in other areas because of this. Travel to
these areas included a combination of rail, water way, stage, and even
horseback and walking. Hard working pioneer women in such remote areas
would have had no use for the elaborate fashions found in Godey's.
Because of the
difficulty getting mail and packages through the blockades it is feasible
to think that most Southern women did not see such magazines during the
war and that their clothing during the war was what they'd last seen
discussed - styles from the late l850's, and l860. A small percentage
might have had access to a rare issue carefully brought through the lines
but this would have been rare, and such issues would have been passed
around and shared with family and friends until they were ready to fall
We also have to
take into consideration the reduced circumstances in the South during the
war years with most of the Confederacy dressing in homespun from the skin
out. Homespun and linsey woolsey would not have produced the elaborate
fashions featured in Godey's. Silks were so rare that precious wedding
dresses were cut up to make flags for the Confederate troops and clothing
being taken or destroyed by the Union troops is recorded in the majority
of the Southern diaries. The loss of such pre-war garments would have
made even remaking existing dresses difficult.
Foods found in the covers of Godey's were fairly typical of what was being
consumed in the mid-nineteenth century, however, the foods found in the
magazine would not be typical of what the average Southern civilian ate
during the War Between the States.
published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and by 1861 claimed some l50,000
readers. This number, however, declined by some 50,000 subscribers by
1873. Subscriptions through l865 cost three dollars per year, and this
figure dropped to two dollars per year following the war when other
magazines came on the scene to compete with Godey's for subscribers.
Before the days of
color printing the colored fashion plates in Godey's were tinted with
water colors by hand by ladies hired for the job. The fashion plates
varied from issue to issue due to different techniques used by the l50
ladies whose job it was to color them and the availability of paints.
When one color ran out they simply used another. A common complaint of
readers was that the color plate found in an issue might not match the
print in their friend's issue.
Stories and poems
in Godey's were contributed by various authors - some of whom were so
mundane as to be lost to history, while others achieved greatness. Edgar
Allen Poe, Horace Greeley, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher
Stowe, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorn were among those who
contributed works to the magazine.
Godey's did not
get caught up in the sensationalism of war, in fact, if one depended
solely on the magazine to study history it is conceivable one might never
know there was a war. Even the death of President Lincoln received only a
published recepits for foods, patterns for clothing ranging from
underpinnings and nightgowns to dresses and outer wear, crafts,
instructions for crochet and knitted accessories, and gardening. There
were often features on such things as hair jewelry, day caps, bonnets,
fichus, wraps of all kinds, sacques and walking dresses, embroidery,
children's clothing, games, and timely information on etiquette and
mourning. Whatever your interest, editress, Mrs. Hale, offered something
found within the covers of Godey's an enterprising young lady could
fashion a pin cushion, knit a sontag or shawl, stitch up work stays, knit
or crochet a hood or slippers, make a needle case or craft a sewing kit,
learn where to send hair to be made into jewelry of all kinds, perhaps
even use directions found within the magazine to make a simple piece of
jewelry herself. She might follow directions to tat a dainty piece of
lace, craft a work bag, or knit a stocking or sock.
responsible for the content of Godey's Lady's Book was Mrs. Sarah Josepha
Hale - a progressive thinking woman who felt women were equal to men in
society and profession. Her views as printed in the Editor's Table made
this perfectly clear to her readers.
Mrs. Hale was widowed in 1822 at the age of 34. With four children to
support she initially took in sewing and established herself in a
successful millinery business. She began to write poetry partly as
self-expression, and partly to help supplement this income. It was soon
apparent to all that Sarah possessed an incredible talent for writing
poetry and at the age of 39 she saw her first novel published.
While we associate
her with being Editress of the world-famous Godey's Lady's Book this was
not her first attempt at being editor. She had served as editor for The
Ladies Magazine and established herself as a talent to be reckoned with
when Louis Godey approached her regarding the possibility of her serving
as editor of his Philadelphia based Lady's Book. Through hard work and
devotion to the publication Sarah saw subscriptions rise to approximately
l50,000 making it the most successful publication of its time.
Through it all
Sarah continued to champion for a national holiday of Thanksgiving from
l827 until her death. In her first novel, Northwood, she voiced
her fervent desire that the American people have a nationally recognized
holiday in which they could gather family and friends and give thanks for
the blessings of the preceding year. It is difficult to imagine given the
Victorian code of morals and widespread acceptance of religion that
establishing such a holiday was so many years in the making.
If you thought the
Pilgrims established the custom of giving thanks you are mistaken. That
first thanksgiving dinner was not the first of many and was also not the
beginning of a warm relationship between the Pilgrims and the Natives. In
1621 conditions in Plymouth were harsh and not all survived. They faced
many obstacles in settling a new land and establishing a new home so when
they gave thanks it was in essence for their very survival and no doubt
heart-felt by all. They had faced religious persecution in their
homelands and were willing to face the dangers of an unsettled world to
gain the freedom of religion. The new world exacted a toll for her
freedoms and many of those first settlers were interred within her soil
before the first season passed.
Fully half of those who made that first voyage had departed this life
before the end of the first year, and those who survived would remember
the hardships to their dying day. They had finally seen their first crops
harvested and in celebration of life they planned a feast - a one of a
kind celebration to thank God for delivering them through their trials.
Pilgrims and the Indians they invited to share their feast did not live
happily ever after. In fact the need to free this country of its native
inhabitants was present shortly after that first Thanksgiving and
culminated in the Pilgrims using existing tribal rivalries to their
advantage, and l7 years after Squanto welcomed the Pilgrims they burned an
Indian village while its inhabitants slept. Land fever had reared its
Despite this turn
of events such feasts of thanks were occasionally organized throughout the
years, but never on any steady basis or on any certain date. Days for
recognizing the blessings received were approved by the Continental
Congress during the American Revolution, and in l789 the Father of our
country, George Washington, declared a day of thanks to celebrate the
birth of a new nation. This was repeated in l795. The next great event
in our history following the American Revolution was the War of l8l2 and
to celebrate its end President James Madison again proclaimed a day of
thanks in l8l5.
By l863 America
had seen other days of thanks but still nothing on a regular basis. This
is where a remarkable woman was instrumental in establishing the holiday
we know as Thanksgiving. Perhaps in the midst of America's bloodiest
conflict seems a strange time to give thanks, but her people on both sides
of the Mason Dixon were paying a heavy price for freedom and with death
all around them they turned to God in their hour of need. Giving thanks
for what they did have brought some solace for the losses all around them,
and gave them hope when all seemed hopeless.
Mrs. Sarah J. Hale
was known by all as the Editress of Godey's Lady's Book, and possibly her
fame as such worked in her favor when she approached government officials
about the possibility of establishing an annual holiday to count our
blessings and reflect on the events of the preceding year. She published
editorials in which she promoted the concept of such a holiday and also
began the tradition of publishing traditional receipts for foods which
would become synonymous with the holiday.
By the time
President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a
nationally recognized holiday in l863 Sarah had lobbied since l827 to see
this accomplished, and had petitioned several governors and prior
Presidents. The battle was not won in l863, however, as it would be 78
years (l94l) before Congress established the fourth Thursday in November
as Thanksgiving Day.
Sarah did not live
to see her efforts come to fruition having died in l879 at the age of 9l.
She had lived a long and productive life by then, having continued to
write through the age of 89. Sarah having been born in l788 saw many
changes - both successes and failures - in this country during her life
time. She, herself, helped pave the way for women to hold lucrative
productive careers. Sarah was a pioneer who opened doors for other women to enter the field of
writing and publishing - at that time very much a male dominated field.
She was educated by her mother while her brother, Horatio, was a student
at Dartmouth - in and of itself proof that women commanded little respect
from their male counterparts. Sarah became a teacher and eagerly learned
perhaps more than her students until she met and married David Hale.
Hale was an attorney and a supporter of the equal
education of men and women movement. Hale died of pneumonia in l822,
having seen little, if any, recognition of his own writings.
Sarah initially wrote much of the American Ladies
Magazine herself yet found time to champion several causes. When Louis
Godey combined two magazines and retained Sarah as Editor she used her
position to champion for women's rights. Sarah ceased to serve as Editor
of Godey's when it was sold to Frank Munsey in l877 - two years before her
Sarah Josepha Hale
should serve as a role model for women who may become disillusioned with
the politics involved in living history, or discrimination in their 2lst
century personal lives. Sarah died without seeing her dream of
Thanksgiving a reality, yet every November we sit with our family and
friends and thank God for the blessings of life. Sarah's face must surely
beam with a Heavenly countenance when she sees this scene played out over
and over again at dinner tables from coast to coast.
Had she given up
when the battle seemed lost we would all be denied that special day when
we come together and lift our hearts in prayerful thanks. When the world
seems to have stopped in its tracks, and humanity to have lost the ability
to care for one another I think of Sarah and realize our lives are but a
short period of time in the scheme of things, and just because we don't
see our dreams become reality overnight, doesn't mean we haven't left our
mark on the world. Perhaps our dreams will come true, as Sarah's did,
even after we've departed this life.
Sarah and women
like her made it possible for women today to own property, to have a voice
in the rearing of their children, to vote for political leaders, and to
pursue meaningful careers. These are rights that did not come without a
great deal of sacrifice, but then nothing worth fighting for ever came
without a price.
Sarah through the
pages of Godey's Lady's Book helped to make the world a better place. She
made a difference in the lives of thousands of women yet she died never
fully realizing the impact she had had upon the world. Humility is a
virtue as is patience, kindness, honesty, and generosity. Sarah possessed
these qualities and should inspire us all to reach for our dreams while
all the while exhibiting a nobility of character that would do the
- Copyright March
2001 - Reprint with permission only.
- Vickie R.