Sunday, February 15, 2009

Godey's Lady's Book...who knew?!

A buy at the end of the auction Friday night sent me on this search. I have often bought these prints, and I even have had the images on china...this one is surrounded by an aluminum frame, a 1940s decorative accent,
but I never took the time to explore the history, and what I found proved to be rather enlightening...there is a web site where you can see original issues that have been digitized...

The magazine was published in Philadelphia by Louis Godey (see...naming magazines after oneself...i.e. "O" or "Martha" is not new)from 1830-1878. It was targeted specially to women, and it published poetry, articles, and, of course, the famous engravings that have been reproduced throughout the last century. A couple articles from the digital copies shows that no matter how many years pass, we really don't change all that much: "A Suburban Cottage in the Italian Style," "A Nervous Wife, and How she was Cured," and "Medical Education of Women."

Edgar Allan Poe, Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Oliver Wendell Holmes had works published in the magazine, but the editor from 1837 to 1877, Sarah Josepha Hale (best known for writing "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and making Thanksgiving a national holiday), created a publication that championed women's right to work and their need for quality education. She would publish special issues which only included work done by women. What we take for granted was highly irregular for the women of that era.

Because the Civil War happened during this time, Godey did not want to offend southern readers so he forbid articles on war and politics! He was determined to feature "fashions, etiquette, receipts, patterns, house plans, crafts, helpful hints, health advice, short stories, poetry, book notices, and musical scores."

In 1845, Louis Godey began copyrighting the magazine to prevent other magazines from lifting the articles. He was severely criticized, but he maintained a sense of elegance. His magazine was expensive...$3.00 a year which translates to $76 in today's money.

According to my research, it cost $105,200 to produce the Lady's Book, with the hand tinted fashion-plates in each issue costing $8,000. But, despite the fact that the images from Godey's Lady's Book remain engrained in our illustration library, it is Hale's courage in reformatting the magazine that we should understand. One of her first decisions after becoming editor of Godey's was to rid the magazine of "watery verse and sugary romances."

Being a composition teacher, I have to admire Hale who sought to improve the literary quality of stories submitted by professional writers, and she also attempted to advance the writing skills of Godey's readers. One article she wrote was titled "Rule of Composition," instructing writers to "give yourself as you are --what you see, and how you see it. Shakespeare, Goethe, Cervantes, gave the world as they saw it, each for himself."

And so...think when you write...are you "watery" and "sugary"...or do you "give yourself as you are"? Still looking good, of the Godey women attest...


Patricia said...

I really enjoyed this article. Have always enjoyed the Godet prints, but the history of the magazine was a mystery. Hooray for Hale, she was truly an early champion of women's rights, including allowing a woman to acknowlege she had an intellect.
Patricia Rose-A Potpourri of Fabric, Fragrance and Findings

gail said...

Hi Susan,, this was a really interesting post. Thank you :) I have always loved this prints too. I think they might have been something my Grandmother had. I loved looking at them. Who knows where they are now? I love my weekly antique/history lesson:)

Unknown said...

Gosh Susan, I just never get tired of reading your blog... you're the greatest for educating me!

Miniature Patisserie Chef said...

Hi Susan,

I love the weekly history lessons! The lady's book sound so interesting, it would be fun to see what kind of articles they had in those times!

Have a great week!

Pei Li

Janet L Christian said...

I love Godet. Those prints are wonderful.

Carolee Crafts said...

what a lovely find and a delightful informative post

Susan - InHerOwnWords said...

I have always enjoyed these beautiful pieces of art but never really new the history behind them. Thanks for sharing.

I'd have to say when writing I give of myself as I am.


Anonymous said...


I loved the post, I always learn something. Those are some very beautiful ladies.


Marie said...

Hi Susan,
I loved this post, maybe the best of all. Somewhere packed away in a closet(actually I know exactly where), I have two Godey prints in carved oval mahagony (sp?) frames. It was great to read the history. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have always been fascinated by old magazines & this was just so interesting! I once found a stack of my grandmother's magazines from the 30's to the 50's and it was so fun to see what they read back then.

Susie said...

Thank you Susan! This is the era of my dreams. I have gone to Victorian Balls and can never get enough of the gentile life of the ladies of the era.
Susie of The Polka Dot Rose

Michelle May-The Raspberry Rabbits said...

Well.... I think I truly "give myself as I am when I write." Great post, great story, great lesson as always my favorite teacher. :)
bunny hugs,

Carolyn Kocman said...

gotta love those ladies! always an interesting lesson to be had on your blog.

Stephanie Ann said...

I like this post very much. Unfortunately none of the prints that you show (except for the 7th photo from the top) seem to have come from the magazine. The hand tinted pages show off the fashions of the season they normally have more than 4 women posing. I wish I could tell you where they were form but it doesn't seem to be Godey's. Good post anyway.