Godey’s Lady Book
Feb 14, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Godey’s Lady Book has the distinct honor of being the first American women’s fashion magazine, debuting in the 1830s. Each article emphasized the core value “beauty was duty” and sought to entertain, enlighten, and educate their readers. This publication helped pave the way for American fashion as previous inspiration came from crude fashion plates, mostly depicting European-centric style. The female population craved guidance as they navigated Victorian fashion’s numerous rules and Godey’s Lady Book was there to the rescue.
What is Godey’s Lady Book?
The Philadelphia-based magazine was published by Louis A. Godey and the original contents included poetry, articles, engravings, and sheet music. Perhaps its most popular feature was the heavily detailed fashion plate that showed women how dress and fashion practices had changed. In addition to the illustration, a pattern was often included. Content focused exclusively on American work and that patriotic promotion is one of the reasons behind its early success. Contributors included Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
As editor, Sarah Hale set the tone for the publication, creating the female role model: moral, intelligent, and proper. Queen Victoria embodied these traits and was often cited as the woman to watch in most editions. A constant trendsetter, the magazine showed an engraving of an evergreen tree at Christmas – this paved the way for the Christmas tree tradition to take hold by the 1870s. Hale also petitioned for the creation of a Thanksgiving holiday and encouraged women to serve turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Her celebrity status took the publication to greater and greater audiences.
During its first three years the subscription based increased fifteen fold! By 1845 this level of popularity caused Mr. Godey to copyright the articles, much to the dismay of his colleagues. Considered an expensive subscription, its popularity stayed consistent over the decades. As it evolved, the content shifted to include more progressive topics, like employment for women and other political issues (although the journal did not take a formal stance on the Civil War). The magazine changed ownership in 1878 and stopped publication in 1898.
Cause A Frockus would like to thank our tremendous resources: Wikipedia, Accessible Archives, and the people who post their images without restriction.
For our readers: What’s your favorite vintage publication? Do you own an edition of Godey’s Lady Book?
Great post! My fascination with vintage has led to a large collection of mostly early to mid 20th century publications and other ephemera on a variety of topics, including fashion. Readers interested in viewing or purchasing vintage publications from all eras might consider visiting the Ephemera Society’s annual conference and trade fair in Greenwich, CT next weekend (3/14-16). http://www.ephemerasociety.org.
Thank you for the note. Love the site and I hopefully our CT readers can come and enjoy the conference!
May the vintage be with you!