Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Godey's Lady's Book

One of the requirements at my college is that every student take an American History course. There are options to choose to study it through the eyes of major minorities that are present in the U.S. which included women. Since that was obviously an area that I identified closely with I chose that option.

While fashion is not a main point of conversation it does come up quite frequently in our discussions. Our professor often says if you follow the fashion you can get a glimpse of what is going on in women's history. Basically women wore more constricting clothing during times of less freedom and during periods of enlightenment you would see less constructive clothing, this was often cyclical.

What a way to pull a girl into history, then with fashion! At least it made me sit up and pay attention!

Godey's Lady's Book began publication in 1830. Interestingly enough the publisher who was a male understood women's role at the time as the manager of the home meant even then that she was an important role in the growing economy. He centered this publication around just that; including things about being a proper wife and mother while bringing women into a role of a consumer which was in direct opposition of these teachings of encouraging the women to stay within the domestic role of the home. The home was consider a safe place from a harsh and materialistic world.

The magazine also included articles written by women which started at a time when this was extremely rare. Though these articles were often centered around instructing other women on the importance of true womanhood (staying with the domestic sphere). This might sound like women were helping to keep other women in their place (and in essence they were), it is important to note that the majority of women openly embraced this and used the teachings of true womanhood to give their life meaning.

This magazine which was the most widely circulated ladies magazine (some sources strike Ladies and just say the most widely published magazine) up until the civil war included information about housekeeping, a sheet of the latest popular music for the piano, the latest fiction writing and poetry, and a hand-tinted (factory workers colored by hand) fashion plate complete with pattern and measurements for sewing this garment at home!

Providing a pattern for home sewing in a magazine was a novel concept at that time! This was a pretty expensive process and despite being so widely circulated which I am sure helped with the costs it was a full dollar more expensive then other popular publications.

Women used this as a source to replicate the latest fashions and even ideas for their wedding dresses. Despite the many differences in our lives today it is fun to know that many of us share a common band with these women of the past of sewing and fashion. The images have gorgeous detailing! I thought it was also interesting to note that use of stripe, plaids, ruffles, scallops, bows - many of the same details we find interesting today.

Please note I pulled facts about this book directly from my textbook Through Women's Eyes by DuBois and Dumenil and Wikipedia. All image sources can be traced through the Pins.

I was interested in seeing more of these lovely images and maybe you are as well? If so, I found a fairly inexpensive (about $20) digital CD for purchase on Ebay with many of the issues. I also found individual issues up for sale but many of these if complete were quite expensive. Amazon also has sales up for posters and paper dolls. Would decorating your sewing room in these pictures be lovely?

This is different from my usual posts and I hope you found this topic as interesting as I have. I plan to write a few more posts about History & Fashion as I make my way through this class.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I've always been interested in things like this. I have a few old magazines from the 50s and 60s on my wishlist right now. I think it's cool to see how attitudes have changed in some ways and in some have stayed the same.

  2. Me too! I find it so fascinating! I think it is the coolest part of my history class. I'll have to share some pictures and information once I get my disc of the actual magazines.