Godey’s Lady’s Audience: The Women of the Mid 19th Century

The identification of a books audience allows us to further our understanding of the context, importance, and usage of a book. Godey’s Lady’s book has both textual and physical evidence that give clues and more insight into the audience of this magazine.

The first and somewhat obvious clue is the textual evidence in the title of the of the magazine. “Godey’s Lady’s Book” demonstrates the audience target of women. The magazine’s target market was women, the magazine said its mission was to fulfill a moral instruction for women.This book was written at a time where women did not have the freedom’s of the present day. Godey’s was published from 1830 to 1878, during which time the civil war occurred. This was a time when women’s husbands left their home to fight and a high percentage died as a result. This time away from their husbands was a time of increasing independence. This came in the form of physical changes as well as mentality changes. Women were now, possibly running the family business or pay the bills.

An example of an illustration in the magazine demonstrating a hair style technique.

The magazine’s target market was women, the magazine said its mission was to fulfill a moral instruction for women.

For example, pictured above is a header from the piece “how to loose a love”. This details a story of how a woman should properly find a man. This is an example of the less progressive pieces in the magazine. The editor Sarah Hale vigorously promoted woman artists being featured as well as content in the form of poems, stories, exquisite and colorful illustrations, and articles that promoted women’s empowerment. Fashion has always been a strong form of self expression for a woman. Hard work and dressing the correct socially accepted way was the life for women in America or other locations. They worked, but could not vote, have bank accounts or directly have control of a business. Godey’s Magazine advised the women through illustrations and textual articles about the latest fashion trends. This lends us the ability to understand another demographic of the Godey’s audience, the socioeconomic sector of the readers. The editor of the magazine, Sarah Hale, believed women’s “. . . first right is to education in its widest sense, to such education as will give her the full development of all her personal, mental and moral qualities.” Her goals was to provide inspiration for women to compete in the public business world.

The Magazine subscription was more expensive in comparison to others such at the Saturday Evening Post. Subscribers paid $2 versus $3 for the subscription. The illustrates the meaning behind the textual evidence of “Lady’s”. This magazine is not just meant of any lady, this magazine is meant for a lady with the means to purchase the advertised garments.

$2-$3 dollars in 1843 dollars is roughly $66.82 in todays currency. I have a Vogue subscription for $12 dollars per year. This speaks to the increasing accessibility of fashion magazines in America. In 1843 only wealthier women could afford to look at the latest fashions. Today there are dozens of options to pay for an free in order to develop a sense of style and understand the trends of our nation.

Godey’s Magazine has paratextual evidence that gives insight into the audience of this magazine. The format of this book has a journalistic and almost newspaper-like style. The font is times new-roman-esque and very small with equally as small spacing between the lines. Additionally, the margins are quite large. There are rules, which is a four-sided frame in which the type for a page or pages of one form is locked prior to its being placed on the press. This style demonstrates the easy and often use of this magazine. The paper is not think or ornate in design. This intended for a women to frequently consult as to what skirt to purchase or enjoy a short story.

The binding of the book furthers these conclusions about the audience. The book cover’s materials seem to be millboard coated with a snake skin like patterned finish. The spine of the book is a burgundy leather and the corners are finished leather material and coloring. The spine had gold letter spelling out “Lady’s Book” and the year 1843. The condition of the front and back cover as well as the spine is somewhat tattered. This speaks to the frequent use of the magazine by these women who wanted to remain “on trend” in society. This binding is much sturdier and more expensive than bindings used for magazine publications today. Compared to magazines today, the more formal binding of these books suggest that they were meant to be held onto and referred to long after their initial publication.

Additionally, another piece of physical evidence is the signature on the opening page. there is a note from the buyer of this book, Mary Davis written in cursive detailing the gift of this book to her daughter. The inscription reads in cursive,

“This book + all the subsequent volumes I give to my daughter Mary Davis reserving the use of them during my life – Grace Davis 1854”.

The audience is a mother giving her daughter a book to provide assistance on how to be a lady during this time.