Date of Completion


Embargo Period



Nineteenth century; Gender; Periodicals; Publishing; Godey's Lady's Book; United States

Major Advisor

Cornelia Hughes Dayton

Associate Advisor

Robert A. Gross

Associate Advisor

Christopher Clark

Field of Study



Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


A runaway commercial success in the nineteenth century, the monthly periodical Godey’s Lady’s Book was found in the homes of thousands of Americans. Philadelphia publisher Louis A. Godey founded the magazine in 1830; editor Sarah Josepha Hale joined him in 1837. The pair worked side-by-side for forty years. In bringing together the histories of gender and periodical publishing, this project intervenes in the historiographies of both. It also contributes to the scholarship on the early American economy. This dissertation examines the Lady’s Book as both literary text and material object to identify changes and continuities. In thinking about gender and the economy, this study considers what kind of “lady” the Lady’s Book imagined it was speaking to, the material world she inhabited, and how readers and their performance of gender may have changed over time. At times that vision was consistent with the concept of separate spheres and at others, the magazine contained competing messages about ideal behavior. To contextualize this complex and sometimes contradictory construction of womanhood, this project examines how the magazine was made – physically and culturally, in its marketing to potential subscribers. This project repositions the magazine’s popularity by arguing that Godey and Hale astutely evaluated changes in their readership and competition. They adopted business strategies and editing practices that heightened its appeal and accessibility to an increasingly national audience. This project puts the literary content and illustrations in conversation with Godey’s innovative implementation of advertising and a retail-by-mail operation, which were important parts of the magazine’s cultural appeal and business model that have gone unexamined by scholars. This dissertation demonstrates that Americans debated the propriety of middle-class women’s economic choices – about how to dress and how to furnish their homes – and imbued them with political meaning as America’s capitalist economy took shape. By the 1850s, the Lady’s Book functioned as an agent of consumerism in an expanding nation and sought to foster an imagined community of far-flung readers across North America. These readers were bound by shared reading material, the material goods that marked the middle-class home, and if Hale had her way, a national identity tied to whiteness.

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