Rewriting Mrs. Consumer: Class, Gender, and Consumption
Rewriting Mrs. Consumer: Class, Gender, and Consumption
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter looks at a larger pattern of changes in women's relationship to commodities and their purchase. It shows that as advertisers increasingly defined women as their target audience, advertising-dependent magazines presented their women readers with fiction that encouraged them in their role as consumers. This encouragement took different forms depending on the class of women addressed. Magazines addressed to cash-poor women presented ways to earn money to buy advertised goods and helped to justify their purchase, while suggesting that such consumption could be consistent with their values of thrift and moral responsibility. Magazines addressed to middle-class women, on the other hand, discouraged autonomous work for married women and encouraged them to seek fulfillment in shopping and the emotional caretaking of their families. These magazines valorized the apparent power available to women as shoppers through courtship stories that were allegories of shopping, and which featured women choosing wisely between offered choices.
Lately there has been a great deal of fretful, impatient, womanly writing, about the degrading, depressing influence of household work; and it has been urged that it is better for wives and mothers to write or sew, or do any kind of mental work, in order to make money to relieve themselves of the duties of cooking and nursing.
Amelia Barr, Ladies’ Home Journal, 18941
Edward Bok, the editor of Ladies’ Home Journal from 1889 through its steady rise to a circulation of 2 million in 1919, was sensitive to the toll taken by restrictions on women. In two paradigmatic episodes in his autobiography Bok noted that such restrictions confined and immobilized women. Where another writer might have expressed indignation on their behalf, or called to change the situation, Bok responded by seizing opportunity: a women confined was a captive consumer.
In the first of these scenes, Bok, writing of himself in the third person, explains that the horse-car line near his childhood home ran to Coney Island: “Just around the corner where Edward lived the cars stopped to water the horses on their long haul. The boy noticed that the men jumped from the open cars in summer, ran into the cigar store…and got a drink of water from the ice-cooler placed near the door. But that was not so easily possible for the women, and they…were forced to take the long ride without a drink.” Bok recognizes a problem when he sees it. “Here was an opening, and Edward decided to fill it. He bought a shining new pail, screwed three hooks on the (p.136) edge from which he hung three clean shimmering glasses, and one Saturday afternoon when a car stopped the boy leaped on, tactfully asked the conductor if he did not want a drink, and then proceeded to sell his water, cooled with ice, at a cent a glass to the passengers.”2 He makes a handsome profit, first on Saturday afternoons, and then after morning Sunday school, “he did a further Sabbath service for the rest of the day by refreshing tired mothers and thirsty children on the Coney Island cars.” When other boys move in on his idea, he upgrades to lemonade. Furthermore, Bok calls attention to the cleanliness of the service he provides, with its shining pail and shimmering glasses, supplying customers with an assurance of purity. And his profitable sales are a pious act, not only no violation of Sunday propriety, but a Sabbath service.
In the second episode, as an eighteen-year-old covering theater news for the Brooklyn Eagle, he “noticed the restlessness of the women in the audience between the acts. In those days it was, even more than at present, the custom for the men to go out between the acts, leaving the women alone.” Women restless? Bok identifies an opportunity: “Edward looked at the programme in his hands. It was a large eleven-by-nine sheet, four pages, badly printed, with nothing in it save the cast, a few advertisements, and an announcement of some coming attraction.”3 A smaller, easier to handle, more attractive program might do the trick. Bok goes home, makes up a dummy, offers the eager theater management the program for free, solicits advertising, and soon expands the enterprise to cover captive audiences in all the city’s theaters. Bok learned from and eventually repeated his theater program experience on a larger scale with Ladies’ Home Journal: immobile women made the best customers.
Bok was a powerful figure in the Ladies’ Home Journal; the Journal in turn influenced other women’s magazines and shaped what advertisers could expect from a women’s magazine. Bok’s stance, promoting women’s relationship to consumption, and ultimately opposing women’s autonomy and ability to earn, was taken up by other middle-class women’s magazines and in retrospect seems an almost inevitable strategy for them.4 And yet not all commercial women’s magazines of the 1890s to 1910s took this tack, although all wanted their readers to buy goods from the advertisers on whom their revenues depended.
The proliferation of nationally distributed brand-named goods in the 1880s and 1890s coincided with, and fed the growth of, the ad-dependent magazines; many magazine ads were for household goods, and ad-dependent magazines therefore had an interest in encouraging consumership. This encouragement took different forms, according to the presumed class and living situation of the reader addressed by different magazines. Rural and poorer women were urged to find their way into middle-class consumption practices, by buying more ready-made goods to replace their own labor, and so stories addressed to them suggested ways to earn money they could spend on advertised goods.
On the other hand, stories in magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal, addressed to women who were already presumed to be middle-class shoppers, assumed that such women already had money to spend and discouraged such work in favor of life as a married consumer. Fiction in these magazines indirectly (p.137) made shopping a theme. Female authorship as a topic in stories in both types of magazines became an emblematic form of work for pay. The magazines’ attitudes toward it correlated with the editors’ and publishers’ assumptions about their readers’ sources of money for advertised goods.
Promoting Consumption by Encouraging Earning: The Mail-Order Magazine
Although 1893 saw the appearance of a new category of middle-class, advertising-supported magazines, soon to achieve high circulations and aimed largely at urban readers, another category of periodicals had preceded such magazines as Munsey’s and Cosmopolitan in the low-price, high-circulation strategy. These were the cheap mail-order monthlies, such as Ladies’ World, Comfort, and People’s Literary Companion.5 Usually nearly tabloid in size, addressed to rural and poorer subscribers, these magazines mostly ran ads that solicited mail orders, rather than advertising the nationally distributed goods that predominated in middle-class magazine ads;6 some of them offered mail-order goods themselves, and the line between buying goods from a mail-order magazine and receiving a premium with a subscription could be thin.7
Advertisers faced a special problem in addressing the reader of such periodicals: she was likely not to have cash. She was also more likely than the middle-class woman to make rather than purchase goods. Early 1890s Ladies’ World columns reflected this orientation with recipes for home manufacture of such items as skin lotions and beef extract—items already commercially produced and heavily advertised in the middle-class magazines.
Cash brought in through such traditional women’s market activities as butter, egg, and poultry sales might already be allocated for ongoing expenses and not available to buy the new advertised goods. Individual advertisers recognized the readers’ situation, with ads for poultry incubators and by offering goods such as china as a premium with staples like coffee. Many ads offered entrepreneurial opportunities; they often both touted a product such as flower seeds and sought agents to sell it.8
While both articles and stories in these magazines showed readers ways to earn money, the stories demonstrated the social consequences of earning and spending. The low-priced (twenty-five to fifty cents a year) monthly Ladies’ World, edited in the 1890s by Frances E. Fryatt, offers some examples.9 Ladies’ World stories repeatedly suggested that women could earn money by starting a business or by taking on for money some new task or variant of a task they already performed, and that doing so would not only enable but also legitimate consumption. The similar plots of several stories reflected the same suspicions about the source of goods and concern with how commodities had arrived in a household.
“One Woman’s Way” (1890) by Velma Caldwell-Melville begins with the narrator visiting “John’s wife,” while John’s mother complains of the wife’s extravagance in purchasing a $35 bedroom set. After the mother-in-law leaves, (p.138) the wife explains that she earned all the money for the set. The narrator is surprised: she knows how busy a farm woman must be, caring for a husband, two babies, and two hired men. Money from the milk, butter, and poultry she sees to is already earmarked for necessities. The bedroom set? John let her use land to grow berries on, her father gave her plants, and she bartered her sewing for a neighbor’s labor. She has used the money from each year’s berry sales to make the home—her workplace—more comfortable, for example, by buying rocking chairs. Her up-to-date economic orientation is contrasted with her mother-in-law’s outmoded one: “John’s mother boasts that she has neither earned nor wasted a cent since she was married.”10
To neither earn nor waste, however, is no longer a virtue; the contrasting condition is not of having nice things but, according to the stories, greater efficiency and even economy. In the 1904 Ladies’ World serial “The Rebellion of Reuel’s Wife” by Adella E Veazie, Mazie’s hatred of housework actually leads her family to greater ease. Beginning with a flowerbed for her own pleasure, she starts a flower seed business and soon branches out into landscaping, bringing in money to support the family when her husband is disabled. Her mother-in-law objects even to the first flowerbed and counters Mazie’s defense of it as a respite from housekeeping by championing old-fashioned household production:
“If I got any chance to set down an’ rest, I always had my knittiri work handy so as to keep busy at something useful. Why, I’ve always knit every stockin arf mitten that Nathan ever wore since I married him, and all my own too, except thin summer ones.”
Mazie gave a little gasp of dismay. “Why surely you wouldn’t expect me to knit stockings now, when they can be bought for less than the yarn would cost,” she exclaimed.11
For the mother-in-law, visible industry is a moral virtue; even at rest she produces goods, and her labor is visible on the hands and feet of her husband. But for Mazie, the stocking need not be a direct representation of the labor and care that went into it. Mazie’s understanding of new economic possibilities allows her to see that cash lets her replace her own inefficient labor with manufactured goods; the more she earns, the more she is entitled to replace her labor.12 The same idea appears in M. Vaughn’s 1891 “John’s Wife,” elaborating the pattern of the other John’s wife of the berry story, “One Woman’s Way.”13 Here again, a woman appears to violate the propriety of thrift or moderate consumption. But the truth reveals her as virtuous, shows that her actions have been misconstrued, and lets her teach a lesson to those who have speculated about her.14
Jerusha and her mother believe cousin John’s wife, Claribel, spends beyond his means. Claribel has hanging lamps and china dishes, and, in a farm woman’s vision of luxury, she hires people to wash, iron, clean, and bake, and has “all their best clothes made, to say nothin’ of buyin them.” She also indulges in charity, spending money to help the town’s poor and invalids, and buys children’s books and pretty “Scripture text cards” to increase Sunday school attendance.
But loving the work and being impressed by the poverty in and about the village, also the lack of interest on the part of the children in school, Sunday-school, or in fact, anything good, she had resolved to again take up her pen, and by careful management she could put out a part of her work and make much more than she could save by trying to do it all herself.
“I have bought some good books and a few pretty things for my house, although I have gotten nothing new to wear.” (emphasis added)
Even this explanation of her work as selflessness, hiring out the housework as a better use of her time since her authorial labor has market value, isn’t sufficient: she must absolve her earnings of the taint of producing pleasure or luxury for herself in the form of new clothes:
“Nothing new!” spited Jerusha. “What did you have on in town last week? And what did you wear last Sunday?”
“In town, I wore my lavender wedding-dress, colored a dark blue; and on Sunday, a white Flemish tricot (the dress I graduated in), colored black,” was the quiet answer. “I flatter myself that I have two very respectable suits from them.”
Even as she divests herself of some household tasks, she thus demonstrates her handiness as a housekeeper. And she had avoided telling her in-laws about her writing because she believed they’d think her “silly to suppose I could write anything worth publishing; what I wrote seemed so insignificant to me that I did not want anyone I knew to read the wretched ‘yarns’ I spun.”
Although the narrator assures us that Claribel did not go on to be a great writer, her story has taught others. From it, Jerusha “learned not to be curious, not to be suspicious, not to be envious, and not to ‘jump at conclusions’ when they were based only on circumstantial evidence, and above all not to whisper words that might cause any to be misjudged.”
Women’s authorship here is strictly a money-making proposition—very much in line with the cash-raising schemes presented in other stories. Not only is Claribel’s writing said not to be artistic, but Claribel’s moral effect doesn’t come through her writing. Instead, it is channeled through her power as a consumer; she does good through what her earnings buy for the community. Paying people to do her housework is finally sanctioned because she has taken up the moral housekeeping of the community.
Stories about married women earning money often pointed to tension around the gender-appropriateness of female money-making or of avoiding household tasks. These tensions were sometimes resolved by disabling and feminizing the husband, at least briefly, as in “The Rebellion of Reuel’s Wife,” where Reuel’s disabling accident lets him see how necessary Mazie’s work is. The need for female-generated income is thereby accentuated, and the husband thereby comes to see the value of the wife’s work.
In “John’s Wife” there is less tension around the gender-appropriateness of Claribel earning money than around the class-appropriateness of her spending: she might disrupt the careful balance between her husband’s earning and her (p.140) consuming. As an outsider (she is not a farm woman by birth), she may be seen as importing unfamiliar urban patterns of buying rather than producing—here, by buying clothes ready-made instead of making them herself. Her consumption, however, is framed within an ethic of thrift. The stories attempt to make the two compatible: John’s wife in “One Woman’s Way” buys a bedroom suite, and Mazie buys economical ready-made stockings with the same sort of enterprise.
Claribel not only seems to buy clothes, but to do so in extraordinary quantity, although that turns out to be an illusion wrought by her use of the modern, mass-produced commodity, clothing dye. In the element of the story most accessible to imitation by readers, industrial magic makes a dress unrecognizable even to relatives’ prying and technically knowledgeable eyes. At this point “John’s Wife” almost seems like an ad for clothing dye. So it’s not surprising that seven years later the Diamond Dye company, a constant advertiser in Ladies’ World, adopted virtually the same structure and some of the same details in its 1898 advertising booklet, Cousin John’s Extravagant Wife, by Emily Hayes.15 Here, yet another John seems to require his relatives’ voluble advice. Annie is an apparent spendthrift, and his relatives worry that she’s clearly living beyond John’s means, wearing new dresses often, acquiring three new feather plumes since they’ve known her, and displaying various luxuries for the house. The relatives confront John and his Annie. Following the familiar structure of revelation, the prying relatives “were met with the usual cordial welcome”:
“John has told me,” continued Annie, “of your kind interest in his behalf, and mine also, I truly believe, and suggests that I give you a little history of my extravagant purchases. This,” she said, taking a little box from the table beside her, “contains the secret of my new feathers and hats and dresses, my new brown jacket and knitted capes and shawls, the new curtains and table-covers, the new afghan and Turkish rug, my olive dress, the bronze vases, the clover-leaf table, the hall stand, and many other little things which help to make our home attractive.”
She opened the box and took out a quantity of little envelopes.
“Diamond Dyes!” exclaimed Aunt Margaret in surprise, while Aunt Maria for once was speechless from astonishment.16
The secret is revealed: she dyes her old plumes and clothes, or takes the clothes apart and dyes the wool and makes it up into something else. The bronze vases are plaster, painted with Diamond paint, the table is cheap wood stained with Diamond cherry stain, and the carpet is made of scraps dyed and reworked. In contrast to the story “John’s Wife,” each project Annie describes is extremely labor intensive, but she has invested little money for materials.
The story line allows for enumerating the items and their attractiveness several times, and of course the fact that the relatives thought Annie was extravagant means they thought the items were new: dyeing didn’t occur to them. Within the story’s melodramatic structure, the box Annie brings out should contain a legacy; within the pattern of the other stories we’ve seen, it could contain berry-raising receipts, or payment for stories or articles. Instead, what it contains is instantly recognizable, but how she used the dye to get the results (p.141) she did is not, since she has remade the objects as well as dyeing them. The structure allows the reader first to relish the luxuriousness of the goods, then, through the revelation, to find them affordable, and through the explanation imagine herself making them. The explanation goes far beyond the exposition of berry-raising schemes as it embeds detailed instructions in the narrative:
“Then my little shawl, which you think so pretty, is made from the crocheted cape my sister gave me at Christmas, two years ago. It was pale blue, you remember, and I had washed it several times; so I raveled that, wound the wool into a rather short skein, and tied it in three places, then washed and boiled in soap and water, according to directions, and while it was quite damp dipped it in the dye, and it did take a lovely shade!”17
The story suggests that time and labor were plentiful for rural women, while materials were scarce. Its constant envious or loving description of the goods establishes that consumption is bounded and watched: all eyes notice what is worn, remember it in detail, and know when it was acquired. The reader is invited to participate in an inner surveillance as well, enumerating her own goods in the expectation that others might accuse her of extravagance. And yet this enumerating is also an invitation to feel dissatisfied, to review each garment and think of how it might be improved by Diamond Dyes. The appeal of the story is in tricking surveillance, in having the magic box at hand with its explanation, but the appeal depends as well on being aware of that watching eye to which one must answer.
The report of extravagance in the advertising booklet, as well as in the stories, is thus transformed into one of thrift, economy, and handiness. Interestingly, neither Annie nor Claribel is accused of wasting time by messing around with dyes and cutting up and remaking her clothes. A woman’s desire to dress well is seen as legitimate, as long as money is not spent on it.
All these stories assume in common that people closely watch over one another’s purchases and possessions and know one another’s income. They assume, too, that a woman’s spending habits might bring ruin on her family and that such surveillance is therefore justified. The plot twist in two of the stories, however, embodies a rebuke to the watchers: they turn out to have misunderstood the situation and are embarrassed by their wrong guess. So the reader learns that it is perhaps best not to chide others for their spending. Each story points out that there are legitimate ways to seem to live beyond one’s husband’s income, legitimate ways to acquire more goods or more fashionable goods—and that others may have found such means.18 In this case, ads and stories not only have structures, techniques, and concerns in common, but ads borrow from stories to the point of plagiarism.
In Ladies’ World, writing is both a way to earn money and a source of self-reliance and independence. In Bertha Ashton’s children’s story, “Aunt Crawford’s Wise Will; or Perseverance Conquers All Things” (1892), Aunt Desire Crawford threatens to cut her twenty-two-year-old namesake niece out of her will for her indolence, but will leave the money on the condition that “ten years from now you have made a name for yourself.” As a child, young Desire wrote (p.142) “short but bright stories,” but expecting the inheritance, she has grown lazy. Angry at the condition set by her aunt, she turns to the alternative:
“It’s hard work to write steadily, but I can, and yet all this trouble would be saved if I married Philip Astor.”
“You do not like him; you would not be happy with him,” her better self reasoned. “But his money, think of that. Work is irksome. An easy time you would have as his wife,” something else whispered to her.
Her better self wins the argument, and she resolves “to please her aunt and be a better woman” by writing children’s stories. She achieves fame for her writing, “calculated to make the children happier and more contented with their lot”; at the same time, evidently without contradiction, she “never forgot to instill in her stories the wish to be independent.” The lot with which children reading Ladies’ World were to be made contented was unlikely to include the option of marrying a rich husband like Philip Astor; it might well include the need either to support themselves independently or to continue to earn money after marriage. The story supplies detailed encouragement for doing so and concrete information about what to expect, showing young Desire persisting in her writing past the first few rejections.19
The thematic link Ladies’ World stories make between earning money at home, authorship, and purchasing power—between writing and shopping—continues into a strategy the magazine used to attract advertisers: it offered cash prizes in a contest inviting readers to write stories from the advertisements, as described in chapter 2. Writing in the contest both let readers earn cash to buy advertised products and brought them into more intimate contact with the advertising.
Ladies’ World stories repeatedly proclaimed that earning money gave women a necessary measure of power and control over their own workplace, the house. Women who earned money were entitled to spend it on services and the type of goods advertised in the magazine that would ease or substitute for their work. Moreover, it was clear that earning the money was probably the only way they could obtain such goods. Taking on the familiar formula in which earning money allowed one to buy one’s way out of housework and procure new goods and comforts, the Diamond Dyes booklet short-circuited the process and suggested that women should simply increase their household labor—sew more, lug more kettles of boiling water, knit more—to bring more modern and varied commodities into the home. As an individual advertiser selling packets of dye already within the means of its readers, this company’s interests were different from those of advertisers as a whole, and different from those of a magazine like Ladies’ World, which served as the advertisers’ representative. Diamond Dyes’s adaptation of the formula collapsed it and left out not only the woman’s earning of money but also her spending it on advertised goods. The absence of both earning and spending in this exceptional instance highlights their importance to advertisers as a whole in addressing cash-poor and rural women. In general, in order to escape drudgery in the home, such women had to take up some better-paid form of productive labor; writing was presented as one type of such labor.
An attack by a Ladies’ Home Journal columnist went after precisely the strategy proposed by the Ladies’ World short stories.
Lately there has been a great deal of fretful, impatient, womanly writing, about the degrading, depressing influence of household work; and it has been urged that it is better for wives and mothers to write or sew, or do any kind of mental work, in order to make money to relieve themselves of the duties of cooking and nursing. Women who have this idea ought never to have become wives, and they ought never, never, never to have become mothers. For if there is any loftier work than making homes lovely, and sweet, and restful, or any holier work than nursing and training her own little children, no woman will find it in writing, or sewing, or preaching, or lecturing, or in any craft of hand or head known to mortals.20
Here, all tasks of housekeeping are fused; cooking and child-rearing are so inextricably linked that the article’s logic demands that if the reader wants to hire someone to haul and throw out the bathwater, she must also give up her baby. While some Journal readers would have had servants afforded by their husbands’ incomes, and would have bought products to substitute for other forms of housework, the real issue was the proposed trade-off of women’s mental work for household duties that included the emotional caretaking of men as well as children. “Foolish women,” said Barr, are those who “will not stoop to conquer” by coaxing and smiling, but instead “would as soon pet and stroke a Remington typewriter as a stubborn, refractory husband or lover.”
Unlike poorer women, the middle-class urban married woman of the 1890s had money to spend on shopping. As she spent less time on the most familiar form of direct production of goods, the time thus made available was the subject of debate. New educational opportunities opened up, and the idea that women might obtain individual satisfaction from work outside the home gained ground, though these opportunities were more often approved for single women. But forces such as the burgeoning home economics movement pushed in another direction: they attached more importance to the household tasks that remained, added more tasks to these, and insisted on a new cult of the home.
Middle-class women’s work in the early post-Civil War era had been increasingly defined in terms of the spiritual and emotional influence women should exert over the household, along with the psychological support they were to provide. While this orientation retained its religious overtones, other forms of influence were annexed to the same model by the 1890s. A woman’s guiding presence was crucial to her husband and children. Even her neat, untroubled appearance at the table could be a profound influence for good, one Ladies’ Home Journal columnist asserted. At breakfast, “the men of the household ought to see a woman at her best,” pouring out the coffee, “forget[ting] as quickly as possible anything that happened in the kitchen so that its affairs may not furnish conversation for the breakfast table,” and looking as “bright and cheery and pretty…as a morning glory”21 Control of her emotions was part of (p.144) her job. As another Ladies’ Home Journal columnist explained, “Cheerfulness is as indispensable in the business of being a wife as yeast is in bread.”22 Her responsibilities thus became broader and more nebulous.23 Ideally, the physical dimension of her tasks should be invisible, barely to be broached in polite conversation at the breakfast table.
Stories about female authorship in middle-class magazines allegorized the surrender of independent work and autonomy at marriage and the taking up of emotional support work. Marriage was often specifically linked with consumption within this shifting cult of the home. Unlike the Ladies’ World stories, where paid work continues after marriage and where unmarried independence is esteemed, in these stories, authorship is displaced by marriage. In the middle-class magazine stories, authorship offers women the possibility of finding satisfaction and fulfillment as productive workers before marriage. The plots, however, foreclose the continuation of such work and suggest that having and spending money are ultimately superior pleasures.
These stories helped frame the purchasing work of middle-class women less as a job than as a source of pleasure, just as department store palaces of consumption had made “shopping” a form of entertainment. Rather more schematically, from the point of view of the advertising-dependent, middle-class magazines, the full-time housekeeper was a better consumer. Assuming an intact middle-class family with a bread-winning husband, earning money would have distracted from the wife’s chief occupation of purchasing goods for the household. To shop at genteel middle-class levels, a middle-class husband’s income was a more plausible resource than what most women could bring in through their own work. So it is perhaps not surprising that stories in these magazines generally disapproved of women’s earning attempts or subverted them through their plots.
Women writers appeared in numerous courtship stories in the middle-class magazines, but in these stories marriage makes their writing redundant, if only because marriage to the right man would supply a woman’s material needs, including her need for goods advertised in the magazine. This trade-off is explicit in Adelaide Rouse’s “The Story of a Story” (Munsey’s, 1896), discussed in chapter 4. Here a woman wants to sell her story to earn money to buy a bicycle; her story is rejected, and her ambition to write is traded in for her engagement to the assistant editor who rejected her story—and for a tandem bicycle to ride with him. So the woman’s writing is a poor strategy for buying one of the bicycles advertised in the magazine.24 Writing is displaced by marriage, and marriage brings in the goods, while the independence and mobility that were part of her original desire are dropped.
The young woman of Rouse’s story writes badly, but even when an unmarried woman is a successful writer, her writing leads to marriage. In Marguerite Tracy’s “The Unhonored Profession” (Munsey’s, 1901), writing and marriage are virtually interchangeable. The nameless narrator is a writer courted by Wolfe Hamilton, a doctor with whom she has a comradely friendship but has refused to marry. Wolfe wonders whether he might interest another woman, Leila, in story writing to take her mind off her presumed love for him, since, Wolfe (p.145) explains to the narrator, “you always tell me, when I ask you to marry me, that you would love me if you weren’t too much interested in your writing to think of loving anybody.” Leila, who does not in fact love Wolfe, advises the narrator to marry him: “Anybody can write stories—at least there are always plenty of ‘em written. You never saw a magazine published empty because they didn’t have any stories to put in. But everyone can’t look after that ridiculous Wolfe Hamilton, and with his money and position that’s worth an intelligent woman’s while.”25 Story writing here is something anyone can do; not because it is as accessible as raising berries, but because too many people are doing it already. Marriage to a successful man like Wolfe Hamilton, on the other hand, with its duties of emotional caretaking, takes exceptional talent and will be well remunerated. Marriage and writing fill the same role to such an extent that they are mutually exclusive.
To the extent that marriage and writing were set in opposition in Ladies’ World, as in “Aunt Crawford’s Wise Will,” writing was clearly the better alternative. In Ladies’ World stories, married women could continue to write, and writing was one of a variety of means by which they could earn money. One reason for the contrast between these two types of stories is the expected duties of a farm wife, which included providing for the physical needs of the household, whether by producing goods herself or by earning the money to buy them. The work of the middle-class urban wife, however, was becoming harder to neatly pin down. Central to it was the ill-defined, never-ending labor of providing emotional succor. The narrator of Tracy’s story must choose between continuing to make her psychic investment in her fictional characters and devoting her emotional and psychological energies to “look after” Wolfe; she chooses between creating her own characters and building Wolfe’s character.
In these stories, writing can also lead directly to marriage, which then displaces it. The fact that a woman once did write, once her writing is safely displaced, becomes one of her attractions: it gives her better knowledge of her husband’s needs. “The Woman’s Edition” by Bessie Chandler (Ladies’ Home Journal, 1896) relies on this idea: the general incompetence of women writers is a foil for the competence of the main female character; her competence pales beside that of an able and competent man.
In Chandler’s story, a group of women inexperienced in publishing put out their town’s newspaper for a one-day women’s edition benefiting a temperance cause. Because she has no husband and children to tend, Grace Waters, a young college graduate, is chosen editor-in-chief—against her wishes, since she wants to avoid Mr. Terance, the paper’s regular editor, who is in love with her. As an educated woman tied to the standards of the “regular” edition and the world of commerce, Grace becomes a touchstone of reasonableness and a conduit for making fun of the bad writing and naivete of the other women on the paper. She is frustrated by the large quantities of bad poetry submitted by women and the unbusinesslike way in which they prepare it—one woman, for example, arrives with a manuscript tied in different colored ribbons, so that the printers can follow the chromatic order of the colors: violet, indigo, blue, and so on. Grace nonetheless finds pathos in it: “When I think of all these little (p.146) springs of poetry that these good, hard-working domestic women have been concealing all these years, I could just weep. I’m going to write something about the ‘Submerged Sentiment’ of middle-aged women.”26
Other women working on the special edition don’t understand at first that, although they are donating their own time, bringing out the paper will entail expenses for paper and press work and that they will need advertising. But as they learn the pragmatic ways of the business world, the women come to accept even liquor ads to earn more money for their cause.27
When the paper is finally assembled, Grace breaks down after discovering that the first page is full of drastic mistakes. Mr. Terance heroically stops the presses and fixes everything while she cries. As all is remedied, and as newsgirls gaily sell the paper in the background, she agrees to marry him, finding her match in the real editor. The woman’s edition is clearly the inferior version; it appears for only a single day and is produced for charity rather than pay. Work on it, however, leads to marriage, once Grace learns to appreciate Mr. Terance. She now understands enough about the professional life of her future husband to follow his talk and to understand his interests as she supplies emotional support. While Mr. Terance’s competence rescues Grace, the kind of support a good wife was expected to provide is different. Chandler demonstrates the dangerous consequences of failing to supply it in her story “A Woman Who Failed.” In it, a woman not only lacks faith in her husband’s professional abilities, but “could not master and control herself enough to be always a pleasant person to live with”; she thereby blights his emotional and professional life.28
While women earning money through writing and other means helped the entire family live more comfortably in the Ladies’ World stories, and even strengthened the husband’s and wife’s relationship against challenges by older relations, in the middle-class magazines, writing by married and even engaged women could be downright threatening to the stability of the middle-class household and to the husband’s authority and peace of mind. In Munsey ‘s story “Mrs. Medlicott” by E. M. Halliday an apparent feminist who plans to “continue to edit The Woman’s Friend” after marriage avoids domestic tasks while overspending her husband’s money. By ordering in food sent from the local restaurant instead of cooking for her husband’s friends, she forces him to economize—once he gets the restaurant’s quarterly bill—by moving to the cheaper neighborhood she prefers: it’s closer to her colleagues on The Woman’s Friend. She thereby takes over the household reins.29
The women in the Ladies’ World stories had only appeared to overspend their husbands’ money; the revealed facts of their earnings demonstrated that they had achieved a new, higher economy that allowed them to spend more and raise the entire family’s standard of living. They might perform their hidden work to help the husband, as in a Ladies’ World story in which mother and daughter secretly take in laundry to clear the husband’s debts and restore his place in the community.30 Mrs. Medlicott’s work and spending, on the other hand, accentuate her antagonistic relationship with her husband. Working and spending are in conflict, and women’s work leads to a wild, destabilizing and unsustainable spending.
(p.147) Similarly, a story in Frank Munsey’s middle-class women’s magazine, The Puritan, suggests that a woman’s writing can make her too independent, and it threatens her mate’s security in a sexual and emotional realm. In Matthew White Jr.’s “In the Shadow of Success,” Evelyn, as a private project to surprise her fiance Hugh, writes a novel telling their love story, but then sells it for money to take her mother abroad for her health. When it becomes a bestseller, Hugh resents Evelyn’s fame and new independence because she no longer needs his protection. Furthermore, the link between their love and her writing taints their entire relationship for him: as Evelyn strokes his brow, “‘She is practicing her art on me,’ was the terrible thought that came to him. ‘What I do under these circumstances, some hero will be made to do under somewhat similar conditions.’”31
Evelyn responds to his resentment by breaking their engagement, saying it is better to recognize their mistake. And she has her work: she has begun a new book. Hugh tells himself that she was brave to have broken contact: “But it is not the brave woman I love. It is the dependent, trustful creature Evelyn was a year ago. It seems exactly as if she were dead.” The critics soon agree that Evelyn is not the same creature. Not only is the new work “wordy, pointless, morbid” but also the author “is a bird of one song. This she has sung, and happy for her had she remained forever afterwards mute.” Hugh seeks out every one of the scalding reviews, set forth at length in the story. He can now pity Evelyn and see her potential to again be a dependent, trustful creature whom he can console. When an accidental meeting leads him to propose, Evelyn tells him, “I have loved you all the time, but I know that miserable book had changed you, so—so when you gave me the chance I determined to play a part. And I played it well, so well that it nearly broke my heart.”32
Practicing this kind of art, pretending not to love Hugh in order to bring him back, and perhaps even pretending to write badly, doesn’t bother Hugh the way Evelyn’s use of their relationship in her writing had. In this scenario, writing threatens to ruin a woman’s chances for personal happiness because it breaches a boundary between the precincts of the home and marketplace. The success of Evelyn’s writing is tied to its original position as a private gift for her own and Hugh’s personal pleasure. When Evelyn takes what was meant for home use and sells it, the results are not as benign as those of the berry seller in the Ladies’ World story who expands the distribution of her produce from table to market. Evelyn instead has transgressed, and raises the possibility that a woman might be using her and her suitor’s love life as raw material for fiction, retailing intimate moments in stories. If her writing is so closely tied to these intimate moments, then she is engaged in a kind of prostitution: providing to the public at large the brow-soothing and emotional succor that as part of her wifely job description should belong exclusively to one man. Women’s work, because it brings the public world of work into the tenuously private sphere of domestic work—specifically domestic emotional work—thus disrupts the middle-class family and its privacy.
So far I have discussed women’s writing as a topic within stories. But although periodicals addressed to middle-class women and those addressed to poorer women both printed work by women, they made very different publishing opportunities available. In addition to publishing stories that cast a favorable light on female authorship, inexpensive periodicals for poorer women such as Ladies’ World, Comfort, The Household, and Housekeeper’s Weekly consistently published letters from, readers that consituted a lively portion of the copy. Readers even corresponded with one another in print in an arrangement resembling The Boston Globe’s still-running “Chatters” column (a feature begun in the 1880s). The distinction between letters and articles disappeared as editors of such periodicals asked “aspiring authors” to send in material. For example, Henry Ferris, editor of the five-cent Housekeeper’s Weekly: Woman’s Own Paper, which regularly announced suffrage and Women’s Christian Temperance Union meetings, explained in 1890 that the paper
is mostly written by its readers.…I assume that my readers are intelligent women, competent to distinguish themselves between good and bad literature; and they shall have the best that I can get for them….
I wish to have my readers know that I depend mainly upon their contributions….
A lady said to me the other day, “I shouldn’t think you would dare to give your readers the idea that they might write for you. Why, every one will want to write! Aren’t you perfectly flooded with contributions from aspiring authors?”
Of course I am, and that is just what I want to be. I want every reader to be a contributor.33
Contributors were paid. Though Housekeeper’s Weekly printed few short stories, its articles often included exemplary anecdotes and stories written using the conventions of fiction—pieces that might be thought, of as stepping-stones to story writing. The paucity of information available on most of the story writers in Ladies’ World and Comfort (which did publish much fiction) suggests that they, too, were open to publishing unknown, even amateur writers.
The situation at Ladies’ Home Journal and other middle-class magazines was very different. As “The Women’s Edition” suggests, amateur and professional writing were not permeable categories. While Chandler’s stereotyped amateur women writers turn out ridiculous poetry, she asserts that the stereotype doesn’t apply to her heroine or, presumably, to herself. Chandler’s amateur is not a speaking subject, someone with her own subjectivity who can describe her own situation or experience. Nor is she someone who could potentially become such a professional writer: the amateurs in the story instead seem frozen in positions of permanent naïveté and incompetence, forever available as topics for the essay Grace might write or the short story Chandler has written.
The sharp division between amateur and professional writer in the middle-class magazines was consistent with the new segment of the middle class they addressed, with its emphasis on professionalization. While working one’s way (p.149) up the ranks of the working world by amassing knowledge and skills was still a popular explanation of how to get ahead, managers were increasingly likely to come from a white-collar track, with management understood to be a separate, professional set of skills that could not be acquired from the shop floor. Wives of managerial men learned that their work life was as rigidly tracked and that one could not rise from amateur to professional writing by developing skills along the way.
A process Janice Radway has written about, by which present-day romance readers become writers, may cast some light here. These writers not only enjoy what they’ve read but also identify with the community of romance readers and want to give something back to it.34 Similarly, turn-of-the-century magazines addressed to rural and poorer women invited readers to see becoming a writer as an uncomplicated transition as they invited readers to contribute their voices to the magazine and become part of a community of writers as well as readers. They could contribute to the community they felt a part of as writers. But while these periodicals allowed entry into writing for an audience by small steps, the middle-class magazines in effect made room only for those who were already professionals. They thus mystified the process of acquiring expertise as a writer and made it less possible for their readers to obtain that expertise as members of the community of readers of that magazine. Writers in the middle-class magazines appear to arrive as outside experts, already trained. Readers of these periodicals were invited to contribute chiefly as consumers.
The Ladies’ Home Journal of this period has already been the object of considerable scholarly attention, directed at, among other things, the shifts in Protestantism visible in editor Edward Bok’s promotion of Henry Ward Beecher’s work, the impact on American vernacular architecture of its widely distributed house plans, and its part in Progressive-era regulation of patent medicines through investigation of their contents and support for the Pure Food and Drug Law. Bok’s promotion of his own story via his several autobiographies and his biography of his father-in-law, Journal publisher Cyrus Curtis, coupled with his long-standing, publicity-generating connections within the daily press, helped make the activities of the Journal more visible than those of similar magazines. But in the development of mass-market magazines and the construction of the reader as consumer, the Journal occupied a special place.
Under Bok’s editorship (1889–1919) the Ladies’ Home Journal was notably aggressive among the middle-class women’s magazines in seeking to serve advertisers: it not only mixed advertising and reading matter but also offered to place ads next to related copy.35 In well-publicized moves, it excluded advertisers of dubious goods such as patent medicine and financial schemes and warranted the products sold in its pages, thus suggesting to its readers that choices made from among the products advertised within them would ensure safety for the family. Historians have argued that while the muckraking pursued by such middle-class magazines as McClure’s exposed abuses and made consumers more suspicious of business, it ultimately promoted regulation that allayed fears and strengthened consumers’ confidence in business.36 Similarly, Bok’s investigation of patent medicines and his crusade against them provided readers with evidence (p.150) that the magazine would police its advertising precincts carefully. Although Bok framed his and Curtis’s policy against such advertising as a brave one, advertisers agreed that it enhanced the value of the magazine’s ad space. “When deceitful advertisements have been finally banished from newspaper and magazine pages, legitimate announcements will have a better chance and will pay larger dividends,” one advertising trade journal noted in 1899.37
Middle-class women’s magazines like the Ladies’ Home journal, The Delineator, and Good Housekeeping took a special and often more self-conscious role in the construction of the woman reader as consumer. Editor Gloria Steinem, in an article introducing the first issue of the newly advertising-free Ms. magazine in 1990, revealed much about the scope of editorial control that advertisers have been allowed to exercise overtly in women’s magazines in more recent years. Steinern noted that it has become routine for women’s magazines to “supply what the ad world euphemistically describes as ‘supportive editorial atmosphere’ or ‘complementary copy’ “with advertisers’ control over the editorial content of women’s magazines institutionalized in “Insertion orders’ [contracts ordering advertising] or dictated to ad salespeople as official policy.”38 One result is that women’s magazines are pressed to generate articles on food, fashion, and beauty subjects.
Insertion orders control editorial content by designating a wide variety of editorial matter a company’s ads should not be placed next to, as well as, for example, anything “negative in content” (Maidenform) or controversial (S. C. Johnson & Son), or “hard news or anti/love-romance themed editorial” (De Beers diamond company). Proctor & Gamble’s demands were particularly extreme, requiring that its products not be advertised in any issue that included any material on “gun control, abortion, the occult, cults, or the disparagement of religion.”39 Topics—and space—remaining after the advertisers’ demands are fulfilled were obviously much restricted; what was sure of inclusion was inexorably oriented toward consumption.
The Journal’s orientation toward service for the advertiser succeeded. It increased ad revenues from $250,000 in 1892 to $500,000 in 1896, and to over $1 million soon after 1900.40 Its success among the middle-class women’s magazines made it a model for others of that type. But it had much in common with the large-circulation mail-order magazines as well: it was cheap, it mixed ads with reading matter, it was roughly tabloid in size, and it attempted to address the interests of the entire family. Under Bok’s editorship the Journal effectively differentiated itself from these mail-order magazines and came to be grouped with the middle-class magazines. Bok’s press-agentry helped in this redefinition, and his campaign against patent medicines might be classed in this category. It was Bok’s willingness to pay high prices for stories and serials by such authors as Kipling and Howells, and to publicize their prices, that made the Journal unmistakably a player in the field of middle-class magazines.41 As Bok configured the magazine, its prestige and his own depended on publishing well-known professional writers.
Ladies’ Home Journal columnists fulminated especially against the notion that amateur women might make money from their writing or editorial projects. Bok, for example, made iun of the idea that women might earn money by (p.151) compiling literary extracts or bits from scrapbooks or by selling occasional verse. And yet such projects could be a literary apprenticeship, in which a contributor would become accustomed to the demands of publication—learning, for example, not to send in poetry keyed by different colored ribbons. Such a contributor would also learn to persevere through rejections—something the Ladies’ World story “Aunt Crawford’s Wise Will” showed was necessary.
While Bok’s mockery of the attempts of amateur women writers could be understood as an endorsement of a higher level of professionalism for all writers, it mystified the process, denying links between tentative and more ambitious writing projects and eliminating the layer of apprenticeship available in magazines addressed to poorer women. Ironically, Bok’s autobiography shows that he developed his own writing from similar small beginnings.
On the one hand, Bok simply seemed to be enforcing the idea that men should earn while married women should take charge of consumption. But his assault on women’s writing went further than attacks on attempts to write for pay. Having read what he said were thousands of letters from readers, Bok launched an 1893 attack on women’s letter writing. He complained of receiving “indiscreet” letters from women, but at the same time asserted that women’s letters were both more “natural” than men’s and, therefore, more “delightful,” since “a man always writes a letter by a certain formula; a woman ignores all formulas and writes as she feels.” In a period that, as we will see, increasingly came to value terseness and succinctness in writing as more businesslike, this “delightful” writing, with its “inevitable postscript which so often says more than her whole letter,” was markedly marginal.42 Women’s supposed letter-writing practices, though Bok claimed to cherish them, became evidence for the incompetence of women to write outside the home sphere.
Why was Bok reading so many women’s letters? Much of the popularity of the Journal was credited to the columns devoted to answering readers’ letters, called readers’ departments. Thousands of readers wrote queries to the Journal, and magazine workers answered them. While this service seems to have inspired readers’ loyalty, it strikingly avoided creating the kind of community of readers that prevailed in magazines such as The Household, Comfort, and Housekeeper’s Weekly. The readers’ departments filled the Journal’s pages with unpaid reader-generated material. Perhaps a quarter of some issues’ editorial matter was made up of answers to readers’ letters—in columns on child-rearing, etiquette, religious activities, and tips on appearance. The fact that the letters themselves rarely appeared reinforced the sense that women’s voices should not be heard in public and that the editors must protect women from speaking indiscreetly. “If sometimes the heart rules the pen, instead of the mind, it is more than ever incumbent upon the recipient to remember the confidence imposed, and respect it,” Bok said of women’s letters.43 The result was that women’s words were mediated through the magazine’s control: readers received only the oracular advice of the columns’ editors, rather than learning directly about other ordinary women’s lives—perhaps through messy, indiscreet letters. Moreover, unlike those who wrote to advice columns in the magazines for rural and poorer women, the letter writer’s contributions to the Journal became invisible—and naturally, invisible writing was not worth paying for. The writer (p.152) became simply a consumer of advice. The real occupation of the middle-class Journal reader was shopping, not writing, not earning money.
Bok’s account of his campaign against patent medicines attacked Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound with particular gusto, proudly recounting his publication of a picture of her grave, even as the ads continued to advise readers to write to Mrs. Pinkham with their problems. The vitriol he directed toward Pinkham’s business makes more sense in relation to the advice-seeking letters the Pinkham company solicited than its relatively harmless compound. One function of the Journal’s readers’ departments was to foster a sense of dependence by readers. The magazine was an ear as well as an oracular voice which shaped the kinds of concerns readers would address in the letters, and which shaped their relationship to the magazine: it was a trusted listener as well as advice giver. Pinkham’s letter-answering service was in direct competition with the Journal as a source of information and sympathy.
The Journal’s strategy was both to discourage women’s action in the public and entrepreneurial realms and to encourage lives that placed consumption at their center. Shopping, within this structure, was an acceptably social rather than transgressive public activity.44 Writing, like other forms of public action, was antithetical to caring for a home, Bok explained in an 1894 column advocating a “practical” education for women in “the great art of housekeeping”:
We may admire the public singer on the concert platform; we are charmed by the actress on the stage; we are impressed by the woman who writes well or talks brilliantly. But, after all, the woman who holds us, who not only commands but retains our respect, is the woman who is truest in her own sphere, reigning over her kingdom of home and children with a grace and sweetness, compared to which a public life is the hollowest of mockeries.45
Bok thus flattered the women he assumed made up most of his readership: women at home, living on a husband’s income, without a higher education, and who were comforted by assertions of the psychic importance of their work. While ostensibly arguing for girls’ education, his article more carefully worked to reassure readers that their current way of life was best. So while the Journal appears to present-day readers to seethe with contempt for women, readers in Bok’s era may have found support in it.
One reader, Magnolia LeGuin, a white farm woman living something of a hardscrabble existence in Georgia—her family had enough to eat but little to spare—writing in her diary in 1902 when she had three small children, called the Journal her “favorite magazine…how much pleasure a subscription is for me I can never express.” By 1910, expecting her eighth child, she no longer subscribed, but looked forward to a neighbor’s loan of a year’s worth of copies “if I can find to read them…. Words fail me when I try to tell how I enjoy those magazines.” She regarded the Journal as a source of strength for the coming ordeal of childbirth and a point of contact with other women’s lives in a period when she records having “taken two meals away from home this summer—first meals in five years.” LeGuin did not seem to choose the Journal over another women’s magazine; it was simply one she knew about, and the Journal’s (p.153) campaigns for subscribers may have disseminated it more thoroughly than other magazines. Its reprints of sermons and its pious tone may have also placed it in the register of religious reading that LeGuin already found acceptable. It sometimes served her as a conduct guide, a supplement of sorts to the Bible she read every night. She copied down its precepts on not speaking evil of others, for example, not remarking on the fact that one of them was framed as “one of the first secrets of popularity.” In another year, a subscription, at $1.50 a year, was a “rich treat,” and took its place with other Christmas presents like a “new pretty cake dish.” The magazine seems to have served LeGuin as an ordered, genteel world to retire to in the few moments she had for it.46
If the magazine allowed a moderately poor farm woman like LeGuin to see herself in its genteel pages, other, less marginal readers may have found its world even more familiar and accessible.47 The strategy of idealizing middle-class life, holding forth the situation its assumed readers were in as the ideal one, was developed in many stories in which a woman character was responsible for choosing her economic condition, a condition that very likely resembled that of many readers. In this formula, a rich woman chooses a poor man; she must convince him that, she really wants him and is willing to be poor along with him. Identifying with the woman in the story who chooses such a marriage and even has to fight for it may have allowed readers to see themselves as having chosen the economic situation of their own lives, which probably included financial constraints. The woman’s choice in such stories, too, perhaps allegorized leaving a middle-class family home and marrying any nonwealthy young man, stepping away from the accumulated comforts of an established middle-class household into that of a couple just starting out.
Integral to such stories was the agreement that the couple would live on his income alone, along with the reinforcement of the belief that it would be shameful to use her income either from inheritance or earnings. This agreement becomes essential to the proper resolution of a romance; in fact, the stories show such agreement as something women ardently desire, and achieve only after great effort.48 But although the men of these stories are poor, they are typically on the rise in white-collar positions. The emotional work of helping them, and of giving them a reason to succeed, takes precedence over raising cash for immediate shopping.
Other stories further accentuate this element of the face pressed longingly against the windows of domestic life, of the woman, who achieves the life of a middle-class housewife only after overcoming some obstacle. Some ordinary element of middle-class household life is celebrated, from the point of view of someone who is excluded from it or prevented from enjoying it for reasons other than poverty. For example, in Juliet Wilbor Tompkins’s “His Dutch-Treat Wife” (Ladies’ Home Journal, 1905), Olive is excluded from the pleasures of shopping and housekeeping, held forth as a wonderful delight. Her theories of independence and the couple’s apparent need for money keep Olive at her job in her “dear, exciting office” after marrying Ernest. Olive also takes on complete responsibility for running the new household, believing she can do it in fifteen minutes a day. (There is no hint that Ernest might do any of the work.) But housework seductively (p.154) absorbs more of her attention. She is preoccupied at the office: “Olive, hitherto whole-souled in her devotion to her work, was annoyed nowadays to find her mind slipping away in the late afternoon to trivial housekeeping details.” Her initiation into the mysteries of shopping leaves her especially distracted: “She even arrived late occasionally, having lingered over seducing piles of fruit and vegetables, or some marked-down display of fine table-linen, in which her eyes seemed to be daily opening to new distinctions.” When her friend Florence shows her a new embroidery technique, she rouses Olive’s inborn longing to do fancy-work; Olive stays up all night with it: “Ί can’t help it—it’s an obsession,’ she apologized. Ί think of it all day; I fairly run home to get to it.’” Her discontent emerges in what the story asserts is a primal, instinctive desire to quit her office work: “the encroachment was so often from within rather than from without.” ‘“Why shouldn’t I have what Florence—what every other wife, has?’ might have been the expression of it, if she had allowed it words. She hated herself for the pettiness of it—not dreaming that she was struggling against the mighty force of tradition.” When her husband returns her financial contributions to the household as a birthday present, expressing concern about her fatigue, she gratefully leaps at the chance to back down from her earlier statements, give up her job, stay home, and begin a family: “I am so glad to stop work. I—I don’t want to be an individual now,” she declares. What “every other wife has” is said to be both what Olive naturally and instinctively desires, and a valuable prize, achieved after deprivation and difficulty. The story’s resolution leaves her gratefully attaining the position of full-time housewife in which most of the Ladies’ Home Journal’s readers were presumably already ensconced.49
Bok’s antipathy toward women’s enterprise stands in sharp contrast to his own youthful entrepreneurship, as extolled in his autobiography and in his celebration of the rise of his father-in-law, Cyrus Curtis, to the ownership of the Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post. He praises himself and Curtis for seizing on all means of converting scraps of writing, odds and end of tasks, into cash. But such enterprising vigor is not praiseworthy in women, who are relegated to a suitably complementary position in Bok’s autobiography: they provide occasions for Bok’s entrepreneurial genius to burst forth. It is important that women be economically dependent because it is finally from their dependence, and from their adherence to their work as consumers, that the advertisers Bok represented could benefit.
As we have seen, the Ladies’ Home Journal promoted the idea of a very separate, professional caste of writers. And yet perhaps one reason for its success was that the Journal as a whole was not so simple or single-voiced. The same magazine that routinely disparaged women’s writing also offered advice on how to mail a manuscript. And although in its stories women’s attempts to earn money ended badly, the magazine for a time ran a column to which women contributed ideas for earning “pin money.”
Ads were one source of this multiple-voiced quality of the Journal.50 While editorials and stories ridiculed women’s suffrage, the “new woman,” or the idea of women serving on juries, ads might appropriate the excitement of new political possibilities by advising, “Don’t sweep the old way! The New Woman (p.155) Sweeps Hard and Soft Carpets, Bare Floors, with a Sweeperette”51 (figure 5–1) or show a woman lawyer addressing women jurors, charging them “‘You must decide that the “S.H. & M.” Bias Velveteen Skirt Bindings are not guilty of any of the defects charged against other bindings. The verdict must be: The Best Made”52 (figure 5–2). These feminist and quasi-feminist catch phrases and slogans patronizingly trivialized a serious quest for political power into a choice of trimmings and appliances and suggested, along with anti-suffrage propaganda, that a woman’s effect on the home sphere was so powerful that it exceeded and made unnecessary any power she sought in the larger world. And yet a reader with feminist sympathies might have found the ads appealing. Certainly her eye might be caught by the slogan, and here, the women associated with these slogans were, for once, not the ones caricatured. Women appeared as jurors, in a powerful position denied them in fact, and are shown as attractive and well dressed. The ads might, then, have appeared to offer the reader a more progressive arena than the rest of the magazine. The predominant conservatism of the rest of the magazine reassured, however, that middle-class order would not be thereby challenged or disrupted.
While a John Kendricks Bangs story in the same issue mocked the qualification of women to be jurors by showing one abandoning her case to rush home for a household emergency, the S.H. & M. ad hinted that housework and jury service were compatible and that evaluating and choosing goods might even be worthy of respect.53 The kind of women’s work Bok’s editorials were likely to praise was the the nebulous business of “reigning over her…home and children with grace and sweetness”;54 they less often focused on more concrete (p.156) details like housecleaning and shopping. Maintaining her untroubled, morale-building appearance at the family breakfast table depended on excluding from conversation the affairs of the kitchen; as we have seen, decorum required that she even “forget as quickly as possible anything that happened in the kitchen.”55 But even middle-class women spent much time in the kitchen, on cleaning, sewing, and choosing skirt bindings, and the ads were one place they might see this work reflected.
On the other hand, the theme of choice-making visible in the jury ad, so much a part of the newly formulated work of shopping, was central to many stories. Shopping itself involved decisions with moral weight. Home decorating choices, for example, had moral force, since, as one interior decorator aligned with the House Beautiful movement put it in 1893, “A perfectly furnished (p.157) house…not only expresses but makes character.”56 While such a claim came packaged with a set of Arts and Crafts Movement decorating suggestions, even those with looser notions of what the beauty that would shape the character of its beholders would look like accepted the broader claim. Making a beautiful and comfortable home was the first step in keeping husband and children at home and safe from vicious outside influences.57 It could even rescue men in danger of going wrong, as in one 1890s story of a woman who took up the mission of running a gentlemen’s boarding house, making it a “home” and steering the boarders from bad company by providing easy chairs, a piano, and a pretty lamp.58 Purchases chosen for the home, then, had great importance for the moral well-being of the household.
Courtship and Shopping
In enforcing the consumer role and either disparaging or making other possibilities for women invisible, the Ladies’ Home Journal supported women in some of the new tasks of steering through life as a genteel consumer. Stories in middle-class magazines valorized a life of economic dependence rather than independent earning for women. Courtship stories were a staple of these magazines, as they had been of much fiction before. But a theme emerged in some of these courtship stories of flattering women’s choice-making in much the same terms as ads did. Women characters chose between suitors: they shopped wisely.
While stories rarely featured scenes of actual shopping, shopping filtered through the magazines in various forms.59 In refashioned presentations of thrift, magazine articles reinterpreted taking time to shop carefully and learn about goods as wise judgment. Choosing foolishly appeared though stories and columns that ridiculed women who had the bad taste to wear flashy ribbons and hats: their cheap finery was not simply a class marker but a sign of incompetent shopping. Reading carefully through the ads was one form wise judging and shopping might take. And, as we have seen, magazines encouraged careful ad reading through contests and other incentives. By extension, a rational shopper might consult the good advice of a magazine she perceived as a trusted friend—perhaps a magazine like the Journal, which had demonstrated that it cared enough about her welfare to exclude patent medicine ads.
Magazine references, in other words, focused on the consumer’s social and practical uses of goods as the basis of choice making. By contrast, an available model of shopping which did not appear in magazines was one that asked shoppers to base their decisions on the working conditions of the goods’ makers and salespeople. The Consumers’ League, begun in 1891, suggested that consumers direct their attention to the conditions of production and thereby exercise their power of economic choice-making to force changes in these realms. As we will see, this approach was frowned on in courtship stories.
In the newly advertising-dependent middle-class magazine, a form of the courtship plot in which a woman chose between two or more suitors mirrored (p.158) the situation of the middle-class married woman reader, whose work, to an increasing extent, consisted of choosing between alternative products by brand name as she shopped for her family. Within the discourse of the magazine as a whole, the evident disparity between choosing a husband and choosing a cereal was collapsed from both ends: the advertisements warned that choosing the wrong product could bring embarrassment, impurity, disease, and death into the family (see figures 5–3 and 5–4), while the stories showed the choice of a husband being made over and over, as often as the formula appeared in the magazine.60
Judith Williamson has noted that late-twentieth-century advertising “sells us ‘choices’: or, to be more precise, sells us the idea that we are ‘free’ to ‘choose’ between things. To nourish this ‘freedom,’ advertising must, like other key ideological forms, cover its own tracks and assert that these choices are the result of personal taste.”61 In these magazine courtship stories, women’s ability and freedom to make their own choice of mate were celebrated; economic information and family influence appeared to step aside, allowing a woman’s heart and taste (p.159) to guide her to a husband. Hearts and taste however, are the better-assimilated versions of economic considerations, class, or family advice; they have been so well absorbed that they are no longer accessible to articulation, and appear as “natural” or “genuine” feeling. As we saw in chapter 2, advertisers themselves tied shopping to marriage: a woman was newly minted as a consumer at marriage, and the advertising she had absorbed in childhood would have impressed itself so deeply upon her that she would not be able to examine it logically or question it; it would override family buying habits. Women were praised in both stories and ads for their apparent ability to choose both commodities and husbands seemingly independent of the influence of family and friends. The stories played out several scenarios linking shopping and courtship.
Allegories of Shopping
The analogy between choosing a husband and shopping for goods was presented as a joke in an anonymous verse, “A Substitutor’s Obituary,” in a 1903 advertising journal. It attacked the retailer’s practice of “substituting” non-brand-named merchandise for the advertised product for which the consumer, made aware of distinctions between products by advertising, had presumably asked:
- Here lies the clay of Druggist Brown,
- The Substitution Fiend,
- From selling imitation goods
- His livelihood was gleaned”,
- Let not his mourning spouse be doomed
- To life-long widowhood,
- The matrimonial market offers
- “Something just as good.”62
Druggist Brown gets his posthumous comeuppance for trying to sell goods more profitable to him in preference to the less profitable advertised products: he turns out to be as interchangeable as he claimed the goods are. His widow holds power to take up with shoddy matrimonial merchandise and besmirch his name by declaring the new husband “just as good.” (The verse turns on the same anxiety about confusion between relationships to mass-produced products and to people as in Amelie Rives’s The Quick or the Dead?, discussed in chapter 3; here it’s expressed in jocular fashion.) However, the more typical version of the courtship-as-shopping story echoes such pitches as the Pearline ad in figure 5–5 and the Pillsbury ad in figure 5–6. It honored the consumer’s power to refuse to buy “something just as good” and to insist instead on the genuine, advertised item. In this reformulated vision of the marriage market, women held power; a man’s happiness was entirely up to women’s wise decision making.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British and American literature abounds in representations of a marriage market in which women are exchanged, bartered, or sold. Such representations were implicit critiques of the situation, as in George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876) or Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth (1905, serialized in the elite magazine Scribner’s). The woman on this traditionally framed marriage market was, as Rachel Bowlby points out of the prostitute, both seller and commodity.63 Wharton’s Lily Bart, for example, imagines she can cut a good deal for herself, can trade well, but in fact as a trader she proves to be too easily distracted by other considerations. She finds her value as a commodity diminishing; her speculations are unsuccessful. Lily mistakenly believes that she has the power to choose the situation she wants; the novel presents the frightening specter of her powerlessness as each chance drops away from her, as she reverts to her place as goods, and as men make choices around her.
(p.162) Critiques of the marriage market in the ten-cent middle-class magazines were usually more simplistic. In “Her Triumph” in Munsey’s, Thomas Winthrop Hill explicitly called a debutante ball a market:
- She sat like a queen looking down at them all—
- While seven gallants bent before her—
- For she was a debutante at her first ball,
- and the seven were there to adore her….
- No wonder she blushed! For a blush she had need;
- Twas not pride in her triumph that drew it.
- She sat there a slave to ambition and greed—
- A chattel, for sale, and she knew it. [emphasis in original]64
The debutante’s definitive position as a commodity or chattel seems to place her within a larger sales system of which she is not in control, but the shame that attaches to her is personal. She is to blame for being enslaved to ambition and greed. This is not, in other words, an attack on a system of sale, as abolitionist slave market images were a few decades before. The debutante ball setting of this critique, however, within a middle-class magazine, specifically labels the marriage market as an upper-class depravity. The middle-class magazines’ characterizations were similar to Thorstein Veblen’s analysis of “leisure class” use of women as indicia of their husbands’ wealth. Stories in which upper-class women married, or attempted to marry, for money and ended badly were something of a staple of fiction in magazines such as the Ladies’ Home journal.65
But this grim vision was largely absent from stories set within a middle-class milieu in the middle-class magazines. Instead, the traditional notion of the marriage market was sidestepped and the female character became the one with agency. The roles of seller and of commodity were displaced: the female protagonist took the seemingly powerful role of chooser or shopper, a role that flattered the woman magazine reader, who was also a shopper. The stories suggested that the endlessly repeated work of shopping and choosing was each time of enduring significance and that her role as shopper gave her power.
One 1898 Munsey’s story framed the situation succinctly: “Two men were in love with her; both had offered themselves, and now the question was, which?”66 To choose wisely between her two suitors, Miss Littlefield ‘must look at it from all sides,’ she mused. Ί have always declared that I would never let my fancy run away with me, and I won’t—I won’t!’” While Clyde and his rich family are altogether correct and of her own set, she loves John, the poorer suitor, but is afraid to decide on the basis of love since “it must be uncomfortable to be always fearing one’s fiancé would do the wrong thing,” a position John might land her in. She imagines John’s mother distressingly fat, in a “calico wrapper (p.163) …rocking and looking out the window.” But meeting John’s entirely presentable mother, finding her properly dressed in “a gray gown, with soft, old lace at the neck and sleeves,” ready to greet her in a warm but genteel manner, settles all doubts, and allows her to choose John on the basis of both heart and sense. The story suggests, then, that the first impulse to buy is not a bad thing: when Miss Littlefield gets the kind of detailed information from one side that advertisers believed women wanted, she learns what John’s family’s true class is and proves her fears and hesitations groundless; the rational evaluation “from all sides” that would have joined her to Clyde is not the best shopping strategy.67 And yet because her information is coded in terms of taste, and the signs of realism of the middle-class magazines, the story demonstrates that the heart or womanly judgment—the thoroughly assimilated, inarticulable version of knowledge about goods—leads to proper choices.
Though magazines might flatter readers for their wisdom in choosing from the heart, they also mocked women for bringing criteria from outside the home sphere into their decision, as the Consumers’ League had advocated. In Anne O’Hagarfs 1909 Good Housekeeping story, “Rhodora, Advance Agent of the Better Day,” Rhodora, a high-minded college graduate, visits her flighty friend Clothilde. Clothilde is wooed both by worthy Dr. Sparling, who “doctors all the mill people for nothing,” and by substantial mill owner Dwight, whom she favors. But Rhodora, who “look[s] into industrial conditions” during her visit, opposes the match and attempts to make Dwight’s industrial practices the basis of Clothilde’s choice, pointing out that Dwight “doesn’t do one single thing for his mill hands that the law doesn’t force him to do.”68
The standards Rhodora wants her friend to use in choosing a husband parallel those of the National Consumers’ League. As the advertisers, ad-dependent magazines, and Rhodora would agree, shoppers had economic power. Consumers’ League members argued that shopping choices could be a force to change industrial conditions and encouraged shoppers to choose goods based on the working conditions under which they had been produced rather than according to price or other criteria. Florence Kelley, a Consumers’ League leader, declared that because consumers drive production, they must therefore use their power carefully, with a larger good in mind. The League was to “moralize this [purchasing] decision, to gather and make available information which may enable all to decide in the light of knowledge, and to appeal to the conscience, so that the decision when made shall be a righteous one.”69 Rhodora has attempted to moralize Clothilde’s decision, gathering for the husband-shopper the sort of information on industrial conditions that the League provided to department store customers.
But Rhodora’s gesture toward power in shopping is held up to ridicule: it pushes women into the male sphere of industrial decision making. The story finally demonstrates that the studious bluestocking Rhodora has no grasp of the real world. Rhodora’s disapproval only temporarily deters the marriage, and when Clothilde finally elopes with Dwight she telegraphs Rhodora that her new husband has promised to undertake “all those things. You know—the reforms.” When Clothilde’s father reads the telegram, he protests: “‘Has the little goose (p.164) been mixing up in business?’ he asked. ‘And after poor Dwight kept the mill going full-handed and full time, at the Lord knows what drain on his personal resources, all through the panic! The Puss had better stick to her knitting!’”70
Rhodora is finally humiliated, both for having brought the wrong criteria to bear on a shopping choice and for having misjudged the industrial situation. Manufacturers and potential husbands are doing what’s best for their workers; these are not questions shoppers should pay attention to.
Clothilde exercises her power as a shopper in choosing between suitors, embracing the idea that the shopping choice should evaluate only the goods themselves and the relationship between goods and consumer, not the relationship between goods and producer or that between seller or promoter. Similarly, Good Housekeeping promoted its own acquiescent version of consumer power in its Good Housekeeping Institute department, which praised advertisers’ products, sometimes including readers’ reports of positive experiences with them. The magazine thus presented advertiser-driven information as a form of consumer power. It reconfigured the mail-order magazines’ provision of a forum for readers to write in as well by granting readers such space only for the purpose of praising advertised goods.
In the most schematic of the stories reviewed here in which choice-making itself is overtly featured, Lulu Judson’s 1896 “A Girl’s Way” in Munsey’s, a young woman chooses between a rich and a poor suitor: “‘must decide,’ she thought. ‘suppose I am just an average woman, but it does seem strange that I do not know which of these two I like the better, or if I really love either of them.’” A stream of family and friends press her to marry rich Mr. Dillard, and she seems to lean toward him. As long as his wealth appears to her both desirable and vague, he remains an acceptable suitor. But when her twelve-year-old brother falls off his old bicycle and complains “It ain’t fit for a fellow to ride. I do hope, Ellen, when you marry Mr. Dillard, he’ll give me a decent wheel,” Mr. Dillard’s wealth and the meaning of marrying for money are made concrete, and she rejects him.71 As a wise shopper, it’s not that she thinks money is not an issue. Her poorer suitor, the dynamically named Mr. Wheeler, is a lawyer with drive and ambition, and she assumes he won’t remain poor. But in this conversation with her brother she stops being the shopper: her position is too obviously revealed as a commodity, equivalent to, and therefore barterable for, a bicycle, an object whose position as a commodity is underscored for the reader by the advertising for it in the back of the magazine, with the price available for reference as well. In this scheme, she is at best a means for acquiring commodities, a conduit for the wishes of others. She chooses the position in which she will not remain a commodity, but will be the buyer.
The middle-class magazine featured a cornucopia of products in its ads. While the magazines addressed to rural and poorer women carried more ads for goods to be ordered directly from the manufacturer by mail order, and included (p.165) numerous ads inviting the reader to act as an agent selling products, suggesting an easy move between buying and entrepreneurial selling, ads in the middle-class magazines more often featured brand-name products that readers could see and buy at stores near them. Ads provided a kind of background for a purchase, and because ads for products like Pears’ soap, Pearline, Scourene, and Sapolio ran in every issue, ads gave the products an ongoing life within the two-dimensional neighborhood of the magazine, as well as in the three-dimensional world of the grocery shelf.
Readers of periodicals like the Ladies’ Home Journal that excluded ads for dubious products “have more confidence in the ads appearing” in these magazines and newspapers, and therefore made better customers.72 Other women’s magazines took up this policy, and, as the advertising manager of The Housekeeper noted, “to the extent that their advertising columns have become trustworthy, in the same degree have they become well filled”; moreover, ads placed in “trustworthy” advertising columns like his got larger returns, he argued.73
Women chose among these trustworthy suitors admitted to their homes and were flattered as people who make the right decision among both men and products. Next we will see the other side of the courtship story, as admen woo consumers.
(1) . Amelia Barr, “Have Women Found New Weapons?” Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1894, p. 4.
(2) . Preceding quotes from Edward Bok, The Americanization of Edward Bok:The Autobiography of a Dutch Boy Fifty Years After (New York: Scribner’s, 1920), 11.
(4) . See for example Gloria Steinem, “Sex, Lies and Advertising,” Ms., July/August 1990, pp. 18–28. This article, in the first issue of the advertising-free Ms., discussed ways in which advertisers in women’s magazines have directed editorial content to a focus on household and fashion concerns, and against, say, workplace or international issues.
(5) . Frank Luther Mott in A History of American Magazines, 1885–1905 (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1957) gives the circulation of People’s Literary Companion, the first of these papers, as half a million as early as 1870, while Comfort was over one million in 1895.
(6) . Samuel Sawyer in Secrets of the Mail Order Trade (Waterville, Maine: Sawyer, 1900), points to one distinction between mail-order journals and other magazines: the mail-order journal’s sales were entirely from subscriptions (typically a dollar or less a year), not individual copy sales, so that circulation would not respond to an individual issue’s contents. He defines the class to which they were meant to appeal:
They are cheaply printed on inexpensive paper and the literary matter in them is usually light fiction, interesting sketches, household column, little folks’ corner,’ ‘chats with correspondents,’ puzzles, agricultural hints and so forth. This kind of literature is attractive to people of the middle class [sic], and finds particular favor among those living in the small towns, farming and mining districts, as well as a portion of the city dwellers, such as mechanics and other workers’ families. (113)
Although his use of the term middle class for farming and mining households is unusual, he is more specific about what he means the term to exclude. The contents “would hardly appeal to a banker, lawyer or railroad president” (115). They have readers, nonetheless, who are like the heroes and heroines of the stories in the mail order journals, “whose earnings are not sufficient to enable them to live like lords, but who nevertheless exist in their own homely way. These people eat and wear clothes. They have ailments requiring medicines, use soap, enjoy amusements, carry watches, also have numerous other habits and necessities. They are open to propositions to supply them with the commodities they require” (116).
(7) . Ladies’ World not only sold commodities itself, but at least for a time offered its readers a “shopping agency.” Presuming that its readers were rural, it asked in an ad announcing this service, “What do you need from the city?” (November 1889, p. 4). The (p.212) Service relied on the readers’ trust in the magazine and their sense of belonging to a community. The initial announcement traded on the reader’s familiarity with the name of the publisher’s wife, listed in 1904 as managing editor, and asserted her qualifications in the shopping sphere:
The Ladies’ World Agency will be conducted personally by Mrs. Myra D. Moore, who is well known to our readers, having been connected with the Ladies’ World…for the past ten years….
She is a housekeeper, a mother and a lady of good taste, as shown by the things she gathers about, her in her own home, and will make the wants of each customer her own for the time being, and endeavor to select exactly as if for her own use or wear.
It is no new task she undertakes. For many years she has done shopping for out-of-town friends to the amount of hundreds of dollars, and has given in every instance the utmost satisfaction. (September 1889, p. 8)
Shopping is presented as a task which one might wish to delegate to someone else, rather than a pleasure. While it requires skill and taste, that taste is apparently universal rather than an expression of individuality: Myra Moore promises to select what she would prefer, not to express the customer’s taste through purchases. This orientation toward shopping may not in fact have matched that of the Ladies’ World readers: ads for the service don’t appear past 1889.
(8) . In the April 1890 issue of Ladies’ World, for example, twenty-eight ads offered either agencies for a product or a premium for selling it to neighbors. A number of these don’t tell what the product is, but state, for example, “You can make a large sum of money at work for us in your own locality.” Ad for True & Co., Augusta, Maine, p. 6.
(9) . Mott, History of American Magazines 360. I have been unable to locate any information about the authors whose works I have cited from Ladies’ World. This may mean that Ladies’ World attracted authors who were relative amateurs and who published a few items in periodicals only; it could also mean that the names were pseudonyms for an editor or author who wrote much of the magazine. (The exception is Mabael Gifford, who also wrote for Woman’s Home Companion.) The magazine’s editor, Frances Elizabeth Fryatt, had been a newspaper journalist and contributor to such magazines as Harper’s, The Independent, The Churchman, Art Age, Harper’s Young People, and Wide Awake before becoming editor-in-chief of Ladies’ World, where she was acknowledged to have conducted eight of its departments, writing “all of the editorials and most of the technical articles.” Whether this writing included fiction is not clear. “Frances Elizabeth Fryatt,” in Frances Willard and Mary A. Livermore, eds., American Women (New York: Mast & Kirkpatrick, 1897). Myra Moore, too, was said to have written many unsigned pieces in Ladies’ World. Marjorie Moore Butterworth, Quawksnest: Its Memories and Those Who Made Them Possible, 1896–1979 (privately published, 1992), 18. I am indebted to Tracy Moore for showing me this family history. On the other hand, the publisher of Ladies’ World asserted in a 1904 profile that its “high-grade fiction compares favorably with that published in any of the leading magazines” and indicated that it considered fiction an important feature of the magazine. “The Modern Magazines,” Judicious Advertising and Advertising Experience, May 1904, p. 65.
(10) . Preceding quotes this paragraph from Velma Caldwell-Melville, “One Woman’s Way,” Ladies’ World, August 1890, p. 15.
(11) . Adella E. Veazie, “The Rebellion of Reuel’s Wife,” Ladies’ World, serialized March-May 1904, March, p. 4.
(12) . The author also establishes that Mazie’s parceling out her responsibilities, (p.213) including hiring help for some, is in line with the same division of labor already accepted in men’s work, including farm work. As Mazie explains that she plans to keep a hired girl and pay her out of her earnings, she and Reuel have this exchange:
“I have learned that I am utterly unqualified and unfitted to do housework, and the more I try, the worse I hate it. I have tried faithfully, but I really think I’d rather die than look forward to seeing my whole life spent in the kitchen.”
Here Reuel cast on her a look of astonishment.
“But the housework is yours,” he said in a tone of displeasure. “You don’t mean that you intend to shirk it altogether?” interrogatively.
“So is your horse and your wagon and your barn yours,” she retorted, “but you didn’t shoe your horse yesterday; you took it to the blacksmith. You didn’t make a new tongue to your wagon when the old one gave out; the wheelwright got that job, and instead of building your barn yourself, you hired carpenters to do the work.” (Veazie, “The Rebellion,” April 1902, p. 15)
(13) . In The Secret of a Happy Home, Marion Harland (the pseudonym of Virginia Ter-hune) uses “John” as her generic name for a husband and proclaims “John is not John until he is married. He assumes the sobriquet at the altar as truly as his bride takes the title of Mistress’ or ‘Madame’” (New York: Christian Herald, 1896), 19.
(14) . M. Vaughn, “John’s Wife,” Ladies’ World, October 1891, 3.
(15) . Emily Hayes, Cousin John’s Extravagant Wife (Diamond Dyes, 1898), unpagi-nated. In the Thelma Mendsen Collection, pamphlet file, Winterthur Library. “Emily Hayes” may not have been a pseudonym. A writer of that name published at least one long letter in 1883 in the monthly periodical The Household. The letter advocated that rural young people form reading clubs to fill up the long winter evenings with study and recreation—a rather different use of time than dyeing clothes, though both projects recognized that rural people might have free time to put to use. Emily Hayes, letter from The Household, February 1883; reprinted in Norton Juster, So Sweet to Labor: Rural Women in America 1865–1895 (New York: Viking, 1979), 175.
(18) . Women found nonlegitimate means to acquire goods as well, especially in the face of what they experienced as the overwhelming temptations of the department store. If the magazine as a two-dimensional version of the department store presented some of the same temptation, if not the same opportunity, the stories suggested a way to master them by first acquiring the money and then the goods. For more on department store theft in this period, see Elaine Abelson, When Ladies Go A’Thievin’: Middle-Class Shoplifters and the Victorian Department Store (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).
(19) . All preceding quotes from Bertha Ashton, “Aunt Crawford’s Wise Will; or Perseverance Conquers All Things,” Ladies’ World, March 1892, p. 15. The story ran on the page labeled “Mother’s Department,” which included advice to mothers and stories for children.
(20) . Barr, “Have Women Found New Weapons?” p. 4.
(21) . Isabel A. Mallon, “Dressing Neatly at Breakfast,” Ladies’ Home Journal, March 1893, p. 19.
(22) . George Hodges, D. D., “The Business of Being a Wife,” Ladies’ Home Journal, January 1906, p. 19.
(23) . For more on the changes in expectations of women as mothers, see Maxine Margolis, Mothers and Such: Views of American Women and Why TheyChanged (Berkeley: (p.214) University of California Press, 1984), especially her discussion in chapter 2 of rearing middle-class “quality children” and pages 110–112, which touch on the middle-class woman’s work of creating a haven for her husband at home. See also Ruth Schwartz Cowan, More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave (New York: Basic, 1983); Christina Hardyment, Dream Babies: Three Centuries of Good Advice on Child Care (New York: Harper & Row, 1983); Glenna Matthews, “Just a Housewife”: The Rise and Fall of Domesticity in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987); and Susan Strasser, Never Done: A History of American Housework (New York: Pantheon, 1982).
(24) . In a 1902 novel, Rouse took a very different approach to female authorship. The heroine of her Under My Own Roof (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1902) is an unmarried successful writer of popular novels and stories who has not only a room of her own but an entire house built on the proceeds of her writing. When she marries a (more serious) fellow writer, they carefully adapt her house to provide writing rooms for both of them. One reviewer complained that the heroine earned money from her writing too easily and would thereby mislead readers: “All the adventures which befall Hono-na are possible and within the defined realms of romance. We only wish that the ready-money business obtainable in the way Honoria shoveled it in were credible. It may be that Adelaide L. Rouse swims in a Pactolus-like flood, but we are afraid that scores of young women, and belike old ones, will be trying to go to sea on floats of paper, using pens for oars and suffer shipwreck.” The reviewer’s metaphor of a mythological destructive flood perhaps hints at the fear that such inspired writers might flood the market. (Quotes are from unsigned review, The New York Times, September 6, 1902, p. 603.) As the author of at least ten books and as editor of Frances Trollope’s Domestic Manners of the Americans, Rouse, who was “editorially connected with publishing houses” was very much a professional writer. Who Was Who in America, vol. 1, 1897–1942 (Chicago: Marquis, 1966), 1061.
(25) . Preceding quotes from Marguerite Tracy, “The Unhonored Profession,” Mun-sey’s, March 1901, pp. 941–942.
(26) . Preceding quotes from Bessie Chandler, “The Woman’s Edition,” Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1896, pp. 5–6.
(27) . The appearance of this detail in a story in the Ladies’ Home Journal, incidentally, set the women’s paper on a lower moral plane than the Journal, which publicized its refusal of advertising for patent medicines; Journal editor Edward Bok noted in his autobiography that he “got the Women’s Christian Temperance Union into action against the [other] periodicals for publishing advertisements of medicines containing as high as forty percent alcohol.” Bok, Americanization, 340–341.
(28) . Bessie Chandler, “A Woman Who Failed,” A Woman Who Failed and Other Stories (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1893), 20.
(29) . E. M. Halliday “Mrs. Medlicotl,” Munsey’s, December 1893, pp. 261–263.
(30) . Mabel Gifford, “Maria’s So Thoughtless: A New-Year Story,” Ladies’ World, January 1892, pp. 2–3.
(31) . Matthew White Jr., “In the Shadow of Success,” The Puritan, January 1897, p. 28. White was well ensconced in the literary profession as the drama editor of Munsey’s for twenty-eight years, the editor of Munsey’s children’s magazine Argosy for forty years, and the author of at least eight children’s and adult books.
(33) . Henry Ferns, [Note from the editor] Housekeeper’s, Weekly, May 17, 1890, p. 7. The masthead lists Ferris as the editor and manager, Bertha A. Winkler as assistant manager, and Louise B. Edwards as assistant editor.
(p.215) (34) Janice Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984).
(35) . See Mary Ellen Waller, “Popular Women’s Magazines, 1890–1917” (Ph.D. diss.,: Columbia University, 1987), 150, 154.
(36) . See for example Gabriel Kolko, The Triumph of Conservatism: A Reinterpretation of American History, 1900–1916 (New York: Free Press, 1963).
(37) . Unsigned, “Deceptive Ads,” Profitable Advertising and Art in Advertising, October 1899, p. 336.
(38) . Steinern, “Sex, Lies and Advertising,” 26, 27. For more on “advertising reciprocity” in present-day magazines, see Ellen McCracken, Decoding Women’s Magazines: From Mademoiselle to Ms. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1993), particularly the chapters “The Cover” and “Covert Advertisements.”
(39) . Steinern, “Sex, Lies and Advertising,” 26.
(40) . Waller, “Popular Women’s Magazines,” 151.
(41) . The focus on obtaining the work of prominent authors also meant that the contents of an individual issue became important, differentiating the Journal from the subscription-driven sales of Ladies’ World and other mail-order magazines.
(42) . Edward Bok, “At Home with the Editor,” Ladies Home Journal, October 1893, p. 16.
(44) . Ros Ballaster, Margaret Beetham, Elizabeth Frazer, and Sandra Hebron, Women’s Worlds: Ideology, Femininity and the Woman’s Magazine (Houndmills and London: Macmillan, 1991), 98–99, points to British nineteenth century domestic women’s magazines as similarly defining women as outside the public realm.
(45) . Edward Bok, “At Home with the Editor” Ladies’ Home Journal, January 1894, p. 12.
(46) . Charles LeGuin, ed., A Home-Concealed Woman: The Diaries of Magnolia Wynn LeCuin (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), 15, 325, 33–314, 92–93, 192.
(47) . Bok envisioned his reader as a small-town woman, specifically not a farm woman, and enforced that vision through his editorial choices. Editorial correspondence with the author of an article on “An Ideal Farm Garden” finds Bok’s assistant requesting that the author scale down the size of the proposed garden: “Mr. Bok…maintains that he probably has a clearer idea than you can possibly have, as to what would probably please the majority of readers of the Journal. He…thinks that it would be much better for our purposes if we were simply to describe a garden such as would be suitable for those who live in the suburbs of large cities, or in the small country towns, where people have even less than an acre of land for their houses, gardens, and all that.” Letter to Miss Lucy Cleaver McElroy January 30, 1900, Curtis Publishing Co. records, Special Collections, Van Pelt Library, University of Pennsylvania.
Helen Damon-Moore, in her study of the Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post, also noted that the Journal, by the early twentieth century, was mainly directed at families with “moderate middle-class incomes from $1200 to $2500,” with some attention to those with incomes from $2500 to $5000. Helen Damon-Moore, Magazines for the Millions: Gender and Commerce in the Ladies’ Home Journal and the Saturday Evening Post 1880–1910 (Albany: Slate University of New York Press, 1994), 73.
(48) . Stories of the rich woman with a poor but hardworking suitor were common in other magazines as well. See for example, Thomas Baily Aldnch, “His Dying Words,” Scnbner’s, August 1893, pp. 204–211, and Harrison Robertson, “The Rich Miss Girard,” Scrihner’s, September 1893, pp. 390–393.
(p.216) (49) Preceding quotes from Juliet Wilbor Tompkins, “His Dutch-Treat Wife,” Ladies’ Home Journal, June 1905, p. 12.
(50) . Helen Damon-Moore’s study of the Journal takes note of other ways in which the ads seem to conflict with the editorial stance. She locates the point of agreement in “the themes that buying and consuming represented a natural way of life, that efficiency was an ideal to be sought above all others, and that intelligence equalled buying and using the right products” (Magazines for the Millions, 106).
(51) . Ladies’ Home Journal, January 1896, p. 41.
(52) . Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1895, p. 31.
(53) . John Kendricks Bangs, “The Paradise Club,” Ladies’ Home Journal, December 1894, p. 9.
(54) . Edward Bok, “At Home,” October 1893.
(55) . Mallon, “Dressing Neatly,” 19.
(56) . Candace Wheeler, quoted in Eileen Boris, Art and Labor: Ruskin, Morris, and the Craftsman Ideal in America (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986), 53–54.
(57) . For a fuller discussion of this theme in the writing of the period, see Garvey, “Commercial Fiction: Advertising and Magazines 1880s to 1910s” (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1992).
(58) . Annie L. Hannah, “Miss Deborah’s Investment: A Thanksgiving Story,” date and publication unknown; in scrapbook of stories evidently clipped from news or story papers directed at a rural audience beginning in the late 1880s. From the collection of the author.
(59) . In a rare story in which shopping is the featured action, the match between goods and buyer is monogamous (or perhaps serially monogamous): Katherine hesitates too long and loses the chance to buy a collar that exactly matches her shirtwaist. Her friends and relatives send her a total of eighty-three collars, but none matches. Months of effort and correspondence later, she finds the collar’s buyer, who sends her the collar, saying it didn’t match her own shirtwaist. A. Carroll Watson Rankin, “The Quest of a Nile-Green Collar,” St. Nicholas, August 1905, pp. 889–891.
(60) . As Susan Strasser explains, advertisers encouraged consumers to buy the advertised product instead of the generic item the grocer might promote. Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market (New York: Pantheon, 1989) 261. To do this, ads valorized choice making with scenarios that showed women refusing the “wrong” product or suffering dire consequences from buying it.
(61) . Judith Williamson, Consuming Passions: The Dynamics of Popular Culture (London: Marion Boyars, 1986), 6.
(62) . “A Substitutor’s Obituary” Judicious Advertising and Advertising Experience, July 1903, p. 25.
(63) . Rachel Bowlby, Just Looking: Consumer Culture in Dreiser, Gissing, and Zola (New York: Methuen, 1985), 27.
(64) . Thomas Winthrop Hill, “Her Triumph,” Munsey’s, October 1893, p. 53.
(65) . It is possible to read such stories as advice to women on the dangers of marrying for money, an approach taken by Frances Cogan reading mid-nineteenth-century novels. Similar scenarios appear in the works Cogan cites: a woman must choose between a rich man she hates and a poor but rising young professional. Her sample finds the women marrying the rich men; however, in the later magazine stories, the woman often wisely chooses the rising young man. Cogan, All-American Girl: The Ideal of Real Womanhood in Mid-Nineteenth Century America (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989), 110.
(66) . Harriet Caryl Cox, “His Mother,” Munsey’s, April 1898, p. 134.
(68) . Preceding quotes from Anne O’Hagan, “Rhodora, Advance Agent of the Better Day,” Good Housekeeping, May 1909, pp. 557–567.
(69) . Florence Kelley, “Aims and Principles of the Consumers’ League,” American journal of Sociology 5, no. 3 (November 1899): 290; quoted in Joe Broderick, “The Discovery of the Consumer as a Social Force: The Consumers’ Leagues and Their Reform Strategies, 1890–1900,” unpublished paper presented at the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis, May 5, 1992. Information on the Consumers’ League is from Broderick.
(70) . O’Hagan, “Rhodora,” 567.
(71) . Preceding quotes from Lulu Judson, “A Girl’s Way” in “Storiettes” section, Munsey’s, November 1896, pp. 205–207.
(72) . Unsigned, “Deceptive Ads,” p. 336.
(73) . F. W. Leavitt, “Who Pays the Publisher: Subscriber or Advertiser?” Mahin’s Magazine, August 1902, p. 23.