Crafting a Nation of Ladies: Marketing Godey’s Lady’s Book in the Nineteenth Century

Godey’s Lady’s Book, a monthly magazine published in Philadelphia, was a household name in nineteenth-century America. It circulated issues in the tens and then hundreds of thousands from the Northeast to the South and West, and it moved goods, information, and ideas from cultural centers abroad (London and Paris) and commercial capitals at home (Boston, New York, and Philadelphia) into aspiring homes all over the republic. Little attention has been paid, however, to the advertisements of products on the magazines’ covers or on how publisher Louis A. Godey marketed the magazine itself to readers and subscribers. This paper examines the ways in which Mr. Godey crafted the public image of the Lady’s Book from the magazine’s founding in 1830 through his retirement in 1877. Using prospectuses (advertisements) for new volumes that appeared on the Lady’s Book’s ephemeral paper covers as well as advertisements printed in newspapers, I argue that the branding of the magazine changed over time from a literary magazine to an editorial formula recognizable in women’s magazines and lifestyle websites today. By the 1850s, Godey declared his magazine to be “The Book of the Nation,” and the marketing within the magazine proliferated. He introduced a personal shopping service and began selling items like sewing needles, connecting rural readers with fashionable goods from East Coast merchants. The Lady’s Book attracted readers by providing access to the necessary accoutrements to women across geographic and social class boundaries, all through a single, trusted brand. The history of the Lady’s Book’s branding offers insight into the periodical publishing business, the magazine’s role as an agent of nationalism and idealized gender roles, and ultimately, its appeal as a consumer good.