This article is about the 19th century, self-taught female writer and editor who started the American version of Britain's first magazine for women, which later became known as the Godey's Lady's Book
In 1822, a 34-year-old mother of four might reasonably expect that her life's work had already been established. But like many women novelists whose lives would follow a similar pattern in coming generations, Sarah Josepha Hale had a quite different future in store. Born Sarah J. Buell on a New Hampshire farm in 1788, her early education was limited to that which could be provided by her mother. Later, encouraged and aided by her brother Horatio, a Dartmouth student, she augmented her course of self study by teaching. Her father, a Revolutionary War veteran whose health had suffered as a result of the war, gave up farming to open a tavern which did not prosper.
She married David Hale, a young lawyer, and by later accounts found him a ready supporter of her continued education. Together with friends they started a small literary club and Hale began experimenting with writing. Following David Hale's unexpected death to pneumonia in 1822, Hale and her sister-in-law, Hannah, were set up in a millinery business by David Hale's masonic colleagues. They also paid for the publication of a book of poems under the title The Genius of Oblivion and Other Original Poems. The modest success of this volume allowed Hale to leave the millinery business long enough to write a novel, Northwood which also met with success. Northwood was striking in that it used a national scene as background for the story and that it dealt directly with the question of slavery (Rogers, 26).
The book's success also brought a difficult decision. The Reverend John Lauris Blake, Episcopal minister and headmaster of the Cornhill School for Young Ladies, impressed by the book, offered her the editorship of a new magazine devoted to women. Thus, Hale found herself leaving four of her five children to be raised by relatives as she relocated to Boston to begin what would prove to be a long and successful career as an editor.
From the beginning the focus of the Ladies Magazine and Literary Gazette was to be American. Indeed, in 1834 the name was changed to American Ladies Magazine to differentiate it from the British periodical of the same name. Hale envisioned her magazine as a platform to further the education of women. Though it added greatly to the difficulty of producing the periodical--she composed at least half the magazine herself--the contributions were also to be original works. During her thirteen years in Boston as an editor she also became involved in several social causes. Among these were the formation of the Seaman's Aid Society, the fund raising for the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument, and several education-related causes.
Despite the success of the magazine, its continuation was jeopardized by the economic difficulties of the late 1830s. She had been approached by Godey in early 1836 to edit his Lady's Book but a desire to continue with her own publication and remain in Boston led her to decline his offer. When he later offered to buy the magazine, install her as editor of the new combined magazine, and edit it from Boston, she agreed. She remained in this arrangement until 1841 when she moved to Philadelphia.
There her work for the advancement of women did not stop. She supported Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell's bid to become a physician, as well as the attempts of women to become overseas missionaries. Her work to raise funds to preserve Mount Vernon was eclipsed only by her support of female instructors in the new Vassar College. Such was her influence that the original name Vassar Female College was changed at her objections.
Throughout the remainder of her long and productive life Hale continued to advocate the economic independence of women. She did not join the suffragists' call for women to enter the political arena but rather concentrated on the education and development of women in what she considered their proper sphere. She remained the editor of Godey's Lady's Book until it was sold, in 1877, to Frank Munsey. She died in 1879 at the age of ninety-one.
Baym, Nina. "Onward Christian Women: Sarah J. Hale's History of the World,"
The New England Quarterly. Vol. 63, No. 2. June 1990 p. 249.
Finley, Ruth Elbright. "The Lady of Godey's, Sarah Josepha Hale." (Philadelphia, London, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1931.)
Mott, Frank Luther. "A History of American Magazines" (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1938-68.)
Okker, Patricia. "Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth-century American Women
Editors" (Athens, Ga. : University of Georgia Press, c1995.)
Price, Kenneth M. and Susan Belasco Smith, eds. "Periodical Literature in Nineteenth-century
America" (Charlottesville, VA : University Press of Virginia, 1995.)
Rogers, Sherbrooke. "Sarah Josepha Hale: A New England Pioneer,
1788-1879" (Grantham, N.H: Tompson & Rutter, 1985.)
Tonkovich, Nicole. "Domesticity with a Difference: The Nonfiction of Catharine
Beecher" Sarah J. Hale, Fanny Fern, and Margaret Fuller. (Jackson, Miss. : University Press of Mississippi, c1997.)
Copyright © 2002 Hope Greenberg, University of Vermont.
Used by permission for
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