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  • Preserving Sentiments:American Women's Magazines of the 1830s and the Networks of Antebellum Print Culture
  • Anna Luker Gilding (bio)

Between 1825 and 1850, the "period of expansion" for magazines in America, titles produced for, contributed to, or edited by women became increasingly popular.1 Although there had been magazines, such as the Ladies Magazine and Repository of Entertaining and Instructive Knowledge (1792-93), produced for women in the late eighteenth century, the 1820s and 1830s witnessed a renewed and more successful emphasis on the market of women readers.2 In the antebellum period, magazines benefitted from technological advances and increased literacy levels, which promoted wider distribution and larger reading publics. Together with the growing emphasis on original contributions, these developments meant that, by the 1820s and 1830s, more women were entering print via the magazine market.3 Generally taken as most representative of antebellum women's magazines, owing to its success, is Godey's Lady's Book (1830-98). Associated with sentimental and domestic culture and with successful business practices, such as high remuneration for authors and the inclusion of popular fashion plates, Godey's has also been taken as representative of a separatist women's magazine culture.4 Through a focus on Hale's editorial career at the Ladies' Magazine (1828-36) and, later, the Lady's Book (1837-77), for instance, Patricia Okker has charted the increasingly separatist nature of Hale's own gender ideology, which developed in tandem with the magazines. In Okker's view, the notion of a separate "woman's magazine" that gained purchase in the 1840s and 1850s involved the commercial imperative of crafting a defined readership, and so gender ideology and a separate woman's magazine culture became mutually reinforcing.5

By contrast, it is important to note that the titles that I draw on, primarily 1830s magazines edited by women, are less sharply distinguished from general literary magazines of the period than in the later period. Although titles such as Hale's Ladies' Magazine (1828-36), in particular, and Ann Stephens' Portland Magazine (1834-36) were primarily intended for women, neither title was as thoroughly associated with the women's magazine culture that Okker identifies [End Page 156] as solidifying within Godey's Lady's Book. So, although I refer to "women's magazines," it is with the caveat that the magazines to which I refer were less separatist than this collective noun suggests. This essay situates women's magazines within networks of people and texts in order to seek connections and resonances across print rather than reinforce a sense of separatism by way of women's culture specifically.

In situating women's magazines within networks of antebellum print culture, I position these titles as central to a culture of preservation that operated across affective, textual, and material levels in the 1830s. The trend for preserving sentiments in the antebellum period found expression in a range of everyday practices, from individuals preserving printed and hand-written ephemera to the production of mementoes, such as miniatures and hairwork jewellery.6 Although these forms of memorialization differ in materiality and are individual in expression, all such practices emphasize the preservation of sentimental attachments or "networks of affection."7 As such, preservation can be thought of in relation to the well-documented sentimental culture of this period, which prized the emotive power of literature and material objects to foster sympathetic bonds between people.8 Rather than sentimental literature, per se, however, I focus on editorial sentiment and the editor's invocation of relational networks as a way of illuminating a dynamic of "preservation culture" that is directly related to the specific properties of magazine print. Indeed, a more specific sense of preservation than the "sentimental" becomes very important if we shift attention to the woman editor (rather than writer) and the material form of the magazine as printed text, a form that was, by its nature, preservative. By taking the editor and the magazine as my focus, I consider the materiality of print in relation to its social functions.

Although the term "preserving sentiments" may appear to be a contradiction—as sentiments are associated with people, things, and events at specific moments in time...


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pp. 156-171
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