Sarah Josepha Hale, “lady editor,” born on this date in 1788

On this date 230 years ago, author and editor Sarah Josepha Buell Hale was born.  She grew up in Newport, New Hampshire, where her parents (Captain Gordon Buell and Martha Whittlesey Buell) had moved from Connecticut.  She was the third of four siblings and was particularly close with her older brother, Horatio (whom she thanks in the autobiography linked below).  Sarah married local lawyer, David Hale, in 1813, and together they had five children.  Not long before their fifth child was born in 1822, David died suddenly, leaving Sarah to care for them herself.  She never remarried.

After publishing a book of poetry and a novel, Hale was invited to take the editorial reigns of a new periodical in Boston, the Ladies’ Magazine.  She edited and wrote for the magazine from its founding in 1828 through 1836.  The turbulent financial times in the 1830s made it difficult to collect subscription fees from subscribers, as Hale’s missives to them attest.  In 1836, Louis Godey purchased the Ladies’ Magazine and merged it with his own Philadelphia publication, the Lady’s Book.  The pair would lead the Lady’s Book until their retirements in 1877, and Hale published many other popular volumes in her own right.

Hale often cited her need to support her family as the impetus for embarking on a career as an author, and later editor, at a time when American women did not actively seek fame and fortune in the pages of books or literary magazines.  This would change over the course of her lifetime, however, in large part because of the work she did to bring women’s writing into print.

On this anniversary of her birth, I want to highlight Hale’s history of women that she published in 1853 and let her describe herself.    Harper and Brothers published her hefty tome, Woman’s Record: or, Sketches of all Distinguished Women, from ‘The Beginning’ till A.D. 1850. Arranged in Four Eras. With Selections from Female Writers of Every Age (digitized by Hathitrust), which was almost one thousand pages long and included more than two hundred engraved portraits of her subjects.  She highlights in both the book’s introduction and in her autobiographical sketch her desire “to promote the reputation of [her] own sex, and do something for [her] own country,” by providing sketches that advance “the moral progress of society” (687).  Interestingly, the woman who often wrote about the moral influence of mothers describes her writing career in some detail here while simply noting that she had five children.

She was a complicated figure, both in her time and to try to understand within her context.  For her birthday, read Hale’s autobiography in Woman’s Record here.


Image credit:

The featured image, a portrait of Hale, originally appeared in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1850.  I borrowed this digital version from the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Portraits of American Woman Writers That Appeared in Print Before 1861.

Heading to SHEAR 2018? Check out “Stones and Bones”!

American citizens in the new nation took the memory of their Revolutionary War dead very seriously.  How seriously?  To learn more, join us on Friday afternoon from 2 to 3:45 pm for one of the best-titled sessions at #SHEAR18, “Stones and Bones: Negotiating Memory and Politics in Early American Monuments.”

SHEAR panel info

We are running this panel slightly differently than the traditional model of three 20-minute papers, a comment from the commenter(s), and wrapping up with Q&A.  The panelists have circulated longer manuscripts to Professor Boonshoft and Professor Schocket (what I submitted, for example, ended up being article-length).  The panelists are going to give shorter formal presentations of about 10 minutes, followed by an “interview” with the commenter and chair.  We hope that this format will make for a more dynamic conversation, so join us for this experiment!

The close-up picture of the marble obelisk (above) was taken at the base of the (completed) Bunker Hill Monument a few years ago.  My paper, “The Fruits of Women’s Industry and Ingenuity: Politics, Gender, and the Bunker Hill Monument,” discusses how New England women intervened when the monument sat languishing, only half-completed, for more than a decade.  In early 1830, funding for the monument had run out, and it was unclear how to raise the $50,000 necessary to finish it.  Local magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale called on New England women to donate but a quarter each to raise the enormous sum.  To her surprise, her campaign incited sharp criticism of the idea that women could or should raise the necessary funds when men could not.  My paper explores the backlash against Hale’s fundraising campaign and how this episode shaped her later rhetoric about women, nationalism, and the public sphere.

I am so pleased to be sharing this panel with two fabulous early career scholars as well.  James Wils will discuss his research on the popular commemorative discourse from 1770 to 1800.  Dr. Jamie Brummitt, who just defended her dissertation this spring, will tell us more about her research on Protestant relics, particularly the collection and uses of George Washington’s body and tomb.