I am interested in women’s and gender history as well as the history of the book in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America. “Book history” is a bit of a misnomer, as the interdisciplinary field encompasses printed materials well beyond books (periodicals, pamphlets, and visual materials, for example). In addition to content and authorship, I am interested in how the production, marketing, and dissemination of print culture shaped gendered expectations.
My current project, “Fashioning American Women: Godey’s Lady’s Book, Female Consumers, and Periodical Publishing in the Nineteenth Century,” positions antebellum women’s periodical Godey’s Lady’s Book as central to the emergence of modern advertising and gendered consumerism. My research brings together the histories of gender, periodical publishing, and the early American economy to trace how publisher Louis A. Godey deviated from his colleagues and increasingly looked at women as eager participants in the market economy. Consequently, the parlor magazine became phenomenally popular among middle-class women. It helped sculpt their modes of consumerism; it connected women to goods and turned many into saleswomen themselves.
I have recently presented on research related to two other manuscripts-in-progress. One is an article on Godey’s conceptions of ownership of the texts and images that appeared in the Lady’s Book. He (in)famously took out a copyright on his magazine for 18 months in order to discourage newspaper editors from reprinting his stories, that he paid for. While he also invested significant resources into acquiring original and well-executed steel engravings and mezzotints, Godey did not seek legal protection for them. In fact, he later sold copies to readers and publishers. The article explores Godey’s conceptions of intellectual property, shaped by the early American book trade and reshaped by antebellum technology.
The second is an article on debates about gender sparked by a ladies’ fundraiser for the Bunker Hill Monument in Massachusetts. The cornerstone for the Monument had been laid by Lafayette in 1825, but by 1830, the monument was half-finished. The association charged with constructing it was not only broke, but in debt. Sarah Josepha Hale used her Ladies’ Magazine to call for an 1830 ladies’ subscription in order to raise the $50,000 needed. She was surprised to find that this ignited a debate in New England periodicals about whether it was proper for women to raise money for a military monument. Ten years later, Hale was at the center of a second ladies’ fundraiser for the monument: a week-long bazaar that received no criticism and that raised almost $30,000. The article assesses the continuities and differences of the gendered rhetoric around both fundraisers.