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.
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.