Godey’s Lady’s Book was first published in Philadelphia in 1830 by Louis A. Godey, who claimed to be delivering to women the original “gift book.” A book filled with positive images and thoughts about life, design, style, cookery and modern methods for home and wardrobe, and finally color lithographs of the latest fashions. From 1837 till its final publication in 1877, Sarah Josepha Hale was the primary editor with Louis Godey in publishing control. Originally the books were marketed to women, but included contributions by men and women. She eventually shifted to a by-women-for-women format.
The book did not stop circulating during the Civil War. Godey and Hale purposefully neglected any mention of the war, even going so far as to fire an assistant editor, Sara Jane Lippincott, for writing about abolition in other publications. As the country moved westward, Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine were found in towns across the Great Plains, even into California and the westernmost territories. Even though each annual subscription was $3 or more, the readership topped 150,000 “middle class” homes by 1877. It was one of the first copyrighted books in America, and Godey and Hale fiercely protected their rights, which was considered selfish at the time.
Some familiar American innovations were first championed by Godey’s Lady’s Book:
- Christmas trees as a national practice, not just a local custom
- Regimented mourning practices
- Copyright infringement and protections
- All-women’s publications
- First Publication of short works by Edgar Allan Poe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Washington Irving, and others.
Patterns for work include:
Crochet; Netting; Knitting; Millinery—construction and decoration; Hand & Machine Sewing; Cross stitching; Embroidery; Lacemaking; Applique, Braiding and trims; Design and architecture; Basketry, cobbling, headdress creation, lettering, beading, matting
How does this apply in Alexandria?
The exact numbers of readership are unknown, but could be determined through the records of the publishing company which still in exist, in part. As part of a thriving metropolitan area with affluence, a market economy, and an established social milieu, it would not be without the realm of possibility that several women in town purchased this book, shared it with a neighbor, or copied down patterns, receipts, and ideas. An examination of writings left behind by Alexandrians would also reveal clues about their reading habits and responses to new merchandise and ideas. Some possible places to start would be the diary and letters of Judith Brocklebrough McGuire, wife of the Episcopal High School headmaster or the diary of Isobel Emerson.
Goods and services readily available in Alexandria by 1830:
Carding wool; Breaking cotton; Dressmaker; Hairdresser/Wigmaker; Silversmith; Ironworkers; Ladies’ Teachers; Nailers (Horace Field Union Street); Dyer; Laundry and cleaning ; Mantua makers; Merchants (supplying needles—Tunis Craven King St, 1803-05); Milliner; Seamstress; Tailor; Tanner; Finished wearables (yarn stockings—John Joseph Combs, Fairfax Street, 1786); George Washington Parke Custis advocating a woolen manufactory 1809, sheep raising and shearing contest 1808; Philip Dalby—hardware, ironware, cutlery, hats, Persians, modes, handkerchiefs, etc.
The first mention of a specific type of wool being sold in Alexandria in most indices is attributed to Antoine (also Anthony) Cazenove, father of Louis Cazenove who owned Lee-Fendall House 1850-52. Antoine established the Cazenove Company which exported wheat and flour, and imported dry goods and foodstuffs. In 1821, he is advertising for Merino and skinner’s wools. Earlier reference to “cassimeres” probably refers to finished products, not yarn.
Merino Wool is sheep’s wool, and comes in several varieties, including strong (broad), medium, superfine, ultrafine (usually blended with silk or cashmere). Merino sheep entered Europe through Spain, reaching England through Flanders. Australia and New Zealand ranchers today dominate the market. Beginning in 1802 merino wools entered the US through Vermont. The price of wool in the US was $.25/pound in 1840. Cazenove’s business ventures extended as far north as Maine, which made the family among the first to begin introducing the wool to the southern parts of the Eastern Seaboard
What “Skinner’s Wool” exactly is, is a bit harder to determine. Is Cazenove’s mention of “skinner’s wool” identifying a wool standard, rather than a wool itself? A vital publication of the wool trade, Skinner’s Wool Trade Catalogue, was a product of the Australian wool industry. The Skinner Company also produced a second catalogue titled Skinner’s Cotton Trade Catalogue. These two volumes formed the most comprehensive statement on the United Kingdom’s textile trade. “Skinner’s wool” might indicate the wool is imported, therefore subject to an understanding of the wool’s composition or origin. A consumer of the day probably understood the term as an endorsement of quality or source, rather than of composition.
— Erin Adams, Director