For nearly 50 years Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) was the editor of America's most influential women's magazine.
Sarah Josepha Buell was born in Newport, N.H. She was educated at home and in October 1813 married David Hale, a lawyer. He encouraged her to write for local newspapers. When he died in 1822, leaving his widow with five children, Mrs. Hale attempted a full-scale literary career. Some early verse was well received, and in 1827 her first novel, Northwood:A Tale of New England, brought her serious critical attention. The Reverend John Laurie Blake was just about to found a monthly magazine for women in Boston, and he offered her the editorship. Accepting, she moved to Boston in 1828 and edited Ladies' Magazine there until 1837.
The magazine was a success, the first of its kind to take an important place in American periodical publication. It featured fiction, poetry, essays, and criticism and was characterized by its attempts both to define and to celebrate the wholesome and tasteful in American life. Hale wrote most of the material for each issue, and every month she pressed her arguments in favor of improved education for women and a role for women in the culture as teachers and moral guides. She rejected, with equal steadiness, the claims of the feminist movement for the right of women to occupy positions of executive authority in the political and business worlds.
In 1837 Louis A. Godey bought out the magazine, changed the name to Godey's Lady's Book, and promoted it to fame with impressive skill. Hale remained as editor, moved to Philadelphia, and for 40 years reigned as the taste maker of the American household. The magazine prided itself on being "a beacon light of refined taste, pure morals, and practical wisdom."
Though she always contributed freely to all departments of the magazine, as the years went by Hale concentrated most of her attention on the sections called "Literary Notices" and "Editor's Table." It was there that she tirelessly managed her campaign to establish standards of taste, delicacy, and decorum for American women.
Among her 36 volumes of essays, fiction, drama, poetry, cookbooks, and giftbooks, Hale published the huge Women's Record:Sketches of Distinguished Women, in at least three editions. Her poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb" first appeared in Poems for Our Children in 1830.
At the age of 90 Hale contributed her last article and retired, the acknowledged arbiter of 19th century American feminine manners and morals.
A scholarly, full-length study of Mrs. Hale is Ruth E. Finley, The Lady of Godey's:Sarah Josepha Hale (1931). Her career is also recounted in Helen Beal Woodward, The Bold Women (1953), and Walter Davenport and James C. Derieux, Ladies, Gentlemen and Editors (1960).
Rogers, Sherbrooke, Sarah Josepha Hale:a New England pioneer, 1788-1879, Grantham, N.H.:Tompson & Rutter, 1985. □