Christmas Presents: 1864

In 1864, Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine was the go-to periodical for women. It was filled with advice on fashion and family matters along with needlework patterns and “receipts” or recipes as we call them today. Because of the magazines popularity, it is one of the periodicals I have chosen for my characters, particularly Ella Pierce who loves cooking and all aspects of homemaking, to spend time with.

I was browsing the December 1864 issue of Godey’s when I happened upon an article titled


Intrigued, I began reading and learned the article was really advice from an editor to a reader who wanted to know the appropriate gift for a young woman to give a young man. The editor suggested a gold pen because the pen suggests “mental power and moral improvement, of refinement of thought, and progress in civilization.” Wow! All that in the gift of a pen.

But wait! The advice does not stop there. The editor continues with a suggestion of what gift one might give a woman, particularly one who has fallen on hard times and must earn her own way in the world. Mention is then made of a specific class of women who need the gift: widows with small children they must support. After declaring that these widows are often “in delicate health,” the editor declares that the best profession for these women is needlework, and the gift of a sewing-machine would make earning a livelihood even easier.

This gift advice is followed by a list of professions widows should not undertake. These include any attempt at literature (although Godey’s publishes the work of women writers), starting a school (requires capital and time), or opening a boarding-house (which also requires capital, good health, and steel nerves).

I found this advice fascinating because it comes from Sarah Josepha Hale, the editor of a magazine for women and says much about the view of what women could do in that time and place. The editor then suggests the rich might do great good by giving these poor women a sewing machine. I can picture the reactions of my various characters to such a gift. Ella would love it, Cordelia would shake her head and move on in her photography wagon, and Aunt Hannah would be too busy in her new career as a detective to appreciate the gesture.

PIERCE SAGA UPDATE: I am halfway through the rough draft of Hiram’s Girls. I’m hoping for a late January launch. Also, Aunt Hannah is getting her own series, so come back for updates. To see all my books, visit my Amazon author page.

4 thoughts on “Christmas Presents: 1864

  1. Hazel, I find this historical trivia so much fun to read. We really do take for granted how far women have come in this country. I can’t wait for your new book. Have a Merry Christmas!


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