Academic journal article Journalism History

Finding a Market for Suffrage: Advertising and the Revolution, 1868-70

Academic journal article Journalism History

Finding a Market for Suffrage: Advertising and the Revolution, 1868-70

Article excerpt

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony's The Revolution (1868-70) is a central text in the history of the woman suffrage movement, but the contentious weekly also was part of a highly competitive nineteenth-century publishing market. This article examines the celebrated weekly's advertising and circulation practices. Such a reading brings to the surface not simply a woman suffrage newspaper but the threads of three different publications at three points in the weekly's short history: a national opinion weekly, a labor reform publication, and a women's literary or parlor magazine. Together the changes that show up in content and positioning over this period attest to Stanton's and Anthony's active efforts to reposition their weekly to gain both new audiences and new advertisers.

Woman suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton was an unlikely satellite of the wash-tub. Throughout the pages of The Revolution, the nineteenth-century suffrage weekly she founded with Susan B. Anthony, her prose breathed fire on everything from marital property laws and prostitution to monetary policy, the drinking habits of Ulysses S. Grant, and the perceived injustice of the Fifteenth Amendment. But as the following endorsement for laundry soap suggests, her prose could wax domestic, encompassing both politics and consumer culture:

Another grand step towards the enfranchisement of woman, is Mr. Blanchir's new compound, for washing, without rubbing. In the dark ages it was said, "there is nothing like elbow grease" to make things nice and clean. We can assure our readers that "Blanchir" is far better, for it not only saves the clothes from wear and tear, but the knuckles of the unhappy satellite of the wash-tub. With Blanchir we shall always have the washing done early on election day . . . that all the heroines of the suds will be able to reach the polls in season to vote, for a general cleaning out of the muddy pool of politics. We advise every woman to get a quart bottle (price 35 cents) of Blanchir, and . . . turn the dreaded washing-day into a family amusement, for fairy fingers can manage the whole programme, where Blanchir presides.

E.C.S. [Elizabeth Cady Stanton]1

The copy appeared on July 22, 1869, in the weekly newspaper, an apparent effort to woo the manufacturer of a product that would become a staple in women's magazines in the nineteenth century and beyond. Indeed, just six weeks after this celebrity endorsement appeared, The Revolution included two similar items attributed to prominent woman suffragists, both in the newspaper's editorial well. In one, suffragist Paulina Wright Davis testified to Blanchir's ability to give linen "the pearly whiteness of the new fabric without the slightest injury to the texture," and in the other, Mary Livermore, the editor of Chicago's Agitator, wrote that she expected Blanchir to be "a humbug" until she used the six bottles that proprietor RR. Skinner had sent to her.2

Such efforts to provide a congenial advertising environment appear to have worked. A few pages later, The Revolution carried a full-column display advertisement, which was an unusually large size for the publication at the time, touting Blanchir as "THE BEST AND CHEAPEST COMPOUND FOR WASHING AND CLEANSING OF EVERY KIND EVER OFFERED TO THE PUBLIC!!"3 By the end of September, Blanchir was being advertised regularly in The Revolution, and the newspaper had begun to offer the product for sale at its East 23rd Street offices.4

A powder keg of a weekly newspaper, The Revolution is recognized as a central text in the history of the woman suffrage movement-"certainly the least trammeled and most daring feminist paper that had yet-and perhaps has ever-appeared," historian Ellen Carol DuBois wrote in 1978.5 Free-wheeling and ideologically contentious, The Revolution documented Stanton's and Anthony's efforts to build support for woman suffrage in the critical period after the Civil War and served as a public declaration of the movements independence from abolitionist and Republican politics alike. …

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