Studies in Newspaper and Periodical History: 1995 Annual

By Michael Harris ; Tom O'Malley | Go to book overview

2
Sons of Liberty and Their Silenced Sisters: "Ladies" Magazines" and Women's Self-Representation in the Early Republic

Amy Beth Aronson

The first American magazine for women, the Ladies Magazine and Repository of Entertaining and Instructive Knowledge ( 1792-1793), was a novel venture in a volatile age. The "American experiment in democracy," now a new and polyglot nation that was growing and changing at an unprecedented rate, had thrown many cultural rules and roles into question. Amidst this ideological flux, one prevailing orthodoxy was the idea that women were not expected to engage in the public sphere as speakers. Yet restrictions on women's self-representation faced the incursions of a democratic culture: Liberalizing standards for public speech were rousing and inflecting public debate, and the literary marketplace was also diversifying, expanding public access to a widening range of discourse. 1 The over one hundred "ladies' magazines" that were launched in America between 1790-1830 partook of these democratizing conditions to answer the presumption of women's silence in the public realm.

The American magazine itself was a form tailor-made for the selfrepresentation deemed largely improper for a lady. Although conceived in imitation of Britain's popular eighteenth-century periodicals -- the Tatler, Spectator and Gentleman's Magazine -- the American "periodical miscellany" was distinctly keyed to the democratic conditions in which it was produced and consumed. From its inception in 1741, the American version was more inclusive, more multiple, more open than its

-17-

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