respected the norms, both social and intellectual, of the neoclassic
practices in which they had been trained and whose practice accrued
to them so much respect and profit. Thus, even as they nurtured
revolution, they held tenaciously to the old ways of thought, the old
patterns of meaning, the old systems of exclusion. To trace the specific
details of such women's praxis can complicate our understanding and
can demonstrate that, although the transition did take place, it was
not a tidy progress. Nor were its major players always publicly
present. Masked, hiding behind inscribed and mobile identities,
exploring the simultaneously public and private entitlements of writing, Hale and women like her both fueled rhetoric's transformation
and impeded it.
Over the 68 years of its publication, Godey's appeared under several
different but related and recognizable names. In my citations I will not attempt
to give the exact name of the magazine in that particular year but will refer to
the magazine simply by Godey's, giving the year of the citation followed by
volume number and page.
Earlier in this column, Hale had established the superiority of writing
to face-to-face communication: "Language from the lips may be hasty, inconsiderate or flattering, but written expressions of attachment have a certain
evidence of reflection and, consequently, sincerity" ( Godey's 1845, 31:82). She
had long held that letter writing was a skill uniquely fitted to the womanly
sensibility. Many of her contemporaries agreed. The popular columnist Fanny
Fern, for example, maintained that "no man, since the world began, could pen
a letter equal to a woman" ( Parton 1873, 424). Shirley Brice Heath uses
documents written as early as 1808 and as late as 1867 to document a cultural
consensus that women "excelled" in letter writing and conversation ( 1981, 32- 33).
See, for example, Nancy Armstrong Desire and Domestic Fiction ( 1987), Gossett and
Bardes Declarations of Independence ( 1990), Kelley Private Woman, Public Stage ( 1984), Ryan Women in Public ( 1990), and Tompkins foundational Sensational Designs ( 1985).
Godey's enjoyed a peak circulation of 500,000 in 1869. The number of
actual readers is significantly greater, since subscribers frequently shared
copies of the magazine with friends. The North American Review, by contrast,
reached only a few thousand readers; the Southern Literary Messenger had a
subscription list of 4,000 in the early 1840s, when Godeys claimed 50,000. The
magazine has been seriously misrepresented by traditional historians of