Elizabeth Magawley was a razor-sharp satirist and, when it came to both politics and letters, a pragmatist. During the early 1730s, her works appeared in the American Weekly Mercury, published in Philadelphia. In January 1730/31, under the pseudonym "Generosa," Magawley published a letter to the editor, Andrew Bradford, in which she challenged the repeated depictions of women in his gazette as fools who preferred "Fops and Coxcombs" to "Men of Sense." Magawley astutely notes the biases in such assertions but also is one of the first writers to explicitly challenge the gendering of language, especially in the construction of "Woman," and insisting, "The Word Ladies is an ambiguous Term, to which no single Idea can be affix'd."
Magawley challenged the "Wits and Poets" of the region, a collection of notable male writers who often published in the Mercury, to more rationally address issues concerning love and the sexes. Two responses emerged immediately: one from "Generosus," whose extravagant and lavish praise of her wisdom suggests as much mockery as serious admiration, ends in a proposal of marriage, noting that it is a topic she failed to mention; and a second from "Ignavus," who amusingly wants to defend the coxcombs of the world. In a subsequent poem, however, Ignavus strikes out at Generosa, who he implies must be an aging woman. Obviously recognizing in Ignavus's poem the idea that only aging and bitter women would challenge the ways in which men grant attention to women, Magawley responded in a resounding poetic satire of the entire group of male wits who were recognized in the pages of the Mercury.
As David Shields has discerned, in "The Wits and Poets of Pennsylvania" Magawley casts herself as the true poet (against the burlesque or simply inadequate styles of the male wits) and as a literary critic. Not only does Magawley satirize the poetic shortcomings of her opponents, but she also challenges their visions of