If women today feel they can’t get by without their monthly magazines, be they Vogue, Oprah or Good Housekeeping, they’d definitely understand the great thrill of American 19th century women when they’d receive their Godey’s Lady’s Book each month. In its time, and despite its high subscription price of three US Dollars (USD) a year, it was the most popular magazine, titled the "queen of monthlies." It featured literature, art, poetry, the latest in fashions and music, (with dress patterns and sheet music), in addition to a beautiful hand colored fashion plate on each magazine.
Louis Godey began the magazine, in the 1830s. By 1837 Godey acquired Sara Josepha Hale’s Ladies Magazine and Literary Gazette. He offered Hale the post of editor, which would allow her to remain in Boston. The mother of four agreed to the proposition, and Godey’s Lady’s Book was born afresh, with significant influence by Hale.
By the late 1830s, Godey’s Lady’s Book was intensely popular, and featured many unique details. It wasn’t the first magazine for women, and it followed the trends of many popular British magazines. However, Hale was extremely committed to showcasing American writing talent, and many a recognizable name in literature provided material for Godey’s Lady’s Book including Edgar Allan Poe, who became an avid supporter of Godey and Hale’s efforts.
One distinctive feature that stands out in the magazine’s history is Godey’s decision to copyright all material. This enraged smaller publishers, since they weren’t allowed to steal material from Godey’s Lady’s Book for their own publications. Some publishers felt that copyrighting the material was a selfish act, and predicted the quick demise of the magazine. This prediction would prove false, and the magazine would reign supreme until 1898, with Hale acting as editor for 40 years.
Three times a year, the magazine featured issues that showcased the talents of women writers only. Although the magazine was often traditionalist in nature, feminist literary critics are apt to point to the periodical as a fantastic avenue to advance the notice of female writers during the 19th century. Yet, Hale also marketed the magazine to husbands and fathers, since it would promote education in women, only in so much that they’d be better wives or mothers as a result of reading it.
Godey’s Lady’s Book remained mum on the issues of the Civil War, but it's unclear how many subscriptions to the magazine would have reached Southerners, especially in those areas most affected by the war. Margaret Mitchell in Gone with the Wind refers to the Southern ladies suffering for want of fashion information since they could not get their favorite fashion magazine.