From Assisting Shut-Ins to Sisterly Information, Mail-Order Publications

“Little skip Fannie Allison Troutsmans writes that she’s lonesome and want to hear from Comfort visitors,” the line starts. “She says latin brides she actually is the youngest of ten kids of who four only you live, and adds that her oldest cousin, a conductor regarding the Southern Railroad, had been killed by way of a train at Spartanburg, S.C.”

The appeal to other visitors showed up at the opening for the July 1907 “Comfort Sisters’ Corner,” a basic of Comfort Magazine. The columnist includes skip Fannie’s very own terms, and a address in new york where “sisters” could address letters. In identical pages, one girl asked for souvenir post cards and letters, while another requested “seeds of the very variety that is popular or any conventional plants, such as for instance our grandmothers enjoyed.”

The line went for numerous pages, quick paragraphs in tiny font sandwiched among the list of advertisements that are numerous. Comfort, most likely, wasn’t just a woman’s log; it had been a mail-order mag whoever primary purpose would be to bring customer tradition to rural America by marketing kitchen appliances, clothes, medications along with other items. The initial publisher, William Gannett, really produced Comfort in order to promote their neurological tonic to ladies. Yet as it is obvious in columns like “Comfort Sisters’ Corner,” those quasi-catalogues was included with a side that is surprising: interaction between ladies that otherwise might have been impossible.

Into the years after the Civil War, rapidly advancing publishing press technology plus a growing postal delivery system allowed the sheer number of magazines in the U.S. to explode. Whereas just 700 publications existed in 1865 (including Harper’s Weekly, Confederate Veteran and Southern Historical Society Papers), they numbered a lot more than 3,000 by 1885, and much more than 4,400 by 1890. Those figures, plus the blood circulation of magazines, proceeded to increase once the united states of america Postal Service started trying out Rural Free Delivery into the 1890s, bringing mail straight to the 65 per cent regarding the populace whom lived in rural areas in the place of making the mail at drop-off points. (It wasn’t until 1920 that the census discovered more folks located in metropolitan areas—towns with an increase of than 2,500 inhabitants—than in rural areas.)

Among the list of very first mail-order magazines to arise in the post-Civil War years had been E.C. Allen’s People’s Literary Companion, printed in Augusta, Maine and distributed across the nation beginning in 1869. By way of Allen’s pioneering work in Maine, Augusta became a hub for posting, with 17 games printed into the city, reaching a circulation that is maximum of 3 million. Not just had been the publications written primarily for ladies, they certainly were frequently produced by women too: of this 1,309 individuals doing work in the publishing industry statewide in 1900, ladies taken into account 615, just below 50 %. It had been also stated that Allen himself, the “Mail Order King,” required the opinion of feminine clerks whenever he elected an image for circulation inside the mags, writes Robert Lovett into the Bulletin of this company Historical Society.

“Comfort Sisters’ Corner” was a basic of Comfort Magazine. (Digital Library @ Villanova University)

Nevertheless the publications moving away from Augusta, with names like Thrifty Farmer, United states girl, Golden Moments and Comfort, had been usually inexpensive, shoddily printed rags supposed to turn rural females and families into customers. Publishers would send them 100% free to one-time readers, print advertisements due to their magazines in other publications, and gives incentives for enrolling new customers, which permitted how many visitors to grow rapidly—whether or perhaps not the mags had been really being look over. When compared with mass blood blood circulation women’s journals like Ladies’ Home Journal and Delineator, writers of the mail-order publications cared less about readers renewing their subscriptions than about having huge blood supply listings with which to entice advertisers. Despite the fact that Good Housekeeping and journals want it certainly crammed adverts on as numerous pages as you can, those magazines also hewed more closely to an editorial objective of supplying visitors with housekeeping advice, substantive fiction and poetry, and columns on fashion.

As marketing analysts Ernest Elmo Calkins and Ralph Holden published of Ladies’ Residence Journal and Comfort, the 2 different publications represented “extreme types of magazines and their respective constituencies; the main one, the type that is highest of a marketing medium… reaching well-educated, well-to-do, intelligent American ladies; one other, poorly printed… and reaching an uneducated and credulous class whose readers purchase only the absolute most cheap things, but more and more them do purchase, so your room may be worth just exactly just what it costs the advertisers.”

Mary Ellen Zuckerman, a teacher of advertising during the State University of the latest York, Geneseo and writer of a brief history of Popular Women’s publications in america, 1792-1995, acknowledges that both kinds of magazines added to your flooding of customer goods reaching rural areas. But, she states, “In a way that is funny the mail-order publications were nearly more truthful about their purpose. You knew once you first got it it was likely to be filled up with large amount of marketing.”

Take a book like Comfort. It had been among the first publications to achieve a blood circulation of over one million, billing just 15 cents for a subscription that is yearlong month-to-month editions of this magazine. As librarian Clara Carter Weber writes, “Comfort was at company to offer all you could consider, from sheet music, parlor organs, and peanuts, to an ‘oil portraiture’ of Admiral Dewey and a ‘Magical Sponge,’ the ‘wonder regarding the 20th century.’” Peruse the pages of old editions of Comfort and you’ll find adverts supplying a pocket that is free for all ready to offer bluing dye for washing, and “Duby’s Ozark Herbs” to dye gray hairs without coloring the head, and low priced fur scarves and muffs, and medical remedies like Dr. Coffee’s 80-page attention guide to cure all attention conditions.

But surrounding those adverts had been quick tales and recurring columns, like “Talks with Girls” and “Poultry Farming for ladies.” Really, Zuckerman states, the mail-order publications were additionally types of communication.

Comfort’s main function would be to bring customer culture to rural America by marketing kitchen appliances, clothes, medications along with other products. (Digital Library @ Villanova University)

“If you think of the life associated with females on these farms, most of the time in and day out these people were separated. Reading these magazines had been an interaction lifeline in means,” Zuckerman says. “If you can compose in and view one thing you composed in publications, and find out other females writing about things of great interest or concern for you, it provided a rather strong connection that’s difficult for all of us today to comprehend, because we’re therefore inundated with methods of communicating.”

Just think about the phone, created by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. During the change regarding the century, just 10 % of all of the households also had phone solutions. For ladies residing on farms definately not anybody however their household members, mail-order publications offered an escape from day to day life, and in addition a method to make a concrete link with other lonely ladies. In addition to “Comfort Sisters’ Corner,” another regular function associated with the mag ended up being requests from “Shut-Ins”—women too ill or old to go out of their homes, whom depended in the charity of next-door neighbors along with other visitors for success. “I intend to consider the shut-in whenever i could,” writes Edna Peterson of Biggsville, Illinois into the 1907 edition july.

But despite having the interaction they offered rural females, mail-order mags weren’t destined for durability. Numerous ceased publication after 1907, once the Post Office needed listings of paid members for mags seeking a reduced mailing price. Among the list of mail-order publications that survived the culling had been Woman’s World and Comfort, both of which lasted until 1940.

“I think they outlived their function,” Zuckerman suggests. “As roadways improved and folks had better transport, they certainly were in a position to access bigger towns and urban centers to complete their shopping, so that they didn’t need to depend on mail purchase. It’s ironic because now we’ve circled straight right back with Amazon. Everyone would like to do shopping at home and never venture out.”

As transport technology changed, so too did communications. By 1948, america had 30 million connected phones, and reaching out to friends from afar had been growing easier, even yet in rural areas. Catalogs like Sears and Montgomery Ward became the way that is new make domestic acquisitions. However for a brief duration, mail-order publications had played an important role for rural females: making them feel less alone on the farms and homesteads, and empowering them to fairly share their experiences with others.