In this new column for Worn Through, Interns Jaclyn and Michelle will explore the new and emerging field of digital resources and their potential for primary research in fashion.
Godey’s Magazine, also known as Godey’s Lady’s Book, was the most popular American women’s magazine of the mid-nineteenth century. It contained fashion plates and commentary on current fashions, advice, recipes, poems, sheet music, lessons in morality and etiquette, and sentimental fiction. The fashion plates were hand-colored by women employed by magazine founder Louis A. Godey. Godey established the title in 1830, and hired poet and novelist Sarah J. Hale as editor in 1837. During Hale’s forty-year tenure, circulation rose from 25,000 to 150,000 subscribers per year. Writers contributing to Godey’s at this time included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Edgar Allen Poe.
Portions of Godey’s have been digitized by several university libraries and made accessible for free on the online archive Hathi Trust. The most extensive run is linked here. The journals are not listed chronologically, which makes browsing more onerous, but clicking any issue title will open an e-book display. In this view, users can search by keyword and download page ranges or whole issues as a PDF. To search all issues at once, click the “full text” tab at the top of the page and then the Advanced Full Text Search. Enter a keyword in “Full-Text + All Fields” and “Godey’s” in “Series Title.” For a more robust search experience, the Accessible Archives database includes all issues, and allows Godey’s fashion plates to be searched separately. Many research libraries subscribe to Accessible Archives.
I have used Godey’s repeatedly in my own research towards my MA in Fashion and Textile Studies. The October 1894 issue contained a detailed description of the tea gown, describing the fit, trimmings, and the proper occasion on which to wear one; July 1897 extolled the convenience and ease of shirtwaists; April 1857 heralded the new round hats, and where to wear them (only in a carriage, a concert room, or at the opera). Godey’s never included content that was controversial or unpleasant; politics were expressly excluded. Nonetheless, it provides a window into American women’s lives and influences over decades of the 1800s. As stated in A History of American Magazines, “here is a history of manners, a history of taste, a history of costume.”
Image credits: Accessible Archives and HathiTrust