Hale, Sarah Josepha (Buell)

views updated May 17 2018

HALE, Sarah Josepha (Buell)

Born 24 October 1788, Newport, New Hampshire; died 30 April 1879, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Also wrote under: Cornelia, Mrs. Hale, A Lady of New Hampshire

Daughter of Gordon and Martha Whittlesey Buell; married David Hale, 1813 (died 1822); children: five

As editor for many years of Godey's Lady's Book, one of the leading periodicals of the 19th century, Sarah Josepha Hale was perhaps the most widely known and most influential woman of her time. Her enormously successful career as editor, novelist, poet, and essayist is the more remarkable for having commenced at the age of forty.

In the years before she began her editorial work, Hale lived a quiet life in rural New Hampshire. She was educated at home by her mother, who, Hale later said, encouraged her "predilection for literary pursuits," and by her older brother, who shared his college studies when on vacation from Dartmouth. Hale conducted a private school for children from 1806 until 1813, when she married a lawyer. By her own account, Hale's married life was a model of domestic bliss. She admired her husband greatly and spent idyllic evenings with him in reading and study. In 1822, however, just before the birth of their fifth child, Hale died, leaving his wife in financial distress. She soon turned to writing and, with the assistance of her husband's Masonic friends, published The Genius of Oblivion (1823), a thin volume of poetry.

Although the poems are undistinguished, they contain the seeds of themes Hale was later to develop—the superiority of American character, the need for higher education for women, and the differing roles of the sexes (man "rides the wave" and "rules the flame," while woman is the "star of home"). In addition, the first line of the book, "No mercenary muse inspires my lay," is Hale's first pronouncement to the world of the self-image which, as skillful advertiser of herself and her magazines, she was to promote for the rest of her life. She claimed repeatedly that although she had published a few poems during her husband's lifetime, she had never intended to become an "authoress": her chief aim was to prepare reading material for their fireside. She turned to writing and editing neither for financial gain for herself nor for fame or ego satisfaction, but only for funds to educate her children.

Hale's career was launched in 1827 with the publication of her first novel. Northwood is usually represented as one of the earliest novels to contrast American life in the North and South; however, the subtitle, A Tale of New England, more accurately describes Hale's intent. Southern scenes and characters are introduced, like British ones, to point up the characteristics of Yankee life. Hale describes at great length the domestic customs and manners of the postcolonial period in New England. Food, clothing, and architecture receive detailed attention; pages are devoted to the description of a Thanksgiving dinner. There is little plot, except for a frenzied effort at the end, but much preaching. Moral homilies on subjects ranging from the proper education of children to the sins of greed and vanity are interspersed with speeches defending life in New England against typical foreign criticisms.

Despite its flaws Northwood was original and became an instant popular success. Its renown brought Hale an offer to edit a new magazine, and the year after the publication of her novel she found herself in Boston, the editor of Ladies' Magazine. Each issue contained stories, poems, essays, household hints, book reviews, and sketches of American life, the latter often written by Hale herself. In forming her editorial policy Hale simply brought together elements that had been present in her early work: emphasis on America, attention to domestic detail, and frank didacticism, particularly on the subject of women.

In contrast to the current editorial practice of lifting entire articles from other (usually British) magazines, Hale sought original articles by Americans on national subjects. She dedicated the magazine to "female improvement," promising to "cherish the effusions of female intellect" and educate women in domestic skills. Typically, while she reassured men nothing in the magazine would cause their wives and daughters to "encroach on the prerogatives of men," she included a large amount of material on education for women—detailed notices of existing schools and seminaries and editorials advocating teaching as a profession for women and the establishment of infant schools.

Although there had previously been female editors and periodicals for women, Ladies' Magazine was the first one of quality and the first to last more than five years. It attracted the attention of Louis Godey, an enterprising publisher who was editing an inferior magazine in Philadelphia. Godey offered to buy out the Ladies' Magazine and unite it with his Lady's Book under Hale's editorship. Hale accepted and began an association which lasted from 1837 until 1877. She edited Godey's Lady's Book until she was in her ninetieth year.

Because Godey was able to finance the novel practice of paying contributors, Hale could attract better writers, such as Edgar Allan Poe. She also expanded the number of domestic departments begun in Ladies' Magazine. In Godey's can be found the forerunners of most departments existing in today's home magazines: cooking and recipes, sewing and patterns, domestic architecture, interior decoration, etiquette, health advice, gardening, child psychology, beauty, and fashion. Godey's was famous for its hand-colored fashion plates and steel engravings, the number of which increased rapidly through the years.

Missing from Godey's were essays on the political, economic, and religious questions of the day. Hale's advocacy of education for women and other reforms was carried on principally in her editorial columns, for Godey, with an eye on circulation, forbade any controversial articles. Incredibly, the Civil War was never mentioned within the pages. The magazine was successful, however, as circulation climbed from 10,000 in 1837 to 150,000 by 1860, an astounding figure for the time. Godey's was the arbiter of American taste and manners, and Hale's name became literally a household word.

During her career as editor, Hale continued to produce her own work. She published collections of her sketches; she compiled recipe books and household handbooks; she edited gift books, anthologies of verse and letters by women, and works for children. In her Poems for Our Children (1830) is "Mary Had a Little Lamb," the poem for which she is best known today, although her authorship of the first stanza has been disputed. Hale's major work is Woman's Record; or, Sketches of All Distinguished Women from 'The Beginning' till A.D. 1850 (1853). This monumental biographical encyclopedia, still useful today, took her several years to write and contains some 2,500 entries.

Hale also continued to write fiction. In 1852 the fifth edition of Northwood appeared, with revisions by Hale. She changed the subtitle to Life North and South: Showing the True Character of Both and added lengthy discussions of slavery. In the original version, slavery was mentioned as a temporary evil which should not disturb the harmony of North and South; in the later version Hale advances the view that slaves should be taught Christianity, whereupon they might be freed and sent to Africa "to plant Free States and organize Christian civilization." This theory is further developed in her didactic novel, Liberia; or, Mr. Peyton's Experiments (1853).

While Hale has been criticized for her views on slavery, Northwood and Liberia have also been called antislavery novels. Interpretation of Hale has always varied widely. Some of her biographers claim she was a "militant feminist," others a "true conservative." Actually her philosophy, expressed repeatedly in her works, was internally consistent and explains many seeming contradictions. She believed God created women morally superior to men. Eve's sin was less than Adam's, as she fell because of desire for spiritual truth and he from sensual appetite. Eve did sin, however, and woman's punishment is to be subordinate to her husband. She is required to work through him, elevating him and transforming his nature in order to save humanity. In America she is particularly to restrain his materialism and greed to save the nation. Woman's sphere is restricted—she must use her influence only in the domestic realm because if she entered public affairs she might be contaminated.

Thus Hale spoke against women's rights and attacked those leaders who wanted the vote. However, because women had to be educated in order to use their moral powers effectively, she campaigned vigorously for higher education for women and supported educators like Mary Lyon, Emma Willard, and Matthew Vassar. Similarly, although Hale believed slavery was wrong, she thought the slaves should not be freed until their moral sense was developed (by female teachers, of course). Additionally, women could not properly support abolition because in their role as spiritual guardians they should cultivate only peace and harmony.

Hale's philosophy also explains the major contradiction in her life. She thought of herself as a reformer and indeed was an energetic and outspoken supporter of many causes. Yet apart from her advocacy of education for women, the causes for which she labored were essentially trivial ones, such as eliminating the use of "female" as a noun, having Thanksgiving declared a national holiday, and raising money to complete the Bunker Hill Monument. Hale wielded tremendous influence and could unite large numbers of women. She used her power to promote, in her words, women's "happiness and usefulness in their Divinely appointed sphere."

Other Works:

Sketches of American Character (1829). Conversations on the Burman Mission (1830). Flora's Interpreter; or, The American Book of Flowers and Sentiments (edited by Hale, 1832, revised edition, Flora's Interpreter, and Fortuna Flora, 1849). The School Song Book (edited by Hale, 1834, reissued as My Little Song Book, 1841). Tales for Youth (edited by Hale, 1835). Traits of American Life (1835). The Ladies' Wreath (compiled by Hale, 1837, revised edition, 1839). The Good Housekeeper; or, The Way to Live Well and to Be Well While WeLive (1839, reissued as The Way to Live Well, and to Be Well While We Live, 1847). My Cousin Mary; or, The Inebriate (1839). The Juvenile Budget Opened: Being Selections from the Writings of Doctor John Aiken (edited by Hale, 1840). The Pleasures of Taste, and Other Stories Selected from the Writings of Miss Jane Taylor (edited by Hale, 1840). Things by Their Right Names, and Other Stories…Selected and Arranged from the Writings of Mrs. Barbauld (edited by Hale, 1840). The Lady's Annual Register, and Housewife's Almanac, for 1842 (edited by Hale, 1842). The Little Boys' and Girls' Library (10 vols., edited by Hale, circa 1842). Alice Ray: A Romance in Rhyme (1845). Keeping House and House Keeping (1845). Modern Cookery, in All Its Branches…by Eliza Acton (edited by Hale, 1845). "Boarding Out": A Tale of Domestic Life (1846). Harry Guy, the Widow's Son (1848). Three Hours; or, The Vigil of Love, and Other Poems (1848). Aunt Mary's New Stories for Young People (edited by Hale, 1849). The Poets' Offering: For 1850 (edited by Hale, 1850, reprinted with revised preface as A Complete Dictionary of Poetical Quotations, 1850). The Ladies' New Book of Cookery (1852, revised as Mrs. Hale's New Cook Book, 1857; English edition, Modern Household Cookery, 1863). The New Household Receipt Book (1853, revised as Mrs. Hale's Receipts for the Million, 1857). The Bible Reading Book (compiled by Hale, 1854). The Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (edited by Hale, 1856, revised 1869). The Letters of Madame de Sévigné to Her Daughter and Friends (edited by Hale, 1856, revised 1869). Manners; or, Happy Homes and Good Society All the Year Round (1868). Love; or, Woman's Destiny (1870).


Albertine, S., ed., A Living of Words: American Women in Print (1995). Entrikin, I. W., Sarah Josepha Hale and Godey's Lady's Book (1946). Finley, R. E., The Lady of Godey's (1931). Fryatt, N. R., Sarah Josepha Hale (1975). The Story of Mary and Her Little Lamb (commissioned by H. Ford, 1928). Taylor, W. R., Cavalier and Yankee (1961). Wright, R., Forgotten Ladies (1928).

Reference works:

AA. CAL. DAB. NAW (1971). NCAB. Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Other references:

Historian (Feb. 1970). Legacy (1985). NEQ (Jan. 1928, 1990).


Buell Hale, Sarah Josepha (1788-1879)

views updated May 23 2018

Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788-1879)


Editor, author, and poet

Youth. Born in the eighteenth century, Sarah Josepha Buell grew up in an era when girls were denied access to advanced formal education. Young Buell was instead tutored by her brothers and through them received the equivalent of a college education. As a young woman Buell taught boys and girls in a private school near her home in Newport, New Hampshire, until 1813, when she married the young lawyer David Hale. Hale furthered Sarahs private education; together the Hales studied world history, French, and botany.

Early Success. Hales writing career began when her husband submitted some of her stories and poems to the Newport weekly newspaper. After David Hales death in 1822 Sarah briefly went into a millinery business with her sister-in-law until the local Masonic organization (of which her husband had been a member) offered to publish a volume of her poetry. When The Genius of Oblivion, and Other Original Poems, By a Lady of New Hampshire, appeared in 1823, its success encouraged Hale to quit the hat-making business and work on her writing. She wrote numerous stories and poems for various magazines, and in December 1827 her novel Northwood appeared. It was well received by readers and favorably reviewed; one admirer, the Reverend John Lauris Blake, offered Hale the position of editor for a new periodical to be written exclusively for women.

Ladies Magazine . From 1828 through December 1836 Hale edited the Ladies Magazine, later known as the American Ladies Magazine. In the magazines prospectus Hale insisted that the magazines work will be nationalAmericanand well written communications, whether poems, letters, sketches, tales, or essays, descriptive of American scenery, character, and manners, will be welcome to its pages. She was determined to put out a magazine dedicated to the education of women and worked to make the LadiesMagazine enlightening as well as entertaining. To that end she strongly resisted the publication of lithographed fashion plates in the magazine. Hale also resisted the common practice of snipping sentimental and Gothic stories and poetry from British magazines and relied on contributors such as Lydia Sigourney, Sarah Whitman, Lydia Child, Elmira Hunt, and Maria Fuller to provide original material.

Godeys Ladys Book. In 1837 economic pressure forced Hale to allow her Ladies Magazine to be merged with Louis Godeys Ladys Book. Hale edited the Lady Book from Boston until 1841, when she moved to Philadelphia, where Godey was based. Although Godey insisted that fashion plates be published, Hale maintained control over the magazines literary content and used her column The Ladys Mentor to continue her campaign for womens education. Wrote Hale: This then is the final goal of our purpose, to carry onward and upward the spirit of moral and intellectual excellence in our sex, till their influence shall bless as well as beautify civil society. Hale served as editor of Godeys Ladys Book until 1877.

Little Lamb. Hales interest in education and child psychology gave a particularly domestic shape to her editorial writing. She had supported Emma Willards work to establish the Troy Female Seminary, founded in 1821, and would continue to support womens educational institutions throughout her life, including her efforts to get women onto the faculty of Vassar College after its founding in 1861. Hale also wrote extensively about child-rearing methods and tactics and collaborated with composer and music educator Lowell Mason, who asked her to compose some short poems that he could set to music as teaching tools. The result was Hales Poems for Our Children (1830), which included a popular paraphrase of the Lords Prayer and the childhood standard Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Separate Spheres. Although she used her editorial positions to urge that women be educated as the equals of men, Hale resisted any suggestion that women should have an equal political voice. She opposed womens public speaking and broke with her friend Elizabeth Oakes Smith, a writer and advocate of womens rights, when Smith became in 1851 the first woman to travel and speak on the lyceum circuit. While Hale held antislavery beliefs, apparent in Northwood, she did not condone the activities of women abolitionists and supported colonization over total emancipation. Hale believed that mens and womens spheres were sharply separated, and she encouraged women to enter the public world only on behalf of specific, circumscribed causes, such as her fund-raising efforts for the Bunker Hill Monument and her long campaign for a national Thanksgiving Day. Hale always asserted that her own literary work was done solely for the benefit of her children, not for fame or personal satisfaction.

Legacy. Hales daughter Josepha followed in her mothers earliest footsteps by establishing a school for girls in Philadelphia in 1857, which she ran until her death in 1863. Godeys Ladys Book eulogized Josepha Hale by describing her as Endeared to all who knew her, and greatly beloved by the young hearts she had carefully trained to occupy womans true place in the world, while earnestly seeking the heavenly inheritance words that were applicable to the mother as well as to the daughter.


Patricia Okker, Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth-Century American Women Editors (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995);

Sherbrooke Rogers, Sarah Josepha Hale: A New England Pioneer, 17881879 (Grantham, N.H.: Tompson & Rutter, 1985).

Sarah Josepha Hale

views updated Jun 08 2018

Sarah Josepha Hale

For nearly 50 years Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879) was the editor of America's most influential women's magazine.

Sarah Josepha Buell was born in Newport, N.H. She was educated at home and in October 1813 married David Hale, a lawyer. He encouraged her to write for local newspapers. When he died in 1822, leaving his widow with five children, Mrs. Hale attempted a full-scale literary career. Some early verse was well received, and in 1827 her first novel, Northwood:A Tale of New England, brought her serious critical attention. The Reverend John Laurie Blake was just about to found a monthly magazine for women in Boston, and he offered her the editorship. Accepting, she moved to Boston in 1828 and edited Ladies' Magazine there until 1837.

The magazine was a success, the first of its kind to take an important place in American periodical publication. It featured fiction, poetry, essays, and criticism and was characterized by its attempts both to define and to celebrate the wholesome and tasteful in American life. Hale wrote most of the material for each issue, and every month she pressed her arguments in favor of improved education for women and a role for women in the culture as teachers and moral guides. She rejected, with equal steadiness, the claims of the feminist movement for the right of women to occupy positions of executive authority in the political and business worlds.

In 1837 Louis A. Godey bought out the magazine, changed the name to Godey's Lady's Book, and promoted it to fame with impressive skill. Hale remained as editor, moved to Philadelphia, and for 40 years reigned as the taste maker of the American household. The magazine prided itself on being "a beacon light of refined taste, pure morals, and practical wisdom."

Though she always contributed freely to all departments of the magazine, as the years went by Hale concentrated most of her attention on the sections called "Literary Notices" and "Editor's Table." It was there that she tirelessly managed her campaign to establish standards of taste, delicacy, and decorum for American women.

Among her 36 volumes of essays, fiction, drama, poetry, cookbooks, and giftbooks, Hale published the huge Women's Record:Sketches of Distinguished Women, in at least three editions. Her poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb" first appeared in Poems for Our Children in 1830.

At the age of 90 Hale contributed her last article and retired, the acknowledged arbiter of 19th century American feminine manners and morals.

Further Reading

A scholarly, full-length study of Mrs. Hale is Ruth E. Finley, The Lady of Godey's:Sarah Josepha Hale (1931). Her career is also recounted in Helen Beal Woodward, The Bold Women (1953), and Walter Davenport and James C. Derieux, Ladies, Gentlemen and Editors (1960).

Additional Sources

Rogers, Sherbrooke, Sarah Josepha Hale:a New England pioneer, 1788-1879, Grantham, N.H.:Tompson & Rutter, 1985. □

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