‘Truly Inspiring’: Historic Advertisements Provide Insight into the Lives of Women in the Pioneer Era
(ABC4) – Homemade family medicine, bank accounts, a Singer sewing machine, fur capes and collars, midwifery classes.
Ads from the Woman’s Exponent, a Salt Lake City-based newspaper that ran from 1872 to 1914, provides insight into the daily lives of women members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during this time. The journal included articles on a wide range of topics, such as church-related events, home and family, slavery, and the suffrage movement.
Professor Jeremy Browne, Office of Digital Humanities at Brigham Young University, says people tend to have certain perceptions of who women were and what they did.
“These ads somehow suggest that this may be a more complicated picture than we might have imagined,” he told ABC4.com.
Browne and Senior Librarian Elizabeth Smart recently completed a digital database of approximately 4,000 advertisements broadcast in Woman’s Exponent. The announcements are searchable by year, by supplier and by sector.
The project was part of a larger effort by the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah and the Harold B. Lee Library at Brigham Young University to digitize the entire archive of Women’s Exponent, Browne explained. He was then granted permission to continue the project and to create a database of announcements.
But why focus on advertisements?
“When I looked at the newspaper, what I found the most accessible for me, not being an expert in this field, are the advertisements because it is something that we still see today”, explains- he does.
He says going through each of the advertisements opened his eyes. For example, Browne says he was unaware that there were several certified female doctors in Salt Lake City at that time.
âThese are women who traveled from Utah to the East Coast to receive their medical training and then came back with their degrees. You see a lot of advertisements not only for the services they offered, but also for the training. They organized midwifery coursesâ¦ and nursing schools, âhe shares. “These are women who brought their knowledge back and then started to spread or spread that knowledge in the community, and for me that is really inspiring.”
The ads of the day also gave a broader look at attitudes towards women’s fashion, according to Smart.
For example, several editorials published in the newspaper criticized French fashion trends, claiming that they made women “weak and sick”.
According to Smart, âIn the seventh issue, published September 1, 1872, Lula Greene’s editorial, titled ‘Who’s to Blame? Â», Note:
âIt has become so popular among the fashionable women of society, to be weak and sickly, and under the care of a doctor, that a woman who is blessed with good health and has enough common sense to appreciate it, is likely to be considered coarse, masculine and insensitive in its mental and physical organization.
âGreene went on to praise the girls who can “savor with exuberance a bowl of hominy and milk. [and] indulge in a sincere, warm laugh and not complain of a frightening pain in the side for the next forty-eight hours âas she is not embarrassed byâ tight lacing, high heeled boots; and finally all the dress of the lady in the fashion of the day. Greene notes that these modess “[make] a sacrifice of health and all true happiness“” Smith said.
However, Smith realized that the newspaper also contained numerous advertisements for the same fashion styles that the columnists wrote against.
âIt appears that despite the best efforts of the editorial writers, readers’ interest in current fashion and foreign trends has continued unabated,â says Smith. âIn a final example from 1898, Mr. Francis, director of the Women’s Co-operative Committee, encouraged the ladies attending the October General Conference to attend their fall opening as well, and asserted, âOur French bosses are more beautiful than ever. “
Another advertisement aimed at women that lasted nearly a decade was about bank accounts at Bank of Zion. The ads contained a paragraph stating that Utah laws allow married women and minor children to open savings accounts in their own name, under their own control, Browne says.
The announcements were signed by the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Browne points out that one of the arguments used by suffragists for the right to vote was taxation without representation, and that women who owned businesses still paid taxes, even though they were not allowed to elect the officials who did so. represented them.
âThis silk industry was booming in Utah at the time and there are advertisements for mulberry trees you can buy and silkworms you can buy. The women spun silk in their homes, the women did all kinds of domestic industries and made money with it, âhe says.
“So when Zions Bank says, hey, you can open an account, they don’t say, bring us the allowance your husband gave you.” What they are saying is that you can come and deposit under your own control, money that you earn yourself, âhe adds.
According to Browne, some of the ads were humorous. His favorite was that of the “Mormon Hill Excavation Company” which sold memorabilia from Cumorrah Hill, which Latter-day Saints say was the place where founder Joseph Smith retrieved the gold plates, the manuscript of the Book of Mormon.
The ad “calls it Mormon hill because that’s what they called it in the area, and they didn’t call it the Book of Mormon, but the Golden Bible or the Mormon Bible,” Browne explains. . âThis ad only lasted two issues, but it shows the gulf between how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refer to places and objects and how the people of New York refer to them. “
Browne says he hopes the ad database will be used to help support historical research. But he also hopes members of the public will appreciate him.
âWhat would make me really happy is for a member of the audience to decide to go to the website and browse some of these ads or do some research. Because, like I said, if they reading an article about exposing women, they don’t have as much context as if they are watching an ad because the ads haven’t changed much in the past 150 years, “says Browne.
Visitors to the database can submit comments, make suggestions and ask questions. Browne says he would be interested to know if the public would appreciate further expanding the database with advertisements from other historical newspapers.