Women’s History: Sarah Josepha Hale on the Radio

Editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book

Sarah Hale portraitDupont Cavalcade of America featured historical and biographical programs, many of famous and less well-known reporters, writers and editors of the past, including Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), author, magazine editor and advocate of education for women.

Hale’s best-known work may be a children’s poem about a young woman doing something against the rules — “Mary Had  a Little Lamb” — but her long and productive life was an example of more subtle re-writing of 19th century rules.

This recording of the radio biographical drama is from the Calvacade collection at archive.org, by the Old Time Radio Research Group. In honor of Women’s History Month I’ll add links to other women journalists on Cavalcade of America and other series over the coming weeks. (OK, so I jumped the gun with Hildy Johnson.)

Sara Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book.

The original 1937 Cavalcade broadcast came six years after the publication of Ruth E. Finley’s The Lady of Godey’s: Sarah Josepha Hale, a possible source of inspiration. (In keeping with the era and feminine theme of the program, the Cavalcade Orchestra opens the program with the 1889 hit — and perennial wedding song — “Oh Promise Me.”)

A young widow, Hale became a writer and editor to support herself and five children, soon editing the 19th century’s leading magazine for women, Godey’s Lady’s Book. She did not campaign for woman suffrage. But, as a dialogue in the radio biography puts it, she convinced her publisher that their magazine could work for reform “without antagonizing men” and become “a force for the advancement of American women.”

Before her retirement in 1877 — after 40 years as editor — she had campaigned successfully for women’s education and the employment of women as teachers, nurses and doctors. She also advocated labor-saving devices like washing machines and sewing machines, as well as pushing civic projects including the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument, preservation of Mount Vernon, and the creation of the national Thanksgiving holiday.

The Cavalcade episode, in fact, was originally broadcast on Thanksgiving Eve.

I can’t help wondering how women listening to this in 1937 (or today?) felt about Ms. Hale — a pioneer, an inspiration, or quaintly old-fashioned? The opening scene with her friend aghast to think that she actually was reading books seemed ancient — Dickensian, even. Then it dawned on me that this lady was 24 years older than DIckens.

Additional sources:

Here’s a biography page and a link to a more recent documentary film about her and Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Some features from the magazine have been turned into an online edition, godeysladysbook.com.

Joyce W. Warren. “Hale, Sarah Josepha Buell”; American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.

Stephen L. Vaughn

Encyclopedia of American journalism, p. 597-598

An appreciation by Vicki Rumble in Homespun: Godey’s Lady’s Book

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who found computers & the Web in grad school in the 1980s (Wesleyan) and '90s (UNC); taught journalism, media studies, Web production; retired to write, make music, photograph sunsets & walks in the woods.
This entry was posted in 19th century, historical figures, j-heroes, magazines, women. Bookmark the permalink.

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