Born this day in 1788: Sarah Josepha Buell Hale (1788–1879), writer and magazine editor who was the most influential woman of her day.
Sarah Josepha Buell was born in Newport, New Hampshire, in 1788. She was schooled at home by her mother and brother (who shared what he was learning at Dartmouth College). Buell taught school from 1806 to 1811. She also wrote articles for local newspapers. She married a lawyer named David Hale in 1813. Mr. Hale provided her with more advanced learning and apparently supported her writing. He died in 1822, however, leaving her with five children and little means of support.
Hale ran a millinery shop with her sister-in-law to support her family, but continuted to write. Her poetry appeared in local journals, then was published as the collection The Genius of Oblivion in 1823. In 1827 she published the novel Northwood, a Tale of New England. This novel is an early example of a novel that depicts everyday life. It is also notable for discussing slavery and the growing divide between the North and the South.
Northwood enjoyed modest success, but, more importantly, landed Hale a job in Boston as the editor of a new monthly women’s magazine, Ladies’ Magazine (American Ladies’ Magazine after 1834). Hale, the first woman in the country to edit a magazine, provided the bulk of the material, including literary criticism, poetry, and essays. Through the magazine she supported both patriotic and humanitarian organizations and advocated for the education of women. In fact, her stated mission was to “mark the progress of female improvement, and cherish the effusions of female intellect.” Hale was not a supporter of equal rights for women, but a supporter of equal intellectual development of women. She advocated for women’s education and was a driving force behind the establishment of Vassar College.
In 1837 American Ladies’ Magazine became Godey’s Lady’s Book, now based in Philadelphia. Hale followed the magazine to Philadelphia in 1841 and over the next several decades transformed it into the most read and most influential women’s magazine up to that time. In her role as the magazine’s editor, Hale was deeply influential. Unlike most magazines of the time (which swiped each other’s content), Godey’s Lady’s Book sought original work. Hale nurtured the careers of writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Hale also edited a magazine for children and published a volume of poetry for children, which included the enduring “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Her greatest undertaking, however, was a Woman’s Record; or, Sketches of Distinguished Women (full title: Woman’s Record; or, Sketches of All Distinguished women, “The beginning” till A.D. 1850. Arranged in Four Eras. With Selections From Female Writers of Every Age). In 36 volumes she traced the effects on culture of the most influential women of history, hoping they would serve as role models for “the destiny of women.”