“Really inspiring”: Historical advertisements give an insight into the lives of pioneering women

(ABC4) – Homemade home remedies, bank accounts, a Singer sewing machine, fur coats and collars, midwifery classes.

Ads by Woman’s Exponent, a Salt Lake City-based newspaper that appeared from 1872 to 1914, provide insight into the daily lives of female members of Latter-day Saints’ Church of Jesus Christ during that time. The newspaper contained articles on a wide range of topics, such as church events, home and family, slavery, and the movement to vote.

Professor Jeremy Browne of Brigham Young University’s Office of Digital Humanities says people tend to have certain ideas about what women were like and what they did.

Senior Librarian Elizabeth Smart and BYU Digital Humanities Professor Jeremy Brown created a digital database of 4,000 advertisements that appeared in Woman’s Exponent. Courtesy photo: Brigham Young University

“These ads suggest that it may be a more complicated picture than we imagined,” he told ABC4.com.

Browne and senior librarian Elizabeth Smart recently had a digital database of approximately 4,000 ads served in Woman’s Exponent. The ads are searchable by year, provider and industry.

The project was part of a larger effort by the University of Utah’s J. Willard Marriott Library and Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library to digitize the entire archive of Women’s Exponent, Browne said. He was then given permission to continue the project and create a database of the advertisements.

But why focus on advertising?

“When I looked at the newspaper, as I’m not an expert in this area of ​​content, the most accessible was the ads, because that’s something we still see today,” he explains.

He says it was enlightening to go through each of the ads. For example, Browne says he didn’t know there were several certified female doctors in Salt Lake City at the time.

“These are women who traveled to the east coast from Utah to get their medical education and then returned with their degrees. You will see a lot of advertisements not only for services offered, but also for training courses. They held courses on midwives … and nursing schools, ”he shares. “These were women who brought their knowledge back and then started to distribute or spread that knowledge in the community and that is really inspiring to me.”

Courtesy: Brigham Young University

The day’s ads also gave a broader view of attitudes toward women’s fashion, according to Smart.

For example, several editorials published in the newspaper criticized French fashion trends, saying they made women look “weak and sickly”.

According to Smart, “In the seventh edition, published September 1, 1872, Lula Greene’s editorial titled” Who’s to Blame? “States:

“It has become so popular with 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 brains enough to appreciate it is likely to be viewed as rude , masculine and insensitive in their mental and physical organization. “

“Greene went on to praise girls who can “Enjoy a bowl of hominy and milk with great pleasure. . . [and] Treat yourself to an honest, hearty laugh and do not complain of a terrible side pain for the next 48 hours because it is not hampered by “tight lacing, wearing high-heeled boots; and in short, the fashionable lady’s entire toilet of the day. ” Greene notes that this is fashionS “[make] a victim of health and all true happiness“” Says Schmied.

Smith realized, however, that the newspaper also had many ads for the same fashion styles that the editorials wrote against.

“It seems that despite the efforts of editorials, reader interest in current fashion and overseas trends continues unabated,” says Smith. “In a final example from 1898, M. Francis, the manager of the Women’s Co-operative Committee, encouraged the ladies of October general conference to attend their fall opening as well, claiming: “Our French patterns are more beautiful than ever.”

Another ad for women that ran for nearly a decade was for bank accounts at Zions Bank. The ads contained a paragraph stating that Utah law allows married women, including minor children, to open savings accounts in their own name, subject to their own control, Browne said.

The advertisements were signed by the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Browne points out that one of the suffragists’ arguments in favor of gaining the right to vote was taxation without representation, and that women who owned businesses still paid taxes even though they were not allowed to vote for the officials they represented.

“That silk industry was thriving in Utah at the time, and there are advertisements for mulberry trees to buy and silkworms to buy. Women spun silk at home, women did all kinds of housework and earned money from it, ”he says.

“So when Zions Bank says, hey, you can open an account, they don’t say bring us the pocket money your husband gave you. They say you can deposit money under your own control that you make yourself, ”he adds.

According to Browne, some of the ads were humorous. His favorite was one for the Mormon Hill Excavation Company, which sold souvenirs from Cumorrah Hill, which Latter-day Saints believe Founder Joseph Smith found the gold plates, the manuscript for the Book of Mormon.

It is advertised as “Mormon Hill because it was called that in the area and was not called the Book of Mormon but rather the Golden Bible or the Mormon Bible,” Browne explains. “This ad ran for only two issues, but it shows the gap between the way members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reference places and objects and the way people in New York they called. “.”

Browne hopes the advertising database will be used to aid historical research. But he also hopes the public will like it.

“What would make me really happy would be if a member of the public chose to go to the site and just browse or find some of these ads. Because, like I said, when you read an article from the Women’s Experts, you don’t have as much context as when you look at an ad because advertising hasn’t changed that much in the last 150 years, ”explains Browne.

Visitors to the database can provide feedback, make suggestions and ask questions. Browne says he would be interested to hear if the public would welcome further expansion of the database with ads from other historical newspapers.

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