GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Dewar
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“To be sold cheap for Cash … ELEANOR REAZON.”
Women and Advertisements. In choosing this advertisement, the part that stood out to me was the fact that it was placed by a woman. Eleanor Reazon, an ordinary woman, embodied the group of women who sought to make a living for themselves and their families. What is also important to note is that women, especially once the Townshend Acts were passed, played a significant role in both adhering to boycotts, as well as breaking them and continuing their sale of goods and their tea parties. Historian T.H. Breen explains the importance of women supporting boycotts. Peter Oliver, a prominent Loyalist, accused patriot women of breaking the boycotts.
Despite the uniqueness of a woman placing an advertisement, the content is not as surprising. Hats and bonnets, as well as fabrics and tea, all represented what women most likely sold. The advertisement did not include boats, wood, or other heftier goods, but rather smaller, fine items sold within her home. During this period, the role of women and business varied. Patricia Cleary states, “A close examination of women’s trading, however, points to other possibilities: that the work itself carried implications for women beyond their family roles. Women shopkeepers, whose business practices illuminate the changing consumer world of the midcentury, highlight the interplay of gender and commerce and suggest the existence of a sphere of female entrepreneurship and association.”
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Eleanor Reazon was the only female entrepreneur to place an advertisement promoting consumer goods and services in the April 14 issue of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement, though she certainly was not the only female shopkeeper active in Charleston at the time. Women who ran shops in the eighteenth century tended not to advertise their enterprises. In turn, that produced a skewed glimpse of the marketplace in the public prints, suggesting that women acted almost exclusively as consumers.
Female shopkeepers occupied complicated space in the public sphere and market. Men dominated the world of business, while women were expected to tend to the household. Yet many women found themselves engaged in the world of trade and commerce. Sometimes this was brief, as in the case of deputy husbands who temporarily stepped forward in the absence of their husbands. Other times women had a more sustained presence in the marketplace, including widows who either continued businesses formerly run by their husbands or established their own shops, taverns, or other enterprises to support themselves. Both deputy husbands and widows justifiably participated in business only when the absence of their husbands made it necessary.
Single and married female shopkeepers were in a more precarious position. Presumably no man supervised single women, while married women who operated their own businesses usurped roles and responsibilities supposedly reserved for male heads of household. These circumstances may have made female entrepreneurs hesitant to expose themselves to unwanted scrutiny by advertising in newspapers. Instead, the language used in many advertisements placed by women in the eighteenth century suggests that many preferred to rely on word-of-mouth marketing via networks of friends and neighbors rather than listing their businesses alongside those of their male competitors in the advertising pages.
Eleanor Reazon, however, did not resort to any sort of explanations to justify inserting her voice into the world of commerce represented in the advertising section of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal. As Shannon notes, she sold a relatively narrow range of goods compared to some of her male counterparts, but otherwise her marketing efforts did not much differ. Although many women downplayed their role as traders, Reazon and others claimed a place in the market as “she-merchants” and entrepreneurs. Advertising from the period demonstrates that there was not just one way for women of business to comport themselves in eighteenth-century America.
 Patricia Cleary, “‘She Will Be in the Shop’: Women’s Sphere of Trade in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia and New York,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 119, no. 3 (July 1995): 182.