What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“M. NELSON, PASTRY-COOK, from LONDON.”
The advertisements that appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers testify to the presence of women in the marketplace as purveyors of goods and services, not merely as consumers. They ran their own businesses. They advanced their commercial activities in the public prints, carving out greater visibility for themselves in their communities. Yet women who advertised adopted a variety of approaches when it came to establishing that visibility.
Consider three advertisements that appeared in the November 8, 1768, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and its supplement devoted entirely to advertisements. Mary King, a milliner, achieved the greatest visibility. Her notice used her name as a headline: “MARY KING.” A secondary headline, “A COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT of / MILLINARY GOODS,” described the merchandise that she then listed in greater detail. King achieved greater visibility as a female entrepreneur than either of the other two women who placed advertisements in the same issue.
Sabina Taylor was the least visible. Her advertisement filled only six lines, making it one of the shortest in the entire issue. Unlike many of the other advertisements of similar length, hers did not include a headline that pronounced her name in larger font and capital letters. Instead, the schoolmistress figuratively signed her name on the final line. Although “SABINA TAYLOR” appeared in capitals, her name still was not in a larger font. The lack of white space in her own notice as well as the headline for the advertisement that appeared immediately below, “TO BE SOLD CHEAP,” crowded out Taylor’s signature, making it even more difficult to spot her on the page.
Nelson charted a middle course. Her advertisement occupied only lightly less space than King’s notice. She also had a headline – “M. NELSON” – and secondary headline – “PASTRY-COOK, from LONDON” – with sufficient white space to draw attention to her advertisement. Yet she did not list her full name, making it impossible for many readers to recognize at a glance that her advertisement promoted an enterprise operated by a woman. Many residents of Charleston would have already known of Nelson and her business. For those who did not, it would not have been apparent that a woman placed the advertisement until they read the body in which Nelson expressed “her sincere thanks to those gentlemen and ladies who has honoured her with their custom.” Nelson asserted visibility for her business while simultaneously downplaying her own visibility as a female entrepreneur.
Women who provided consumer goods and services were present among the advertisers in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, but their decisions about the copy for their advertisements resulted in various levels of visibility. While Mary King boldly claimed a place alongside male entrepreneurs, Sabina Taylor and M. Nelson obscured their participation in the marketplace even as they promoted the goods and services they offered to consumers.