May 29

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Providence Gazette (May 29, 1771).

POLLY CHACE … now carries on the Millinery Business.”

Purveyors of consumer goods and services placed advertisements in newspapers throughout the colonies.  Men constituted the vast majority of those advertisers.  In newspapers published in smaller towns, male merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans accounted for nearly all of the advertisers who hawked consumer goods and services, while in major urban ports – Boston, Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia – women, primarily shopkeepers and milliners, gained greater visibility in the marketplace via their newspaper advertisements.

Women rarely placed advertisements about consumer goods and services in the Providence Gazette in the early 1770s, but in late spring and early summer of 1773 Polly Chace published advertisements alongside those inserted by Jabez Bowen, Nicholas Brown and Company, Joseph Russell and William Russell, Ebenezer Thompson, John Updike, Nathaniel Wheaton, Samuel Young, and other men who frequently ran newspaper notices.  Chace informed the public that “she now carries on the Millinery Business, in the Shop formerly occupied by her Father.”  In addition, she sold a “large Assortment” of accessories and a “Variety of Goods suitable for the Season, either for Town or Country.”

Most printers ran advertisements for three or four weeks for a set fee and then continued them for as long as the advertiser desired at a weekly rate.  Most advertisers who ran notices in the Providence Gazette opted for the standard package rather than extending the run, but that was not the case for Chace.  Her advertisement appeared for nine weeks, starting with the May 8 edition and concluding with the July 3 edition, before she decided to remove it.  As advertisements for textiles, accessories, and other goods came and went in the public prints, Chace’s notice became a familiar sight for readers.  If her circumstances had recently changed, perhaps due to the retirement or death of her father who “formerly occupied” her shop, Chace may have considered the prolonged exposure necessary to establish herself.  If she had previously worked in the shop under her father’s supervision, she may have wished to advise former customers that she continued offering the same goods and services.

In Providence and elsewhere, women had less visibility as purveyors of goods and services in newspaper advertisements than their numbers merited.  Many women worked in stores, shops, and workshops associated with the male entrepreneurs whose names appeared in those advertisements.  That may have previously been the case for Polly Chace, but for nine weeks in 1773 her name boldly appeared as the headline of an advertisement that promoted the business that she operated.

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