May 22

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

Connecticut Journal (May 22, 1771).

Mrs. SMITH takes this Method to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary.”

When Joseph Smith relocated from New York to New Haven, he took to the pages of the Connecticut Journal to “acquaint the Public, That he has open’d a Store … and has for Sale a Variety of fancy’d GOODS, proper for the Season.”  He then listed a variety of textiles, including “Flower’d and plain Sattins of all colours,” “Strip’d Camblets,” and “Flower’d and strip’d Muslins.”  He also carried accessories, such as “Black & white Silk & Thread Laces for Caps,” “Feathers & Flowers of all Colours,” and “All Kinds of Trimings for Cloaks.”  In addition to enumerating dozens of items, Smith asserted that he stocked “sundry other Articles too tedious to mention.”

Although Smith presented himself as the primary purveyor of these goods, the advertisement revealed that his wife also contributed to the family business.  In a brief note that followed the catalog of merchandise, she addressed prospective customers.  “Mrs. SMITH takes this Method,” she declared, “to acquaint the Ladies, That she makes up all Kind of Millenary either plain or fashionable, such as Caps, Hats, Bonnets, Cloaks, Childrens Jockies, &c.”  She provided an ancillary service that enhanced the retail business.  She undoubtedly assisted her husband in serving customers, making recommendations about what was “plain or fashionable,” and taking care of other aspects of running the store, but her contributions did not end there.  She was an entrepreneur in her own right, even if the advertisement emphasized Joseph as the proprietor and only made reference to her skills and labor at the very end.  Still, Mrs. Smith gained greater visibility in the public prints than most wives, daughters, and other female relations who aided male heads of households in operating their businesses.  Elsewhere in the same issue of the Connecticut Journal, Hubbard and Atwater, Isaac Beers and Elias Beers, and Paul Noyes advertised various goods, from medicines to textiles to leather breeches.  None of their notices mentioned anyone other than the proprietors of their businesses, but all of them almost certainly benefited from invisible labor provided by women.  Even in what appeared as a postscript to a much longer advertisement, Mrs. Smith gained greater public recognition as an entrepreneur than most other women did for their contributions to their family businesses.

February 5

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

Pennsylvania Gazette (February 5, 1767).

“Mrs. Holliday’s new-invented curious Compound.”

Women actively participated in the colonial marketplace as retailers of imported goods and sellers of other wares, especially in the major port cities. Historians have estimated, for instance, that as many as four out of ten shopkeepers in Philadelphia were women. Yet an overview of advertising from the period does not testify to the extensive presence of women as sellers, producers, and suppliers (as opposed to merely taking on the role of consumers) in the eighteenth century. Although some female entrepreneurs did advertise in newspapers, they were disproportionately underrepresented in that medium. Women were even less likely to distribute other forms of advertising – trade cards, billheads, broadsides, notices on magazine wrappers – in the eighteenth century, despite some notable exceptions.

Some female entrepreneurs resorted to roundabout means of promoting their business endeavors in the public prints. John Holliday’s wife, identified only as “Mrs. Holliday,” appended an announcement about her “new-invented curious Compound” to her husband’s advertisement for his tailoring shop. Throughout the eighteenth century, some women took that means of injecting their own marketing messages into a public discourse of commerce dominated by men. In addition to husbands and wives, sometimes fathers and daughters or brothers and sisters or widows and close family friends or business associates issued joint advertisements that first detailed the goods and services offered by a man and then turned to another enterprise conducted by a woman. Only on exceptionally rare occasions did shared newspapers advertisements first promote a woman’s business endeavors before turning to her male counterpart.

Certainly some of the decision to place joint advertisements resulted from minimizing expenses devoted to marketing. The pattern of privileging husbands and other male relations or associates over women, however, suggests that some female entrepreneurs felt a bit of apprehension about too boldly making their business activities visible to the general public, even as they needed to attract customers from among that public. Appending their own advertisements to those placed by men who presumably oversaw their dealings to some extent or another had the effect of providing implicit masculine endorsement as well as suggesting that female entrepreneurs operated under appropriate male supervision.