December 16

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

dec-16-12161766-south-carolina-gazette-and-country-journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (December 16, 1766).

“Sucking Nipples, which has been the Means of raising many an Infant.”

Thomas You, a “WORKING GOLD-SMITH, SILVER-SMITH, JEWELLER and ENGRAVER,” made and sold a variety of items that men in his occupation commonly listed in their newspaper advertisements, including shoe buckles, punch bowls, coffeepots, teapots, and silverware. He also offered a device rarely mentioned by other smiths: “sucking Nipples, which has been the Means of raising many an infant.” You did not offer explanations or justifications of any of his other merchandise, which suggests that he felt the “sucking Nipples” merited additional promotion. After all, most colonists considered breastfeeding the best and most effective means of nourishing infants.

Indeed, You’s advertisement for “sucking Nipples” put him in competition with women who offered their services as wet nurses. Very few employment advertisements concerning women appeared in eighteenth-century newspapers, either by women seeking jobs or by employers interested in hiring women. When employment advertisements involving women were inserted in newspapers, they most often fell in two categories: domestic servants and wet nurses. One such advertisement appeared on the previous page of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal: “A Woman, with a good young Breast of Milk, who has lately lost her Child, would be willing to take one to suckle. Her character will bear the strictest examination. Apply to the Printer.”

You’s “sucking Nipples” provided conveniences that hiring a wet nurse did not, especially eliminating exposing infants to women from outside the household. That the woman who advertised her services as a wet nurse found it necessary to state that “Her character will bear the strictest examination” demonstrates that she understood the concern potential employers might have when it came to putting their infants in such close contact with strangers. In England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Fred Weinberg notes, “[m]any people believed that a wet nurse might transmit ‘her evil passions and vicious inclinations’ to the infant through her milk.”[1] Even if such fears had faded in the English colonies by the 1760s, “sucking Nipples” still had several advantages over wet nurses. They were likely less expensive, available upon immediate demand once purchased, and did not introduce an outsider into the household.

By underscoring that “sucking Nipples” had been “the Means of raising many an Infant” You simultaneously sought to expand the market for a product he sold while competing with one of the few occupations for women that regularly appeared in newspaper advertisements.

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[1] Fred Weinberg, “Infant Feeding through the Ages,” Canadian Family Physician 39 (September 1993): 2016.

February 23

GUEST CURATOR:  Mary Aldrich

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Feb 23 - 2:20:1766 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 20, 1766).
Feb 23 - 2:24:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (February 24, 1766)

“WANTED, a young Woman with a good Breast of Milk.”

“A Very good WET-NURSE is willing to take a Child.”

These two advertisements are interesting in the fact that they relate to the same service but come from different angles. The first is an advertisement for a wet nurse while the second is advertising a woman’s willingness to be a wet nurse. Using a wet nurse was a common practice among European elite women that was not as popular across the pond in the colonies.

There were cases when a wet nurse was needed, such as the death of the mother or if she was too busy to take care of her child or some kind of ailment that prevented her from breastfeeding. Women generally used breastfeeding as a form of contraception, albeit unreliable, but it did give them some control over the spacing of their pregnancies.

The first advertisement is looking for “a young woman with a good breast of milk” to “go into a family.” It is interesting that this advertisement is seeking to incorporate this wet nurse into the family whereas the second gives the option of nursing “abroad,” which meant not in the house.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

I noted last week that women offering goods and services (shopkeepers, milliners, schoolmistresses, and the like) were disproportionately underrepresented in newspaper advertisements in colonial America. Today, Mary has selected two notices that illustrate the most common reason women were featured in advertisements for goods and services during the eighteenth century: offering or seeking assistance from wet nurses.

Note that even though both advertisements testify to labor (pun not necessarily intended) undertaken by women, they both also obscure the identity of the woman seeking or offering this service. Instructions to “Enquire of the Printers” or “Inquire of W. Weyman” (the printer of the New-York Gazette) rendered these women anonymous, perhaps by their own choice as a means of retaining their privacy. These advertisements figuratively put women’s bodies on display for public consumption, making it understandable why the advertisers might not have desired further identifying information.

Mary notes that these advertisements speak about two sides of the same transaction. I would like to suggest that each also incorporates concerns specific to the woman who placed the notice. For the first, seeking a wet nurse, it is quite possible that the advertisement was a last resort. A woman and her family may have first exhausted a network of family and trusted friends and neighbors before looking more broadly for a wet nurse. For the second, offering services as a wet nurse, Mary comments on the distinction between “in the House or abroad.” The advertiser demonstrated her willingness to adapt to conditions set by a potential employer. In looking for employment, she likely had to acclimate to the wishes of potential employers, whereas those seeking to hire wet nurses may have felt that they had more flexibility to set the terms.