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Words to Live By

Prescriptive literature is a staple in the pages of the turn-of-the-century Ladies Home Journal. Serial non-fiction sketched out the lives of various girls and women, notably white and usually middle-class, as they came into contact with the shifting morals of modern life. These are cautionary tales, meant to shape the development of young woman in regards to character, manners, work ethic, beauty regime and style.

A new fictional feature entitled “The Girls I Knew,” by Emily Calvin Blake, debuted in Ladies Home Journal on September 1, 1910.  The series follows impressionable Margaret and various friendships that influence her social, moral, and sartorial development. The series is a humorous addition to the prescriptive literature that is interleaved between advertisements for clothing, beauty products, and sewing projects, as Margaret’s errors meet the mostly gentle reproach of her family. The anxiety of changing gender roles is evident in “The Girls I Knew,” as Margaret confronts and is changed by characters that represent types of modern femininity. 

And so ended the reign of Belle in my life. She had found me an average girl of fourteen, with a nature inclind to be frank and sincere, and had left me with some required traits that were in the way of developing very diasastrously when Daisy appeared.

Excerpt from The Girls I Know, Number 1: Belle, by Emily Calvin Blake


This is a narrative advertisement for a booklet called “Making Beautiful Clothes” from the Women’s Institute. Before Ann learned to make clothes, she was unwilling to join parties in last year's dress. She couldn’t afford store-bought clothes, but within the pages of a magazine, she found the secret to both social success and a new productive career in making clothes. This is a dream-come-true scenario for a young woman. This particular ad is a good example of aspirational marketing that fits well between pages of fashion advertisements.

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