Those Long Dead White Dudes Did It . . .

Back in the beforetime, before short skirts or yoga pants. Before American woman had the “right” to vote, or own homes, or for that matter, ourselves, women were writing.

In fact, “Female journalists were among the first to record, comment on, and publicize the events leading up to the Revolutionary War,” noted curators of the National Women’s History Museum exhibit, “Women with a Deadline.” But . . . did those white dudes buying and reading the papers want to read what they had to say? Not so much.  

“When Charlotte Bronte’s poetry received the feedback stating ‘literature cannot be the business of a woman's life’ from poet laureate Robert Southey, she changed her name—as did her sisters. Thus Charlotte, Anne & Emily became published authors, Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell.

Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life
— from poet laureate Robert Southey to Charlotte Bronte

Unlike the Bronte sisters, Ann Rule and Joanne Rowling, who published under male pseudonyms for publication (the Bronte's to fool the publisher; the others because the publisher hoped to fool readers), the decision for Mary Anne Evans, aka “George Eliot,” was completely her own. Or was it.

Evans used a pen named because she wanted to separate “Her own work from that of her peers, both in terms of genre and gender.” She made this decision after voicing her disgust of the romantic fluff female authors of the time wrote, in a “scathing essay ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.’”

In light of Southey’s feedback to Charlotte Bronte, the question that begs asking is:

Were 19th Century women authors publishing “Silly Novels” because that was all they wrote?

Or was it because “Silly Novels” is what the male-dominated publishing industry felt women should write? . . . And read?

 Cover of Godey's from Jan. 1857

Cover of Godey's from Jan. 1857

At least one American male publisher, Reverend John Blake asked himself that same question. And in 1828 he answered it by inviting author Sarah Hale to edit The Ladies' Magazine.

BTW: Sarah Hale wrote "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and campaigned ferociously to establish the Thanksgiving holiday. 

In hopes that, as editor, she could “aid in the education of women, ‘not that they may usurp the situation, or encroach on the prerogatives of man; but that each individual may lend her aid to the intellectual and moral character of those within her sphere,” Hale served as, by the title she preferred “editress.” from 1828-1836 when it was acquired by Godey's.

Once the door was opened—and held open by that Long Dead White Dude and others like him—women poured into publishing. And while males still hold most of the journalism jobs according to a 2014 Washington Post article in response to Jill Abramson’s firing, “with 63.7 percent of the gigs, while women have 36.3 percent," that is not the case in all publishing.

Kekla Magoon noted in her April 2014 article, Vida VIDA Count: Children’s Literature: "Do Women Truly Dominate?"“All areas of Young Adult and children’s publishing is not only friendly to women writers—it is often considered to be female-led, since women occupy the majority of jobs in the industry, as authors, editors, agents and more.” 

Back in beforetime, if Mary Anne, The Bronte Gals & Louisa May had gotten together, considering the demographics of publishing back then, I'm thinking their topic of concern would have been the same as that of today. Diversity does matter. Inclusion is necessary and important, and it totally sucks to be locked outside, wanting to join the party, knowing you have something valable to offer, and not being allowed in--or even on the invitation list!

Those long dead white dudes did it—for whatever reasons—and look how far we've come!

In the same way John Blake bucked the system by inviting Sarah Hale to become the first American female magazine editor, we can open our doors wider and reach out by inviting, encouraging & including diverse writers, artists, editors & readers. 

Long Dead White Dudes Playlist:

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