IN his continuing search for the more weird and wondrous in this world, David Ellis says you’d be wrong if you thought women’s magazines were a creation of the 20th or even 19th centuries.
Because the first, The Ladies’ Mercury was published in London in 1693, and while promising to answer “the most curious questions concerning love, marriage, behaviour, dress and humour of the female sex,” failed to excite and lasted just four weekly issues.
Much more successful was the almost-similarly named The Lady’s Magazine, also founded in London and which ran monthly from 1770 until 1847, and was filled with fashions, needlework, the doings of the royal family, romantic fiction, and with free embroidery patterns and sheet music.
Others followed and were aimed squarely at elite ladies with time on their hands, until in 1852 the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine was published with the middle-class more in mind, and covering housekeeping to handicrafts, pets, fashions and “keeping your man.”
And with a bizarre supplement in one issue devoted to readers’ letters on “The Whipping of Girls and General Corporal Punishment of Children.”
Covers also featured impossibly thin young women compressed into the latest Paris fashions, while inside almost-erotic photographs showed the more-svelte middle-aged squeezing into tight corsets and other saucy-for-their-time under-garments…
Plus a “Cupid’s Post Bag” answered steamy letters about questionably erotic sex and love acts and were purportedly from readers – but in fact, it was rumoured, were actually the feverish musings of the magazine’s publisher, Samuel Beeton.
And by contrast Mr Beeton’s journalist wife Isabella wrote the magazine’s more staid household tips and cookery sections… that were later collated into what was to become the internationally famous Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.