The Offering of Old Maids

The Lowell Offering was published between 1840 and 1845 by women working in the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts. Organized by the Reverend Abel Charles Thomas, The Offering was arguably, according to Thomas, the “first magazine or journal written exclusively by women in all the world,” collecting reportage, humor, and fiction. Charles Dickens famously visited the Lowell Mills in 1842 and included this very positive account of the home and intellectual life of mill workers in his American Notes. He says of The Offering that its content “compare[s] advantageously with a great many English Annuals.”

The October 1940 edition begins with the ‘History of a Hemlock Broom: written by itself’ (“I grew daily more thin and bare and was at length thought fit for nothing but to sweep the back-room and door-steps. By and by, I was taken to brush out the heated oven, and this I could not long survive.”)

A recent blog post I can’t seem to recover argued how all young women in historical fiction are well ahead of their time in attitudes and behavior–unrealistically and perhaps unhelpfully so. Instructive reading on that point is, “Women’s Proper Sphere.”

And then, for further interesting reading, there’s ‘A Letter About Old Maids.’

MR. EDITOR: — I am one of that unlucky, derided, and almost despised set of females, called spinsters, single sisters, lay-nuns, &c : but who are more usually known by the appellation of Old Maids.

This woman, whose name is Betsey, goes on to write:

I have always had, and still retain, a great respect for the marriage state, and for thsoe of my friends who, from right motives, have entered into it. I believe, what I presume will not here be doubted, that it is an institution ordained by the All-wise Disposer of human affairs, for the promotion of the happiness of mankind in general: but I think it was a part of that wise design, that there should be Old Maids.

Besides being useful and necessary as a comfort to parents, Betsey beats out other terrain for Old Maids. Her cohort provides support to married sisters and become the pillars of social and moral causes.

Final words:

But all this reasoning in favor of them goes directly against old bachelors, for I do not see that they are either useful or necessary, at least not more useful for remaining single, (present company always excepted–) and had they been needed, more males would have been allowed to arrive at the age of bachelorhood.

Read more archived journals.

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