For International Museum Day on 18 May, organised by the International Council of Museums to raise awareness of the role of museums in society and this year focusing on the theme of the museum as a cultural hub, we take a look at a slightly different museum: The Lady’s Monthly Museum, a popular women’s magazine from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The magazine was one of a number of such publications that positioned themselves to appeal directly to women, providing access to a range of articles and subjects and providing women with the opportunity to contribute to these publications.
First published in 1798, The Lady’s Monthly Museum or Polite Repository of Amusement and Instruction: being an Assemblage of what can Tend to please the Fancy, Instruct the mind or Exalt the Character of the British Fair, was billed as ‘a convenient size for the pocket’, even if it its title was not. It was to merge with The Lady’s Magazine in 1832 when it became The Lady’s Magazine and Museum of the Belles Lettres. Further merges took place and the magazine eventually ceased publication in 1847.
The magazine featured articles on fashion — with a ‘Cabinet of Fashion’ illustrated by coloured engravings, often based on earlier plates from other magazines — portraits of persons of interest and biographies, essays, poems, as well as serialised stories. The later made it one of the first publications to publish novels prior to their becoming available as books.
Whilst the magazine was to provide women writers with the opportunity to contribute, its proud boast when it was first published that its contributors were “ladies of established reputation in the literary circles” masked the fact that regular contributors were often poorly paid. One such regular was the novelist and poet Mary Pilkington.
Women’s magazines tended to reflect the views about women’s role in society. The more stimulating content of earlier magazines became more narrowly focused and domestic as nineteenth century progressed and the concept of domesticity became the ideal. Content would only broaden again towards the end of the century.
Nevertheless, magazines that were produced for women and relied a great deal for contributions by women could perhaps be said to play something of a role of a cultural hub.
We hope that you enjoy engaging with a museum whatever form that takes. For further details of International Museum Day see the International Council of Museums website.