The Ladies' Page


About Victorian Ladies' Pages

The "Ladies' Columns" and "Ladies' Pages", which developed in the 1880s and '90s, gave space to women journalists in some of the most popular newspapers of the day. Though society gossip, fashion and domestic affairs were their ostensible raison d'être, columnists were adept at widening the agenda to include issues they considered important. 

Three of the best-known such columns were those in the weekly papers the Illustrated London News, the Graphic and the daily Pall Mall Gazette. The Illustrated and the Graphic enjoyed a huge circulation for that time - a quarter of a million copies each for regular issues, considerably more for special ones.

Florence Fenwick-Miller's "Ladies' Column" (later "Page") was remarkably long-lived. It ran from 1886 to 1918. A trained doctor, journalist, suffragist and successful platform speaker, she blended more frivolous feminine interests with feminist issues, telling readers in her opening column that whilst the traditional 'woman's sphere' may have been 'Society, Dress, Domesticity and Charity’ it now included 'Culture, Thought and Public Welfare...'

The author of "Place aux Dames" on the rival Graphic was Lady Violet Greville,  daughter of the fourth Duke of Montrose and his formidable wife, Caroline, the first woman acknowledged - if unofficially - as an expert in breeding racehorses. Lady Violet claimed, when offered the Graphic job, that all her suggestions for subject-matter - art, literature, theatre, dress - were rejected on the grounds that they already had writers for those topics -and she should just write whatever she liked! She clearly did, earning the compliment from fellow journalist Mary Billington, (who eventually ran the "women's department" at the Daily Telegraph) that as a writer she combined 'daring, brilliancy, and romance'. In particular she championed the cause of sports for women.*

The "Wares of Autolycus" column in the Pall Mall Gazette ran from May 1893 to the end of 1898, appearing most days of the week, and drawing on a group of female journalists, notably Alice Meynell, to cover between them literature, gardening, fashion, home decor, good food , and society news. But though constructed in gossip column form, its aesthetic and literary standards lifted it well above the level of the average contemporary gossip column.

The Women's Pages in British newspapers for most of the twentieth century owed their existence to the success of these and other Victorian ladies' pages. But when their various topics finally moved out of what many journalists saw as the "women's ghetto" and became feature pages in their own right, I imagine most of the Victorian women journalists would have been delighted. Space for issues important to women was, after all, space they wanted men to enter too.

© Barbara Onslow 2007

A Postscript on the Influence of "ladies' pages".
A Reader's Letter on Canadian women journalists working in Europe during the Great War reminds me of Florence Fenwick Miller's use of her "page" at that time to encourage women at home, both through patriotic support for the soldiers and through practical advice on coping with the shortages and strains of everyday life in wartime.

For information on the future contents of the Ladies' Page on this Website click here.



From the Ladies' Treasury Volume 4 1860
Though these are fashion images the Editor claimed that the majority of the 160 engravings were 'of occasional interest, ... executed, as we need scarcely remind our readers, in the highest style of art.'
They were of fine architecture, landscapes, portraits of famous women etc. not only fashion. This point, stressing the cultural aims of the Ladies' Treasury, was presumably aimed at the rival Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine with its much more limited range of illustration. For examples of 'engravings of occasional interest' see the Ladies' Page Feature on Gardens.

Nineteenth century women's magazines targeted different readerships. The early and expensive fashion papers addressed ladies of the upper classes - and their dressmakers, who could draw on the illustrations and the detailed descriptions of the season's modes in their work. Fashion was also an integral part of the general interest ladies' magazines, some of which had been established in the eighteenth century. These magazines included such genres as fiction, poetry, court and society news, and short essays.

During the early decades cheaper papers, aimed at aspiring members of the lower classes, were also founded, and religious magazines, such as the evangelical Christian Lady's Magazine, sought to help women apply their faith to the practicalities of everyday life.

With the mid-century came the launch of general interest women's magazines aimed at the burgeoning middle-classes. Sam Beeton's* the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine and its rival the Ladies' Treasury dominated this market. Far less popular, but of importance in the development of women's magazines, as well as in promoting their own cause - women's rights - were the early Victorian feminist papers like the English Woman's Journal. (The choice of "woman" rather than "lady" in a title was itself significant.)

Indeed, by the 1890s, when there was a surge of new magazines, some short-lived, some surviving well into the twentieth century, even the women's penny papers, where home-making was a major concern, addressed political issues affecting women, and positively encouraged them take up careers or play a part in public life.

The religious and political magazines obviously had different priorities from the general women's papers, whose defining features are listed on "About this Ladies' Page". Some of their concerns will appear on my feature pages from time to time, just as they did in the popular women's magazines.

*There is more about Sam Beeton and
material from his Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine on the "Victorian Fashion" page and in the article on "Editorial Rebukes to Readers" in the "Editor's Mailbag". The new article on  rational dress for sports, which has just been completed, may interest readers seeking information on the development of sports for women in this period. Among the most recent additions is an extract from one of Violet Greville's columns.

For important information on Copyright, Citations, Images and References please see my Home Page. There you will also find an explanation of the aims of Victorian Page, and  a note about me.
©  Barbara Onslow 2007    This page last updated August 5th 2008