Early newspaper advertising shortchanged women
October 22, 2010
Early Aspen newspapers ignored women, perhaps because Aspen was a male-dominated community then. Even by 1890, when Aspen had become a family city, there was scant advertising in the papers directed toward the female population. Although the Ladies’ Home Journal had built up a million subscribers by 1893, Aspen’s papers continued to favor the male population a decade later.
By 1907, clothing stores began to acknowledge women by announcing sales and new arrivals. Kobey’s and The Aspen Dry Goods Company vied for female customers in the daily editions with offerings of new fashion items, bargains and specials. Shoe stores competed for additional attention. McKee’s Jewelry Store entered the fashion fray by selling hosiery. The Three Rules sold yard goods, competing with Kay Stores, which sold groceries and pushed fashion trends at the same time.
A woman was far more likely to buy a fashion pattern than a manufactured dress. The Butterick Company, still in business today, offered the first sized patterns. They were sold exclusively in Aspen by the Aspen Dry Goods Company. Thus New York fashion became readily available to Aspen’s seamstresses.
Gender parity was reached between 1910 and 1912 as more national advertising appeared in Aspen’s newspapers. National advertising that appealed to women featured medicine, groceries and household items. Ads promoted Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound to relieve menstrual pain, Foley’s Honey and Tar Compound to deal with the “croup scare” and Ballards Snow Liniment to soothe sore throats. One 1909 ad directly addressed women: “My sister I am a woman. I know my woman’s sufferings. I have found a cure.” The cure promised to make women “well, strong, plump and robust.”
Tomkins hardware began a campaign for women customers with ads for cookware and cutlery. A plumber promoted the novelty of bathtubs. Phonographs, when they became the rage, were added to local stores’ ads.
The advertising of Cooper Book and Stationery was more generic, as it offered sheet music and fountain pens; however it alternated its featured books between those for men and those for women. For a while, Cooper pushed wallpaper for home-decorating women. My favorite Cooper ad featured paper napkins, paper lunch sets and paper doilies: “These save time, trouble and expense.”
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Little is new in today’s advertising for women. Early in the last century, a company similar to vegematic bragged about their vegetable-and-fruit slicer’s ability to make shoestring potatoes. Even dandruff treatments were available: “beautiful hair is now within the reach of every woman,” claimed Nebro’s Herpicide.
Just as present-day advertisers try to snag young girls at an early age, Kay’s had a Christmas drawing for a doll that they displayed in their window. “It is the prettiest doll in Aspen, Little girl you have as good a chance as anybody.” Each time someone in the family bought a certain amount of merchandise a girl received a ticket for the drawing. One girl amassed more than 170 tickets.
Over the years, grocery stores shifted their advertising focus from men to women, perhaps as an acknowledgment of who did the shopping.