The most influential American woman of the 19th century, Thomas Bodley, and the masses on Twitter: newsletter, December 10, 2021

December 10, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, newsletter, Women writers and journalists, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,290) on Friday, December 10, 2021.

Nearly one quarter of adults in the United States (23 percent) are on Twitter, according to a recent in-depth survey and analysis by the Pew Research Center. I was surprised by that figure because it is higher than I would have guessed.

Not all Twitter users are created equal, of course, in any respect. Some are heavy users. Some (like me) rarely use it at all. Some send out a lot of original tweets, for which they receive little or no response. Others simply retweet what others have already written. Many read their feed without any response at all. Many people say they depend on Twitter to find out what’s going on in the world, and others say they find that it has a good deal of misinformation. Pew has a long and detailed, but very readable, analysis of what they have found.

I have drawn no profound conclusions from any of this information. Twitter has become a part of our public discussion and is increasingly a part of our communication system. It is useful for some and of no consequence for others. It seems as though, for the moment, it’s here to stay.

Have a wonderful and literate weekend.


Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,275 subscribers and had a 23.4 percent open rate; 1 person unsubscribed.

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Sarah Josepha Hale, the most influential American woman of the 19th century

When Thomas Edison famously made his first sound recording in 1877 on a machine that he had just invented, the phonograph, his first words had to be something that everyone was familiar with. So, he said, “Mary had a little lamb, . . .”

The nursery rhyme he was quoting wasn’t one that was composed in England or part of something that had been handed down from ancient times. It was purely American, and it had first appeared in print in 1830 in a book of poetry written by one of the most influential women of the 19th century: Sarah Josepha Hale.

In the same year that Edison made his recording, Hale had just retired after 40 years as editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, bringing to a close an extraordinary career that included novel and poetry writing and wide-ranging social activism as well as editing the most influential women’s magazine in the nation. For decades, Hale made decisions about fashion, food, politics, child-rearing, and social issues that many of her readers followed to the letter.

She is credited with being the major force that made Thanksgiving a national holiday.

Sarah Josepha Buell was born in New Hampshire in 1788. Her father had fought in the Revolution and opened a tavern to provide for his growing family of ultimately five children. Sarah was the fourth child. He and his wife believed in equal education for boys and girls, and Sarah grew up with enough knowledge to become a school teacher. In 1813, she married a young lawyer named David Hale.

Sarah and David began having children quickly, and by 1822, there were five little ones in the household. That was the year that David died suddenly, and Sarah was left to fend for herself. A school teacher’s job was not going to support her family, so Sarah turned to writing. Fortunately, she had the support of her husband’s Freemason lodge, which helped her publish a book of poems, The Genius of Oblivion.

Four years later, she published her first novel, Northwood: A Tale of New England. In London, the book was published under the title A New England Tale. The book was noteworthy not only because it made Hale one of the first women novelists in America but also because it was the first novel to deal directly with slavery and its effects. The book idolized the “New England way of life” and argued that slavery dehumanized masters as well as slaves. The book was an immediate success, but many Southerners were not persuaded, and Hale became a despised figure there.

At that time, anti-Union feelings were more prevalent in the North than in the South— especially in New England​​—and Hale, always an ardent Unionist, reminded her neighbors that they were brothers and sisters with those in the South, even those who owned slaves.

Hale may not have persuaded her readers, but she achieved notoriety for herself. In 1828, the Rev. John Blake asked Hale to move to Boston to become editor of a new magazine that he was launching. Ladies Magazine, as the title indicates, would be aimed at a growing reading audience of women. Hale consented and never lost her school teacher inclination toward instruction and wrote that she hoped her editorship would be such that “each individual may lend her aid to the intellectual and moral character of those within her sphere.”

In 1830, Hale published another book of poems, Poems for Our Children, which included the now-famous “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

She remained editor of the magazine until 1836 when it was sold to Louis Antoine Godey of Philadelphia, who merged it with another magazine he owned to become Godey’s Lady’s Book. He asked Hale to move to Philadelphia, but she insisted on staying in Boston because her youngest son, William, was attending Harvard College at the time.

Godey consented, and for the next 40 years, Hale exercised a vast influence on American readers—women directly and indirectly on men. One of her most significant moves was to open the pages of the magazine to women writers. The list of contributors, both male and female, that she cultivated was impressive. The readership of the magazine grew to more than 150,000 subscribers. Hale’s inclination toward instruction knew no limits. She even published architectural plans for the best way to build a home.

Hale took on many causes. She wrote to state governors arguing that states should institute a Thanksgiving holiday. Many Northern governors thought this was a good idea, but most Southern governors viewed it as an anti-slavery plot.

While other magazines of the time liked to reproduce articles from British publications, Hale advocated developing American writers and American culture. She idealized the American frontier and American history, especially the Revolutionary War period. She was ardently anti-slavery, but she never signed on to the women’s suffrage movement. Thus, she has been ignored by pro-suffrage historians. She believed in equal education for women and was one of the founders of Vassar College.

Hale finally retired from her editorship in 1877. She was nearly 90 years old. She died two years later.

Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary: Editor

EDITOR, n. A person who combines the judicial functions of Minos, Rhadamanthus and Aeacus, but is placable with an obolus; a severely virtuous censor, but so charitable withal that he tolerates the virtues of others and the vices of himself; who flings about him the splintering lightning and sturdy thunders of admonition till he resembles a bunch of firecrackers petulantly uttering his mind at the tail of a dog; then straightway murmurs a mild, melodious lay, soft as the cooing of a donkey intoning its prayer to the evening star. Master of mysteries and lord of law, high-pinnacled upon the throne of thought, his face suffused with the dim splendors of the Transfiguration, his legs intertwisted and his tongue a-cheek, the editor spills his will along the paper and cuts it off in lengths to suit. And at intervals from behind the veil of the temple is heard the voice of the foreman demanding three inches of wit and six lines of religious meditation, or bidding him turn off the wisdom and whack up some pathos.

O, the Lord of Law on the Throne of Thought,

A gilded impostor is he.

Of shreds and patches his robes are wrought,

His crown is brass,

Himself an ass,

And his power is fiddle-dee-dee.

Prankily, crankily prating of naught,

Silly old quilly old Monarch of Thought.

Public opinion’s camp-follower he,

Thundering, blundering, plundering free.

Affected, Ungracious, Suspected, Mendacious,

Respected contemporaree!

J.H. Bumbleshook


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


Thomas Bodley and why we have to be quiet in a library

How many times in your childhood (or adulthood, for that matter) have you been “shushed” in a library?

Probably more than you can remember, right? Everybody knows that you’re supposed to be quiet in a library. It’s just a natural thing.

Except it isn’t. The idea of being quiet in a library comes from Thomas Bodley, the man who in 1597 took over the moribund library at Oxford University and started it on its road to becoming a world-class institution.

A recent review by James Waddell in the Times Literary Supplement of the book The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen says of Bodley:

Over the course of fifteen years until his death in 1613, Thomas Bodley transformed the dilapidated Oxford University library into the relatively plush, well-stocked Bodleian, quadrupling the size of its collection to 23,000 volumes. Equally lasting, though, were his diktats for future librarians and readers: the library would be open six hours a day, as opposed to the more usual four a week; no book would be lent out (a rule upheld “even in the face of requests from both King Charles I and the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell”); silence would be compulsory. His ban – impressed on readers to this day – on kindling “any fire or flame” at times made working conditions in the winter so gruelling that it “probably contributed to the deaths of some of the more determined readers”.

Bodley was born in 1545, the son of a Protestant who had to flee to Switzerland during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary. The family returned to England when Mary died and Elizabeth became queen. Bodley went to Oxford for his university degree and also achieved a master’s degree in Greek.

He became a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth and married Ann Bell, a widow with considerable wealth. He was sent on various diplomatic missions for the Queen but occasionally felt undermined by the palace intrigues back home.

In 1596 he retired from public life and the next year volunteered to use his wealth to restore the library at Oxford, an institution now known as the Bodleian Library. Bodley aggressively sought donations from well-heeled patrons who had not only money but private libraries to contribute. He turned a failing institution into the first public library in Europe.

Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting

My latest literary and artistic efforts have come to fruition with the publication of a new book: Heads and Tales: Caricatures and Stories of the Famous, the Infamous, and the Just Plain Interesting. The book is now in paperback and ebook form, but also accompanied by something else: a podcast series.

The book contains many caricatures and stories that you have seen and read in this newsletter, plus some that have not made it here yet.

The podcast is me talking about some of the people that I have written about and caricatures that I have drawn. The podcast can be heard almost anywhere that you can find podcasts (like here on Apple podcasts).

The book is currently on Amazon and can be accessed with this link: The book is on sale for $19.99 on Amazon. The ebook is $9.99.



Check out last week’s newsletter

Sheila P.: Thanks for the idea on the Pray As You Go app. I’ll definitely be trying that. Sounds just like what I’ve been looking for!

Serviceberry trees are a great native alternative to Bradford pears! 

Linda A.: I enjoy your newsletters so much and always learn something new. Today’s new word: abstemiousness. Also, I have always thought Bradford pears smelled like kyarn (carrion) as my Appalachian family says. The stench is enough to make me queasy. It won’t bother me a bit to see them gone.

Gary T.: Jim, thanks for the account of the Hohenzollern family.  I lived in Munich for years, and just assumed that the family was as enchanted as the fairy-tale castles the House of Hohenzollern commissioned. Clearly, I was wrong (!).

King Ludwig of Bavaria was often referred to as the Marchenkonig (Fairy Tale King). But Bavarians fondly acknowledged that Mad King Ludwig was a more appropriate nickname.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: At the Library

Best quote of the week:

I would rather be the man who bought the Brooklyn Bridge than the one who sold it. Will Rogers, humorist (1879-1935)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The talented Hohenzollern kids, anti-Napoleon intelligence, and the return of the Devil’s Dictionary: newsletter, December 3, 2021



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