June 23, 1826 — Editor, journalist, and publisher Anne McDowell is born today in Smyrna, Delaware. A great supporter of women’s rights, she is perhaps best known for launching the weekly newspaper, the Woman’s Advocate, in January 1855.
Although other papers published and edited by women were in existence (notably Amelia Bloomer’s Lily, and Paulina Wright Davis’ Una) — McDowell’s paper was distinctive because it was “produced exclusively by the joint-stock capital, energies and industry of females,” employed only woman typesetters and printers who received the same wages as men; and because it “devoted itself to the elevation of the female industrial class.”
Historians note that “McDowell wore her feminist principles with a difference in other ways as well. She was not concerned with the franchise for women, a lack of interest she shared with other early woman reformers.”
McDowell’s Advocate focused mostly on the training and employment of women, and urged them to register at its offices for work (a practice which led to a kind of informal employment service). It also opened its columns to those who argued for and against woman suffrage and dress reform, and to opponents of slavery.
Additionally, the paper tried to maintain itself by carrying the kind of literary material common to mid-nineteenth-century women’s magazines, and at different times Lydia J. Pierson and Mary Vaughan were listed as editors or contributors. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Jane Swisshelm appeared in the letter column, and Susan B. Anthony and Paulina Wright Davis recommended the paper to supporters of woman’s rights.
Unfortunately, keeping the publication running proved to be too heavy of a financial drain, like all such efforts, and eventually McDowell was forced to give it up in 1860.
She then went on to became editor of the Philadelphia Sunday Republic. And in 1884, Howe formed a sickness and death benefit organization among the employees of John Wanamaker’s department store and acted for a time as its secretary. She also set up a library for the women employees, which was called the McDowell Free Library. She died at the age of 75, in 1901.
Words of Wisdom
The Woman’s Advocate would not clamor for the political rights of woman, but instead would center its efforts on her right to live and use all means within her reach and capacity to make a living. We are more than ever convinced of the necessity of an advocate of the rights of our toiling sisters – the right to use their hands and heads in any and every capacity that they may have the will and the ability to act in. This we believe covers the whole ground of those rights which women should demand.