A single bottle of tonic to cure diabetes, cancer, ulcers and dizziness. Raisins and currants for Christmas mince meat pies. Midwifery courses taught by a certified female doctor, $30 a term. A souvenir stone from the Hill Cumorah, “guaranteed genuine,” mailed from New York for 25 cents.
This list represents just a sampling of the goods and services advertised to Utah frontier women in the Woman’s Exponent, the preeminent woman’s newspaper published in Salt Lake City from 1872 to 1914 to share local and general news, household tips and educational materials. Thanks to an ongoing project by the BYU Office of Digital Humanities and the Harold B. Lee Library, anyone can now explore life in nineteenth-century Utah through a new searchable, browsable database of the newspaper’s ads.
“Studying advertisements is a bit like digging through the trash because it’s really the part of history that was never meant to be a historical record,” said BYU digital humanities professor Jeremy Browne, who wrote software to categorize the Exponent’s 4,000 ads by industry, vendor and date. “The ads have a certain authenticity to them that we don’t get elsewhere. The project’s purpose is to take one aspect of the newspaper that is more approachable and make it accessible to the general public.”The Exponent’s ads, printed on the back page of each issue, feature bankers, storekeepers, milliners and dressmakers, medical professionals and medical charlatans, all bidding for Utah women’s time and money.
“There were a lot of women’s papers nationally at this time, but these ads are interesting because the audience for this paper was really specific,” said BYU senior librarian Elizabeth Smart, a collaborator on the database. “You see the advertisers trying to connect with women in many areas of their lives.”
To explore more of the advertisements in context of the entire newspaper, readers can also access fully digitized copies of the Woman’s Exponent here through the library’s digital collections. In collaboration with the Marriott Library and Digital Matters lab at the University of Utah, BYU continues to help improve the collection’s accessibility using the most recent scanning and character recognition technology.
Direct to Browsable Database of Advertisements