It's that time of year again. Garden catalogs arrive in the mail on a regular…
Late Nineteenth Century Garden Advertising Targeted Women
Today we sometimes hear the expression, “Women Shop”, which probably means something like shopping is identified more with women than men.
Companies that have products and services to sell recognize that and since the 1890s have targeted much advertising toward women.
Richard Ohmann too in his book Selling Culture: Magazines, Markets, and Class at the Turn of the Century discusses the words and illustrations in advertising in the 1890s as characterized by that focus on persuading women to buy products. He writes, “Most ads for branded products targeted women, in McClure’s and Munsey’s [two national magazines] almost as much as in the Ladies Home Journal.” LHJ became the most successful national magazine in the country.
In 1897 the advertiser Nathaniel Fowler wrote in his book Fowler’s Publicity: An Encyclopedia of Advertising and Printing, “The woman can buy better articles, from spool cotton to ulster overcoats, for less money than the average man can buy with more money.”
The seed and nursery catalogs from the 1890s portrayed the woman as the ideal customer for both seeds and plants. Catalog covers often included a woman that looked a particular way. She was middle or upper middle class, thin, and always wore a white or light colored dress.
The Peter Henderson Company included such an image of a woman on its fall catalog cover of 1892 [below].
Notice that the woman clearly represents a middle class look both from her dress and her home and its landscape.
Thus the companies sold status and social class as well as daffodil bulbs.
Customers wanted to be identified with a certain class and purchasing goods connected with that class became a way to enter that class.
So as in all advertising to this very day, ads sell image, identity, and sense of self more than simply a product or service.
All of that took off in the 1890s and impacted every business, including the selling of the garden to the American gardener.
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