CHEAP SUNDAY PAPERS founded in the 1830s and 1840s, such as the London Dispatch (1836–9), the Operative (1838–9), Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper (1842–1931), the News of the World (1843–2011), and Reynolds's Political Instructor (1849–50), were instrumental in the formation of mass-market journalism. The Weekly Dispatch, established in 1801, led the way by offering a lively mix of radical politics, sporting news, and sensational crime reportage aimed at an artisan and lower-middle-class audience. After the reduction in the stamp duty in 1836, the number of cheap weeklies proliferated, with most priced at two to six pence and achieving circulations in the 30,000 to 60,000 range (North 2015). As Richard Altick has noted, these papers were successful in part because they catered to a ‘semiliterate audience's thirst for vicarious excitement’ (1957: 346). Significantly, this audience included both men and women, as is demonstrated by the frequent publication of advertisements for domestic goods, as well as editorial content focused on marriage, family, fashion, and the domestic realm.
In the first part of this essay, I examine the role of Sunday newspapers in the construction of the mass-market woman reader as a consumer of domestic goods and ‘feminine’ editorial content. One of the most important sites for imagining the woman reader, I argue, were the miscellaneous ‘facts and scraps’ columns regularly published in cheap papers – collections of informative and entertaining snippets aimed at a mixed-gender readership. While early on in the century these columns were dominated by brief news reports and informative paragraphs directed at a male audience, by the 1830s and 1840s they also catered to women, publishing an entertaining mix of sentimental poetry, kitchen wisdom, humorous anecdotes, and reflections on domestic morality – original material as well as extracts from other newspapers. At first glance, this miscellaneous content might seem like filler designed to provide light entertainment for busy readers. Yet careful study of the contents of ‘facts and scraps’ columns reveals their vital significance as a source for women's history. Far pre-dating the women's columns and papers associated with the New Journalism, this ‘marginal’ material was instrumental in defining women as consumers of print – a body of readers that would eventually grow into a substantial market for a diversified women's press by the end of the century.