UROP Profile: Student finds feminist undertones in research on 19th century magazines
LSA sophomore Estrella Salgado turned a love of “Little House on the Prairie” into an in-depth research project to understand the lives of women in the mid-19th century. Salgado’s project, sponsored through the Undergraduate Research Program, began when she recognized the Godey’s Magazine in her class discussion from her childhood love of Little House.
“I was a big fan of ‘Little House on the Prairie’ when I was a kid,” Salgado said. “So when it was mentioned this year in class, I wanted to take a look.”
Godey’s Magazine was a women’s magazine directed toward their traditionally domestic societal role. Salgado used two online databases to review both Godey’s Magazine and The Revolution, a women’s rights newspaper.
“The Revolution was published by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and it was the arm of … their national suffrage movement,” Salgado said. “It ended up not being sustainable but it is helpful to know what these ladies were thinking about in this time.”
In her research, she analyzes the articles, editors’ notes and the way each issue depicts current events. Salgado compared the two opposing periodicals as well as modern articles and realized while Godey’s Magazine’s focus was domestic, it had subtle feminist undertones — something she was not expecting to find in a magazine known for housekeeping tips and cooking recipes.
“If you look at an issue of Godey’s, it will start with an editor’s note and have education for women and then there will be a recipe … and then there would be an article about education for girls and boys,” Salgado said.
Godey’s Magazine did not have political intentions, but Salgado said the subtleties of this magazine set the foundation for future ideas of gender equality.
“Godey’s Lady’s Book was marketed as a wholesome family magazine,” Salgado said. “However, the editor was personally supportive of women’s rights and included some feminist themes in the articles.”
Many articles in these types of magazines idealized women’s lives by depicting elaborate weddings and familial goals. Salgado said this also provoked thoughts about a different kind of life for women.
“I think fiction is a beautiful way (to show) goals at the time,” Salgado said. “So there were ways for women to fantasize a bit and think about what life would be like if they didn’t have the restrictions of the era.”
Salgado believes her research is important given recent events involving women’s equality and specifically the #MeToo movement, a national conversation around sexual misconduct and gender discrimination.
“To understand the position we are in now, we have to see what we’ve done in the past to explore women’s rights,” Salgado said.
Salgado explained her comparisons with modern-day articles on women show current publications may be out of touch with their audience.
“The language (modern-day articles) use is very high ground language that many people don’t understand,” Salgado said. “Reaching out to people with more compassion is very important.”
Rackham student Anil Menon, Salgado’s graduate student mentor, described Salgado’s passion for the issue and responsibility in locating sources and meeting deadlines.
“She has been a diligent scholar, tracking down a variety of sources and providing me with frequent updates regarding her progress,” Menon wrote in an email interview.
Menon said Salgado’s research on the sensitivity of the sociopolitical issues in these 19th century women’s magazines can expand on understanding of current conversations in society.
“This research can provide important insights regarding the roots of the suffragette movement in the United States,” Menon wrote. “Estrella’s work will help reveal the contours of public opinion regarding perception of women’s role in society, a conversation which remains pertinent to the present day.”
Salgado’s peer adviser Allison Johnson said she enjoys working with Salgado because she is so invested in her own work.
“I find Estrella’s research topic extremely interesting and love hearing her passion for it when we speak,” Johnson said.
Johnson emphasized the importance of looking back on the discussions of the past in order to see the different approaches and perspectives today.
“Especially in this day and age, it’s critical to look back at past events and the voices that are or are not included in the dominant narrative,” Johnson said. “In this case, studying the more overlooked voices in feminist literature is important to understand where we have progressed from and the differing perspectives of how the liberation of women has been approached.”