A Publishing Juggernaut—Priscilla

The late nineteenth century saw a surge in the availability of magazines and publications directed at the female market.

Christopher John Brooke Phillips Mar 2, 2020 - 7 min read

A Publishing Juggernaut—Priscilla Primary Image

The April 1929 issue of Modern Priscilla. Collection of PieceWork. Photo by George Boe

The late nineteenth century saw a surge in the availability of magazines and publications directed at the female market. Increased affluence, more leisure time, the introduction of electric light, the groundswell of feminism, and the Arts and Crafts movement all contributed to a rise in the popularity of needlecrafts and a demand for information on “how to.” In Europe, North America, and Australasia, an industry blossomed, supplying magazines that not only offered fashion news but also included instructions on dressmaking, knitting, crochet, other forms of needlework, lacemaking, and more.

In 1887, T. E. Parker (dates unknown) of Lynn, Massachusetts, published the first issue of The Priscilla magazine. The magazine’s name is attributed to Priscilla Mullins, born about 1602 in Dorking, in the County of Surrey, England. In 1620, she was among the first settlers to arrive in the American colonies on the Mayflower; she married John Alden, a cooper, in 1621. She was well-known in the Plymouth Colony for her spinning and weaving. As was common at the time, she raised a large family (one of her descendants was the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow [1807–1882]). She died in 1685 and was buried at the Myles Standish Burial Ground in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

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Left: The “Shopping Page” from the April 1929 issue of Modern Priscilla. Collection of PieceWork. Right: A page from the April 1929 issue of Modern Priscilla. Collection of PieceWork.

The first editors of The Priscilla were Frank S. Guild and Miss Beulah F. Kellogg. It is suggested that Frank Guild was the well-known illustrator of that name (circa 1866–1929), a regular contributor to The Ladies’ Home Journal. Miss Kellogg was not a “miss” at all but Isaiah Clarkson Parrot (1851–1918), who edited the magazine from 1887 to his death. In 1893, W. N. (William Newton) Hartshorn (1843–1920), publisher of Household, another female-interest magazine, purchased The Priscilla and moved operations to Boston. Hartshorn was a recognized leader in Christian society and published various books on the subject, supported Christian education among African-Americans, and in 1904 was listed as the chairman of the World’s International Sunday School Association.

Hartshorn also bought Ingalls’ Home and Art Magazine, and the three magazines were combined and published under the title The Modern Priscilla. In 1907, the cover design of the magazine changed from black halftone to a red-and-black halftone, incorporating green later that year. In March 1912, the Priscilla Publishing Company acquired Everyday Housekeeping from C. M. Clark Publishing Company of Boston, a company founded by Carro Morrell Clark (1867–1950), who was reported to have been the only female publisher in the United States. With this incorporation, The Modern Priscilla became two magazines in one—part devoted to household management, and the other devoted to needlework and associated skills. The November 1914 issue featured the magazine’s first full-color cover; the September 1916 issue began the continuous publication with a full-color cover.

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The cover of the August 1917 issue of The Modern Priscilla, including Home Needlework and Everyday Housekeeping. Collection of PieceWork. The subscriber’s name and address were removed at some point in time from the top left corner.

In April 1917, Home Needlework Magazine, published by Florence Publishing Company, Florence, Massachusetts, announced that beginning in May of that year, they were to amalgamate with The Modern Priscilla, citing the duplication of subject matter and rising production costs brought about by World War I (1914–1918). As part of the announcement, the publisher promised that annual subscribers to Home Needlework would receive the remaining balance of magazines owed, even though the annual subscription for Home Needlework was 75 cents and Modern Priscilla was $1.25. By 1918, Modern Priscilla claimed a monthly circulation of 600,000. (At some point, the word “The” in the title was dropped.)

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Left to Right: Page 1 of the December 1918 issue of The Modern Priscilla with a tribute to Isaiah Clarkson Parrot, the magazine’s editor from 1887 until his death in 1918; patterns for “War Workers” from the December 1918 issue of The Modern Priscilla; recipes and menus from the December 1918 issue of The Modern Priscilla. Collection of PieceWork.

The magazine contained how-to articles covering every aspect of needlecraft. In conjunction with the magazine, the company also published a wide variety of how-to books, each specializing in a specific subject from knitting and crochet to lacemaking and basketry. As advertised, the books were originally available for 25 cents each from needlework suppliers, local news dealers, and by mail-order direct from Priscilla Publishing. For a list of many of the books, see “Priscilla Publishing Books” below.

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Although Priscilla Publishing moved its headquarters to New York in an attempt to increase business and compete nationally, The Modern Priscilla failed in 1930. The catastrophic economic downturn of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 was sufficient to bring about its demise. Original copies of The Modern Priscilla magazine are frequently for sale online. Both the magazines and the books provide details and instruction that are as valid today as when they were originally published.  

Christopher John Brooke Phillips was born in England and now lives with his wife, Patricia Ann, near Valencia, Spain. A retired businessman, he researches and writes on matters of historical interest. Two historical novels set in the twentieth century are in the works.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 issue of PieceWork.

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