Southern Ladies’ Journal: Early paper for state’s women

Front page of the Little Rock (Pulaski County) Southern Ladies Journal; April 17, 1886
(Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)
Front page of the Little Rock (Pulaski County) Southern Ladies Journal; April 17, 1886 (Courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division)

The Southern Ladies' Journal, a weekly newspaper for women, operated from 1881 to 1887 in Little Rock. Publishing on June 21, 1881, as a section for women in the Rural and Workman newspaper under the title the Ladies' Little Rock Journal, it would later become an independent publication. On Aug. 8, 1884, it became the Arkansas Ladies' Journal; in April 1886, it was renamed the Southern Ladies' Journal. It ceased publication the following year.

Its founding editor was Mary Ann Webster Loughborough, who was born in Phelps, N.Y., on Aug. 28, 1837, to Ashburn W. Webster and Julia Strong Webster. In 1842, when she was 5 years old, she was temporarily in the care of a New York City almshouse, possibly because of the death of her mother. By 1850, her father had moved his family to Carondelet, Mo. (now part of St. Louis). She attended Monticello Seminary in Godfrey, Ill., graduating in 1853. On Oct. 11, 1857, in Carondelet, she married prominent St. Louis lawyer James Moore Loughborough, a native of Shelbyville, Ken. The couple would have six children.

The eldest, Julia, was an infant when the Civil War broke out in 1861. In sharply divided Missouri, this event threw the pro-Confederacy family's life into upheaval. Like many officers' wives, Mary Loughborough followed when her husband departed with the Missouri State Guard for Arkansas and later for Tennessee and Mississippi. She and her infant daughter soon followed her husband on his campaigns. She traveled via Memphis through the Mississippi communities of Oxford, Tupelo, Ripley, Pontotoc, Water Valley, Coffeeville and Grenada before ultimately reaching Jackson, managing to stay ahead of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's unsuccessful invasion of Mississippi in 1862. As she wrote, "I am unlucky enough to be identified with some retreat or threatened city."

In April 1863, she visited Vicksburg for a short excursion with friends, only to arrive there for the momentous passage and bombardment on April 16 of Adm. David Porter's gunboats and transports as they sneaked past the 13 riverfront batteries of the city to meet with Grant's army farther south and transfer Union troops across the Mississippi River from Louisiana. Less than a month later, she escaped just before the fall of Jackson on May 14, becoming trapped during the Siege of Vicksburg. She lived in one of the many caves that the town's citizens dug for themselves for protection from bombardment.

When the siege ended and she was able to return to Missouri, friends in St. Louis who heard her tale encouraged her to write a book of her experiences. In 1864, D. Appleton & Co. of New York published her memoir, "My Cave Life in Vicksburg." Reprinted often, this work is recognized as the best account of civilians' experience during the siege.

After the war, the Loughboroughs resettled in St. Louis, where Mary contributed articles on St. Louis' early history to the periodical The Land We Love. By 1871, the family had moved to Little Rock, where her husband died in 1876.

In 1881, Loughborough launched what would become the Southern Ladies' Journal. Its founding business manager was Sophie Crease, a resident of Little Rock known for her energy and enterprise. A women's stock company, with Mary Loughborough as president, owned the newspaper. The company owned its presses, while several of Little Rock's prominent women contributed to its content, which also included reprints of articles from other publications.

Joining a historic line of northern women's publications, such as Susan B. Anthony's Revolution (1868–1870), the journal was a major new departure for the South. The Woman's Journal, the long-running national publication of the American Woman Suffrage Association, welcomed it for featuring not only women's general domestic concerns, but because it took a stand on such women's issues as the right to vote. The journal also tackled marital issues in a serial called "For Better, For Worse." Loughborough also tried to help women get better jobs through creating the Woman's Exchange.

The newspaper originally ran its business side from Wilson and Webb's store at 212 Main, but late in 1886, consolidated with its editorial offices at Eighth and Main. Plans were announced in early 1887 to increase the size of the 12-page publication and issue it every two weeks instead of weekly, but Mary Loughborough took ill and died on Aug. 26, 1887. The Southern Ladies' Journal stopped publication with her death.

Loughborough is buried alongside her husband in Little Rock's Mount Holly Cemetery. -- Bernadette Cahill

This story is adapted by Guy Lancaster from the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas, a project of the Central Arkansas Library System. Visit the site at