Forgotten Feminist Heroes: Elizabeth “Nancy” Morgan, Financial Editor of Ladies Home Companion

First published in Hobo Pancakes Humor Journal

FeministLittle has been written about one of the country’s first feminist financial leaders, Elizabeth “Nancy” Morgan (1818-1901).

From her groundbreaking article “The Gentle Woman’s Guide to Appreciating Your Husband’s Generosity” to her long career as financial editor of Ladies’ Home Companion magazine, Morgan stands as one of the titans of the early feminist movement.

Born Elizabeth Van Buren, Morgan did not begin life as an advocate for strength in femininity. At age 16, upon hearing that patriot Betsy Ross had died, Morgan was quoted as calling Ross a “flag-stitching rag hag” and is credited for spreading a short-lived rumor that, while repairing soldiers’ uniforms during the American Revolution,  Betsy Ross often requested soldiers “await their stitching unclothed.”  Morgan later laughed off the incident as a “youthful indiscretion” inspired by Ross’ three marriages and “whore-like” behavior.

At the age of 17, after being asked in ladies’ stitching circle how she planned to secure her future, Elizabeth replied “Marry well.” Misheard as stating “Marry Will,” the stitching club girls believed Elizabeth intended to marry Will Thorton, the poor, but wildly handsome son of her father’s stable man.  The entirely impractical, but romantic idea of marrying for looks instead of money enchanted Elizabeth’s peers, and she soon found herself revered for her revolutionary ideas on female financial independence.

Such was Elizabeth’s fame, that shortly after her marriage to wealthy businessman Richard Morgan, she was asked to write a financial column for women in the Ladies’ Home Companion. Before penning her first story, Elizabeth changed her nom de plume to “Nancy” after a male co-worker at the burgeoning periodical told her the derivation of the word “finance” came from the Latin “Fi” meaning “blood of an Englishman” and “Nance” short for “Nancy.” Determined to dedicate her life to women’s financial independence, and to ensure her husband would not be embarrassed by her work outside the home, she wholeheartedly adopted the nickname “Nancy.” A feminist star was born.

Morgan’s first article, “The Gentle Woman’s Guide to Appreciating Your Husband’s Generosity” caused quite a stir in her home town of Concord, Massachusetts. In it, Morgan suggested that “demanding extra spending money” in order to “better represent your husband and father of your children” was perfectly acceptable. This bold statement soon led to other groundbreaking articles in  Ladies’ Home Companion, including “Household Ideas to EARN Your Keep” and “Spending Wisely, Spares the Rod.”

Nearly fired after suggesting wives “stow” extra finances for future needs, such as surprise anniversary gifts and special holiday meals, Morgan instead struck another blow for female financial independence by following her husband’s suggestion to quit the magazine in order to “better attend to her family.”  Their bluff called, dismayed publishers watched as Ladies’ Home Companion circulation dipped to dangerous levels following the loss of their star columnist.  The magazine would have folded, if not for the serendipitous discovery of new writer Fanny Pipton and her delightful column, “That’s What Wives are For!”

Elizabeth “Nancy” Morgan’s bravery in the face of oppression paved the way for movements ranging from women’s suffrage to the end of daily corset wear. She is an American feminist hero overlooked by male history book authors, most of whom would rather spotlight the frivolous and fanciful stories of flashy tarts like Betsy Ross.


Amy Vansant
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10 Responses

  1. Lance

    delete my previous comment in your spam…

    I read about Liz Morgan for the first time in college. She was also influential with the female suffragist movement before if became cool in the early 1900s. She was a bad ass ina lot of ways.

    As a dude, I’m amazed more husbands, brothers, and fathers weren’t killed by their females in the 1800s and early 1900s. If I were to tell my wife and three daughters they weren’t good enough or qualified enough, they’d ….well…let’s just say, it wouldn’t be pleasant.


  2. Pickleope

    The phrase “gentle woman” needs a comeback. This is a great article. I never knew about Elizabeth “Nancy” Morgan. And I love that you worked in calling Betsy Ross a flashy tart.


  3. Amy Vansant

    You guys do realize the whole thing was tongue in cheek, that I totally made up Nancy Morgan… right? Are you f’n with me? Maybe the humor was a little to subtle on this one… She’s a feminist hero who marries rich…takes a feminist name suggested by a man as a joke she doesn’t even get… thinks Betsy Ross’ independence makes her a whore…suggests spending wisely will keep your husband from beating you (which is his right of course…)


  4. bschooled

    Holy hell. This is F*ing brilliant.

    “The Gentle Woman’s Guide to Appreciating Your Husband’s Generosity” is my new mantra.

    Now I just need to get my bloodyhellwhywontyouf*ckingwork email to work, and we can start getting rich.


    • Amy Vansant

      Have you tried using your usual passwords, only in Spanish? Are you careful not to check your email during siesta?


  5. Jeane

    You are sly and wonderful and honestly I thought for a moment you were off your rocker (well, I have actually thought more than a few times) but that could be because I am slow or just got caught up in the idea of stowing away a bit of extra cash to keep the cause.



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