The Sears, Roebuck mail-order book club

The Sears, Roebuck and Co. mail-order catalog brought a full service department store to more than 12 million homes in the United States by the middle of the twentieth century. Over one third of those households were rural, and the primary purchasers of mail-order items were women. This paper examines the history and the economic and cultural impact of the decision by Sears, Roebuck and Co. to establish a mail-order book club – the Peoples Book Club (PBC) — in 1943. Drawing upon the groundbreaking scholarship of Janice Radway and Elizabeth Long, this critical history of the PBC will afford greater insight into the nature of women’s reading and corporate catering to and manipulation of what was perceived as women’s interests. The study draws on data from the Sears, Roebuck and Co. mail-order catalogs during this period, book club advertisements and mailers, and literature of the book trade.

Bibles, Cow Bells, and “The Fountainhead”: The Peoples Book Club of the Sears, Roebuck Mail Order Catalog, 1943-1959 was presented by Chris D’Arpa on October 2nd, 2013. Chris is a PhD candidate in Information in Society at GSLIS, and an advisee of Dr. Christine Jenkins.

Listen to the audio file of her talk in Blackboard.


1 Comment

  1. When I was 14, my mother, ordered novels from the Peoples Book Club sponsored by Sears Roebuck. I had not been introduced to the scriptures. My knowledge of Christianity was cursory at best. But it was reading fine novels such as HEARTWOOD , ROOT OUT OF DRY GROUND, ROWAN HEAD, THE TURQUOISE (mother was poor and did not have funds to continue her membership) that these few novels influenced me and gave me a sense of honor and integrity, of right and wrong. Looking back on how these books helped me formulate my own moral compass, I realize the power of the written word or story that is not to be be underestimated. Years later the scriptures found great meaning in my life as they confirmed and strengthened what I had sensed in reading good novels that had taught principles of a good and useful life. Regular church attendance gave me resolve, support and determination, to withstand the challenges life brings. I am thankful.

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