Like Mary Anne, the Sadlier brothers were Irish immigrants. James and Denis had emigrated from Rock of Cashel, in County Tipperary, to New York with their mother in January, 1830. Their father died en route to America in Liverpool, a frequent mid-point for many Irish immigrants. Denis and James opened their own book-binding business in 1836 as D. & J. Sadlier, becoming publishers in 1837. James moved to Montreal several years later to open a branch office, of which he was the manager (Adams, 283). D. & J. Sadlier marketed their editions specifically toward Irish, French and German Catholic working-class immigrants. They produced two editions of a German bible as well as numerous translations from the French, mostly produced by Mary Anne Sadlier. The Sadliers' first publishing endeavor was Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints, followed by a quarto Bible and a series of Catholic school texts and religious books. In addition to Sadlier's lavish, "superb new edition" of the bible for $22 -- a fortune in 1866 -- they also sold "Sadlier's Extraordinary Cheap Edition of the Holy Bible," which sold for $2.25, and "for cheapness and durability, cannot be equaled," as well as still cheaper bibles for only a dollar. D. & J. Sadlier even sold books on installment plans: "For the convenience of persons who do not wish to buy a volume at a time, we are issuing an edition in semi-monthly parts, at 25 cents each, thus placing those splendid creations of Irish genius within the reach of even the poorest." Sadlier's novels were sold as 30-cent paperbacks as well as $1.00 and $1.50 hardcover cloth editions (Sadlier's Catholic Directory, 1866, advertisements).
The history of D. & J. Sadlier is a story in itself. By 1850, the company
stock had grown to include 30,000 books, which would swell by an additional 25,000 in 1860 (Lacombe, "Frying Pans, "100). In 1853, the company became the largest publishing house in America (Fanning, Voice, 114). D. & J. Sadlier then bought out McGee's ailing American Celt in 1857, changing its name to the New York Tablet and running it until 1881. Mary Anne Sadlier contributed heavily to the Tablet, writing and editing a large proportion of its article and recruiting Catholic writers from around the country (Kelly, 1). She "assumed full responsibility for its direction" in 1860, when she and James relocated to New York -- perhaps for that very purpose. Most of her novels appeared serially in the Tablet before being published in book form by Sadlier & Co. Mary Anne was publicly credited with The Tablet's success (Lacombe, "Frying Pans," 101). The Canadian Messenger of the Sacred Heart was inspired to write, on the occasion of Mary Anne Sadlier's death in 1903: "It was Mrs. Sadlier's organ. She conducted it, wrote its telling articles, its stories. . . The Tablet in New York under Mrs. Sadlier and the Pilot> in Boston under Patrick Donahoe, her life-long friend, were the fortresses in America of Irish faith and Irish nationhood" (Canadian Messenger of the Sacred Heart, June 1903). Mary Anne, in fact, was far more well-known than her husband. Biographical dictionaries often cite Denis and Mary Anne Sadlier, but never mention James other than as Mary Anne's husband. By 1860, Mary Anne Sadlier was "the best known Irish Catholic voice in American letters" (Fanning, Voice 115). Sadlier's role as a journalist would have given her a great deal of prominence in the Irish community, as the Irish newspaper played a key role in community life, serving at once as a library, a source of news about home as well as a support network. "The immigrant press, pious rhetoric aside, contributed significantly to sustaining the religious and racial distinctiveness of its readers." In 1849, the
Irish American proclaimed its mission was to "defend and vindicate the interest of the Irish American and American Irish race" (Hueston, 139-140).
While few reliable sales figures exist, the number of editions Mary Anne
Sadlier's novels went through indicate their popularity. The Blakes and Flanagans,> which was translated into at least two German editions in 1857 and 1866 as Alt-Irland und Amerika, boasted on its 1855 frontispiece that 16,000 copies were in print (MacDannell, 53). The Confederate Chieftains (1860) went through five editions, and The Heiress of Kilorgan (1867) and The Old House by the Boyne (1865) each went through six (Fanning, 116). Bessy Conway's title page exploited Sadlier's popularity and reputation, advertising Sadlier's other books beneath her name: "Authoress of The Confederate Chieftains, Blakes and Flanagans, New Lights, Elinor Preston, Willy Burke, & c. & c. & c." The sheer volume of work Sadlier produced magnifies the significance of sales for individual books. Of the 39 new books advertised in Sadlier's Catholic Directory for 1866, Sadlier wrote at least 12. An advertisement for the Tablet devotes one-fifth of the page to a promotion for Sadlier's forthcoming novel, "written expressly for its columns." Sadlier's work helped fuel the growth of her husband's company. Even the Sadliers' rivals, P.J. Kenedy and Sons, respected Mary Anne Sadlier's major role in the firm's success. Mary Anne Sadlier is the only woman mentioned in Kenedy's history of Catholic book publishing. "Mrs. Sadlier, wife of James, was busy turning out the novels, translations and historical works which helped make the literary reputation of the house. The Sadliers were undisputed leaders in the field of Catholic book publishing" (Healey, 34).
Mary Anne Sadlier took over her the business after James' death in 1869 and maintained control of the company for several years. D. & J. Sadlier began its decline, however, during the 1870s. An index of D. & J. Sadlier's success was its publication from 1864 to 1896 of Sadlier's Catholic Directory, Almanac and Ordo, a listing of all the Catholic parishes in the nation, the privilege of printing accrued to the most powerful publisher. Rival directories began appearing in 1886 as the company's influence wanted. James's death in 1869 prompted Mary Anne to assume a more active role in running the company. Denis was able to carry on the business, and emerged from the Panic of 1873 unscathed (Adams, 283). Financial troubles brought on by increased competition and unfortunate real estate speculations began to plague the firm in 1879, however, and the company was never able to fully regain its stride (Healey, 39). In 1881, Denis Sadlier was forced to close down the Tablet to ease his burden of debt (Lacombe, "Frying Pans", 103). Mary Anne Sadlier was forced to run the
company alone after Denis's death in 1885, managing to direct the firm from
Montreal for ten years until she lost control of the business to William Sadlier, Denis's son.
D. & J. Sadlier was then "swallowed up" by P.J. Kenedy, who bought out the copyrights, and proceeded to reprint all of Mary Anne's best-selling work. A new tide of Irish immigration in the 1880s made Sadlier's 30-
year-old stories marketable once again -- although Sadlier herself reaped few
of the profits. Even P.J. Kenedy's official history of the period credits Mary Anne for her valiant efforts. "Henceforth, all the tireless Mrs. Sadlier's own work appeared under the Kenedy label. The original Sadlier firm survived on a very subdued scale until 1912, when the remaining assets were sold to P.J.
Kenedy and Sons" (Healey, 39).
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