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The first weekly number of the Girl's Own Paper appeared on January 3rd 1880, price One Penny. For her penny the Victorian young lady received 16 quarto three-column pages, with many steel engravings. The Editor had provided the first serial parts of two long stories; a short story; three poems; an article on the "Girlhood of Queen Victoria", an article on "Fashionable Costumes of Long Ago"; articles on needlework and cookery, "Useful Hints", and a Competition which asked girls to write "an essay on the life of any one famous English woman, born in the present century". The magazine was published from the "Leisure Hour" office of the Religious Tract Society, at 56 Paternoster Row, London EC, near to St. Paul's Cathedral. The GOP moved in 1902 to a more professional publishing address, "The Girl's Own Paper" Office, 4 Bouverie Street, in the Fleet Street area of London. The imprint "Lutterworth Press" was used from 1939.

The GOP formula, a mix of stories and educational and improving articles, with "Answers to Correspondents" and occasional coloured plates, poetry and music, was a great success. Quarto sized weekly magazines continued, but the magazine was also made available bound into monthly parts; each monthly contained the weekly magazines from the previous month.

The Girl's Own Annual was published each year, ready for the Christmas market. Each Annual included the material from the previous year's weeklies, from October to September. Complete bound Annuals were on sale, but many readers chose to accumulate their own weekly or monthly GOPs, and then have them bound privately, using either the specially printed boards which could be obtained from the GOP office, or their own chosen half-calf or leather, perhaps to fit in with the general appearance of their fathers' libraries. Annuals are therefore to be found with a wide variety of bindings, many of them very handsome.

In the early years, there were Summer and Christmas Extras with seasonal titles, such as "Christmas Carillon", "Garden of Gillyflowers" or "Honied Hours". They contained stories, pictures and poems appropriate to the season.

"The Editor" appears anonymously in the first weekly magazine, offering a two-guinea prize for the essay competition – a significant sum in 1880. He was in fact Mr Charles Peters, and he remained with the paper for 28 years, dying in office in December 1907. He had definite ideas for the GOP: he used it "to foster and develop that which was highest and noblest in the girlhood and womanhood of England""putting the best things first, and banishing the worthless from his pages". He managed to do this without making his magazine boring, or preachy, or unpopular; perhaps some modern editors might pause for a moment and wonder how he did it! At the time of his death, the magazine was in excellent shape, in an attractive two-column format with photographic and half-tone illustrations, and with the original mix of fiction and information broadly unchanged.

The Editor who took over from Charles Peters was Flora Klickmann. She had graduated in music when she was a girl, but a heart weakness turned her away from organ-playing and towards journalism. She worked on several women's magazines, and then edited The Foreign Field, a magazine on overseas missionary work published by the British and Foreign Bible Society. Then, early in 1908, she was appointed editor of the GOP. She continued to put "best things first", but she had strong ideas of her own. The weekly magazines were dropped; the paper included more information on serious careers for girls, including foreign missionary work, and more advice on style and dress. The title of the monthly parts became Girl' Own Paper and Woman's Magazine, though the Annuals were still named The Girl's Own Annual. Long serials became less common, and their place was taken by a larger number of shorter stories, often from far-away places such as Canada or Australia. The Summer Extras had already been discontinued, and the Christmas Extras were gradually phased out. The Annuals were improved in appearance; these Flora Klickmann GOP Annuals are outstandingly attractive collector's items.

In 1929, the GOP celebrated its fiftieth birthday. Behind the celebrations and the tributes from the great and good, there seems to have been some uncertainty as to the future policy of the paper. Inside Volume 51, the number for October is titled Girl's Own Paper and Woman's Magazine; the number for November is titled Woman's Magazine and Girl's Own Paper; and the name Woman's Magazine appears alone on the outer cover of the monthly parts. By October 1930, the two papers had gone their separate ways. The GOP with the Girl's Own Annual continued publication under its original title, and the Woman's Magazine, with its Woman's Magazine Annual, branched off as an entirely separate publication. Flora Klickmann eventually resigned as Editor of the GOP; a possible clue to the reason for her resignation may be found in the fact that her much-loved husband, Mr E. Henderson-Smith, who appears in her own writings under the name "The Head of Affairs" died in 1931.

Edited by Gladys Spratt and others, the GOP entered a new phase, with an increased proportion of its material directed to the interest of younger readers. There are school stories, stories of kidnapped princesses, and articles about film stars. By 1939, the contents had again become more serious, though not more adult, as the GOP played its part in preparing young girls for the horror of war. Volume 62 (1940-41) is the last published in the full Quarto size. After that, because of wartime paper restrictions, the magazine was reduced to a monthly of octavo size, with far fewer pages. In December 1947 the name was changed again to Girl's Own Paper and Heiress; by 1951 it was called Heiress, incorporating Girl's Own Paper, and in 1956, after 76 years of continuous publication, Heiress closed down, and the name Girl' Own Paper finally was laid to rest. The GOP had been an important and positive influence on generations of girls and women, and a vital outlet for women's writing and ideas, for more than three-quarters of a century.

The Girl's Own Paper:
1880–1908, Volumes 1–29.
Weekly, monthly, and annual. Quarto.

Girl's Own Paper and Woman's Magazine:
Nov 1908–Dec 1927, Volumes 30–49.
Monthly and annual. Quarto.

Woman's Magazine and Girl's Own Paper:
1928–1930, Volumes 50–51.
Monthly and annual. Quarto.

Girl's Own Paper:
1931–41, Volumes 52–62.
Monthly and Annual. Quarto.

Girl's Own Paper:
1941–47, Volumes 63–67.
Thereafter no volume numbers. Monthly only. Octavo.

Girl's Own Paper and Heiress:
Monthly only. Octavo.

Heiress (incorporating Girl's Own Paper):
Monthly only. Octavo.

Ceased publication in December 1956.