They say that a true lady never reveals her age, but I’ll let you in on a secret: My employer is 130 years old.
Working at a magazine whose history spans over a century has given me great insight into our evolving industry. This summer, speakers in our weekly lunches have told my fellow interns and I that the magazine industry isn’t dying, just changing. Instead of solely looking at magazines as print publications with glossy covers and voice-y features, we should view them as brands with websites, tablet editions and even product lines.
Maybe, as fledgling journalists less than a year from entering the “real world,” we interns cling too tightly to this view. Especially today, on the last day of our internships, we hope we’ll be able to find jobs once we graduate and that these publications will have room for us as they continue to change. But if there’s anything I know from working at Ladies’ Home Journal, it’s that magazines have been reinventing themselves for decades. However, despite whether they’ve appeared in black and white or vibrant color, print or online, magazines have will always hold a special place in our country’s history. Here are five moments from LHJ’s extensive past that show the power of magazines in shaping the nation.
1. I’m just a (very important) bill.
Although LHJ had fought against the “medical quackery” of ineffective patent medicines since 1892, editor Edward Bok’s 1904 article, “The Patent-Medicine Curse” was a major part of his campaign towards regulating medicines sold in the U.S. The revolutionary Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906 in large part due to the volumes of passionate readers who read his article and demanded their representatives pass a congressional bill to regulate their medications.
2. ‘The First Lady of American Journalism’ Speaks Out.
Dorothy Thompson not only met Hitler, she interviewed him. She was the first American journalist to be expelled from Nazi Germany, but the woman who came to be known as the “First Lady of American Journalism” went on to increase American awareness of the pre-WWII Nazi threat with a monthly column in LHJ. The column continued until her death in 1961, but it’s clear that the woman who said, “Only when we are no longer afraid to we begin to live” set a fearless example for the American public.
3. “A Woman is Like a Tea Bag …
… you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” So said Eleanor Roosevelt in her autobiography, which was published in a 1937 series in LHJ. She also published a monthly column titled “If You Ask Me” in the magazine. The former first lady answered both personal and political questions sent in from LHJ readers until 1949, which was long after her husband had died and her official duties were retired. She exemplified the long standing LHJ slogan, "never underestimate the power of a woman."
4. How Does America Live?
Readers got a look into the lives of “real families” across the country in the feature “How America Lives.” Each story included intimate details from the family’s life, including financial woes and marital issues, which was pretty scandalous for the time. The feature came about when glimpses into the lives of Americans in faraway states would’ve been otherwise impossible. LHJ continues the tradition of prominently featuring readers in its issues today.
5. Sign here, please.
In 1970, more than 60,000 LHJ readers signed “An Open Letter to representatives of North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Governments" to ask the government than prisoners of war be treated decently. The petition emerged as a response to the magazine’s war coverage, which proved that the though primarily focusing on the American woman, LHJ has always made a point to engage its readers with the history being made around them.
Written by: Allison Pohle, University of Missouri-Columbia, Ladies' Home Journal