In 2016, Teen Vogue made media news with its shift from a glossy high fashion magazine aimed at teenage girls to a glossy high fashion magazine that covered feminism, social activism, identity, and politics. The change generated stories, and academic articles, with titles like “A Politics of Snap,” “Ok, Seriously,”and “How Teen Vogue Got Political” I followed the coverage, which ranged from condescending to celebratory, with a certain amount of envy. Teen Vogue would have appealed to past me in a way that Seventeen, Tiger Beat, and the like did not.
Analysts discussed the long-standing division between “ladymags” (a category that stretches from Good Housekeeping to Cosmopolitan, some of which are less ladylike than others) and the much smaller category of women’s magazines with a political bent, most notably Ms. But none of them, or at least none that I saw, noted that it wasn’t the first time that women’s magazines covered the news of the day in addition to their usual subjects.
In the years between the two world wars, American women’s magazines printed articles dealing with international issues. The Delineator, the magazine published by Butterick Patterns, published a report on Russia’s battalions of women soldiers in March, 1918. McCalls* in particular had a history of commissioning well-known women reporters to write pieces on international politics. The magazine’s editor, Otis L. Weise, sent muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell to interview Mussolini in 1927 and to report on conditions in Germany in the early 1930s. At much the same time, he sent journalist, novelist and labor activist Mary Heaton Vorse* to report on the Soviet Union.
When the United States entered the war in 1941, American women’s magazines quickly looked for ways to make their content relevant for their readers in a time of national emergency. They went beyond their core subjects of fashion, homemaking, and romantic fiction to produce stories about topics such as dealing with war-time scarcity and rationing and the importance of women taking war-time jobs outside the home. McCall’s once again led the pack, hiring Sigrid Schultz to work as a war correspondent, with a view to reporting on the war from a woman’s perspective.
When the war ended, women were pushed out of their wartime jobs to make room for returning soldiers. (It is only fair to remember that many of them were willing to go.) Women’s magazines responded by returning to covering their readers’ traditional interests, minus the international news. I wonder if readers missed it.
*Also published by a pattern company.
**Coming soon to a blog post near you.