Academic journal article Journalism History

The Geography of the Ladies' Home Journal: An Analysis of a Magazine's Audience, 1911-55

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Geography of the Ladies' Home Journal: An Analysis of a Magazine's Audience, 1911-55

Article excerpt

This article argues that geography played an important role in shaping the readership of the Ladies' Home Journal in the early and mid-twentieth century. It draws upon circulation records of Curtis Publishing Company and the Audit Bureau of Circulations, using them to map state distribution of the Journal in six periods from 1911 to 1955. Although the magazine's geographic identity shifted somewhat during that period, it showed a clear split between the South and the rest of the country. In exploring readership patterns, the article argues that the Journal provided an important cultural tie between West and East while the South, in large part, remained isolated. This suggests researchers must begin to see magazine audiences in regional terms, just as they deforms of fiction writing, social interaction, and ways of life.

Edward Bok, the famed editor of the Ladles Home Journal, wrote frequently about the magazine's audience. In 1901, with circulation at nearly 900,000, he boasted the Journal had the largest readership of any magazine in the world. He said, however, that if anyone deserved credit, "it is equally divided among the hundreds of thousands of Journal readers who have simply indicated a preference for a clean and wholesome kind of reading."1 Two years later, the magazine's circulation for the first time topped 1 million, which he said the staff had "tried with all our might and main to reach." Reaching a million, he said on the magazine's twentieth anniversary, had been a goal nearly from the start of thejournalin 1883.2

Bok aspired to reach more than mere numbers, though. In fact, he said he edited the Journal with an ideal woman in mind, someone who seemed "by her dress, manner, and in every way, to be typical of the best in American womanhood."3 He defined that reader more specifically in 1915, at a meeting of the advertising staff of the Journals parent company, Curtis Publishing Company. For the most part, he said, the magazine reached out to families with incomes of $1,200 to $3,000 (about $24,000 to $60,000 today4) and sometimes to those with incomes slightly higher. "We direct our attention, however, to the class from $1,200 to $3,000, because they are the families having the greatest need of help, and to whom we can be of greatest assistance."5 At that meeting, William Boyd, manager of Curtis' Chicago advertising office, said the company wanted to "make it known that the Journal is not simply a woman's publication, but that it is THE woman's publication."6

To a large degree it was. Between 1915 and 1922, the Journal carried about a third of the advertising in all women's magazines. By the end of the 1920s, it had nearly twice as much advertising as any other publication except for the Saturday Evening Post, the enormously popular Curtis weekly. Journal circulation surpassed 2 million in the mid-1920s, stayed around 2.5 million through the Depression, and then surged again in the 1940s. By the mid1950s, each issue sold 4.6 million copies and, by one estimate, reached 11.5 million readers.7

The Journal achieved its early success at a time when mass marketing was still taking shape and before radio became a mass medium. This is at the cusp of what historian David Abrahamson has called the "Golden Age of Mass Magazines," a time when magazines served as the dominant form of popular culture.8 This idea of "mass magazines" helps explain the role of popular culture and the societal role that magazines filled. That label, though, obscures nuances within the magazines and makes it difficult to consider who the people were who bought and read them. James Playsted Wood, for instance, wrote in 1971 that the mass magazine "could present simultaneously identical facts, uniformly treated, in every locality" without information being "distorted by regional prejudice."9 Partly because of this idea of uniformity and partly because of the difficulty in finding information about readers, little is known about mass audiences. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.