A History of Popular Women's Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995 / Yours in Sisterhood: Ms. Magazine and the Promise of Popular Feminism

Article excerpt

Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. A Hi-story of Popular Women's Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. 296 pp. $59.95.

Farrell, Amy Erdman. Yours in Sisterhood: Ms. Magazine and the Promise of Popular Feminism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. 232 pp. $16.95.

With the notable exception of Kathleen Endres's and Theresa Lueck's Women's Periodicals in the United States, there are few comprehensive overviews of the rich history of American women's magazines, the most widely read and most profitable sector of the magazine industry. Now there is Mary Ellen Zuckerman's A History of Popular Women's Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995, which offers not just institutional histories of the leading titles but also an explanation of the industry forces that have shaped this market as a whole. It further provides eye-- opening perspectives on phenomena that today's students assume to be "modern" problems, such as the commodification of audiences.

The primary strength of the book is that it is, most of all, a business history from an author who is a marketing professor at SUNY-- Geneseo (also the co-author, with John Tebbel, of The Magazine in America). It is full of circulation, advertising, and reader-demographics data that supplement more widely available information on editors and editorial content. Zuckerman covers the latter topics as well, and in ways that help to place her subject in a broader media context For instance, while Munsey's, McClure's, and Cosmopolitan are generally credited with pioneering the editorial content and revenue structure for the "mass-- circulation magazine" beginning in 1893, she notes that this modern format was set in place a decade earlier by The Ladies' Home Journal, McCall's, and Good Housekeeping. And her discussion of the reporting in women's magazines of the Progressive era and of World War II argues against assumptions that women's magazines have never offered substantive social and political content.

The book has a few weaknesses. One is that it fails to provide context on women's lives in the historical eras it covers. Sometimes Zuckerman seems torn between her conviction that women's magazines have historical significance and an urge to apologize for her choice of subjects: in one chapter, she praises editors for being concerned with what their readers thought; in another, she criticizes them for choosing articles that were "mostly of interest to readers, but not provocative on a deeper level. …

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