Academic journal article Journalism History

The Environmentalism of Edward Bok: The Ladies' Home Journal, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Environment, 1901-09

Academic journal article Journalism History

The Environmentalism of Edward Bok: The Ladies' Home Journal, the General Federation of Women's Clubs, and the Environment, 1901-09

Article excerpt

From 1901 to 1909, Ladies' Home Journal editor Edward Bok launched crusades to preserve Niagara Falls, beautify cities, and eradicate billboards. Yet the magazine ignored environmental concerns of the same group of women it targeted as readers-middle-class housewives-as shown by a comparison to General Federation of Women's Clubs publications. This article concludes that the Journal's environmental coverages was aesthetic in nature and served the status quo, reflecting Victorian primness while acknowledging some of the less serious environmental problems. The women's clubs' publication also focused on the aesthetic but went further, supporting forest conservation and opposing health hazards that not only threatened their lifestyles but those of the lower classes. Nevertheless, it can be seen as largely elitist.

On January 10,1930, Edward Bok was buried in a tower of is design, surrounded by his gardens and a bird sanctuary. ; was fitting, the press reported at the time, for the man who had edited the "remarkably successful" Ladies'HomeJoumaho be buried in the structure that he had commissioned as a "monument to the beauties of nature."1

Bok was Uiejournal's editor from 1889 to 1919. After retirement, he wintered in rural Florida, where he took evening walks to the top of Iron Mountain, the highest hill of the state's central ridge, enjoying the virgin pines, reveling in the quiet, and soaking in the sunset, according to his autobiography and other works. "The watch-towers of Life are not all atop office buildings," he wrote in 1925, "-some folks find them on a mountain, beside a quiet brook, or in the quietness of a pine forest where even the carpet of needles is silent to the tread." he then defended his choice to spend three months of the year "out of touch" with city life:

But "out of touch" with what? With the honk of the automobile, or the clang of the trolley? . . . "Out of touch" with an atmosphere so filled with the smoke of gases of a city's ill-conceived laws that a conifer tree cannot live and a fresh carnation pink wilts before nightfall?... The lungs of the human have an astounding vitality to thrive without these cleanly and sanitary accompaniments of city life.2

He decided to preserve the Florida hilltop, then create a bird sanctuary-"a place of beauty, serenity and peace"-and later erect the Bok Tower, which housed his study and eventually his crypt.3

Bok's words and actions indicate that he was a man who loved nature and abhorred the unpleasant side of a newly urban America. Indeed, he is often lauded for his magazine's crusades to, among other things, beautify cities and towns, preserve Niagara Falls, and eradicate billboards; one source went so far as to label him an environmentalist.4 His crusades often put him at odds with advertisers, who were a crucial cog in the magazine's landmark circulation drive during his tenure, but he was unflappable. In his autobiography (written in third-person), he described the backlash against his anti-billboard crusade:

Of course the advertisers whose signs were shown in the magazine immediately threatened the withdrawal of their accounts from The Ladies' Home Journal, and the proposed advertiser at the Grand Canyon, whose business was conspicuous in each number of the magazine, became actively threatening. But Bok contended that the one proposition had absolutely no relation to the other, and that if concerns advertised in the magazine simply on the basis of his editorial policy toward bill-board advertising, it was, to say the least, not a sound basis for advertising.5

Despite his bravado, however, Bok has rarely been associated with environmentahsm, according to the many studies of the man and his magazine. Although not focused on environmentalism, most studies situate him clearly on the side of consumerism and consumption, ideas not generally connected with the conservation or preservation philosophies of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. …

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