A Man, a Woman, and a New Magazine: Cyrus Curtis
and Louisa Knapp Curtis and the Ladies' Home
In 1883, Cyrus Curtis and Louisa Knapp Curtis decided to turn their newspaper column for women into a separate monthly supplement to their weekly newspaper. After Louisa had prepared the material for the first number of the supplement, Cyrus took it to the office to be set in type. Upon receiving the material, the composing-room manager asked Cyrus what he wanted to call the supplement. Legend has it that Cyrus answered, "Call it anything you like. It's sort of a ladies' journal." The composition manager carried this vague notion to an engraver, who drew a masthead for the supplement, using The Ladies' Journal as a title. To embellish the words the engraver added to the title a picture of a home, engraving the word "Home" under it. The first subscription request for the new magazine asked for "The Ladies' Home Journal," as did most subsequent orders, and thus an unknown engraver and its earliest subscribers named the first American mass-circulation magazine. 1
The story of the Ladies' Home Journal name highlights the relatively unstructured nature of the 1880s world of magazine publishing, a world that this new magazine itself had a significant part in defining. With their "sort of a ladies' journal," as Cyrus described it, the Curtises established a model for an important genre of magazines in the United States. This genre has remained remarkably stable over the course of a century.
Even more importantly, Cyrus and Louisa helped to mediate the interaction of the growing consumer culture with notions about gender, providing in their magazine a forum for the intersection of these two significant cultural forces. Many elements combined to propel the Journal into the mass-circulation magazine ranks: the personal characteristics and relationship of the editor and publisher, the expansion of reading audiences, and commercial developments that included the rise of middle-class consumption and the demand for national advertising. Cyrus Curtis and Louisa Knapp Curtis were commercial pioneers who oversaw the intersection of gendered reading with the demand for a gendered advertising forum to create and develop the highly successful Ladies' Home Journal.
Cyrus Curtis was born in 1850 in Portland, Maine. The son of poor but cultured and loving parents, he took on the role of hard-headed businessman and