From Gendered Lives to a Gendered Magazine: The
Content of the Journal, 1883-1889
The fact that Louisa Knapp's Ladies' Home Journal was a commercial product affected the magazine's mission from the start. It was critical that Knapp's magazine entertain as well as edify, and the Journal sought to engage its readers as well as to give them practical information. Knapp's Journal was a feminine text, produced primarily by women for women. Knapp and her staff viewed their readers as peers and they spoke to them and heard from them in what they considered to be a two-way exchange. Images of women in Knapp's Journal were varied, and flexibility was the magazine's general orientation with regard to women's roles.
Louisa Knapp commented freely in the Journal on the state of American women's lives as she perceived them in the 1880s. Her magazine sought to empower and free women, and Knapp and her contributors were not afraid to note obstacles blocking women's progress and to suggest a variety of solutions. However, one of the major solutions they recommended—increased consuming by women—was entirely compatible with and supportive of patriarchal capitalism. And readers responded positively to Louisa's and her staffs consumer-centered solutions. Together, then, Journal staffers and readers helped to lay the groundwork for an increasingly commercial gender discourse.
Gender construction was a thoughtful, relatively conscious process in the Ladies' Home Journal during Knapp's tenure. This construction took various forms. At one level the magazine simply embodied middle-class womanhood: its various features and departments corresponded to perceived interests in women's lives, and its overall tone bespoke middle-class femininity. But gender was represented more concretely in images of women that the magazine presented in fiction and feature articles, and in its direct reflection on gender matters in editorials.
We see evidence of active gender construction in Louisa's own life as well. Louisa Knapp needed to resolve the contradiction between the domestic orientation of her magazine and the fact of its thoroughly commercial nature and its success as a product on the market. How could a woman who espoused domesticity and touted its importance edit what was fast becoming a national, mass-circulation magazine? The way in which Louisa resolved this contradiction helps to illuminate the process of gender construction for women.