Mixed Messages in a Commercial Package:
The Content of the Journal, 1890-1900
Perhaps the most difficult of all the tasks facing both Louisa Knapp and Edward Bok—who were, of course, products of their own particular gender socialization and ideology—was interpreting gender norms and gender relations to others, their readers. Bok and Knapp had to present, in a popular forum, images of femininity and masculinity with which a large number of readers could identify. Their task was to translate social behaviors and attitudes into a set of resonant cultural images, for, as one analyst writes, "our culture consists of the meanings we make of our social experience and of our social relations, and therefore the sense we have of our 'selves.' "1 Although the Journal represented only one forum for making and presenting cultural meaning, it was a critical one. While gendered cultural meanings were produced for and by individuals in their families of origin, peer relationships, and marital relationships, and in their homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and communities, the gendered meanings conveyed in the Journal were important in a different way. They were published, and published in a national periodical.
Comparing them reveals that Bok's views were more conservative than Knapp's. But given the complexity of the gender issues at hand, even Bok's Journal featured a relatively broad range of views. Bok later described the magazine he had hoped to mold at the outset of his editorial tenure:
[It was to be] a magazine that would be an authoritative clearing-house for all the problems confronting women in the home, that brought itself closely into contact with those problems and tried to solve them in an entertaining and efficient way; and yet a magazine of uplift and inspiration: a magazine, in other words, that would give light and leading in the woman's world. 2
But Bok's Ladies' Home Journal was much more a reflector of its culture than it was a magazine of "light and leading." The magazine is more accurately characterized as a commercial package that included some images and views and excluded others.
There are several reasons for this characterization. First, Bok was the consummate businessman. Always a pragmatist as well as an idealist, Bok knew that if the magazine was to sell it had to combine the "give them what they ought to hear" and "give them what they want to hear" orientations. Second, in contrast to Knapp's magazine, where the messages were relatively cohesive, messages in Bok's magazine were more mixed, since he was a man speaking