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Sad Ending to Ladies' Home Journal's Era

Ladies' Home Journal Cover with Sally Field

Can this magazine be saved? Unfortunately, no. Ladies' Home Journal, America's oldest women's magazine, will cease monthly publishing with its July issue. A spokesman for its owner, Meredith Corp., said the 131-year-old title will totter on as a newsstand-only quarterly.

What a sad ending for the publication that was once considered America's premier women's magazine. Launched in 1883 by Cyrus Curtis, who also started The Saturday Evening Post, LHJ developed out of the popular women's page in Curtis' first publication, a periodical for farmers. His wife was the first editor, and the second, a Dutch immigrant named Edward Bok, was the editorial genius who transformed the Journal into a mass magazine for millions.

Early in the 20th century Bok had great insight about what would interest "modern" readers. In every issue he featured the celebrities of the day, including Civil War generals, actresses, presidents and members of the British royal family. He also crusaded against popular patent medicines, distillations of alcohol and opium, which addicted many middle-class women at the time. And he wrote shockingly straightforward editorials warning women about sexual diseases such as syphilis.

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Through the decades, the magazine had its ups and downs, but many consider the golden age for LHJ and the other large-circulation women's service magazines, known as the "seven sisters," to have been the 1940s and '50s. Then at the helm was a husband-and-wife editing team, Bruce and Beatrice Gould, who published serious news about World War II for wives and mothers on the home front and launched the Journal's best-known and longest-running feature, "Can This Marriage Be Saved?," as a way to teach couples about the value of marriage counseling. The Journal was then so prestigious that Marilyn Monroe complained to Edward R. Murrow that while she had appeared on many magazine covers, she was unhappy because she had never been on the cover of the Ladies' Home Journal.

In the 1970s a group of feminists believed that LHJ was not acknowledging the importance of the incipient women's movement and the changes happening in women's lives. They staged a sit-in at the office of Editor in Chief John Mack Carter. Carter agreed to publish their manifesto. Afterward he said he did it because he was afraid the women were not going to let him go to the bathroom.

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I came to be editor of LHJ in the beginning of the 1980s when the magazine was, once again, in quite serious trouble. It was up for sale only a short time after I arrived, and no major publishing company wanted to buy it. An entrepreneur finally took it over with hardly any money changing hands. But he was supportive of the editorial changes I made. With the help of a talented editorial staff, a strong advertising team and the appearance of Princess Diana, who frequently graced the cover, the magazine suddenly grew popular and very profitable again. The entrepreneur sold the magazine after only a few years to the Meredith Corp. for $90 million.

In its last years LHJ was hurt by competition from websites, a new batch of women's magazines and the fact that the Journal's readers were primarily in their 50s. Advertisers don't want baby boomers, even though boomers remain the largest and richest demographic. Subsequently, editors run from their most loyal and engaged readers, and publishing companies are uninterested in them and not supportive of content aimed at them.

So, yes, it is very sad when a great magazine is gone, particularly when it is a magazine that in its best days was distinctive and distinguished, that reported on, reflected and celebrated the lives of America's extraordinary women. But please remember that Ladies' Home Journal's slogan was the most beloved of any magazine: "Never Underestimate the Power of a Woman." And even though many have called the magazine old-fashioned of late, I can practically guarantee you'll be hearing quite a lot of LHJ's slogan as the 2016 presidential election cycle draws near.

 Photo: Ladies' Home Journal


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