December 11, 2008

A postcard illustration of The Curtis Publishing Company, home of The Ladies’ Home Journal. (Newseum collection)

Ladies’ Home Journal Celebrates 125 years

In December 1883, the first issue of Ladies’ Home Journal debuted with articles on needlework and columns on flower care and child rearing, recipes and fashion tips. Today, the popular women’s magazine offers advice on family, marriage, work, home and beauty. Little has changed in 125 years.

Combining style with substance, Ladies’ Home Journal maintains a loyal following — it’s read by one in eight women and shows little signs of aging.

In the beginning, it was known as The Ladies’ Home Journal and Practical Housekeeper, and marketed as a trade newspaper. Like other publications devoted to the interests of women, it was designed to help middle-class women in their jobs as housewives, according to Mary Ellen Zuckerman, the author of "A History of Popular Women’s Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995."

Under founding editor Louisa Knapp, the wife of owner Cyrus Curtis, the magazine flourished, reaching a circulation of 1 million in 10 years. By this time, Knapp had handed over the reins to Edward W. Bok, although she continued to have an active role at the magazine.

Bok guided the magazine for 30 years, expanding its content to include essays, poetry, and political and social commentary. Described as a legendary figure in the magazine world, Bok helped turn Ladies’ Home Journal into one of the most prestigious publications of the early 20th century.

In the decades that followed, the magazine maintained its sense of tradition, but also adapted with the times.

At the height of the Great Depression, Ladies’ Home Journal encouraged women to "escape Depression realities." A February 1932 headline insisted "It’s up to the Women." The magazine also showed its patriotism during both world wars, urging women to participate in activities to help the war efforts.

By October 1946, Ladies’ Home Journal introduced its slogan, "never underestimate the power of a woman." Also synonymous with the magazine is the column "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" Launched in 1953, the feature quickly captured reader interest for its honest view of marriage.

Today, Ladies’ Home Journal speaks candidly — and personally — to its readers, addressing topics from breast cancer to ways to overcome supermom syndrome.

Examples of early women’s magazines from the 18th and 19th centuries can be seen in the Newseum’s News Corporation News History Gallery.

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