Newsstand: 1925: Good Housekeeping

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

Overview:

Good Housekeeping began as a homemaker’s magazine, first published in 1885 by Clark W. Bryan. The magazine’s mission, as he stated it, was “to produce and perpetuate perfection as may be obtained in the household.” [1] In its early years the magazine focused on children, household products, and fashion. It also included many fiction stories for adults and children. Although fiction has now nearly faded out in the Good Housekeeping of today, the magazine has retained its original focus on home maintenance. Today the magazine is also applicable to women who work outside the home, but still offers a variety of advice on home décor, healthy eating, fashion, children, and money.

 

History

 

           Known as one of the “Big Six” of women’s magazines in the 1900s, as listed by Marjorie Hinds, Good Housekeeping was first published in Holyoke, Massachusetts by an established journalist and businessman, Clark W. Bryan. [2] When he created the magazine Bryan already owned a number of publications including Paper World (Zuckerman 11). Good Housekeeping’s first issue was published on May 2, 1885 and cost 10 cents.[3] The magazine was produced semimonthly and ran about thirty-two pages (Zuckerman 11). At its conception a major competitor was a less expensive magazine, Ladies Home Journal; but Good Housekeeping maintained its readership by keeping a stronger focus on the home than its competitors. In 1891 the magazine began printing monthly issues and doubled its circulation to 55,000 in 1895 (Zuckerman 12). When Clark Bryan died in 1898 many of his publications did as well, but not Good Housekeeping. After Bryan’s death, James Eaton Tower became editor from 1899 to 1913. As a supporter of women in the workplace, he wrote “Educated Women in Magazine Work” which encouraged young college graduates to enter the field of magazine publication rather than being limited to becoming teachers only.[4] John Pettigrew purchased the magazine and two years later, Phelps Publishing Company acquired it with 250,000 subscribers and moved its publication to Springfield, Massachusetts (Zuckerman 12).
           In 1900 Phelps established the Good Housekeeping Experiment Station in order “to improve the lives of consumers and their families through education and product evaluation” (GoodHousekeeping.com). The station tested and evaluated household consumer goods such as food, cleaning supplies, and kitchen appliances. The mission of the station was “to study the problems facing the homemaker and to develop up-to-date, firsthand information on solving them” (GoodHousekeeping.com). Two years later the magazine included a money-back guarantee to the readers if any advertised product was found unreliable. The laboratory soon evolved into the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, the name it still carries today. The Institute continued to test products in an effort to make a woman’s work in the home safe, healthy, and convenient. It then began awarding selected products, whose advertisements had been reviewed and accepted, for publication in Good Housekeeping its “Seal of Approval,” letting readers know by a small star that the magazine endorsed a product. The institute became immensely important for Americans during a time they were without the governing factor of the FDA, a Consumer Product Safety Commission, or any regulatory law (GoodHousekeeping.com). The institute’s tests discovered many health concerns related to smoking, preservatives, and overeating and helped draw attention to these safety concerns. The Research Institute’s success was an important source of competitive strength for Good Housekeeping magazine against the rest of the “Big Six.” 

The first two decades of the twentieth century were full of change for the magazine. In 1905 the magazine’s price increased to 15 cents a copy. Then in 1911, with a circulation of 300,000, Hearst Publishing Company bought the magazine and moved again, this time to New York where it is still published today by the same company. During this time Good Housekeeping’s circulation was substantially behind the rest of the “Big Six.” Because of its lower circulation, smaller pages, and policy of placing all ads in the back, Good Housekeeping sold full page ads for $560 that would cost advertiser $3,500 to put the same ad in a more popular magazine such as the Delineator (Zuckerman 164). Under Hearst the magazine grew in popularity and cost. In 1918 Jessie Willcox Smith, a popular children’s illustrator, began designing all of Good Housekeeping’s covers.  Whereas the magazine’s cover had previously featured women participating in various activities such as skiing, playing guitar, serving food, or making a bed, Smith’s covers all depicted children at play, often with their mothers. In 1919 the cover price went to 20 cents, then in a few months went up again to 25 cents, and in 1922 Good Housekeeping also released a British edition.[5] Survival of this women’s magazine among so many others is largely attributed to the financial strength and “editorial clout of the Hearst organization” (Zuckerman 12).  During this time of growth, William Frederick Bigelow became editor (1913-1942). Bigelow is best known for his publication of The Good Housekeeping Marriage Book, an advice manual for young people entering the journey of marriage.

In 1939 Good Housekeeping came under attack from the Federal Trade Commission concerning its Seal of Approval. The FTC charged the magazine with “misleading and deceptive acts and practices in the issuance of guarantees, seals of approval, and the publication in its advertising pages of grossly exaggerated and false claims” (qtd. in Zuckerman 109). After battling the case for nearly two years, Good Housekeeping reached an agreement with the FTC and altered the Seal’s guarantee, removing the words “tested and approved” (Zuckerman 109). Only those products awarded the Seal would now have the magazine’s money-back guarantee as opposed to the original promise which applied to any advertisement in the magazine.

In the 1960s with Wade Hampton Nichols, Jr. as its editor, Good Housekeeping recognized a problem with a homemaker focused magazine. The magazine reported “the actual unhappiness of the American housewife.” [6] The problem was largely attributed to the fact that more and more women had an education outside the home and therefore felt stifled in their restricted role as wife and mother. To accommodate the changing times, many women’s magazines, including Good Housekeeping published stories in which the heroines were career women, “happily, proudly, adventurously attractively career women – who loved and were loved by men” (Friedan 85). Good Housekeeping evolving message kept its audience by inspiring women to move outside the domestic sphere during this shift of the ideal American woman.

Today Good Housekeeping is edited by Rosemary Ellis, the Research Institute is still in full swing, and the magazine boasts a circulation of 4.6 million – more than Real Simple and Martha Stewart Living combined.[7] Although women’s role in society has changed tremendously, the magazine still endeavors to help women with day-to-day problems. It offers diet plans, hair styling tips, travel ideas, and home decorating illustrations. The average reader today is a woman in her late 40s (Nicholls 1).

 

Audience

 

Although it may seem fairly obviously marketed to women, assigning an audience to Good Housekeeping is far from simple. Readers for a magazine were sometimes also its writers. For instance, Good Housekeeping editor Clark Bryan “encouraged readers to write in questions, suggestions, poetry, stories, and household advice,” which gave the audience a sense of ownership of the magazine they were reading. This enticement boosted subscription sales by allowing readers to “participate in the creation of this magazine” (Zuckerman 11). Good Housekeeping also paid its readers for their contributions, providing a way for stay-at-home moms to earn extra money.

Another problem defining an audience is that women’s roles in society during the 1920s varied immensely. Not only were women’s roles in mass society constantly changing, but conflicting descriptions of being a woman were given by different magazines, as well as other medias. According to Nancy Walker, “Magazines sometimes celebrated woman’s primary role as home maker and at other times subverted that ideology.”[8] Therefore different “women’s magazines” during one time period may have been targeting different groups of women such as mothers, singles, or career women. As the title indicates, Good Housekeeping was primarily focused on women who were homemakers. According to the founder’s mission statement it aimed to help such women “perpetuate perfection” in their domestic sphere.

 

—Contextualization by Rebekah Neely

 

Notes

 

[1] www.GoodHousekeeping.com

[2] The other magazines included in the “Big Six” were Pictorical Review, Woman’s Home Companion, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Delineator, and McCall’s, as listed in Marjorie and Donald L. Hinds’ Magazine Magic (Laceyville Pa.: Messenger Book, 1972. Print). On Bryan, see Mary Ellen Zuckerman, A History of Popular Women’s Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995. Greenwood Press. Westport, Connecticut. 1998.

[3] www.MagazineArt.org

[4] Perkins, Agnes Frances. Vocations for the Trained Woman: Opportunities other than Teaching. Women's Educational and Industrial Union. Boston 1910

[5] "History of Publishing." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 29 Oct. 2010 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/482597/publishing>.

[6] Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Norton: New York. 2001. Print. 22.

[7] Nicholls, Walter. “Surviving the Test of Time” The Washington Post. Jan 2, 2008. Web.

[8] Walker, Nancy A. Shaping Our Mothers' World: American Women's Magazines. Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2000. Print.

 

Works Cited

 

"History of Publishing." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 29 Oct. 2010.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Norton: New York. 2001. Print. 22.

GoodHousekeeping.com

MagazineArt.org

Nicholls, Walter. “Surviving the Test of Time” The Washington Post. Jan 2, 2008. Web.

Perkins, Agnes Frances. Vocations for the Trained Woman: Opportunities other than Teaching. Women's Educational and Industrial Union. Boston 1910

Zuckerman, Mary Ellen. A History of Popular Women’s Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995. Greenwood Press. Westport, Connecticut. 1998. Print.

click cover for magazine

August 1925

Genre

Woman’s Magazine

Publisher:

Clark W. Bryan 1885-1900

Phelps Publishing Company 1900-1911

Hearst Corporation 1911- present day

Place of Publication:

Holyoke, MA 1885 – 1900

Springfield, MA 1900 – 1911

New York, New York 1911- present day

Years of Run:

1885- Present

Frequency of Publication:

Monthly

Circulation in 1925:

Approximately 1 million