Newsstand: 1925: Woman’s Home Companion

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

 

Overview

           Woman's Home Companion is an “all American” women's magazine focusing on the middle-class domestic sphere in which many women rely on to know what to purchase through advertisements, seeking help in advice columns, outlining social reform, or to simply passing the time by reading literary articles.  The four million magazines that Woman's Home Companion sold by the year 1957, making it “to the top of the highly competitive field of women's magazines,” contributed to the making of the American magazine (Peterson 141).

The Birth

 

             Woman’s Home Companion began many years before the first publication in 1873. The original printer of the magazine, John Crowell first moved to Springfield, Ohio to found the publishing firm that would one day publish Woman's Home Companion. John Crowell met James Leffel, P. P. Mast and Thomas Kirkpatrick, and they became partners in the publishing company. However, once the Mast, Crowell and Kirkpatrick publishing firm was established, Crowell's only intention was to use his new company as a way to produce Farm and Fireside as a way to sell farm machinery to the masses. It was not long before Crowell realized the possible potential in the women's magazine.  During the eighty- four years of circulation, 1873 to 1957, Woman's Home Companion changed its name several times. In 1883, the firm acquired The Home Companion and changed the name to Ladies' Home Companion. One year later, Mast, Crowell and Kirkpatrick renamed the magazine yet again to Woman's Home Companion, where it changed from a semi-monthly to a monthly magazine.

           Content

 

           Woman's Home Companion was the epitome of what the popular image of middle-class women in America.  Woman's Home Companion not only “offered readers guidance that could materialize in the form of a new casserole for dinner, a color scheme for the living room, and the treatment of a childhood disease, or the purchase of a certain brand of soap or washing machine”, but also “sought to address nearly every aspect of women's lives, from how they dressed to how they could save their marriage” (Walker, Shaping 53).  When it came to Woman's Home Companion, it was as if there was nothing excluded from the content that fit the American housewife lifestyle.

           Although each issue of Woman's Home Companion was designed to include child bearing and home decoration tips, the magazine was generally bought for its articles and fiction. While advertisements take up the majority of the pages, the heart of this magazine lies within the literature. While the demographic for this magazine was obviously an American housewife, the adventures told in Woman's Home Companion almost never consisted of such a way of living. American women whose sole occupation was being a house maker could live vicariously through these fictional (and sometimes non fictional) characters and experience an entirely different life.

            Each issue of Woman's Home Companion contained literary articles with varying topic, as well as many different types of authors. Woman's Home Companion published fiction by Francoise Sagan, Shirley Jackson, Laura Z. Hobson, Willa Cather, Zona Gale, Kathleen Norris, Edna Ferber, Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Edna Ferber. Each writer employed with Woman's Home Companion gave the magazine a different personality. Zona Gale was one of the first women who wrote for Woman's Home Companion. One of Gale's most famous stories was that of Miss Lulu Bett, in which depicts a single woman living with her sister and her husband, essentially working as a servant in the household. It was in this novel turned play that won Gale a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, making her the first woman to do so. While Gale was more conservative and reserved in her writings, Dorothy Canfield Fisher was the opposite. Following the social reformist trend, Fisher was a social activist who published works concerning the need for better education for Americans, some of which appeared in Woman's Home Companion. Her perseverance for social reform earned her the honor to be named one of the most influential women in the United States by Eleanor Roosevelt. This caused many readers of Woman's Home Companion to become more involved with social reform movements during this time (early 1920s). Following Fisher's outspoken way of writing, Shirley Jackson became popular with her novel – sometimes shocking – subject matter.  Jackson's best known work of literature is “The Lottery,” but in 1938, her first published story, Janice appeared in Woman's Home Companion. In this work of literature, a college student recounts her suicide attempt, exposing the readers to psychological horror. With choosing to include a story of such shocking degree, it is obvious that either the audience changes (from the audience the magazine was born into), or that the society has matured. In fact, some of the magazine's stories were collected in anthologies, such as Seven Short Novels from the Woman's Home Companion.  By publishing more female authors, editors such as Gertrude Battles Lane, believed more women would feel inclined to read such articles.

           Fashion was always a feature of Woman's Home Companion. Although there were articles based around what's new in the fashion world, nearly every page of the magazine portrays that time's fashion. The literary articles often depict the main characters as illustrations on the front page of the article, all wearing the newest trends such as a literary article by Sophie Kerr entitled “Ring  Around a Rosy” in which a woman has her hair styled into a bob and wearing a skirt that reaches her knees (two forward trends in the mid-1920s). Advertisements also focus a great deal on fashion, from selling the newest apparel or having the housewife in the advertisement wear the latest trends. For example, a common advertisement of a dish soap has a woman also sporting the bob next to the product.

           While fashion is seen throughout the magazine, the ideals of beauty (and what one can do to achieve beauty) are also dispersed throughout. With articles displaying certain titles such as, “Mrs. Conde Nast on the Importance of Being Beautiful” and “Keep Young by Face Molding”, it becomes very apparent to the reader that keeping one's appearance as flawless as possible is a must. There are articles and advertisements present that guarantee a more youthful glow by following a sequence of steps or purchasing a product. The articles also detail different reasons why looking one's best is so important, and although beauty is not skin deep, being well “put together” is necessary. The theme to many of the articles based on beauty is that everyone can be beautiful, the problem is not everyone knows how to achieve it.

           No issue of Woman's Home Companion would be complete without a number of domestic articles intertwined within its pages. Such articles range from the best formula to feed your child (such as Borden's Eagle Brand condensed milk) to the ideals of raising a “good” child. A helpful tip in one article by a doctor named Clifford G. Gruelee describes children as “good-natured”. In the same article he gives critiques to parenting to ensure that one's child develops qualities that will have him or her deemed as unselfish. It is within these articles of child-rearing that women

           An aspect in Woman's Home Companion that portrays the essence each time period is the advertisements. It is not the act of getting a product sold that made an advertisement so important, but the product itself that continues to show the world what women during any given time period were buying and using in their households. Editors of Woman's Home Companion “praised advertising for providing a service to women by making possible the mass-circulation magazine...” (Walker, Shaping 63). Therefore, not only did the magazine supply women with products, but advertisements also supplied the magazine with enough funding to keep it in circulation. Many advertisements included household appliances in which Woman's Home Companion “toted their usefulness” (Walker, Shaping 47). Advertisements ranged from the newest household appliances to the best skin care available, as well as everything in between. The content in Woman's Home Companion was nearly sixty percent advertisements in some form, all of which reach out to women by means of beauty supplies, household appliances, or child-rearing products.

           Many advertisement  agencies ensured that advertisements focused just as much on the actual advertisement (the attractiveness of the colors, layout, and witty slogans on the physical ad) as it did on the product, being that the “pictorial images were subtle persuaders which capture people's imagination and enticed them... to buy the products advertised” (Bayalis 27). And entice women they did. Women relied on advertisements from this magazine as a guideline as to what to purchase next, being a sewing machine, a typewriter, or even their child's cold medicine. By seeing a particular product in this magazine – a magazine that was trusted by middle-class women – women felt secure in their daily purchases. Thus, many companies wanted their products in Woman's Home Companion, and from 1912 to 1930, advertising revenues jumped from $1,019,000 to $8,500,000. In fact, Woman's Home Companion was the fifth in leading advertising revenue in 1920 [1] (Peterson 84). Therefore, not only did the advertisements in Woman's Home Companion inspire women to buy certain products, but it also kept the magazine in its entirety thriving from decade to decade.

            A lesser known aspect of Woman's Home Companion is the recognition of social reform. During the Progressive Era, when the magazine was at its height, the main topic in social reform was the middle-class reform movement. In this movement the government was being pushed by American citizens to take a greater role in addressing issues of welfare. While the magazine included aspects of this reform (mainly due to the fact that Woman's Home Companion thrived in the homes of the middle class), Woman's Home Companion also consisted of articles discussing other social problems that plagued America. “Before long the magazine was running articles on juvenile delinquency and racial and religious prejudice, and it was urging its readers to support the United States” (Peterson 141). For example, Woman's Home Companion featured articles raising the question “is anything being done to control this juvenile delinquency problem?” (Walker, Women's 49). A publisher, by the name of Edward Anthony, gave Woman's Home Companion a huge push towards the future of editorials by including such a mass amount of articles pertaining social reform. He believed that he had “developed a new editorial approach to such subjects [of the social reform nature]” and that “the article, the subject to be treated, must be something that offers an opportunity for the woman to do something about it” (Peterson 141-142). With this new approach, Woman's Home Companion's circulation climbed from 3,728,000 to 4,343,000 in a matter of seven years.

 

The Peak of Woman's Home Companion

 

           One of the most notable editors in Woman's Home Companion was Gertrude Battles Lane. She began her career with the magazine in 1903 as a household editor. By 1911, she was promoted to editor-in-chief, where she held this job title for twenty-nine years. When Lane first began editing the magazine, it was at a circulation of 737,764. By 1932, the circulation had over quadrupled to 3,607,974. Known as the “best man in the business” by Crowell's board chairman, Joseph Palmer Knapp, Lane was recognized as an important developer in women's magazines. In 1929, she made vice president where she helped the company through the Great Depression.

           What made Lane so special to the company was her taste in women's literature, which has contributed to the increased amount of circulation as well as new techniques in merchandising and market research. “Lane was committed to determining and meeting the needs of her readers” (Walker, Shaping 213). Not only did Lane institute “regular features on child health and consumer advice” but she also focused on “various issues affecting women's lives” (Walker, Shaping 213). Lane's techniques in merchandising fortified Woman's Home Companion as one of the nation's top selling magazines. With all that she had done for the magazine, she had no idea that just ten years after her departure, the magazine itself would face its own death.

The Death

 

           “The collapse of... Woman's Home Companion shook the magazine world” (Wood 417). With financial trouble and nearly 400,000 subscribers of the magazine, the death of Woman's Home Companion was expected. On the fourteenth of December in the year 1956, the directors of Crowell-Collier Publishing Company reached a decision: the magazine would no longer be in publication (Peterson 129). Woman's Home Companion “survived two world wars, the Depression, and dramatic demographic changes since the late nineteenth century,” but it could not survive the 1950s (Walker, Shaping 213). With a circulation of 4 million by 1957, Woman's Home Companion will forever be known as one of the most popular women's magazines.

—Contextualization by Ashley Rawlinson

 

Notes

 

[1]       Peterson's quote: “The top five leaders in advertising revenue in 1920 – Saturday Evening Post,

           Literary Digest, Ladies' Home Journal, Pictorial Review, and Woman's Home Companion

           grossed $71,922,000, or 56 per cent of the total, and the top ten accounted for 70 per cent.”

 

Works Cited

 

Endres, Kathleen L., and Theres L. Lueck. Women's Periodicals in the United States Social and   Political

           Issues. 1st ed. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996. Print.

Theodore, Peterson. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. 2nd ed. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,            1964. Print.

Walker, Nancy A. Shaping Our Mothers' World. 1st ed. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.            Print.

---.Women's Magazines 1940-1960. 1st ed. Boston: Bedford, 1998. Print.

Wood, James. Magazines in the United States. 3rd ed. Springfield: The Ronald Press Company, 1971.            Print.

 

 

 

 

 

click cover for magazine

June 1925

Genre

Woman’s Magazine

Publisher:

Crowell-Collier Publishing Company

Place of Publication:

Springfield, OH

Years of Run:

1873 - 1957

Frequency of Publication:

 

First semi-monthly, then monthly

Circulation in 1925:

Approximately  2,500,000