Newsstand: 1925: Better Homes and Gardens

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

Overview

           Better Homes and Gardens was first published in 1923 by the Meredith

Corporation, the corporation which still publishes it today. From its inception, the magazine has been marketed to mainly females, and more recently toward female homeowners. Though it has passed through different editors, the magazine has never changed directions or been marketed as a literary magazine. Its emphasis on do-it-yourself activities and cost-savvy budget ideas has contributed to its formula for success.

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History

 

             Better Homes and Gardens (BH&G) was first published under the Meredith Corporation in 1923 under the name of Fruit, Garden and Homes. The Meredith Corporation began in 1902 under Edwin Thomas Meredith. The magazine was initially directed towards middle-class consumers looking to improve their gardens and homes. Better Homes and Gardens was marketed to help the Meredith Corporation truly take off; it was to spark a mass-reader interest in the company’s publications. The first issue of BH&G, published in 1923, was created by a three person staff, selling for 10 cents a copy (or 35 cents for a one year subscription) (Meredith.com). Though the magazine was meant to be a flagship for the Meredith Corporation, it was not considered a key contributor to the prominent women’s magazines of the time. Its competitors were Good Housekeeping and Ladies’ Home Journal, magazines that had been on the market since the late 1800s and already had a well established readership. Though all three of these magazines had similar target audiences, BH&G was unable to rise to the same level of widespread publication that the others did. One of the key differences from its competitors was that BH&G was published without any focus on fiction. The only piece of fiction in this particular issue is the short story about the pros and cons of renting versus buying. Throughout its entire run (the magazine is still published today), it has not at any point been marketed as a literary magazine or significantly put stress on the authors that publish the articles; its covers did not even begin to boast any headlines until the 1950s. Unlike Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, Better Homes and Gardens has never featured celebrities on its covers.     

           As reflected in its covers, Better Homes and Gardens has remained directed at homeowners with a focus on do-it-yourself activities. While it started out with an estimated circulation of 150,000, it now has an estimated readership of over 39,000,000 (Meredith.com). Current statistics also reveal that its readers are 79% female and 21% male (Meredith.com). The median age is 49 with average of 79% of its readers being home owners (Meredith.com). Even though there have been changes over the years, the readership of BH&G has clearly always remained one consisting mainly of homeowners. With this audience, it can be argued that the changes the magazine has undergone have always been changes that cater to these homeowners, and the changes that take place will continue to improve that magazine’s marketing to homeowners. These changes in marketing are geared toward families either staying in their home or looking to sell their home. As the homeowners are the persons affecting these changes, and they are the ones buying the homes, it would make sense to assume that the home is a commodity. This assumption would be in the sense that as houses are purchased, improved, decorated, etc., they are fueling the economic market that affects the sale of magazines, particularly Better Homes and Gardens.

           The magazine’s first editor of Better Homes and Gardens was Chesla C. Sherlock, a 27-year-old man from Iowa who was hired to help the Meredith Corporation really lift off. Sherlock was in fact extremely beneficial to the advancement of the company and proved to be a successful editor through his skills with BH&G. He was a man who intended to create the market for the magazine within the population of homeowners. He strived to promote the idea of permanency and homeownership. He advocated stability along with investing money in something you could keep and improve. Sherlock was assisted by Genevieve Callahan who became associate editor in 1926. She was only in charge of the food articles and was still listed as housekeeping editor in Successful Farming, the original magazine. Sherlock also hired an assistant, by the name of Lou Richardson who became the managing editor of BH&G. After a falling out between Meredith and Sherlock, Sherlock was terminated from his position as editor. In the absence of Sherlock, Callahan and Richardson were placed in charge of all of the editing duties; this was the first (and only) time that Better Homes and Gardens has had female editors. Though the editors changed over the years, the original focus created by Sherlock had a lasting effect that carries on through the magazine’s focus today. The editors that came to work with Better Homes and Gardens did not have any substantial effects over the magazine and the magazine has never really shifted directions. The articles that the magazine published were mostly from outside contributors, specialists in the fields in which they wrote about, many of whom were university professors. The people that wrote articles in the magazine have continually specialized, or been known for their expertise, in what they write about.

           This issue of Better Homes and Gardens actually serves as an excellent representation of the magazine today. It is a magazine marketed directly at homeowners with little care for things outside of the home, like fiction or current events. Though what goes on in the home may be affected by those outside events, it is not something extremely relevant to home improvement. The obvious argument to that is that the economy has affected the home market and its buyers and sellers. The home market in the past ten years has been an excellent recreation of the market in the 20s, with a home buyer boom and now falling prices and less money to purchase new homes. Then, as in now, it is more economically realistic to improve the home you have rather than to buy a new one. The economic market of the mid 1920s mirrored that of the early 2000s in that the housing market was booming, prices were steadily increasing, and houses were constantly selling on the market. As people were buying more houses than ever before in the United States, it became important them to not only purchase their home but to invest in it as well. The focus of BH&G was to reinforce that sense of investment and to create a lasting, permanent feeling that reached its readers and urged them to put down their roots.

           Better Homes and Gardens was first published in the 1920s during a time when the fight for women’s rights was reaching a peak. Though these issues are not directly addressed in the magazine, it is visible through this issue that women can be seen as becoming more useful in the home rather than a figure responsible for cooking and cleaning. Considering the masculine appeal of other magazines at the time, BH&G is not one that targets a male audience; it has few ads geared to men and its other ads are aimed at “Mothers,” women wanting flowers, and women concerned with making their homes pretty. If it can be assumed that this magazine is geared towards women, then it is to women as consumers rather than leisure readers. This Victorian ideal of woman as domestic consumer is slightly modernized, at least the readers of BH&G (the would-be Victorian women) are assumed to take an active interest in the upkeep and improvement of their home. However, magazines like BH&G, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Good Housekeeping promote a conservative way of life. During the 20s, none of these women’s magazines focused on the home promoted any radical modernization. These magazines stand in opposition to others like McCall’s, Woman’s Home Companion, The Delineator, Pictorial Review, The Redbook, and Cosmopolitan, among others. Some of these magazines took a more conservative approach like BH&G, while some of them focused more on fiction, promoting the ideas and ideals of flappers (youth and pulp magazines especially fell in to this category).

           Though Better Homes and Gardens’ history is not an eventful one, it does provide a useful lens through which to view the popular culture throughout its publication. The articles in the magazine may appear dull and boring to some, but by looking at the advertisements to better see the readership the magazine’s pages can provide an alternative view to the history of the time without using text books and canonical literature.

—Contextualization by Lauren Welch

 

Works Cited

 

Meredith.com. Meredith Corporation Timeline. Web. 7 October 2009.

Reuss, Carol. “Chesla C. Sherlock as First Editor of Better Homes and Gardens.” Books on Iowa. University of Iowa: November 1972. Web. 7 October 2009.

June 1925

Genre:

Woman’s Magazine

Publisher:

Meredith Corporation

Place of Publication:

Des Moines, IA

Years of Run:

1923 — present

Frequency of Publication:

Monthly

Circulation in 1925:

Around 150,000 [?]