Friday, May 2, 2014

Adieu to the Ladies’ Home Journal

When I was a teenager my mother subscribed to the Ladies’ Home Journal. It was published out of Philadelphia, with the sort of sedate worldview embraced by that dignified city. Eleanor Roosevelt wrote for the Journal. The fashions were attractive and modest. There was short fiction of a high moral character. I can remember coming home in the afternoon to find that the Journal had arrived, seizing it happily, and retiring with it to a corner of the living room, there to search its pages for images of the grownup life I would someday enjoy.

“Seduction of the Innocent,” Dr. Frederic Wertham’s bizarre rant against comic books, a rant that nearly killed an entire industry, somehow escaped my attention. I was busy reading “Can This Marriage Be Saved.”

Magazines used to be a big part of women’s lives in this country. A hundred years ago my grandmother Gallison loved them, in her little town of Vanceboro, Maine, which was, let’s face it, a backwater even in her day. Magazines were for her a connection to the great world, as they were for many women in rural places. My suburban housewife mother loved them. I loved them too, for I was obsessed with fashion and hairstyles and needed guidance about how to live. But things change, people change.

I now see that my love of magazines was a bad thing, far worse than my childhood love of comic books, no matter what Dr. Wertham had to say about it. Not that the Ladies’ Home Journal deserves to fail, necessarily, any more than The Vault of Fear or the Crypt of Terror did. Excellent horror comics, by the way, destroyed by Wertham’s foolishness. If you missed them you probably sleep better, but you missed some authentic works of art.

Anything that gets between you and real life is a bad thing, and this is something the magazines did brilliantly. The magazines when I was young strove to bend us into certain shapes. Not just physically, although that was certainly part of it. Mentally. Socially. World War II was over, the Korean conflict didn't seem to require Rosie to be a riveter, so the magazines helped her go back to the kitchen and cook.

The seventy-thirty marriage was the standard promulgated by the counselors of “Can This Marriage Be Saved” in the early days, in the nineteen-fifties, before the women were able to liberate themselves. I bought that, just as I bought the idea that the clothes they showed in Vogue Magazine were what I was supposed to wear. I had no idea. Eventually I noticed that the people who wrote for the magazines knew even less about life than I did, so I stopped reading them.

Now the Ladies’ Home Journal has fired their entire editorial staff and proposes to become a quarterly, although how they’re going to publish anything at all without an editorial staff is a mystery to me. Perhaps they will steal content from the internet, or persuade people to write articles for them for nothing. That seems to be the wave of the future. I suspect they were doomed when they left Philadelphia for the fleshpots of New York City, where Redbook prints articles teaching our daughters how to give good head. I can’t imagine what Dr. Wertham would say about that. It would kill Eleanor Roosevelt, if she weren’t already dead.

There are no ladies anymore. There are scarcely any homes. And now there will be no Journal.

© 2014 Kate Gallison


  1. If you took a look at the shelf above the machines where we dry our nails and toes in my Nepalese Nail Salon , the stacks of glossies would renew your faith in the fecundity of gossip magazines! The pile grows higher by the week! Occasionally , I flip through a page or two- they all look the same! Tell the same stuff! Fake gossip! Fake advice! if the Journal staff want jobs all they need do is sneak in a Manhattan nail salon, check out the pages and run for a job! T. Jacqueline Straw

  2. I was sure that nothing would improve me so I paid no attention to fashion and beauty tips. I did love "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" I remember more vividly the magazines aimed at teenage girls. I remember getting the idea that the success of a date, a party, a relationship, a marriage depended entirely on the woman. No thanks!