Everything Old Is New Again: Teaching Ideas and Excercises

Everything Old Is New Again
By Amy Aronson

Exercise 1: Unveil the Early Women’s Magazines

When the first women’s magazines emerged in the 1790s, they were both novel and controversial.  Debate emanated from a wide range of social and political interests, and not least from women themselves, about their contents, purpose and implications for women and American society.

Bring some information into the discussion.  Choose any American women’s magazine published before 1850, and write a press brief to introduce it to contemporaneous leaders, reporters and readers.

Guiding Questions:

  • What are the identifiable themes and issues?
  • What are the different genres of writing included?
  • What sources are drawn upon, both within contributions and across the magazine?
  • Who do the authors seem to be?
  • What kind of readers are expected? Desired?
  • What kinds of readers are not imagined or included?
  • What does the attitude of the printer or editor seem to be toward readers?
  • What does the cultural rationale for the magazine seem to be?
  • What might a reader gain by reading or contributing to the magazine?
  • How might women be affected to participating in the magazine community?
  • How might a new democratic society be affected?

Sources:

The Early American Periodical Series, available on microfilm, contains full runs of most extant women’s magazines from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Accessible Archives Collection has near-complete runs of a number of women’s magazines: http://www.accessible-archives.com/collections/

Teaching Re/Sources:

  • Amy Aronson, Taking Liberties: Early American Women’s Magazines and Their Readers (Praeger Press, 2002).
  • Caroline Garnsey, “Ladies Magazines to 1850: The Beginnings of an Industry,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library 58 (1954): 74-88.
  • Heather Haveman, “Antebellum Literary Culture and the Evolution of American Magazines,” Poetics 32 (2004): 5-28.
  • David Paul Nord, “A Republican Literature: A Study of Magazine Reading and Readers in Late Eighteenth-Century New York,” American Quarterly 40, no. 4 (winter 1987): 42-64.
  • Patricia Okker, Our Sister Editors: Sarah J. Hale and the Tradition of Nineteenth Century Women Editors (University of Georgia, 1985).
  • Kathryn Shevelow, Women and Print Culture: The Construction of Femininity in the Early Periodical (New York: Routledge, 1989).
  • Bertha-Monica Stearns, “Before Godey’s,” American Literature 2 (1930): 248-55.
  • Mary Ellen Zuckerman, A History of Popular Women’s Magazines in the United States, 1792-1995, 1998.

 Exercise 2: Debate the Early American Women’s Magazines

Ever since their rise, women’s magazines have been the subject of considerable concern.  And from classrooms to chatrooms, books to blogs, the debate about the impact of women’s magazines on women and gender is still in play today.  Much debate has always surrounded the ways women’s magazines affect women’s agency, identity and cultural empowerment.

Using 1-3 American women’s magazines published before 1850, construct an argument for or against the claim that ‘women’s magazines encourage female subordination and support patriarchy.’

(This exercise could also be done as a guided group activity.)

Guiding Questions:

  • Identify the dominant discourses in each issue of your chosen magazine.  How wide a range of ideas/issues do you find?  How do these discourses cooperate with each other politically or ideologically, and how do they diverge, conflict or compete?
  • If there are images or illustrations in your magazines, what do you see in them?  In what ways do they suggest women’s weakness, dependence or subservience, and in what ways their capabilities, interests or empowerment?
  • If there are short stories, fiction fragments or serials in your magazine, where do these imaginative contributions go?  What are their stories?  Who are their main characters? Who are the villains, the victims, the heroes and heroines? How do the characters and/or plotlines speak to each side of the debate?
  • Is there a clear “agenda” in the magazine(s)?  If so, what is it?  What issues crop up most often?  Are they proscriptive, questioning or critical?  Are they affirmed or are they debated elsewhere in the magazine or in subsequent issues?
  • What can you learn about the race and class of contributors and expected readers?  How do these assumptions play into each side of the debate?
  • What do you see as the politics of the magazine(s)?

Sources:

See Exercise 1, above.

 

Re/Sources:

See Exercise 1, above.

  • Karen K. List, “Magazine Portrayals of Women’s Role in the Early Republic,” Journalism History 13, no. 2 (summer 1986): 64-70.
  • Noliwe Rooks, Ladies’ Pages: African American Women’s Magazines and the Culture That
  • Made Them, 2004.
  • Kathryn Shevelow, “Fathers and Daughters: Women As Readers of the Tatler,” in Gender and Readings: Essays on Readers, Texts and Context, 1986.

 

 

Exercise 3:  “Ladies vs. Women”: Are Feminist Magazines Women’s Magazines?

When Ms. magazine co-founder Gloria Steinem began brainstorming about a feminist publication for the Second Wave, her original idea was to start a newsletter.  But when she hooked up with Pat Carbine, the new editor at McCall’s who would become one of the founding editors of Ms., Cabine said, “A newsletter is good for circulating resources, but if what you’re really trying to do is create a forum, a place where women can talk to each other, it’s got to be in a magazine format.” (Mary Thom, History of Ms., 8)

Sounds a lot like the original dynamics of the American women’s magazine (not to mention its crowdsourced descendants today).  Compare popular women’s magazines from the 1840s and 1850s with the first feminist magazines, which emerged in those years.  Are the two related?  If so, in what ways?  And in what ways are they rather different animals?

(This exercise could also be done as a guided group activity)

 

Guiding Questions:

  • Take stock of the range of subjects, sources and discourses in each type of magazine.  What differences, if any, do you find?
  • Compare the degree of consensus vs. debate within each type of magazine.  What differences, if any, do you find?
  • What kind of reader is expected in each type of magazine?  What different expectations and agencies, if any, can you detect?
  • What kind of reader community is constructed by each type of magazine?  What differences, if any, can you detect?
  • Who do the authors seem to be in each type of magazine?  What differences, if any, can you detect?
  • What does the attitude of the editor seem to be toward readers? What differences, if any, can you detect?
  • How do the two magazines understand womanhood and femininity?  In what ways, if any, do those understandings differ between the two types of magazines?
  • How do the two magazines understand manhood and masculinity?  In what ways, if any, do those understandings differ between the two types of magazines?
  • How do the two magazines understand marriage and the family?  In what ways, if any, do those understandings differ between the two types of magazines?
  • How do the two magazines understand race and social class?  In what ways, if any, do those understandings differ between the two types of magazines?
  • Do the tone and attitude differ between the two types of magazines? If so, how so?

 

Sources:

The feminist press of the 1850s consisted of a group of six publications, published mainly in the northeast: The Lily, edited by Amelia Bloomer, in Seneca Falls, NY; the Una, edited by Paulina Wright Davis, in Providence, RI; Pioneer and Woman’s Advocate, edited by Anna W. Spencer, just outside Providence; Genius of Liberty, edited by Elizabeth Aldrich, in Cincinnati, OH; Woman’s Advocate, edited by Anne McDowell, in Philadelphia, PA; and the Sybill, edited by Dr. Lydia Sayer Hasbrouk, Middletown, CT.

Selections from all six magazines, along with commentary, are available in Russo and Kramarae,

eds., The Radical Women’s Press of the 1850s.

The Lily is available online via HathiTrust.

 

Re/Sources:

  • Amy Aronson, “America’s First Feminist Magazine: Transforming the Popular to the Political,” in Nineteenth Century Media and Construction of Identities, 2008
  • Kathleen Endres and Therese L. Lueck, Women’s Periodicals in the United States: Social and Political Issues, 1996.
  • Bob Ostertag, People’s Movements, People’s Press: The Journalism of Social Justice Movements, ch 1: “The Nineteenth Century: Abolitionists and Woman Suffragists,” 2006.
  • Ann Russo and Cheris Kramarae, eds., The Radical Women’s Press of the 1850s, 1991.
  • Martha Solomon, ed., A Voice of Their Own: The Woman Suffrage Press 1840-1910, 1991.
  • Linda Steiner, “Finding Community in Nineteenth-Century Suffrage Periodicals,” American Journalism 1, no. 1 (summer 1983): 1-16.
  • Rosalyn Turborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850-1920, 1998.

 

Exercise 4: Meet the Readers

Although the act of interpretation always occurs within some constraints, scholars know that audiences actively employ a range of different strategies in decoding texts of all kinds, that meanings can be quite variable, and that readers pursue a range of uses and gratifications in their interaction with texts.

Read one women’s magazine published before 1850; one published between 1890-1930; and the digital, tablet or online edition of one published today.  Keep a brief log of your reading practices in each of three venues.  Compare them with your classmates.  Compare them with cultural ideas and your own assumptions about women’s magazine readers.

 

Guiding Questions:

  • How do you read a magazine?  Do read cover-to-cover or in stints? By particular department? Selectively based on the subject, writer, your mood?  Pictures, service boxes and/or pull-quotes first?
  • Do you read the same way throughout the magazine? If not, what and how much do you read vs scan vs skim vs skip? What factors influence your moves and choices? What if anything do you return to later, and why? Does any of that change as you move from one magazine to another, and/or from the print format to a digital one?
  • What purposes and pleasures do you engage in the experience?
    • Diversion, excitement, relaxation or escape?
    • The sense of identity and connection you feel by belonging to a particular reading community?
    • The sense of identity you feel as the magazine becomes a point of reference or reflects on aspects of your life?
    • The information and/or advice you glean?
    • The surveillance and/or awareness you’re permitted into the purported concerns and the dilemmas of other women?
    • The pleasure of asserting your autonomy as a reader and piecing together your own narrative as you go?
    • The pleasure of resisting or rejecting powerful messages produced by powerful culture industries at will?
    • The pleasure of seeing through the media and/or the messages of advertisers?
    • Other things?

Sources:

The most important women’s magazines between 1890-1930 were the so-called “Big Six,” the predecessors of the contemporary “Seven Sisters”: Ladies’ Home Journal; Woman’s Home Companion; Delineator; Pictorial Review; Good Housekeeping; and McCall’s.

Full runs of Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and McCall’s are available on microfilm; runs of many years are also available online.

Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion and Delineator through 1930 are available through the Working Woman’s Archive at Harvard: http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/magazines.html

Pictorial Review is available online via ProQuest.

Delineator is available online via HathiTrust; some years are available via Google Books.

Woman’s Home Companion is available online via Google Books.

 

Re/Sources:

  • S. Elizabeth Bird, “Seeking the Historical Audience: Interdisciplinary Lessons in the Recovery of Media Practices,” in Explorations in Communication and History, 2008.
  • Dawn Currie, Girl Talk: Adolescent Magazines and Their Readers, 1999.
  • Erin Duffy, Remake, Remodel: Women’s Magazines in the Digital Age, 2014.
  • Lisa Duke, “Black in a Blonde World: Race and Girls’ Interpretations of the Feminine Ideal in
  • Teen Magazines.” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 77.2 (2000): 367-92.
  • Elizabeth Frazer, “Teenage Girls Reading Jackie,” Media, Culture and Society 9 (1987).
  • Stuart Hall, “Encoding/Decoding.” In Culture, Media, Language, 1980.
  • Joke Hermes, Reading Women’s Magazines, 1995.
  • Angela McRobbie, Feminism and Youth Culture: From Jackie to Just Seventeen, 1991.
  • Michael Meyer, “Surface Routines: How We Read on the Web,” Columbia Journalism Review, Nov/Dec., 2009: 33-4.
  • Janice Radway, Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy and Popular Literature, revised with new introduction, 1991.

 

Exercise 5:  Explore Continuity and Change: Popular to Mass-Market to New Media Magazines

Over time, and particularly once advertiser voices and interests entered the content mix in the 1890s, reader identities and opportunities for participation shifted and changed.

Compare early popular women’s magazine(s) before 1850 with advertiser-supported example(s) published between 1890-1930, and with contemporary magazine(s) from 1980 to the present.  In what ways have the positions and options available to women readers changed?

(This exercise could also be done as a guided group activity.)

 

Guiding Questions

See Guiding Questions for Exercise 2, above.

  • What is the range of identities for women envisioned in advertisements? Do they supplement or duplicate identities constructed or assumed in the editorial content?
  • How does the advertising address readers?  Is it different from the attitude of the editorial content toward readers?  If so, how so?
  • Examine the discourse of the ads.  Identify the main claims and assumptions embedded in the pitch.  (These might be conveyed visually, verbally, or both together.) In what ways do you see the advertising collaborating with the editorial ideas of the magazine and in what ways diverging from them?  Do the two work together hand in glove, or are there discrepancies, frictions, complications?
  • How do you interpret the various collaborations and complications in the relationship between editorial and advertising messages?  Do you see these dynamics as more entrapping or more potentially empowering to women readers?  Why?

 

Sources:

The most important and accessible commercial women’s magazines of that era are the “Big Six,” the predecessors of the contemporary “Seven Sisters”: Ladies’ Home Journal; Woman’s Home Companion; Delineator; Pictorial Review; Good Housekeeping; and McCall’s.

Full runs of Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping and McCall’s are available on microfilm; runs of many years are also available online.

Ladies’ Home Journal, Woman’s Home Companion and Delineator through 1930 are available through the Working Woman’s Archive at Harvard: http://ocp.hul.harvard.edu/ww/magazines.html

Pictorial Review is available online via ProQuest.

Delineator is available online via HathiTrust; some years are available via Google Books

Woman’s Home Companion is available online via Google Books

 

Re/Sources:

  • Amy Aronson, “Still Reading Women’s Magazines: Reconsidering the Tradition a Half-Century After The Feminine Mystique,” American Journalism, Vol. 27, no. 2 (2010): 31-61.
  • Sidney Bland, “Shaping the Life of the New Woman: The Crusading Years of the Delineator,” American Periodicals, Vol. 19, no 2 (2009): 165-88.
  • Kathleen Endres, “Women and the ‘Larger Household’: The ‘Big Six’ and Muckraking,” American Journalism 14, nos. 3-4 (1997/98): 262-82.
  • Carolyn Kitch, The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Origins of Visual Stereotypes in American Mass Media, 2001
  • Noliwe Rooks, Ladies’ Pages: African American Women’s Magazines and the Culture That Made Them, 2004.
  • Jennifer Scanlon, The Ladies’ Home Journal, Gender and the Promises of Consumer Culture, 1995.
  • Mary Ellen Zuckerman, “‘Old Homes in a City of Perpetual Change’: Women’s Magazines, 1890-1916.” Business History Review, Vol. 63, No. 4 (1989): 715-756.