Teaching Our Journal

More Than “Rations, Passions and Fashions”:  Re-Examining the Women’s Pages Post-World War II to 1970s in the Milwaukee Journal

By Kimberly Voss and Lance Speere, University of Central Florida

The Milwaukee Journal is an example of one Midwestern metropolitan paper that fits this model of an unnoticed but progressive women’s section in the 1950s and 1960s produced by a group of women who were doing more than writing about the Four Fs. For example, Journal women’s page editor Aileen Ryan opened the door of New York fashion houses for all newspaper fashion editors in 1931. The first color photographs in the newspaper were of fashions in the women’s pages. It was Milwaukee Journal food editor Peggy Daum who started the first ethics-based organization for newspaper food editors after these women came under attack by Senator Frank Moss in 1971. The top prize for furnishings during this time period was the Dawe Award, named for the late Milwaukee Journal furnishing editor Dorothy Dawe.

Research into women’s sections such as those at the Milwaukee Journal serves to not only note the value of soft news as a topic of historical study, it also documents the more complex content that existed in the women’s pages beginning as early as the 1940s. It builds on other scholarship that has recognized the stories that women’s pages broke including child abuse, domestic violence, and pay inequity at newspapers across the country. Support for women’s equality was quietly being established in the otherwise non-threatening women’s pages of the newspaper. It was in these sections that the foundation of women’s liberation began, years before marches and demonstrations drew the media’s attention to the cause.

 

Exercise 1

Compare/contrast the women’s page journalists of the Milwaukee Journal with the women’s page journalists at the Miami Herald: Marie Anderson, Dorothy Jurney and Marjorie Paxson. They have biographies and personal papers at the National Women and Media Collection. (This archive was created by Paxson when she retired from the Gannett Company.)

  • How did they define women’s news?
  • How did they make differences in their communities?
  • How did they deal with gender discrimination?

 

Exercise 2

Women’s page content has been simplified as reinforcing gender-based stereotypes and a woman’s place in the home. Yet when the individual sections, like those at the Milwaukee Journal, are examined, a more complex story is told. Here is that argument in a Ms. Magazine blog post.

 

  • Examine the women’s pages of a newspaper in your community from the 1950s and 1960s. Try looking at the microfiche at your university or a local library. Google News Archive also includes several newspapers from the past.
  • The Washington Post and editor Ben Bradlee get much of the credit for changing the women’s pages into lifestyle sections. Yet recent research has shown that other newspapers were making similar changes at the same time, and that this was the direction women’s pages were going anyway. Read more about that argument here and Was that true at your local newspaper? Compare content of the women’s pages from the late 1960s to that of the early 1970s. How was the content the same and/or different? Did the section change names?

 

Exercise 3

During the 1970s, women journalists who had worked in the women’s pages began to be promoted into newspaper management for the first time. This article in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly describes the process for three of the women. Further, a journalism think tank, the Poynter Institute, put these promotions in context in a post, using primary sources.

  • Who were the female firsts at your local newspaper – the first sports editor? The first politics editor? The first managing editor?
  • What paths did these women follow to get to their positions? How long (or how little did they spend in those positions?

 

Sources

Kimberly Wilmot Voss, “Dorothy Jurney: The ‘Godmother’ of Women’s Page Editors,” Journalism History 36, no. 1 (2010): 13-22.

Kimberly Wilmot Voss, “Aileen Ryan: The First Project Runway,” Milwaukee History: The Magazine of the Milwaukee Historical Society, Summer 2004, 43-50.

Kimberly Wilmot Voss and Lance Speere, “A Women’s Page Pioneer: Marie Anderson and Her Influence at the Miami Herald and Beyond,” Florida Historical Quarterly 85, no. 4 (2007): 398-421.

“Women in Journalism,” Washington Press Club Foundation, http://wpcf.org/women-in-journalism/.