Helen Rosen Woodward sure had strong opinions. She made a way for herself in the world of advertizing when most of her female co-workers at the office were against suffrage. She was the first female account executive in the US and credited her success to having marketable talents and a likeable personality.
In 1959 she wrote: “It is a mighty swing from this ‘legal “death’–the words are Blackstone’s–to the position that women occupied in 1959, when they controlled seventy percent of the wealth of the country and sometimes wrecked their marriages by earning more than their husbands. Without their understanding how it all came about, women ruled the roost. They had reached this position through fighting, scratching, screaming and also through every device of indirection and charm . . .
“In this climb the women’s magazines with their millions of readers played a major part. To the uninitiated, a woman’s magazine may seem a powdery bit of fluff. No notion could be more unreal or deceptive . . . these publications represent a giant business investment, and have an overwhelming influence on American life . . .
“Toward matriarchal power. Women’s magazines have played a major part in bringing about that “Momism” . . .They have steadily built up women’s authority . . .Slowly women took responsibility, dignity and authority away from men. The American male was portrayed as a kind of Dagwood Bumstead, likeable, lovable, but also foolish and irresponsible and in need of feminine management. But this propaganda had an unexpected result. Women themselves did not like what was happening . . .it became important to lure men back into the fold with togetherness.” The Lady Persuaders, Helen Woodward
One might be surprised at this attitude coming from a woman working in magazine advertizing–a woman who fought for unionizing women! But in her mind the magazines had ruined most women by keeping their minds on mush while giving them immense spending and voting power.
The Lady Persuaders is a fascinating look at women’s magazines from the early 1830’s (when Sarah Josepha Hale headed the successful Godey’s Lady’s Book) through the 1950’s. It offers an interesting snapshot into the mind of a woman in the 1950’s just before the women’s movement of the late 60’s-70’s. Nothing much has changed in magazines from the scolding, advice-giving, judgmental style of these writings . Sex (once disguised as hygiene), before and after decorating, manners and fashion. Politics and deep reading never did well. In fact, Edward Bok, the long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal with an abiding respect for his strong mother, felt it his duty to educate women on important issues of the day. After a campaign highlighting the cruelty involved in obtaining egret feathers for women’s hats (they starved mother egrets to get the long feather) demand for the rare feathers went up.
This didn’t surprise Mrs. Woodward. Women had been made into silly, vain creatures by magazines. What might she say now?