It seems to me that every once in a while something happens that makes us realize how times are changing. That’s what happened recently when I read that the Ladies Home Journal is ending its monthly publication and is going to a quarterly newsstand-only format.
Yep, this icon of women’s magazines, once considered one of the most influential in the country, is succumbing to the reality of our modern world. Faced with shrinking circulation and declining advertising income, the publisher has decided to close the New York office with its thirty-some employees being let go and the residual publication being based at Des Moines, Iowa.
The Journal will maintain a web site for anyone interested, but that slick magazine will no longer be delivered to its remaining readers.
The Journal was initially published in 1883 as a first-of-its-kind magazine directed specifically at women. Its popularity grew until it became one of the most distinguished of such publications for over a century. Indeed, the Journal is considered an important factor in shaping the American home for many decades — but for a bygone era.
Back in the Journal’s heyday the roles of men and women in our society were considerably different from those of today. Men were considered the “breadwinners,” that is, the provider of a family’s shelter, food, clothing and such.
To that end boys and young men prepared themselves by learning an occupation that would provide the wherewithal required to support a wife and family. Indeed, a man’s eligibility and fitness for marriage was often judged by how well he could fulfill the role of “breadwinner.”
Women, on the other hand, were expected to be “homemakers” or “housewives”- descriptive terms that incorporated responsibility for maintaining the family home. Girls and young women prepared themselves for this role by learning how to cook, sew, and similar activities.
Although physical attractiveness was important, a man looked for a wife who could take care of his home and children. A man “courted” a woman as a means of determining how well she might fulfill this role while the woman judged how good a “breadwinner” he would be. If he proposed marriage and she accepted, there was a period of “engagement” while the evaluation process continued. After marriage they actively assumed these roles.
Sounds quaint by today’s standards but that was the world where the Journal found its niche in women’s lives, particularly after marriage.
For generation after generation the Journal provided recipes, tips on decorating, advice on raising children, managing the household money, the latest styles and fashions, and a host of other subjects of interest to women. There were articles by well known men and women on a variety of topics that kept “housewives” connected with a larger culture outside their own relatively small domestic domain. In short, the Journal helped satisfy a need among millions of women and undoubtedly was very influential in fashioning the American home.
All that started to change when World War II introduced large numbers of women into factories and elsewhere in the war effort - replacing the millions of men who were in the military. After the war, the traditional roles of women and men were altered somewhat with women increasing their presence in the workplace but the traditional “homemaker” was still dominant and the Journal’s influence remained high.
The “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s and the introduction of the “pill” kicked off dramatic changes which have resulted in today’s blurring of the traditional lines differentiating the roles of men and women in our society.
Today, young women and girls prepare for careers outside the home and not for becoming “homemakers.” “Hooking up” and “cohabiting”are becoming preferred to marriage and child-rearing has been “outsourced” to daycare facilities and the schools. One result of these societal changes is that the average age of Journal readers is now reportedly just under 60. After all, who among women in the 20-35 age group is interested in the Journal when the Internet is so convenient.
Well, there you have it - another example of how times are changing and how these changes have effected an “institution” that has been such an influential part of our American culture for generations. A bit sad? Perhaps, but we can’t stop what is called “progress.” At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.