Ms. Is Celebrated in the City of its Birth
Four decades after its birth as the nation's first feminist mass-market magazine, Ms. was honored this week by the New York City Council. Shelby Knox writes of its continuing advocacy.
Forty years ago, a small group of New York City journalists, editors and activists created a feminist magazine, first as a "one-shot" within New York magazine, followed by a Preview issue that sold out in eight days around the country, and then as a monthly national publication by, for and about women, and with it introduced the word—Ms.—into our popular culture and became a forum and advocate for all women and girls. —Excerpt from the New York City Council proclamation honoring the 40th anniversary of Ms. magazine.
On Wednesday, the room adjacent to the New York City Council chambers was occupied not by activists waiting to testify and reporters waiting to hear them but by Girl Scouts, artists, comic aficionados and four decades worth of staff and writers for what became the world's most influential feminist magazine. The reception preceding the city's celebration of 40 years of Ms. exemplified what the magazine has done so well since its founding: bringing together people from all walks of life to celebrate and agitate for the freedom of women and girls.
The celebration, convened by Councilwoman Gale Brewer and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, had a Wonder Woman theme, taking off of the first cover of the monthly magazine that heralded the feminist comic book character as a presidential candidate in June of the election year of 1972. In fact, Pete Marston, the son of Wonder Woman creator William Marston, was in attendance, as was Murphy Anderson Jr., the artist who drew the iconic cover image.
But the fictional heroine had nothing on the real live wonder women who birthed Ms. into existence and sustained the publication over decades. Founding editors Joanne Edgar, Mary Peacock, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Gloria Steinem—listed alphabetically, as they were in the Preview and subsequent monthly issues—were on hand, as were Margaret Hicks, Suzanne Levine, Harriet Lyons, Ruth Sullivan and Mary Thom, who came on board for the Wonder Woman issue, Volume 1, Number 1. Karin Lippert, the magazine's first promotion director, organized the reception, and Steinem presented her with a handmade Wonder Woman apron for her efforts. Other women who worked for Ms. over the years, as writers, editors, ad saleswomen and interns, reminisced about their days chronicling the feminist movement.
Launched as a one-time insert on the burgeoning women's movement in New York magazine in an end-of-the-year double issue in 1971, Ms. went on to take on subjects the mainstream media, and even women's magazines, wouldn't touch. In 1976, the cover featured a woman's bruised face, the graphic representation of an article that gave voice to the epidemic of domestic violence in the United States. Other articles highlighted the plight of farm workers, child sexual abuse and the rising tide of women in politics. Many who wrote for the magazine, including Alice Walker and bell hooks, went on to become household names. The magazine's current issue, published by the Feminist Majority Foundation, features Sandra Fluke, the young activist slurred as a 'slut' by Rush Limbaugh after she testified before Congress about the need for contraception to be covered by insurance.
For many readers, the magazine was an entry into the feminist movement, to feeling less crazy and less alone. As the proclamation was read in New York City, women chimed in over social media with memories of what the magazine meant to them. "Ms. magazine was the 'click' that made it all chick. I didn't have to live the life I was narrowed into; I could do ANYTHING," tweeted Victoria Pynchon. Laura Anne Stewart added, "My mom clipped stories from Ms. for me when I was a kid to make our own feminist children's book!" Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Professor Anita Hill sent their reflections on the magazine's influence on them to be read in the chambers.
For the youngest attendees, the Girl Scout troop that had the honor of cutting the cake with the Ms. founders, perhaps this celebration will be their Ms. "click!" moment—a reference to an article in the Preview issue by Jane O'Reilly about a housewife's moment of truth. One girl, proudly wearing her Brownie regalia, stood shyly by her mom as she waited to take a picture with Gloria Steinem. "I'm scared, you ask her," she whispered to her mom. Moments later, she walked away beaming, a signed napkin in hand. When asked what she thought about meeting the well-known feminist, she said, "she's cool." She paused for a moment and added, "maybe I'll start a magazine for girls!"
Following the presentation of the proclamation, Speaker Christine Quinn noted the appropriateness of honoring Ms. on the same day the council began debate on landmark sex trafficking legislation that's been backed from its inception by Ms. co-founder Gloria Steinem among other feminists. Before coming inside, Steinem and Pogrebin stopped by a paid sick days rally happening right outside, on the steps of City Hall. The Ms. tagline reads, "more than a magazine, a movement." As the founders and staff and friends took a moment to look back on the success of the magazine, it was clear the movement to which they gave voice marches steadily forward.
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