Welcome back, everyone!
As I’ve mentioned, it’s been a bit crazy around the library. So I wanted to fill in some backstory for last week’s Mag of the Week before going on to the next one. Redbook is one of the publishing world’s Seven Sisters, a group of women’s magazines that dominated the publishing through the twentieth century. I wrote about three of these titles in December last year. As with many women’s magazines, Redbook has a storied past that has been largely forgotten in it’s current grocery-store-checkout-bland life.
Redbook was introduced in May 1903, published by a group of Chicago retailers. It began life as The Red Book Illustrated*, specializing in contemporary fiction. Authors Jack London, Sinclair Lewis, Dashiell Hammet, and Edith Wharton were featured, alongside social commentary, such as Eleanor Roosevelt’s “The Ingredients of An Ideal Wife” and Cornelius Vanderbilt Jr.’s “Farewell to Fifth Avenue”. The title was modestly successful until the end of WWII.
By the end of WWII, social and demographic changes created a younger magazine reader. The new editor, hired away from film-fan title Modern Screen, redirected the title at the new audience of 18-24 year olds, offering readers conventional fiction and movie star news alongside reporting on social concerns such as racial prejudice, McCarthyism, and food additives.
Throughout the 1950s and ’60s the content focused on this educated upper-middle class, often married, female demographic, while also increasing its campaign for social justice issues. Margaret Meade, Benjamin Spock, and consumer advocate Bess Myerson were all regular contributors. The title advocated heavily for the Equal Rights Amendment, and it’s editor in 1976 talked 35 other women’s magazines into running pieces to support the amendment during their July 1976 issues.
In 1982, bought by Hearst Corporation and tone was immediately softened and the amount of fiction decreased. By 1990, the magazine conformed to more standardized “women’s” magazine territory: aimed at young mothers who took “me” time, the title increased the amount of editorial pages devoted to fashion, beauty, sex life, and parenting. These strategies worked to increase the title’s circulation and position it between Hearst’s Cosmopolitan and the other six Sisters.
Redbook continues targeting married women with children, and has reflected every pop-culture trend out there, from adding regular fitness and yoga advice, healthy recipes, makeup and fashion sections, changing parenting styles, and the sensationalist tone of social media.
That said, editorial highlights the strengths of its cover women over their beauty, publishes a regular “Mothers and Shakers” list, includes regular women’s health features, and showcases women of diverse ethnic backgrounds, ages, and sizes. The most recent editor has made it her project to ensure that the magazine looks like its readership, something that *isn’t* happening in most mass-market publications at all.
* The same publisher also produced The Blue Book (specializing in pulp fiction) and The Green Book (aimed at career women).