On this day in 1970, a group of women marched to the offices of the Ladies’ Home Journal “to demand that women be given a rightful place in the pages” of the magazine.

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“What do you mean by rightful place? It is a woman’s magazine,” one reporter asked the women, one of whom responded:

It is a woman’s magazine, and that’s the ironic aspect of the whole project. There is one woman above middle management, one token woman out of the four men who control this magazine. The women here make paltry salaries as secretaries, they’re not promoted, they’re not given their right to advancement.

The idea for the sit-in was suggested by Susan Brownmiller, and the Journal was chosen as a token of all women’s magazines at the time, which weren’t yet struggling the way they—like all print publications—would in years to come. At this time, they were the height of power in media, and though they marketed to women, the message they sent was largely created by men. The protestors’ demands included higher wages for employees, a daycare center, removal of offensive advertisements, and that hiring become more diverse. They highlighted issues with the content, like the column “Can this marriage be saved?” (they thought it should be “Should this marriage be saved?”); the women argued that that the magazine told women that their only purpose was to be housewives.

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Their sit-in lasted 11 hours, and largely involved confrontation with Ladies’ Home Journal editor John Mack Carter, who looked both bemused and slightly scared by the number of women surrounding him as he smoked a cigarette. Though he wouldn’t step down as they wanted him to, he did ultimately give them their own issue of the magazine later that year, and the content LHJ published slowly shifted, as it would at its peer publications. (Years later, Carter would admit that the experience changed him. “There was more discrimination than I thought,” he said. “I didn’t push our women readers far enough in their self-awareness.”) In 1974, Lenore Hershey was promoted and named the first woman to edit the publication.

It was a time of heightened protest actions; that same week, the women of Newsweek filed an EEOC complaint over discrimination at that publication. And as Brownmiller has explained, the Ladies’ Home Journal sit-in was notable because “it got more publicity than anything up to that time in the women’s movement.”

It’s fascinating, really, to consider the power these publications had, when two years ago, Ladies’ Home Journal threw in the towel as a monthly, promising to continue publishing online and once every quarter. (The seasonal edition is still chugging along, but it’s just not the same, and its web presence is at best negligible.) “You’ve got a women’s lifestyle field that has expanded from the original Seven Sisters to a much broader field competing for limited ad dollars,” a spokesperson said when the magazine announced the change. Essentially, the changes that the LHJ protestors pushed for forced publications to become faster, funnier and less old-fashioned in order to keep up with their readers—and their savvy competitors. The ones that didn’t died. It’s interesting that the magazine will probably be remembered for the one thing that ultimately led to its deathbed.

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The women likely had no idea how much the media landscape would change over the coming decades, but they did understand the power these publications held. Though of course, some of their demands haven’t quite come to fruition, even now:

We demand an end to all celebrity articles, all articles oriented toward the preservation of youth (implying that age has no graces of its own), and an end to all articles specifically tied in to advertising: e.g., food, make-up, fashion, appliances.


Image via AP