About Ms. By: Katherine Spillar, Executive Editor of Ms. Magazine and our Guest Speaker for International Women’s Day
When Ms. was launched as a “one-shot” sample insert in New York magazine in December 1971, few realized it would become the landmark institution in both women’s rights and American journalism that it is today.
The founders of Ms., many of whom are now household names, helped to shape contemporary feminism, with Ms. editors and authors translating “a movement into a magazine.”
Ms. was a brazen act of independence in the 1970s. At the time, the fledgling feminist movement was either denigrated or dismissed in the so-called mainstream media. Most magazines marketed to women were limited to advice about finding a husband, saving marriages, raising babies or using the right cosmetics.
When the Ms. preview issue debuted—carrying articles on the housewife’s moment of truth, “de-sexing” the English language and abortion—the syndicated columnist James J. Kilpatrick jeered that it was a “C-sharp on an un-tuned piano,” a note “of petulance, of bitchiness, or nervous fingernails screeching across a blackboard.” And after the first regular issue hit the newsstands in July 1972, the network news anchor Harry Reasoner challenged, “I’ll give it six months before they run out of things to say.” (To his credit, Reasoner ended up apologizing years later.)
But Ms. struck a chord with women. Its 300,000 “one-shot” test copies sold out nationwide in eight days. It generated an astonishing 26,000 subscription orders and over 20,000 reader letters within weeks. By the time Ms. celebrated its 15th anniversary in 1987, media soothsayers had all been pressed to change their tune.
Ms. was the first U.S. magazine to feature prominent American women demanding the repeal of laws that criminalized abortion, the first to explain and advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, to rate presidential candidates on women’s issues, to put domestic violence and sexual harassment on its cover, to commission and feature a national study on date rape and to blow the whistle on the undue influence of advertising on magazine journalism.
In short, Ms. was the first national magazine to make feminist voices audible, feminist journalism tenable and a feminist worldview available to the public.
Unique, outspoken and hard-hitting, Ms. has consistently faced down financial instability and advertiser resistance. From 1978 to 1987, Ms. was published as a nonprofit magazine through the Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication. In the ensuing decade and a half, Ms. had four different commercial owners and eventually adopted a revolutionary and extremely popular advertising-free model.
From 1998-2001, a consortium of feminists—including Marcia Gillespie and Gloria Steinem, as well as leading businesswomen, philanthropists and activists—had been publishing Ms. as Liberty Media for Women, LLC.
On Dec. 31, 2001, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the largest U.S. based feminist research and action organization, became the sole owner of Liberty Media, and began publishing Ms., relocating its editorial operations to the organization’s offices in Los Angeles and the publishing operations to its Arlington, Virginia, office.
Today, Ms. remains the most trusted, popular source for feminist news and information in print and online. Its time-honored traditions -- and an emphasis on in-depth investigative reporting and feminist political analysis—have never been more relevant, bringing a new generation of writers and readers together to create the feminism of the future.
Through its innovative Ms. Classroom program, the magazine enjoys a large and growing audience on college campuses.
Its cross-generational appeal, global reach and deep connections to grassroots activists in the U.S. and globally, make Ms. a critical information and ideas resource and a place where feminists engage with each other and the world for action and social change.
Indeed, Ms. is more than a magazine. Ms. is a movement.
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