This Day In History: July 1

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On July 1, 1972, the first standalone issue of the feminist publication Ms. Magazine debuts—and the issue sells out quickly. Launched during an era when male-run women’s magazines typically focused on topics like getting and keeping a man, beauty regimens, recipes and parenting, Ms. addressed weighty issues like economic inequality and reproductive rights head on, seeking to engage and empower women in all aspects of their lives. Founders Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pittman Hughes vowed to translate “a movement into a magazine.”

Critics abounded. “I’ll give it six months before they run out of things to say,” predicted news anchor Harry Reasoner, who apologized for denigrating the successful magazine five years later. Secret White House tapes reveal President Richard Nixon, in a conversation with adviser Henry Kissinger, using crude language to insult the publication.

The magazine launched at a moment when women were organizing and gaining political voice. Feminist groups such as the National Organization of Women (NOW), New York Radical Women and the Redstockings had emerged in the late 1960s. Congress was wrangling with the Equal Rights Amendment. And in 1970, a group of 100-plus women stormed the offices of Ladies Home Journal, demanding the iconic women’s publication hire a female editor and change the limiting way it portrayed women’s lives.     

The inaugural issue of Ms., a copy of which resides in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History collection, was decidedly more progressive—and provocative. It featured a cartoon image of a giant Wonder Woman striding over a city, under the banner “Wonder Woman for President.” Steinem said she chose the female super hero for the cover partially as a reaction to DC Comics’ decision to strip Wonder Woman of her powers. (Not long after, the character’s powers were restored.) Inside that first full issue, readers could find an essay about Wonder Woman’s inspiration to feminism, an article from Steinem on how women vote, along with pieces about the monetary value of housework, the limitations of sex manuals and the politics of body hair, among others.

The July issue came seven months after a “one-shot” preview appeared inside the December 1971 issue of New York magazine, containing articles about hot-button topics like welfare, same-sex love and reproductive rights. Steinem penned an article about sisterhood, co-founding editor Letty Pogrebin contributed a piece about raising kids without gender roles and Jane O’Reilly wrote about the universality of being seen, reductively, as a housewife.

Proving that Ms. wouldn’t shy away from tough issues, the preview issue also featured a petition demanding an end to criminalized abortion. It was signed by 53 women—including prominent figures like Billie Jean King, Judy Collins and Susan Sontag—revealing their own closely held secret about having to undergo the procedure before it was legal or safe. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, who edited the abortion petition, later told New York magazine, “I like to think that that was a precursor to the many acts that led to the Roe v. Wade decision a year later.”

Syndicated conservative columnist James J. Kilpatrick sneered at the Ms. preview issue, calling it a “C-sharp on an un-tuned piano,” with an air of “petulance, bitchiness or nervous fingernails screeching across a blackboard.” Despite the naysayers, the preview proved a huge commercial success, selling out 300,000 copies in less than eight days. Within a few weeks, the magazine received 26,000 subscription orders and more than 20,000 reader letters.

And despite decades of ownership changes, financial insecurity and resistance from advertisers, Ms. celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022.

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