The first full-length issue of Ms. magazine was the Spring 1972 issue. Ms. went on to become a widely read publication, practically synonymous with feminism and the Women's Liberation Movement. What was in that premiere issue of Ms.? Some of the most famous articles are still widely read and even used in Women's Studies classes. Here are a few of the best-remembered pieces.
This article has been edited and expanded by Jone Johnson Lewis.
The CoverGloria Steinem (L) and Patricia Carbine, cofounders of Ms. Magazine, May 7, 1987. Angel Franco/New York Times Co./Getty Images
Gloria Steinem and Patricia Carbine were co-founders of Ms. Magazine, and helped transform it later to an ad-free periodical.
The cover of the first issue of Ms. featured a woman handling more tasks than would be physically possible.
Welfare is a Women's IssueJohn Amos and Esther Rolle portrayed the parents in a family in the housing projects in 1974 TV series Good Times. Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Johnnie Tillmon's essay "Welfare is a Women's Issue" was printed in the first issue of Ms. magazine, published in 1972.
Who Was Johnnie Tillmon?
As she described herself in "Welfare is a Women's Issue," Johnnie Tillmon was a poor, black, fat, middle-aged woman on welfare, which she said made her count as less of a human being in U.S. society.
She had lived in Arkansas and California, working for nearly 20 years in a laundry before she became sick and could not work anymore. She raised six children on $363/month from Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC). She said she had become a statistic.
One Woman's Explanation of the Issue
For Johnnie Tillmon, it was simple: welfare was a women's issue because "it can happen to anybody, but especially it happens to women."
Here are some of the reasons that welfare was a women's issue, according to Johnnie Tillmon:
- 99% of families on AFDC were headed by women. If an "able-bodied man" was around, the family was not eligible for welfare.
- As a condition of aid, women may have had to agree to birth control or even sterilization procedures
- Politicians never talked about the blind, disabled, and elderly who received welfare, only the women and children
- The "work ethic" was a double standard: women on welfare were expected to work, but a "society lady from Scarsdale" could sit around in prosperity not working
- There was no "dignity of work" in jobs that paid less than minimum wage and were not enough to keep a woman's children from starving
- Women were accused of having more children to get more welfare money. "Having babies for profit," she wrote, "is a lie that only men could make up and only men could believe."
- Welfare Reform and Lingering Issues
In the decades since the premiere issue of Ms., welfare has continued to be a subject of political and media debate. Johnnie Tillmon led the National Welfare Rights Organization and worked with legislators and government committees on concerns related to welfare. She died in 1995, remembered for her pivotal role in making welfare a feminist issue.
Rating the CandidatesRichard Nixon and George McGovern in 1972. Keystone/Getty Images
A study of the 1972 presidential candidates' positions on women's issues. A common assertion of the time was that women were unduly influenced by their husbands in voting; this article was based on a different assumption, that women could make choices for themselves.
I Want a WifeHousewife of the 1960s. Tom Kelley Archive / Getty Images
Judy (Syfers) Brady's satire made some very serious points about relegating women to the role of “housewife.” This was years before same sex marriage was a hot political issue -- it really was about wanting the kind of support that a housewife was often able to provide for men in the workforce.
We Have Had AbortionsNew York Pro-Choice March, 1977. Peter Keegan / Getty Images
A declaration signed by more than fifty prominent women. Abortion was still illegal in much of the United Staes, prior to Roe v. Wade. The intent of the article and declaration was to call for change, and making abortion available to all, not just those who were financially well off and able to find such options.
De-Sexing the English LanguageFlight attendant in 1960s attire. Stephen Swintek / Getty Images
“De-Sexing the English Language” appeared in the first issue of Ms. magazine. Since that spring of 1972, the effort to remove sex bias from English has gone in and out of intellectual and cultural fashion, but it has succeeded in some ways.
Casey Miller and Kate Swift, both editors, looked at how sex bias is revealed by pronouns and other vocabulary choices. It was more common then to refer to policemen and stewardesses, rather than the more recent inclusive "police officers" and "flight attendants." And assuming that male pronouns were inclusive of women often led to an unconscious exclusion of women's experiences.
Language differences, it was argued, could lead to different treatment. Thus, one of the legal struggles for women's equality came in the 1960s and 1970s as flight attendants worked against workplace discrimination.
What Sparked the Idea?
The “De-Sexing the English Language” article was written by Casey Miller and Kate Swift. Both had worked as editors and said they became “revolutionized” upon editing a junior high sex education manual which seemed to pay more attention to boys than girls. They realized that the problem was in the use of mostly male pronouns.
Words Loaded With Sex Bias
Casey Miller and Kate Swift argued that a word such as “mankind” is problematic because it defines both men and women as male. In other words, the generic human is assumed to be male. This recalls Simone de Beauvoir's argument in The Second Sex that woman is “the Other,” always the object of a male subject. By calling attention to the hidden bias in words like “mankind,” feminists attempted to make not just language but also society more inclusive of women.
Policing the Language?
Some critics of inclusive language efforts use terms like “language police” to describe the de-sexing of language. However, Casey Miller and Kate Swift actually resisted the notion of telling people what to do. They were more interested in analysis of how language reflects bias in society than in writing a manual of how to replace one word with another.
The Next Steps
Some English language use has changed since the 1960s. For example, people commonly refer to police officers instead of policemen and flight attendants instead of stewardesses. These titles demonstrate that sex bias in language can go along with sex bias in societal roles. The very title of the magazine, Ms., is an alternative to forcing a woman to reveal her marital status through the use of either Mrs. or Miss.
After “De-Sexing the English Language” appeared, Casey Miller and Kate Swift continued their research and eventually wrote books on the subject, including Words and Women in 1977 and The Handbook of Non-Sexist Writing in 1980.
De-sexing of the English language has become a significant part of feminism since the day Gloria Steinem surprised Casey Miller and Kate Swift with the news that she wanted to publish their article in the first issue of Ms.
The Housewife's Moment of TruthFirst birthday party, 1960s. Bertil Persson / Getty Images
Jane O'Reilly's essay popularized the idea of a “click!” moment of feminist awakening. The essay was very specific about what "click!" moments some women had had, mostly about rather common social behaviors, like who picks up the children's toys at night. The basic question behind these experiences was this: what would women be if they had their own identity and choices, not just defined by what was expected of them because they were women?
The idea that personal inequalities like picking up children's toys were relevant to the politics of women's rights was sometimes in the 70s summarized by the slogan, "The personal is political."
Consciousness-raising groups were often the means by which women sought to find the insights described by the "click!"
Ten Important Feminist Beliefs
As background to the choices in the first issue of Ms. Magazine, this list reviews ten key feminist ideas that influenced the selection of articles in that premier issue.