MS. MAGAZINE. A product of the women's movement in the early 1970s, Ms. magazine has stood as the single mainstream publication dedicated to voicing feminist issues. Initially tested as a "one-shot" supplement to the December 1971 issue of New York magazine, Ms. was in part the brainchild of Gloria Steinem, in part the product of a rising feminist publishing industry in the early 1970s, and in part the logical outcome of a decade of activism. The freelance journalist and activist Steinem joined forces with the longtime publishing executive Patricia Carbine, among others, to create a magazine sharing the diverse consciousness of feminist ideology with women across America.
While names such as "Lilith," "Sisters," and "Every-woman" were considered, the publication took its title from the emerging, status-neutral form of address "Ms.," a moniker it hoped to help mainstream. The test issue sold out its 300,000 copies in eight days and galvanized its editorial team to move forward on their own. The premiere, stand-alone issue of Ms. in July 1972 celebrated a revitalized image of female superhero, Wonder Woman, on its cover and featured the provocative articles that would become its hallmark and subsequently earn the magazine awards for journalistic excellence. Despite fears that it would be anti-motherhood and anti-men, the founding editors, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Suzanne Braun Levine, Carbine, and Steinem, encouraged topics ranging from date rape and black feminism to "Welfare Is a Woman's Issue," "How to Write Your Own Marriage Contract," and "Raising Kids without Sexual Roles." Ms. was the first mainstream publication to advocate for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and repeal of laws criminalizing abortion. In 1974, Ms. also produced the Woman Alive! documentary series with PBS. It later published several books on its own, and over the years enhanced the growing visibility of feminist writers, including Alice Walker, Susan Faludi, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Maxine Hong Kingston.
Money troubles would plague Ms. throughout its history. Initial investments included checks for $126.67 from various principals and $1 million from Warner Communications—a third of what the startup needed. Securing advertising was troublesome for a publication that focused on politics and refused to cover fashion and beauty, mainstays of other women's magazines. Advertisers often
balked at stories on abortion, violence, and pornography. The magazine also rejected ads it found insulting or demeaning to women. With 26,000 subscribers after the premiere issue and circulation that reached 550,000 in 1989, Ms. stretched every dollar, only turning its red ink black in 1974 and again briefly in the 1990s.
By 1978, the struggle to survive led Ms. to seek nonprofit status, placing the magazine under the rubric of the newly formed Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication until 1987. Strapped for cash again, in 1988 Ms. magazine was sold, first to the Australian publishing company Fairfax Ltd. and six months later to a new firm, Matilda Publications, which reinvented Ms. as a "general interest magazine for women," combining feminist perspectives on news with articles on personal finance and cover stories on celebrities.
Ms.'s ownership changed again in 1989 and 1996. Steinem returned to help save the magazine, convincing the feminist poet, activist, and author Robin Morgan to take the helm. As editor-in-chief, Morgan inaugurated a new, reader-supported, advertising-free Ms. She banished celebrity features and restored Ms.'s feminist core, boosting circulation from 75,000 to 200,000 before resigning the top spot to Marcia Ann Gillespie in 1993. In 1998, Steinem and Gillespie created a consortium of feminist investors, Liberty Media for Women, LLC, which purchased Ms. for an estimated $3 million. Ongoing financial problems led Ms. to change hands again in November 2001, when it transferred ownership to the nonprofit Feminist Majority Foundation. Although Ms.'s history has been marked by the occasional gaffe—like the cover that misspelled "feminism" in 1996—the magazine survived the twists and turns of American and feminist politics by steadfastly serving as "the voice of responsible feminism."
Choo, Kristen. "Milestone for Ms.: Bold and Controversial Magazine Turns 25." Chicago Tribune (26 January 1997).
See alsoMagazines, Women's .