Published continuously since 1903, when it was known as The Red Book magazine, this mass-circulation American monthly is now targeted toward young wives and mothers, Redbook is regarded in the media industry as one of the so-called "Seven Sisters" of women's service magazines, a badge shared with Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal and McCalls, among others. But it was not until 1951 that its format was revamped to include its now-familiar mix of articles on contemporary living that, in its own words, "help young working mothers bring balance to a hectic life and focus on what matters most."
The Red Book was so named because, in the words of founding editor Trumbull White, "Red is the color of happiness." For the first several decades of its existence, many of them under the editorship of Edwin Balmer, the magazine was primarily a vehicle for short fiction. However, even Balmer realized that this format was becoming stale and unattractive to mass audiences, complaining that his publication seemed to appeal only to "the little old ladies in Kokomo." In 1951, following the lead of other periodicals that were redefining their images to appeal to the new post-World War II generation of younger, working women and mothers, the magazine metamorphosed into the Redbook that is still recognizable in the 1990s: a lifestyle publication with vivid four-color layouts, departments on childcare, careers, intimacy, fashion, and homemaking, and thoughtful, sometimes controversial features on personal and social issues. With Wade Nichols as editor, Redbook became "The Magazine for Young Adults" and its circulation soon increased to two million, doubling to 4.5 million by the end of the 1960s. By that decade, Redbook's editorial focus was considered generally more provocative and socially conscious than that of its sister publications, with frank articles that discussed feminism, social and cultural issues, and changing sexual mores. The readership had shifted from "the little old ladies in Kokomo" to a new generation of twenty-and thirty-something readers interested in child-care and household tips but also in navigating their way in careers and marriages, the rules of which were being rewritten during a rather turbulent period of American history.
Despite several ownership changes during the 1970s and Redbook's eventual acquisition by Hearst Magazines in 1982, the periodical continued its emphasis on contemporary issues. Editor-in-chief Kate White caused no little controversy when she selected for its December 1997 cover a photograph of actress Keely Shaye Smith and actor Pierre Brosnan looking on as their infant son, Dylan Thomas, is being breastfed by Smith. The graphic cover was ultimately printed on newsstand copies only, about a third of Redbook's circulation; a non-breastfeeding version was supplied to the magazine's regular mail subscribers.
Lesley Jane Seymour took over as Redbook's editor at the end of 1998, with promises to make over the publication. "My aim is to jazz up the magazine, make it more energetic and a little younger," she was quoted as saying. By century's end, Redbook had an audited circulation of 2.9 million and was described by the DrMag media-watch website as "an inspiring entertainment magazine" that "ad-dresses the needs of young working mothers between the ages of 25 and 45, especially those who work outside the home and have children under 18." Hearst's own website touted Redbook as "the must-read magazine for today's young married woman," one whose pages offer "exciting, provocative features that address the fullness of her life—everything from stylish fashion and beauty portfolios and scintillating stories on keeping her marriage fresh, to balancing home and career demands twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week."
"DrMag." http://www.drmag.com. April 1999.
"Hearst Magazines." http://www.hearstcorp.com. April 1999.
Tebbel, John, The American Magazine: A Compact History. New York, Hawthorn Books, 1969.
Wood, James Playsted. Magazines in the United States. New York, Ronald Press, 1978.