Senate House Library has recently been offered a very welcome donation from the United States Information Service of the US Embassy in London: various issues of the seminal US second-wave feminist magazine Ms. Generous as this gift is, it is not entirely out of the blue – our institutions have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship since 1966, when a bequest of around 15,000 books from the American Library of the US Embassy in London arrived to our hands, forming the nucleus of our United States Collection. Our current US Collection is a leading national resource of the history, institutions, and culture of the United States of America and thus one of the largest in the UK in its field.
As a result of this gift, Senate House Library is now in possession of a fascinating 8-year run of the seminal US second-wave feminist magazine Ms., edited by Gloria Steinem. The Library has some fascinating titles written or contributed to by Steinem; for example, one recent acquisition is on her itinerant childhood. My Life on the Road is a stunning memoir of a life-long journey, seen from the unique perspective of one of the feminist icons of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The publication of Ms. was a bold act of independence in the 1970s. At the time, the burgeoning movement was either denigrated or dismissed in the mainstream media – if mentioned at all. Most magazines for women were limited to advice about saving one’s marriage, raising babies, or using the right cosmetics. The magazine became the first national magazine to make feminist voices audible, feminist journalism tenable, and a feminist worldview available to the public. In effect, it translated the second-wave feminist movement into the format of a magazine.
Ms. very quickly struck a chord with women: its 300,000 one-off test copies sold out nationwide in eight days. It generated an astonishing 26,000 subscription orders and over 20,000 reader letters within weeks. It featured prominent American women demanding the repeal of laws that criminalized abortion, put domestic violence and sexual harassment on the cover of a women’s magazine, aired feminist protests against pornography, commissioned and discussed a national study on date rape, and blew the whistle on the undue influence of advertising on magazine journalism.
Ms. complements other general interest periodical titles in our collections, such as the New Yorker or Time, but with a political viewpoint that would augment our heavily used sociology collections. The magazine will hopefully support research across gender-informed projects in the social sciences and humanities at Senate House Library.
You can find out more about how and why Ms. has become such a landmark institution, in both women’s rights and American journalism, with reference to these two resources, available at Senate House Library:
- The Decade of Women: a Ms. History of the Seventies in Words and Pictures / edited and produced by Suzanne Levine and Harriet Lyons et al.; introduction by Gloria Steinem, designed by Steve Phillips. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1980.
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