Periodicals Department Collection and State Library Resources

 Women's Magazines from the Pratt Library Collections

Part 3:  Variations on a Theme


The Progressive Era brought an expansion of the traditional female sphere. Educational and employment opportunities for middle-class women increased significantly. Women were becoming a visible force in public life through organizations such as the temperance movement and women’s clubs, whose focus dramatically shifted from literary and self-improvement activities to charitable efforts to improve the lives of others. Ordinary women were seeking new roles in society as social leaders, reformers, and political activists. Woman Who Makes Her Way Thumbnail 

They justified this movement into the public realm with the concept of “municipal housekeeping”: in order to run their households properly, women had to have a larger say in matters outside the home. Therefore, there was nothing “unwomanly” about advocating for safer working conditions for female factory workers or lobbying for pure food laws. Even the formerly radical woman suffrage movement was gaining acceptance from mainstream society.


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Women's magazines during this time reflected these changes, while still featuring more traditional content dealing with the home and domestic concerns. The Delineator began as a fashion magazine that carried tissue paper patterns, an innovation that made it one of the most popular of its kind. At left is an illustration promoting some of these sewing patterns for children's outfits.

Under the editorial guidance of Theodore Dreiser, whose novel Sister Carrie had created a minor literary scandal, the Delineator took on the characteristics of the muckraking magazines, covering current problems and important political and social movements.




Although women's magazines now carried features on “Woman’s Broader Life” or “Progressive Women” (two regular columns in Arthur’s Home Magazine by 1895), they generally ignored African American women. In response, a number of journals specifically for black women emerged at the end of the 19th century. Although they shared mainstream publications' interests in home, fashion, and consumerism, they served the broader purpose of uplift by demonstrating to their readers new models of African American womanhood based on virtue, domesticity, and cultivation. In this respect, these magazines look back to the original "ladies' books," demonstrating the enduring appeal and utility of women's magazines.


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Advertisement from Good Housekeeping, April 1927. Stereotypical depictions of black women persisted well into the 20th century.

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Book cover of Ladies' Pages, a critical study of African American women's magazines from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.