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Posts Tagged ‘Edward Bok

“Children are not deceived by fairy-tales; they are often and gravely deceived by school-stories. Adults are not deceived by science-fiction ; they can be deceived by the stories in the women’s magazines.”*…

 

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In the 1890s, empire building was in the air in New York, and magazine editors succumbed to the craze. As President Theodore Roosevelt sent troops to Cuba and the Philippines, the magazine men—they were nearly all men—had quieter plans to extend their influence. They used their brands to sell model homes, universities, and other offerings of middle-class life. It was, after all, the Progressive Era, when technological innovations and post-Victorian values were supposed to hasten the arrival of a more enlightened, egalitarian social order. Before the concept of branding even existed, these new magazine ventures represented an exercise in branding. But woven into this phenomenon lay a stealth traditionalism, a new way of packaging the often conservative, sometimes quixotic visions of a few titans of the press.

Editors Edward Bok (Ladies’ Home Journal), John Brisben Walker (Cosmopolitan), and S.S. McClure (McClure’s) saw a way to directly shape their readers’ class aspirations. In 1895 Ladies’ Home Journal began to offer unfrilly, family-friendly architectural plans in its pages. They were mainly colonial, Craftsman, or modern ranch-style houses, and many still stand today. The Cosmopolitan, as it was then known, advertised the Cosmopolitan University, a custom-designed college degree—for free!—by correspondence course. McClure’s magazine, the juggernaut of investigative journalism—home to Ida Tarbell’s landmark investigation of Standard Oil, among many other muckraking articles of the Gilded Age—began to plot an array of ventures, including a model town called McClure’s Ideal Settlement.

Cannily noting the trend for smaller, servantless suburban homes, Journal editor Bok [the grandfather of Harvard President Derek Bok] was selling more than home design. Every house should be occupied by a female homemaker, he decided, and every family should aspire to a simpler, more frugal way of life. The campaign rapidly succeeded. By 1916 the editors of the Journal claimed that thirty thousand of their homes had been built. Part of this was due to the Journal’s wide circulation—it was the first American magazine to surpass a million subscribers. Its sister publication, the weekly Saturday Evening Post, was a fixture of nearly every household…

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“A Fireproof House for $5,000,” illustration by Frank Lloyd Wright in Ladies’ Home Journal, 1907

When the (male) proprietors of women’s magazines believed that their publications could change lives on a grand scale: “Editorial Visions.”

* C.S. Lewis

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As we shape society, we might recall that it was on this date in 1914 that George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion premiered in London, featuring Mrs Patrick Campbell (for whom Shaw had written the role) as Eliza Doolittle.

The Greek myth of Pygmalion, who fell in love with one of his sculptures, was a popular subject for Victorian English playwrights, including one of Shaw’s influences, W. S. Gilbert, who had written a successful play based on the story,  Pygmalion and Galatea, that was first presented in 1871.  Shaw’s play in turn has been adapted numerous times, most notably as the musical My Fair Lady and its film version.

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A Sketch Magazine illustration of Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle from April, 1914

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