Women’s Pages. Encyclopedia of American Journalism

The women’s pages in American newspapers can be
counted as a victim of the women’s movement of the 1960s.
Their regular presence in virtually all daily newspapers
is long gone. But in their heyday, the women’s pages of a
newspaper provided advice, recipes, fashion, society news,
and gossip to women readers throughout the United States
for nearly a century. Today, the women’s pages of almost
all daily newspapers have been carefully subsumed into
gender-neutral feature sections headlined with terms like
“Accent,” “Today,” “Style,” or “Living.”
The Women’s Pages trace their lineage back to eager
nineteenth century publishers who recognized, as part of
a tide of rising consumerism, that women were economic
forces to be reckoned with in their own homes. These publishers, anxious for increased advertising revenues, believed
that if women could be enticed to be newspaper readers,
advertisers would send more dollars their way. The development and growth of Women’s Pages also closely parallels
the evolution of department stores in the United States.
The earliest attempts to attract women readers can be
found in the Penny Press era. Horace Greeley, for example,
hired Margaret Fuller to write for his New York Tribune
in 1844. He never explained his reasoning behind bringing Fuller to his newspaper but, in an era prior to journalist bylines, when most writing was anonymous, Fuller’s
articles were marked with an asterisk. Thus, women were
able to know which articles were written by Fuller. After
Fuller, other women used alliterative, flowery pen names
to identify their work to circumvent the social taboo that a
woman’s name should never appear in print.
After the Tribune, other newspapers followed suit, bringing a woman on staff or accepting freelance articles from
women and then publishing them with bylines. This served
a two-fold purpose of informing women readers of articles
that were written by women, but also allowing editors to
distance themselves from the writing of women and flagging the articles so that the male readers would know.
Women like Jane Cunningham Croly, whose penname
was “Jenny June,” Sara Payson Willis Parton, who wrote
under the “Fanny Fern” pen name, and Sara Clarke Lippincott, journalism’s “Grace Greenwood,” provided the
nation’s newspapers with a woman perspective while at the
same time opening a new career path to literate women who
needed to earn their keep.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, as urban
culture grew and journalism flourished, newspapers opened
their doors to a quota of one woman in the news room, a
regrettable necessity (from the male editor’s position) born
from the recognized growing audience of woman readers.
From early columns like “Gossip With and For Ladies,”
which Jenny June wrote in a weekly New York newspaper beginning in 1853, the concept of an entire section of
articles aimed solely at women grew. Newspaper magnate
Joseph Pulitzer is generally credited with institutionalizing
the Women’s Page section in his newspaper, the New York
In 1891, his Sunday World began featuring an entire
page devoted to women and by 1894, his daily newspaper
had a regular “For and About Women” page. An anchor to
this section in the World and other newspapers always was
advertising aimed specifically at women readers.
The Women’s Pages were basically ignored by the newspaper executives. There was an unstated and unwritten rule
that the sections would offend no one, ruffle no feathers and
cause no controversy. Beyond that, the women who wrote
and edited the pages were left to their own devices.
By the turn of the century, photography in newspapers
extended to the women’s pages so that fashion and styles
could be featured, along with extensive advice about food,
beauty, love, etiquette, good health and housekeeping.
Popularity of Women’s Pages escalated. Many of them
took on a boilerplate look due to the increasing popularity of syndication, which allowed for the growth of advice
columnists like Dorothy Dix. Her lovelorn column began
in the New Orleans Daily Picayune in 1896 reached about
sixty million readers during the height of its popularity
through her death in 1951. Other advice columns, like Dear
Abby (which is still published in 2006 by the daughter of
the original Abby) and Ann Landers (which ceased publication with the death of the author in 2002) became cornerstones of the women’s pages.
The women’s pages changed little throughout the first
half of the twentieth century. During World War II, when
women were hired in newsrooms to fill positions left vacated
by men who were drafted into the Army, the Women’s
Pages assumed an air of patriotism that recognized women
were working in the war effort and provided information to
help them juggle work and home. After the war, however,
a wave of renewed domestic fervor was evidenced in the
women’s pages. The era of Leave it to Beaver and Father
Knows Best on television was reflected in the celebration
of domesticity in the women’s pages. That complicity with
the status quo was blown to bits in the late 1960s as the
women’s movement, seeking equality in the workplace, at
home and in the political and social arenas, took aim at the
women’s pages and questioned why women and their issues
were segregated into a section that by its very title isolated
it from the power makers of society.
The Washington Post was among the first of the nation’s
elite newspapers to bow to criticism of the Women’s Pages.
In January 1969, under the section editorship of a man, the
“Style” section debuted. Its goal was to appeal to the entire
newspaper readership with emphasis on books, the arts,
entertainment and leisure time. Half a decade later, most
newspapers in the United States had made the shift to the
new format.
The pendulum swung back again. In 1991, the Chicago
Tribune created a weekly “WomaNews” section as part of
its “Tempo” lifestyle section. This was in reaction to concern that women were turning away from newspapers as
a source of information. The goal of the new section was
to provide women with relevant news that connected with
their lives as both professionals and parents. Health and
business news were well represented. Critics of the newfangled section complained that it could become a ghetto
where news about women was dumped and then ignored
by the country’s power brokers. They expressed concern
that this new section was actually a retrograde maneuver
because it was taking women’s news out of the news sections; proponents of the new section countered that it was
actually providing a forum for news and information that
would have gone unreported before.
While the WomaNews section never achieved the regularity of the daily women’s pages of the bygone era, it was
syndicated to sixty other newspapers by 1993. The movement never resurged, however, to regain the position as a
daily section aimed specifically at women.
Further Reading
Beasley, Maurine H., and Sheila J. Gibbons. Taking Their Place:
A Documentary History of Women and Journalism. Washington, D.C.: American University Press, 1993.
Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper. Women Journalists and the Municipal
Housekeeping Movement, 1868–1914. Lewiston, NY: Edwin
Mellen Press, 2001.
Guenin, Zena Beth. “Women’s Pages in American Newspapers:
Missing Out on Contemporary Content.” Journalism Quarterly (Spring 1975): 66–69, 75.
Tuchman, Gaye, Arlene Kaplan Daniels, and James Benet, eds.,
Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
Van Gelder, Lindsy, “Women’s Pages: You can’t Make News Out
of a Silk Purse.” Ms. magazine (November 1974).
Agnes Hooper Gottlieb