World War I and the Ladies’ Home Journal

“With all personal interests put aside, the American woman will rise as a single unit to the call for America first! With this woman the Ladies’ Home Journal will go hand in hand through the future that is now veiled to us. Whatever problems there may come before her: whatever privations and self-sacrifice she may be called upon to bear, this magazine will endeavor to foresee the need and be at her side when the time is there to meet it.”

The Ladies’ Home Journal was a monthly nationwide magazine that was aimed at a (mostly middle-class) female audience (though it also had a steady number of male readers). The magazine had an average of 130 pages in the early twentieth century and contained fashion, short stories, art, recipes, articles on homemaking and child-rearing, and advertisements. The RIAS has the full issues of the Ladies’ Home Journal from the years 1884-1920 on microfilm.

The magazine was founded in 1883, and by 1900 the Ladies’ Home Journal was nearing 1,000,000 in circulation, giving it a readership larger than any other magazine. As such, it was one of the most influential American periodicals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with some even referring to it as “the Bible of the American home.” Because of this extended readership, the journal provided a real service to its readers, offering an access to a national community of women that many of its readers (particularly those in rural areas) might otherwise have lacked. Readers relied on and trusted the information printed in these journals, giving the Ladies’ Home Journal an great amount of power, influence and responsibility. (See also: Popular women’s magazines, 1890-1917). In the early twentieth century, the contents were primarily determined by the editor. It was only after World War I that the influence of advertisers became dominant.

This meant that when the United States entered the war in 1917, it was the editor who largely controlled how the magazine would cover the war, and how the magazine would advise its readers to act. The editor during 1917 and 1918 was Edward Bok, who was born in the Netherlands (Den Helder) and had moved to the United States with his parents at the age of six. Under Bok’s direction the LHJ’s circulation grew from 440,000 in 1889 (the year he became editor) to two million copies per month in the year before his retirement in 1919. Bok’s editorials as well as other articles in the Ladies’ Home Journal conformed closely to the Victorian gender doctrines held by a large segment of the American population. This doctrine held that women are intellectually, emotionally, and physically inferior to men, while being morally and intuitionally superior. According to this doctrine, woman’s God-given traits dictate that her sphere is the home, for she is constitutionally unfit to perform adequately in the realm of politics and business. (See: Attitudes of Edward Bok). This was most notable in the way the magazine would handle the idea of women working outside of the home. The Ladies’ Home Journal supported single women’s work as a way to earn money and learn responsibility, but held work to be a prelude to marriage and not a substitute for it. It encouraged women to work when necessary, but the readers should always consider having a job a temporary situation: having a lifelong career was not recommended. The house and the children should be the woman’s primary concern. That is not to say that Edward Bok did not want women involved in the war effort, on the contrary, he believed that women would play an important role in the winning of the war. He expected the American woman to rise to the occasion and do “her bit.” As the quotation above shows, it was Bok’s intent that the Ladies’ Home Journal would guide the women in their quest to serve the country.

Because of Bok’s conservative views, wartime jobs for women did not receive much attention in the magazine. While there were a few articles on wartime jobs and where to find them, the Journal’s focus was on how the American woman could contribute to the war effort in her capacity as a wife and a “homemaker.” Most attention was given to conserving food. Due to the duration and magnitude of World War I, food was one of the most strained resources worldwide by the time the United States joined the war. Not only did the European and now the American troops in Europe need to be supplied, due to the war the civilians of Europe had been unable to grow and import what they needed. Shipping food to Europe became an immediate priority. Americans were urged to voluntarily stretch the food supply by cutting waste, substituting plentiful for scarce ingredients and participating in the food-conservation program popularly known as “Hooverizing,” after the new Food Administration’s director, Herbert Hoover. The Ladies’ Home Journal encouraged American women to be frugal and gave advice on the best ways to save resources and still make good meals. For example, women were encouraged to “put two Fridays in every week,” meaning two days with fish instead of meat

The National War Garden Commission encouraged Americans to “put the slacker land to use” by growing war gardens and to preserve by canning and drying all the food they could not use while fresh. The writers of the Ladies’ Home Journal took up their call and wrote in-depth articles on how to get the most out of a garden. The articles contained details such as the best time to plant, what crops to use, and how much crops could fit into a space. Even the smallest of front yards could still be put to use. The Ladies’ Home Journal also advised women on how to can and preserve, and on how to use their own produce in their meals in order to buy less.

Lastly, there were several editorials in the Ladies’ Home Journal about child-rearing. Children were expected to do “their bit” to win the war. They could do this by collecting money for war bonds, helping their mother with sewing clothes for the Red Cross (if they were girls), playing outside or joining the boy scouts (if they were boys) so that the ‘”soldiers of tomorrow” would be strong and healthy. Bok encouraged his readers to look past the war and to make sure that the American children would be ready for whatever would come after the war had ended.

This piece was written using three books:

– Mary Ellen Waller, Popular women’s magazines, 1890-1917 (1987), 48.
– Michael Dennis Hummel, The attitudes of Edward Bok and the “Ladies home journal” toward woman’s role in society, 1889-1919 (1982), 308.
– Jennifer Scanlon, Inarticulate longings : consumer culture and the modern woman, 1910-1930 (1989), 9.

And the following microfilm archive:

Ladies’ Home Journal v. 34 (Jan-Dec 1917) Reel 19.