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Women's magazines and the commercial orchestration of femininity in the 1930s: evidence from Woman's Own

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As Frank Mort suggests, there is a need for a 'new synthesis of business and cultural history' in the somewhat compartmentalized history of consumption. Although historians have recognized the importance of popular women's magazines, extant studies have predominantly focused upon 'cultural' rather than 'business' issues. This article suggests how the two approaches may be reconciled by examining the relationship between commercial messages and editorial content in Woman's Own. This was the first and arguably most important of the 'new' mass-circulation weekly women's magazines that appeared in the 1930s. By the end of the 1930s there were over 50 magazines aimed at women readers, several of which had attained readership figures in the hundreds of thousands . While acknowledging women's magazines' cultural significance, this must be appreciated alongside their presentation of commercial messages. The launch of Woman's Own in 1932 established the formulaic structure that characterized the genre, embodying the synthesis of commercial messages and representations of women's roles that underpinned the genre's success. This is explored using a simple content analysis of the magazine between October 1932 and December 1939, which reveals the extent to which readers were exposed to commercial messages through advertising and its editorial content. The paper is organized as follows. First, it reviews the use of British women's magazines from the interwar period as an historical source, identifying problems inherent within the extant literature. This is followed by a brief overview of Woman's Own in the 1930s, focusing upon the magazine's endorsement of domestic ideals and lifestyles in the light of the commercial objectives of its publishers and advertising clients. The paper then turns to the empirical analysis of the magazine's advertising and editorial content between 1932 and 1939, culminating in an investigation of the relationship between advertising and editorial content. The paper concludes that Woman's Own successfully blurred the distinction between editorial and commercial content to create a publishing formula attractive to readers. In doing so, it became the model for future women's magazines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-174
Number of pages14
JournalMedia History
Volume4
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1998

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