In 1971, in response to a lack of journalistic media produced by and for women, Gloria Steinem founded Ms. Magazine, aided by an original editing team including Mary Thom, Mary Peacock, Patricia Carbine, Nina Finkelstein, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Joanne Edgar. Steinem had originally intended to start a newsletter to raise money for the Women’s Action Alliance, a feminist educational organization which the two also founded in 1971. Realizing that newsletters would not necessarily have the fundraising effect they desired, Steinem began looking into creating a glossy-cover magazine. Ms. filled a significant void in magazine publishing at the time: in Steinem’s words, before Ms., “...there really was nothing for women to read that was controlled by women.”
Despite the founding team’s doubts and overt skepticism from other -- largely male -- voices in the journalism business, Ms.’s debut as an insert in New York magazine showed tremendous potential, selling 300,000 copies in under one week. Ms. created a name for itself by addressing heavy-hitting issues like abortion and domestic violence which impacted many women’s lives but were often overlooked or stigmatized in popular culture. Ms.’s first issue famously contained a list of women, including Gloria Steinem, Anaïs Nin, and Billie Jean King, who admitted to having abortions before they were federally legalized through Roe v. Wade.
In the years following its birth, Ms. became a leading voice in the second-wave feminist movement. It continued to function as a source of groundbreaking journalism but also hosted events, published books, and acted as an “information clearinghouse” to help create nationwide feminist networks. The creators of Ms. sought to create a product which would be accessible for both nascent feminists and longtime supporters of the women’s movement. They also wanted to use their medium to critique the long-standing tradition of sexism in advertising. Advertisers for Ms. were carefully hand-picked by the staff, and the magazine published a weekly “No Comment” section which called out misogynistic advertising seen by readers.
While Ms. enjoyed unprecedented success as a nationwide feminist magazine, it also inspired a great deal of controversy. The magazine faced constant criticism both from the right for being too radical and from radical feminists for being too conservative. This criticism sometimes evolved from negative public feedback into active disputes, including legal action intended to censor Ms. and the Redstockings’ infamous claim that Gloria Steinem was secretly affiliated with the CIA. Ms. also drew internal critique for its focus on white womanhood: author Alice Walker left the magazine in 1986 after twelve years as a contributor, citing one too many covers featuring exclusively white women and a sense of tokenization amidst the majority-white staff.
While both controversial and flawed, Ms. changed the face of journalism and played a major role in bringing feminism into popular consciousness. In 1987, the Australian production company Fairfax bought Ms., concluding the first stage of its life. It has since been passed between several different publishers and continues to operate today through Liberty Media for Women, a company owned by the Feminist Majority Foundation.
From the Ms. Magazine records finding aid (Works Consulted Abigail Pogrebin, “How Do You Spell Ms.,” New York Magazine, Oct. 28 2011)