Meet the Feminist Artists Recreating the Iconic First Ms. Cover—Five Decades Later

Meet the Feminist Artists Recreating the Iconic First <em>Ms.</em> Cover—Five Decades Later
The Ms. Spring 2021 cover side-by-side with the original Spring 1972 cover, with art by the late Miriam Wosk.

In 1972, Miriam Wosk created the iconic first cover of Ms. magazine, which depicted a modern version of the Hindu goddess Kali, tears streaming down her face while she uses eight arms to juggle an overabundance of work and household tasks. Meanwhile, a new baby is growing inside her belly. In charming style and vibrant color, this Wosk original illustrated Jane O’Reilly’s much-reprinted story, “Click! The Housewife’s Moment of Truth.”

This year, the Spring cover of Ms. pays homage to Wosk’s work. It depicts a COVID-era employed mother—this time juggling two kids, both quarantined at home; a mask and a vaccine; a broom, representing the lion’s share of home labor women have picked up since the beginning of the pandemic; Zoom calls; and more.

Since the start of the pandemic, American women have lost a net total of 5.4 million jobs and, by the end of February, nearly 3 million U.S. women had left the workforce entirely. These millions of women, disproportionately low-income women and women of color, were pushed from the paid labor force by business closures or cutbacks, or they were driven to leave jobs or reduce their work hours when child care centers and schools closed, or lacking paid leave, when they or their family members became sick.

Fifty years later, Ms. asks: How much has changed? And, more importantly, how much hasn’t … and do we, as a nation, care?

The idea for the cover recreation was conceived by Ms. art director Brandi Phipps, who commissioned the project to D.C.-based artist Ashley Jaye Williams (@ashleyjayewilliams). Ms. digital editor Roxy Szal spoke to Phipps and Williams to see what it was like to pick up Wosk’s baton five decades later, their hopes for the cover’s impact on viewers, favorite Ms. covers over the years, and more.


Roxy Szal: How does it feel to pick up Wosk’s baton?

Meet the Feminist Artists Recreating the Iconic First <em>Ms.</em> Cover—Five Decades Later
Ashley Jaye Williams while painting the cover—and post-publication! (Anthony Le + @ashleyjayewilliams/Instagram)

Ashley Jaye Williams: It is such an honor to be able to recreate the work of Miriam Wosk from Ms. magazine’s first cover. I can imagine the excitement and energy that must have been in the air as an impassioned young group of feminists brought this iconic publication into reality—I wish I could have been there! But instead I am happy to bring the combined energy of all the creative women I get the pleasure of working and collaborating with in Washington D.C.

However, we still live in a patriarchal hellscape where women and anyone who is not a cisgender white man still are not shown the basic tenets of equality in this country. But, this is why I make art.

Meet the Feminist Artists Recreating the Iconic First <em>Ms.</em> Cover—Five Decades Later
Phipps. (Elizabeth Waterman)

Szal: What about the original cover inspired you to create a contemporary version? 

Phipps: Honestly, that little has changed since then. We can relate to it just as much today as we could in 1972. It really was such an eye-catching cover—I was excited for the opportunity to recreate it. I’ve been a fan of Ashley’s for years and immediately knew we needed her. 

Szal: Can you explain your choices in this modern COVID-era recreation of Wosk’s classic cover? What do you hope viewers take away?

Williams: The cover remains impactful as women are still dealing with these same injustices—it is sad that this message is just as relevant as it was 50 years ago! A dissonance still exists between individuals benefiting from the paid and unpaid labor of women and the unwillingness of the larger society to acknowledge this labor or its undeniable value.

As soon as Brandi described the cover concept to me, I immediately thought of using Washington, D.C. artist Roxanne Christie (@accentsartanddesign) as a model. I’ve known Roxanne as a friend and have collaborated with her on various projects throughout the pandemic and many years prior. Roxanne is an artist, a mother of three, a mentor, a first-generation American, a friend, a business owner, a spouse, a daughter, a problem solver, a sister, a caregiver, a community leader and a feminist. She is one of the strongest women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and it was my supreme honor to paint her for this cover. 

I hope that viewers feel a sense of urgency that we all must move with fierce intention. 

Phipps: I wanted people to look at the cover and actually feel the stress: putting groceries away with the cat scratching at your leg, Zoom calls, the pile of Amazon boxes, missing loved ones.

The first cover has a gorgeous, dreamy, ethereal quality—but I wanted a different vibe for this cover. I wanted this cover to feel real. Like a Tuesday. And as a mom myself, in a year where nothing has been easy, I feel a real connection to what Ashley has created.


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Szal: What is the role that Ms. covers play in the mission to amplify feminist voices for a broader audience?  

Phipps: Ms. covers place feminist concerns front and center on the newsstand—so with this cover for instance, we’re not just talking to our readers, we’re telling the whole country, “Wake up! This is a problem we’ve had decades to solve!” 

Szal: Other favorite Ms. covers? Why?  

Phipps: Barbara Kruger’s covers. She’s so incredibly talented. Also, Fall 2005 (see next question). 

Szal: Talk to me about your career path.

Phipps: My mom was an early subscriber to Ms. magazine. I loved reading them, looking at the art, the photos—all of it. And as a young lesbian from Appalachia, it was comforting to know that there was a big amazing world of feminists out there!

I studied design in college and worked several industry jobs. Over 20 years later, I got my dream job putting Charlize Theron on the Ms. Fall 2005 cover.

Meet the Feminist Artists Recreating the Iconic First <em>Ms.</em> Cover—Five Decades Later
Left: Ashley Jaye Williams’s digital illustration “Your Dog Thinks I’m Barking,” 2020.
Right: Ashley Jaye Williams with her recent painting “Still Life with Digital Domestic Altar 2020.” (Anthony Le)

Williams: I have always wanted to be an artist, from as early as I can remember. Growing up with a single mother and regularly moving all around the country gave me great insight into the incredible power and resilience of women. My siblings and I watched my mother face struggle after struggle after struggle, and oftentimes her capabilities were diminished by the ignorance of others simply because she was viewed as a “woman unattached to a man.”

I learned from an early age that I could deal with pain, trauma and sexism by creating art, and I have been doing this ever since. Currently my focus is on murals for 2021 and on finishing up a series of paintings for my November solo exhibition at Homme Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Join the Ms. community today and you’ll get the Spring issue delivered straight to your mailbox!

Here’s a glimpse at what else you’ll find inside the upcoming Spring issue:

  • The U.S. talks about gender parity in political office, but Mexico wrote it into their Constitution. Last May, the legislature passed a constitutional reform known as “parity in everything,” requiring that women be nominated for 50 percent of all elected and appointed positions at all levels of government—and not a single member of Congress voted against it. Writer Jennifer Piscopo explains how Mexican women, working across ideological divides, accomplished this feat through decades spent chipping away at men’s political dominance, turning incremental gains into deeper changes.

  • Longtime feminist activist Loretta Ross has a solution for the counterproductive public shaming that takes place in social justice movements. Instead of calling out, she suggests we try “calling in.” “First of all,” Ross says, “we need to stop having this trigger fuse that when somebody says something that you don’t perfectly agree with, that you just set a firecracker off in the middle of their lives and blow them up.”

  • Despite having had months to plan, when COVID-19’s second wave hit the U.S., many women’s prisons were still woefully underprepared. One in five prisoners have contracted the virus, a rate that’s more than four times the general public. Women interviewed for this story told Ms. they lack hot water, fresh air, cleaning supplies and even hand sanitizer. Another woman reported that when one of them tested positive for the coronavirus, she was left in her cell with her roommates for hours before being sent to quarantine. The only solution, according to activists, doctors and even the nation’s top scientists, is decarceration.

Become a Ms. member today to get our Spring issue before it hits newsstands.


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About

Roxy Szal is the digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast "On the Issues With Michele Goodwin." Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.