Feminist Journalism is Essential to Democracy

‘Dear Ms.’: What Ms. Magazine Means to Readers, Over the Decades

Feminist journalism is essential to public discourse. It is essential to political debate. And it absolutely essential to free and fair democracy. Explore more at Feminist Journalism is Essential to DemocracyMs. magazine’s latest installment of Women & Democracy, presented in partnership with the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Original Ms. staffers in 1972. (Mary Ellen Mark)

Ms. has always been more than a magazine. Ms. covers news and makes it, reports on trends and helps create them. The magazine has sparked laws and judicial changes, influenced policy, generated new vocabulary and forced action on issues too long ignored.

Our readers recognize the impact Ms. has made over the past 50 years. We asked what Ms. means to you—and we were moved by your replies. You’ll find a sampling on below, and more in our anniversary issue, on newsstands Jan. 3. (Become a member today and you’ll receive every issue of Ms.—and fuel our feminist reporting, rebelling and truth-telling.)

Thank you! Ms. could never have reached this milestone without our readers’ loyal support!

Ms. Winter 2023 cover.

I’ll never forget seeing the first issue of Ms. when I was in my early 20s. It was funny and refreshing to see Wonder Woman on the cover. The magazine promoted us from non-entities in the background to superheroes in the spotlight, where we belonged!

When it comes to providing comprehensive coverage of women’s issues with world-class editorial quality, Ms. is in a class by itself. Many other magazines and news outlets swoop in to cover monumental issues like the rollback of Roe v. Wade. But Ms. is there every day on every issue of importance to women.

Women comprise half the population. But we get nowhere near half the attention on critical issues. With most news outlets, relentless persistence is the only way [to get important issues covered]. Ms. is an exception. I didn’t have to call Ms. five times to get them to cover the Debbie Smith Act, which provided funding to process hundreds of thousands of rape kits nationwide that were in the hands of law enforcement. It was called the most important anti-rape legislation in America. Ms. covered the issue from start to finish.

Ms. faithfully chronicled my 20-year fight to create the National Women’s History Museum on the Mall [in Washington, D.C.]. It should have taken two years. Without Ms.’ coverage and advocacy, we might still be fighting.

Whether it has been following my continued efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, successfully expand Medicare or require insurance companies to cover mammograms and colonoscopies, Ms. has been there every step of the way.

I join millions of women worldwide in recognizing the extraordinary accomplishments and contributions of Ms. magazine over the past 50 years, and in wishing them every success in the next 50.

—Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

Women comprise half the population. But we get nowhere near half the attention on critical issues.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.)

Wonder Woman has graced Ms. magazine’s cover five times, to date: in 1972, 1997, 2007, 2012 and again in 2017.

Ms. was like a lightning bolt of inspiration and information. From changing what we called ourselves to challenging how we (and others) looked at ourselves, Ms. helped to change how we are in the world.

I was a young mother with two children, already active in the women’s liberation movement in Chicago. Ms. helped to give us a national voice. And your ability to amplify our voices and magnify our movement is still needed—maybe more than ever!

—Heather Booth

Gloria Steinem at the offices of Ms. Magazine circa 1974 in New York City. (Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images)

Trying to come into my own in the world at 17 years old, with all the naivete and grit only a teenager possesses, I decided that I would shake the earth beneath me with my high school senior project: a feminist magazine covering women’s issues in the 21st century. Surely, I thought, no one had thought to create such a publication before.

I am a child of immigrants—the first to sit in an American classroom and learn a history wrapped in red, white and blue. My parents come from countries where democracy is tenuous at best and heartbreakingly shattered at worst, so the promise of equality and a voice for everyone was mystical and enticing.

But just like any young girl navigating the world, my experience was marked by moments of profound unfairness, which I came to understand as a condition of my gender. It was perplexing and rage-inducing. I couldn’t believe that we weren’t talking about it all the time—so I started to. Often guided and prompted
by my mother, I wove the label “feminist” into the quilt of my identity.

In doing research for my senior project, I scoured the web and the shelves of my local bookstore for sources that could guide my approach to feminist journalism. Sure enough, my hands were soon running over glossy paper. Two letters, bathed in bright pink and printed in broad strokes, changed everything. Ms. told me I wasn’t alone. Our numbers are immeasurable.

We are the fighters for the belief that all humans must be treated equally. We recognize the breadth of challenges we face, so we devote ourselves to different causes but constantly come back together to share, listen and learn. It’s not just about “Have you heard?” it’s “Have you considered …,” urging us to look for intersections in our work and to leave space for a wide range of stories. We help each other evolve and be more true to our feminist mission.

Ms. wasn’t just about finding my fellow earthshakers, though. Each issue took me into a past I was unfamiliar with. The sound of a page flipping became a key unlocking secrets of the nation I’d been born into. I learned that 50 years before I went to my first march, joined by feminists in pink hats, there had been streams of women taking to the streets in protest. The women’s movement? I reflected back on my year of U.S. history. I sat in a blue plastic chair day after day having never heard of a movement that colored the 1970s and fundamentally changed life for all women thereafter. So Ms. became the textbook I never had.

I’m a senior in college now. I’m pursuing history and gender studies (figures, right?). Today, you’ll find a section in my bookshelf full of thin, tall, paper-bound magazines. My senior project is there, along with every issue of Ms. that’s been published since I discovered it.

—Francesca Seni Pardo

Ms. became the textbook I never had. … The magazine told me I wasn’t alone. Our numbers are immeasurable.

Francesca Seni Pardo

I received my first Ms. magazine from my sister-in-law when I was 14. It was the July issue with Billie Jean King on the cover, given to me because she knew I played tennis and admired King.

Needless to say this magazine changed my life. I immediately subscribed and read every issue cover to cover. Ms. empowered me as a feminist, a lesbian and an activist.

A special issue was the September 1973 issue on women astronauts. I used this article to write a paper on women in the space program for a science class in 8th grade and was given an F by my teacher, who told me there were not women in NASA. I proudly brought my Ms. magazine to prove the fact. I thought of him when I saw the movie Hidden Figures.

—Ruth Norrington

Ms. executive editor Kathy Spillar (left) and Ms. publisher and Feminist Majority Foundation president Ellie Smeal (center) present Gloria Steinem with a framed copy of Ms. magazine at the Women, Money and Power Summit on Oct. 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. (Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images)

My introduction to Ms. magazine happened in summer 2003. As soon as I learned about the existence of this magazine (a.k.a. beacon of feminist hope), I immediately sought out the latest issue, which featured the indomitable Janeane Garofalo on the cover. Finding Ms. felt like coming home—to myself, to my voice, to my intuition, to my knowing. I felt excited by my burgeoning feminist sensibilities while simultaneously deeply comforted by the familiarity and history of the movement.

Ms. made feminism modern, relevant and accessible for me. It grounded an otherwise abstract concept into the lives and lived experiences of all kinds of diverse women and I recognized myself in many of them. I found Ms. around the same time I discovered my queerness and the intersections of feminist praxis and queer politics sparked something in me that continues to burn today. Ms. continues to give us permission (not that we need it) to show up fully as ourselves, unapologetically, in a world that wants us to be small, to be silent, to smile.

Reading Ms. over the years has not only bolstered my feminist politic and analysis but has served to fortify my entire life both personally and professionally. I have found community and sisterhood through the movement and the magazine. In my professional life, feminism is the lens through which I see the world, enabling me to better understand the struggles and challenges faced by my clients as they seek sobriety. My feminist analysis has enabled me to clearly see the ways in which women and girls are targeted by Big Alcohol and how the intersections of misogyny, inequitable relationships and home environments and societal expectations of what it means to be a “good” woman create challenging and vulnerable positions for women. My work would not be nearly as impactful if not for my feminist analysis and by extension, the role and influence that Ms. has had on me.

I am deeply grateful for the existence of Ms. magazine, the gifts it has given me over the years and the ways it continues to show up, exactly when we need it.

—Amy C. Willis

Her article pulled together what our group of women suspected. We were not imagining slights or substandard opportunities. We had reasons to be upset. We had a case. 

Elaine Auerbach

The year was 1967 and I was a recent college graduate when, to my amazement, I was hired by the Reader’s Digest as an editor. Me, hired by what was then the largest circulation magazine in the world!

It didn’t take long until I realized something wasn’t right. By 1971, I was watching as young men who had joined the magazine after me were being promoted. It all became clear when I asked the managing editor what skills I needed to advance. 

“Women don’t become senior editors,” he replied.

His statement propelled me to talk to other women. I soon learned that several had been similarly rebuffed. I became part of a group of women pushing management for change. At first, we were humored and politely ignored. When it became clear we would not let the matter drop, we were chastised, smeared, shamed and shunned. We were made to feel that we were the problem, not the magazine’s practices and the prejudices of the all-male senior staff.

In 1972, Ms. magazine launched, and I immediately subscribed. I knew it had words of wisdom for me. However, I never expected it to speak so directly to me and for me. Author Lindsay Van Gelder traveled to the suburban headquarters of the Reader’s Digest. She interviewed members of our coterie of activists and wrote a story for Ms. called “The Most Unforgettable Employer We’ve Ever Met.” As Van Gelder recounted the patriarchal and discriminatory practices of the Reader’s Digest in the pages of Ms., she revealed the company’s gender discrimination. Her article pulled together what our group of women suspected. We were not imagining slights or substandard opportunities. We had reasons to be upset. We had a case. 

We took that case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and to federal court. The lawsuit dragged on until November 1977. Just as we were about to go to court, the Reader’s Digest offered to settle. The settlement was the largest at that time and gave loud warning to other companies that they had better act quickly to settle their ongoing lawsuit or to avoid being dragged into legal action. As Van Gelder wrote, “If it can happen at the Digest, it can—and will—happen everywhere.” 

I kept that Ms. article for some 50 years, carrying it with me in a cardboard box that I toted from house to house and across the country. In 2021, I pulled it out and wrote the full story of our crusade in my book Dirty Linen: How Women Sued the Reader’s Digest and Changed History. Ms. is referenced in the book.

On a broad level, Ms. is acknowledged for waking the world up to gender issues. On a personal level, Ms. is thanked for the encouragement it provided our group of ordinary women who dared to challenge a Goliath of a magazine.

—Elaine Auerbach

Ms. magazine has been at the forefront of feminist journalism for half a century. Our forthcoming book, 50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine That Ignited a Revolution (Alfred A. Knopf, Fall 2023), is a celebration of that achievement. It’s also a history of women’s advancement, a testament to how far we have progressed in five decades—and a reminder of how far we still must go.

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Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


A current list of Ms. print and digital editors can be found on the masthead.