This piece will be updated as new reviews become available. Last updated: Monday, Sept. 18, at 11:35 a.m. PT.
50 YEARS OF Ms.: THE BEST OF THE PATHFINDING MAGAZINE THAT IGNITED A REVOLUTION (Alfred A. Knopf) is released this month and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with our readers—and with the entire world. The book is a collection of the most audacious, most norm-breaking coverage Ms. has published—on women, men, politics (sexual and otherwise), marriage, family, education, work, motherhood, reproductive rights, LGBTQ lives, racial justice, and so much more. It is filled with the best of our fiction, poetry and letters to Ms.
50 Years of Ms. will be released on Sept. 19, 2023. Order your copy now, then join us in a city near you on our book tour to celebrate our new anthology, 50 YEARS OF Ms., and ring in the next five decades of feminism.
We’ve sent the book to some readers, publishers and editors, ahead of its September release—and we are thrilled that they love it too. Below, we’ve curated some excerpts of our early reviews.
Gloria Steinem was a 30-something columnist for New York magazine when she helped found a new publication aimed at pushing feminism into the mainstream. Correspondent Rita Braver talks with Steinem about the origin of Ms. Magazine, and with executive editor Katherine Spillar, who has spent two-and-a-half years compiling a new anthology, “50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine That Ignited a Revolution.”
Containing stories on everything from the question of equal pay to the politics of body hair, “50 Years of Ms.” provides a snapshot of the issues facing many American women from the 1970s on, including the concerns and contributions of Black women to the 20th-century feminist and political project. …
Ms. was often prescient, anticipating and exploring topics that feel just as relevant today as they did at the time of writing, including misinformation about menopause (1993), the harmful effects of pornography (2004) and the controversies and tensions surrounding the evolution of personal pronouns (1985). Under the headline “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Twenty-First Century” in 1990, a wry Jane Wagner predicts that the feminist movement “for the umpteenth time will be pronounced dead,” the only three types of remaining government will be “neo-fascism, regular fascism and fascism lite” and that the “flesh-colored Band-Aid will come in many colors.” …
Reprints of the magazine’s art chart the publication’s evolution, from stories about feminists’ supposed lack of humor to the 2022 repeal of Roe v. Wade. On Page 59, a tasteful female nude accompanies a provocative 1974 story about masturbation by the sex educator Betty Dodson. From 1973: impactful, celebratory, close-up photographs of Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and Frances “Sissy” Farenthold, who, a year prior, had sought the Democratic nominations for president and vice president. Closer to the book’s end are the three covers featuring Nancy Pelosi.
The recurring reader letters are fascinating and often powerful. Women write in to comment on the sexual harassment of Anita Hill, or to bear witness to and embrace their identities as survivors of domestic or sexual violence. One letter, published in the September 1978 issue, details how its correspondent, upon arriving at a county clerk’s office to get married, was handed a “New Homemaker’s Kit” that included bottles of Fantastik and Bufferin, pantyhose and a can of Spray ’n Wash.
According to New York Magazine’s “The Approval Matrix,” 50 Years of Ms. is both “highbrow” and “brilliant.”
The 544 pages of ’50 Years of Ms.’ land with a terrific thump.
In 1971, a group of young women journalists and writers sat on the living room floor of Brenda Feigen’s “tiny” New York apartment.
Earlier that year, Feigen had joined forces with Gloria Steinem to create the Women’s Action Alliance, an organization that aimed to support and connect activists in the feminist movement across the country. Steinem and Feigen had decided that the Alliance needed some sort of publication. Steinem suggested a newsletter. Feigen suggested a magazine.
“I said, ‘you’re famous enough. We have enough money,’” Feigen told Women Rule in an interview.
So Feigen and Steinem gathered the up-and-coming young writers that they wanted to write for the magazine in for what would become a historic — if slightly improvisatory — meeting.
“And we decided to have one more meeting in case we missed anybody,” Feigen said. “The next meeting was at Gloria’s apartment. So that really was the beginning of Ms. Magazine.”
Now, It’s been over 50 years since the Ms. was founded – a milestone that the magazine is commemorating with a forthcoming book called 50 Years of Ms.: The Best of the Pathfinding Magazine That Ignited a Revolution, which will be released on Sept. 19.
When Ms. was founded in 1971, the vast majority of publications for women were about homemaking, parenting advice and fashion and beauty tips.
Ms. was far from that, created with the intention of giving a national voice to the feminist movement of the ‘70s – and railing against the idea of the perfect homemaking housewife that was perpetuated by many of the other “for women” publications.
The first issue was dated “Spring 1972” with the intention of allowing it to stay on newstands for months. It sold out in just eight days.
Ms. was founded at a pivotal time for women. Abortion was about to become legal nationwide with the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, and women were entering the workforce in droves.
It’s a setting that doesn’t seem too foreign. In the past few years, the Supreme Court issued another landmark decision on abortion, this time overturning Roe, and women are navigating their return to the workplace after a global pandemic upended the nation’s workforce.
And in the past few years, other outlets that specifically dedicate themselves to serving women – like — the 19th — have popped up.
Their editors say that their success hinges on the fact that they’re covering topics that are under-covered by mainstream outlets, from a different vantage point than legacy outlets – just like Ms. has aimed to do for the past half century.
“The levers of power are very imbalanced still to this very day, not only on sex but also race and ethnicity,” Kathy Spillar, the magazine’s executive editor, tells Women Rule. “Ms. has played a major role in constantly putting that in front of the public so that people understand.”
Since its beginning, Ms. made abortion one of its central topics. The very first edition, released before the Roe decision legalized abortion across the U.S., included a petition titled “We Have Had Abortions,” with signatures from 50 prominent women, including Steinem, Billie Jean King, Susan Sontag and Nora Ephron.
“[The signers] essentially were admitting they had broken the law, because with rare exception, abortion was illegal in most of the country,” Spillar says. “It made visible what had been invisible. Women were shamed and did not talk about their abortions.”
In the years since, Ms. has rerun the petition many times. On the most recent petition, over 10,000 people signed. “We put every name in the magazine.”
From Publisher’s Weekly:
Spillar, the executive editor of Ms. magazine, takes a lively and inspiring look at the pioneering feminist periodical.
Debuting in 1972 after a preview issue in New York magazine, Ms. “emerged to fill a gap between a determined, vibrant movement and the continued curtailment of women’s rights in virtually every aspect of American life.” Each chapter of the book is devoted to one decade of the magazine’s existence, with short introductory essays contextualizing the periodical’s challenges and accomplishments.
In its founding era (the 1970s), writers for Ms. reported on gendered double standards around grooming and body hair removal, surveillance of domestic activists by the FBI, and Shirley Chisholm’s candidacy for president, among other issues.
In the ensuing decades, the magazine tackled such topics as no-fault divorce and date rape (1980s); misogyny and feminism in rap and the rise of “hate radio” hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern (1990s); intersectional feminisms and the militarization of American culture after 9/11 (2000s); same-sex marriage and the Black Lives Matter movement (2010s); and most recently, the carework emergency during Covid-19 and the judicial dismantling of Roe v. Wade.
The selections feature plenty of well-known writers, including Angela Davis and Barbara Ehrenreich, and the ample inclusion of letters from readers—some supportive, some critical—help to convey how Ms. connected with ordinary people. This thorough survey makes a persuasive case for the magazine’s continued importance.
Ms. magazine executive editor Spillar (exec. dir., Feminist Majority Foundation) celebrates the publication she leads with this compilation of well-chosen essays from the magazine’s first 50 years.
Starting with Ms.’s founding in the 1970s, the collection moves through the decades to the present day, addressing subjects such as marriage, abortion, the Equal Rights Amendment, violence against women, divorce, wealth, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more. Many essays illuminate the experiences of women of color and marginalized communities.
Each section opens with a short essay that places the content within the context of Ms.’s history, illustrating how the publication navigated revenue issues, advertising problems, editorial independence, and the online era. There are also sidebars that add historical or cultural context. Many of the essays are written by feminist luminaries such as Gloria Steinem, Audre Lorde, Joyce Carol Oates, and Alison Bechdel. This book also includes poetry, illustrations, and letters from readers showcasing reactions to the magazine’s content.
VERDICT: A timely and thought-provoking collection of feminist essays, which shows how far society has come and how much work is left to do to obtain true gender equality.
From Donna Seaman at Booklist (who gave the book a coveted star!):
This thoughtfully curated and zestful celebration of the first 50 years of Ms. would be fascinating under any circumstances, but given the renewed assaults on women’s rights it’s all the more compelling.
Opening pieces by Gloria Steinem, executive editor Katherine Spillar, and publisher Eleanor Smeal chronicle the mission and evolution of this revolutionary magazine.
The first issue appeared in January 1972 and sold out in eight days, then thousands of letters poured in, establishing an ongoing dialogue. This “best of” collection proceeds decade-by-decade, showcasing the magazine’s arresting covers, page layouts, and a treasury of rigorous, vibrant, insightful, witty, and powerful reporting, analysis, opinion, profiles, advice, poems, short stories, and those all-important letters.
Diverse writers cover topics ranging from abortion to welfare, body image, getting male partners to do their share of the housework, rape, domestic violence, pornography, divorce, gay rights, Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas, women’s history, women in sports, women with disabilities, women in politics, women in prison, and Black Lives Matter. The illustrious contributors include Susan Brownmiller, Gina Barreca, Angela Bonavoglia, Brittany Cooper, Angela Davis, Barbara Ehrenreich, Bay Fang, Joy Harjo, Martha Mendoza, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Alice Walker, and Patricia J. Williams.
Ms., long a not-for-profit endeavor, continues to lead in the long battle for gender equality, an essential element in a thriving democracy.
Ms., which has advanced and amplified feminist perspectives on society from diverse angles like no other publication, thrives on in both print and digital form with the tagline, “More than a magazine, a movement.” And as founding editor Gloria Steinem writes in a foreword, “A movement is a contagion of truth telling: at last, we know we are not alone.”
Back in 1972, the first issue sold out in eight days; in it, 53 prominent American women “shouted” their abortions. Clearly, we desperately need the work of this media group more than ever. The book, including pieces by Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde and other heavyweights, provides an essential look back while making an impassioned case for the critical role of feminist writing going forward.
Some select reviews from NetGalley:
(View them all here.)
I found this book riveting from the first chapter right to the last. What a textbook of knowledge for women to learn how far we have come and still need to go. Ms is ahead of her time. I highly recommend this book to everyone who wants to help make a better and more inclusive world for all. Thank you, Ms.—Danielle C
This book is one to wrap your arms around for the love of women — with all the pain endured throughout the ages and advancements made since the magazine was first published in 1972.
Well known activist Gloria Steinem worked with talented feminists over the years to cover leading news articles related to equal rights for women. This is a collection of stimulating stories, letters, poetry, news clips, and photographs covering 50 years of publications. Some of the magazine covers bring back memories.
The material is massive and it’s well organized in the book. It touches on a number of topics which includes: rape, abortions, effects of divorce, violence, women in prisons, military and women’s rights, prostitution, fashion, equal pay, gender rights, and Supreme Court rulings. …
It’s my hope that the next generation will take a look as so few understand that just a short time ago, women fought for rights that are enjoyed today.—Jackie S
This is THE book about Ms magazine, one of the most influential magazines in the history of modern publication. This book is so full of not only information, but photos, archives and magazine covers. The gamut of topics in one book such as this is astounding and captures the history of women and women’s rights like no other. From topics you would expect to more unexpected ones like Marilyn Monroe are throughout these pages. This magazine pre-dates me but the book has made me greatly appreciate it in its entirety. I highly recommend this in print!— Brigette K
50 Years of Ms. is an absolutely fascinating collection that should be required reading. We should all see how far we’ve come, and also how far we still need to go. I loved flipping through the various articles, reading many of the greatest feminist icons in their own words, at the time when they were making the most impact. Highly recommend!— Tara L
50 Years of Ms. is a collection that will serve many roles for many readers, from remembering why we became activists to helping with research to even just plain old nostalgia.
The articles included range from analyses of the types of things we accept because “that is just how it is” to debunking the many fabrications that have been made to thwart progress in so many areas. The one common denominator in them is, whether implicit or explicit, they are calls to action. Sign petitions, write letters, contact legislators, get in the street, and, perhaps most important, make the changes in your own life that will empower you and help empower other women. From the beginning the idea of the personal being (always) political is evident.
I found a lot of the sidebars and shorter features interesting because they are the things I likely overlooked, or at least didn’t pay a lot of attention to, when reading the original magazine. The short columns with paragraph recaps of events or ideas. These, as much as the articles themselves, helped take me back to those days.
Because of my age and when I became active in the movement(s), this reminded me of the victories we won, the battles we lost (or rather, haven’t won yet), and the many things we still have to work on, both within and without our movements. Just in the past 5-7 years I have read so many good books that highlight how dynamic activist groups are organizing to avoid some of the mistakes my generation made. By my age and generation, I will say that my first WGS course was in 1990, and I never had another semester (or quarter at one of my grad programs) without at least one.
I would recommend this to anyone with an interest, formal or informal, in feminist history leading right up to today’s issues (which are largely, unfortunately, also yesterday’s issues). From those who simply remember reading the issues as they came out to know they weren’t alone in what they believed to be right, to those wanting a nice collection of primary sources that cover some of the history of feminist thought of the past 50 years.—Jack M
50 Years of Ms. will be released on Sept. 19, 2023; you can pre-order your copy now.