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June 2017

Ladies’ Home Journal & The End of World War II

“War,” began Dorothy Thompson in her August 1943 column in Ladies’ Home Journal, “has a curious way of speeding up all historical processes and pushing people and their societies much more rapidly into the future.” Few might have debated her point having witnessed the United States’ technological advancements and the economic boom of its massive manufacturing efforts. Yet, what most interested Thompson was not the future of the nation’s technology or economy, but of its women. Her article, appropriately entitled then “Women and the Coming World,” sought to anticipate what a postwar America might look like for the magazine’s readers, many of whom entered the workforce and society in areas previously unknown for their sex. In her piece, Thompson boldly imagined a society where men and women would work side by side in what would “cease to be a ‘man’s world’.” A world where “father won’t come home at night dead-tired to find mother all dressed up.” A world that centered around the family but did so for once with complete understanding between husband and wife.[1] For Thompson and others, the war offered the nation the chance to revisit and revise much of what had become expected in prior years.

That the egalitarian society she envisioned failed to materialize in the immediate postwar period is hardly surprising for several reasons, not least the public’s “general desire for the ‘normalcy’ denied by depression and war.”[2] Nevertheless, such writing provides particularly interesting, easily overlooked, insight into a hope declared but not quite realized. Thompson, of course, was not alone in attempting to predict what the war’s end meant for the state of the American woman and family. Across the Journal’s issues from the period, one is apt to find the discussion and debate over what peacetime might mean for its readers. The magazine, however, never offered a single, coherent vision to its audience. Instead, as the war waned and concluded, the Journal presented competing, often contradictory, ideas for the future. Though a woman’s duty to the home was rarely questioned, for instance, the possibilities for her outside of it became increasingly acknowledged.

The aim of this paper then is to explore how the Ladies’ Home Journal’s coverage of the final stages of World War II in 1944 and ‘45—particularly its depictions of womanhood, work, and home—informed its anticipations of the postwar period. The intent behind this is not necessarily to grapple with the history of a publication but rather to understand how popular media presented the changes underway in American life, and how many responded to them.

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