In August 1971, New York Magazine editor Clay Felker offered Steinem, one of his early protégés, the opportunity of launching a new magazine in New York’s pages as an insert in its year-end issue.
Gloria Steinem (co-founding editor, 1971–present): We’d been crawling around on our knees trying to raise money, which was arduous. Clay said, “If you give me your first issue to choose the 40 or so pages I want from it, then I’ll subsidize the printing of the other 90 or 100 pages and we’ll put it out as a sample.” And that’s what we did.
Clay Felker, in an editor’s letter, 1971
“We at New York owe Gloria a great deal. She helped enormously in getting our magazine started … therefore we must … do what we can to help Gloria and her writing sisters get started.”
Steinem: It wouldn’t have happened without Clay.
Pogrebin: In those days, nothing happened without men. You needed one man to be nice to you and then maybe you could run with it.
Steinem: Clay gave me my first serious assignment when he was an editor at Esquire: a piece on the contraceptive pill.
Felker in the Washington Post, December 12, 1971: “She doesn’t like this story but I saw her standing outside my office one day and I thought she had great legs. I gave her her first bylined assignment and it was excellent.”
Nancy Newhouse (co–founding editor, preview issue): Clay wasn’t a feminist in the classic sense.
Pogrebin: He may well have had a crush on Gloria. Everybody did.
Patricia Carbine (publisher, 1972–87): What Clay and Gloria imagined was that New York would take on this idea of a feminist magazine as a one-shot. Gloria’s colleagues would produce the content; New York would pitch in with the designers.
Pogrebin: We called it the “Preview Issue” because it was a test to see if it would actually sell.
Milton Glaser (New York design director, 1968–77): We worked right out of the office and started simultaneously doing our weekly magazine. We really felt, all of us, that we were on the brink of a moment in time.
Newhouse: The art director, Rochelle Udell, and I were the two donkeys closing the magazine. Gloria gave each of us a silver ring afterward—which was the feminist symbol. I kept it for years. She’d come in the office, and we’d still be there at ten o’clock at night.
Joanne Edgar (co-founding editor, 1971–89): We had decided to charge $6 for an annual subscription because we wanted the magazine to be affordable. One of the financial advisers said, “You can’t charge $6—it’s a monthly, and you won’t be able to put out a magazine for that little money!” We didn’t have time to change the type—this was way before computers—so we just cut out the 6 and repasted it upside down to make it 9 dollars a year.
Newhouse: Clay and Gloria had knockdown arguments about the first cover. Clay wanted a photograph of a man and woman, back-to-back, tied to a big pole. The idea was that they’re tied together, struggling.
Steinem: His cover was negative … limited. It was focused on marriage, not on all women.
Pogrebin: Gloria preferred a drawing of a female figure with many hands, juggling the tasks of a woman’s life.
Steinem: It had a universality because it’s harking back to a mythic image—the many-armed Indian God image. And it solved our problem of being racially “multibiguous” because she’s blue: not any one race.
Glaser: I remember [the fight over the cover] as important because Clay was always yelling.
Proposed Titles for Ms. Magazine
Everywoman / Sisters / Lilith
Sojourner / Female / A Woman’s Place
The First Sex / The Majority
Steinem: “Bimbo.” I think we tried “Bimbo.” On the same principle as “Bitch” or whatever. We did try “Sisters” out on people, and they thought it was about nuns.
Pogrebin: We chose Ms. because it could be explained and justified—since “Mister” or “Mr.” doesn’t communicate a man’s marital status, why should women carry “Miss” or “Mrs.,” as if to advertise their availability as mates?
Rochelle Udell (art director, preview issue): It was an announcement. Using Ms. said, “I’m a feminist.”
Mary Peacock (co-founding editor, 1971–77): When Ms. started, you couldn’t pick up the phone and say, “Ms. Magazine,” because what people heard was “Mmzzz” and they’d ask, “What are you saying?” This would happen 25 times a day. So when we picked up the phone, we said each letter separately: “M-S magazine.” But gradually something changed—I could shoot myself that I can’t remember when it changed, because it was a huge watershed: Suddenly you could say “Ms.,” and everybody knew what you were talking about.