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How Do You Spell Ms.

November 1976 sex issue.  

The Debut Issue

Feature: “The Housewife’s Moment of Truth,”
By Jane O’Reilly
“On Fire Island my weekend hostess and I had just finished cooking breakfast, lunch, and washing dishes for both. A male guest came wandering into the kitchen just as the last dish was being put away and said, ‘How about something to eat?’ He sat down, expectantly, and started to read the paper. Click! … In the end, we are all housewives, the natural people to turn to when there is something unpleasant, inconvenient or inconclusive to be done.”

Peacock: Jane O’Reilly’s piece struck a chord.

Suzanne Levine (managing editor, 1972–88): Every woman got it.

Steinem: Jane described a moment when a woman who’s been piling up things on the stairs to take to the second floor watches her husband walk around them as he climbs the stairs, and she thinks, He has two hands! It was a prototypal “click” of realizing unfairness.

O’Reilly: The “click” idea just came to me. I didn’t know it would be the best idea I’d ever had.

Feature: “We Have Had Abortions
A statement signed by 53 women, including singer Judy Collins; tennis champion Billie Jean King; and writers Susan Sontag, Grace Paley, Anaïs Nin, Patricia Bosworth, Barbara W. Tuchman, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Gloria Steinem. The article included a card that invited women to fill in their own names and send it in to the magazine.

Levine: I am not sure I had told anybody that I had … It really was a big secret in my life. Within a minute, I knew I had to sign that coupon and send it in.

Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel (editor of the abortion petition): I like to think that that was a precursor to the many acts that led to the Roe v. Wade decision a year later.

Edgar: I went to Barbaralee’s apartment because we had to verify all of those names; that was not something you took lightly.

Pogrebin: I thought it was especially important because as a wife and mother of three, I could not easily be accused of being a “baby killer.” Almost all my friends had had abortions. I wanted everyone to admit it.

Diamonstein-Spielvogel: The person who created the greatest stir and the most international phone calls was Billie Jean King.

Pogrebin: She was assumed to be gay, so how could she possibly have gotten pregnant? People forgot that she was married for several years. Also many people stupidly assume that lesbians don’t care about any issues other than their own rights.

Nora Ephron (signed the “We Have Had Abortions” statement): I remember that Gloria called me and said they were doing a statement that was inspired by what the Danes had supposedly done during World War II, wearing Jewish stars, daring the Nazis to arrest them all. Seemed like a great idea. Over the years, the occasional journalist has asked about it and assumed it was to be taken literally and that I had had an abortion. Which I hadn’t. They didn’t really understand the spirit of the statement at all.

Feature: “Down With Sexist Upbringing!,”
By Letty Cottin Pogrebin
“Our twin daughters aren’t into Women’s Liberation … But living with Abigail and Robin, age six, is an ongoing consciousness-raising session for my husband and me … They are constant reminders that lifestyles and sex roles are passed from parents to children as inexorably as blue eyes and small feet.”

Karin Lippert (promotion director, 1972–81): Letty brought the voice of a mother into the mix. She figured out what was wrong with how the culture was treating kids. It sounds like such an easy leap now, but it was a new concept in those days.

Pogrebin: Anti-feminists tried to label movement women as man-haters, anti-family, anti-marriage. There were always plenty of married women within feminist communities, but they didn’t always have as much time as single women to devote to activism, so they weren’t as visible.

Feature: “Can Women Love Women?,”
Anonymous interview conducted by Anne Koedt
“I was flooded with a tremendous attraction for her. And I wanted to tell her I wanted to sleep with her. I wanted to let her know what I was feeling.”

Steinem: Clay and many magazine people told me not to include a lesbian article in the first issue—and so, of course, we did.

Feature: “Heaven Won’t Protect the Working Girl,”
By Louise Bernikow
“A female college graduate earns a few dollars more a year than a man with an eighth-grade education.”

Louise Bernikow (contributor, 1970s): The story was my politics-is-personal moment. I grew up knowing “girls couldn’t,” and when it came to being writers, I knew that I couldn’t be a reporter for the New York Times or Newsday; I could only be a researcher. But I had never put it together in terms of the pyramid that the story reveals.