“The median annual income for white females is just over $5,000 and for non-white women, $4,000 … There is no job safe from the perils and humiliations of sex discrimination.”
Bernikow: What the magazine did was give a whole bunch of writers a gig. You could build a career on having appeared in Ms.; it was huge in my life. I’ve even got tears in my eyes saying this.
Impact of First Issue
Though the editors had expected it to sit on newsstands for months after its January publication date (they labeled it “Spring,” so it wouldn’t start to look stale if it lingered), the preview issue sold out its 300,000 copies in eight days.
Steinem: I was definitely afraid of failure. I had been so worried that somehow it would do poorly and it would really damage the movement because it was so public.
Edgar: I do palpably remember the huge relief I felt when thousands upon thousands of subscriber cards came in after the preview issue.
Steinem: We had no money to advertise the preview issue, so we all went out on the hustings to talk about the magazine to the media. Jane O’Reilly will tell you the story: She’d never spoken in public, and I made her.
O’Reilly: I was so frightened. I remember the importance of losing seven pounds so I could fit into this pretty dress.
Steinem: I went to L.A., and I was on a radio call-in show when the caller said she couldn’t find the issue on newsstands. Afterward, I called Clay in a panic and said, “The magazine never got here! It never got here!” And he told me it had sold out.
Edgar: We were absolutely invigorated. These enormous mailbags would arrive every day.
Letter, January 1, 1972
I’m twenty-three years old, I have two daughters and a perplexed husband. Perplexed because he can’t figure out what it is about woman’s position in this world that makes me so very angry …
Port Clinton, Ohio
Letter, January 28, 1972
About Ms.—it’s fantastic! We haunted the newsdealer’s till it arrived.
Newsdealer (patronizingly): “Is this the magazine you girls have been waiting for?”
Us (proudly): “No. It’s the magazine we women have been waiting for.”
The Raleigh Times, January 1972
“Ms. Is Magazine for a Whole Woman,”
By Lineta Pritchard
“For the first time you can read a publication that expresses total female sentiment, not sentiment based on some male publisher’s assumption that all women like to read about recipes, beauty tricks, wardrobe wizardry and entertaining.”
Letter, February 9, 1972
I’m encouraging every young woman I know to subscribe—those who can leave their macramé long enough to use their minds.
Pogrebin: Of course, there were going to be detractors, too. They were poised to strike.
Syndicated Columnist James Kilpatrick, December 1971: “[Ms. is a] C-sharp on an un-tuned piano,” a note “of petulance, of bitchiness, or nervous fingernails screeching across a blackboard.”
Harry Reasoner on ABC’s Nightly News, 1972: “I’ll give it six months before they run out of things to say.”
President Nixon to Henry Kissinger on White House Audiotapes, 1972
Nixon: [Dan Rather] asked a silly goddamn question about Ms.—you know what I mean?
Nixon: For shit’s sake, how many people really have read Gloria Steinem and give one shit about that?
New York Times Headline, March 22, 1972:
“In Small Town U.S.A., Women’s Liberation Is Either a Joke or a Bore.”
Syndicated Gossip Columnist Earl Wilson on the Ms. Launch Party at the New York Public Library, June 30, 1972
“Speaking of libraries, some Women’s Libbers were well stacked and some ain’t never been stacked and never will be.”
Carbine: We learned that Ms. was being removed from public libraries as unsuitable reading material.
Steinem: Abe Rosenthal at the New York Times told me that no one would ever hire me again as a journalist; I’d thrown away my career.
Carbine: After the preview issue, the essence of what Clay said was, “Okay, now that you’ve done the one-shot, what else is there to say?” Even he was skeptical.
Assembling a Staff
The original Ms. staff was composed of writers and editors who had been at the early meetings or who were later invited to contribute. In some cases, there were people who simply knocked on the door. Elizabeth “Betty” Harris volunteered to help Steinem raise money for Ms., became the magazine’s first publisher, and lasted less than a year. (Harris died in 1999.)
Pogrebin: Betty represented herself as the person who was going to bring in the money.
Edgar: She didn’t bring in any money.
Steinem: I realized how dumb I was when Clay did a credit check on Betty and discovered she was wanted by the sheriff in California for nonpayment of bills and she’d been fired from a previous job.