Boomers Read the “Women’s Pages”

In the boomer years, local print newspapers were a primary source of news and information. They provided factual local, national and world news as well as entertainment and tips for living in the modern world. The latter was often the realm of the Women’s Pages, one or more pages of the newspaper devoted to family life, food and society news. In other words, the Women’s Pages were targeted toward a female audience — the mothers of Baby Boomers.

As near as Mister Boomer can ascertain, the origin of gender-specific pages of the newspaper began in the early 1800s. The intent of these pages was to offer gossip and news about a region’s richest women. It was a source of amusement, envy and aspiration for readers to vicariously view the comings and goings of the rising upper class. The hardworking life of an American housewife got a momentary break reading about what wealthier women wore, what they did, and with whom.

After the Civil War, things got moving in earnest. Pages were aimed specifically toward attracting women readers with the same type of society news previously reported, but also added info on interior decorating, fashion, etiquette, food and family. By 1900, most daily newspapers had one or more “women’s pages.” The page articles were often written by women, which was the only real opportunity available to female journalists. For that reason, the pages were often touted as written “by women, for women.” While we now know there were a few exceptional female journalists as far back as the 1900s, as a general rule, women were kept out of the profession.

During World War I and again in WWII, it was necessary for women to take on jobs that were previously the exclusive territory of men, including newspaper journalism. However, in the case of both world wars, women journalists were forced to retreat back to writing mainly the Women’s pages once the men returned home.

At the time of the Baby Boom, the Women’s pages were an established tradition in newspapers from coast to coast. As the Boomer Generation kicked into high gear after the war and into the 1950s, the increase in marriages and births very likely helped to expand the traditional form from one or two pages to entire newspaper sections.

The Women’s Section assisted the mothers of baby boomers in navigating the new landscape of suburbia, yet also continued to spread stereotypes of what men thought an American wife and mother should be. Nonetheless, women enjoyed reading the pages, which may also have included advice columns for readers to write in questions about anything from cooking and cleaning tips to relationship advice. Many a family recipe can be traced to the pages of the Women’s Section of their local newspaper.

The rise of feminism in the 1960s slowly chipped away at the stereotypes supported by the Women’s Sections. By 1970, more women had returned to the workforce, and newspapers began to get the message that the lifestyle, food and fashion info printed in Women’s Sections could also appeal to men. As the decade wore on, Women’s Sections were altered to be less gender-specific, and, as a result, the name changed to Lifestyle, Living, Style or Food pages, a practice that continues today.

Mister Boomer recalls paging though his local newspaper’s Women’s pages at an early age. As he had seen his parents do, he quickly paged through an entire newspaper, stopping to read articles that warranted attention. Mister B kept an eye out for recipes he could point out to his mother that might break his family’s usual dinner regimen, or tidbits that might give him a clue about the opposite sex.

One day, in the early 1960s, as Mister B lay on the floor of his living room paging through the newspaper, he ran across a photo that stopped him dead in his tracks. There on the page was a picture of his teacher, in an announcement of her engagement. This became a topic of conversion at the school for the next week. For sixth graders, teachers, like parents, weren’t really pictured as having a regular life. This announcement was especially interesting for the boys in Mister B’s class, since a good many of them had a crush on this teacher. The announcement seemed to advance the concept that the teacher was now a woman, or in the words of one classmate who had stopped his bike to join in the conversation while holding a clipping of the announcement in his hand, “Whoa-man!”

How about you, boomers? What memories of the Women’s pages or section do you have? Did your mother clip recipes or read the advice column aloud to you and your siblings?