You Gotta Know These Magazines from American History
- Harper’s Weekly (1857–1916) was the most popular American magazine during the Civil War. In 1863 it published an article about a slave named Gordon along with a widely circulated photograph of his whipped, mutilated back that roused abolitionist sentiment across the North. George William Curtis, a co-founder of the Republican Party, was its political editor from 1863 to 1892, during which time he ran cartoons by Thomas Nast, including Nast’s portrayals of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall political machine. (Although Nast’s Harper’s Weekly work did popularize American symbols like Uncle Sam, Columbia, and the Democratic donkey, Nast was not the inventor of those symbols.)
- The Atlantic (1857–present) was founded in Boston as an abolitionist periodical by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and many others. In 1862 it published Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and in 1963 it published Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” for a nationwide audience. More recently, it ran Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 article “The Case for Reparations,” which advocates reimbursing the descendants of American slaves. Despite its political emphasis, it has only ever endorsed three presidential candidates: Abraham Lincoln in 1864, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and Hillary Clinton in 2016.
- Puck (1871–1915) was a humor and satire magazine best remembered for its vivid political cartoons. Founded by Austrian-born Joseph Keppler, it often glorified American imperialism and had an anti-Catholic lens. Iconic cartoons over its 45-year run include Jay Gould using Wall Street as a “personal bowling alley,” robber barons slicing up America with carving knives, John D. Rockefeller as a king with an huge crown of railroads, Uncle Sam as a schoolteacher looming over racist caricatures of its new territories, and Columbia admiring her bonnet of gunboats in a mirror. (Puck should not be confused with Punch, a British magazine of the same era also noted for its political cartoons.)
- McClure’s Magazine (1893–1929) was founded explicitly to publish the investigative journalism now known as “muckraking.” In 1901 its staff writer Ray Stannard Baker published What the U.S. Steel Corporation Really Is, and How It Works. In 1902 it ran Ida Tarbell’s The History of the Standard Oil Company. Lincoln Steffens’s series on political machines, Tweed Days in St. Louis, was later compiled as the 1906 book The Shame of the Cities. Willa Cather helped write its highly skeptical 1909 biography The Life of Mary Baker G. Eddy and the History of Christian Science.
- Cosmopolitan (1886–present) began as a classy, largely inoffensive magazine until 1965, when Helen Gurley Brown became its editor and made it a women’s magazine geared towards fashion and romantic relationships. (Three years prior, Brown rose to fame for her popular, controversial non-fiction book Sex and the Single Girl.) Cosmopolitan’s new angle was viewed as misogynistic by most leading feminists; copies were burned alongside Playboy at protests against the 1968 Miss America pageant. In 1989 it ran an article falsely stating heterosexual women cannot contract HIV, prompting protests from ACT UP and other gay organizations.
- Time (1923–present) was the U.S.’s first weekly newsmagazine. Its founder, Henry Luce, used its near-instant success to create a stable of influential magazines, including Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated. Since 1927 it has designated various figures as “Person of the Year” (originally “Man of the Year”), the first being Charles Lindbergh; controversial picks for the award include Adolf Hitler in 1938 and Joseph Stalin in both 1939 and 1942. In June 1994, Time was criticized for darkening the mugshot of O. J. Simpson on its cover, especially juxtaposed against Newsweek’s largely undoctored version on their cover the same month. After 9/11, Time’s cover showed the second plane flying into the Twin Towers and used a black border in place of its iconic red border.
- National Review (1955–present) was founded by the foremost leader of the American conservative movement in the 20th century, William F. Buckley Jr., and aimed from its outset to define and promote right-wing thought. Its earliest editors were staunch anti-Communists like Whittaker Chambers. Under Buckley, National Review expanded conservatism’s allies to include libertarians while disavowing anti-Semitic and nativist elements, such as the John Birch Society. After Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964, National Review rallied conservatism behind the up-and-coming Ronald Reagan. Buckley parlayed his success with National Review into hosting PBS’s Firing Line from 1966 to 1999.
- Rolling Stone (1967–present) was founded in San Francisco as a rock and roll magazine, but it quickly became notable for its experimental political journalism. In 1970 the magazine won acclaim for its pieces on the tragic Altamont Free Concert and on Charles Manson while he was in jail awaiting trial. The magazine is indelibly associated with the gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson—his seminal novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the political piece Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 first appeared in Rolling Stone. After becoming more Hollywood-geared in the 1990s, in the 2000s it re-oriented itself towards politics. In 2014 it generated public outcry over its allegedly “glamorizing” cover photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers.
- Ms. (1971–present) is a pioneering feminist magazine, founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes. In its first decade, it favored changes to common phrases and nouns to make them gender-neutral. Its preview cover showed the goddess Kali holding domestic objects in her eight hands, while its first proper cover depicted Wonder Woman. In 1972, before Roe v. Wade, it ran an article about 53 women who admitted to getting abortions despite it still being illegal. While editor of Ms. in 1975, Alice Walker published “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” after locating the author’s unmarked grave.
This article was contributed by NAQT editor Danny Kristian Vopava.