If you glance through the pages of the popular household magaazines from 1920-1940 something may dawn on you. It did me. These were magazines for everyone, as long as the woman reading them matched the editors’ ideal subscriber.
Each magazine, of course, had its own dream reader. Woman’s World, for instance, was for the Midwest reader. Needlecraft positioned itself for the lower-income reader – many of its projects could be completed with a little fabric, a crochet hook or knitting needles, and thread. Every magazine, from Good Housekeeping to Ladies’ Home Journal, had its intended readership.
However, all these titles didn’t succeed as magazines for everyone. A good number of potential readers were excluded. For instance, although every magazine covered the national holidays and Christian holidays, no one printed a Passover menu for Jewish readers. They were on their own. Did the publishers just not think their readership would appreciate such an article, or did no one on the staff have the expertise to write it?
One glaring omission appeared in the African-American community. The women’s magazines featured dress models on the fashion pages that looked different from African-American family members, even though everyone dressed in the same styles. In 1916, Half-Century Magazine launched in Chicago and it filled that void. Half-Century Magazine used African-American models on its fashion pages. Only in publication for nine years, the magazine spoke to African-American homemakers. And frankly, it is a delight to read.
I don’t have any issues of Half-Century Magazine in their original paper format. Actual subscriptions never topped 16,000 so hard copies are difficult to find. In fact, when Negro Universities Press attempted to reprint the existing issues in 1969, it couldn’t find copies of all the issues. Paging through I found a placeholder which basically said “We couldn’t find this issue. If you know of a copy let us know and we will include it in a later printing.” They are that scarce.
They may be scarce, but they are excellent. An issue of Half-Century Magazine contained short stories, a serialized novel, current fashion, needlework patterns and sewing tips. Each month devoted a full half page to jokes and quips like this one:
If I had original copies of these magazines, I would love to reproduce the recipes from the cooking pages. Some of the recipes used inexpensive or unusual ingredients, like lamb’s kidneys. Others introduced innovative treatments of normal 1920s dishes, like adding nuts to a macaroni salad. Actually, quite a few I would love to recreate. One issue’s Tea Ring recipe in January, 1920, includes raisins but no yeast and would make a tremendous teatime or breakfast loaf.
Depending on the month of the year, subscribers read about dinner etiquette, household hints, and weight loss (an all-consuming seasonal topic in every woman’s magazine of the period). One issue illustrated current hairstyles, and the magazine offered a sewing pattern service to subscribers. Most issues included poetry.
Tackling Social Issues
The women’s magazines of the Twenties through the Forties took stands on various social issues within their pages, and Half-Century Magazine was no different. Its editors covered cultural and political issues. They published letters from subscribers who needed to vent. And a regular columnist answered questions about law and inheritance.
In short, everything a homemaker would need from month to month was included in Half-Century Magazine. I wish it had continued past 1925, but the publisher ceased publication in order to launch a newspaper he called the Chicago Bee. You can download the 1923 – 1925 years of Half-Century Magazine from Google Books and see for yourself.