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Ladies' Pages

Ladies' Pages: African American Women's Magazines and the Culture That Made Them

Noliwe M. Rooks
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Ladies' Pages
    Book Description:

    Beginning in the late nineteenth century, mainstream magazines established ideal images of white female culture, while comparable African American periodicals were cast among the shadows. Noliwe M. Rooks'sLadies' Pagessheds light on the most influential African American women's magazines--Ringwood's Afro-American Journal of Fashion, Half-Century Magazine for the Colored Homemaker, Tan Confessions, Essence,andO, the Oprah Magazine--and their little-known success in shaping the lives of black women.Ladies' Pagesdemonstrates how these rare and thought-provoking publications contributed to the development of African American culture and the ways in which they in turn reflect important historical changes in black communities. What African American women wore, bought, consumed, read, cooked, and did at home with their families were all fair game, and each of the magazines offered copious amounts of advice about what such choices could and did mean. At the same time, these periodicals helped African American women to find work and to develop a strong communications network. Rooks reveals in detail how these publications contributed to the concepts of black sexual identity, rape, migration, urbanization, fashion, domesticity, consumerism, and education. Her book is essential reading for everyone interested in the history and culture of African Americans.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4252-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 Scattered Pages: Magazines, Sex, and the Culture of Migration
    (pp. 1-24)

    Someone once told me this book is really a detective story, or maybe even a mystery. This is how I know I have told one too many tales about my efforts to track down the publications that form the basis for this project. I do not think they were suggesting there are holes in the narrative that require them to go sleuthing for the connections that lead to intellectual clarity. Nor do I believe they meant this manuscript reads like a mystery. But because I secretly like thinking about this project in the same way, I have never asked the...

  6. 2 Refashioning Rape: Ringwood’s Afro-American Journal of Fashion
    (pp. 25-46)

    Ringwood’s Journalwas the first popular magazine published in the United States by and for African American women. It was also a late-nineteenth-century attempt to come to terms with the meaning of antebellum rape and its impact on the lives of women who were the offspring of such violence. Though still a child when enslaved, as an adult, the magazine’s founder, Julia Ringwood Coston, would repeatedly turn her gaze toward the tangle of her southern family history as she rewrote and represented her heritage and its association with rape in the most positive light possible. While for many nineteenth-century African...

  7. 3 To Make a Lady Black and Bid Her Sing: Clothes, Class, and Color
    (pp. 47-64)

    Is it possible to see silence? Can an unspoken history of violence and brutality find a language in the swish of a skirt gently caressing an ankle? For the generation of African American women discussed in the previous chapter, the embrace of fashion as a strategy for combating the cultural assumptions about their supposed lack of character loudly answered yes to these questions.¹ In the glare of a full-length cultural mirror held firmly in place by societal structures, stereotypes, and assumptions, fashion came to represent political strategy, class tension, and a politics of color in African American communities at the...

  8. 4 “Colored Faces Looking Out of Fashion Plates. Well!”: Twentieth-Century Fashion, Migration, and Urbanization
    (pp. 65-88)

    In the pages of the nineteenth-centuryRingwood’s Journal,fashion for African American women was most often discussed as a means of uplifting the African American race as a whole and distancing African American women from outmoded associations with slavery, violence, and sexual vulnerability. Fashion’s relevance was consistently invoked by those desirous of donning the mantle of “ladyhood,” and fashionable display was described as a crucial prerequisite for inhabiting public spaces such as churches, political meetings, and social events. Disturbingly, the models of “fashionability” most often portrayed in the magazine had light skin and white features. In the nineteenth century, fashion...

  9. 5 No Place Like Home: Domesticity, Domestic Work, and Consumerism
    (pp. 89-112)

    At the turn of the twentieth century, the possibility of African American women creating a home environment considered culturally acceptable, if not redemptive, was most often connected to their escaping a history of enslavement and to an all-consuming search for a future defined by morality, virtue, and refinement. That women so newly removed from slavery’s reach should be expected to understand and embrace the dominant definition of home and domesticity caused many quite a bit of consternation. Such concerns, expressed as everything from constructive criticism to outright ridicule, occupied no small amount of space in African American women’s magazines at...

  10. 6 Urban Confessions and Tan Fantasies: The Commodification of Marriage and Sexual Desire in African American Magazine Fiction
    (pp. 113-139)

    The development of urban short fiction as a staple inHalf-Century Magazineoccurred quite rapidly. By February of 1917, the publication told readers it aimed to be “the greatest Colored short-story magazine in the world.” In providing direction to budding writers and storytellers interested in having their work published in the magazine, the editors would, as the opening epigraph makes clear, publish only that which they deemed sensational, easy to understand, and, above all, entertaining. Specifically, they told prospective writers, “we want stories that are easily digested, stories with plenty of action—full of romance, love, and sentiment, stories in...

  11. 7 But Is It Black and Female?: Essence, O, and American Magazine Publishing
    (pp. 140-150)

    When I began this project, I believed it would primarily focus onEssence Magazineand the African American women’s magazines that came after it. After beginning what I believed to be “background research” on the magazines that precededEssence,I came to understand that the cultural issues, narrative strategies, and economic significance of that publication were best understood within the historical context of those earlier publications. But this project would be incomplete without some mention ofEssence. It was a significant undertaking and has continued to be an important influence for the thirty-plus years since its founding in May 1970....

  12. Notes
    (pp. 151-162)
  13. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 163-168)
  14. Index
    (pp. 169-176)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 177-177)