What’s in a Name?

At first, they were the “Society Pages” – portions of big city mid-nineteenth century newspapers devoted to the comings and goings of the white glove crowd. Soon these pages evolved into the “Women’s Sections” that continued the society reporting but expanded to cover what were considered important women’s concerns in the early 20th century – the four Fs of “food, fashion, furnishings, and family.” Molly Ivins referred to these sections as “fluff and drivel” but they also were the home for much of the display advertising that kept the papers in the black.

Then, in the 1960s, the name began to rankle with some. Why were women being ghettoized in a separate section? Were the interests of men and women so separate? Was everything else in the newspaper, then, the “men’s section” – the hard news that women would surely not be interested in?

The content in these sections was already changing. Because of progressive (and occasionally pushy) women’s editors, the women’s pages now included stories on women and work, women’s health, poverty, education, and sexuality. There were struggles during this transformation, but it was happening at newspapers around the country.

But, for some, the name still rankled.

Journalism history recounts that the Washington Post was the first newspaper to make a name change, transitioning to a “Style” section on January 6, 1969. Though others have since questioned whether the Post was indeed the first, it is clear that the paper was on the leading edge of a huge change. Across the country, newspapers were renaming their “Women’s” sections to a variety of other labels designed to capture the broad range of feature and human interest stories that would be included on the pages.

Life … Style … Day … Focus … Family … Trends …

Names designed to capture the shifting interest of the newspaper reader of the day. Names also designed to get that “Woman” word out of the section heading.

Ben Bradlee, the Washington Post editor at the time, noted that the change was made in order to “treat women as people and not as appendages to men.” Vivian Castleberry, women’s editor of the Dallas Times Herald, also saw the value of having a name that would “really reflect what it was that we were trying to do, and that was that we were not going to be a traditional women’s page in the sense of doing just the surface, frivolous things, but getting to some kind of in-depth reporting.”

There were others who disagreed. When Dorothy Jurney moved from the Miami Herald to the Detroit Free Press she changed the name of the section from “Family” back to “For and About Women” – arguing that the interests of women were extremely wide-ranging and that a well done section “For and About Women” would be of great interest to men, as well. Dorothy also lamented that the name change at other papers didn’t bode well for the coverage of women. In her oral history, she commented on the Washington Post shift: “I was dismayed later to find that entertainment was taking over their style section and that women’s news had pretty much disappeared.”

But perhaps the most insidious effect of these name changes was not on the content of the sections but on the careers of some talented newspaper women of the time. Consider the story of Marj Paxson.
Marj Paxson Marj was the women’s editor at the St. Petersburg Times in 1969 when powers-that-be decided to follow the lead of the Washington Post and do a name change:

It was called the DAY section. As in m-o-n, lower case, D-A-Y capitalized. tuesDAY. t-u-e-s-D-A-Y. That was a good name. I think it was as good as any you could come up with.

Of course, Marj was intimately involved in the months of planning the change. It was rolled out on the tuesDAY after Labor Day in 1969. And she “ended up as the number three person in the new setup.”

Later that fall, Marj learned that she had won the prestigious Penney Missouri award for her women’s section:

Well, then you go off to Columbia, Missouri, to a three-day workshop and the prize presentations in late March. And I came home with the check and with a big medallion for the newspaper and a medallion for my charm bracelet for myself. By that time, I have decided that I had to get out of St. Petersburg … There was no more [women’s section] and obviously, when I had been given the lateral two-step, there was no sense in staying.

Six weeks later, the award-winning editor was fired and given two weeks’ severance pay.

Marj landed on her feet, of course. She took a job as women’s editor at the Philadelphia Bulletin. It was a good job – a bigger market, better pay. But:

It was the same song, second verses, because for the second time in my life on the same weekend, the Philadelphia Bulletin made the change from the Women’s Section to what they called the Focus Section on the day after Labor Day, on Tuesday, September whatever it was. And they named a man as the editor of the new section. And I was exiled back to the Sunday magazine as associate editor.

So, what’s in a name?

  • Perhaps an opportunity to expand content to a larger readership.
  • Perhaps an acknowledgement that women and men share many interests.
  • Or perhaps the chance to eliminate stories on important social and political topics important to women in the interest of covering “style.”
  • Or perhaps one more way to exercise power in a male-dominated industry.

What’s in a name. Quite a bit, it turns out.

Thanks to the Women in Journalism Collection at the State Historical Society of Missouri and to the Washington Press Club Oral History Project — These archives of primary source material are invaluable.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Love this!! I had no idea the “HERstory” behind these women-centric sections of a newspaper. Fascinating! While it seems like the whole movement toward the name change to the Style section was a huge initiative for women in the late 60’s, I still couldn’t help but notice the font, in that scroll-like script and how feminized this still was. It was almost subliminal. In the photo above you see the Style section right behind Business and Sports, both of which had solid, block typeset, almost masculine, if you will. My crazy, critical mind couldn’t help consider the hidden messaging and societal implications. Thanks for this post!!

  2. This is really news to me. I had no idea that the name changes to newspaper sections over the years was associated with women’s interests and women journalists. So bizarre that it happened right before my own eyes and I didn’t see the association. Your blog posts have been really interesting Kathy.

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