Gloria Steinem: The Trailblazing Force Behind Ms. Magazine and the Enduring Fight for Women's Rights


3/25/20232 min read

Ms. magazine, a revolutionary pioneer in women's journalism, marked the inception of an era where women’s issues were brought to the forefront from a feminist lens. Covering topics such as abortion, domestic abuse, and reproductive rights, it ventured into territories previously uncharted. Moreover, by celebrating the stories of everyday women navigating extraordinary circumstances, it enabled its readers to envision themselves as catalysts for change.

Nevertheless, despite its significant accomplishments, Ms. magazine was not impervious to critique within the feminist movement. Some pointed out that the publication largely catered to white, middle-class women's concerns, leaving the narratives of women of color and those of the working class insufficiently addressed.

Despite these criticisms, Gloria Steinem, along with her team, persisted in their commitment to provide a platform for the kaleidoscope of women's experiences. Today, Ms. magazine continues to be a beacon in the feminist realm, influencing discourse and sparking action. To understand its origins, we must delve into the life of Gloria Steinem, her vision, and the profound influence she had on this transformative endeavor.

Born on March 25, 1934, in Toledo, Ohio, Gloria Steinem had a unique upbringing. Her mother, Ruth Nuneviller Steinem, a skilled journalist, and her father, Leo Steinem, a peripatetic salesman, nurtured two daughters. When she was a decade old, a divorce between her parents significantly impacted her life.

Abandoning her career in journalism to raise her children, Gloria's mother later suffered a mental health crisis. With Gloria's father absent, her elder sister at college, Gloria found herself thrust into the role of a full-time caregiver for her mother. This early struggle fortified her resolve and shaped her future.

In her teenage years, Gloria discovered her affinity for the written word. Following high school, she earned a scholarship to attend Smith College. In 1956, she was awarded the Chester Bowles Fellowship, enabling her to undertake a two-year research stint in India. This experience kindled in her a passion for grassroots activism that would eventually manifest in her fervent advocacy for the Equal Rights Amendment and the women's liberation movement.

From an early age, Steinem displayed a keen interest in the media and its potent influence on public sentiment. Beginning with contributions to her high school newspaper, she steadily carved out a space for herself in the media landscape. She relocated to New York City in 1963, asserting herself as an influential voice within the feminist movement. As a freelance writer, she created ripples with her controversial piece on her stint as a Playboy Bunny for Esquire magazine, solidifying her position in the field.

The genesis of Ms. magazine occurred in 1971. Rather than simply reporting on the newly-formed Women's Liberation Union for New York magazine, Steinem envisioned a publication dedicated to women's issues. Aided by her ally, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Steinem pitched the novel idea to various publishers. Although initially met with reluctance, Fawcett Publications eventually greenlit the project. In December 1971, the inaugural issue of Ms. was released, setting a precedent as the first magazine in America to be owned, run, and written by women.

With Ms. magazine, Steinem and her co-editors didn't just create a publication; they forged a transformative tool for societal change. They addressed issues such as abortion rights, equal pay, domestic violence, and sexual harassment much before they reached mainstream consciousness. Their commitment to championing women's rights continues to this day.

The first issue of Ms. notably featured an intimate interview with First Lady Betty Ford discussing her battle with addiction, and a trailblazing article on abortion rights - a topic rarely broached in the media. Despite initial resistance from advertisers, distributors, and even staff, Steinem and her team persevered. Today, Ms. continues its mission, proudly upholding its feminist flag.

Steinem's activism was never limited to her journalistic endeavors. She was a notable participant in the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement in her youth. In 1971, she played a crucial role in organizing the historic Women’s Strike for Equality, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. This nationwide protest served as a testament to the burgeoning strength of the feminist movement.

In her continual activism, Steinem emphasizes that the quest for gender equality is far from complete. She advocates for continued engagement in the feminist movement, intersectionality, and solidarity among all women to realize true equality. Gloria Steinem, a living testament to determination and vision, remains an inspiration to many. Her indomitable spirit, demonstrated through her creation of Ms. magazine against all odds, is a reminder that adversity can be transformed into a powerful force for change. We owe a debt of gratitude to Gloria for her unwavering commitment to the pursuit of equality.

Related Stories