Columnist Carrie N. Baker: Ms. retrospective — ‘An illustrated guide to toppling the patriarchy’

  • Carrie Baker FILE PHOTO


Published: 9/26/2023 6:00:58 PM
Modified: 9/26/2023 6:00:07 PM

In December 1971, when Ms. magazine launched as a one-off sample insert in New York magazine, syndicated columnist James J. Kilpatrick likened the magazine to a “C-sharp on an un-tuned piano” with a note “of petulance, of bitchiness, or nervous fingernails screeching across a blackboard.” When the first regular issue of Ms. hit the newsstands in July 1972, ABC news anchor Harry Reasoner said, “I’ll give it six months before they run out of things to say.” Fifty years later, Ms. magazine is celebrating half a century of publication with a new book, “50 Years of Ms.: The Best of a Pathfinding Magazine that Ignited a Revolution” (Knopf).

From its early days, Ms. covered issues not yet on the radar screen of mainstream media, such as sexual harassment, domestic violence, date rape and femicide. The magazine offered feminist perspectives on welfare, divorce, pornography, politics and so much more. Ms. covered women’s sports, women scientists, women working as migrant farmworkers as well as those climbing the corporate latter. With stories like Jane O’Reilly’s 1972 story, “Click! The Housewife’s Moment of Truth,” Ms. woke many women up to feminism. In the 1990s, Ms. expanded to international coverage, offering groundbreaking coverage on women’s lives across the globe, including one of the first stories on the Taliban in U.S. media. Hadley resident Barbara Findlen, who was an editor at Ms. magazine in the 1990s, recently said on WHMP, “Ms. did a lot of coverage of what were then taboo topics … abortion, women’s sexuality, menopause and women’s bodies. Ms. broke the silence on these issues.”

50 Years of Ms. brims with the best of the magazine’s features, fiction and poetry, organized by decade. The book features a foreword from Ms. co-founder and Smith College alumna Gloria Steinem and contributions by scores of trailblazing feminists, including bell hooks, Alice Walker, Pauli Murray, Eleanor Smeal, Billie Jean King, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Margaret Atwood, Allison Bechdel, Joy Harjo, Toni Morrison, AudreLorde, Adrienne Rich, Rita Dove and many more.

The pages of 50 Years of Ms. include full-color photos of some of the most iconic Ms. covers, behind-the-scenes photographs and archival documents, including letters to the editor, interoffice memos and pages from the FBI file on the women’s liberation movement obtained by the magazine for a 1977 feature “Have You Ever Supported Equal Pay, Child Care, or Women’s Groups? The FBI Was Watching You.” Many of the archival documents in the book came from Smith College’s Sophia Smith Collection, which has the papers of Ms. magazine and Gloria Steinem.

A New York Times review described 50 Years of Ms. as “an illustrated guide to toppling the patriarchy” that “upended norms, disrupted the print world and made trouble.” Another reviewer described the book as a “thoughtfully curated and zestful celebration of the first 50 years of Ms. [that] would be fascinating under any circumstances, but given the renewed assaults on women’s rights, it’s all the more compelling.”

Ms. magazine recently won the PEN America’s Impact Award, in honor of the publication’s five decades of feminist journalism. “Through its art, literature and journalism, Ms. magazine became a platform that educated, inspired and mobilized generations of feminists in support of equality,” said PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel.

Defying critics expectations, Ms. is still going strong with a quarterly ad-free print magazine, a website publishing breaking news daily at and a podcast, On The Issues with Michele Goodwin.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, Smith College will host a celebration of the magazine with a Ms. archives open house from 1:30-3:30 p.m. in Smith’s Neilson library, a panel discussion in Weinstein Auditorium from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and a reception and book signing afterwards. If you register in advance at, you will receive a free book when you arrive. The panelists include Ms. contributors and scholars Loretta Ross, Jackson Katz (both local), Janell Hobson (from Albany) and Ms. consulting digital editor Carmen Rios. As a contributing editor and regular writer for Ms., I will moderate the conversation. Together, we’ll explore the future of feminism and movement journalism.

In the first issue of Ms., Jane O’Reilly explained the “click!” moment as when “we have suddenly and shockingly perceived the basic disorder in what has been believed to be the natural order of things.” For 50 years, Ms. has generated new ideas and vocabulary, connected women to each other, inspired legal change and celebrated the women’s movement’s achievements. Today, as women continue the decades-long fight for respect and recognition of our human rights, Ms. is still an essential voice for unmasking patriarchy and sparking resistance.

Carrie N. Baker is a professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College and a regular contributor to Ms. Magazine.


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