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MC 568; T-348

Ms. Letters to Ms., 1970-1998: A Finding Aid

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University


Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Call No.: MC 568; T-348
Repository: Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University
Creator: Ms.
Title: Letters to Ms., 1970-1998
Date(s): 1970-1998
Quantity: 27.52 linear feet (66 file boxes) plus 1 folio+ folder, 6 photograph folders, 1 audiotape)
Language of materials: Materials in English.
Abstract: Letters to the editor of Ms. magazine, including photographs, clippings, manuscripts, audiotapes, newsletters, printed material, and ephemera.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Accession numbers: 88-M45, 88-M53, 97-M124, 97-M147, 98-M42
The letters to Ms. magazine were given to the Schlesinger Library by Ms. between March 1988 and March 1998.

Processing Information:

Processed: April 2009
By: Emilyn L. Brown and Mary O. Murphy with assistance from Lisa Molinelli

Access Restrictions:

This collection is open to research. Some letters have been photocopied and redacted to prevent unwarranted invasion of individual privacy; these copies will be replaced with their corresponding originals fifty years after the year in which they were written. To use any letters that are open for research, researchers must sign a special permission form. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use:

Copyright. Copyright in the letters created by Ms. magazine is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Letters may not be photocopied until 50 years after the year in which they were written, unless it is clear that they were published in Ms. magazine.

Preferred Citation:

Letters to Ms., 1970-1998; item description, dates. MC 568, folder #. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see Letters to Ms., 1972-1980 (MC 331).


Ms. is a national monthly magazine, published and written by women to provide a forum for women and women's issues in the United States and internationally. Created in 1971 by Gloria Steinem and fellow journalists, activists, and feminists, Ms. survived disputes over content and financing, as well as several changes in ownership. The magazine covers the women's movement and women's issues, and includes poetry, fiction, non-sexist children's fiction, a readers' letters column, and a "No Comment" column on sexist journalism and advertising.
The following provides a brief history of Ms.


The collection is arranged in three series:


This collection contains letters to the editor of Ms. magazine and related documents. Although most of the materials are more recent than those found in the Ms. Letters, 1972-1980 (MC 331), letters through 1980 fill in gaps in that collection. The original filing system has been maintained. Arranged in three series, it appears to have changed over time, possibly due to shifts in the magazine's ownership, because of the receipt of an increased number of letters, or changing office staff. Because there is a great deal of subject overlap among the series, it is recommended that researchers use the Ms. tables of contents along with the finding aid to narrow their searches.
Series I, LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, 1970-1986 (#1.1-30.39, 66.1-66.32), contains letters written by women, men, and young persons from throughout the United States and the world. Writers represent numerous ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds, including homemakers, single mothers, Congresspersons, authors, stay-at-home dads, lesbians, transsexuals, veterans, pornographers, and the mentally ill, among many others. The collection does not include the more than 20,000 letters written in response to the preview issue. Letters may describe personal experiences and problems, or praise or criticize specific articles or the magazine in general. Many express feminist or anti-feminist points of view or make rhetorical or political statements about specific issues such as sexuality, women's health, human and family relationships, motherhood, life choices, credit, job discrimination, careers, the Equal Rights Amendment, and portrayals of women in the media. The series is divided into two subseries, as received from the magazine. Some items predate the first publication of Ms. as they were sent as supporting materials along with letters to the editor. In one instance, there are no letters attached to a selection of supporting materials regarding men (#3.4). Original folder headings were maintained.
Subseries A, Letters alphabetically by topic, 1970-1985 (#1.1-5.11), contains letters arranged by subject, with original folder headings. This subseries includes a large section on advertising that is divided into three parts: "Advertisers" (letters written by Ms. advertising sponsors); "Advertising criticisms" (letters from readers criticizing advertisements found in Ms.); and "Advertising criticisms – no comment" (letters criticizing portrayals of women in media other than Ms.). Subseries A also includes "Personal experiences" (autobiographical letters that chronicle contributors' life stories, family histories, personal triumphs or tragedies, and feminist awakenings); "Nuts" (letters separated out by Ms. editors because they are incoherent, visually offensive, abusive, or otherwise threatening in nature); and "Tidbits" (letters providing snippets of information regarding current events for women, sexist comments or events overheard or witnessed by letter contributors, and efforts by letter writers to combat sexism in their own lives). Also included in "Tidbits" are two black and white photographs showing the Women in Photography Workshop captured at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Park, California, in 1974.
Subseries B, Letters chronologically by magazine issue, 1973-1986 (#6.1-30.39, 66.1-66.32), contains letters arranged by the magazine issue to which readers are responding. Within each issue, they are further arranged alphabetically by magazine section, article, or topic addressed by the letter writers. Because the arrangement of this subseries reflects the structure of each issue, it is recommended that researchers use Ms. tables of contents to support their searches. Magazine sections that appear as folder titles throughout this subseries are denoted with an initial capital letter. They include "Action Alert" (letters responding to calls for protest against anti-woman legislation or current events); "Back Page" (letters responding to one-page articles authored by contributing writers on various women's issues); "Body & Mind" and "Good Health" (letters addressing women's health issues); "Feminist Notes" (letters about Ms. magazine's editorial section); "Gazette" (letters regarding current events affecting women); "Letters" (responding to other letters that appeared in Ms. magazine's Letters section); "Lost Woman" (regarding female historical figures); "Money" (letters commenting on women and financial issues); "No Comment" (letters criticizing sexist advertising found in media other than Ms.); "One Step Forward" (responses to women's liberation success stories); "Parenting" (letters about women as parents and feminist parenting); "Personal Style" (regarding Ms. fashion articles); "Reading" and "Seeing" (responses to book and film reviews); "Shortakes" (responses to famous quotes or blurbs about women); "Stories for Free Children" (responses to original non-sexist children's stories published in Ms.); "Travel" folders (letters about women and travel); and "Watch on the Right" (responses to right-wing political events). Where folder titles reflect magazine sections that are less descriptive, the archivist has added additional information.
Subseries B also includes letters regarding specific articles published in Ms., as well as general topics such as "Personal experiences." Letters are arranged by article title, or by the subjects addressed. General topics include "Advertising criticisms" (letters criticizing advertising found both in Ms. and in other media); "Letters used" (letters that Ms. editors selected, edited, and reformatted for possible publication, and often including statistical reports that list the number of positive, negative, and total letters received during specific periods); "Personal experiences" (autobiographical letters that were possibly inspired by information that appeared in Ms., although they do not generally regard the specific issues with which they are arranged); and "Tidbits" (letters providing snippets of information on various topics submitted by letter writers).
In addition to letters to the editor, Subseries B includes postcards, pamphlets, newsletters, clippings, and ephemera such as bumper stickers, stamps, and name tags that contributors submitted along with their letters. There are also numerous photographs, including several of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in England (#24.15), and a 1985 family picture showing a lesbian couple with their two children (#23.26).
Series II, LETTERS TO THE EDITOR, 1986-1998, n.d. (#31.1-60.14), contains letters, articles, poetry, clippings, postcards, manuscripts, reports, posters, galley proofs with editorial comments, greeting cards, photographs and negatives, an audiotape, and newsletters. A substantial number of letters also contain relevant brochures and printed material. This series overlaps with Series I in date range and subject matter, but lacks a cohesive structure. This can be attributed to changes in ownership, editorial policies, and the individual style of various editors-in-chief. Many of the magazine's features described in Series I had also been discontinued and replaced with a more commercial format between 1987 and 1988. The archivist relied on editorial summary sheets, used by Fairfax (US) Ltd. and Matilda Inc. from 1987 to 1989, to organize a substantial portion of the collection. A substantial number of records were stored in unidentified or mislabeled folders, or were found loose in the box. In addition, most of the material was originally filed in reverse chronological order. Series II has been organized as two subseries to reflect these two original filing systems.
Subseries A, Letters arranged by magazine issue, 1987-1990, n.d. (#31.1-45.5), contains letters from readers written in response to specific articles, columns, and published letters to the editor. They were organized using editorial summary sheets that included the date the letter was received, an assigned number (indicating its sequence within the volume of monthly letters), a brief description of the content, editor's comments, author's name, enclosed items, and what if any actions were taken. These summary sheets were then used to generate statistical reports that tracked the number of letters received each month and complaints about cigarette, alcohol, and anti-feminist advertisements. The archivist used the magazine issue to which readers responded as the primary method for organizing this portion of the collection. Letters of a more general nature, including compliments, suggestions, concerned commentary and complaints, were organized by the date listed on the editorial summary sheets. The numbered sequence on the cover sheets and monthly reports is useful for gauging the level of reader response to specific topics and articles, but the numbering pattern is inconsistent since organization was determined by issue. Subseries A also has the highest level of personalized correspondence from Anne Summers, who took over as editor-in-chief from late 1987 through 1989.
Subseries B, Letters arranged chronologically by month and year, 1986-1998, n.d. (#46.1-60.14), contains letters which may have come from a permanent file of "Responses to the Reader." Many of these letters were copied, marked "possible publication," and circulated to the editor-in-chief, staff members, and the advertising department. This resulted in a high level of duplication and subject overlap in Subseries A and B. Other letters carried the notation "PC sent," indicating an acknowledgment by postcard. In contrast to Subseries A, the letters in this subseries received little or no written response from the editor-in-chief until the sale of Ms. near the end of 1987. As a result, "Letters to the editor" is used to describe the material generated during the early years. In February 1988, when Fairchild had full control over editorial content and planning, a more substantial number of editorial responses were made to the readers. The letters in that portion of Subseries B have been described as "Correspondence." Undated letters filed with dated materials have been left in the folders and "n.d." has been added to the folder title. Letters without a specified month were filed at the end of the year they were associated with, for example "1998, n.d." Several folders containing letters for which no month or year could be determined have been placed at the end of the collection. The Ms. staff also maintained a number of folders labeled "crazies," which have been listed as such in the finding aid; these folders contain offensive material. After 1989, there is a marked decrease in the number of letters to the editor, indicating the temporary demise of the magazine and a new change in ownership.
Series III, MANUSCRIPTS AND EDITED LETTERS, 1986-1997, n.d. (#61.1-65.30), contains a relatively small amount of correspondence, a substantial number of manuscripts, research material, resumes, query letters, proposals, and edited letters that provide insights into the on-going process of publishing Ms. Magazine. This material has been organized in three subseries:
Subseries A, Office correspondence arranged chronologically, 1987-1997, n.d. (#61.1-61.19), contains personal and professional correspondence, including reader requests for donations or employment, and Ms. correspondence seeking permission to publish letters or articles, providing legal referrals, or thanking individuals who were featured in published articles.
Subseries B, Manuscripts arranged chronologically, 1986-1996, n.d. (#62.1-63.28), contains manuscripts from authors who were contracted to write articles for the Our Health column in Ms., noted authors who were supporters of the magazine, and a substantial number of freelance writers who submitted resumes and unsolicited manuscripts for editorial review. Only the names of contracted writers and noted authors have been listed in the finding aid.
Subseries C, Edited letters arranged chronologically, 1986-1997, n.d. (#64.1-65.30), contains letters similar to those in the "Letters used" folders described in Series I, Subseries B: heavily edited letters with staff comments. Scattered throughout the collection, these letters appear to contrast with earlier editorial policies that resulted in the publication of a high volume of unedited letters in order to promote inclusiveness among the Ms. Magazine readership. After 1989, the editorial staff took a much more selective approach, which may account for the relatively small volume of recovered letters. Yellow sticky notes containing reference sources and other fact-checking information that were found on galley proofs were copied in place before being discarded.
A selection of photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database. Others, referred to as "uncataloged" photographs, are not of sufficient research interest to warrant cataloging and are simply treated as part of the documents they accompany; they are marked on the back with an asterisk in square brackets [*].

Container List

Additional Index Terms

Abortion--United States
Advertising--Alcoholic beverages--United States
Advertising--Cigarettes--United States
Advertising, Magazine--United States
AIDS (Disease)--Prevention
Birth control--United States
Body image--United States
Child abuse--United States
Child rearing--United States
Childbirth--United States
Divorced women--United States
Ecofeminism--United States
Family violence--United States
Feminism--United States
Feminists--United States
Hate mail
Lesbians--United States
Letters to the editor
Manuscripts for publication
Marital violence--United States
Motherhood--United States
Mothers--United States
Nurses--United States
Parenting--United States
Pay equity--United States
Pornography--United States
Reproductive rights--United States
Secretaries--United States
Sex discrimination--United States
Sexism--United States
Sexual harassment--United States
Single mothers--United States
Single women--United States--Social conditions
Transsexuals -- United States
United States--Politics and government--1945-1989
United States--Social conditions--1970-1998
Women--Employment--United States
Women--Health and hygiene
Women in advertising--United States
Women--Mental health
Women political activists--United States
Women--United States--Social conditions--20th century
Gillespie, Marcia Ann
Pogrebin, Letty Cottin, 1939-
Steinem, Gloria