’They Opened Up a Whole New World’: Feminine Modernity and the Feminine Imagination in Women’s Magazines, 1919-1939.

Seaton, Fiona Anne. 2010. ’They Opened Up a Whole New World’: Feminine Modernity and the Feminine Imagination in Women’s Magazines, 1919-1939.. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

“They opened up a whole new world”, or something like it, was a phrase I heard repeatedly when I spoke to women about their memories of magazine reading in the interwar years. How the magazine operated as an imaginative window, a frame, space or mirror for encountering, shaping, negotiating, rethinking, rejecting, mocking, enjoying, the self and others became the central question driving this thesis. The expansion of domestic ‘service’ magazines in the 1920s responded to and developed a new female readership amongst the middle classes and working-class women, preparing the way for high-selling mass-market publications. The multiple models of modern womanhood envisaged in magazines, meanwhile, from the shocking ‘lipstick girl’ of the mid-1920s to the 1930s ‘housewife heroine’, show that what being a woman and modern in the period meant was far from settled, changed over time and differed according to a magazine’s ethos and target readership. In a period that witnessed the introduction of the franchise for women, divorce legislation, birth control, the companionate marriage, cheap mortgages, a marriage bar in the workplace, growth in the number of single women and panic over population decline, amongst other things, magazines helped resolve tensions, set new patterns of behaviour and expectations. This thesis, which examines the magazine as a material artefact produced in a specific historical context, argues that its complex ‘environment’ of coloured pictures, inserts, instructional photographs, escapist fiction, chatty editorial and advertising opened women up to conscious and unconscious desires to be a sports woman, a worker, a mother, a lover, or to look like their favourite film star; a ‘window’, that is, through which women without the benefit of £500 a year and a ‘room of their own’ could gaze and imagine themselves, their lives and those of their families, differently.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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The images in this thesis have been redacted due to copyright restrictions


magazines, women, feminine, modernity, subjectivity, domesticity, print culture, gender, design history, cultural history, consumption.

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1 December 2010

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Date Deposited:

25 Apr 2013 13:59

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:18



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