A couple of weeks ago, when the news broke out that Helen Gurley Brown had passed away, I was almost a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of her before. She was the editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan for 32 years and seen as one of the world’s most recognized magazine editors.
I think the idea that she is so recognized, is because Cosmopolitan isn’t just seen as a magazine in women’s eyes, but more of a brand. I did this for my dissertation and won’t bore you with the details, but something as huge and as worldwide as Cosmopolitan has become a go-to point for women for advice, knowledge and companionship.
So, with that, I thought I’d do some research on one of the most influential women of this industry.
After beginning her career moving from a talent agency, to becoming a copywriter, she found her niche after becoming one of the highest paid ad copywriters in the early 1960’s. However, one of the achievements she is most famous for is publishing her book when she was 40, ‘Sex and the Single Girl’, it was published in 28 countries and stayed on the lists of bestselling books for over a year. Her strong opinions in women’s sexual freedom was broadcasted throughout the 60’s, claiming that women could have it all, love, sex and money. It wasn’t until 1965 that she became editor-in-chief of the magazines, and was seen to reverse the so-far failings of Cosmopolitan. Cosmopolitan was based around her wanting to find and produce role models for women to be independent. Due to her outspoken opinions, glamorous and fashionable women were sometimes referred to as “Cosmo Girls”, initiating this magazine as a ‘brand’.
Although in 1997 she left her role as U.S. editor, she stayed on at Hearst publishing and remained the international editor for ALL 59 international editions until her death on August 13th 2012. Although the reason for her death was not disclosed at the time of statement, it is said that she had been briefly hospitalized. Spokesman for Brown have said:
“Gurley Brown will be remembered for her impact on the publishing industry, her contributions to the culture at large, and sly quips like her famous line: ‘Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.'”
“Today New York City lost a pioneer who reshaped not only the entire media industry, but the nation’s culture. She was a role model for the millions of women whose private thoughts, wonders and dreams she addressed so brilliantly in print.”
Along with everything she achieved as an editor and writer, together with her Husband she established the ‘Brown Institute for Media Innovation’ housed at two schools in America. It aims to develop journalism in the context of new technologies.
I think what makes her so influential, it not just that she was a magazine editor like the other women I have posted about, but that she was hugely active and inspirational in this role. She created a voice and a brand for the Cosmopolitan magazine, which women could begin to identify with and she was not only the word behind the mag, but the whole idea and concept of it. By bringing it from a failing magazine, to the popularity it has today is, in itself, a huge achievement. It was her passion and devotion to making this magazine a success, that drove it into the all the international editions that it has today.
Many took to twitter after hearing the news, especially Louise Court, our current UK editor of the magazine, tweeting:
What did she teach women? That they were entitled to ‘a career, a family and great sex too.’
R.I.P Helen Gurley Brown.