Woman's Weekly celebrates 100 years

Posted on: 02 November 2011 by Diane Kenwood

Who'd have guessed that back in 1911, women would have been just as fixated on their weight as they are today.

Woman's WeeklyOn November 4th 1911 a new magazine was published for the first time, with a princely cover price of 1D. Its name was Woman's Weekly and the rest, as they say, is history.

Inside the editor explains that "the dominant note throughout is that of usefulness" and promises that "every page will be crammed with information and help that will assist women in their daily loves as no other journal has attempted before". Having explained the remit of her magazine, she then goes on to explain who the new publication is aimed at. "I say frankly that the women of Mayfair and the lady who lives in the castle are not catered for in this paper. But the women who lives in the villa or the cottage, in a large house or a small house, the woman who rules the destines of the home, is going to be helped in her life, her work and her recreation by this journal."

The terminology I'd use today may be rather different, but as the current editor of Woman's Weekly, my mantra for the magazine is exactly the same as that of my original predecessor. Remaining faithful to that original blueprint has been the core principle of the magazine for the past 100 years and is, I firmly believe, the reason why it remains the number one best seller in its market, as it was from day one. 

Over the course of this centenary year, my team and I have spent many fascinating (if rather dusty) hours trawling through our archives, which contain every issue ever published. In the course of our research, we have been delighted, amazed, entertained and occasionally shocked by what has appeared on the pages of the magazine through the past century.

Woman's Weekly 1911Who'd have guessed that back in 1911 women would have been just as fixated on their weight as they are today. In the aforementioned first issue there's a feature hilariously titled 'The Removal of Over-Fat', confronting readers with the challenge 'How long have you been putting it off?' Nothing like being direct, then! In fact, there's a dieting feature in virtually every issue of the magazine other than, for obvious reasons, during the war years.

Health has always been a key component of the magazine, although some of the health advice offered over the century seems extremely questionable today. Like the recommendation from 1913 to tackle a sick headache by 'Inducing sickness by drinking a tumbler of warm water into which has been stirred a good teaspoonful of mustard'. Or the suggestion from the same year that a teaspoon of Vaseline swallowed three or four times a day will lubricate bronchial tubes and passages to help combat a cold! However, it was reassuring to read in 1960 the advice that ' the first and most important thing to realise about the menopause is that it is a completely normal event. It is certainly not an illness', and welcome to compare hospital stays for hernia surgery, which were quoted as a week to ten days in 1974, with the day case treatment that's available now.

On the beauty front we discovered a recipe for a do-it-yourself face cream from 1915 that involved melting a quarter of a pound of pure lard; the suggestion that rubbing a little castor oil into the roots of eyelashes every night for three months would help them to grow (1933), and the warning from 1971 that a new wife should 'go on looking attractive and beguiling without letting her beloved see how it's done. Men don't like to see you in hair-nets, but they don't mind frivolously pretty turbans.' Well that's good to know!

The adverts provided us with some of our most entertaining moments. Like the one from 1926 for a soap that promised to 'wash away fat and years of age'. If only that was still on sale. We were less enamoured of the one from 1917 that claimed that buying a particular brand of mop would 'Make Your Wife Happy'. Not sure we'd suggest trying that today gentlemen!

You can see all of these glorious extracts, along with far too many more to fit in here, in our fantastic, special, 132 page, collector's centenary issue of the magazine, which goes on sale on November 2nd (that's the cover, left) and which – quick fanfare here, please – contains the whole of the first issue reprinted in its entirety. Rush out and get it right now (please!) – and then do let me know what you think below. 

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