At home: shelter magazines and the American life 1890-1930

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University of Alabama Libraries

The four decades between 1890 and 1930 included an unprecedented wave of new American magazines that took full advantage of lower postal rates, affordable printing costs, skyrocketing advertising revenues, more literate audiences, and a nation rapidly transforming itself from a rural to an urban society. Media scholars have studied this era in significant detail, often labeling it a Golden Age of magazines, or a “magazine revolution.” By any label, it is clear the modern magazine emerged during this period with the advent of halftone photography, writers and editors who honed their skills as “magazinists” instead of newspaper journalists, and massive circulation numbers that made household names out of national publications. Yet, within this larger context, a genre of magazines focused exclusively on the American home has received far less attention from researchers. Known as “shelter magazines,” these publications featured decorating, architecture, landscape gardening, and furnishings, and in doing so, often chronicled socio-economic shifts in the eras they covered. Historians have tended to include these publications only briefly in the far larger body of general magazine research, or alternatively grouped them almost invisibly into the genre of women’s magazines, despite their far more narrow focus on home interiors, decorating and gardening. Today, shelter magazines are among the most popular publications in the United States — ranging from House Beautiful, Architectural Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, Traditional Home, Elle Décor, Dwell and Country Living — to influential regional publications such as Southern Living, Sunset and Midwest Living. This thesis will examine the genre’s origin as a specific and highly-influential niche within the context of the proliferation of new magazines and advancing technology during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It will further review how these magazines mirrored and influenced the American home, and whether social network theory can help explain how they developed obsessively loyal subscribers at a time long before today’s instant digital communications.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Journalism, American studies, Ancient history