Betsy Talbot Blackwell (1905-1985) greatly influenced the way many young women’s magazines today are published. She began her career as an assistant fashion editor at Charm magazine in 1933, before becoming a fashion editor at Mademoiselle in 1935 with its launch. From 1937 to 1971 Blackwell was editor-in-chief at the magazine, and implemented new practices that similar magazines began to follow and still employ today. Prior to her employment, many women’s magazines employed male staff, and Blackwell brought an insider perspective to this niche market. She altered the magazine’s focus to that of the young career woman, creating a magazine of fashion and lifestyle within the grasp of the average woman. She came up with the idea of bringing in a group of college-age women every summer to publish an issue of their creation, debuting each September. One of these interns/guest editors was Sylvia Plath, who used her time at Mademoiselle as inspiration for her novel The Bell Jar, in which the main character interns at a women’s fashion magazine in New York City and works under the editor “Jay-Cee” (Betsy Talbot Blackwell was nicknamed “BTB” by staffers). Blackwell also instituted a literary element in the magazine, publishing such authors as Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, and numerous others. Additionally, she was the first woman elected to the board of Street & Smith Publications in 1949 and was a recipient of the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in 1942.
Blackwell’s papers at the AHC include an extensive amount of material related to her career, such as correspondence, manuscripts, speeches, photographs, and scrapbook material. There are also a large number of files pertaining to her monthly “Editor’s Memo” column, including sources of inspiration, drafts, and other items concerning each month’s different theme. Although Mademoiselle published its last issue in November 2001, the magazine and Betsy Talbot Blackwell left a lasting mark on the industry. You can view an inventory for the collection here.
–Kathryn Brooks, Project Archivist