Perusing past issues of PHOENIX magazine provides a surprising peek at society’s evolving – and often embarrassing – views on women, race and sex.
Nostalgia lends yesteryear a forgiving, Vaseline-lens glow, so it’s little wonder retro is all the rage. People are waxing their handlebar mustaches, curling up with classic cocktails to re-watch Mad Men, and downloading vintage typewriter apps on their iPads. Politicians on both sides are calling for a return to the America that always was – by which they mean the 1950s to 1980s. No matter how enamored we are of smartphones and Fitbits, there’s always something seductive about the sweet perfume of the past.
Until we read statements like this: “Why would a woman voluntarily give up the comfort of a lovely home, the company of friends, the weekly bridge game... in exchange for the tensions of a competitive business...?”
That’s from a 1968 PHOENIX magazine article about women in real estate.
Or this heartening news, printed the following year: “One [Tempe] apartment complex owner, who last year had definitely said he would not rent to black people, or allow them as swimming pool guests of his tenants, has told his manager to be sure to consider black tenants this year.”
Compared to previous eras, culture in the latter 20th century evolved at warp speed. Futurist and Google engineer Ray Kurzweil says technological and social change accelerated so quickly in the 1900s that the paradigm shift rate is now doubling every decade. So flipping through the last 50 years of PHOENIX magazine creates a revealing time-lapse picture of our shifting views on women, race, drugs and sex.
The Feminine Mystique
Though early issues of PHOENIX are peppered with the sort of obsolete patriarchal memes one would find in almost any regional or national magazine of the era – all-male TV news teams, June Cleaver-ish ad heroines and veiled endorsements of domestic servitude – there’s reason to assume Arizona women had it better than most.
After all, Arizonans have elected more female governors than any other state, and pride themselves for granting women the vote eight years before the 19th Amendment. So one might imagine our foremothers looked down upon the proverbial glass ceiling like tourists on a glass-bottomed boat.
Not so, writes Patricia Hartwell in PHOENIX magazine’s May 1969 issue: “In Arizona... woman-power is not only underestimated, it is virtually ignored. Women here are still widely regarded as dilettantes in the job market, reckoned as lacking in ambition for responsibility or promotion.”
Hartwell, the first woman in the national CBS News Department and a WWII correspondent, was shocked by Phoenix’s old boys’ network. “I have worked with women in and of some 40 countries...” she wrote. “Never have I seen the curtain of silence more effectively block women’s competence as in Arizona... Mention a woman in Phoenix to a personnel group trying to find a man to run a tough operation and the elders present shroud the suggestion with silence until the proposal has a decent burial... The curtain of silence operates a sort of purdah for the ambitions of women here who must also sometimes try to rise above the humiliating there-there-little-girl-let-us-strong-men-take-care-of-you condescension.”
Even as Second-Wave Feminism was surging in the ’60s, women couldn’t get credit cards without their husband’s co-signature, and in many states were forbidden from serving on juries or taking birth control pills. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy publicized his supposedly pro-women commission by saying, “We want to be sure that women are used as effectively as they can to provide a better life for our people, in addition to meeting their primary responsibility, which is in the home.”
Early PHOENIX magazines mirror these mixed messages. Tucked between stories about women-power are moments when its unconsciously sexist slip is showing. Society wives were called things like ‘Mrs. Harold Humphrey’ and served as clothes hangers for the latest fashions in poolside entertaining and golf spectating – you know, the things ladies do “to provide a better life for our people.”
A 1967 story, The Ladies of the Junior League, opens with a quote from a police officer patrolling the charity’s annual sale: “They’re the greatest little businesswomen in the world.” We checked, and the Junior League has no maximum height requirement. Presumably, not all the businesswomen were little, but since no women were interviewed for this article about women, we can’t be sure. Obviously, the police officer and writer – Anita Welch, future editor of PHOENIX magazine – had no idea they were portraying women as “the second sex.” But if the patronizing undercurrent isn’t apparent, keep in mind that the president of the Junior League that year was a little lady you mighta heard of: Sandra Day O’Connor. And no one would fathom walking up to her and saying, “Sandy, you’re the best little Supreme Court Justice I ever saw.”
In the July 1967 issue, a few pages after readers discover they can watch Thoroughly Modern Millie try to get ahead by marrying her rich boss, is an article about female corporate executives. Titled The Girls with Go Power – forget that no “girl” profiled appears younger than 40 – the story introduces its profilees like this: “Blue-eyed Pat Buchanan...” “Slender, attractive Esther Wendell...” “Blonde Julie Adams...” The fourth executive was apparently too old to be described in physical terms; she’s called “Dorothy Gerrard, the very capable...” Yet readers could peruse countless profiles about businessmen and be left none the wiser whether their qualifications included blue eyes.
Some women embraced the role of ditz-in-distress and tried to yank the rest of us back by our bra straps. Take – please – Doris Abeling, who wrote a 1968 article titled The Case of the Unbalanced Checkbook. In it, the self-described “Kitchen Katie” confesses that, like “the average woman,” her “teensy-weensy” mistakes and fanciful notation continually flummox “the Lord of the Manor.” To reassure “figure-fuzzies,” she quotes Phoenix accountant Robby Reed: “‘Generally speaking,’ Mrs. Reed says, ‘a woman can balance her checkbook as well as a man. But while he is more inclined to detail the exact figures, she draws upon imagination and a peculiar faith in her system.’”
But times they were a-changin’. A 1968 article on women in real estate revealed that longtime Phoenix realtor – and reformed misogynist – Ed Post added Mrs. Mattie Troutt to his sales staff six years before, “thus ending his ‘for men only’ decree.”
By 1976, veritable binders full of women were rising through the workforce. Margaret Hance was mayor of Phoenix and Barbara Von Ammon was at the helm of Paradise Valley. The magazine declared it The Year of The Woman, announcing, “Women’s lib has finally hit the Valley in a big way.”
The following year, an article advised women on their newly acquired ability to get credit: “Thanks to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act... the old attitude that credit is ‘for men only’ can be thrown out the window.” Hallelujah!
In 1988, Rose Mofford became the first of four female Arizona governors, raising the status of women as high as a beehive hairdo.
Arizona passed the country’s first school desegregation law in 1953 – one year before Brown v. Board of Education made it the law of the land. But once again, pronouncements made in the hallowed courts of law rang hollow in the streets. According to one PHOENIX magazine article, “In the mid-1960s, it was still common to see signs in Phoenix restaurant windows warning blacks that they were not welcome and would not be served.”
A 1969 article reported that some Tempe apartment complex owners refused to admit blacks. Others accepted blacks but quickly evicted them and placed their names on a list that prevented them from renting in the future. The result was that “Some blacks are not interested anymore in forcing discriminating landlords (or restaurant owners, or real estate salesmen) toward integration.”
In the 1960s, African-Americans comprised only 4 percent of Phoenix’s population – compared to about 12 percent nationally – and 95 percent of them lived south of Van Buren, according to historian Matthew Whittaker. This explains why “the minority person was the invisible man, for it was entirely possible for Phoenicians to pursue their daily routine day after day... without hardly ever seeing one,” said black writer Carl Craig in a 1968 article, three years after the devastating Watts riots in Los Angeles. “Phoenicians, it seems, have felt a certain detachment from national racial problems...”
Black Phoenicians still felt “invisible” by the time the article Living Black in Phoenix hit newsstands in 1982: “‘Racism is not as overt, not as blatant as it was 13 years ago,’ says [KTVK-TV reporter] Evelyn Thompson. ‘When I first came here from Tucson in 1971, a real estate agent said to me, ‘Blacks don’t live north of Thomas Road. I’m not going to show you any apartments in that area because nobody will rent to you.’”
In the same story, Brenda Smith, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Small Business, revealed that “There are a number of nightspots around the Valley that attract racist types. Some of them let you know blacks are not wanted... The Klan has a factory in Phoenix where they make white robes, and they had the audacity to advertise with the Department of Economic Security for white-only seamstresses. It is still necessary to be careful.”
In 1981, after 60 hooded Ku Klux Klan members burned a cross in Phoenix, editors Jeff Burger and Doug MacEachern conducted a hard-hitting interview with Arizona KKK leader Paul Driggers. When Burger asked about the possibility of a black person becoming president, Driggers replied, “I don’t think it could happen.”
We would have loved to see his expression when President Obama was elected, though that would have required visiting Driggers in federal prison. (He hired a hit man to murder his ex-wife.)
PHOENIX magazine was always a clear proponent of civil rights, and even its earliest issues feature positive articles by and about African-Americans. It is jarring to see the word “Negro” in 1960s articles, but the term was commonly used then by blacks to describe themselves. However, after Stokely Carmichael coined the phrase “black power” at a Mississippi rally in 1966, “Negro” gradually became associated with subserviency. In the 1970s, the Associated Press and PHOENIX magazine stopped using the word.
Where fledgling PHOENIX magazine fell short was in reflecting the perspectives of Latinos. Hispanics were essentially absent from 1960s issues. In the ’70s and ’80s, they were largely confined to stories about “illegal aliens” and “illegals” (a term ixnayed by the Associated Press in 2013). Though these articles attempted to be balanced, they nonetheless revealed unconscious societal prejudices and tensions that still simmer today.
S-E-X, Drugs and Strobe Lights
Complaints about “kids these days” – or the ancient equivalent – have been found on Sumerian tablets from 5,000 years ago, and it’s only gone downhill from there. But the flower children of the 1960s gave parents extra cause to hammer curses into stone. The yellowed pages of early PHOENIX magazines are splattered with headlines about youth crime and drugs, like Junior Junkies: Today’s Shame, Tomorrow’s Nightmare and Teenage Shoplifters: They Think It’s the ‘In’ Thing to Do.
A 1967 op-ed called for a study to determine “how we can put the fear of God into some of our young people... Bishop Fulton Sheen says the problem is a general breakdown in respect for authority and a lessening of personal dignity... As parents, we need to demonstrate to our children that there are more important things in life than hell-raising.”
And those things do not include sex. “We’ve created and/or condoned the most permissive society since Nero, and it looks like we’re still far from hitting the peak,” wrote Robert S. Rosefsky in a 1969 article, They Call It “Sex Education.” Phoenix’s Washington School District had recently suggested elementary schoolers be taught “human relations,” and parents’ panties were in a twist. Some vocal local opponents were affiliated with the Movement to Restore Decency (MOTOREDE), a Cold War-era organization that believed sex ed was part of a Communist conspiracy to take over the United States. Rosefsky – who clearly supported the classes – responded with straight talk pregnant with sarcasm: “In our still essentially puritanical social order, the mention of s-e-x in almost any context raises more eyebrows, wiglets, and toupees than even a sharp increase in Dow-Jones averages. References to s-e-x conjure up the lurid, the forbidden, the exotic, the devil himself.”
Meanwhile, LSD and other drugs were justifiably causing alarm. Witness the unexpectedly controversial April 1967 issue. Subscribers, feeling fresh as daisies after reading Let’s Build A Park, Tra La, were plunged, pages later, into a den of pubescent iniquity: an article about a teenage nightclub in Tempe. Reporter Betty Webster was apparently so discombobulated she was barely capable of speech: “The prim brick facade shelters super-charged, strobosonic night atmosphere, rent by electronic-amplified, teenage scream-songs, teen-rock drum thunder, and strobosonic-lightning-revealed, misty, go-jerky-slow dancers.”
But it was this sentence – “It simulates a trip but without drugs... a sort of lighthearted, teen-oriented takeoff on the whole LSD thing” – that brought reader Robert Mullen to a boil. “Lighthearted indeed!” he steamed politely, in a letter to the editor. “The psychedelic light attraction is a sugar-coated come-on for some of these kids to go a step further with a real psychedelic ‘trip’ via LSD... I doubt if many of us realize the horrendous extent to which narcotics are being introduced to young people of the country, much less the devastating effect dope is having on American health and morality... I, for one, yearn for the days when... youngsters had more wood to chop and gardens to hoe.”
To parents in the Age of Aquarius, it must have seemed like society was spiraling out of control, in the same way we rue today’s hookup culture, video game addiction and Twitter-mounted assault on the English language.
Some things have indeed gotten worse. But on the other hand, gays and interracial couples can marry. Blacks can rent apartments, enter restaurants and become president. Women can get credit and legally use contraceptives. And beehives, bouffants and bullet bras are blessedly behind us.
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