Founded in 1926 in New York City, Parents Magazine became the key vehicle for transmitting the message of parent education in the twentieth century. This mass-circulation monthly, initially called Children, The Magazine for Parents, popularized scientific knowledge on child development to help parents rear their children. Over the course of the twentieth century, it reached into millions of homes.
The magazine reflected and shaped the booming parent education movement of the 1920s. Experts in child health, psychology, and education translated research studies into popular terms and offered practical suggestions. Official cooperation came from four universities and a distinguished board of advisory editors. Extensive advertising promoted such items as ready-made baby food, preparatory schools, and summer camps. The magazine's motto, "on rearing children from crib to college," suggested the middle-class expectations readers held for their children.
The founder and publisher for over fifty years was George J. Hecht, a businessman and social service worker who had earned an economics degree from Cornell, then worked for Creel's Committee on Public Information during World War I. Hecht believed that even educated, middle-class parents needed access to knowledge and assistance in raising their children. He received funding for his venture from the LAURA SPELMAN ROCKEFELLER MEMORIAL Foundation, a chief benefactor of the parent education movement.
Hecht recruited Clara Savage Littledale to serve as editor of the new magazine, a position she held for thirty years until her death in 1956. Littledale was a graduate of Smith College, a journalist, and the mother of two children. To make the latest findings in child development research available to parents, Littledale published articles on such topics as infant care, DISCIPLINE, character building, and SEX EDUCATION. Yet she was wary of parents relying too much on expert advice rather than their own common sense. She balanced research material with pieces based on humor, sentiment, and everyday experience, and included tips that readers sent in. She urged parents to relax and to enjoy their children–a message that presaged by at least a decade BENJAMIN SPOCK's Baby and Child Care.
In its attention to expertise and research, Parents Magazine reflected the privatized and professional orientation of parent education that took hold in the 1920s. But the reformist impulse shaped the magazine as well. Hecht and Littledale, who had both come of age in the Progressive Era, exhorted parents to look beyond the concerns of their own families and to support legislation on behalf of children and families. The magazine thus linked the private realm of child rearing with larger public concerns.
The popularity of Parents Magazine was immediate and enduring. Within a year of its founding, the magazine was selling 100,000 copies a month. Circulation reached 400,000 subscribers at ten years and almost a million by the magazine's twentieth anniversary in 1946. By then, the publishing company had created a series of childcare books and children's magazines. The magazine achieved acclaim as the most popular educational periodical in the world. It has continued to be popular, with over two million subscribers in 2002.
Schlossman, Steven L. 1981. "Philanthropy and the Gospel of Child Development." History of Education Quarterly 21: 275–299.
Schlossman, Steven. 1986. "Perils of Popularization: The Founding of Parents' Magazine." In History and Research in Child Development: In Celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Society, ed. Alice Boardman Smuts and John W. Hagan. Chicago: Published by the University of Chicago Press for the Society for Research in Child Development.