When Marjory Collins lost her job in 1971 at the age of fifty-nine, she couldn’t find a new one. Employers weren’t interested in hiring a woman of her age. Out of anger she created her own position, although one without pay. She founded a journal dedicated to women like herself who faced discrimination in later life. The magazine existed for seven years and developed sizeable subscriber base, including my university library. But without advertising or grant support, it was never economically stable.
I was able to read fourteen issues of Prime Time, dug up from the basement of a regional storage facility. Some of the reading was quite familiar, addressing common themes of seventies era feminism. Writers discussed the injustices of capitalist patriarchy and speculated about separatist feminist communities. They denounced the male dominated medical profession and advocated self defense.
But most of the letters and articles investigated issues I never considered when I was in my twenties. Economic survival was high on the list. Women who had lost their jobs or were divorced late in life wrote about their efforts to make ends meet. The challenge of menopause—and whether or not to take estrogen to “cure” it—was the subject of passionate debate. The most frequent theme was ageism and the particular discrimination that women faced as they aged.
There isn’t much about clothing in the magazine, aside from a few denunciations of girdles, high heels, and higher prices for plus sizes. However, there is a lot about the social pressure caused by of America’s youth culture. Gray Panther founder Molly Kuhn writes, “Because society makes a fetish of being young and keeping up youthful appearances, the mythology of perennial youth is kept alive by lies, subterfuge, and self deception.” (June 1976, 7) One article on facelifts comes to the following conclusion, “The main tragedy is that it accomplishes so little, and only temporarily, and that the scars show.” (April/May 1977, 5). Look the way you look—to paraphrase a slogan on Prime Time’s poster—was very much the message of the journal.
Prime Time was a shoestring operation, and it was Collins’ shoe. She was editor, major writer, designer, and distributor, with most of the work done out of her New York city apartment. Her photographs were also frequent cover illustrations. She took the one above in 1963 when she was covering the Civil Rights movement for the British newspaper The Guardian.
Wouldn’t you like to know more? Marjory Collins has a sizable archive at Harvard just waiting for the right researcher. And if you ever come across a copy of that Prime Time poster, I’d make it worth your while if you sent it along.
I read a line once that as you get older you become the person you always should have been, and it seems whether she liked it or not, it happened to Marjorie Collins. Its always amazing to read of the women that paved the way for others.
what a gold mine of info: the table of contents alone is fascinating especially because the worthwhile topics are still relevant today yet continue to be shoved under the table!
Maybe we should plan a meeting at Harvard to review collectively the archive for a possible book on MC as photographer and activist. I wonder if we could get the Schlesinger library folks to seed travel $ for 3-5.
I’ll sign up to make the trip if it’s after my recovery from open heart surgery : )
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Does this mean that immoderate comments are verboten? Dang!
I have never censored a comment! And I love your idea of a book together.
Interesting how these issues are still of concern to women past 50.
And this is SO true: “the mythology of perennial youth is kept alive by lies, subterfuge, and self deception.” I’m betting that most Baby Boomers still fall victim to this mythology.
Funnily enough older people today are relatively well off compared to how poor our children will be when they get older, certainly in the UK. We got free education, opportunities to become home owners (and see our homes rise in value), plus good, index linked workplace pensions. For those under 35 there is student debt, poorer pay without regular uplifts, much poorer pensions and really no opportunities to become home owners.
There are women in the Baby Boom generation in the U.S. who aren’t that well off.
So little has changed.
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Another wonderful subject for research — hope you and Sally S meet at Harvard someday — and are joined by others. Good luck. I sometimes find articles that are not related to costume history but are related to women’s issues; I wish I’d photographed one article on the use of anesthetics during childbirth (Queen Victoria could vouch for the practice) which commented that some 20th c. male physicians (1920s? 1930s?) thought it was forbidden by the Bible. (“In sorrow thou shalt bring forth children.” — Genesis 3:16.) And it’s only now that scientists are realizing that drug testing isn’t accurate when only male subjects are part of the test — even though, statistically, there are more women than men in the world.
The article on anesthetics and childbirth was in Delineator, September 1934.
To me, the poster (I am my age) is very poignant. A friend told me recently that she started going to the gym and hired two young trainers who actually believe she looks the way she does (age 58) because she didn’t eat right or exercise religiously. She is an attractive red-haired woman, slightly overweight with the predictable wrinkles and sagging skin. She looks perfectly her age and it is the having lived for 58 years which makes her look 58 years. Young people can be so stupid but I think it comes from a belief they have that they will somehow transcend the aging process. Why do I think this? Because that is how I felt in my twenties!