With her black suit, pearls, and flawlessly styled hair, Helen Gurley Brown at age 88 appeared every bit the Cosmo girl as she sat, surrounded by scores of admiring professors and students, at a campus gathering in her honor. The celebration in September at the Sophia Smith Collection, where her papers are housed, paid tribute to the longtime editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and author of the 1962 book Sex and the Single Girl.
The afternoon included a lecture by English Professor Richard Millington about Brown’s reinvention of womanhood, a short film on her life, and a panel discussion about Brown’s wide-reaching influence. “Sex and the Single Girl opened me up to women as subjects, as actors in the sexual revolution,” said Amanda Izzo ’99, former student archivist for the Sophia Smith Collection, of Brown’s controversial self-help guide that emphasized the benefits of unmarried life. “She changed the media and indeed how women think about themselves.”
Panelists, including Commencement author J. Courtney Sullivan ’03, enthusiastically agreed that Brown is and always was a feminist. Her work and vision are so compatible with Smith that both Izzo and President Carol Christ dubbed her an “honorary Smithie.”
And it seems that Smith has inspired Brown, too. During the event, Kim St. Clair Bodden, vice president and executive director of Hearst Magazines International, announced that Brown—who had not been able to attend college and had wondered what it would have been like to be a Smithie—was making a donation to the Ada Comstock Scholars Program.
At the end of the event, Brown stood up to offer her thanks. “It’s amazing, the room is full of so many people!” she proclaimed in surprise, adding, “You’re all so attractive!”
SAQ Winter 2010–11