Mademoiselle in the Days of Betsy Talbot Blackwell and the Barbizon: Background information when reading The Barbizon

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The Barbizon

The Hotel That Set Women Free

by Paulina Bren

The Barbizon by Paulina Bren X
The Barbizon by Paulina Bren
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2021, 336 pages

    Mar 2022, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Oberdorfer
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About this Book

Mademoiselle in the Days of Betsy Talbot Blackwell and the Barbizon

This article relates to The Barbizon

Print Review

Mademoiselle, July 1938 issue I may well be the only woman who regrets not having lived in the early and middle decades of the 20th century. Sure, a woman was barely respected in her own kitchen, but she lived in the days when you still got dressed up to go to the grocery store. She lived in the days when there was still money in writing, when flight attendants passed out postcards so passengers could write to their families and friends mid-flight, and when the magazine Mademoiselle had highly coveted guest editor positions for young, smart and ambitious women. These were the days when Betsy Talbot Blackwell was the editor-in-chief of the magazine and resided at the Barbizon Hotel, which is so inextricably linked to Mademoiselle that it is impossible to tell the story of one without the other. Blackwell lived at the hotel along with other female guests who worked on the magazine's publication staff, all of which is detailed in Paulina Bren's book The Barbizon.

Blackwell was born in New York in 1905 (although she famously wouldn't speak about her age) and was the editor-in-chief of Mademoiselle from 1937-1971. Not only did she quadruple sales of the magazine, which was drowning before she charged to the rescue, but she revolutionized the art of magazine publishing for women. Blackwell wanted to publish something smart for young women, rather than advice on how to cook or how to make a child stop crying. She wanted to strike a balance between fashion and fiction so not only did college girls know what to wear for fall semester, they also knew who to read and how to think about what they were reading. The magazine published stories by Truman Capote, Flannery O'Connor, William Faulkner, Joyce Carol Oates and Dylan Thomas, and was one of the first to publish Gloria Steinem. Blackwell wanted to do something fresh in every issue, wanted the publication to keep growing and stay relevant.

One element that made Mademoiselle stand out from other magazines of the time was its guest editor program. Every year, college girls applied for one of the highly coveted and prestigious spots in this program, which was Blackwell's brainchild. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and the selected women had the chance to live in New York City at the Barbizon Hotel through the summer months and write, edit, dress and exist under Blackwell's brilliant tutelage. The program attracted women who became well-known writers, such as Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion.

Mademoiselle magazine printed its last issue in 2001, 30 years after Blackwell retired as editor-in-chief. And there has never been anything else like it.

Cover of July 1938 issue of Mademoiselle

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kate Oberdorfer

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Barbizon. It originally ran in April 2021 and has been updated for the March 2022 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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