They’re celebrating a silver anniversary this month at 771 Raymond Ave. in south St. Anthony Park. For 25 years, the Minnesota Women’s Press has been telling women’s stories and providing a unique, woman-to-woman connection to the issues of the day.
“I am so proud of them,” said Bonnie Watkins about the women behind the for-profit enterprise. The executive director of the Minnesota Women’s Consortium, a statewide collaboration of more than 160 organizations, added, “It’s no mean feat to keep that going for 25 years. And it’s so great to see the support they receive from women-focused and pro-woman businesses.”
About 35,000 copies of the Minnesota Women’s Press are distributed free monthly, mostly in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. It’s also mailed to subscribers, with an electronic edition available online. A bi-weekly newspaper for many years, the publication now appears as a monthly magazine.
Mollie Hoben and Glenda Martin began developing the concept for the publication in 1984, working in collaboration with a group of other St. Anthony Park women, several formerly associated with the Park Bugle newspaper.
Memories of the early days of the Minnesota Women’s Press include a shareholder taking out a loan on her car to come up with money to invest, planning sessions around Hoben’s kitchen table and everyone pitching in to deliver the first issues to newsstands.
“At the time, there were not a lot of models for what we were trying to do,” said Hoben. “Popular women’s magazines were about lifestyles, careers, health and beauty. At the other end of the spectrum, there were really radical feminist publications. We were figuring out how to walk between the two worlds, promoting feminist beliefs and yet appealing to many mainstream readers.”
Early on, the publication had offices above Sharrett’s Liquor Store at Raymond and University. After five years it moved to the nearby storefront where it’s been ever since. Many of the original shareholders and investors are still involved today.
As the content of the Minnesota Women’s Press evolved, the transition from newspaper to magazine format made sense, says Norma Smith Olson, who is current co-publisher with Kathy Magnuson. Magnuson has been with the publication since the beginning, Olson came on board as a part-time typist 20 years ago.
“Our mission has always been to share women’s stories,” Olson said. “Although we set out to report the news from a woman’s perspective, we were never a newspaper in the traditional sense.”
Added Magnuson, “The change really opened up opportunities for us, providing more lead time for stories, more time for planning an issue and the ability to group stories around a theme.”
The publishers believe the magazine and associated activities. such as the Minnesota Women’s Directory, the bi-monthly BookWomen Magazine (which founders Hoben and Martin edit) and the Center for Feminist Reading, help women feel connected to one another, not only in the metropolitan area but in greater Minnesota as well.
Despite the recessionary times, Magnuson said, the magazine remains on solid financial footing and the March issue was the biggest in a year.
With the passage of 25 years, Magnuson and Olson were asked if a new generation of women still finds the Minnesota Women’s Press relevant.
“We welcome essays, opinion pieces and personal stories,” Olson said, “and judging from the response, it appears to me that we’re speaking to a broad spectrum of ages. In the March issue, for instance, we had a very heartfelt story told by a young Hmong woman. She described her decision to cut her traditionally styled hair and the consequences of that. Our feedback suggests that women see the value in reading the stories of others at various stages of their lives.”
For the April issue, the 25th anniversary edition, the publishers/editors asked a group of Minnesota women to describe the kinds of things that were wishes 25 years ago and now have come to fruition. Women were also asked to describe what they would like to see accomplished in the quarter-century ahead.
The publishers of the Minnesota Women’s Press certainly think there’s still plenty of work to do.
“If you look at who the decision-makers are in our society,” observed Magnuson, “who makes up boards of directors, for instance, or if you look at the mainstream newspapers and the bylines on stories and who the people are that are cited as expert sources, it’s plain to see that we still have a long way to go to achieve gender parity.”
The publication’s Web site, womenspress.com, connects readers with all its print publication stories, advertisers, directory listings, calendar of events and the Center for Feminist Reading’s books.