Colorado State University Journalism Professor Explores Cosmopolitan Magazine’s 100-Year History in New Book

Colorado State University Journalism and Technical Communication Associate Professor James Landers explores the 100-year-old history and cultural significance of Cosmopolitan Magazine in his new book, “The Improbable First Century of Cosmopolitan Magazine.”

Today, Cosmopolitan Magazine has a bold, vivacious and sometimes vulgar reputation. Known for its laissez-faire and overt views on sex, Cosmo is one of the top magazines on the newsstands. But that wasn’t always the case.

Today, the magazine famously attracts young, single women, leading with sexual and fashion topics. In years past, however, it was a muckraking expose journal, a fiction periodical that featured writers like Mark Twain and H.G. Wells, and was a family literary magazine. Cosmo was rescued from cessation three times, saved by individuals including journalism mogul William Randolph Hearst and the ambitious Helen Gurley Brown, and has transformed into “the profit center of the Hearst Corporation and a culturally significant force in young women’s lives,” all in its 100 years of existence.

“It amazed me that the magazine has survived for so many years, yet it has been a completely different magazine at various times,” Landers said. “I first learned several years ago that Cosmopolitan was a serious, respected, popular magazine during the 1890s and early 1900s. I decided to see what else Cosmopolitan had been. I wanted to know how a magazine could change its identity so dramatically and survive.”

Landers did extensive research to gain access to primary sources, including landing an interview with Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmo’s most famous editor, who rarely allows interviews.

“I already had started research on Cosmo. I wrote to Helen Gurley Brown, explained the historical perspective [of my book], and asked if she would talk with me,” Landers said. “She agreed immediately. She was pleased to be interviewed for a historical research project rather than the usual celebrity profile or feminist perspective.”

This is the second book Landers has published. His first book, “The Weekly War: Newsmagazines and Vietnam,” was published in 2004 by the University of Missouri Press.

“The Improbable First Century of Cosmopolitan Magazine” is available at local bookstores, online retailers and directly from Chicago Distribution Services.

For more information on the book, contact Jennifer Gravley at or at (573) 882-8735.