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Sex and the Single Girl

Helen Gurley Brown at Cosmopolitan Magazine

Before Carrie Bradshaw or Fifty Shades of Grey there was Helen Gurley Brown. Born in Arkansas in 1922, Brown was one of the original independent city girl. After graduating from Woodbury Business College in 1941, Brown began working at several talent agencies: William Morris, Music Corporation of America and Jaffe, but it was while she was working as a secretary at Foote, Cone & Belding that her employer recognized her writing skills and moved her to the copywriting department. She quickly became one of the highest paid copywriters of the 1960s.

In 1962, Brown published Sex and the Single Girl, an advice book that encouraged women to become financially independent and experience sexual relationships, either inside or outside of marriage. It was a tome and a way of thinking that bordered on scandal. Sex and the Single Girl was published years before free love, flower power, women’s liberation and the birth control pill. Brown both wrote and spoke frankly and directly about sex and women’s gender roles at a time that was still clinging to Post-WWII conservatism.

“My aim is to tell a reader how to get everything out of life — the money, recognition, success, men, prestige, authority, dignity — whatever she is looking at through the glass her nose is pressed against.” – Helen Gurley Brown

In 1965, following the publishing of Sex and the Single Girl, Brown went on to become editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan Magazine, a then-failing magazine that catered primarily to housewives. While Brown had little-to-no publishing experience, she was determined to stamp her personality on the first issue under her purview: July 1965, which featured a voluptuous blond model with a plunging neckline and the headline, “World’s Greatest Lover – What it was like to be wooed by him!”

Brown was the editor of Cosmopolitan from 1965 to 1997, increasing circulation from 800,000 to just over 3 million. Throughout her years at Cosmo, Brown was the definitive voice of the young, modern, sexually liberated, working woman trying to navigate her way around the ever-changing feminist landscape.

Famous for her line, “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere,” Brown created an accepting and liberating environment for a generation of women.


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