Let’s Read The Cosmopolitan, June 1900!

The Cosmopolitan, known today as just Cosmopolitan or Cosmo, has been going since 1886 and has pretty much never not been a massive hit. The magazine just has a shitload of interesting history to cover, from well over a century of transition from solid and respectable general interest, to genuine literary, to Helen Gurley Brown and the sexual revolution, to…what it is today.

This week we’re going way back to Cosmo from June of 1900, in which you will not be learning 101 hot sex tips, how to have sexier sex, how to have epic holiday sex, how to have next level sex, or how to have OMG sex! You will learn about the automobile, the bleeding edge of telescope technology, Jocko the ailing circus monkey, and hot royals. Sounds great right…wait, where are you going??


This style of putting the full table contents on the front cover was the norm until about the 1930s for general-interest magazines, but it continued for much longer with literary magazines and might still be in use today for literature quarterlies. As someone whose job revolves around scanning magazines quickly for a specific article, this format is THE GREATEST. But I imagine it changed around the time that commercial photography and color printing tech was good enough and cheap enough to feature a splashy cover over one full of text. I see here that they were trying to do both, ending up in it being overly busy and honestly a bit of an eyesore. There’s so much cryptic imagery crammed into this cover that it looks like a dollar bill. Note the near-indecipherable message going down the far left border: “From every man according to his ability, to every man according to his needs”. Karl Marx’s favorite quote! Beautiful sidetrack: this Tumblr, which took the connection between Marx and Cosmopolitan and did exactly what needed to be done.

My beloved CPI Inflation Calculator unfortunately doesn’t go back as far as 1900, so I have to rely on some less trusted sources for money translation than the Bureau of Labor Statistics for this week. Apparently the magazine was the equivalent of about $2.75, which is only a little cheaper than a magazine today.

As for the tantalizing content promised on the cover, I regret to inform you that “Drunken with Roses” is unfortunately not as fun as the title would have you believe – it’s just an illustration of a pretty lady holding a lot of roses. She would probably have liked to be drunken with something a little stronger, given the look on her face.

Something surprising is the amount of name brands in advertisements that I recognize from today. Some of them don’t sell the same thing under the brand name like Bausch & Lomb with their binoculars (they sell contact lenses today), and sometimes they sell the exact same product. And the top winning recipe will earn about $3,500 in today’s money – not too shabby! So get creative with your Sterilized Wheat Food!

I also have absolutely no idea what’s going on in the Electro Chemic testimonial/advertisement to the left, other than Delmer D. Richardson claiming to cure varicose veins with…something. High voltage? Meth? It’s a primo example of turn-of-the-century formal writing that sounds very intelligent but amounts to pure pseudoscientific babble.

Wonder whatever happened to that Tolstoy guy.

Anxieties of 1900: stammering in public, your Lea & Perrins Worcester sauce being fake, studying the law at home without a naked child on your shoulder to help you flip the pages of your textbook. I also appreciate that in the Women’s Medical College advertisement they proudly state that their teaching style includes quizzes, which I guess could have been a hot new trend in education at the time?

It’s cool that these brands that have survived to today are so old that their original proprietors were alive at the time of the magazine going to press. Whitman’s: gross cheap chocolate today, probably gross and cheap back then too. There’s another ad from this era with those same two ladies and a cute fella in the center, but in this one they appear to have ditched him for some girl time.

Interestingly, this is one of the very few instances in the whole magazine with a person of color in a story or advertisement. In this case, the black cook child is drawn to be rather cute, and not in an overtly derogatory way. I don’t know if that’s better or worse, really.

From an article on the modern circus. Going from the tone of this writing, the author is really impressed by how much circuses don’t suck as much as they used to.

I hope Jocko pulled through whatever his illness was. But he might be faking it in the name of getting some of that sweet sweet morphine medicine, and the thrill of having a gentleman valet in a bowler hat personally attending to him.

I love the “probable fall” of the second caption, as if the photographer had been waiting for her to fall all morning and was like I CALLED IT, SHE WAS GONNA FALL OFF THE ROPE, GUYS, DID YOU SEE THAT, SHE FELL.

Princesses: we can never get enough of them. I enjoy that there was never a time in the history of the free press when we weren’t talking shit about princesses.

There is a lot of words here to go on about the Princess of Wales having a…great personality. And god damn, poor Caroline of Brunswick, mentioned here only as the consort of King George IV but described as “infamous and above all appallingly gross and vulgar” so…good job there on not being her, future grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II!

Isabella, Duchess of Guise: apparently got all the babely German Protestant genes from her grandma. Lucky for her that she didn’t end up handsome and French-looking like her sister Helen, who hated her husband but kept going back to him and pumped out a few kids anyway (because he was hot, in an inbred Victorian aristocrat sort of way).

Automobiles: the trend was like, so 1890, am I right? Now cars are so MAINSTREAM that the rich people have to decorate their cars like rose parade floats to get any attention! Whatever! These photos accompanying the article are all from the Newport Automobile Parade, which I guess was like Burning Man for the Vanderbilt set (or, “society with a big S”).

I see the Belmonts aren’t screwing around here.

Not like Mrs. Herman Oelrichs here who clearly sucks at driving, DASH IT ALL THERESA you’re making us look bad!

How to drive a car in 1900: 1) work the power lever with your left hand with your right hand on the steering lever. No steering wheels yet! 2) Put your left foot on the emergency switch, with your toes in position to bang a gong. 3) the heel of the right foot goes on the reverse switch, unless you need to hit the brake pedal. Yes, there’s a brake pedal that we’re just announcing. Got it? Good! No license necessary!

Advancements in telescope technology, written by the leading astronomer of the day.

Some quick research shows that reflecting telescopes are still used by serious astronomers over refracting telescopes today, so…sorry about that, Monsieur Flammarion. Love that concluding paragraph though. To infinity and beyond!

Ayer’s must have been doing well/ripping of a hell of a lot of people to pay for a full two-page ad. How can a product do you wrong when the company employs THREE genuine graduates in pharmacy, chemistry, AND medicine to oversee the quality? Take that, Dr. Oz! Also note the final statement that assures you that the sarsaparilla pills work best when digestion’s already in good shape, so take those pills every day!

Probably not a vibrator!


From an article on Queen Victoria by William T. Stead, who was a very influential journalist and died in the sinking of the Titanic, the great irony being that he had published a piece many years before that concerned the dire issue of passenger ships being short on life boats. His evaluation of Queen Victoria as a sovereign seems to be “Lady who gets shit done”, which is hard to argue with.

Howard Chandler Robbins was a preacher primarily known for writing hymns and devotional books, but he did have a few romantic nature poems published in magazines around this time. Evidently he really liked seagulls (sea-mews) enough to write a rather lovely poem to them, probably the nicest poem ever written about one of the dirtiest and most obnoxious birds on the planet.

I imagine the copywriter of this ad just throwing balls of crumpled up paper against the wall until five minutes before the deadline, when he swears and grumbles OH JUST PUT A STUPID KITTEN ON IT AND GO TO PRESS.

And that’s it for part 1 of The Cosmopolitan, June 1900! I’ll bring you the second half in two weeks, after we’ve thrown ourselves forward in time for this 1971 holiday spectacular: