Groundbreaking Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown passed away on Monday at the age of 90. She oversaw Cosmo for more than 30 years, and also wrote the bestselling book Sex and the Single Girl, which challenged traditional Victorian social mores. While critics countered that Cosmo — and Gurley Brown — was a bastion of anti-feminist sentimentality, others her as heralding a different kind of girl power, one where women were free to be as sexually promiscuous and scheming as the men around them.
While Gurley Brown may have promoted “fun, fearless femalehood,” she was actually mostly a monogamous woman, married to husband David for 50 years.
We’ve selected several of our favorite covers from Gurley Brown’s tenure with the magazine, which proudly pulse with female sexuality and savvy.
A 1970 cover features articles about orgies, divorces, Warren Beatty — and features a short story from Joyce Carol Oates. A 1984 cover takes a decidedly more androgynous look, with a short-haired Annie Lennox on the cover and an offer for “hunks of gold” — which we think are actual pieces of gold.
A 1980 cover with cover model Gia Carangi (yes, that Gia) shows a preternatural focus on “what it takes to be a top model” nearly 30 years before Tyra’s “Top Model” made the scene. A 1969 cover promises to tell women “how women can feel what they should” (emphasis theirs).
Check out the sexy, spangly leotard on this 1980 cover! This issue includes a story on “how to paint your apartment” and an excerpt, strangely, from The Bourne Identity. The 1979 cover offers advice on “how to survive his ego problem” if you’re earning more than him, and info on “his big O.”
A 1972 issue promises how to teach you how to “turn a man on when he’s having problems in bed, while a 1976 issue (featuring one of the first African American models Beverly Johnson) includes “facts and fallacies about love making” and “what it’s like to be a southern girl today.”