Unlike the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA], Ms. magazine has generally claimed to be in favor of freedom of information. Yet when a woman anti-war activist and I drove out to Northampton, Massachusetts in the late 1990s to examine the contents of the 250 boxes of Ms. archives donated by the magazine to the Smith College library’s Sophia Smith Collection, guess what happened? The librarian wouldn’t let us look at any of the material until she and other members of the library staff first got a chance to remove “the restricted material.”
Feeling that the notion of maintaining a “restricted” magazine archives seemed similar in spirit to the notion of maintaining restricted country clubs, I telephoned the collection’s reference archivist, Susan Boone, the next morning to ask her to clarify the library’s policy on providing journalists with access to Ms. magazine’s archives.
“Ms. records are available. And the Steinem material has been separated. But there’s a possibility that there is other restricted material in the records,” said Boone. “And that means that we can and we will go through the boxes and pull any restricted material.”
Some of the separated “Steinem material” was briefly described in the typed index of the Ms. records which the woman anti-war activist and I were allowed to look at. The restricted “Steinem material” contained in box 115 of the Ms. archives includes Gloria Steinem’s 1971-1977 correspondence, material on the Ms. Foundation, Women’s Action Alliance annual meeting reports for the years 1980 to 1982 and “Gloria Steinem—correspondence clippings, 1971-1982.” The restricted material in Box 62 is described as “Gloria Steinem speaking request—fee correspondence” for the years 1973 to 1976. And the restricted material in Box 132 includes material on Gloria Steinem’s 1970 to 1981 appearances, more material on the Ms. Foundation and more Steinem correspondence.
In the course of examining this typed index, the woman anti-war activist who was with me noticed the following hand-written note on one page: “Material re: Redstockings events & Elizabeth Harrris restricted.” The phrase “Redstockings events” likely refers to the events surrounding that radical anti-war feminist group’s 1975 revelation that Ms. magazine founder Steinem’s political activity had been funded by the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1950s and 1960s.
A February 1967 article in the now-defunct U.S. left magazine Ramparts had revealed that the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Independent Research Service organization—which Gloria Steinem apparently had set-up in 1958—received at least $180,000 in CIA funds between 1961 and 1965. The CIA funds were funneled to the Independent Research Service organization through a CIA foundation conduit: the Independence Foundation.
In her 1997 book Inside Ms.: 25 Years Of The Magazine And The Feminist Movement, former Ms. editorial staff member Mary Thom claimed that the Independent Research Service entity “had been founded by former National Student Association [NSA] officials”—not by Steinem; and that “Steinem learned of the CIA financing from NSA people.” Yet in a February 21, 1967 New York Times article which confirmed the Ramparts magazine disclosure, Steinem had told the Times that: (1) the CIA had been “a major source of funds” for the Independent Research Service since its formation in 1958; (2) “she had talked to some former officers of the National Student Association, who told her CIA money might be available;” (3) she “was a full-time employee of the service” until 1962; and (4) “The CIA’s big mistake was not supplanting itself with private funds fast enough.”
Under Steinem’s leadership, the CIA-funded Independent Research Service had, according to Ramparts magazine, “actively recruited a delegation of hundreds of young Americans to attend” world youth festivals in Vienna in 1959 and in Helsinki in 1962 “in order to actively oppose the communists;” and important officers and ex-officers of the CIA-funded National Student Association “were very active in the Independent Research Service activities in Vienna and Helsinki.” At the 1962 Helsinki Youth Festival, the Independent Research Service distributed a daily newspaper, The Helsinki News, which was printed in five languages. The Helsinki News was apparently edited by Clay Felker—the New York magazine editor who would later fund and distribute Ms. magazine’s initial December 1971 sample issue as an insert in his patriarchal New York magazine.
Also attending the 1962 Helsinki Youth Festival with Steinem under CIA sponsorship was Barney Frank, who subsequently became an aide to Democratic Boston Mayor Kevin White and then a long-time Massachusetts Democratic representative in Congress. As The Pied Piper: Allard K. Lowenstein and the Liberal Dream by Richard Cummings would note in 1985:
“Barney Frank at Harvard had been with the Independent Research Service delegation to Helsinki, an operation which, by Frank’s own admission, he clearly understood was CIA-backed. Frank joked about the role of fellow delegate Gloria Steinem, whom he described as running around at nightclubs set up by the CIA in Helsinki, helping to win over Africans.”
Steinem was “on the agency’s payroll” for 4 years, according to America’s Other Voice: The Story of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty by Sig Mickelson. And in late February 1967, the then-32-year-old Steinem had told Newsweek magazine:
“In the CIA, I finally found a group of people who understood how important it was to represent the diversity of our government’s ideas at the Communist festivals. If I had the choice, I would do it again.”
(end of part 1)
Next: Ms. Magazine’s “Restricted” Archives—Part 2