Betsy Blackwell, Former Magazine Editor, Dies

Betsy Talbot Blackwell, credited with shaping Mademoiselle magazine into one of the most successful women’s publications of her time, has died in a Norwalk, Conn., hospital where she was being treated for emphysema.

Mrs. Blackwell was 79 and had retired as Mademoiselle’s editor-in-chief in 1971.

She had been a writer and critic for several fashion magazines before joining Mademoiselle when it began publication in 1935. Within two years, she had become editor and her ideas were credited with hefty increases in circulation.

She took plain young women to New York, where she put them in stylish clothes, restyled their hair and makeup and then put their pictures in her magazine.

The idea that an ordinary girl could be turned into a fashion model soon made Mademoiselle must reading for young women across the land.


Circulation rose from 178,000 in 1939 to 540,000 in 1953 to nearly a million at her retirement.

She also brought literary significance to the publication, commissioning Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” and publishing Dylan Thomas’ verse play and final important work “Under Milk Wood.”

In 1970, at the dawn of the women’s liberation era, Mrs. Blackwell put out an issue called “The New Sex,” dedicated to the emerging individualistic American woman.

She was among the first to publish Gloria Steinem and other matriarchs of liberation. Mrs. Blackwell herself was the subject of a chapter in the book “Wise Woman,” William Rayner’s work on women who helped shape the 20th Century.

Edith Locke, also a retired Mademoiselle editor, recalled that Mrs. Blackwell saw the magazine as a publication that “nourished young women inside and out.”

Mrs. Blackwell, who died Feb. 4, is survived by her son, James; a stepdaughter, Barbara Hird; six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.