“What would it look like if women told the stories?” 

Since 1985, the Minnesota Women’s Press (MWP) has answered that question with each publication, which goes to subscribers, libraries, online viewers, and free distribution sites in more than 500 locations. 

It is the oldest continuously published feminist monthly magazine in the country. 

Norma Smith Olson and Kathy Magnuson were colleagues at the publication for 25 years — serving as co-owners/publishers for 15 of those years — before retiring and selling the magazine in December 2017. 

Magnuson, who was part of the original group of founders in 1984, helped develop the concept and distribution system. Smith Olson was hired a few years later, initially working on layout and production. 

The MWP began as a newspaper, with a mix of news and storytelling, with the tagline “Every woman has a story.” Eventually it adopted a magazine storytelling focus. 

“Someone in your book group or your next-door neighbor probably has an amazing story,” says Magnuson. “So we tended not to feature celebrities but everyday women, who don’t have the same visibility, but have a strong, compelling story to tell.” 

Facing Challenges 

It wasn’t always smooth sailing. Like many print publications, advertising revenue declined with the advent of the internet. Advertisers had more vehicles for touting products and services, and those seeking employees or renters could find them online. 

Then came the 2008 recession. “Those were tough times,” says Magnuson. “Before the recession there had been a tight employment market, and we had strong print and online employment ad sections. During the recession there were fewer positions to fill, and it was easier [for employers] to fill them with people who had been laid off.” 

In response to dropping ad revenue, the two shifted from a biweekly newsprint format to a monthly magazine. Overhauling a long-established format was a risk, Smith Olson says, “but it was also exciting.” 

“Sometimes you need a nudge to do something you know you should do,” reflects Magnuson. “The magazine format was much more appropriate. The content had become less about news. News is what happened an hour ago. We became even more of what we had already been: a publication focused on storytelling.” 

Points of Pride 
Asked what they look back on with particular pride, Smith Olson and Magnuson cite the “profile” feature that was a fixture from the start. 

“When you know somebody’s story, it’s pretty hard to ‘other’ that person,” says Magnuson. “We’ve always believed that a story holds a lot of power to build understanding and connection.” 

Smith Olson also cites Magnuson’s “Act Now” column, leaving readers with something specific they could do, to take action and make a difference. 

“We knew from surveys that our readers were a very active group,” Magnuson says. “The column was a way to make it easy. We felt it was part of our responsibility, knowing the audience we had.” 

Surveys and feedback also revealed an asset prized by any publication: trust. “That’s something we’re really proud of,” says Smith Olson. “Readers said they could trust what they read in the Women’s Press.” 

Passing the Torch 

When thoughts of retirement arose, the co-publishers proceeded thoughtfully and intentionally. “We noodled the idea for about three years,” Magnuson says. “We knew the work wasn’t finished, and we wanted someone to carry it on. We did a lot of exploring regarding what that would look like and who would lead it.” 

In their February 2017 column, Smith Olson and Magnuson wrote: “In these times of renewed challenges to much of what women have worked for, the Minnesota Women’s Press is needed now more than ever.” 

The two sought successors who would continue the mission of telling women’s stories in ways that would create community and encourage change, while also making the publication their own. “I’d say we succeeded,” Smith Olson says.