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The fairer sex has always had an interest in the weird, the unknown — albeit the more romantic side of these. Witness today’s popularity of “love story” vampire books, movies (the Twilight series) and television series (Moonlight, True Blood). I know my wife loves the weird stuff – she is always on the lookout for movies on cable and in theaters that will scare her to the point where she has to cover her eyes.
Back in the day, there were many women fans of Weird Tales as well, some of them even joining the Weird Tales Club, a feature the magazine began in the 1940s. I suspect there were a lot of women, who perhaps out of boredom, would pick up their husband or boyfriend’s Weird Tales to read and find themselves drawn into those strange worlds and horrific situations. Of course, the covers may have gotten their attention first. They were meant to be enticing, exotic, and shocking; many of them featuring femmes fatales, damsels in distress, and women as objects of either desire or torture.
Here is an excerpt from “Chapter 3: Weird Sisters” from Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction (1926-1965) by Eric Leaf Davin (most of the book is online at Google books) on women and the Weird Tales Club:
In the 1940s the magazine launched the “Weird Tales Club.” If readers submitted a stamped self-addressed envelope, along with their names and addresses, they would be sent an official membership card and their names and addresses would be published in the magazine as new club members. I chose six issues at random – one from 1943, two from 1947, two from 1949, and one from 1952 — and did a gender analysis of the listed club members.
Of the 448 club members I could gender-identify from these six lists, 118 were female, almost exactly the same gender breakdown as revealed by an analysis of all the letter writers to the magazine. Nor were the female club members skewed toward any one period. The percentage of female club members hovered around this level for the entire decade I examined 1943-1952, although the percentage was 26.8 percent in 1943 and 31.3 percent in 1952. Three of the six issues reveled female club memberships of over 30 percent with only September 1949 female club membership falling below 26 percent. As the club memberships lists and the letters reveal, women, although a monitory, were nevertheless a major, vocal, and crucial part of the Weird Tales readership.
Even during Howard’s lifetime, female readership was around 25 percent, based on letters sent to the magazine.
In addition to being readers and letter writers, women were also important contributors to the magazine. At least 114 female authors were published in Weird Tales before one of the magazine’s best known female writers, C. L. Moore, had her first story published in 1933. Of course, Margaret Brundage painted nine Weird Tales covers featuring Conan the Cimmerian and gave the world its first color depiction of the legendary barbarian. In fact a woman, Dorothy McIlwraith, was the editor of Weird Tales for nearly half its lifespan (1940-1954).
Who knows, perhaps likeminded men and women corresponded and met through the information published in the Weird Tales Club section of the magazine. And future Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner certainly knew where to find women — he was a Weird Tales Club member too.