Eleanor Fitzsimons
University College Dublin

In April 1887, Irish author, playwright and poet Oscar Wilde accepted
the position of editor of The Lady’s World, a high-end, illustrated
monthly magazine produced by Cassell and Company. As he considered the
magazine ‘a very vulgar, trivial, and stupid production’, Wilde
renamed it The Woman’s World and set about transforming it into
‘the recognised organ for the expression of women’s opinions on
all subjects of literature, art, and modern life’. Under his
editorship The Woman’s World would, in his words, ‘take a wider
range, as well as a high standpoint, and deal not merely with what
women wear, but with what they think, and what they feel’.

Wilde relegated fashion to the back pages and included articles on
cross-dressing, aesthetic design and rational dress. He commissioned
features examining higher education for women, the political status of
women and pioneering women in history. In a significant departure from
convention, each was attributed to its author by name. In his
‘Literary and Other Notes’, Wilde demonstrated unequivocal support
for the greater participation of women in public life, favouring
access to education and the professions as a means of improving their
status: ‘The cultivation of separate sorts of virtues and separate
ideals of duty in men and women has led to the whole social fabric
being weaker and unhealthier than it need be’, he argued.

Arthur Fish, Wilde’s sub-editor, credited him with securing ‘a
brilliant company of contributors which included the leaders of
feminine thought and influence’. Campaigning feminist Laura McLaren
contributed ‘The Fallacy of the Superiority of Man’, a rousing
article that demanded: ‘If women are inferior in any point, let the
world hear the evidence on which they are to be condemned’. In
‘The Position of Women’, Eveline, Countess of Portsmouth welcomed
amendments to marriage law. In ‘Woman and Democracy’, feminist
writer Julia Wedgewood advocated universal suffrage, a topic also
addressed by Millicent Garrett Fawcett, prominent suffragist and
co-founder of Newnham College Cambridge. In ‘Something about
Needlewomen’, trade unionist Clementina Black encouraged
impoverished piece-workers to combine into cooperatives.

According to Fish, ‘The keynote of the magazine was the right of
women to equality of treatment with men’. He insisted that
‘articles on women’s work and their position in politics were far
in advance of the thought of the day’. Fish reported that, when
challenged by management, ‘Wilde would always express his entire
sympathy with the views of the writers and reveal great liberality of
thought with regard to the political aspirations of women’. Wilde
commissioned new work from emerging women writers including Amy Levy,
Olive Schreiner and E. Nesbit, and when Cassells objected to his
‘too literary tendencies’ he grew disillusioned: ‘I am not
allowed as free a hand as I would like’, he declared. His final
‘Literary and Other Notes’ appeared in June 1889; by October his
name was gone from the cover and The Woman’s World reverted to its
unadventurous roots. It was discontinued shortly afterwards.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900