Safer at Home: Exploring the ONE Archives Collection

Week 10 (June 29, 2020)

This illustration appeared on the cover of ONE Magazine twice—first in 1956 and then in 1962. The later cover is almost identical to the earlier one but for three changes: the address appears in the black space at the lower right where the price was, the price moves to the top right and has doubled from twenty-five to fifty cents, and the two words, “At Home,” have been added in capital letters. The line-drawn illustration places the viewer on the outside of a building looking in. Two individuals, one man and one woman, each wearing black tops, converse near the windows. Behind them, there are several people, all drawn in silhouette, attending to a bookcase and standing by some files and a calendar. With the logo for the magazine plastered on top of this drawing, it seems we are looking at a workspace at ONE. The illustrator invites the reader to see “behind the scenes,” just as the cover acts as an invitation to turn the page and read the contents of the magazine. 

As an art historian, I look at the different elements of an image to understand how shape, form, line, technique, pattern, color, and composition affect the representation of the subject matter and what the image expresses or conveys. So, the addition of the words “at home” and their positioning on the cover is intriguing. The issue offers no explanation, but their placement just below the image supports their function as a title, like any title one might see below or alongside a work of art. This prompts some questions: Does the title refer only to the place pictured or is it being used to describe the entire magazine? And, if this is “home,” whose home is it? 

ONE Magazine began publishing in 1953. In addition to being available on newsstands, it was sent through the mail in plain brown envelopes. The enclosure was to ensure privacy, as there was much fear of being outed. Once procured, though, the magazine could be read and enjoyed in a safe location. Despite these precautions, circulation of One Magazine was delayed several times by the U.S. Postal Service for review of potentially obscene material. Most notably, in 1954, postal officials deemed one issue too obscene to distribute. ONE challenged the Post Office in court and lost the first two rounds before those decisions were overturned by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote in 1958. ONE, Inc. v Olesen ruled that describing the love between two homosexuals was not obscene and was protected under the First Amendment right to free speech. The magazine could continue to publish, be disseminated and arrive, via the postal service to the homes of its subscribers. 

The juxtaposition of image and text on the 1962 cover serves as a reminder of how gay and lesbian magazines functioned differently from mainstream magazines, especially at that time. The magazine—the content, the news, the letters—created a community, or a sense of belonging or home. Especially for those writing in from small towns with no out population, the pages of the magazine and the contributing individuals provided a sense of home and connection. For some it was the idea that a world or place existed that was safer for them to be themselves than where they lived, and for others it was an extension of their daily lives. 

This may have been the sentiment that the drawing’s creator, Eve Elloree, a pseudonym for Joan Corbin, meant to convey. She illustrated ONE Magazine as an editorial staff member from 1953-1954 and was the art director from 1954-1963. She and her partner Irma “Corky” Wolf (better known by her pseudonym, Ann Carll Reid) were both influential in shaping the direction of the magazine. Running her drawing again as a cover with the addition of the words, “At Home,” Corbin seems to offer this image as an inside look at what for her was home and suggest that it could be home to anyone who read the magazine.

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