Judith Glassman Daniels, 74; edited top magazines

Judith Daniels was managing editor at New York magazine when she launched Savvy, initially as an insert.
Globe File
Judith Daniels was managing editor at New York magazine when she launched Savvy, initially as an insert.

UNION, Maine — Judith Glassman Daniels, who founded the first magazine targeting businesswomen before becoming the first woman to serve as top editor of Life magazine, died Sept. 1 from stomach cancer at her home in Union. A native of Cambridge, Mass., she was 74.

Ms. Daniels served in senior editing positions at The Village Voice, New York magazine, Time Inc., and Conde Naste. In her 35-year career, she was credited with helping to break barriers for other women in the publishing industry.

The pinnacle of that effort was a magazine called Savvy. At a time when most women’s magazines focused on hair-dos and housekeeping, Ms. Daniels wanted to spotlight the success stories of women in corner offices.


The magazine started as an insert to New York magazine before debuting as a stand-alone publication in 1979.

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“Savvy will not tell you how to be a good secretary,” one of its early promotional fliers read. “Savvy will tell you how to hire a good secretary — and how to fire.”

The magazine’s articles ranged over subjects from current affairs to investments to advice on buying a fur coat.

“I wanted a guilt-reducing publication,” Ms. Daniels told the Chicago Tribune in 1981. “Other magazines, like Cosmo, were always saying it’s OK to be excited about men. What I wanted to do was to release women and say it’s OK to be excited about your work.”

Ms. Daniels remained with Savvy until 1982, when she joined Time Inc. as a roving senior editor; she was later named managing editor of Life magazine. At the venerable magazine, she oversaw its 50th anniversary publication.


Ms. Daniels told The Boston Globe that grit, creativity, and foresight can overcome societal and career hurdles.

“I don’t have a master’s from Harvard Business School,” said Ms. Daniels, a graduate of Brookline High School and Smith College. “Those are flashy credentials — the kind that impress Wall Street. I’m from a different career path. And it’s easy for Wall Street to dismiss creative types. Men, you see, still have a lingering distrust about The Enterprising Woman.”

Judy Rae Glassman was born on March 19, 1939; as an adult she began calling herself Judith, which she felt had more gravitas.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Smith College in 1960 and afterward — in a typical trajectory for young women of the day — took secretarial training at a Katharine Gibbs school. Her first job in the world of letters was as a secretary with the book publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux in New York.

Ms. Daniels joined New York magazine in 1968 as a $100-a-week photo researcher, rising to become managing editor.


Patricia O’Toole, who worked for Savvy, said Ms. Daniels was naturally curious and loved writing and editing. And writers loved to work for her, she said.

“Everybody wanted to please Judy,” said O’Toole, a biographer and professor in New York. “Sometimes when there’s a boss like that it’s because they have to please them because otherwise there’s going to be hell to pay. But Judy wasn’t like that at all. You wanted to please her because she was such a good coach.

“She had very high editorial standards, and she’d help you measure up,’’ she said.

John MacMillan, editorial director at Smith College, where Ms. Daniels was a longtime member of the board of directors of the Alumnae Association, called her a “change-maker” who helped the next generation of women get ahead.

“She was thinking about the issues facing successful professional women long before they were trendy, like work-life balance and the pressure that women face to get ideas heard,” he said. “She was thinking about those way back in the 1970s and ’80s.”

Her work on behalf of other women in the publishing industry began in the early 1970s. She helped to found the Women’s Media Group in New York.

Ms. Daniels told the Globe that America’s system of rewarding workers diminished the efforts of many women, particularly those in creative and business realms. “I should feel a reward for my work,” she said. “I mean a real reward.”

As an antidote to her frustrations, she began slipping into a folder clips of stories about accomplished women throughout the world.

Those stories gave her the idea for Savvy.

The magazine, which was renamed Savvy Women in 1987 and expanded beyond business circles to encompass lifestyle issues, reached 500,000 in circulation but succumbed to soft advertising caused by the recession of the early 1990s.

Ms. Daniels and her husband, Lee Webb, had ties to Maine before moving to the state permanently in 2004.

Ms. Daniels became active in the Maine Women’s Policy Center, the Women’s Lobby, and the Maine Humanities Council. She also served as chairwoman of Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport.

Ms. Daniels’ first husband, Ronald Daniels, died in 1980. In addition to her second husband, she leaves two sisters, Stacey Glassman and Linda Beaty; a brother, Thomas Glassman; a stepdaughter, Jennifer Webb; and three grandchildren.

The family is planning an October memorial service, Webb said.

In the mid-’70s, when Savvy existed only in her imagination, Ms. Daniels consulted publishing executives about the possibility of bringing it to life.

Their response was not encouraging.

“A lot of them would try to talk me out of it,” Ms. Daniels told the Tribune in 1980. “Most of them were men.”

Material from The New York Times and the Associated Press was used in this obituary.