Savvy nunAgnes Turk Richardson

(Reading Time: 2 minutes)

As a child growing up in Los Angeles, ‘Midge’ Richardson was an “extra” in more films than she can remember (believed to be more than 100), so she thought she would like to be an actress. “I think when we got into high school, we got a little more sensible about it,” she said, and she decided to be a teacher instead. When she reached 18, she became a nun (Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Roman Catholic order), and taught in Catholic schools in LA’s ghetto — and rose to high school principal. After 18 years, she got fed up with her diocese not working more to serve the needy, so she chucked it all and moved to New York. (Four years later, her Mother Superior quit too, for the same reason; 300 more nuns from Immaculate Heart followed.) In New York, Richardson took part in a design competition, which led to a job at Glamour magazine. “Publishing is very exciting,” she said later. “I thought well, why not. I’m not married. I’m living alone. I can take a risk. If I don’t like it, I can always go back to teaching.”

Instead, she brought teaching to magazines: in 1975 she took a job editing the girl’s magazine Seventeen, and while she continued with the magazine’s staple articles on dieting, make-up, and how to deal with boys, she thought girls had more important concerns, too: she bucked decades of tradition at the magazine and ran articles on sex, anorexia, suicide, abortion, even “What You Must Know About Herpes”. “We’ve been talking about it for years and trying to figure out how to go at it in a tasteful manner,” she said in 1983. “We don’t want to be frightening to a young girl, or permissive. But the demands of the time finally brought us around to it.” The readers embraced the grown-up topics. “We get, on an average every month, 4,000 to 5,000 letters,” she said at the time. “If we run an article on teen suicide or abortion, we will get as many as 10,000 or 12,000 letters in response.” She was named Executive Editor in 1985, and retired in 1993 after 18 years with the magazine. Her date of death is still unclear: she was found dead in her home December 17. She was 83.

From This is True for 23 December 2012