A Look Back at LIFE Magazine’s ‘Most Moving’ Photo Essay

By Richard Horgan Comment

LIFECareerGirl_CoverThanks to Ben Stiller‘s remake of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which premieres this weekend at the New York Film Festival, we’re going to be hearing a lot more than usual about LIFE magazine. In the Twentieth Century Fox film, Stiller plays a photo editor at the publication, which ceased print publication in the spring of 2007.

Right on schedule, LIFE takes a look back at a May 1948 photo spread by Leonard McCombe that it deems to be the most moving and surprising in the publication’s history. That’s some praise. The cover story profiled Gwyned Filling, a University of Missouri School of Journalism grad selected from over a thousand candidates to help convey the day-to-day of a post-Word War II “career girl:”

The reaction of LIFE’s readers ranged (perhaps predictably) from outrage and moral indignation at Gwyned’s “unladylike” pursuits to a kind of celebratory relief that LIFE chose to show on its cover “a young woman with a serious, purposeful, intelligent face” rather than “some vacuous-faced female with the molar grin that has come to be regarded in America as a smile.”

The slide-show screen grabs of this LIFE article’s original layout are well worth checking out. Filling passed away in 2005 at age 80.