Culture  /  Oral History

“It Was Us Against Those Guys”: The Women Who Transformed Rolling Stone in the Mid-70s

How one 28-year-old feminist bluffed her way into running a copy department and made rock journalism a legitimate endeavor.

“It was just us against the world, and us against those guys.”

In early 1974, Rolling Stone was the epicenter of American youth culture. Not quite seven years into its run, the magazine’s focus had widened beyond the stoned musings of rock stars, and was offering journalistic deep dives into everything from Patty Hearst’s kidnapping to Karen Silkwood’s murder. This period was Rolling Stone’s much-celebrated golden age, a period that helped define New Journalism, breech-birth gonzo journalism, and, quite crucially, formalize rock media’s language, context, and canon.

For the most part, it was entirely men leading this charge. Robin Green was the first woman to write at the magazine, in 1971, but her tenure was brief. In the early 70s, the only women on the editorial floor were secretaries, ambitious young women with master’s degrees and years of experience primarily charged with answering phones. In January 1974, a 28-year-old feminist named Marianne Partridge began to change that, quietly changing the shape of Rolling Stone from inside, and eventually putting six women on the Rolling Stone masthead. Their stories have historically been obscured by the long shadows of the men they worked for and wrangled—Hunter S. Thompson, Joe Eszterhas, Cameron Crowe—but the history these women recall is the story of how Rolling Stone became a true journalistic endeavor, and the story of women learning to speak for themselves decades before topics like sexual harassment and equal pay became mainstream.

“Some of it was about drugs, and some of it was about sex,” recalls Sarah Lazin, who went from editorial assistant to director of Rolling Stone Press over the course of a decade. “But it was really about doing challenging work, and being on the cutting edge of journalism and history.”


Sarah Lazin: In June of ’71, after getting my master’s and having lots of jobs—at type centers, proofreading—there were only two places I really wanted to work: the San Francisco Comic Book Company and Rolling Stone. I had no journalism experience at all, but I had a lot of secretarial experience, and I got the job. Editorial assistant was my title.

Christine Doudna: In 1970, I was living in Africa, teaching French at the University of Lagos in Nigeria. I had a subscription to Rolling Stone that arrived about three months late by boat wet and damaged, but [was] passed around with friends like it was the grail. It was unlike anything any of us had ever read before—it had our truth. I started there in the late summer of ’73. I had a master’s in comp lit and French, and I just wanted to be in publishing. The job was to be Joe Eszterhas’s assistant, which is a glorified secretary.

Barbara Downey Landau: The war really dominated my college experience, and after I graduated, I was a little bit or a lot lost. I did not want to be part of what was going on, so I ended up going out to California. I was working at an entertainment giveaway magazine and heard that Rolling Stone was looking for a proofreader. I said, Well, I could do that.