Helen Gurley Brown died at 90 today, but she leaves behind an extraordinary legacy. Brown, an advertising copywriter à la Mad Men, shocked 1960s America with the revelation that unmarried women had sex — and liked it — in her controversial book Sex and the Single Girl (1962). Later, as the editor of Cosmopolitan from 1965 to 1997, Manhattan transplant Brown introduced sex into mainstream conversations, for which she was alternatively celebrated and criticized by the public, which wavered on the value of her contribution to the feminist cause.

Born in Green Forest, Arkansas, Brown came from a humble family, but soon realized she wanted a different life. “I never liked the looks of the life that was programmed for me — ordinary, hillbilly and poor — and I repudiated it from the time I was 7 years old," Brown wrote in her memoir Having It All (1982). Brown’s perseverance finally landed her in Los Angeles, where she began a successful career and eventually met her husband, David Brown — a former managing editor of Cosmopolitan and Hollywood producer of the likes of Jaws. This year, Brown, a widow since 2010, also donated $30 million to Columbia and Stanford Universities — both alma maters of her late husband — to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation. Hate her or love her, the “woman women love to hate” and original Cosmo girl will not be easily forgotten.

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