Helen Gurley Brown in 1964.

This week, we learned that Helen Gurley Brown has not yet finished transforming American media—a project she began 50 years ago.

Innovation and revolution are often resisted, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the now-iconic 60s classic Sex and The Single Girl was rejected by several publishing houses until, in 1962, it finally found a publisher and a home in our hearts.

Despite these early bumps, the book is now famous, and its author, Helen Gurley Brown, is renowned for having been an integral force in the sexual revolution. She was the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine for more than 30 years; indeed, she is responsible for giving the magazine the identity we know and (are sometimes embarrassed to) love today. She was replaced as U.S. editor in 1997, but today, just shy of 90th birthday, Gurley Brown is still the international editor for the magazine.

These days, most of us probably think of Cosmo as what we read on the airplane when we’re too tired to read what we should be reading (such as any of these National Book Critics Circle nominees). It’s easy to think of Cosmo as a guilty pleasure, chock full of recommendations for nail polish, lingerie, and “places you should touch him that will make beg for more.”

But for those of us single girls who enjoy vibrant careers, high fashion, culture, and, of course, s-e-x, it’s important to remember that we’re all “Cosmo girls,” and we have Gurley Brown to thank for our freedom and social acceptance. Now, even as some take Gurley Brown’s earlier achievements for granted, it’s impossible to ignore her latest contribution to innovation. This time she’s a champion for the digital revolution, with her $30 million donation to establish the David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation.

David and Helen Gurley Brown. (Photo: Stanford University)

The gift will be shared by the Stanford Engineering School and the Columbia School of Journalism. The institute will have an East Coast director in residence at Columbia and a West Coast director at Stanford, since  institute’s mission is to bridge the gap between journalism and technology. According to the J-school’s website, Gurley Brown said that “David and I have long supported and encouraged bright young people to follow their passions and to create original content. Great content needs useable technology. Sharing a language is where the magic happens. It’s time for two great American institutions on the East and West Coasts to build a bridge.”

At a time when media is changing rapidly—and is seen as an industry where older people are increasingly irrelevant—it’s inspiring to see how big an impact Gurley Brown has made, even as she approaches  her 90th birthday. She proves that the ability to shape the future is an inherent and timeless quality. Not age, but rather open-mindedness, creativity, and passion determine a human being’s relevance and ability to change the world.

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