Women in the Workplace, Communications

The ideal newspaper woman has the keen zest for life of a child, the cool courage of a man and the subtlety of a woman

Today, Americans use the word "media" to describe the news gatherers who keep us informed of what is transpiring in the nation and around the world. But in addition to the print and electronic journalists who write the stories or report them on radio and television, this form of mass communication also includes sketch artists or photographers whose pictures often say more than the written word; editors who shape the stories to fit the page or the time slot, thereby affecting their content; publishers who set the editorial policy for the newspaper or the station or decide what books will make it into print; and even cartoonists who get their message across through biting satire or subtle humor.

The first printing press in the American colonies, in operation by 1638, was owned by Mistress Jose Glover of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Anna Zenger, whose husband Peter is celebrated for his defense of freedom of the press in 1735, published his New York City newspaper for a year while he was in prison and later, after his death. In 1762, Sarah Updike Goddard financed the colony's Providence Gazette, which she often looked after with her daughter Mary Katherine, who later published newspapers in Philadelphia and Maryland.

Anne Catherine Hoff Green edited her husband's newspaper, the Maryland Gazette, after his death in 1767. She risked her contract as the colony's printer to publish articles debating issues of freedom and loyalty in the days leading up to the American Revolution. Clementina Rind took over publication of the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1773; a year later, the House of Burgesses appointed her an official printer.

In Massachusetts, where voices calling for separation of the colonies from Great Britain were among the strongest, Margaret Green Draper vigorously supported the loyalist cause with the newspaper--the Boston News-Letter--that she inherited from her husband in 1773. Draper fled to England when the British evacuated Boston in 1776.

In writing for newspapers and magazines owned by others, a woman's purview was often circumscribed by convention; women were expected to offer advice on home, family, fashion, and beauty. The first magazine in the United States directed at both sexes was no exception. The Gentlemen and Ladies' Country Magazine, which first appeared in 1784, encouraged women to make submissions, but its articles ran along traditional lines.

The Juvenile Miscellany, the first magazine for children in America, was published in 1826 by Lydia Maria Child, later author of several books on home management and child care and a staunch abolitionist who authored an important work on slavery and edited the National Anti-Slavery Standard.

In 1828, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale began editing--and in large measure writing--the Ladies' Magazine, the first women's periodical to last more than five years. When Louis Godey purchased the magazine in 1837 and moved it from Boston to Philadelphia, Hale went along. As editor, she turned the renamed Godey's Lady's Book into one of the most influential periodicals of the nineteenth century. Her unerring sense of what her readers wanted increased the number of subscribers more than tenfold to 160,000 by 1860 and made Godey's the arbiter of fashion and etiquette for the era.

Although unmatched in influence and lasting recognition, the popular Godey's did have competition. Peterson's Ladies' Magazine, begun in 1842 by a male publisher, enjoyed a bigger circulation, thanks in large measure to its editor, Ann S. Stephens, who gave the magazine its focus on fiction, mostly written by women, that struck a chord with readers.

Journalists like Anne Newport Royall and Emily Edson Briggs were among the first American women reporting hard news. In 1830, at the age of 61, Royall, a successful travel writer in the 1820s, moved to Washington, D.C., where until well into her eighties she published a weekly newspaper that contained sharp-tongued editorials about political life in the capital city. Briggs was the first woman to go directly to the White House on a regular basis for her news stories, and when the Women's National Press Association was founded in 1882, she was named its first president.

By the 1840s, more women were receiving formal education and becoming active in such causes as the abolition of slavery, temperance, and women's rights. Although a few women--among them Cornelia Walker, editor of the Boston Transcript since 1842--opposed woman suffrage and other more liberal ideas of the day, many chose to elicit support for those very ideas through the written word.

In 1848, Jane Swisshelm published the abolitionist Saturday Visitor; at the end of the Civil War, when that cause was won, she began the Reconstructionist, a radical-Republican paper. Amelia Bloomer advocated dress reform, temperance, and women's rights in The Lily, which she began in 1849. Her later decision to employ only female typesetters met with opposition from male printers.

Suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony put out the first issue of The Revolution in New York City in 1868, the same year that Victoria Woodhull and her sister, Tennessee Claflin, started their Weekly to support everything from dress reform to legalized prostitution. A third publication to appear in 1868--the Chicago Legal News--was launched by Myra Colby Bradwell, who combined the twin careers of publisher and lawyer. Her weekly newspaper, of which she was both editor and business manager, espoused causes from suffrage to improved court systems and zoning laws.

In 1875, Eliza Nicholson assumed control of the New Orleans Picayune and its $80,000 debt. Through numerous innovations, she turned the newspaper into a successful publication that fought crime and championed temperance, working women, and animal rights.

The daughter of slaves, black journalist Ida Wells-Barnett came to the attention of the reading public--and the school board in Memphis that fired her from her teaching position--with a series of articles criticizing the lack of educational opportunities available to African-American children in the city. Turning to journalism full-time, she bought an interest in the Memphis Free Speech. In 1892, after three of her friends were victims of lynching, she fought a campaign in the paper to outlaw that grisly crime. Although threats on her life forced her to move to Chicago, she continued to fight racism through her writings.

Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, under the pseudonym Nellie Bly, wrote articles exposing conditions in Pittsburgh's factories and slums during the 1880s. One of the earliest investigative reporters, she often obtained her stories by assuming a disguise and, at considerable personal risk, getting to the truth of a situation, which she would then reveal in the pages of the Pittsburgh Dispatch.

Another reporter to use a pen name and risky tactics--such as hiding under a table in President Benjamin Harrison's railroad car to obtain an exclusive interview--was Winifred Sweet Black, better known as Annie Laurie. In September 1900, when a disastrous storm and tidal wave that killed more than 7,000 people hit the Galveston, Texas area, she was the only woman to cover the story.

There were 2,193 females among the 30,098 journalists listed in the 1900 U.S. Census. Among them was Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer, known by the pen name of Dorothea Dix. Gilmer began her professional career in journalism in 1895, with her weekly column in the New Orleans Picayune. While continuing to write her column, she signed on with the Hearst newspaper syndicate as a crime reporter, covering all the shocking murder trials of the day. Thanks largely to her column's popularity--and her insistence that women should receive pay equal to the worth of their work--Gilmer was earning about a $100,000 a year by the 1940s.

Ida Tarbell was one of the more high-profile of the new political scribes of the Progressive Era. While with McClure's Magazine, she wrote an exposé of John D. Rockefeller and the oil monopoly, which contributed to the passage of antitrust legislation. Tarbell was among those whom President Theodore Roosevelt compared to the "Man with the Muckrake" in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress; the term "muckraker" became synonymous with journalists who exposed corruption in the boardrooms and back rooms of industry, as well as in politics.

By the 1920s, society's attitude was more receptive to the notion that women could do just about anything to which they aspired. Many of the increasing numbers of college-educated women looking for careers became writers or editors, or entered into the more male-dominated aspects of publishing.

In 1924, Helen Reid became a vice president of the newly merged New York Herald Tribune, having formerly been an advertising executive with the Tribune. During the next twenty years, Reid used her position to encourage the hiring of women writers whenever possible.

That same year, Dorothy Thompson was appointed Central European bureau chief for the New York Evening Post and the Philadelphia Public Ledger. Stationed in Berlin, she watched the rise of fascism with alarm and even interviewed Adolf Hitler in 1931 for Cosmopolitan magazine. Although her warnings about the dangers posed by Hitler and his Nazi regime went unheeded by the American government, the Germans were concerned enough to expel her from the country in 1933. From 1937 until her death in 1961, she wrote her column for the Ladies' Home Journal. During the war years, which saw her dire predictions come true, she wrote often of the government's failure to utilize the abilities of women.

An important year for women in the newspaper business, 1939 saw female publishers take the reins of dailies in two of the country's most important cities and catch the wave of the future with a new publication. When she took control of the New York Post, Dorothy Schiff became the first woman newspaper publisher in New York City; she remained with the paper until 1976. Eleanor "Cissy" Patterson--whose family published the Chicago Tribune and the New York Daily News--bought two newspapers in the nation's capital, the Times and the Herald, from William Randolph Hearst and combined them into the Washington Times-Herald, which she proceeded to turn into the top paper in the city. And, Alicia Patterson, Cissy's niece, made plans to publish Newsday on Long Island, New York; the first issue appeared in 1940.

Her prediction that suburbia would soon be a major economic force in the nation proved accurate, and her style of journalism led the paper to numerous awards.

Inspiration to become a reporter came to many girls in the early 1940s through the comic strips, when Dalia Messick began her syndicated "Brenda Starr Reporter." Fearing that her editor, who was also a woman, would refuse her submission if her gender were known, Messick used "Dale" instead of her real name to sign the strip, which saw the young female journalist find adventure and romance as she roamed the world in search of her stories.

During World War II, some female journalists and photographers were assigned as overseas war correspondents. Life magazine dispatched photographer Margaret Bourke-White and foreign correspondent Georgie Anne Geyer. Marguerite Higgins, covering the war for the New York Herald Tribune, entered Berlin with the Allies and filed stories on Hitler's last days that captured the front pages back home. In later years, Higgins covered the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.

Shortly after the war, Alice Allison Dunnigan became the first female, African-American reporter to gain congressional and White House accreditation. A former teacher, Dunnigan worked for the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C., during the war, and, like so many others, found herself unemployed at its conclusion. Having had some experience writing for newspapers, Dunnigan applied to be a correspondent with the Associated Negro Press news service in 1946, but had to settle for space-rate employment that paid her five dollars per thousand-word column. In 1948, as a White House correspondent, she accompanied President Harry Truman's campaign train west to California.

With the advent of radio and television, women again had to struggle to be taken seriously. Told that their voices were not authoritative enough for news coverage, they were relegated to giving the weather forecast or covering "soft news," reporting on fashions, human interest stories, or consumer information. And, they were expected, at least in the case of television, to look "pretty" at all times.

Advances in electronic journalism had to be gained one woman at a time. Pauline Frederick became a pioneer for women in the new mediums when she moved from newspaper work to radio and then to television. She was the first woman to report serious television news, traveling to the world's trouble spots for all three of the major networks before settling down as NBC's United Nations correspondent for 21 years. In 1976, she was the first woman to moderate a televised presidential-election debate.

Women today can be found in almost any occupation associated with "the media," thanks in part to the anti-discrimination legislation that resulted in lawsuits against sexual bias in both print and broadcast journalism. A look at any newspaper, magazine, or radio and television listing confirms that the field of mass communication is not the male bastion it once was. As in any other line of work, however, there are still barriers to be overcome to achieve gender equality.


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