Women In Journalism

They knew that they could do any job at least as well as a man, but convincing managers in the top ranks of the male dominated world of journalism that a woman's voice was needed in the newsroom was a hard won battle.     

In the early 1970's women across the nation were standing up to what they saw as unfair and unlawful practices in the workplace.  The Equal Rights Amendment movement encouraged women organize and take action to affect change, and if needed they took legal action.   When a group of women met with the publisher and senior editors of the New York Times. they pointed out that women were underrepresented to invisible in management positions, as columnists, photographers or covering national beats.  However, it was the big question, why did male general assignment reporters average $59 more in weekly payments than the women in the same position, that led a group of 9 women to file a class action suit on behalf of 550 women who worked in at the Times.

Eileen Shanahan        Interview #9 

My being added as the seventh named plaintiff (New York Times vs Boylan et al) is an interesting matter….Someone called me and asked me if I would be willing to do that. And I think I may have said yes right off the bat. I'm not sure. Something I do remember is the conversation I had with my husband, John Waits, about it, who was a newspaper executive, by that time, at the Washington Post, though he had spent the bulk of his career at the Washington Daily News which died in 1972. It might have been maybe the very day that I was originally asked that I went home and told him that I'd been asked to become a named plaintiff—he'd, of course, known about the preliminaries, to the degree I was involved in them.

Basically, he said, "Well, of course, it's your decision to make. But you've got to think about what you're getting into and the consequences because going public with complaints against your employer is something that they will be furious at, any employer will be. You will be exposing yourself to resentment that is reserved for people who criticize the boss or the company in public. And that means retaliation. And they may retaliate by denying you promotions or raises or not letting you make some trip you'd really like to make, some reporting trip. And the unfortunate way that mental process works, they're not going to think they're doing anything wrong when they deny you those things. They're going to regard it as something you brought on yourself. And the result will be that—maybe it will be minor in your specific case—but in the long run it would damage you, and I'm not just talking about the New York Times."

 John knew that I already had some discontent with the Times at that time. I was just kind of vaguely thinking, wondering, because I wanted to be an editor and it was clear I was never going to be an editor at the New York Times. And so I had done a little thinking, not a lot, about whether maybe I could leave the great mother ship. And he warned me, he said, "If you really want to go elsewhere, you're liable to kill your chances if you join the suit because the whole industry will know what you've done because it's the New York Times. And your chances of getting another job, the kind of job you want, an editing job, will be enormously diminished."

 Well, that's about what he said. And I remember what I replied, which was that I didn't think I could ever look my daughters in the eye again if I ran away from this just because I was afraid of the consequences to myself. And he said, "If that's the way you feel, I have nothing further to say. You have to do it."

World War II brought opportunites for women to work in traditionally male professions.   In the newsroom women were allowed to cover beats that were normally dominated by men and from there some took the opportunity to head overseas as war correspondents.  They covered hard news from the front, no different from their male counterparts,  but introduced a human face to the war, forever broadening the stories filed from the front lines.    

Ruth Cowan Nash      Tape 2

Cowan: Well, I heard there was some action going on up there, and of course, you went sometimes by plane and sometimes you managed to get a group of soldiers that were moving up and that sort of thing. So I wanted to find out what was going on. Wherever I heard there was something happening, I wanted to try to get there. So I went up. On the way up there, we were in the plane, and the plane came down low enough so that you could see pretty well what was going on on the ground. You didn't want to be too high up, because they'd shoot you down. I saw that there was so much traffic going back this way when it should have been going that way. Troops that were successful would go that way. But here they were coming back. So I began asking questions. [Laughter] I ran onto Patton up there with several other officers, and I came up and said, "What's the trouble?" 

And he said, "I guess it's the wrong way." Some remark like that; I don't know if it was that. So then I figured I'd better get myself back to Algiers myself, which I did.

Knight: I understood that Patton had been too busy to see the reporters.

Cowan: Well, he had, but he was out on the field, and I was the only reporter. I was with some other group, of course, and just—-well, you know, some of the other military officers that were up on various jobs without necessarily commanding a unit, and I was with one of those groups. We went up to him, and Patton couldn't do much else but sit and talk to me. I think he was so confused by the fact I was up there. [Laughter] That was nothing. I knew Patton after that time. We used to say hello and all that sort of thing.


Helen Kirkpatrick Milbank           Tape 1

Kirkpatrick: No, after—when I went over, which was early July when I flew over in a plane from the 45th Tactical Air Force and spent the night there in—

Kasper: Honfleur.

Kirkpatrick: No, they were near St. Mère Eglise. And then I moved on down to Bayeux, where most of the British press were in a very charming little hotel—very simple, I may say. We never had any hot water. I spent most of my time going out with the British forces. Montgomery's headquarters were right there. We were there a long time, you know, we never broke out until the Third Army made the breakthrough. I was with three British correspondents in a command car—Alan Morehead, Australian, of the Herald; Alex Clifford of the Express; and Ronny Matthews of the Telegraph. We used to set out in the mornings to find out where things were happening. And if there were a good tank battle going on down near Caen, we'd go down there and watch it. You know, it was rather like choosing which theatre to go to today?

And this particular day we had word that there were things happening—that maybe Patton had been unleashed. He was in hiding up in the northern part of the peninsula. So we headed over in that direction and found that indeed he had been unleashed and he made a breakthrough at Granville. So we followed down there and we were hightailing down behind a division and we cut out of the line of the division. As we did, we suddenly saw a jeep coming towards us with three stars on it and a flag—a little flag—and it was General Patton who leapt out and came towards us, clearly very angry. He told us in colorful language never to—

Kirkpatrick: —could not get out of the line when in a convoy. And he explained, quite firmly, that we must stay in the line. So we did and we went on with the division. We got down as far as—I don't remember, there's sort of a blank period in there when I left my British friends and joined an American group outside of Rennes, which is the capital of Brittany. And Jean Marin, that was his nom de plume, who had been in London with De Gaulle. He used to broadcast from London and he was very well known in France. He was about a six foot three Breton—a very handsome man.

At any rate, I camped in a pasture with some of the American forces outside Rennes. That evening, Jean Marin and I went into Rennes. The Germans were still there and we wanted to see whether they were going to blow the bridges. Rennes is sort of the Venice of Brittany. And we came out. There was a German 88 holding up the advance. Until that was gotten rid of, we couldn't move on into the city. The next morning we went into Rennes and it was a marvelous scene. I walked in with Jean Marin and the crowd recognized him—I don't know how they recognized him, but they did—but he had a big Cross of Lorraine on his uniform. We went to the Mairie and went upstairs onto the balcony and he was acclaimed—the crowd mobbed below. And suddenly during all this excitement, there was the sound of a bugle, I guess. We looked over and on a dormer window there was a man astride it with a bugle who started to play the Marseillaise and everybody began singing. Well we just stood there with tears streaming down our faces.