Jane Eads Bancroft was a "journeyman" reporter for more than forty years. Her career took her from covering Chicago during Al Capone's reign, to pre-World War II Europe, to wartime Washington, D.C. She covered murders, gangsters, trials, Paris fashion shows, society and politics, all with the idea that she was a reporter and getting a story was her job.
One of the biggest stories of Jane Eads' (the by-line she used) career came in the late 1920s when she was assigned to the first transcontinental commercial air traveler on a flight from Chicago to San Francisco for Hearst's Chicago Herald Examiner.
Eads began her career as a proofreader for the Quincy, Illinois Whig-Journal. After reporting for a small paper, she landed a job on Hearst's Chicago Herald Examiner as a general assignment reporter. At the Herald Examiner she covered the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and did an extensive series on nightlife during Prohibition. Among her colleagues was Hilding Johnson, later made famous by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur in their play, The Front Page. In fact, Eads' Chicago career was very much reminiscent of the journalistic life Hecht and MacArthur immortalized.
From Chicago, Eads moved to New York and the Associated Press, where she again was a general assignment reporter. Shortly after moving to New York, she married a colleague from Chicago, Seymour Berkson. Berkson was sent to pre-World War II Europe by Hearst, and Eads went with him. There, she covered American society and Paris fashion shows for Hearst. One of her scoops was the burgeoning romance between British King Edward VIII and American socialite-divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson.
After returning to the U.S. and divorcing Berkson, Eads worked in Washington for the Hearst wire service. After the service closed down, she was hired as a "club reporter" by Cissy Patterson, publisher of the Washington Times-Herald. Just prior to World War II, she took a job in public relations at J. Walter Thompson in New York. When war broke out, she returned to the AP offices in Washington. After the war she wrote a daily column, "Washington Letter," for the AP for twelve years.
Before traveling to Florida for the interviews, I talked with Dorothy Williams, a retired UPI reporter who was a close friend and colleague of Bancroft's; Hope Ridings Miller, a reporting contemporary of Bancroft's from the Washington Post; and Isabelle Shelton, a former reporter for the Washington Star, who suggested Bancroft for this project. They all gave her high marks as a very solid reporter. They also said that she was not the type of person who would seek the limelight either now or during her reporting career.
I also found some material on Jane Eads during several days of research at the National Press Club (NPC). The NPC was especially helpful with research on Cissy Patterson, Eads' boss at the Washington Times-Herald, activities of the Women's National Press Club during Eads' membership days, and Eleanor Roosevelt's press conferences, which Eads covered.
In addition, Bancroft generously allowed me access to her scrapbooks. Yellowing copies of "sob sister" articles and reports on Paris society before World War II gave me much insight into Bancroft's day-to-day work. (So far, Bancroft has not elected to give her papers to an archive. I encouraged her to think about doing so.)
Jane's husband, Griffing Bancroft, was instrumental in convincing her to do this oral history interview. Mr. Bancroft is the grandson of the well-known California historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft, for whom the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley is named. Jane Eads Bancroft says that her husband and her only daughter, Barbara Berkson, convinced her that her experiences should be recorded.
Both Bancrofts welcomed me warmly, arranged for me to stay in the retirement complex where they live and often invited me to share meals with them. Jane and I held morning and evening sessions in the living room of their apartment, a comfortable home decorated in bright, tropical colors. Several of Jane Bancroft's post-retirement paintings line the walls.
Jane Eads Bancroft was chosen for this oral history project because of the breadth of her experience in journalism. For example, her reporting encompassed the styles known as "sob sister" reporting—stories written to gain sympathy for their subjects—and "stunt reporting"—stories written by reporters who did daring acts and became part of the story themselves.
Since Jane Eads Bancroft was known professionally as Jane Eads, we have chosen to index her oral history under that name.
April 19, 1990
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Currie: Where were you born?
Eads: Near Chicago, in Harvey, Illinois. It wasn't exactly a suburb of Chicago. I never heard it called a suburb, and I don't remember it very well, except I remember my brother and I would hide in the clothes closet when my father came home, just for fun, to surprise him.
Currie: You had how many brothers?
Eads: One died when he was a year old; I never knew him. Then I had an older brother who, I think, must have been four years or more older than I. Then a younger brother. Both of them are dead. The older brother died when he was about 20. He was in the Navy. He was on a ship in dry dock at Philadelphia. The younger brother died just since we've moved to Florida. He lived in Chicago and was in the advertising business.
Currie: So you were the only girl?
Currie: Sandwiched between two boys.
Eads: Yes. When my mother died, we moved to Florida.
Currie: You were very young when your mother died?
Eads: Yes, around three, or four. It was in Florida that I first realized that my mother had died, because we were playing, and some little kid said, "Where's your mother?"
I said, "She's gone on a long journey." That's what my father had told me when she died. And he said, "Oh, that's not true. She's in the ground. You'll never see her again." And my brother and I ran upstairs. We were playing under the house. All the houses were built up like a lot of them now.
Anyway, we left there and we lived in Fort Madison, Iowa, briefly. My grandmother lived there. I didn't live there very long. Then we went to Peoria, where my father was with International Harvester Company or something. We went to high school there, my brother and I. I remember my father, when we lived in an apartment, bought my brother a collie dog and me a pony. Imagine that! In an apartment!
Currie: Where did you put them?
Eads: We put the pony in the stables people rented in those days, and the collie, I guess, we kept in the apartment. [Laughter.] But we moved from there before we graduated from high school, to Quincy, Illinois.
When I was about 16 or so, my father got married again to my stepmother, who was only nine years older than I. She had been a schoolteacher. She was really very tiny and very bright, and we got along pretty well.
Currie: What did your father do for International Harvester?
Eads: I think he was a salesman. I think he had to do with farm equipment. That's what he did in Quincy. He was head of a farm implement company in Quincy until he died, which was when I was working in Chicago.
Currie: How would you describe him? What kind of man was he?
Eads: He was wonderful. He was very handsome and so proud of us kids, always doing things for us. My aunt was a wonderful woman, too. But my father loved to buy things for me—clothes. I remember at various times, like Easter, he'd bring home hats and real pretty things for me. I enjoyed that very much. I think that's where I got my love of clothes and fashions. I even remember when I was a very young girl, clipping fashion pictures out of magazines that a neighbor girl had, that we never got, like a Vogue magazine. It sort of followed me through in the fashion, because I did a lot of fashion writing later in Paris and in New York.
Currie: Did your father give you any guidance as to what he thought you should do with your life?
Eads: No, because, actually, I sort of knew what I wanted to do. I mean, I wanted to do something; I wanted to get out, go to a big town. I don't know how that evolved, but first of all, I finished high school. Then that summer, I worked as a proofreader. There were two newspapers and they were both pretty successful. One was an afternoon, and one was a morning paper in Quincy. I knew some guys on the other paper, and one of them told me about the job on the other paper, a proofreading job, and I got it. I worked there all summer for a very small sum, and I was the only proofreader. I read the whole paper from the front page to back.
Currie: How would you do that?
Eads: You just read the typewritten copy and look for a mistake in punctuation and spelling and that sort of stuff.
Currie: Were you located at a desk?
Eads: At a desk in the city room. Several times I would be working at night, and I'd be the only one there, except a real tall guy, a skinny guy, who was the Associated Press man there. He had a desk near my desk. I remember I hardly ever saw him sit down. Anyway, that's not important. But one night, he asked me to read a proof on a headline he wrote for the story to go in the paper, and it was the death of [President Warren] Harding. I have to laugh to myself when I think how long ago that was. It came over the wire, you know, and so he wrote out this headline, and I read the proof on it to see about the type and all. I don't know how I knew those things. In those days, you could go out in the composing room, when you couldn't later on; the union wouldn't let you touch a piece of type.
Currie: So would they bring you the proof at the desk?
Currie: And then you would go through it and send it back to the composing room? Is that what happened?
Eads: As far as I can remember.
Currie: What drew you to this job?
Eads: Because I needed a job, and that was the only job I heard of around town. I wanted to go to the university, and I needed some money. Of course, I made about $15 a week or something like, or maybe less.
Currie: This is when you were 16?
Eads: Yes, when I got out of high school. I went from there and finally got another job. That was as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in the country, outside of Peoria. My stepmother had been a schoolteacher. I didn't get it through pull at all, but I wrote to the superintendent of schools of Peoria County, and they had this school. It was in the country, and they needed a teacher. There were three farmers on the board, and I thought they were pretty stupid, but anyway, I told them how much I wanted, which was $100 a month, and I was afraid they'd turn me down.
Currie: That was a big raise.
Eads: I got it. They interviewed me. I went on a train from Peoria to this little town, Trivola, it was called. They interviewed me in the railroad station, and I got back on the train and went back to Peoria. Then I got the job and I went there. They didn't have any place for me to stay. I was like Ichabod Crane. Finally, some farm family volunteered. They had two really bratty kids, and the girl was just awful. She was older than I, about a year or two. And I stayed with them for about a month, and then there was a nice farm family, they had the newest house in that area. All the other houses were very old. They had a farm and it was within walking distance from the school. It was quite a walk, but it wasn't as far as the other one. I wasn't an outdoor type, and I still am not an outdoor type.
I had this school, and all the grades, except the first and the third, and in my eighth grade were two big, tall farm boys who were my age. They would sort of tease me, but I had pretty good discipline after a while. At first they tried to help me with the fire. Then their parents said—I was getting a salary—the teacher should do her own chores, so they quit, and I had to get to school early enough, and it was icy cold. I had to build a fire in the stove before I could start teaching. But it was a new experience for me. It was like going to a foreign country.
Currie: What did you like most about that job?
Eads: I think that it was different and that I was sort of in charge, and also the kids, I loved them. I had one or two that gave me trouble, but they were interesting and they were farm kids, and I didn't know farm kids.
Currie: You lived with a family the whole time you were there?
Eads: It was a year, just a year. I saved $400. I got $100 a month, and I saved $400, which was half my salary. Then I was able to go to the University of Illinois. I got a lot of bids to sorority rush parties.
Currie: Was that the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana?
Eads: Champagne. One day during the rushing season, I got a letter from one of the sororities; I've forgotten which it was. They said they'd completed their rushing, and they had gotten their membership, or whatever it's called, their pledges, lined up, and they cancelled one
party or something. Well, that hurt my feelings, so I remember going up to my room in this rooming house, and crying, and I made up my mind that would never happen to me again. So I had about three or four other sorority parties. I wrote or called, or whatever I did, and cancelled out everything.
There was an older woman at the university who was, I think, an instructor, very nice and attractive, and I met her. She liked me, I guess. I met her on the campus one day, and she asked me about these things. I told her what happened. She gave me the dickens. I still hadn't turned one down. She made me go to the phone and call them and accept, which I did, and they wanted me. They wanted to pledge me, and they wanted me to stay with them overnight. They wanted to hide me, because you're not supposed to do this.
Currie: You weren't supposed to do what?
Eads: They invited me. I guess in the rushing season, it's something you're not supposed to do, like inviting you over for dinner or staying overnight.
Currie: I see. So they wanted you to spend the night, even though during rush, they weren't supposed to do that.
Eads: That's right. And they wanted me to join their sorority, and I wouldn't do it. I said I didn't have any money and that my father wouldn't like it. They said, "Can we call your father long distance?" [Laughter.] I said, "No." I'm sure he would have said yes, but I didn't.
I went to a rooming house. There were other girls there, and I liked them all. We had a lot of fun.
Currie: You didn't end up joining a sorority?
Eads: I was only there one semester. Money ran out. I wanted clothes and other things.
Currie: So you bought clothes?
Eads: Well, partly. Anyway, I didn't stay. My grades were pretty good, but I really wanted to go to Chicago, which I did. I stayed there for a while.
Finally, my father and the publisher of the paper in Quincy, the Whig-Journal, it was called, wanted me to come back and edit a junior newspaper. It was a Sunday supplement to their regular paper. That was quite interesting. I was there, I guess, two years, anyway. I organized it so that I had an editor in each school and reporters for each grade, and a sports editor, and I went around to all the schools, talked to the principals, and it was really quite interesting. Then I wrote editorials. Somewhere along the line, all those clippings and editorials got lost, which I've been very sorry about ever since, because I'd like to know myself how I came out with my writing editorials.
Currie: Do you remember the name of the publication?
Eads: It was the Quincy Whig-Journal, junior Sunday supplement, a junior newspaper. It was like a regular newspaper, only it came out on Sunday only in tabloid form.
Currie: I'd like to go back a little bit. In your family, you said your father was a wonderful, exciting man. Was he a political person at all?
Eads: Not that I remember. We never did talk politics, except when I went to Chicago and became a Democrat and he was a Republican.
Currie: What kinds of things did your family do to have fun?
Eads: I don't know. He took us out. We'd go out to dinner to boarding houses in those days, and we went to visit relatives sometimes in other places. One time we went to the theater, I remember, and took walks in the park on Sundays. He loved to take me and my brother for walks in the park. He liked to show us off. Then he got an automobile, one of the first, and we'd take rides in the country. Right after I graduated from high school, I was at home several times after that to live, but mostly the time I was growing up, it seemed to be when I was a teenager. I don't remember.
Currie: Do you recall what kinds of things you read as a young woman or teenager?
Eads: Not really.
Currie: Earlier you said you wanted to be something, to get to the big city. Did it ever cross your mind that you would be a journalist?
Eads: Never, never, never. There weren't very many women journalists in those days, anyway. The society editor of the paper, the club editor, that would be about it, and the secretaries. No.
Currie: What kind of fantasies did you have, that you wanted to do with your life?
Eads: Oh, I don't know. I guess I daydreamed a lot, but I can't remember what about.
Currie: When you were in high school, did you work for the school newspaper? [Shakes head "no."] No?
Eads: I studied art when I was in high school, and I was interested in art more than anything. When I was in about the fourth grade or something, the teacher complimented me on a design for a plate that she had the children do. I've been painting more recently. I did those up there. [Pointing to pictures on the wall.]
Currie: Those are lovely. Those are wonderful.
Eads: That's about it.
Currie: Did you think maybe you'd be an artist?
Currie: When you were in high school or even earlier, what kinds of activities did you do?
Eads: Mostly art. High school in Quincy. I liked boys.
Currie: Your eyes lit up.
Eads: They put on plays, and I was so disappointed once when I got a part in a play, and I was just a maid.
Currie: You wanted a bigger part?
Eads: Yes, I wanted a bigger part. I had lots of friends, girlfriends, and we had a hiking club, not a regular organized club, but a group. We used to hike, and I was so proud once, when we walked a mile, because that's the most I had ever walked. [Laughter.]
Currie: Did you have a lot of boyfriends?
Eads: No, but I just got along well with them. I'd have dates. I remember my first date. My father nearly had a fit, me having a date. I had to be home by half past eight or something like that.
Currie: Do you remember what you did on the date?
Eads: We went in a car. He was a newspaperman, and I didn't really like him. He was kind of stocky, and he was a year older than I. I think he was the one that got me that job, and I think he was the sports writer. But he was very nice to me, a very nice guy. We went out, and there were bluffs around Quincy, and we sat in the car and looked over at the bluffs and talked. He never made any passes. I wouldn't have known what to do if he had. [Laughter.] I think my father scared me.
Currie: How did he do that?
Eads: He didn't want me to go out with boys at my age. Too young, I guess. He seemed to think they were like the evil empire. [Laughter.]
Then I graduated from high school.
Currie: Since you had two brothers, did you think there was any difference in the way your father raised you, and the way that he raised your two brothers?
Eads: No. My father made me take piano lessons, and made my brother take violin lessons. Neither one of us were musical, nor could we play, but whenever we had company, he asked us to play something. I pity the poor guests. Neither one of us cared a bit about it. I played a lot with my brother. He and I were very close, always. My older brother seemed to be always in trouble of some kind, and my father sent him to Culver Military Academy. Finally, when he was in his late teens, he joined the Navy. He died while he was in the Navy. I only remember him once, when he was home on leave, I guess. He was sitting at a desk, and he had a pen knife or something on the desk, and I went to look at it. He said, "Don't you touch that. It's dangerous," or something. So that's all I remember. He was really a handsome young man. I remember his looks, blond.
Currie: Then when you graduated from high school, you got the proofreading job. Can you tell me what you remember about the news room at the Quincy Whig-Journal?
Eads: That everybody was bent over their desks and working like dogs. [Laughter.] I mean, I hardly had any conversation with them. People I talked to were out in the composing room, the printers, the press men. They don't have those anymore.
Currie: No, they don't.
Eads: You've missed something. When the paper went to press, the whole building shook. It was absolutely the most thrilling sound I ever heard.
Currie: Describe that for me.
Eads: You knew that the paper had gone to press, that everything had been written that was going to be in the paper the next day, it was out there in type, and they rolled the machines around, and it would come out a newspaper.
Currie: So you'd be in your desk in the city room, and you could hear the press going?
Eads: Oh, yes! Even in Washington, when I worked in the Washington Star building for a long time, AP [Associated Press] offices there. The Star didn't have what they have now, whatever it is. I don't know because I haven't been in the press room. One time since we've been down here, I went into a news room in Fort Myers near here and I couldn't recognize it. It wasn't at all like—we used to have a typewriter on our desk and a lot of paper on the floor that we had to wade through. It was dirty, but fun. The editor and city editor would sit at the desk in the middle of the room, and they'd call for a boy. "Copy, please," a copy boy. Then you'd give your copy, when you were finished, to a boy, and he'd run it to the city desk. Then it would go to the copy desk, where they'd write the heads and what would amount to proofreading on a regular newspaper.
Currie: At the Whig-Journal, about how many people worked there, do you recall?
Eads: They'd have a sports editor, a society editor, a club editor. There were two women sitting at a desk in a corner, I remember. One was society editor. And there were other people around the room doing things. I don't know what they were doing altogether; they were reporters.
Currie: So there were two other women there.
Eads: Yes, the society editor. Every place I've been, there's always been some woman to do some woman's job. Of course, they had a copy desk, they had the editors and people like that. There must have been 15 or 20 people.
Currie: So you would get all the copy from all of those people and have to proofread it?
Eads: Yes. I can't remember how I got it. I just remember that I had it after it was set up in type and I went through it.
Currie: Did you like that job?
Eads: I found it sort of interesting. I mean, I didn't have time to do anything else. I didn't have time to look around, and I was there late sometimes. You know, you just read the things through and you see if it needs a paragraph, and you'd make the sign for a paragraph, you'd write that on the copy.
Currie: Do you recall anyone who was particularly helpful to you at that job?
Eads: I had one city editor that I liked very much, but he just seemed to be interested in me. When I went to Chicago, he wrote to me one time. He was, I thought, a very interesting man. There were several men on the paper that were good to me, you know, sort of looked out for me. I used to walk home at night. I remember walking home for what seemed like miles, because I lived out a ways in town. At night, you know, I would have been scared to death doing that, but it seemed to me that I was always with one or two of these newspapermen. One especially, who worked for the Associated Press.
Currie: The Associated Press had an office in the Quincy Whig-Journal?
Eads: They had a man. I don't know what it's like now, but most papers have somebody who handles all AP and UP wire copy. That's all I know. I don't know what they do now.
Currie: So he wasn't employed by the AP. He was employed by the Quincy Whig-Journal?
Eads: I knew very little about it. I hardly knew what they did. This man was just standing there, editing all that stuff, sending it out to the composing room, that's all. It was almost all out of town, this stuff, you know, wire service copy.
Currie: One or two of them would walk you home at night?
Eads: No, I wouldn't say that, because I'm not sure they walked all the way home. No, I wouldn't say that. But we'd go sometimes to a restaurant and get chili and stuff like that.
Currie: What did you think of these newspaper people that you were meeting as a young woman?
Eads: I liked them. I liked them better than anybody else.
Eads: I guess they were about the only people I knew. Well, that isn't really true, but the only people I had close contact with. They were interesting. They were aware of what was going on, and curious about what wasn't, and so forth.
Currie: You mentioned that you had a composing room, which most newspapers don't have now. What did your composing room look like, and how did it operate?
Eads: In the composing room, like any big office, there was men sitting around a printing machine, like a desk, and I mean like editors. They handled different copy, sports copy or society or straight news or this or that. And they'd go through it and they'd make it fit so that it would fit in a column, and they'd write a head[line] for it, a head like this. They'd have to make it fit.
Currie: Was this when they had what's called hot type?
Eads: I don't know.
Currie: I thought that at that point, probably what they had was the machine where they would actually—
Eads: Oh, no. Oh, no. No, the copy would be from the original source, from the reporter. [Then it would go to] an editor for the copy desk and then [from] the copy desk was sent to the composing room, where it was set into type. There were two separate units completely in both places that I remember the most. The composing room is like downstairs, down on the floor below or something. The copy desk was right in the same room.
Currie: I see. Did you ever have to go down to the composing room?
Eads: I never did in Chicago, or I never did in a big newspaper, but I did on the Quincy Whig-Journal. It's the only time I did, because the unions don't let you touch a piece of type. Anybody outside a union member couldn't touch it.
Currie: What do you think you learned from your job as a proofreader on the Quincy Whig-Journal?
Eads: I don't think I learned anything unusual. You know, it was a summer job, and I did it the best I could, anyhow. It was so long ago. It was really a kind of a chore, because when you're reading a lot of print like that, looking for errors, you get pretty tired—column after column.
Currie: Pretty tedious.
Eads: Again, I say you didn't have time to get bored.
Currie: Was it unusual that they would hire a woman for that job?
Eads: I don't know. I don't think so. I think they just needed somebody.
Currie: They didn't much care.
Eads: Somebody who was bright enough to do it.
Currie: What did you end up majoring in, in college?
Eads: I didn't major. I was only there one semester, and it was a dazzlement to me. It was big. I don't know how to describe it, but I had a lot of friends in the rooming house, and I had a few dates.
Currie: Maybe this is a good place to stop, because next you'll go to Chicago.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Currie: I'd like to go back a little bit, before we get you to Chicago. You said that you had spent one semester at the University of Illinois, Champagne. What kind of emphasis did your father place on education?
Eads: He really sort of left it up to me, and he had very little to do with it. He was sympathetic and interested, and he even came to Champagne to see me, along with my brother, but that's about it.
Currie: What made you want to go to college?
Eads: I guess because everybody else that I knew was going to college. I don't have any lofty ideas about the need for a college education. I think in those days, I don't know, none of my friends seemed to be talking about it.
Currie: So you were saying in those days, it wasn't—
Eads: I mean, in my group of friends that I had.
Currie: They didn't think college was that important?
Eads: We didn't talk about it. I'm very sorry about this. You have asked me about how I was influenced in art and education and college as I was younger, and I just can't recall any particular thing that propelled me, especially in journalism. It just happened to be that I got that first job as a proofreader, and I don't know, I went to Chicago and worked on a community newspaper one time, a neighborhood newspaper, the throwaway. To read the proof for that paper, they'd send up to the Chicago Herald and Examiner in the city. We were in a suburb. One of the men who handled the copy told my boss that I ought to work on a big paper because I wrote the way they required people to write, with as few adjectives and sometimes verbs as possible. You've seen those.
Currie: Why don't you describe the paper. This is the throwaway paper in Chicago?
Eads: Just small, a couple of pages, mostly it was want ads and community ads, like the hardware store and grocery store. Then they'd have several columns of news. And lots of regular want ads, rentals, and sales items, etc.
Currie: What kind of news?
Eads: This I can't remember. It wasn't important. Just a few brief local items, fires, deaths, robberies, perhaps.
Currie: Did you report that?
Eads: I wrote it. I wrote all of it, and I swept out the office. I did everything, except go out with the boss. He tried to get me to. He was married. In those days, we were more leery about going out with married men.
Currie: You were very young at the time, too.
Currie: When did you get the job on the throwaway paper? You had gone back to Quincy, then you went to Chicago.
Eads: Yes, and I worked in various places in Chicago for a couple of months or so until I finally got—at one point, I worked on the Chicago Tribune, just stuffing something into envelopes for a contest of some kind. Then I worked on a mail order catalog one time, just a couple of months or so, writing copy for this mail order catalog for two-dollar dresses or something. Then I don't know how I heard about this community newspaper, but it was in the North Shore, near Evanston, Illinois, and right at the line between Chicago and Evanston, the city line, I guess you would call it. It was called the Howard News.
I used to have to go to Evanston sometimes to take the copy. They printed a local Evanston, North Shore paper. I began thinking then about wouldn't it be a great idea for the Evanston News Index to have a junior newspaper supplement, like the one in Quincy.
Currie: The one you'd worked on.
Eads: Yes, about the same size of paper. I went to them with that idea, but I think they interviewed me and took a lot of notes. Then for a long time I didn't hear anything, until a couple of weeks or so later, they either wrote or called me and said they didn't want to have this Sunday paper, community junior paper, but they needed a straight news reporter, and they would like to try me if I wanted it.
Currie: Did you send them any copies of anything you had done?
Eads: No. Maybe they checked. Anyway, that's what I did.
Currie: So you went to the Evanston News Index.
Eads: No longer in existence. [Tape interruption.]
Currie: So that's how you got hired at the Evanston News Index, and you became a general assignment reporter. What kinds of things did you cover there?
Eads: Everything about city government—taxes and, you know, just any kind of news.
Currie: You said earlier that you had the right style for a newspaper.
Eads: Not there, but that was later, when I worked for Cissy Patterson and one time at the AP in New York. When I was in Paris, I wrote about fashions a lot.
Currie: What I was referring to, you said that they mentioned that you wrote the right way for a newspaper. How did you learn to write that way?
Eads: I don't know. I never took a course in journalism. About all I did was graduate from high school, and not with honors.
Currie: Was there anyone who taught you anything in journalism early on that you remember?
Eads: No. There were certain rules, like on the Hearst papers, you know, that Mr. Hearst insisted on—short paragraphs and just style, mostly. The AP had a regular style book. But you don't have time to look up rules when you're writing a hot news story. Sometimes we used to write practically on the scene.
Currie: How would you do that?
Eads: One time at a Republican Convention in Cleveland, the night [Alf] Landon was inaugurated, all the press was right there. He was in a box in this hall, and I had my typewriter, and I had it right on my desk, also there was a man standing on my desk to see, and I was typing away.
Currie: So you would type away and some one would take the copy, and it was sent to the newspaper?
Eads: I don't know who took the copy. I can't remember that at all. I know that was very exciting, and I felt very excited being able to do this.
Currie: It sounds like, from what you're saying, that your ability to write for a newspaper was almost instinctual. Is that correct?
Eads: I have maybe a feeling that it was, because I was never any great student of history, and I had few friends, I mean, that were instrumental in telling me what to do or how to cover a story. The only definition I ever got about this, you know: who, what, when, where, and how, those five. When you answer that, you've written a story, practically.
Currie: If we go back chronologically a little bit, how long did you work at the Evanston News Index?
Eads: Almost a year. But then I got fired, and I don't know why. They fired a group of people for no reason. I think probably economics or something. That was the best thing that ever happened to me, because from there I got a job on the Herald and Examiner as a North Shore correspondent. This is how I started on that. I went from the News Index to that, because I knew that whole area. That was all the North Shore—Evanston, Winnetka, as far up as Waukegan was the North Shore. Most of the news centered around in there was covered by the North Shore correspondent. I was the only one for the Herald and Examiner. The Chicago Daily News had a correspondent, the city press had one, AP had somebody. I didn't have an office; I was in the police station. That's where my headquarters were. I'd use their public pay phone.
Currie: What kind of area was the North Shore at that time?
Eads: It was just like any suburban area, more or less a privileged and exclusive-type place. Northwestern University is in Evanston. All the smaller towns. It's like outside of San Francisco, what they call bedroom communities. I mean, a lot of people worked in Chicago and lived in Evanston and Lake Forest. Lake Forest is one of the wealthiest areas around, outside of Naples, Florida. I've since had a lot of friends down here from Lake Forest. It was a beautiful suburb, still is.
Currie: What kinds of stories did you cover?
Eads: All sorts of stories. It's hard to tell you. Divorces and murders, robberies, any kind of story that you'd have in the city.
Currie: So you basically had general assignments for that whole area?
Eads: That's right.
Currie: Was it traditional for reporters to be in the police station?
Eads: No, but they didn't have any office.
Currie: I see. Did you have an office in the police station?
Eads: No, just went there, and sometimes when I had a late assignment—I remember one night I slept in the police station, in the courtroom on one of the benches.
Currie: How come?
Eads: I've forgotten the story, but it was something to do with somebody stealing rugs, Oriental rugs. But that is not really as accurate as I'd like to be if you're going to use it at all.
Currie: But it's interesting. So you would hang around the police station.
Eads: That's where we got the news.
Currie: I see. How did you gather the news? What would happen in the police station that would tip you off?
Eads: I guess the policemen would tell us, or we were sitting around in front of the desk when the reports would come in. It wasn't a big police station; it was a small police station.
Currie: How many reporters would be there with you?
Eads: There were, I'd say, four or five or six.
Currie: Were there many other women?
Eads: I only remember one other one. Also, you see, they also were partly working for the metropolitan newspapers. They were the correspondents for the metropolitan newspapers. I was a correspondent for the Herald and Examiner. They were correspondents for the Chicago American, which was the afternoon Hearst paper and other urban papers. We were all friends. We tried to beat each other on the stories, which was difficult to do in such a small space.
Currie: Because if you were all together, you'd get it at the same time?
Eads: Well, if they'd disappear suddenly and quickly, you'd know something was up.
Currie: What would happen if someone would disappear?
Eads: They'd be going out on some kind of a lead for a story, you would think.
Currie: Did you try to find out what they were going out for?
Eads: Yes, sure.
Currie: How would you do that?
Eads: I don't know. Follow them. I don't know exactly.
Currie: Where were you living at this time in Chicago?
Eads: I lived on the near North Side, and that's where I lived most of the time I lived in Chicago. It's around Chicago Avenue and Division Street and Michigan Avenue. I used to live at a place called 10 East Elm Street, and it was a very interesting neighborhood. I loved it, because it was like in San Francisco, a lot of creative people, artists, and writers, then also a lot of just plain apartment dwellers. But part of it was pretty exclusive, high rents.
I got an apartment. I found out that the top floor of one apartment building had a floor above it on the roof, and not expensive, and I got that. Except that I lived in the apartment on the roof, not the top floor apartment, and it was like a little penthouse. I had smallish windows that looked out. I fixed it up real cute.
Currie: How did you fix it up?
Eads: I papered a screen in gold, like Chinese, and I had other colors. It was all second-hand furniture, mostly, things like that.
Currie: Did you live alone?
Eads: I had a lot of company.
Currie: Who were your friends?
Eads: Newspaper people, mostly, and my brother and my aunt. My aunt was living in Chicago then, too, working in Chicago. She was an excellent seamstress, and she only did our clothes until my father married again, and then she went to Chicago and worked for a very well-known dress house. They would come for lunch on Sundays and holidays, and I cooked all the time. I love to cook.
Then I started going with this man I finally married, a reporter.
Currie: How did you meet him?
Eads: I worked right next to him in the office at the Herald and Examiner. He was a graduate of the University of Chicago, an excellent reporter, brilliant. Do you want me to get into Chicago?
Currie: Maybe we'll get to Chicago a little bit later, because you then went from the Herald and Examiner to the Chicago office, is that it?
Eads: No, I didn't work downtown for the Herald and Examiner then. I was a North Shore correspondent for the Herald and Examiner.
Currie: What's the difference between working for the Herald and Examiner and being a North Shore correspondent?
Eads: Because all I did was cover the news around Evanston and those north shore suburbs. It was mostly small news stories, you know, like in a small community.
Currie: But were you paid by the Herald and Examiner?
Currie: And you were on salary?
Eads: On salary.
Currie: So you were in a bureau?
Currie: I see. Did you ever move to the Herald and Examiner in Chicago?
Eads: Yes. That's next.
Currie: I see. Now I've got it. How long did you stay in the North Shore?
Eads: Not very long, several months or so. I liked the people I worked with. When a big story broke, they'd send people out from the paper, too, photographers and all. But then finally, I got a vacation. I went to Quincy, and I got to thinking about it. I wanted to work on that metropolitan paper downtown in Chicago.
[Material removed and sealed will be available at the Oral History
Research Office of Columbia University after May 22, 2000.]
Currie: Why do you think you got the job?
Eads: I think he thought I was eager enough and willing to work hard. Maybe he thought if I were that brash, that maybe I'd be pretty good on covering some of these stories.
Currie: So you moved?
Eads: I lived in the same place, because this time it was close. Where I lived was pretty close to downtown Chicago. You saw the first byline I had.
Currie: Which I'd like to talk about. When you got this new job at the Herald and Examiner, what was your assignment? Where did you work?
Eads: Downtown in a regular office. I had a desk.
Currie: In the city room?
Eads: Yes. It was a big city room. They had many reporters, including my former husband.
Currie: Whom you sat right next to?
Eads: I met him at a party of a very well known Latin American cartoonist. At that time he had a big party at his apartment, which was near where I lived. It was new, and I was one of the people he invited, all newspaper people. That's where I met my former husband.
Currie: What was your former husband's name?
Eads: Seymour Berkson. He was a publisher of the New York Journal American when he died, but we were divorced.
Currie: What attracted you to your former husband?
Eads: I don't know. We just absolutely fell in love. We were together all the time. When I finally did a series of articles, he was my escort on the one I did about night life.
Currie: So you'd spend almost all your time at work and away from work together?
Eads: Well, we spent an awful lot of time together, six years.
Currie: Had you gone out with other men before that? Was there anybody else that was serious?
Eads: Yes, but I wasn't all that attracted to them. I liked several people. We had so much in common. Mostly he covered political news and the state legislature from Chicago, interviewing people.
Currie: So you think it was an advantage that you both were doing the same kind of work?
Eads: I just never thought about it. He lived with his family on the South side of Chicago. They were a very modest family, Jewish, and he was not an Orthodox Jew, but I remember he had me out for Sunday dinner sometimes, and one time I went to the synagogue with his parents and he didn't go.
Currie: You went and he didn't go?
Eads: I don't remember that he was there with us. He might have been, but I doubt it. He had definite ideas.
Eads: About politics and life.
Currie: How would you characterize his ideas?
Eads: I don't know. It's hard for me to say. He was an educated man and very urbane, elegant, marvelous dancer, a little naive with women, I think, when he first met me.
Eads: I thought so.
Currie: What do you mean, naive?
Eads: That I can't explain.
Currie: So there was a religious difference between you?
Eads: No, we never really discussed religion.
Currie: Had you been raised as a Protestant?
Eads: Yes, but not forcibly. I mean, we always went to Sunday school. We were Presbyterian, and we went to church with my father. My stepmother was a Christian Scientist, and later on, when we came down here, at one point I was reading Science. I had some problems and felt that it helped me. No, we never had anything like that particularly.
Currie: So religion wasn't an issue.
Currie: You went out with him for a long time.
Eads: Six years.
Currie: Did you think that this was the man for you?
Eads: There were times when I thought it would be nice if we were married, but I never dwelled on it. I never even discussed it with him. We never talked about things like that.
Currie: What did you talk about?
Eads: We talked about stories we worked on, we talked about people, what was going on in the world, big things. I remember having a big argument one night with him and another man. This was quite a while back. I said the trouble with the world is overpopulation, and I still think that. We had this big argument about it. But I mean, we discussed things like that.
Currie: Was there ever any conflict if the two of you were covering the same story? Did you ever go after the same stories?
Eads: When I did a series on night life in Chicago during Prohibition, he was my escort, but I wrote all the stories and I got all the copy, and he didn't like that. He didn't like being an escort, but it was an assignment. You saw some of those stories.
Currie: I did. I want to talk more in depth about the whole series. So he had some ego problems, is that what you're saying, when you were in the limelight?
Eads: No, I don't think he ever was envious of any assignment I had, or that I was of any assignment he had. I remember going to one of the state—I think he was an investigator for the state of Illinois on financial deals or something, and he was covering that story. The man happened to have an apartment in Chicago, and we both went to that.
I remember another story. We went to this apartment. He went to see the man and to have a drink. It was about 11:00 o'clock at night, and we came out of the apartment, about the eleventh floor, right in the near North Side, near the Drake Hotel. We came out and we looked down the hall toward the elevator, and we saw somebody bowing and pointing this way. We got
there, and everybody in the elevator had their hands up, and this guy had a gun. It was in that era in Chicago where not a night passed without something like that. He ordered us to get in the elevator. The elevator man, I think, he was sitting on a stool. I think he was a semi-invalid. Everybody was scared.
Anyway, he ordered him to go to the second floor and not to do anything, not to signal anybody or anything. He wanted what we had in our purses. We'd just gotten paid, and I had two rolls in my pocketbook. I don't know why I had divided my money. I think one was probably for my rent or something, and then I had another. I reached in my big pocketbook, and I was behind people in this elevator, scared, too, and he was holding this gun not at me, particularly. I grabbed one roll and I gave it to him. I thought, "If he ever finds out about it." Then he was right up against my friend's—right this way, [holds hand as if it were a gun up to her face] and he took his pen and pencil set out of his pocket. I thought, "Why doesn't he do like this?" But he didn't dare because the gun might have gone off.
Anyway, we got to the second floor and he ordered us all to stay there five minutes or so, so he could get away. As soon as we got out of the elevator, we went right down to the desk in this apartment building. He'd cut the wires of the phone. We finally got hold of the police and told them what had happened, and several days later they got him. He was a well-educated, young son of a wealthy North Shore—Evanston or one of those places—family, and he was, I guess, robbing people for a thrill. There were a lot of things like that going on.
They found him in a Chicago movie theater, sitting there with a debutante, and he was arrested. They took him to the police station, and we had a reporter stationed all the time at that police station. It was the central station, I guess. He knew about this story, of course, and he saw the pen and pencil set with Seymour's initials on it, S.B. He grabbed them out of this guy's pocket. [Laughter.] And Seymour got his pen and pencil set back. I just remembered that story when I got to thinking about going to see this man who was an investigator for the state.
Currie: That was pretty wild stuff going on in Chicago at that time.
Eads: I remember going home after that. Of course, Seymour didn't live with me every night. He was around. Then I was a little afraid. I kept thinking about what was going on in the city, but not for very long, because it was almost an everyday occurrence.
Currie: Maybe now is a good time to talk about some of the stories that you covered. Did you cover some interesting stories during that time at the Herald and Examiner?
Eads: All of them were, really.
Currie: You mentioned your first byline, and I think you've got your scrap[book] here, so let's pull it out and we can look at it.
Eads: A lot of stories I covered are not in there.
Currie: We can talk about them, too.
Eads: The other time I was afraid, I was going to tell you about it.
Eads: There were a number of times, but one night I remember very well. One night we were sent off, a photographer and I were sent out on a story, and it was a shooting or something. We had to call into the office on the way, because I don't know whether we couldn't find the
address or what. We called the office, and they said, "Forget it. Get over to this street on the South Side of Chicago."
We went over there, and a man had been murdered, and he was lying on the street. I thought, I mean, this is a good story, really. [Laughter.] The body here, I could see it and everything. So then I went into a house across the street. This is a nice, quiet little neighborhood, except for murders. [Laughter.] I went in and asked if I could use her telephone, and I was talking to the office about this. I said, "A man's body, it hasn't been identified yet, and I think it's a little petty gang murder." And all of a sudden, I heard a scream, and I said, "I'm going to hang up. Somebody's identified the body." You know, they wouldn't scream if they didn't know.
So I ran out, and it was the woman. I hung onto her arm, and they pushed her into the police car in the back seat, and I got in with her. They said, "Are you a relative?" I said, "Yes." We went way down on the South Side of Chicago, way down, almost in Indiana. Anyway, it was way down. It was a cold night, too, and I sat with this woman. When we got to her house, she was more or less was hysterical, and she didn't pay any attention to me. The police didn't ask me any questions. I went in the house with her. I said, "Maybe we'd better lock the door," because the Chicago Tribune was following. [Laughter.] He was ringing the bell, and I'd say, "She can't see anybody." They finally had to get—I think they got a doctor or a friend doctor, and they gave her some sedative. I would talk out the door to this reporter, and I'd say, "She can't see anybody. She's in sedation."
Currie: You said that to your competitor.
Eads: He finally went away. This was on the second floor, I think, of this apartment building. I don't know whether they still do that, but they had a door downstairs that locked, that went up the stairs, you know, to the apartments.
Currie: A two-door entry?
Eads: Yes. Then there was sort of a lobby downstairs. This was a small apartment building. I called the office and got this fabulous guy, Romanoff, I told you about, big, fat man, who sat on the city desk and knew all the policemen. This is about two o'clock in the morning. I said, "I don't know where in the hell I am, but I'm on the South Side, and I can't get a cab, and I don't know how I can get back to the office."
He said, "I'll come and get you." So I said, "I'll be waiting." It never occurred to me how long it would take to come from downtown Chicago all the way out there, and so I waited downstairs and I was really scared. I'd look out the door, and then I'd think, ~"Should I ring the bell and go back? Just stay inside the locked door would be better than this." But I didn't do it, because I was worried about this woman.
As it turned out, it turned out to be one of the smaller stories in the paper, and this man was not a very important gangster.
Currie: But it was your baptism by fire.
Eads: No, not really, but it was one of the stories. A lot of stories were like that, very touch and go about people you talked to and relatives that were threatening and things like that.
One time I stole a picture. When the photographer couldn't get a picture, we stole it.
Currie: How did you do that?
Eads: When the people wouldn't be there, we'd just take one off a mantle. This was a big one that I took.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Currie: You were saying that if you couldn't get a photographer to take a picture, you'd steal one.
Eads: Not always, but most of the time.
Currie: You said that once you took a big one off a mantle.
Eads: Yes, because I remember when one of the brothers and the father came to the office, marched right into the city room and pointed. I don't know how they knew who it was, who took the picture, but anyway, they wanted it back.
Currie: So you'd then run it with the story.
Eads: We had already run it. I guess that's how they knew.
Currie: How did you learn those techniques? Did you have anybody to show you the ropes?
Eads: No. I think when you're in positions like that, you're not helpless. I mean, you don't just sit there. I mean, when I think of some—I was practically a robber part of the time. [Laughter.]
Currie: What other things would you do?
Eads: I took other pictures, stole other pictures. About the same time of the St. Valentine's Day massacre*, when I was late getting to that assignment, I had to go to the apartment of one of the mistresses who was being held at one of the police stations, not as an accomplice. But the guy lived with her, also in a very beautiful apartment near North Side. I went into the apartment and there was nobody there except a policeman sitting in a chair right on the opposite side of the room from the door. I went in, and I saw this picture on the mantle. I walked over toward it, and he said, "Are you a relative?" They always asked if you were a relative. I said, "Yes." You know, you didn't have to say much.
I said, "I want to look over some things." I went in their bedroom and counted all the suits he had in the closet and looked over her perfumes and things, and I even looked in the bathroom, and I found they had lilac toilet paper. I put all this stuff down, because I thought it would make it—and then I finally wound my way around to the kitchen. They had liquor bottles with locks on them, special liquor, decorative liquor bottles. And they also had a recipe for taffy apples, which I thought was very funny in this gangster. So that was my story. I called the office and gave them that story.
Currie: You said you got to the St. Valentine's Day massacre late? Can you tell me what you remember about that?
Eads: I went into the office. It was a morning newspaper, so we didn't go to work until around 12:30 or 1:00 o'clock, and then we worked sometimes until 12:30 or 1:00 or more at night. I remember getting on the elevator in the building, and the elevator operator said, "Boy, you're
* The St. Valentine's Day Massacre took place February 14, 1929 in Chicago. Seven gangsters were killed by rival gangsters.
going to have a busy day." I said, "What happened?" He said, "Seven men were killed all at once." [Laughter.] Which was very funny to me. [It's usually] one at a time, you know.
Then I went into the city room and hardly anybody was there; they were all out on the story. I was so mad. I went over to my desk, and somebody called to me and said, "Got an assignment for you." I think he read it probably someplace. He sent me on a—I said it was a dinky little two-body murder on the West Side of Chicago, and even the policeman was disgusted. There was a Chicago Tribune reporter and photographer along with him, and we got together there.
I remember going in their apartment. I hate to tell you this, but I stepped over the bodies. I didn't step on them; I stepped over them to the phone, which was hanging on the wall, and called the office.
Currie: Nobody had moved the bodies yet?
Currie: Were the police there?
Eads: I went at the same time they did.
Currie: I see. So you all got there about the same time.
Eads: There was one policeman. Then it was after that, in the early evening, when I went to the apartment of the mistress.
Currie: In other words, you stepped over the bodies to get to the phone to file your story.
Currie: Which was more important, right?
Eads: Getting to the phone? Yes. [Laughter.] I wasn't about to lift up the bodies.
Currie: Well, I don't blame you. I wouldn't either. [Laughter.]
Eads: These stories are very funny.
Currie: They're wonderful.
Eads: One time there was a little boy on Sunday that went out in Lake Michigan from the beach, on the South Side, got on the ice, a piece of ice, and it was an ice floe. It started drifting out into the lake, Lake Michigan. They were trying to rescue him, and the office sent me and a photographer down there to get a picture of the little boy on the ice floe. It was on a Sunday, and I remember I had on a very fancy dress and I had a date that night with Seymour. We were going dancing. Here I was. They had a boat, you see, I guess the Coast Guard or something, and the photographer went in the little boat to rescue this boy. I walked along the beach. Lo and behold, at my feet, after I'd walked a ways, was a body. [Laughter.] And it was a man. I didn't think; I just reached down to see if there was any identification. This is true. I found none, but they finally found out who he was. It was what they used to call in those days, nothing but a little two-head story in the paper. A two-head was a small heading over a small story.
Currie: Do you remember who he was?
Eads: Oh, no, it wasn't anybody that anybody cared about. And that reminds me of another story.
Eads: That murder story was the first byline, but one of the first stories I had was to go over to a morgue on Randolph Street. You don't know Chicago, do you?
Currie: Not very well.
Eads: Our office was on Madison Street, and then there was Monroe and, finally, Randolph Street. I don't know if it was connected with the county or what, but it was a small morgue. They had a body there of a woman, and they had gotten the body from the Chicago River. They were beginning to write these stories about somebody's mother, you know, poor, nobody identified her and nobody knew who she was, and they had fished her out of the river. I had never seen a dead body and I'd never been in a morgue before, and there was absolutely nobody there except when I opened the door on the ground floor, I called and said what I was there for, and a young man's voice said, "She's upstairs on a slab." [Laughter.] "Just go up the steps."
So I went up, and there was this woman lying on a slab. Her clothes were in a pile in the corner, like a little tramp, you know. I said, "What color are her eyes?" And he took his finger and said, "Well, they're brown."
Currie: He lifted her eyelid up.
Eads: [Nods "yes."] He said, "She's a dirty little wench, isn't she?" And I said, "All I have to do is find out who she is." They ran this story for several days, and they found that she was a derelict who drank a lot and just fell in.
Currie: Why did they send you to the morgue to look at her body?
Eads: I don't know, but nobody had identified her, and I guess they thought if I got a description of her, gray hair, straight nose, crooked mouth, or whatever, they'd print it in the paper and somebody would come forward.
Currie: I see.
Eads: They often did that. There were lots of dead bodies found around Chicago that nobody identified ever. It's the truth.
Currie: I'm sure. You went down and got this description of her. Did you ever help find out who she was?
Eads: I don't know whether they ever did find out. They found out that she was a derelict and that people had seen her staggering along on the riverfront.
Currie: How did you feel, going to look at this dead body?
Eads: I didn't feel. I thought it was pretty eerie and distasteful, especially when I saw that she didn't have anything, no purse, nothing. It was pathetic. But I didn't weep. I just thought, "I've got to get this story in to the office."
Currie: And you saw a lot of bodies after that.
Eads: Oh, yes.
Currie: Going back a little bit to the afternoon of the St. Valentine's Day massacre, you went to what you called the dinky two-body murder. How did you get the idea to go to the mistress'?
Eads: I came back to the office, and they sent me. They were questioning her at the detective bureau or some place, and she was still being held there. She was a beautiful woman, blonde. I remember she had a squirrel coat on, down to her ankles, and I thought she hadn't gone home yet. I think they thought she would probably be there, and they thought it would be a good story if I interviewed her.
Currie: Do you remember your first byline?
Eads: Isn't this it?
Currie: Yes. This is great. August 1926.
Eads: I don't remember covering the story.
Currie: You don't?
Eads: I remember talking to the widow.
Currie: Let's talk a little bit about the story.
Eads: I can't remember anything more than I talked to the widow and got the information from her.
Currie: It says "Labor Killing Turns Bridal Veil to Weeds." So she was going to be married?
Eads: His daughter and his wife, the mother of the bride-to-be, were going to shop for a wedding outfit. Instead, the father was murdered.
Currie: So you had a good hook that way.
Eads: Yes. "Labor Killing Turns Bridal Veil to Weeds." Instead of looking for a bridal clothing, they looked for black clothing for a funeral, I guess.
Currie: Did you try to look for that kind of spin for your story?
Eads: No, I just wrote the story and then somebody on the copy desk put that head on it.
Currie: I see. Was that the first story you did, or your first byline?
Eads: First byline. I think one of the first stories that I did was this woman in the morgue.
Currie: So you didn't always get a byline.
Eads: No. But most always.
Currie: How did they determine what got a byline?
Eads: I think the importance of the story or the way it was written, mostly the importance of the story.
Currie: So were you competing to get bylines?
Eads: They had a number of women reporters on the Herald and Examiner. A lot of them were really queens, I mean, the star reporters when I started. They were the ones that would interview people like Rudolph Valentino and people like that.
Currie: Do you remember who some of them were?
Eads: The trouble is, I remember part of the name. It may come to me later. One woman wrote just about sports, a very delicate woman, and there was a very young woman who finally married a very elderly newsman on the paper. We all made cracks about that. Then there was one who did a lot of straight news stories, Pat O'Malley. She was a good reporter, but she was the prima donna of the office. There was also another one, an older woman, who was one of the top newspaper women in Chicago at that time. I can't remember her name right now, but she was a good friend. They all were. We had a very good working relationship.
Currie: You got along well together.
Eads: Never any envy. I think that some of them kind of envied me that assignment on the plane.
Currie: What about the men? How did you get along with the men?
Eads: Wonderfully. I just got along well with everybody. I mean, I was sort of new to them, and I was kind of young. I don't think that had anything to do with it at all, and they knew that Seymour and I were in love and going together, and they always made remarks about that.
Currie: What kind of remarks?
Eads: Just if I'd go someplace, where was Seymour. I can't remember. When I flew out of Chicago, he came out by train to meet me.
Currie: When you did the big story?
Eads: Yes. There was a picture of him in a little office publication.
Currie: I saw it, as a matter of fact. How did the men relate to the women in the news room?
Eads: I don't remember any arguments or anything. We all had our own jobs, our own assignments, and really, more or less, our own fields of reporting.
Currie: Did you cover the same things as the men?
Eads: Oh, yes, quite often. Like in this story, here was that Sacco and Vanzetti story.*
Currie: Tell me about that.
* Sacco, a shoe factory employee and radical agitator, and Vanzetti, fish peddler and anarchist, were found guilty of killing two men in a Massachusetts payroll holdup in 1921. A six-year worldwide campaign for release on grounds of want of conclusive evidence and prejudice failed. Both were executed August 23, 1927. On July 19, 1977, fifty years after the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti, Governor Dukakis issued a proclamation that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, executed in 1927 for murder, were not treated justly in the judicial process and that any remaining stigma be removed from their names. There were, however, objections to this, including those arising from the opening of previously closed papers at Harvard University. New York Times Index, 1977, p. 867.
Eads: I went out with two of the top men in our office who were labor reporters on this story, and this was out on the West Side of Chicago, not the greatest neighborhood. I mean, a lot of Poles and different nationalities were living there, union people and workers. That's where this big riot broke out . These people who were sympathetic to Sacco and Vanzetti, you know, just like any riot today, sympathizers.
We got there and got out of the car, and I looked down a ways, and I saw this girl with the police around her. I said to the men, "I'm going down to see what this is. It's my story." I ran down. She was running, and we ran right into a cordon of police. They had their arms interlocked to get her. They took us both. I kept saying, "I'm with the Herald and Examiner." They didn't listen at all. They pushed me into a car on the floor. It tells about her; they don't mention me in it. And that really isn't my story. I called my story in, but I was in jail. They took us to a jail, you know. I called the office, and this Romanoff, I don't know whether he was in "The Front Page," I think he was, part of the story in "The Front Page," one of the characters. What happened, when the reporters got into trouble with the police for speeding or anything at all like that, we called "Romey," and he'd call the captain of the police station and say, "You better fix this up or I'll see that you get transferred to Hegawitch," which was a dinky little suburb south of Chicago that nobody wanted to go to.
So they let me out, and then I went to the office and told them what I heard. They already had a pretty good story.
Currie: So you didn't get to file the story on the woman?
Eads: Well, we didn't call it filing then.
Currie: What did you call it?
Eads: Just called it in.
Currie: So you didn't get to call that story in.
Eads: I gave them some details about what happened to her and to me, but it was all intertwined with their own story.
Currie: She was a leader of the Sacco and Vanzetti—
Eads: No, she wasn't really. She was a student.
Currie: Aurora D'Angelo.
Eads: I don't even remember hearing her name.
Currie: She was a student who was just there protesting?
Eads: Yes. And there was a young man, also a student at Northwestern University, who was in that skirmish, too, but I don't know what happened to him. I don't remember seeing him, even.
Currie: So they just sort of arrested you without—
Eads: She was leading the mob, that particular part of it. She wasn't leading the whole riot, just this part of it. She had a following of people. I don't know if they knew who she was or anything, but the police just had their arms out to get her, and they got her. I happened to be hanging onto her, so they put me in with her.
Currie: What can you tell me about Romanoff?
Eads: He was a very dark-haired, dark-eyed, and fat and bossy man, but good, you know. He'd boss reporters. You'd call in to the city desk and sometimes, instead of getting the city editor, you'd get him. I remember once I told him I couldn't get the picture that they sent me for. He said, "Don't come back until you get it. Don't come back." I mean, he was like that. Everybody liked him, I think. I don't know why they wouldn't, but he was a big bully, sort of. We used to send to a saloon across the street, to get the most wonderful steaks. I never ate such food. We used to go there after work a lot of times, too. Of course, get a drink, as well. When we'd send over for the food, the copy boys, the guys that ran our copies from us to the copy desk or the city desk, would pick up these steaks and stuff and bring them, and we'd eat in the office. "Romey" would invariably come up and steal some of my steak and other people's. I remember that so well.
Currie: So he wasn't the city editor.
Currie: What was he?
Eads: He had a connection with the police. He knew every police captain in Chicago, and on big stories, he used his influence a lot to get information from them. He'd brow-beat them until he got it. You know, the Herald and Examiner was a big paper.
Currie: Was he an editor?
Eads: No, he was sort of what you call an in-between thing. I mean, sort of managing. He didn't have a name like that.
Currie: But he seemed to have some kind of position.
Eads: He sat at the city desk. We had an assistant city editor. We had an editor, a day editor and a night editor, and an assistant city editor. Then we had another editor at that desk, I think he was there for out of town news, and "Romey." He sat there at one end of the desk and was like a boss over that whole thing, but he wasn't really the boss. But he had a lot to say.
Currie: Sounds like an interesting character.
Eads: He was. I think he was the most interesting on the paper, really. There was another man that we loved, everybody loved, because he was always helping you with your family trials and tribulations and love affairs and everything. He was assistant city editor. His name was Eddie Haserkamp, and he was a dear. He was not quite as bossy as a real city editor.
Currie: What did a real city editor do?
Eads: He'd give us our assignments.
Currie: But you said he wasn't quite as bossy as the real city editor.
Eads: He was more humorous about telling us what to do.
Currie: So he was more polite?
Eads: More considerate. If you couldn't get some detail, he wouldn't yell at you or threaten your job.
Currie: That was pretty much standard procedure?
Eads: I didn't have it too much of the time. Most of the time I got what they told me to, or I tried.
Currie: You said that "Romey" had threatened this police captain with moving. How could he?
Eads: He just had influence. The paper had influence, political influence. I think, in a way, they could get your job, you know, threatening. "If you don't do what I ask you to do, I'll see that somebody gets your job," or something.
Currie: What do you think he might have done to actually get rid of this guy?
Eads: I don't know. It's just like in the White House. I mean, if you don't do or think, even think, eventually something happens to your job. Not always; it depends on who's the boss. But Chicago was rife with political deals in those days.
Currie: Even on the paper?
Eads: Well, I wouldn't say in that way, but I'm talking just about—
Currie: That's how life was.
Eads: Yes. I mean, it wasn't always a threat, just once in a great while that they'd say that. I just happened to pick out those couple of times.
Currie: But he sounds like quite an interesting character. He's very vivid.
Eads: Stories have been written about him, but it's so long ago and I don't know where the stories are or what happened to him or anything.
Currie: Was there anyone at the Herald and Examiner who was a mentor to you, someone who really helped you out?
Eads: Nobody. If you wanted to know who to see in some outfit or how to get someplace or where it was, and what their standing in the community was, you could ask different people, like the chief political writer or anybody. Various people knew various parts of the city, the county building, the city building.
Currie: So you would sort of use everybody else on the paper to get the information you needed?
Eads: Never, not unless I didn't know. No, I never had to ask. That didn't exist, that sort of thing.
Currie: So you were sort of on your own?
Eads: I guess so. In your job, it's just like a job you have. You know what you have to do, and you do it. You don't have to go to somebody and say, "How do I ask this opera singer how she reaches high C?"
Currie: Do you know if the women who worked at the Herald and Examiner were paid the same as the men?
Eads: No, they weren't. That's why I quit. After six years, they were starting to give some raises to the men, and I went up to the city editor, and I said, "What about it? I've been here six years. What about the women here?"
And he said, "Well, that will come along. It'll come, but not now."
And shortly after that, I knew a man on the AP in Chicago, who had been chief of the bureau in Chicago. He was transferred to New York as one of the big shots of the AP in New York, as managing editor. We were sort of friends in Chicago. I wrote to him and asked him about a job, and he said there wasn't any right then. He was sort of pleased that I wanted to come. He was always very complimentary in Chicago.
Not very long after that, he wrote one sentence, he said, "There's an opening on the news staff in New York; it's yours if you want it." That's all he said. And of course, I wanted it, and I left. My boyfriend was very upset. Not really. He understood.
Currie: Did you make more money going to the AP?
Eads: Not much. That was during the Depression. I didn't make very much at all, but I had always wanted to go to New York, just dreamed about New York. It was the city more than the job, really. [Laughter.]
But I can remember, I first got there and I stayed in a hotel first, until I found an apartment. I walked over to Fifth Avenue and turned the corner on 42nd Street onto Fifth Avenue, and I felt I was in heaven. It seemed to be what I had wanted all my life, just to walk down Fifth Avenue! I was so thrilled.
The desk was small. You know how the AP is, a tremendous organization. My small group, there were only, say, in the daytime, on the day staff there would be about, at the most, ten or 12. There was one other woman. She was there, but for a while she and I were the only two women on AP for a long time. Ruth Cowan was on the AP in Chicago then. I think she was there then. But there I did have to ask around a little bit, the men that I worked with right there on the desk. They were an interesting group of people. Lorena Hickok was the other woman, and there's a book that she wrote. She was Eleanor Roosevelt's very close friend, and it's in this book about Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, a lot of talk about that.* It was in the book or on the cover or something.
Currie: When it first came out, there was some implication that maybe Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt had been lovers.
Eads: I doubt it. I doubt that they were.
Currie: You don't think they were?
Eads: No. She had a lot of friends like that.
Currie: You mean Mrs. Roosevelt?
* Faber, Doris. The Life of Lorena Hickok: Eleanor Roosevel's Friend.
Eads: Women, yes, that she admired. But Lorena was a crack newspaperwoman. I think she was originally in Detroit or something. She used to be a policewoman, somebody told me, and she looked like one. She was a big woman and wore her hair in a little skimpy bun in the back. I remember on the Lindbergh kidnapping, it was several days before she got assigned to cover it. She just absolutely was so mad, she just got red.
Currie: Was she agitating to cover it?
Eads: Oh, she wanted to cover that. It was a very important story, of course. I was married to Seymour then, and we were living in an apartment in New York. This call came in early in the morning, and I answered the phone, and it was his office. He was working for Hearst's Universal Service as a reporter then, and he was sent out on that story. That's when we first heard of the story. He went, of course. Oh, I was envious. I wanted to go, too, and I would fume and fuss around. I went into the office, finally, and I didn't get it. They had already assigned people. They had all their top people covering that. Lorena finally got sent out. But I finally got to work on the story after a while.
Currie: I noticed in your clips. I want to talk about that, too, because those are interesting stories.
Eads: That's New York, and that's after.
Currie: Yes. What more can you tell me about Lorena Hickok?
Eads: Lorena Hickok and I were very close friends. I even went out to Fire Island one time with her. There was a man with us, too, and they weren't living together. She was a good cook, and we used to go up on Sundays to her house and have drinks, mostly the men and I. That's before Seymour came to New York, which was only about a month or so after I left Chicago. I got married about a month after I got to New York. We didn't tell the office.
Currie: Why not?
Eads: Because they hired him, too, and they just weren't sympathetic at all to anything like that.
Currie: They didn't want the reporters marrying each other?
Eads: I don't think that was it. Here they'd hired me from Chicago, and here I turn around and get married right away. I didn't tell them for a couple of months or so, but we finally told them, because Hickok—we called her Hickok—came with one of the men from the AP one night. We'd already gone to bed. We had a one-room apartment. They knocked on the door; they hadn't called. We let them in, and I said, "Well, anyway, we're married." [Laughter.] And then she found out we were married. They didn't tell the office for a while.
He had different hours than I did, too, because he had worked for the AP. I practically talked them into hiring him.
Currie: After you went to New York?
Eads: I said to them one day, to my boss in New York, "How would you like to meet a good newspaperman?"
And he said, "Is he out of a job?"
I said, "No." I said, "In fact, they wouldn't want to lose him." But I said, "He's pretty good."
And so Seymour came to New York, and we got married the day he came. Then he went in to see about the job, and he finally got it.
Currie: So you were both working at the AP.
Eads: Yes, we were for about a month, and then he got this job with Universal Service, INS, a morning service.
Currie: That was a Hearst wire service.
Currie: So he came for the job at the AP, but then he switched over to the Hearst service.
Eads: That's where he belonged, too, because he rose very fast in that outfit. You know, to be publisher of New York Journal American, that's something. He was bureau chief in Rome and in Paris, and that's how I happened to be in Rome and Paris, too.
Currie: Why did you decide to get married when he moved to New York, after you'd been seeing each other so long?
Eads: I don't know. I guess he thought he'd better hang on, he'd better make it permanent or I would maybe go to London the next time. I don't know; I'm just making that up.
Currie: Because it happened pretty quickly.
Eads: It happened a month after I started working there. That's why I hated to have the office find out.
Currie: Why did you not want them to know?
Eads: As far as I knew, that didn't happen anyplace else.
Currie: No one told you that you couldn't be married?
Eads: No, no. I think I made it up or something.
Currie: So no one objected?
Eads: I just felt silly, you know, wanting this job so much, then getting it, then right after I get it, I go and get married, which would mean that I might quit or have a baby or something. Then it wasn't very long after that, that Seymour got sent to Rome, and I had to quit about six months later. No, I guess I worked there over a year or something.
Currie: That was very short. Where did you actually get married?
Eads: In a little town of Harrison, New York, right outside of New York City.
Currie: Do you want to describe your wedding?
Eads: It was by a Justice of the Peace. There's a story in here. A girl who wrote a column for the Chicago Tribune used this story—I decided, in order to let people know that we were
married, that we'd use a marriage license, the paper, you know, and we had copies made of it, and we sent it around to our friends.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Currie: You were saying that you sent, as your wedding announcement, copies of your marriage certificate.
Eads: To friends.
Currie: That was a cute idea.
Eads: But then we always wondered whether some of the friends might not use it if they went out and illegally slept together in hotels.
Currie: Did you have to produce a marriage certificate to stay together in hotels?
Eads: No, but I just think that maybe they did in those days. Not a marriage certificate, but some proof that they were husband and wife.
Currie: So there were probably a lot of people using your name.
Eads: Yes. Oh, we just joked about that.
Currie: Did you have any friends at your wedding?
Eads: I had one friend. She wasn't very close, and I wasn't very fond of her either. And my brother came from Chicago, and he was with us. After the wedding, we went back to New York. It was a suburb—Harrison, New York. We had dinner at an Italian restaurant. And my brother had just arrived in New York, and he kept saying, "Let's go to the Empire State Building." In those days, the Empire State Building was more than Disney World or anything. Tourists all went to see the Empire State Building, and they'd go up to the top, I forgot how many stories it was, and look over the city. I said to my brother, "We have other things to do." [Laughter.] I said, "You and what's-her-name go."
Currie: You don't remember her name?
Eads: Julia English, I think, was her name. I think she wrote advertising copy. A lot of my friends were in advertising, doing things in New York. One was an artist, and one was an interior decorator, then newspaper people. We used to get together in our apartment for dinners, and I'd cook or they would. We'd go out to fabulous restaurants, not too expensive in those days. Night life was our dish.
Currie: Where did you live in New York?
Eads: We had an apartment on the East Side, within walking distance of the East River, in the 50s of New York. I found the first one we lived in. I found the second one. But we were divorced after we came back from Paris.
Currie: We can look at the clippings and talk about the stories. I want to sort of wrap up, because we had gotten ahead of ourselves. We had gone to New York and you'd just gotten married. Had you thought about what you would do about your career once you got married?
Currie: Did you have any plans?
Eads: I wasn't all that gung-ho about a career. I just loved doing what I had been. I just never thought I'd take advanced courses in journalism to improve myself or editorial writing or anything like that. It was a job that I had to do, and I did the best I could. Nothing else that I could do could make it any better, I didn't think. I probably could take foreign languages and international politics and things like this, but I found it very sufficient the way it was, I mean, gratifying. I enjoyed it.
Currie: If you had children, did you think you would continue working?
Eads: You know, I really didn't think of those things. That may be stupid, but I just didn't.
Currie: I don't think it's stupid; it's just that you didn't.
Eads: I did have a child, you see.
Currie: But that was a little later.
Eads: But I had a career then. I was writing all those columns from Paris.
Currie: You did combine that?
Eads: I had a nurse and I had a maid. That makes a lot of difference.
Currie: Yes, that is a lot different. I thought I'd ask that because we had gotten ahead of ourselves, and I thought I'd ask you what your expectations were about that when you got married.
Maybe now we should go back to Chicago, because we didn't get to cover a lot of the other stories that you covered during the twenties, essentially. You married Seymour Berkson in 1931.
One of the big stories—let me get out the scrapbook for this one—I'd like you to talk about. You have lots of scrapbooks, and we'll get these out and it will help a little bit. You were the first commercial passenger on an airplane?
Eads: Yes, man or woman. You see, it was a commercial plane and they were to start in June, whatever day it was, taking paid passengers.
Currie: It was a combined passenger and air mail plane that was going to take passengers.
Eads: It was the forerunner of all the airlines that are today.
Currie: That was July 1, 1927. Can you talk a little bit about how you got assigned that story?
Eads: Maybe the airline company. But I think it was the brain-child of somebody higher up in our office. It was a big moment in history. I mean, the Chicago Tribune had wanted to send a passenger. For a long time, the Herald and Examiner kept it absolutely secret, and everybody thought it was a society girl or somebody like that. They didn't know who was going to make this flight, and they didn't know until the last minute, some of the papers, that it was one of their competitors. I don't know. I went over to one of the hotels when some of the big brass from Boeing and the other air manufacturers came to Chicago, to talk it over. I went over and talked to them, had a drink with them, came back to the office. Anyway, it was all set.
Currie: Do you know why you were selected to do it?
Eads: I know why. It was because I was the best.
Currie: That's probably true.
Eads: No, I don't think so. I think it was maybe because I was younger. I don't know. Don't ask questions like that.
Currie: You don't like that question?
Eads: Well, I don't know why, except that they just thought I was maybe in a position, that I didn't have a family, didn't have children. I don't think that's the reason, but it could be. I had done other things for them. They liked my work. I guess that's part of it.
Currie: Who gave you the assignment?
Eads: The managing editor of the paper. It was a whole hierarchy of people, the upper echelon in the Hearst outfit. I wouldn't be surprised if Hearst himself didn't—I don't think he was alive then, but his son was publisher of the San Francisco paper, and he was at the airport to meet me, with other people from the paper. They took me to their office. I wrote a piece about landing.
Currie: So they were in San Francisco when the plane landed?
Eads: That's where they were all the time. He was publisher. That was the son of William Randolph Hearst.
Currie: I see. When they told you that you were going to go on this airplane flight, how did you respond to that?
Eads: I was thrilled. I had never been in an airplane before.
Currie: Not many people had, had they?
Eads: No. It was just a challenge, you know. I thought it was fun.
Currie: Did they give you any idea about what kind of stories they wanted you to write?
Eads: No, just to write as I went along, which is what I did. I never stopped, hardly.
Currie: There are lots of pictures of you, but there's a picture of you getting into the plane. I noticed in a lot of the clips, they describe your outfit in great detail. How did you decide what to wear?
Eads: I don't know. I went shopping and I bought the hat, and I had the suit, I guess. I don't know where the feather boa came from. [Laughter.] Dorothy Williams, a Washington Press friend, never stops kidding me about that feather boa.
Currie: You look very chic. You're in a cloche hat.
Eads: Yes. That's what they wore in the twenties, all pulled down. You looked like a turtle with this thing pulled down like that over your ears. I had clothes I took with me. Among other things, I had a kind of chiffon or crepe dress, a real pretty color, sort of dressy. Part of the way,
as we went over the desert, I think it was, it got unbearably hot, and it wasn't air-conditioned in this plane. I was able to get this dress off, and it had sort of a tie sash around it. I changed from the suit and put the dress on, and I kept saying, while I was doing it, "What if we crash and here I was in my slip?" They'd wonder what was going on in the plane. And also, the ends of this belt slipped out under the door of the cabin. The pilot was not in with me; he was by himself back in an open cockpit, which is unusual. I mean, that's the way it was in those days. He said, after we came down, he wanted to know what in the hell was going on. He saw this flipping in the breeze, this part of the strip. That's what it was.
I went to San Francisco, and I went from San Francisco down to San Diego, and I came back on a train, and stopped in El Paso, where I had a friend. She had a party for me, and people interviewed me along the way coming back, wherever the train stopped.
Currie: It made you quite a celebrity.
Eads: At the time, I guess.
Currie: Was this something that the paper did with Boeing?
Eads: Boeing was the only one that did it. There was no other company at all.
Currie: But it was a good P.R. thing for Boeing to do.
Eads: Sure, it was. But I don't know whether they thought of it. I kind of doubt it.
Currie: How did the flight progress? How would you file your stories?
Eads: We left, I think, around nine o'clock. Then we got to Iowa, and there was a Western Union man waiting for the plane. I just wrote longhand as I went along, and I just handed him that. The same thing every other place we stopped.
Currie: So you stopped in Iowa?
Eads: It tells there. [Looking at scrapbook of clippings and telegrams from the flight.] Iowa City. The first stop. Never having flown in a plane before, I didn't know what was happening when the plane started to descend. I thought we were going to crash. I said that in the story.
Currie: You did say that. [Reading from clippings.] "Thrilling. Fine," says Jane Eads in blazing sky trail.
Eads: It was.
Currie: [Reading from clippings.] "Jane Eads Lands on Coast."
Eads: I was never afraid. I got awfully tired toward the end, because you couldn't lie down. They had a two-passenger seat, it was one seat, and it was a small cabin. I could curl up, sort of, which is what I did. I don't think I ever really went to sleep in 24 hours. I might have.
Currie: And you also had to be writing, had to be working.
Eads: Yes. I wasn't forced to, but I sort of wanted to. I was doing the story. Then I got all those wires which you saw.
I was so thrilled with this flight, and one of the top people on the Herald and Examiner, he wasn't a managing editor, but he was up there someplace, assistant publisher, was so envious that he made the next flight that they had himself, and pretended like he was first. [Laughter.].
I was so thrilled that I got in touch with another pilot, and we got to talking. I said, "Maybe another trip I could get for myself."
Currie: So you were going to do it again?
Eads: In another way, sort of, maybe a different destination. This pilot was all anxious to do it, too. He wasn't one that I had on the flight at all. I think this is the one who signed himself Bill Kramer. Because we wanted to get some backing for this so-called flight that we were trying. I didn't even ask the office.
Currie: So you were just trying to line one up again?
Eads: Yes. We went to see [William] Wrigley. They had Wrigley Field, you know, to see if he would sponsor us. He was sort of lukewarm about it. Then I told him I wasn't sure that the office would give me any publicity if he were paying for it. Then the office also said, "No way."
Currie: I see. You got a lot of telegrams. [Looking at scrapbook.] There's one from your editor. He kept saying great things. Here's this picture of Seymour meeting you in San Francisco?
Eads: No, that's when he took off from Chicago on the train. That's the back of a train, and the other people there are newspaper friends of ours.
Currie: I see. So he took off in the train to meet you in San Francisco.
Eads: My father was so thrilled. This is my father.
Currie: [Reading telegrams.] "We're mighty proud of you."
Eads: That's my stepmother, Gladys, and that's my half-sister. He was so proud of me, that he wired ahead to my cousin, who lived in Iowa, the first stop. Anyway, they were there, and I'd never seen them before. I had little time to chat with anybody, you know, at the airport. But my boss took me in his own car to the airport, and he gave me a bottle of whiskey, and somebody gave me a box of chocolates. I got on the plane and I didn't know what to do with that bottle when I got to Iowa, the first stop. I asked the pilot to take it—Ira Biffle. I said, "I can't get off with this bottle, and you have to take it." He did.
Currie: He had taught [Charles] Lindbergh, the pilot?
Currie: How did Ira Biffle get involved with this flight?
Eads: He was hired. He was one of their pilots.
Currie: I see. So he was chosen. [Reading telegram.] "Hurray for our Lady Lindbergh!"
Eads: That was my night city editor.
Currie: Jack Molloy?
Eads: Yes. He was a wonderful guy. This was my boss, Duffy Cornell, city editor. He's the one who took me to the airport.
Currie: [Reading.] "Congratulations! You're a great kid. Your story's great. The one from Salt Lake, incomparable." [Reading another telegram.] "Jane Eads, flying reporter, arrives your city on Burlington at 9:20 tonight."
Eads: They were warning people that I was coming.
Currie: That's great. Here's some more.
Eads: Here's my boss again.
Currie: "Western Union man will meet you, but please file your story by Universal Services plan when you left. Cornell." And there's something from Boeing.
Eads: Yes. My trip marks an epoch in transportation. [Reading.] "We are exceedingly glad to welcome you after your flight of 2,000 miles across the continent." Can you imagine anything so silly? I mean, now when you think of all these planes flying around.
Currie: But at the time, it wasn't silly. This is funny.
Eads: What was her name? She was the other woman I was trying to think about who was on the paper. She was one of the top writers, an older woman.
Currie: This is a great telegram. [Reading telegram from woman.] "Your stories are great. Everybody raving about them. You certainly have mastered trick of perfect description in shortest sentences. Doug says that he is going to endow you and Berkson and let you marry and breed good reporters, because they are getting scarce. Hearty congratulations and a lot of love. Signed Leola." That's cute.
Eads: This was sort of a semi-city editor.
Currie: [Reading.] "Congratulations, you lucky devil. Your story's darbs." What's a darb?
Eads: That was a slang word in those days.
Currie: What did it mean?
Eads: I don't know.
Currie: That's good?
Eads: Sure, that's what it meant.
Currie: Was that a journalistic term?
Eads: No, it was just slang of the day. You see, you weren't born then. There's a lot of things that you didn't run into.
Currie: That's true. "Great story from Iowa City. God bless you. Cornell."
Eads: Yes. He was really—there's Daddy. Oh, I loved that guy.
Currie: Who's that?
Eads: He was a newspaperman. He died. He drank too much, but he was sober when he wrote this. [Laughter.]
Currie: [Reading.] Tom Killian. "Great work, kid." A man of few words.
Eads: He wrote like a dream.
Currie: Really? Was there a lot of drinking going on?
Eads: It was Prohibition. Everybody was drinking then, even the people who never drank before, because they wanted it.
Currie: There are lots of clippings on the flight. Did they send it out over the Hearst news service?
Eads: A lot of other papers carried it, too, even in Latin America. It was all over. There's one picture of me.
Currie: It's in Spanish.
Currie: Why don't we take a look at some of these clips and see if they remind you of anything. It says, "Air Pockets Give Her a Scare."
Eads: It's so different. You've flown a lot, I'm sure.
Currie: Yes. I've even been in a small plane. What did it feel like?
Eads: This was a small plane. Not anything like the ones today. I didn't think it was too bumpy or anything, except when you'd go over those pockets. In any plane you feel it, don't you? They had sandstorms, and we had a terrible time getting to Reno. "The trip took more than three hours, and the pilot and I were all in. The plane rocketed and jumped fiercely all the way. To make my troubles worse, we hit a real Nevada sandstorm. Sand blew in on us 1,000 feet up. I didn't get any sand, but the pilot did." [Laughter.]
Currie: The pilots changed?
Eads: Every stop. We changed planes and pilots three times, which was kind of interesting. I think that was probably part of the publicity. I don't know.
Currie: Here you are. "Jane Eads, Herald and Examiner reporter, with a bag of mail for President Coolidge."
Eads: Yes. I didn't have anything to do with it, but it was there on that plane. I've forgotten the place where they dropped that off. He was at a vacation place. Here it is. North Platte, Nebraska.
Currie: So part of it was a mail bag for him.
Eads: That's what they were going to do, you know, deliver mail by air. That was the first air mail, too.
Currie: But they were also going to add these passengers. People could pay to be commercial passengers.
Eads: Oh, yes, they had to pay plenty. This is about landing. We changed planes at Omaha, and Jack Knight was also a famous pilot. Then we got to Salt Lake City. We changed planes, too. No, we didn't. We stopped there for some reason. It was very hot, and we hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, so I guess the pilot or somebody got us sandwiches nearby, brought them to the plane, and I put mine like in an automobile, you know, on the front.
Currie: The dash?
Eads: Yes. In about an hour, I hadn't eaten. It had cheese in it, and the cheese melted, it was that hot.
Currie: It says, "I'm Not Plucky, but Lucky Girl, Says Jane Eads." That's the headline.
Eads: "Aerial reporter." That was new.
Currie: That's what they called you. Would this be the kind of reporting that they used to call stunt reporting?
Eads: I think it's part of it, but then I wouldn't call this a stunt.
Currie: What would you call a stunt?
Eads: Well, like getting into a banquet to cover a speech and you weren't invited, and you'd dress up like a maid or a butler. That sort of thing, you know. Falsifying, not altogether. And maybe you would call it a stunt, but it was a pretty expensive stunt. It took an awful lot of doing.
Currie: There was kind of a tradition of the adventuresome girl reporter, I understand.
Eads: It was just like front-page stuff, especially that expose on night life and things like that.
Currie: Can you tell me about that exposé of night life in Chicago that you did?
Eads: It was during Prohibition and there were all sorts of things. There was the St. Valentine's Day massacre and a lot of people were involved in bootlegging, and crime was more or less rampant, really. There was a lot of illegitimate serving of liquor in nightclubs, and the city editor or whoever, and the managing editor thought it would be a good idea to go around and investigate these places by having somebody go as a customer. So I went, dressed all up and went with Seymour to these night places. We'd have dinner, we'd dance, and just act like anybody else, but all the time we were there, my ears were bigger, and I took notes on everything, the people sitting at the next table, what they were talking about. Even in the ladies' room, I wrote down notes on any kind of paper I could find. Then we'd be out until after midnight, when Seymour would drop me off at home. Then I'd go to bed and get up in the morning and write the story. I did it right there in my apartment, every story, every time I got the material.
Currie: Do you recall what kinds of things you found out?
Eads: Just about what they did and what they were drinking, where they got it, and how they got it. I know one time we went one place, and we were driving, then the doorman at one
of the nightclubs said, "Just stay here." And he brought the bottle out to the car, put it under the seat.
Currie: Maybe it's a cliché, but did you have to have a password to get into these speakeasies?
Currie: Oh, it was easy?
Eads: I don't remember that we had to. I remember some of those that we went to. I went to one in New York, I remember, and I think we did in Chicago, too, some of them, where they'd look out sort of a peephole at the door and see who was there. We did go to one in Chicago that was run by one of the gangsters.
Currie: Which one?
Eads: I can't remember. There were a lot of them. There were two different gangs there.
Currie: Who were the principal gangs?
Eads: Al Capone had one, and there was another one. I can't remember the name. They were fighting for territory, bootlegging stuff in, and they had their own customers and all that. It's hard to talk about that, because I never got too much in that side of the story.
Currie: How long did you do this series on the night life?
Eads: I think we covered about eight or ten of them, and the reason I did it under the name of Sally O'Brien—
Currie: Oh, so you didn't use your own name.
Eads: No! For my own protection. You see, they started running while I was still writing these things. We were exposing these gangsters in the nightclubs, and gave the name of the nightclub and told where they were. There was no secret about where they were. I mean, they were very prominent, a lot of them, and some of them were very plush nightclubs.
I know one night when Seymour and I were going, we thought we were being followed, and we dashed around in back alleys and things to get away from this car. I'm sure we were being followed.
Currie: Were these nightclubs closed, or did the police crack down on them as a result of these stories?
Eads: No. The Republican was mayor of Chicago. I'd better not get into this, because I'm not too sure about who was mayor at the time. But the incoming new mayor disavowed any association with the liquor problem in Chicago.
Currie: You mean he just said there wasn't a problem?
Eads: I think so. He said, "It's been exposed. This has happened. It's not in my administration. It all happened in the other guy's administration."
Currie: I see. Were you afraid that if you were caught, something might happen to you?
Eads: No. I was kind of worried that night that we were being followed. The way things were going, they'd just as soon take a shot at me as anybody else. In the twenties, Cicero, Illinois, was noted as a real bad spot in the whole United States for crime and everything, liquor. We went out there, and I did a story about the nightclub in Cicero. All I said about it were good things, because there was no excitement at all. The Cicero paper had a big headline across, just thrilled because somebody had said something good about it. But I couldn't find any gangsters or any out-of-the-way things there that I found in other nightclubs.
Currie: They didn't have any illegal liquor?
Eads: I can't remember about that. I think we did get some. We went to one place, and they had "needle" beer.
Currie: What's "needle" beer?
Eads: They needle it with a raw alcohol or something, and that makes you real high and everything. We drank that, and I remember when I got home that night, I wasn't ill, but I was kind of nuts. [Laughter.]
Currie: Sort of like wood alcohol.
Eads: Yes. It was fun. We had all expenses paid, our dinner every night.
Currie: Was that the only time you used a pseudonym?
Currie: I understand it was a practice for people to have different names that they would use, that people wouldn't necessarily use their own name.
Eads: They did. Some people did. Some people writing about socialites, it was chic to do that, I guess, or they just didn't want people to know exactly they were writing gossip columns, stories about movie stars, things like that.
Currie: They didn't want people to know who they were?
Eads: That's right, although most people could find out, would know.
Currie: That was the era for what they called sob sisters.
Eads: That's it. I was going to ask you if you'd ever heard of sob sisters.
Currie: I've heard of it.
Eads: I've thought a long time about it, and people have been after me for years to write a book. I thought, if I write a book, I had the title, but I didn't have the time or the inclination to sit down and write. I was going to call it "Sob Sister."
Currie: Why were you going to call it that?
Eads: Because more or less, that's what some women reporters were. They'd write sympathetic stories of crime for some poor little murderess who had murdered her husband. They felt sorry for her being in jail, and then they'd write a story about how she was sorry that she'd killed her husband. You know, that sort of thing. They always took the part of the person they were interviewing.
Currie: So part of being a sob sister was to get sympathy for the person you were writing about?
Eads: No, it was just that that's sort of the way they were writing. Not all newspaperwomen were writing like that, but occasionally you would write a story. I wrote several stories, not siding with them or anything, but just they told a sympathetic story. It was just a name that they gave, like "flappers."
Currie: Sort of part of the era?
Currie: Did you do any sob stories?
Eads: I was just saying, interviews with women in jail, who were there because they'd murdered their husband or lover, stories like that.
Currie: Did you have fun with those stories?
Eads: Yes. I always saw their side of the story, as well as the other side in most cases.
Currie: I noticed, also, in your clippings that there's a story about a fracas at Northwestern University, causing a ruckus in a sorority house, some young women. There's a picture of you demonstrating the Charleston for the judge.
Eads: Yes. They were making a noise, and some neighbor—maybe it was in an apartment building, but somebody—
[End Tape 2, Side B; Begin Tape 3, Side A]
Currie: So they were just having a good time dancing, and someone reported them to the police?
Eads: Yes, and they said they were doing the Charleston. He didn't know what the Charleston was, and nobody would tell him. I happened to be there. I told you I did my telephoning there in the police station. We were always hanging around there. This story came up, and I guess I volunteered to show him what the Charleston was.
Currie: Then your photographer was there and took your picture doing it?
Eads: I don't remember whether it was our photographer—some photographer.
Currie: That was nice of you to help them out that way.
Eads: [Laughter.] I really didn't know how to do it myself.
Currie: So you weren't a Charleston dancer?
Eads: I knew how it was done, but I wasn't very good at it.
Currie: Let me ask you about the job at the Herald and Examiner. What was the worst thing about the job?
Eads: I can't think of anything now, except that sometimes we worked very long hours, and then when we'd come back, we'd all sit around and tell stories and have a lot of fun with
newspaper people, and we'd go home or go and get some food or a drink. But I really felt that all of us should get more money, but it was never a big problem with me.
Currie: What did you enjoy most about the job?
Eads: I think I liked everything. You go in the office and you never know what's going to happen or what's going to break during the night or any minute. There are people jumping out of buildings and shooting themselves, and raids on nightclubs, divorces. Always something to write about.
Currie: About how much money were you making?
Eads: I haven't any idea. I can't remember at all.
Currie: How did what reporters got paid compare with what other people got paid in the twenties?
Eads: I don't know. I think probably the society editor made a few dollars more, five dollars more or something like that.
Currie: What was the social status of reporters at that time?
Eads: It was pretty good. A lot of people like publicity, you know, wanted to see their names in the paper.
Currie: So did that give you entre to things that you wanted to do?
Eads: Sometimes, especially meetings where there would be a speaker or something, they wanted the press.
Currie: Was there ever a time in Chicago in the twenties where you had a moral dilemma about a story that you were supposed to cover?
Eads: You mean that I didn't want to do?
Currie: That you didn't want to do or you felt uncomfortable about covering.
Eads: I can remember a few times, but I can't remember what they were. One was a divorce story. I wasn't very happy having to ask things like why. I just can't remember anything about those things. I did do one story that I felt badly about later. It was a girl who had been trying to commit suicide, and she was in the place for disturbed people, the county hospital. I went to see her, and she said, "The next time I'll succeed," and she did. But she called the paper before that and said, "Don't tell Jane Eads this story." I never could understand why she was so upset, because I didn't do anything except report what she said, which wasn't detrimental to her, particularly. But she was not well, anyway, you know. But that's the only thing.
Currie: She said, "Don't tell Jane Eads this story." That was after you had interviewed her?
Eads: She called the office or told the police, and some cop got hold of me and told me. He was kind of laughing about it, but I didn't think it was very funny.
Currie: It's interesting that you routinely would report on people trying to commit suicide.
Eads: She was in police custody in the hospital to keep her from doing it again. She'd tried twice before.
Then, on the other hand, I remember one of the first stories I did a long time before that, was some young girl was missing and her family was frantic. I wrote a piece about her. They had a radio station there, and I even said something on the radio about her. They were so pleased because they found her, or she heard and came back or something, and they gave me a little statuette. I've forgotten what it was, like a good fairy or something like that.
Currie: Her family did?
Eads: Her father did. It was rare when you got things like that. I got compliments now and then.
Currie: Did you ever have a problem maintaining objectivity on a story?
Eads: Not that I remember.
Currie: You had to confront bodies and all that. You described earlier how you just sort of—
Eads: You just went ahead and did it. [Laughter.]
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Currie: This is interview number three, and we're still in Chicago! It was such an interesting time. In the time that you were in Chicago, were you ever denied a story because you were a woman?
Eads: No, never. Another thing that always surprised me was so many people, especially some journalists, downgraded [William Randolph] Hearst as a boss. They said he was too rough on them and demanded too much, and you had to toe the line and everything. I never once, when I worked for him, had any problem about my copy or the way I should approach a story, whether I should slant it or do this, nor did I know of any other journalists in Chicago who were influenced by his opinions.
Currie: Did you ever meet William Randolph Hearst?
Eads: No. I heard him once and saw him once at some big meeting. He had a high little voice, which always surprised me, because he was a big, tall man, and rather handsome.
Currie: You were saying at dinner the other night that they used to have signs in the newsroom that would read, "The chief says."
Eads: On the bulletin board. Every newspaper office had a bulletin board. You've seen that. Or don't they anymore?
Currie: I suppose they do.
Eads: I mean just someplace where things are tacked up, reminding reporters what to do.
Currie: And it would say, "The chief says." Is that how people referred to Mr. Hearst?
Currie: That's interesting. You knew some of the characters who later wrote and were written about in "The Front Page."
Eads: Hildy Johnson was the one I knew, because he was the only one still around Chicago when I was there. Ben Hecht and Charlie MacArthur were in New York then. I knew the first wife of Charlie MacArthur, before he married Helen Hayes. Her name was Carol Frink, and she was a movie critic in Chicago on the Herald Examiner. Very funny, very funny person. I was very fond of her.
Currie: What was Hildy Johnson like? Was the portrayal in "The Front Page" pretty accurate?
Eads: He covered police news in Chicago. When I knew him, I told you he called in a story from the detective bureau, I guess, the main police station. That sounds so silly—"main police station."
Currie: I think that's what they call it, though.
Eads: Anyway, he called in the story. This was toward the end of his career, just before he died. It was sort of pathetic, I think, because he'd covered a lot of big stories and was an ace reporter, you know. He is in the play. But this story, I had to take it over the phone because, I guess, some of the guys were busy. It was some petty little feature story about somebody's dog. It was a fairly decent story, but it just seemed so menial, that's all I remember. I did go to his funeral, and there weren't a lot of people at the funeral that I went to, which was on the near North Side in Chicago. There were some policemen and fellow journalists. It was kind of sad. I kept thinking to myself, "What if he could just rise up and see who came?" You know.
Currie: What do you think he would have thought?
Eads: I think he would have been sort of disappointed.
Currie: He was kind of a legend.
Eads: I didn't know him that well, you know, but everybody seemed to be very fond of him. I told you that for the opening of "The Front Page" in New York, in the theater, MacArthur and Hecht had a special box seat for Hildy to sit in. The day before he was supposed to leave for New York, he got run down on a main street in Chicago and had to be taken to the hospital. I think he had a broken leg, or something.
Currie: That's too bad. He missed his moment.
I also noticed in the clips on your transcontinental airplane flight, they say you're 20 years old in the clips. That was in 1927, so you would have been a little older.
Eads: Those clips are right.
Currie: I thought they said you were a 20-year-old.
Eads: I think I was in my twenties.
Currie: Yes, you were in your twenties. You would have been about 26 in 1927.
Eads: That's about right. See, it's 1988 and I'm 87. My birthday is in May.
Currie: So you would have been 26 in 1927.
Eads: I guess so. They weren't lying about it.
Currie: I was just wondering. When you were in Chicago, whose newspaper work did you admire most?
Eads: There were a couple of women on the Chicago Tribune that I thought were pretty good, and I think one was Kathleen McLaughlin. I'm not sure, you see. It was so long ago. She worked there and she went to New York, and there were other women on the Herald Examiner, those older two women I told you about.
Currie: What was it about their work that you thought was good?
Eads: Just their ability. I mean, the assignments they got, for one thing, and then the way they handled it. Their writing was very good. Sometimes I thought their writing was much better than some of the writing that the men did.
Currie: What kinds of assignments did they get?
Eads: I don't know. Interviewing important people, I think. I didn't envy the assignment; I just thought that their ability to handle it was much more experienced than I thought mine was. But I really never felt very inferior.
Currie: You didn't? You felt self-confident?
Eads: No, I just did my job, they printed everything I wrote, with a few corrections. So you just don't think about it.
Currie: A term I've heard you use, and I think used as a compliment for reporters is: he or she is a "crack reporter." What do you think this meant?
Eads: Just the same as it goes along with the word "darb" and "flapper." I don't know. A crack rifleman, a crack cop.
Currie: So a crack reporter is someone who—
Eads: It's not anybody who takes crack. Not anybody who takes dope like in New York today. Now they talk about crack. I'd never heard of it before.
Currie: That's true. That's a whole different meaning.
Eads: Yes. It was a compliment. I'd rather have that kind of a compliment from the men reporters or anybody, than just say, "She's a wonderful reporter." I don't know how to explain it.
Currie: In Chicago you said you did a number of interesting interviews. I think you said you interviewed Amelia Earhart.
Eads: All the people who were in the news in those days, opera singers and politicians. I did a series on the leading businesswomen in Chicago, people like Fanny May, you know, the candy woman. I may get these mixed up with federal positions. Like Mabel Rhineke was treasurer of the United States at one time. You see, this is why I'm hesitant about talking about these things that far back. With my clippings I could do it.
Currie: Maybe we can go back and look at some of the clippings at some point. Generally, can you say how you would prepare for an interview?
Eads: I just got together my pen and pad and went. [Laughter.]
Currie: Did you do a lot of background reading?
Eads: No. I got that from them. When you start talking to somebody, ordinarily you sort of knew who they were and where they came from. If it was Podunk or someplace like that, you'd know, before they took office.
Currie: Do you remember your interview with Amelia Earhart and what you thought of her?
Eads: No, except that I remember reading my own story, that I thought she was very refined and feminine for the type of thing she was getting into, and dedicated, not really a show-off, you know, wanting to do something just to get her name in the paper. I still wonder what happened to her.
Currie: It's still a mystery.
Is there anything in Chicago that we haven't covered?
Eads: I think there's a lot of stuff we haven't covered, little side stories and things like that. Besides the expose on night life, I did one on what they called "dime-a-dance" girls, you know, dance halls.
Currie: Ten cents a dance?
Eads: I posed as one of them. Again, Seymour accompanied me, and I danced with just anybody who came up and wanted to dance. Sometimes I got scared because I was afraid nobody would ask me, even at ten cents a dance. I would dance with these guys. I think I said in one of the articles that butcher and baker, every type of person, they wouldn't have been my choosing otherwise, but it made kind of a good story. I didn't like that assignment very well.
Currie: Why didn't you?
Eads: I didn't like the people I had to dance with. There was another one that they started. I don't remember. I've forgotten what it was. Then, of course, I did that series on the women.
Currie: The businesswomen in Chicago.
Eads: Yes. They were really tops.
Currie: Was that unusual to highlight the businesswomen?
Eads: It was then.
Currie: Was that your idea?
Eads: I don't think so. You ask me so many embarrassing questions!
Currie: I don't mean to embarrass you.
Eads: The trouble is that I can't remember exactly how I happened to cover that story, or what I said, or how I did it.
Currie: I'm not trying to embarrass you. I'm just trying to find out as much as I can.
Eads: That's the way I did! So you remember that.
Eads: That you're trying to find out all you can. I guess maybe you did prepare to come and see me, but you're doing your job, and that's the way I did mine.
Currie: So you would sometimes ask questions like that?
Currie: Sometimes it's hard for me, because there are questions that I don't want to ask, but I feel I have to.
Eads: That's right. After all, it isn't so terrible, is it?
Currie: No, it isn't. Most people feel pretty confident, and if they don't want to tell you, they'll say, "I don't want to tell you." It's not so bad. I think the anticipation is worse.
Eads: Yes. It's just like when you interview anybody in a big government job, they have to be pretty careful what they say because it could be misinterpreted.
Currie: Usually they're pretty good about that.
Eads: Sometimes they get in a lot of hot water for what they say. It could be the most innocent thing in the world.
Currie: That has happened a lot. Did that ever happen to you?
Eads: I can't remember.
Currie: Of course, the kind of interviews I do are different, at this point, at any rate.
Eads: And you can always cross them out.
Currie: Yes, but I have done other kinds of interviews that I'm very careful and very aware and try to be real clear about it. So it's hard.
We were talking about your dime-a-dance series.
Eads: It didn't run as long as the other one, and it didn't attract as much attention, but it was sort of a follow-up. The expose was so successful, I guess the papers thought, "Why not try this?"
Currie: Seymour was your escort again?
Eads: Very reluctantly on that one. I don't blame him.
Currie: Because he really didn't dance with you at all?
Eads: No, he sort of had to stay in the background a little bit. I was there and these people asked me to dance. I had danced with him and talked with him; I knew his background.
Currie: Right. And he probably wouldn't have been in a dime-a-dance hall anyway.
Eads: No. That series, I don't think was too successful. I can hardly remember it.
Currie: We talked about the reason you left Chicago eventually. They wouldn't give you a raise.
Eads: That was part of it. Mainly I wanted to go to New York. You know that. I told you. This sort of triggered it. So I went.
Currie: Was working on the AP in New York different from working on the Herald Examiner? If so, in what way?
Eads: They had to think in terms of national, all the newspapers that they served, which was all over the whole United States. They had to think in terms of the importance of a story, even a small story, to out-of-town papers. You can write a lot of stuff about things in your own town. I mean, but that was that. Then the staff, we didn't go out on just any old little story.
In New York, I guess I ought to tell you about one thing. I never took typing lessons, and I never had shorthand. I don't know shorthand from Greek. I type with one hand, this way. [Demonstrates method.] Can you imagine that this stage in my life, I use this.
Currie: So you use one hand to do the letters and one hand to space.
Eads: Wherever I worked, the men in the office and others would come and stand behind me and start laughing, because I wrote just as fast as anybody with two hands.
Currie: That's really interesting.
Eads: I just now told you that, but if I sat down and started to write, I'd probably do it again that way, the same thing, because that's the way I know how to type. Most people use the first two fingers of both hands to type.
Currie: Right, to hunt and peck. Did people know the touch system?
Eads: I don't think they had it then.
Currie: So they would type with two fingers, most of them?
Eads: Not most people, no. Most people, I think, knew how to type with both hands, like everybody types.
Currie: Using all their fingers? That's how I type.
Eads: They typed just like you type.
Currie: Did a lot of people take shorthand?
Eads: I don't know. Most people seemed to be taking shorthand when we were covering speeches.
Currie: So you would take notes in longhand?
Eads: Yes, because I'd sort of skip around. I didn't have any signals, codes, or anything for this. Sometimes it was pretty difficult keeping up, really.
Currie: I would think so.
Eads: I think that and my lack of background on foreign affairs and various things like that, not so much in the beginning, but later, was a handicap in a way. I mean, I felt it. I think journalists today are a lot more experienced in their craft. Most of them know how to type or take shorthand or whatever they use now. Probably computers.
Currie: A lot of people use computers. A lot of people even have lap-top computers.
Eads: There are things now that we never heard of in our day. It's a whole new world.
Currie: When you would write a story, would you type it?
Eads: I never thought about it. It never occurred to me how I typed; it was just getting the story down, getting it out, getting it to the city desk, and having it put in the paper. It's the same way as when I went out on a story. All I would do is run out of the building and grab a cab. My boss said I had taxi cab feet. He even said that in Washington.
Currie: Taxi cab feet? What does that mean?
Eads: That I'd rather take a taxi cab than walk or get there any other way.
Currie: There's actually a funny story in a clip that you gave me to read, about one of the stories that you covered. You were only at the AP for about a year or so in New York. You covered the Bruno Hauptman trial.
Eads: Yes, the end of the trial. That was after I came back from Paris.
Currie: So that was much later. We'll get to that. We're still in the early thirties in New York. In 1931 you married Seymour Berkson. So you spent about a year at the AP in New York?
Eads: The first time in New York, yes.
Currie: And you did general-assignment reporting?
Eads: Yes. For instance, I covered when [Thomas A.] Edison died, the death watch in New Jersey.
Currie: What was that like?
Eads: You see, he lived in New Jersey, and he was dying. All the news press sent a representative there, and we stayed in his garage on the estate. The doctors would come out and give us a report every so often. I did this for the AP until they finally found out I was the only woman doing it, and they called me in and sent a man instead. That's the only time I can remember, and I didn't mind it at all because I didn't particularly like being out there. I didn't spend the night out there, or anything, but I spent all the time in that garage. I learned how to play poker and to drink applejack.
Currie: What's applejack?
Eads: You don't know what applejack is? Well, during Prohibition, it was like a brandy made from apples. A lot of people were drinking applejack because it wasn't difficult to get.
Currie: So a lot of it was waiting?
Eads: Oh, yes, that's all we did practically. Maybe at 6:00 in the evening they'd come with a medical report, a briefing, or whatever you call it. Then at 8:00 or at 10:00 in the morning. I went back to the office and they sent a man out. Edison died after that. I wasn't there for the death. But I wrote a big story about his wife, his widow.
Currie: So they made a press room in his garage. How would you call in to the AP?
Eads: We'd call in.
Currie: Did they say why they replaced you with a man?
Eads: No, but I got wind of it afterwards. I wasn't unhappy about it. I think they made it sort of clear. You know, just sitting around day in and day out with all those men, there were other considerations, too, like the john and stuff like that.
Currie: So they thought it was hard on you to be out there with all those men?
Eads: I think they thought that more than anything. Just altogether, I don't think they made a big issue of male against female; they just thought maybe it would be better. That's all I can remember about it. It wasn't a big thing in my life at all. I barely remember it.
One time I went to see Theodore Dreiser. He had an apartment on East Central Park. It was near Central Park, anyway, a big building. It was his birthday, some birthday. I went up in the elevator, and a girl came to the door, a fairly young person, and she said he wasn't seeing anybody. She didn't let me in. I saw some things on a shelf. Toys? I never got to talk to him, but I think it's sort of interesting that she did the talking. She was quite young. I think they were living together.
Currie: Did you ever find out who she was?
Eads: No. Anyway, I don't think we used the story.
Currie: What happened to make you leave the AP that first time?
Eads: I went to Rome, Italy.
Currie: For your husband's job?
Currie: How did you feel about going to Rome?
Eads: I couldn't wait! [Laughter.] I thought it was absolutely marvelous! I loved Rome almost more than anything. Oh, it was just beautiful and so interesting. I had a beautiful apartment that I picked out. We'd go out on our terrace and look out and see all seven hills of Rome. You know, the life and everything, it was just a fascinating city.
Currie: I like Rome myself.
Eads: I got there the eleventh year of fascism, and they were celebrating it with a parade. Because of my husband's job as chief of the bureau in Rome, we got a special invitation for a special seating place for this parade. King Emmanuel was there, and Mussolini, both. We'd been there hardly more than a week or two, and it was fascinating to me. It was near the Forum Romano, we called it, the ruins, you know. They came on motorcycles, one part of the parade. Carbinieri, they call them. They were in uniform and had hats that had big feathers. I remember thinking about how unusual this was for that century, as compared with the early days of the Roman conquerors and all, coming that way. You know, the gladiators and all. It was still a fascist country. The ordinary people were scared to death all the time of being punished if they said anything against Mussolini.
Currie: Did you meet Mussolini?
Eads: No, but I saw him many times. We also had a semi-private audience with the pope, and I had to wear a long dress with long sleeves, a veil over my head. There were only about five or six other people there. It was fascinating, interesting, in the Vatican.
Currie: So your husband was chief of the Hearst bureau in Rome. Did you continue writing once you got to Rome?
Eads: I didn't write in Rome at all. I had thought about it, and then I just didn't. There was one story I almost did write. At one of the big hotels there, I got to know a lot of the people, like the desk clerk and people like that. One time the clerk told me about
Lord Mountbatten and some woman, or it could have been Lady Mountbatten, but it was two very well-known Britishers who were not married, who met there, had a rendezvous around in the daytime, sort of. I thought that would be a real shocker, but I never reported it. I'm glad. It wasn't worth it.
Currie: What was your husband's responsibility, and how did your life fit into that?
Eads: We were invited to a lot of functions, and I was busy all the time. The wives of other newspapermen, we were together all the time. I had so much to see and do in Rome, the museums and various places, and I had a little dressmaker on the far end of town. It just was so wonderful to me to see the paintings of Michelangelo and hear the music in the churches. It was absolutely fabulous. The old buildings and the gardens and the people, everything was new. I liked the Italians very much. I had a hard time speaking Italian, but it wasn't so difficult to learn as French. Italians were all so patient.
There were all sorts of problems about tipping, when you'd take the carriage around, and when they'd take you to your destination. I remember giving a bunch of coins to some driver, and he just spat and threw them on the floor. I couldn't figure it out until they told me that all I'd given him were a bunch of pennies. I thought I was being very generous.
Currie: Did Hearst provide you with a place to live?
Eads: They paid our expenses. You see, this was during the Depression, too, so that was difficult. We couldn't spend the money we would have if it hadn't been the Depression. I mean, I could have gone out and shopped and bought a lot of things that I wanted. I did have a maid. She finally went nuts and they had to put her in an asylum. That wasn't because she was working for me, though.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Eads: I was very lucky in the help I got when I was in Europe, both there and in Paris. Wonderful cooks in both places, very special. The place I lived in Rome was the top of a private residence, right on the Spanish steps, La Scala d'Espagne. That's one of the top tourist spots in Italy, all of Italy. It was beautiful. I've got a painting out there. We could look out of one of our windows every morning and see people going down the steps from the top. We were up at the top of the Spanish steps to the right as you look, going this way. It was wonderful. You'd see women with the flowers in stalls. So many women sold their flowers down at the bottom. And you'd see priests of different nationalities, with different colored sashes, belts, and nuns, just tourists. It was a constant parade of humanity that was very interesting.
Currie: It was an interesting time to be there, too, because it was fascist. Did you have any feelings about them?
Eads: I didn't like them. I used to feel very badly about the people, how afraid they were. There was one thing that all women heard about and all looked forward to, and I believe it—they would say they didn't—but you'd have your fanny pinched in Rome and other places in Italy. It was a favorite custom. I'd been there several months and nobody had pinched my fanny, and I was very upset about it, until one time we went to sort of a fiesta. I don't know if it was Halloween or Easter or what. In an old marketplace in Rome, a lot of young people scurrying around in groups, it was just noisy and fun, and we were with two older people. All of a sudden, I let out a yell, and said, "They did it!" When anybody in a group like that would let out a yell, it scattered these kids, just went every direction, because they were afraid that they would be taken into custody, that somebody had yelled and there was trouble. It was very funny.
Currie: I think they still do do that.
Eads: Oh, sure, they do.
Currie: How long were you in Rome?
Eads: Over two years. Then we got a call one early morning from Hearst, transferring Seymour to Paris as chief of bureau.
Currie: Did they say why they were transferring him?
Eads: They said I should do a column for them. They would like it if I would do a column from Paris, and that's where all those columns came from.
Currie: Why did they transfer your husband?
Eads: It was a bigger job, and I think the one who had been there was sent back to the United States or something.
Currie: So it was a promotion?
Currie: And they also wanted you to do a column. What kind of column did they want you to do?
Eads: You saw. It all was a Paris date line. I would have several different stories about different people. All of them nearly were about Americans abroad. That was the idea of the column, about Americans abroad. Then at the end of every column, I used to write about the best-dressed American women in Paris.
Currie: I noticed that.
Eads: They all followed that pattern. Then during the boutique openings, I covered those.
Currie: The Paris fashion shows?
Eads: Yes. Hearst didn't want to give any promotional publicity to Paris. He had a thing about Paris. He had been angered because of something they did to one of his men one time. I think it was a correspondent or a bureau chief at one point, who had probably overstepped his bounds and made the French government furious, and they expelled him. I think that was it. Hearst swore many times that he would never set foot on French soil again. But along about this time, he was with a group of movie stars. He didn't have Marian Davies with him, but he had another group. I don't know whether he came to Paris or not, but he came to France. His group of friends came to Paris, however.
I kept talking about the fashions, and there were several people there from Hearst publications, like Harper's Bazaar and Vogue. I think at that time they were under Hearst. They argued that the fashions ought to be covered, because there was a lot of interest, a lot of American houses were buying French fashions. I got on their list, all the fashion houses, and I got invitations when the rest of the people did. I usually got a front seat at the openings. It was fun.
Currie: Did you have to learn to speak French?
Eads: No. No, I didn't have to learn to speak Italian either.
Currie: How did you get your stories?
Eads: Mostly in English. In Paris, people spoke English a lot. Especially in some of these fashion openings, they all had American press secretaries or their equivalent. No difficulty at all.
Currie: As you say, all your stories were about Americans in Paris.
Currie: How did you go about setting up so you could get all this information on people?
Eads: I would go to places like the Ritz bar, and people would tell me. I had different sources that I'd call. Sometimes I'd see a hint of something in one of the French papers. I didn't read French very well, but Seymour did. He didn't ever help me.
Currie: He didn't?
Eads: He had enough to do. He was very busy.
Currie: In looking at some of your clips, it seems like you also did some early stories on the Prince of Wales and Mrs. [Wallis Warfield] Simpson.
Eads: I didn't interview them. You know how news gets around. You don't have to talk to people. I verified everything. I don't know how I did that, but anyway, that was legitimate. Then, of course, there was a photographer who took that picture.
Currie: I remember you said to me that this may have been a scoop that you had about Mrs. Simpson.
Eads: A lot of papers in the United States, we always found out how our stories ran in the United States, and about other papers, too. Everybody talked about it. Everybody in Paris that I knew, knew about my column.
Currie: So the Prince of Wales and Mrs. Simpson, nobody knew about in the U.S. until you wrote this story?
Eads: I said I was one of the first to have it.
Currie: That's pretty good.
Eads: I think so. [Laughter.]
Currie: I'm impressed that you were able to move around so easily. How long did you live in Paris?
Eads: Only about two years or so. I got very ill in Paris. It was after I started that column. I had an infection of the kidneys, and I didn't realize. This was right after I had Barbara.
Currie: So you also had your child in Paris.
Eads: We had an American doctor, and at first we just thought it was a bad cold, you know, the flu or something, but it got worse and I was in bed for almost a month and a half or maybe two. I still tried to do my column when I was able to use a phone and stuff. I wasn't able to write it. So that set me back a little bit.
Currie: What was the most difficult thing about doing this column?
Eads: I don't think I ever had any real difficulty with it. Getting it out on time, it was cabled to the United States, to our office, once a week. I don't remember having any [difficulty].
Currie: You also had your daughter while you were in Paris doing the column.
Eads: I was pregnant most of the time, even when I went to the openings. I had a marvelous black coat that I had made by a tailor in Rome, and it had a cape like the Carbinieri soldiers wore. It was real wide, and I'd throw one side over my shoulder. Then it sort of covered me.
Currie: Was it unusual to see a pregnant woman reporter?
Eads: I don't know. There weren't a lot of women reporters in Paris, for one thing, but I didn't notice that. I didn't come into contact too much with that group because I was in a special office on the Rue de la Paix. I just worked out of the office. I used to go to different places with friends, like the Ritz bar was one of my favorite places, and that's where I got a lot of my material.
I was pretty sick for several weeks.
Currie: Was your illness before or after your daughter was born?
Eads: All this happened after my daughter was born. I had a German nurse who spoke French only, French and German, who came. I got her at the hospital. She came home with us and stayed, even came to America with us after we came back, and stayed with us until I got my divorce.
Currie: Yesterday you mentioned that when you had your daughter, you had a nurse and a maid. You said that made things easier.
Eads: Vastly easier. The maid did all the work and cooking. She was one of those super cooks. People just loved to have dinner at our house.
Currie: Do you think you would have been able to work if you hadn't had help?
Eads: Oh, yes. Sure. I didn't have any help for the rest of my life.
Currie: When you were in Paris, who were your friends?
Eads: Mostly wives of newspapermen or the newspapermen themselves. They were a great group of people. A lot of them you would probably recognize the names in the Press Club. I knew that we knew David Schoenbrun, who just died recently, but I don't know where we met him. That was quite a while ago, and there are so many people in life at various places. I didn't spend a lot of time in the bureau in Paris.
Currie: Your daughter was born in 1934.
Eads: I guess she wasn't but nine months old when we came back to the United States.
Currie: Why did you come back to the United States?
Eads: Because Seymour was transferred to the New York bureau. He later became publisher of the Journal American.
Universal merged with INS later, but not until after we came back. He was still with Universal Service.
Currie: So you would have come back about 1936 to New York.
Eads: Then we got a divorce along about that time, and I went to his boss, who was chief of the bureau then, and asked if I could get a job. He knew about our problem. I mean, he was a trifler himself.
Currie: I don't understand.
Eads: Seymour was—other women, mainly one. His boss also was a womanizer, and he said to me, "Oh, why don't you just skip it? When he comes home at night, just move over and say, 'Come on, come to bed.'"
I looked at him and said, "I can't do that. Maybe your wife can, but I can't." I said, "I want this job. I just can't live with that sort of thing."
So that was that. I got the job and a nice letter from him that I would be an asset to the bureau, and I was the only woman at Universal Service in Washington. That office, at that time, was in the building that had the Times Herald in it, and Cissy Patterson was publisher of it.
Currie: When you went to him and asked for the job, he gave you a job in Washington.
Currie: Did you want to go to Washington?
Eads: That's what I wanted.
Currie: So you got a divorce, and Seymour stayed in New York?
Eads: Yes. He was one of the big—
Currie: That's hard, getting a divorce, having a young daughter, moving to a new city.
Eads: I left Barbara there with a nurse. Then the nurse told me one time on the phone that Barbara's father had brought this other woman to the apartment on Easter or something. I thought, "To hell with that." So I made arrangements to have them come to Washington, the nurse and Barbara. So they came to Washington and stayed with me ever since. We got divorced shortly after that.
Currie: Why did you want to move to Washington?
Eads: I don't know. I didn't want to stay in New York. What else? [Laughter.] I didn't want to go to New Jersey or Boston. I just wanted to go where the big news was, and Washington at that time was one of the biggest news centers in the world. Still is.
Currie: You were the only woman in the bureau. What were you going to be covering?
Eads: The first thing I did was a series on women in politics. I interviewed all of them. There were only about five or six in Congress. Hattie Caraway, you saw that picture of me with her was one of them.
Currie: Senator from Arkansas.
Eads: There were several other areas to cover such as social news, which was always interesting because you see everybody there. I mean, senators, Supreme Court [justices], diplomats. I covered one big funeral service in the House of Representatives. I've got a picture of me sitting up there in the press gallery.
Then Universal Service and INS merged. I don't know how long after that, maybe a couple of months or so. And Cissy had an office in this building, she was a prima donna and absolutely fabulous. She'd sweep in with long mink coats down to her ankles, give orders. One time she looked in the city room, spotted a guy sitting at a desk, and said, "I don't like him. Get rid of him." She didn't really know his work, I don't think, too well. Anyway, they did it; they got rid of him. [Tape interruption.]
Currie: You came down with Universal Service. That was Hearst. INS was totally separate?
Eads: INS was Hearst, too. It was afternoon newspapers. Universal was for morning newspapers.
Currie: So there were two news services.
Eads: All under Hearst, and usually in the same building.
Currie: Then they merged.
Eads: Yes. They each had different managing editors, or bosses.
Currie: How did you get involved with Cissy Patterson?
Eads: Our office was in that building, and she knew about this, of course. Anyway, she was very friendly with everybody, all the Hearst people.
Currie: She was very friendly with William Randolph Hearst, as I recall.
Eads: Yes. I don't know too much about that, but anyway, I think she called me in and said she could use me, she'd give me a job, not to worry. So I was glad, you know. I had a job there and I wanted to stay there.
Currie: So you lost your job on Universal Service as a result of the merger?
Eads: Quite a few people did, but nearly everyone got another job with some big outfit because it was a pretty special staff. Cissy said she was going to have me do clubs, and she said, "You won't like it, but they'll like you, the club will." Well, I did that for about a year and it was a tough job. You see, in Washington, all the national headquarters of all these clubs around the country, women's clubs, are in Washington. Like the DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution] and all the others. It was important. I mean, the clubs in Sunday papers would have two or three pages of news. I used to go down and make up the page, like the copy desk. I didn't write the heads for the articles, but I made up the page, I measured how much type and how long the story, and I'd draw sort of in, like that. I'd be there many, many mornings until 2:00 in the morning. There were other people who worked late, too. We'd go and have a drink at a bar, and then I'd go home in a cab. Usually not too happy about that; I was kind of afraid
sometimes at night, you know. Right at that time, I lived in another place in Washington on Kalorama Road in an apartment building. What is the big building on the corner of Kalorama and Connecticut?
Currie: There's one called the Dresden.
Eads: No, the Dresden was across the street. This was on the other side of the street. The Maret School, the French school, used to be next door to it. Down that street was the French Embassy. There was a little triangle out in front of it, where people waited for the bus, right by the bridge.
Currie: Yes, it's still there.
Eads: I used to be kind of scared.
Eads: There were purse-snatchers and all kinds of things happening, screams from adjacent Rock Creek Park, people in trouble, I guess.
Currie: My goodness! And you lived through Al Capone's Chicago!
Eads: Yes, but this bothered me more than anything.
Currie: How long did you stay at the Times Herald?
Eads: I did all sorts of things there, too. I did some fashion for Cissy, and then I just became fed up with that sort of a job, and I wanted to go to New York. I had always wanted to go to New York. I met, through some friends, a man who worked for J. Walter Thompson. I guess they arranged for me to have a date with him or something. I kept telling him what I wanted.
There was an opening in the publicity department of J. Walter Thompson, and I got that job. The account that I had was Life Insurance of America, the top life insurance company. You know, J. Walter Thompson was one of the biggest advertising agencies. It was on 42nd and Second Avenue in New York. I moved, finally, to Bronxville, New York, and I had a lovely apartment out there. I got Barbara into a public school.
By then I had a housekeeper, an old-maidish type, who neither swore nor drank and I think didn't approve, particularly, of me, but she loved Barbara and was so good to her. She stayed with me until Barbara left to go to school. She did the housekeeping and everything. So I had her. Before her, I had a group of different kinds of maids and nurses to take care of Barbara, and I worried all the time I was working, about getting home and leaving her with somebody I didn't know.
But then I'd been in New York with J. Walter Thompson and I arranged fashion presentations to go with publicity. It was the New York Dress Institute.
Currie: So you worked for the life insurance company and the Dress Institute?
Eads: I finally got out of the life insurance to the other job, when the other contract showed up, when they wanted publicity. They went to J. Walter Thompson and got it. They put me on this writing publicity, just to go around to different dress-making houses and getting photographs of different dresses with different models. I didn't like working at J. Walter Thompson because I couldn't wear my hat in the office.
Currie: I noticed that in a clip. When did you start wearing hats?
Eads: I don't know. I wore them in Washington. I don't know. I don't remember when.
Currie: But it became your trademark to have a hat on all the time?
Eads: I wouldn't say that, but that's what they make of it.
Currie: That's what they say in the clips about you.
Currie: But you wouldn't say that?
Eads: No. I'd make my own hats sometimes, too.
Currie: Why wouldn't they let you wear hats?
Eads: They didn't let any women wear hats, or men, in the office. It was in the office. My boss was a real old fuss-budget, and he loved writing about the New York horse show. He liked social events. He had other accounts, too. Real fussy about my copy. I'd have to go over whether this verb was the right one.
Anyway, then along came Pearl Harbor, and everybody in the office had to go—see, I wasn't a crack advertising expert; I was publicity. I was fairly new at J. Walter Thompson. But anyway, everybody went into this auditorium to hear [Franklin D.] Roosevelt declare war. Then I made up my mind, "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going back to Washington if they'll take me." And as soon as I could, I went downstairs at Grand Central Station—our office was over that—to a telephone booth and called the AP in Washington and talked to them. Then I wrote to them and I finally got a job.
Currie: So you wanted to be back where the action was going to be?
Eads: I had worked for AP before. They don't ordinarily take anybody back who ever quit.
Currie: Oh, really?
Eads: Well, it used to be the talk—I don't know how they are now.
Currie: That's interesting, that if someone quit, they wouldn't take you back.
Eads: Well, they didn't in those days. Anyway, they took me.
Anyway, I didn't know the person I called about the job. I did know one of the other top men on the AP. I didn't know him too well, but he was one of the top, most popular and favorite. He died several years after that.
Currie: Do you remember who that was?
Eads: Byron Price. Anyway, I went to work for the AP.
Currie: It was a switch for you to go into publicity from being a reporter.
Currie: How was it different working as a reporter and working in publicity?
Eads: Because I was trying to promote a certain product, like a dress or a house, designers' clothes. I did like fashions, you know. I told you that. That always appealed to me, but getting a photographer and setting, standing around waiting for the model to get ready to pose, and then getting this little story captioned under the picture, okayed, and all that stuff, it was a bore, and it wasn't worth it. It went to a lot of papers, but that had no byline on it or anything. They were getting credit for this; it was like another job.
Currie: Did it pay better than the newspaper?
Eads: Yes, I got a little more, but not much. What I did was have fun doing was going out to lunch and being able to go to Saks Fifth Avenue and shop around. They gave me a secretary, and that's a story. That's a real good story. That's how I met Griff [Griffing Bancroft], partly.
Currie: Oh, wonderful!
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Currie: Right before I turned on the tape, you were saying that you had remembered that you covered the Roosevelts earlier in Washington, the first time, and you had one specific memory.
Eads: It was his second inaugural. As all inaugurals, it was held on Capitol Hill. I went up there, and I went in the Capitol Building. Nowadays you have to have passes and some kind of entre to get in, and especially you don't get up in the Capitol, up where they sat, in the top where you could look out in the balcony, where you could look out over the steps and the crowds. I found myself there, right behind the family, with a few other reporters, not many. I remember a couple, these women, one was a woman reporter from the [Washington] Times Herald, Cissy's paper. It was kind of interesting to be that close, and you could see everything and practically touch them. I just wanted to mention that because that never happened again.
Currie: You never got that close to the Roosevelts again?
Eads: Yes, in other ways, but I hadn't been in Washington very long when this happened, and then I went to the White House that afternoon. She [Eleanor Roosevelt] had a reception for the wives of congressmen and so forth. I remember how lovely she looked. She wasn't a beautiful woman, but her personality came out. I got to thinking that she was quite a lovely person. There was a ball, I think, that night. It's hard to remember that far back, but I remember at this reception it was mostly for women, and it was that same day of the inaugural. I think there was something big that night. I guess it was the inaugural ball or something, because it was a long day. I covered that part of it, the family and so forth, that whole day. I don't remember too much.
Where I got a little confused, you see, the war in Europe had started before we got into it, and there was a lot of thinking about it in Washington and other places, of course. I came back to Washington for the Associated Press then, you see. That's when I covered Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences.
Currie: That's when you came back, after Pearl Harbor, that you covered her press conferences.
Eads: Yes. I came back and worked for Associated Press when the war broke out.
Currie: That was after your stint with J. Walter Thompson.
Currie: You did some coverage of the Bruno Hauptman trial.*
Eads: That was right after we got back from Paris, and we were going through this process. We hadn't really gotten a divorce yet. We were talking about it. We weren't on the best of terms, but we were still living in the same apartment. Then I went to Trenton, New Jersey. Hauptman got a reprieve. I don't think you remember that. He was sentenced, and then he got a reprieve, and that's when I was there. There were a lot of reporters there. Damon Runyon was one. I remember one night there was only another woman there that I saw, and I didn't go into the courtroom, but the word came out. I was with Mrs. Hauptman. I'd interviewed her before that a couple of times, because she was in the same hotel we were. She was waiting for her son, a little boy. I didn't see him. She was very happy and cried a lot, too, when they got the reprieve, but it didn't hold up. He finally was sentenced.
Currie: Was this a re-trial that you were covering?
Eads: I don't remember. I was only there less than a week.
Currie: There's a funny story in one article that you gave me to read. I guess you covered that for Universal Service. There's a funny story in one profile of you about how whoever assigned you to this story said, "Follow Jafsie." Who's Jafsie?
Eads: There were many characters in the kidnapping story, and there were a number of people who offered to pay the ransom. He was one of them. Nobody could figure out exactly why he wanted to pay the ransom, except maybe publicity or something. He lived in the Bronx or someplace outside of New York, or Brooklyn. Reporters around the clock were watching that house where he lived. He lived alone, but he had a great big guard with him who drove a car. It was a young man, sort of a personal guard, because I guess there were threats and everything. He was very irrational. He would open the upper-story window of his house and do something with a flag, a white flag or something. Then once in a while he'd get in a car and drive off someplace with this man.
When they sent me on the story, they said, "Follow him." Well, if you're covering a person in any capacity in a news story, you stick with them, wherever they go. I didn't know many of these other reporters. They were sitting on the curbstone out there. They had their own cars, a number of them, but they didn't invite me to come with them when they started following him. There was a cab somewhere near, and I grabbed the cab. I said to him to follow him. I didn't want to go alone, so there was some young photographer, or he might have been a reporter, but not with any big paper, and he went with me. He had nothing to do, and he didn't take any notes. But we followed Jafsie, and every once in a while, and once or twice he got out of the car and we'd start following him, and it would be nature calling. [Laughter.] Then this guy would turn around to lose us. We went through a little town, and I think we got up as far as Connecticut. He went through a stop light, and we went through, too, and we got stopped.
I called the office. I got out of the car, called the office, and AP sent a bulletin to all newspapers. I said, "Jafsie didn't get arrested, I did!" We didn't really get arrested, but we were admonished.
Anyway, we got up as far as Connecticut. That's quite a distance for an assignment.
Currie: In a taxi, too!
* Bruno Hauptman was accused of kidnapping the son of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Eads: Yes. I had an expense account. So when I got back, they laughed. We got the expense account money, and my particular boss, my city editor, was a wonderful guy.
Currie: Who was your city editor?
Eads: Bill Chaplin was one of them. He okayed the expense account. We got the money and we went out and spent it on cocktails.
Currie: You and the photographer?
Eads: There were several of us. We gathered up several other people who wanted to get in on it. Of course, I think it came out of my money, anyway, in the end.
Currie: What kind of bulletin did they put out over the AP wire?
Eads: They do that all the time. That's a common practice, whenever there's a development in any big story.
Currie: They put a bulletin saying what?
Eads: Jafsie was the leading character at that moment in the Lindbergh kidnapping story. They hadn't found the kidnapper yet. They didn't have Bruno Hauptman.
Currie: This is before they captured Bruno Hauptman.
Eads: Oh, yes. This was before they had any suspect, really.
Currie: I see. So they put out a bulletin saying he was in Connecticut?
Eads: I don't know what they said. They just said that he was arrested.
Currie: So they got it wrong; they said that Jafsie was arrested.
Eads: Yes. They were talking about it on the phone. They said, "We've just put out a bulletin."
I said, "Oh, my God! Jafsie wasn't arrested; I was!" So they had to send another bulletin out to the newspapers all over the country, telling them it was a mistake.
Currie: That's funny. Did you stick with Jafsie for the duration?
Eads: No, I think he faded out of the picture. I don't know exactly what did happen to him. I think they found out he didn't really have anything to do with paying the ransom or anything. But I think even Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean offered to pay part of the ransom, or the whole ransom. Some very wealthy person in Washington also. There are all kinds of people, a lot of crazies that got mixed up in this story, and suspects. They were frantic, trying to find out, or to even find the child alive.
Currie: On a story like that, what would newspapers do? Would they try to find suspects, too?
Eads: Imagine the story. If I had gone out and gotten the kidnapper, my God! All over the world! But I don't know whether they did or not. They had a lot of reporters on that story covering all kinds of angles on it. There were many different angles on the story.
Currie: Then you covered the later re-trial?
Eads: Maybe it tells in that story.
Currie: This must have been the big story of the day.
Eads: It was the Lindbergh kidnapping. It wasn't the Hauptman story; it was the Lindbergh kidnapping. Hauptman was the suspect. They had other suspects, too, but they weren't taken into custody. I don't know who they were. They were desperately trying to find the child alive. You see, I was gone in Europe. This was two years after the kidnapping. Jafsie was right at the time of the kidnapping, before the child was found.
I worked on the Lindbergh kidnapping before I went to Europe. I went to Europe, and I didn't come back for a couple of years. When I came back, they had finally found the body of the little boy. This was Hauptman. They got him and found proof that he was the kidnapper. A lot of people still don't agree that he did it. They think he might have not.
Currie: What do you think?
Eads: I think he did it. Of course, you never know.
Currie: What did you think when you interviewed his wife?
Eads: I sympathized with her. Her theory was that this little child had the name of his father. She wanted to change his name so he wouldn't be known as "that little boy." I don't know what's happened to him. He probably did change his name, because I've never heard anything. That was just a couple of weeks, and then I left and went to Washington.
Currie: It was an exciting couple of weeks.
Currie: You said there was only one other woman who covered that during that couple of weeks.
Eads: No, I didn't cover Hauptman in a couple of weeks. I was only there for about three days for that hearing. It was really a hearing. He got a reprieve of several days, like today murderers get reprieves. He got a reprieve, and that's all that was. That was not immediately connected with the kidnapping.
Currie: The kidnapping occurred earlier, but then you came back later.
Eads: The kidnapping came before I went to Europe. Then I came back and I was in New York for a few months, almost a year, I think, before I went to Washington. I went to Washington two different times, and that's what's confusing for you.
Currie: You went to Washington after you came back from Europe, and you stayed there working for the Hearst Service and for Cissy Patterson. Then you went back to New York to work for J. Walter Thompson. Then in 1941, you went back to Washington after Pearl Harbor.
Eads: Yes. We've got that straight.
Currie: When you lived in Paris, where did you actually live?
Eads: I lived in the most wonderful place you can imagine. It's hard to describe this area. It was in a beautiful house, it had a courtyard, and there were a lot of apartments that had been made out of old houses that were all together there. The apartment we had was on the second
floor, and it was one of the most beautiful homes I've ever been in. It was all furnished by a man and his wife who were Americans and had been head of the Paris bureau of their American magazine in New York. It was like Good Housekeeping or something like that. They had this apartment which, as you came in, had a foyer. Everything was beautiful—you know, collectors' pieces of china and stuff. Then it had quite a large room as a dining room, all of her china and things. Beyond that was a very formal sitting room with French furniture and a baby grand piano. I hardly ever used that room because it was too formal, but there was another room that was a very large room and all had high ceilings. This room had books from the floor to the ceiling, and musical records and comfortable chairs and a fireplace. I just loved that. Then we had a fairly large bedroom, one bathroom, and that was it. We didn't have a guest room.
Currie: Did Hearst pick up the tab for this?
Eads: I don't know. I think Seymour took care of all that. We got a fairly decent salary, but not comparable to what people are getting now by any means. But you see, it was the Depression years. We had a concierge, who would let us in at night and lock the doors downstairs to this courtyard where our apartment was. This is where I got this wonderful maid. One day I was sitting near the dining room. I looked out across this foyer and this kitchen, which I never went into. [Laughter.] This woman was sitting there, and I thought, "What is she doing in my kitchen?" I finally went out and asked her. It turned out that she had been the maid for the people who had been there before, who had gone back to the States and just rented their apartment. Because of the Depression, they didn't have enough money to stay there.
The same thing happened in Rome. The apartment I got in Rome was the apartment of an American woman, with all of her things in it, her furniture, all antiques.
These were Americans who were caught over there during the Depression. Hearst went on paying our salaries, but a lot of publications and businesses didn't pay their employees who lived in Europe. They went home.
Currie: They had to leave behind a lot of the—
Eads: They just left it rented. So I got this maid named Stephanie. She was a Czechoslovakian, and she spoke English, sort of. I say "sort of"—well enough. She is the one I said was the most wonderful cook I ever had.
Currie: I would be happy to have any kind of cook.
Eads: I was happy to have her, because she was just wonderful. I don't know why I get off the subject this way, but the evening before I had Barbara, which was in the morning, Seymour had to work, and he had an English journalist in the office with him. They were going through some business project, and he wasn't going to come home until kind of late. So Stephanie had some pot au feu or something on the stove for dinner when he came home.
In the meantime, I was sitting at the table in the kitchen, taking seeds out of raisins. [Laughter.]
Currie: You didn't like the seeds in the raisins?
Eads: I was going to make an American fruitcake, and I had everything. It was difficult to get things like that for your fruitcakes over there. So I had this all spread out and was doing all these things, a little weary, and it got to be late. Finally, Seymour came home and I put some food on the table. The journalist came in, too, from London. We had drinks. I remember I said, "Don't give me very much, because I feel sort of—" We went to bed, finally, and I woke up having pains.
I said to Seymour, "Maybe we ought to call our doctor, because I'm having these terrible pains. I've got some kind of indigestion of some kind." He called the doctor and told him. I remember he had to go down the hall—this was a different apartment than the first one—down the hall to get the telephone book. The Paris telephone book was like this [Indicates thickness.], the biggest telephone book I ever saw. He came down the hall with it and looked up the doctor's telephone number at home. He called him and told him that Mrs. Berkson had all these pains and thought that she had bad indigestion.
The doctor just said, "Get to the hospital as fast as you can." [Laughter.] Then I had the baby. I didn't know what to take to the hospital, and I'd been getting things, you know. I got a beautiful satin bedjacket with maribou and nightgowns, beautiful things to take to have the baby. I was so flustered about getting ready to get to the hospital, I looked in the drawer and I grabbed a pair of earrings, and I think something to put on my hair.
Anyway, I got to the hospital, and all the way up the Champs Elysées in the cab, every once in a while I didn't feel any pain, and I'd say, "I think we'd better go back. I think it was just a false alarm." And BANG! It kept up. I had the baby the next morning.
Currie: I guess since you didn't have any experience with having children, that's not surprising. That's funny. So you had her in a French hospital?
Eads: No, an American hospital. It was in Neuilly. That's where the races are, I think, too.
Currie: When you were living in Paris was the time when a lot of American expatriates were there. Did you know any of them?
Eads: It was during the Depression. There were a lot of Americans there, and there was an American women's club. We had a lot of friends in Paris, but Seymour tended to be mostly with the French, because that's what he was trying to do.
Currie: He tried to meet French people?
Eads: His business was partly connected with that, politics and everything.
Currie: At that time, I understand that William Randolph Hearst was pretty isolationist.
Eads: He didn't love France at all.
Currie: Politically he didn't want America to get into any kind of European war.
Eads: No. I don't know too much about that.
Currie: Was Ernest Hemingway in Paris around that time?
Eads: No, he wasn't. But we went to all the places where the writers always hung out, and artists. It was really a wonderful place to be, I think, only I didn't like it as well as I did Rome by any means.
Currie: After you got your divorce, did you have to support your daughter by yourself?
Eads: No, but I got child support. I didn't get any alimony.
Currie: Was that a decision that you made?
Eads: Mainly Seymour made it, because he said if I got a divorce and if I got married again, then I would not necessarily have support for my daughter. You see? He had to maintain the support, even if I got married again, which was a smart move, but at times I was very annoyed about it. But he provided very well for Barbara. I was her legal guardian, and every time I'd get money for her schooling or camp or anything, I had to go through the courts to get it. I didn't have a real problem with it, but it was a big headache.
Currie: Did you have to go back to work?
Eads: Well, more or less, yes.
Currie: So it wasn't an option to not work.
Eads: No option. I wanted to.
Currie: Did you know many other women reporters who had children?
Eads: Yes, but some were divorced, and I knew several women in Washington who were divorced and had children. We'd get together and talk about our children and what we wanted to do for them. There was one woman who was from Chicago, and I think she was a very bright woman. I wasn't real close to her from school or anything else, but she had a little boy. Her little boy went to the same French school right next door, Maret School, that Barbara did. It was kindergarten only. This woman's little boy went there, and we got to talking. We decided they should learn how to be a little more sophisticated, and she and I decided we'd take them to a very fancy restaurant for lunch on Sunday. We took them, thinking that they'd pick up a few ideas. But instead of that, they got under the table, and they kept chasing each other around on the floor. [Laughter.] She and I were really baffled by that. I liked her very much, because she had really great ideas about things, but we never did get very far with our children.
Currie: Do you remember what her name was?
Eads: No. She had a husband in Chicago, too. I don't think they were divorced; I think she was just working in Washington for a certain length of time.
Currie: How did most women reporters that you knew who had children, manage having a job and having children?
Eads: They did more or less the same thing that I did. They would get somebody to stay with their child or put them in boarding school.
Currie: Pretty much what we do now, I guess.
Eads: The same thing. Sometimes I think they probably managed better than they do now.
Currie: In what way?
Eads: I don't know, but I didn't ever hear much of any big problems that they had.
Currie: Nobody ever complained about it?
Eads: I don't know any women who don't complain sometime in their life about their maids, or nursemaids, or babysitters. It's just normal.
Currie: That's true. Earlier you said that one of the things J. Walter Thompson had done for you was give you a secretary, and through the secretary you met Griff. Do you want to tell me about that?
Eads: This is after I was in Washington. I had several people that wanted to take me out and things like that, and I went. But one day a girl called me on the phone and said, "This is Thelma." Thelma Martin was her name. She said, "But my name isn't Martin anymore; it's Denlinger. I'm married to a man named Denlinger."
I said, "You have to be kidding!" She was married to one of my very best friends in New York, a newspaperman. She had joined the WACS when the war broke out. She was very funny, sort of old-maidish, kind of good looking and not old at all, but her hair was always stringing around, her petticoat showed, and she was still the secretary to my boss, and was supposed to be my secretary. I never dictated a word to her. All I ever did with her was get her to take a hat back to Saks Fifth Avenue or go out and have lunch with me. So we got to be real friends that way. She said, "Why don't we have lunch?" We had lunch at the Press Club, she and Speed, her husband.
Currie: The National Press Club in Washington?
Eads: Yes. We had such a good time, talking over old times, and she said, "Why don't we get together this evening around 5:30 or 6:00? Why don't you come to where I'm staying. My former boss said we could stay in his apartment in Washington. Why don't you come up? He's a nice guy. Come on up and we'll have drinks at the apartment." So that's what I did. She was telling me about him and said he was sort of quiet and very smart and all that. The doorbell rang. I went to the door, and it was Griff. He was her boss in Africa.
Currie: What was he doing in Africa?
Eads: He was head of the psychological warfare branch, and that's what he got the Medal of Freedom for. He was one of the first to get a Medal of Freedom. It's the highest civilian honor that this country gives. He got that. I've got a picture of him accepting it from an officer.
So he took me home. It was love at first sight. [Laughter.] We went together for several years. He had been married to a very nice girl. She was living in California then. They had been sort of separated mostly, for quite a while. She didn't want a divorce. They finally got a divorce.
Currie: What year did you marry Griff?
Eads: I think it was about 1948 or '49.
Currie: You went together for a number of years.
Eads: Oh, yes.
Currie: Then Griff went on to work for CBS?
Eads: When he first came back, I've forgotten. He had just gotten back from Africa. This was during the war; it was still on. Then he worked for the Chicago Sun in the Washington bureau.
Currie: That was after the war? The war ended in 1945.
Eads: It was before the war ended. Then he went to work for CBS Radio.
Currie: The two of you were covering Washington at the same time.
Eads: Different things. He mostly covered the Senate, at least in later times, and he had several programs of his own. He was a commentator.
Currie: Your beats were considerably different?
Eads: I would say so, yes.
Currie: Did you ever compete for the same story?
Eads: No. He covered the Hill, Congress, things like that. At that time I was just covering the waterfront. I made my own assignments at that time, when I was doing the column. I thought about where I wanted to go every day, and to whom I was going to talk. For quite a while, they wanted me to think of picture possibilities, which was a little rough. I mean, not only to think of the story, but the pictures. I complained about that, sort of, but they finally decided against it anyway.
Currie: How many times a week did you have to write a column?
Eads: It was about every day, except Saturday and Sunday. It was a daily column.
Currie: You could write anything you wanted, but it was generally about Washington?
Eads: Yes, or it would be of some dignitary who came to Washington. I could write it when I wanted to. When I first went to Washington, there were only about six of us writing long special features. We were special writers, which I thought was kind of good. One other woman, Sigrid Arne. She covered the State Department, mostly, for quite a while. One story I wrote was about displaced persons in Europe. That was the type of thing. Then later I did a series on women in the various branches of the armed services. I went to Pensacola, to the WAVES.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Currie: Did Beth Campbell work at the AP?
Currie: She must have come while you were there.
Eads: She did. She was in Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences.
Currie: I think Beth Campbell had known Sigrid Arne on another paper where she worked.
Eads: They knew each other on the AP. They both worked with AP.
Currie: I think they knew each other earlier, too.
Eads: Beth was quite a bit younger and newer. She came after we'd been there.
Currie: So you were what they called a special writer.
Eads: Just that time after the war, for a while. Then they had me working in the features department, which is separate, right there with the AP. Spot news stories. I was doing special features, and a lot of those clippings show that's what they were.
Currie: When you worked at the AP, you were what they called a special writer.
Eads: That particular time. When I worked for AP in New York, I was just regular news and interviews.
Currie: But in Washington, they called you a special writer.
Eads: When I first came, they had six of us. We sat in a special section. We all were working very hard and doing these stories. They were mainly for Sunday newspapers, because they were quite long stories. We had pretty good play in the newspapers. The men were all special writers. One was a science writer. I think Sigrid was doing mostly State Department. That didn't last forever. We all were very busy. We were doing practically the same thing. The features would go out any time. It's hard for me to explain this to you, because it was difficult for me to understand it then. It's not important, anyway.
Currie: But it was interesting to me that they had different kinds of writers. I was just trying to determine the different writers and what those writers covered, because it's good to know how it was organized.
Eads: You have to know that the AP had different reporters for each state. In that Washington bureau, there were these reporters that covered only the newspapers in Alabama or Wisconsin, and they did spot news, regular news that had some bearing on that state or somebody from the state. They'd write a story and it went over a wire service to these different states. They had wire editors in each paper, too. That was a different group. Then they had the Latin American desk, the Canadian desk, and they had the European desk, but that was mostly under the foreign desk. Then they had the feature department and the sports department. I don't remember hearing much about sports news from Washington. In New York they had a sports department. And they had the White House staff and a very good photographic department.
Currie: You worked in the feature department?
Currie: Maybe that's a good place to stop.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Currie: I was thinking that perhaps today we could start with some of Eleanor Roosevelt's press conferences which you covered when you went back to Washington in 1941 for the AP.
Eads: I thought it was 1936. I'm a little confused about the two times I was in Washington. It makes it kind of confusing.
Currie: The last time we talked, you mentioned Mrs. Roosevelt.
Eads: I don't have many clippings about that at all.
Currie: Do you recall, for example, the first time you ever went to the White House?
Eads: Yes, I now remember it was 1936 when President Roosevelt had a press conference in the Oval Office.
Currie: What's your understanding about why Mrs. Roosevelt started those press conferences?
Eads: She had so many activities and questions about what her plans were for the day or the week. She had a regular secretary, Malvina Thompson, and she also had a social secretary, Mrs. James [Edith] Helm. I've forgotten her name. There were about eight or ten, maybe twelve newspaperwomen who were signed up to come. I think it was announced to the papers, and there were about eight or twelve. We all had entrée to the White House through the press acknowledgment for the gate and the chief usher.
When we got to the White House, the chief usher took us to the Green Room, which is the drawing room right next to the East Room of the White House. We would go in there, and they'd pull this velvet rope across, because a lot of tourists were going through all day long and they'd go to the East Room. They'd see us behind this rope, and they always wondered what was going on and who we were. After a little while, the usher would come and say, "Mrs. Roosevelt will see you." He'd take the rope down, and then we would start up the stairs to the second floor of the White House, the family living quarters.
We went to a small room called the Monroe Room, which is a beautiful, small room. We all were seated around there on settees, antique furniture. There was a settee facing the newspaperwomen, and Mrs. Roosevelt would sit there with Malvina Thompson and Mrs. Helm. We'd start out with a little pleasantry. Then Malvina would read off the list of Mrs. Roosevelt's daily [agenda], that she would see the Girl Scouts at 10:00, somebody else all through the day, or she would go out to some community development of some kind.
Then after that, Mrs. Helm would give her social engagements, like she was having tea for the DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution] that afternoon. Then after that, Mrs. Roosevelt herself was open to questions. She got a few questions that she didn't think proper, and she didn't like questions about her children. "Why is Franklin, Jr. getting a divorce?" or Eliot?
Both of them got a divorce. And why this and why that about the sons. She said, "You must ask them. That's their life." So we had enough of that.
The group grew larger as time went on and more newspapers hired women. Male journalists were not admitted. Quite often she would go to look over some new development—Greenbelt, for example, a model agricultural station, where people lived. It was there we went one day in several cars. We got out and Eleanor was leading the pack. I mean, the newspaperwomen were following. She would come to a fence and she'd just do like this, sort of jump over it. Some others did that, too, but some of the girls, I remember climbing over. It was very interesting. We went all through the buildings and found out about the project.
There would be things going on at the White House that we were invited to, receptions and parties for the media only. It wasn't a part of her press conferences.
When Franklin died, she said she would see the members of the press at a certain time, so we all went. It was very sad. We went to the Green Room, down that end of the hall. The formal dining room, where all the big dinners are held, was where she was waiting, far down at the end of the hall. I think Malvina [Thompson] was with her. When we started down there to see her, a couple of the girls ran and put their arms around her, and that sort of thing. She held herself aloof, and I think she didn't think too much of that. She appreciated their affection, however, I'm sure.
I asked her where the boys were stationed at that time. It was during the war. She gave an answer as far as she knew. She said that they could have come home for the funeral, but they chose not to leave their service, because other servicemen had deaths in their family and she said, "I think it was a wise decision." So they didn't come. Maybe John, one of them, was here.
Then I remember standing down by the gate of the White House and seeing the limousine go out the last time with Mrs. Roosevelt and some other people, and I think James or one of the sons was with her. I think it was probably James; he was the eldest son. That's the last I saw of them.
Currie: That's the last time you saw Mrs. Roosevelt?
Eads: I saw her in other capacities, not as first lady.
Currie: So at first there were only about a dozen women who went to her press conferences?
Eads: Not many more than that. Two or three of them were from local papers, like the Star and the Post.
Currie: How did you get the assignment to cover her press conferences?
Eads: I don't know. I was doing women's assignments, and there were quite a few women's activities. I can't remember who all was on the regular news.
Currie: Was there a group called the Eleanor Roosevelt Press Conference Association?
Eads: No, they didn't organize an association.
Currie: When Mrs. Roosevelt would be asked questions, how did she relate to the women reporters who covered her?
Eads: Just as anybody else. She would try to answer them. If they were a little out of line—once or twice, I think, one girl asked a question, said that her boss had asked her to ask,
and she was very embarrassed. I don't know what it was. It was about some government business or something. I think she refused to answer, because she said it wasn't in her bailiwick, anyway. She said she fully understood that they would be asked to ask her questions.
Currie: I understand sometimes she got questions and some of the reporters would say, "Oh, Mrs. Roosevelt, do you really want to answer that?" or, "Don't you want to make that off the record?"
Eads: I think they probably did. I think those press conferences went on after. I guess I was there all the time.
Currie: I know there are several stories about how Mrs. Roosevelt decided to hold the press conferences. What's your understanding of why she decided to hold them?
Eads: I think I explained to you a while ago that Malvina [Thompson], her secretary, and press people at the White House were getting questions from all these women about her activities in connection with women's interests. I think that she decided that this was the way, to answer them herself. I think that's the real reason.
Currie: Since you were a friend of Lorena Hickok's, I'll ask you this. Some people sometimes give her credit for putting the idea in Mrs. Roosevelt's mind.
Eads: Maybe so, but Lorena wasn't there most of that time.
Currie: So she never told you that she gave her the idea?
Currie: Other than being a woman, what would you have to do to cover Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences? I know that she didn't allow men in her press conferences. Could any woman reporter go in and cover her press conferences?
Eads: You had to have a special pass.
Currie: How did you get the special pass?
Eads: Through the various government agencies. I think it was the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] or one of those. A lot of reporters had to have passes to get in a lot of different buildings in Washington to interview people. We had to have special passes, some with a fingerprint and some with a photograph.
Currie: How did your editors feel about her press conferences?
Eads: They were interested. 1t was part of the picture, an important facet of news coverage in Washington, naturally, the first lady, who was as active as she was. Who wouldn't want to? She wasn't like Pat Nixon or Bess Truman by any means.
Currie: What were the differences?
Eads: They didn't want to talk to the press if they could help it.
Currie: It's interesting that you had said when we were off tape that your family were Republicans, but you're a New Deal Democrat. How did that happen? How did you become a New Deal Democrat?
Eads: It was during the Depression. We saw all the benefits that people in the country were getting from different legislative acts, and we're still benefiting from them, like Social Security. I mean, who wouldn't be interested in that? It just seemed like the people who really thought about humane ideas, progress, and so many things that are for the benefit of the people have to come through legislation, which has to be either initiated or approved by the White House, the Congress. I can say we just thought they were more interesting and nicer people. [Laughter.] That's not really true. There are an awful lot of nice Republicans.
Currie: During the time that you covered Eleanor Roosevelt, is there one time that you made a trip with her that stands out in your mind or one story that you covered?
Eads: The time we went up to Greenbelt was one. There were several others not too far away. Of course, at the wedding of Franklin, Jr., I rode up on the train with James Roosevelt and his wife. The rest of the family was already there in Delaware. But I wasn't really close to her. I mean, she was at the wedding ceremony in the church and afterwards the reception, to which I didn't go.
Currie: That's when he married Ethel DuPont?
Eads: Yes. It was a fabulous wedding. Did you ever hear of Ruby Black?
Eads: She was there. She had the room in the hotel next to me. I was up nearly all night writing that story. You have the front-page story. I was divorced from Seymour then, had been divorced for a couple of years, maybe a year. He was my boss in New York. He sent a wire and said, "Great story," you know. [Laughter.]
Currie: So your divorce didn't hinder your working relationship?
Eads: No, we were civil to each other.
Currie: What can you tell me about Ruby Black?
Eads: I think she covered the wedding for United Press. I'm not sure. She was an old-time reporter around Washington, and a good one. She worked for the Daily News in Washington, and she covered Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences. I don't know too much about her, except she was sort of a loner, but very good.
Currie: Why did you have to stay up all night to write the story about the wedding?
Eads: Because I was worried about it. It was the biggest story of the day! It was used in all the papers.
Currie: Why was the wedding such a big story?
Eads: It was the son of the president at the United States, and he was there, and the daughter of the richest man in the country, DuPont. It had all the elements, in those days, anyway, of interest to the general public.
Currie: Sort of a merger between politics and money?
Eads: Because of their prominence and their importance in the life of the country at that time.
Currie: Were there a lot of reporters who covered that wedding?
Eads: Yes, they had a pretty big crowd. They had representatives of papers in New York and Washington. I don't know where else.
Currie: You took the train from Washington to Delaware. Was there a special press train that went up?
Currie: You got there on your own?
Eads: Yes. I stayed in a hotel. I had my typewriter, and I wrote a long story before that, too, that they used. Both of them are in those clippings.
Currie: One other person has mentioned this wedding, so it must have been a big deal. It was probably logistically hard to cover, I would imagine.
Eads: I remember the woman from, I think, the New York Herald Tribune, maybe. They were regular in Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences.
Currie: Did they issue bulletins to tell you about the wedding? How did you get your information so you knew what to write?
Eads: Just normal channels. Not everything that went on in the White House, everybody knew. You knew what the children were doing, all about the receptions, dinners and guests. But I mean, anything that happened to that family was public property; everybody knew it, even if they tried to keep it—and a lot of white House occupants do. There was no need to send a bulletin on this story. I mean, Franklin had been courting Ethel DuPont, and the wedding was just like any normal wedding.
Currie: Maybe we could talk about the Women's National Press Club. You were a member.
Currie: When did you join the Women's National Press Club?
Eads: At the very beginning, not with the first group, but I hadn't been in Washington very long when they asked me to join. Then they had their first big formal dinner that year, and I asked Dorothy Kilgallen as my guest. I have a picture of the two of us, but I don't know where it is, taken at that dinner.
Currie: Had you known Dorothy Kilgallen?
Eads: Yes, I knew her in New York. I knew her father real well.
Currie: Who was her father?
Eads: Jimmy Kilgallen. James Kilgallen. He was a newspaperman on the Hearst wire service. Both of them became famous.
Currie: She was a columnist at that time and very well known.
Currie: Was the Women's National Press Club the first press club you joined, or had you been a member of any other press club?
Eads: No, it was the first one that I know of, except the American Newspaperwomen's Club, which I also joined later. That was more working newspaperwomen. The American Newspaperwomen's Club was more social. They tended to invite congressmen and senators' wives and that sort of thing, as well as newspaperwomen.
Currie: Had you belonged to any other organizations before the Women's National Press Club?
Eads: There weren't many I joined. The Newspaper Guild and the Fashion Group in New York, earlier.
Currie: That's interesting.
Eads: I don't remember any other.
Currie: You decided to join the Women's National Press Club because you were invited to join?
Currie: Do you remember who invited you?
Currie: Did you think it would be helpful to your career?
Eads: Yes. Most of my friends were joining. It was a group that formed this club.
Currie: So you think most of the newspaperwomen in Washington joined?
Eads: I'm sure they wanted to. Whether they did or not, I'm sure they must have wanted to.
Currie: What kinds of things did the Women's National Press Club do?
Eads: They'd have lunches and dinners, and had prominent speakers. They had an annual dinner which was fun. They invited all the big-wigs in Washington to their dinner.
Currie: What was the annual dinner like?
Eads: It was just like the Gridiron or the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where they had the president [of the United States]. We used to have the first lady, whatever dinner it was. They put on skits. It was not quite as exclusive as Gridiron.
Currie: From the National Press Club archives, I have a picture of you in a skit at something they used to call a stunt party. Was that the annual dinner?
Eads: That's what they called it. This goes way back. That's not just the Press Club. I think other clubs had stunt parties.
Currie: Let me show you a picture of yourself in a chorus line.
Eads: I think I've showed it to you. With a big hat? That was a skit that we put on. Yes, that's it. Esther Tufty is in there.
Currie: She's playing Franklin Roosevelt there.
Eads: That may have been at another party. The names of the people are in here.
Currie: [Reads from clipping.] "While Mrs. Roosevelt watched, the most fetching members of the Women's National Press Club cavorted here in silk and cotton last night in a lampoon of the Japanese boycott. The party was held at the Willard. Left to right, showing hosiery, are Jane Green, Washington Post, Gladys Montgomery, freelance writer, Jane Eads, Washington Herald." So that's when you were working for Cissy Patterson.
Eads: That's right. Now that really gets you up. Then Helene Kravitz and Corinne Frasier, WPA writer.
Currie: Then the second picture is Hope [Ridings] Miller and Esther Tufty as Franklin Rooseve1t.
Eads: Hope was very pretty. She was such a pretty woman. This is interesting.
Currie: Did you ever help write some of the—
Currie: Was there a lot of competition to be in the skits?
Eads: I don't think so. I think they just picked the people they thought would be good, whoever was writing the script. When was this, I wonder?
Currie: This was 1939.
Eads: Esther Tufty, May Craig, Ruby Black. There I am. That's the boycott.
Currie: The Japanese boycott ballet. So this would be right before World War II, when you were in Washington the first time.
Eads: What's this?
Currie: That's a sketch of the costume that you were wearing.
Eads: [Laughter.] I don't want to look at any more. I think that's enough.
Currie: I thought that might jog your memory a little bit.
Eads: It's interesting. The Gridiron always had its big dinners in Washington and would invite other newspapermen and everybody that was important, including the president and first lady and Supreme Court justices and diplomats, and various other newspapermen. Griff was invited a number of times. Then the widows—they called themselves the Gridiron widows, the wives—used to once in a while get together. One time they had one at the White House, and I think Eleanor had a lot to do with it. They put on skits, and it was very funny. Eleanor was very funny in that, too.
Currie: She was in the skits?
Eads: Yes. They were all in it, and we just sat and watched.
Currie: The press sat and watched?
Eads: Yes. It was really a lot of fun.
Currie: Do you remember what kind of skit they did?
Eads: No. It was in the East Room of the White House.
Currie: Did you ever go to a Gridiron dinner as a guest?
Eads: Oh, no. I went to a Gridiron reception a couple of times. They didn't start asking women until quite later.
Currie: How did you feel about that?
Eads: I didn't mind it at all. [Laughter.] I thought it was great. I mean, it was longstanding and, I think, quite an honor to be a member. I used to think that. Maybe that's not true.
Currie: It's very selective, I understand.
Eads: Now they are taking women, I think.
Currie: But they didn't while you were a reporter?
Currie: You didn't miss that?
Currie: What benefits do you think you got from being a member of the Women's National Press Club?
Eads: I can't say that it was any special benefit, just companionship and exchanging ideas. They usually had a very good speaker, and it was good to belong, like it is with belonging to any select group.
Currie: So it was selective?
Eads: They didn't just invite every newspaperwoman. Maybe they do now, but I don't think so.
Currie: There was a National Press Club that was for men.
Eads: Yes. They even had a ladies dining room. You could eat in the same room and did, but they had a special room, called a ladies' dining room. Later, before I left Washington, it was quite a bit later, they made it so they'd take in women members, too, I think, because for a long time they had prominent speakers at their luncheons, and women weren't allowed. Then they finally let a lot of women journalists sit in the balcony and take notes—not to eat, but take notes from the speaker, after the lunch. There was a big hullabaloo about that from the women, particularly. Griff could tell you more about this because he was on the board at one time.
Currie: How did you feel about that?
Eads: I didn't have any particular feeling about that. If I wanted a story, I would try to find a way to get it. I didn't have to go to a luncheon to hear some guy talking. Sometimes you did
because they wouldn't talk any other way, but what I mean is that it wasn't the only way to cover the various personalities, unless it was some diplomat or somebody coming from a foreign country and only there for a day, or maybe just specially for the Press Club luncheon. For a long time, they didn't even take in blacks at the Women's National Press Club, either. The press gallery in the Capitol didn't take in blacks. Griff was very influential with the group to get blacks admitted to the Capitol press gallery and into the Press Club. I mean, they were entitled to coverage of any big news of the day, as well as anybody. They were mostly very capable, some of them much more capable.
Currie: Do you remember when the Women's National Press Club admitted blacks?
Eads: It was when I was still there, in the 1940s sometime. I don't know who it was. I think it was a Chicago newspaperwoman.
Currie: Was there a lot of controversy within the club about whether to admit blacks or not?
Eads: I don't remember any conversation about that.
Currie: I guess Washington was still in the 1940s and 1950s a very segregated city.
Eads: It was segregated when Martin Luther King was killed. We were in Washington on vacation, I think, when they had the march on Washington. We saw it on television at Dorothy Williams' house. I never saw anything so moving. It was terrific.
Currie: I think the Martin Luther King speech may be the best speech ever written. It was really quite something.
Currie: Before we went on tape, I said that maybe you could talk about some of the women reporters you knew, and you said something very nice, that they tended to be the people who were your friends and who you could count on.
Eads: As far as I know. There were two or three times when they would not play fair. They'd get a piece of information that we were not supposed to use for a certain time, and they would use it anyway. That happened a couple of times with one or two. There were some that sought more privileges than others, but as a whole, they were all very busy women and were more or less tending their own business. They were not trying to out-do. Of course, they were trying to excel in every way they could, and probably that was a feminine trait at that time, when you had to go against the male prestige.
Currie: Also you were competing for the same stories.
Eads: Not altogether.
Currie: Whose work did you admire particularly of your colleagues in the Women's National Press Club?
Eads: They were all sort of different. Like Liz Carpenter did one type of story, Esther Tufty another, and Bess Furman was one. Various different newspaperwomen had different—
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Eads: Sigrid Arne was a good reporter, and Ruth Cowan [Nash]was a good reporter, like I was. I mean, we had been really brought up in the newspaper business. We had to go out and dig and
get our stories in the earlier days of journalism. They didn't have press releases or things like that they would hand out to you before or at the door, giving the correct spelling of foreign dignitaries whose names you're hardly able to pronounce. They didn't have anything like that when people like Ruth Cowan and I and quite a few others, I would say, Liz Carpenter and others, Dorothy Williams, especially [were covering Washington]. Dorothy came from Detroit and they had their Prohibition gangsters up there, too, the whole set. I think they called them the "Purple Gang" or something. So it was a little different group than Mrs. Roosevelt's press conference. Some of them were just society reporters. I don't demean them by saying they were just society reporters, but that's what they concentrated on, women's social events.
Currie: So some hadn't gone out and sort of grubbed around.
Eads: Maybe didn't have to.
Currie: It's interesting. I picked up one of the stories that was written about you, before you were retiring. There was an interesting story written by Lawrence Eckland in 1958. He said, "In holding her own in what was generally regarded as a man's field, Miss Eads never lost her femininity, something that cannot be said of all successful newspaperwomen. Her co-workers, mostly male, called her 'one hell of a wonderful human being.'" What do you think of that?
Eads: I know who said that. That was a wonderful thing. That was a man who worked in the AP an excellent man, excellent reporter, James Marlowe. But he is long dead. Eckland didn't work in Washington. He was on an out-of-town paper. He came to my house and interviewed me one time before we moved down here.
Currie: I thought it was interesting that he said that you were a crack reporter, but you hadn't lost your femininity, which a lot of newspaperwomen had. Do you think that's true?
Eads: Not exactly. No, I wouldn't put that description blanket-wise on all, because I can't remember any particular masculine-type woman reporters.
Currie: Was that an attitude, though, that male reporters had about women reporters?
Eads: I don't think so.
Currie: This idea that you were good, but you were still feminine, and not everyone was.
Eads: I really don't know what the general attitude was. I got along with them, and we were all friends. I was with the men more frequently than I was with women reporters, naturally; there were more of them.
Currie: Did you pal around and go out together?
Eads: Yes, for lunch and cocktails and that sort of thing. [Tape interruption.]
[End Tape 2, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Currie: You have already talked about how you met your second husband, Griffing Bancroft, but we haven't really talked about him. What can you tell me about him?
Eads: He's a very interesting person. He's really an ornithologist and he's written several books about birds. When he was very young, he went on all these birding expeditions with his father, Griffing Bancroft, Sr., in California, and they went around in Baja California and around various mountainous regions. They collected birds' eggs. In those days, it was all right to do it, for the San Diego Museum. At one point, before World War II, they had one of the largest
private collections of bird eggs in the country. They have two birds named after them. That was his main interest at first. Now since then, he has worked on a newspaper in San Diego.
Currie: He worked for Hearst?
Eads: He covered the capital in the state of California, in politics at one time.
Currie: When you met him, he was working for which paper?
Eads: The Chicago Sun. He was working for the Chicago Sun shortly after I met him, but before that he had just come back from World War II, where he was in North Africa and Italy. During World War II, he was head of psychological warfare for this country, in North Africa and Italy. For his work in psychological warfare, he received one of the first of the Medal[s] of Freedom, the highest honor that this country awards a civilian. He is very proud of it. I notice he always puts it in his lapel, no matter where we're going, but he doesn't ever tell anybody. I tell people because I think it's quite an honor.
At that time, the Chicago Sun had a bureau in Washington, with, I guess, maybe a half a dozen correspondents, but then later they cut their staff to just one, I think. Griff was really out of a job at that point, but he got a job with CBS almost immediately as a radio correspondent.
Currie: Was that what he was doing when you met him?
Eads: No, really not. He had just gotten back from Europe. Remember I told you I met him through my former secretary at J. Walter Thompson. It was shortly after that that he had a couple of other jobs that didn't last very long, that he didn't like or he didn't fit in or something. Then he had the Chicago Sun job, and then CBS. While he was with CBS, he covered the Capitol, he covered the Congress, mainly the Senate, mostly political.
Currie: What attracted you to him?
Eads: I think it was his intellect. I used to say there's not many women who've married somebody who had a bird named after him and was eight-man down on a boa constrictor. When he was young, he worked in the zoo for a while with some young people, and one of the things he did was help hold this boa constrictor so they could feed it. They had to stretch it out. I had a lot of fun with that.
Currie: Before you met Griff, did you date other men?
Eads: Before I met him, I went around with other newspapermen, you know.
Currie: So you mainly dated newspapermen?
Currie: I have your wedding announcement. You met in '46, I think, and you got married in 1948.
Eads: 1949, I think it was, really. Yes. During the war, he was chief of the OWI Psychological Warfare Branch in Africa and Italy. This is his third marriage. He was married when he was very young, in Mexico. I don't think he even remembers her name, thank goodness.
Currie: I have a friend who describes her first marriage as an extra long date. That's how she regards it.
Eads: That's cute. [Laughter.] Griff is the grandson of Hubert Howe Bancroft, who was the historian of the West, who went out to California during the gold mining era, but opened a bookstore and bought a lot of real estate.
Currie: What kind of marriage ceremony did you have?
Eads: It was very brief and very interesting. I loved that minister. We didn't know him. We didn't go there to church. I don't know how we happened to pick him, except that he was very contemporary in his attitudes towards marriage and everything. We got married in a little garden of the church at high noon.
Currie: It says at All Souls Unitarian, which is still in Washington and they still have the garden.
Currie: It's sort of a little courtyard.
Eads: Very pretty.
Currie: Did you have many people attend?
Eads: No, nobody. Just our best man and my bridesmaid.
Currie: Who was your bridesmaid?
Eads: Martha Carney. She was a newspaperwoman.
Currie: You told me that you wrote your own wedding announcement.
Eads: Just for the AP. I just thought I'd tell them, because they were going to find out anyway. This was on a weekend, a Saturday, and I just wrote a couple of paragraphs that Jane Eads had gotten married.
Currie: Where did the two of you live once you got married?
Eads: We stayed in his apartment at first, and then we found an apartment in Georgetown, a very nice apartment. Barbara was going to be living with us, so we found this apartment on 31st and N Street, Georgetown. We stayed there, and Griff was working for CBS then, way out. Their office was way out in Chevy Chase, right near the Sears-Roebuck place, on Albemarle. We finally found a house that we moved into on Newark Street in Cleveland Park. Barbara and I found it. It was a two-story house and had a basement, a little study, a wonderful living room. I furnished it.
Currie: Once you got married, did you talk about the fact that you would continue working?
Eads: I never even thought about anything else. I just went right on working. It never occurred to me not to work. I couldn't have just sat around and been a housewife, ever.
Currie: That, of course, was when you were writing your column?
Eads: I don't think I'd quite got into that yet. I was writing features all the time, and I wrote one big article for Collier's magazine. It was all about Washington during the war, and it was kind of an interesting social piece. I think I'll find that if you'd like it.
Currie: After you were married, you were still working for the AP?
Currie: Was there ever a time when the two of you would be covering the same story?
Eads: No, only we'd sort of see each other. For example, I told you about the early morning that Harry Truman accepted the nomination. Griff was there for CBS.
Currie: Sometimes you were covering the same story, but you were never competing for it?
Eads: No. It wasn't anything like that at all. Quite often I'd go there when he was broadcasting, if it were possible, just sitting in the room where he was broadcasting. Not often, but once in a while.
Currie: You were saying earlier that you had some flexibility because you could write your columns at home.
Eads: Yes. I could select whatever I wanted to write about, and I could write them at any time, but I had to have them all in correct order on a certain day.
Currie: So you had to have a certain number of columns every week. Was that helpful that you could work at home?
Eads: Sometimes I rather liked it, but it was not always a good thing, because I felt I put things off sometimes. I'd have the material, but I'd put off writing it until late in the week, and it would sort of pile up. I mean, thinking of different stories and different leads to get into the story.
Currie: I think procrastination is, unfortunately, a writer's bane.
Eads: But I never really had too much trouble. I can't think of any time during my career that I was ever really—I was bored a little bit with being a club editor for Cissy.
Currie: What bored you about that?
Eads: I just don't like organized women's clubs, you know. I mean, they're all very nice women and all, wonderful to me, but I just wasn't interested in some of the things they were. As I told you, most of the clubs were national headquarters in Washington of clubs all over the United States. Their headquarters, their national offices, were in Washington.
The Women's Congressional Club, I used to go to all their meetings. They had their own clubhouse in Washington, and I used to like going to their meetings, because they always had the president and first lady, and senators' wives at special events. Husbands of club members were members of Congress. That made it more interesting. We sort of adopted each other. A lot of those women, some of them were very active in Washington, but they didn't get much publicity back home because reporters around Washington weren't covering women's clubs, meetings, and so forth, and who spoke. My column got to their home districts. My column was used largely by a lot of smaller newspapers. So they got publicity that way, and they were pleased to have some mention of what they were doing in Washington.
Currie: I'm sure that made you popular.
Eads: Well, it helped a little bit.
Currie: What kinds of things did you and Griff do for fun after you got married?
Eads: We went out with our friends to dinners often. He is really a very lousy dancer, but he's very wonderful company, and I could care less. But I would rather not dance with him.
Currie: So your friends were mostly newspaper people?
Eads: Yes, some people that we knew and had known in the past from New York. They came to Washington. We were pretty busy all the time.*
Pluses in the life of a Washington journalist in the era I was in the capital were some of the social activities to which they were invariably invited.
These included such interesting events as, for instance, the square dance in the East Room of the White House with Eleanor Roosevelt and her brother, Hall Roosevelt, leading the figures and the president enjoying the picture from the sidelines.
A gala party at the Soviet Embassy with bowls of caviar and Lucullan feast, where they signalled the guests the party was over by blinking the lights.
Parties at Perle Masta's, "the hostess with the mostest," where Harry Truman used to play the piano, and at Cissy Patterson's big house at Dupont Circle, where on one occasion she entertained newswomen by introducing a pair of prize-fighting cats!
The most fabulous were parties given by wealthy Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, the greatest and most extravagant hostess, in her elegant home Friendship, on Wisconsin Avenue. Members of the Women's National Press Club and the American Newspaperwomen's Club, in their most glamorous evening attire, were flattered with an eight-course dinner with precious china, crystal and silver on tables spread with cloth of gold topped with their heirloom lace. Movies in her personal theater usually followed and little groups gathered in different conversational nooks to have "nightcaps."
I was included in one such group with Mrs. McLean herself wearing the famous Hope Diamond (now in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.). Someone asked about the gem and she took it off and tossed it to the questioner. It fell on the floor and rolled under a settee. A plain-clothesman, stationed at the door, plunged into the little alcove and the guests in their long gowns plunged to grab the precious item, uttering little sighs of relief when it was back in its owner's hands.*
Currie: Were there a lot of other couples?
Eads: Yes. Fletcher Knebel and his third wife or so, were friends of ours. Her name was Marian Knebel. I don't remember what her name was before she married Fletcher. She also belonged to the Women's National Press Club, and she married Fletch, and then we saw each other, but not frequently. One night she and I went to a Women's National Press Club dinner or something, and she came out to the house. I think Fletch met her. She and he came out to our house, and they were talking about the place they had in Florida on Captiva. They had bought a lot, and there were a group of lots, about eight, I guess, altogether. They said there were very few left, and it was right on the Gulf. We got so excited about it that I got on the telephone and I called a man who used to work for the Associated Press in London. I knew him also in Washington. He was editor of the Ft. Myers' News-Press down here at that time. I called him and asked him what he thought about Captiva, and he said, "Well, I can't see you there. It's a little remote."
* When reviewing the transcript, Jane Eads Bancroft wrote the notes between the two asterisks to add to the account of her Washington experience.
I said, "Maybe that's what we want." We got in touch with the same real estate agent, a young woman and her husband, that the Knebels had, and we bought the lot. I think we paid something like $4,000 for it. It's now about $4,000 an inch!
One vacation after that, about maybe a year, say, we came down to Captiva to see the lot, to see about building. We had hoped that the Knebels would build, but they decided not to, for some reason. But we went right ahead and did.
We liked it, and it was right on the Gulf, and it wasn't a very big lot either. We built a beautiful house. It really was. But we had an awful time because the contractor didn't pay his bills. I mean, he paid his help; he had to—the labor law. But he didn't pay the other bills, and then we were stuck with eleven liens in a year. Not long after we got that settled, so much on the dollar, we had a good lawyer, we got settled. We didn't have to pay all of it, but it was a heartache because we both were very careful about our money and finances and bills.
Then not long after that, there was a storm. It wasn't a hurricane. We lost 50 feet of beach in one night! I just about had it. I was scared to live in that house with that, because you never knew how capricious nature and the Gulf could be. The water came under the house, up to the wheels of our car, and we didn't have a telephone then. We had gone over on a car ferry. These ferries travel back and forth; that's the only way we could get to Captiva. So we waited until morning, and then we walked up the road to this huge resort place, now South Seas Plantation, and people came by, workers. They knew us. There weren't very many people there then. They came out to see how we came out. [Tape interruption.]
Currie: Why did you decide to retire at that point?
Eads: Every year after we were married, we came to Florida, some part of Florida, for our vacation. Our vacation always was in November. It would be right after the elections, and we both had to do some work on the elections. We'd come to Florida and we practically looked all around the state, always on the beach or someplace where we could fish. One time we were over on the East Coast, and we were leaving one of these motel places, which was on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic. We were going down the drive, and I said, "Are you thinking the same thing I am?"
And he said, "What?"
I said, "Why don't we stay down here or move down here and get out of the rat race?"
So he said, "That's worth thinking about." And we thought about it all the way home. I don't really remember how we broke our ties with our offices and all that, but we were very glad to do it.
Currie: So you were just ready to get out?
Eads: Yes, we thought we'd do other things, too, write, and I wanted to go on painting a little bit. I'd started lessons in Washington, just only briefly. That's how it happened. It wasn't long after that, we sold the house. Barbara was already in college then.
Currie: So you didn't have to worry about her.
Eads: No. She went to Holton Arms first, and wasn't very happy there and they weren't happy with her, either, I guess. Then she graduated from high school, Western High School, in Washington. Then she went to college in Michigan. She graduated from this college, and she wanted to go to Turkey. She had some help, and with her father, I knew a journalist at the Turkish embassy in Washington, and her father had some contacts in Turkey. She got a job in
charge of recreation for children of Americans in the embassy in Ankara and other people in Turkey. She married this boy in the Air Force.
Currie: Is that why she wanted to go to Turkey in the first place?
Eads: No, she didn't know him at all. She met him there. He had never gone to high school, but I did—and I still do—like him. I talked to him today. They just didn't make it. They were married and had a child, and they were stationed in Texas and finally in Delaware. They got a divorce, and now they're living in the same house.
Currie: So they're still friends?
Eads: Yes, but from what my daughter says, they're not really living like a married couple, but they're still friends. He's very nice, but he's pretty bossy. I don't know what went on between them, but they just didn't get along.
Currie: So Barbara was out of the house when you decided you were going to retire.
Eads: She was in Turkey when we went to Florida.
Currie: So you actually decided the two of you would retire in 1958, I believe.
Currie: You still had some years that you could have worked. You were about 57 when you retired.
Currie: Do you recall how the AP felt about your decision?
Eads: I don't think they cared all that much. They always had a long line of people waiting to get a job on the AP. I think it's a good idea for any publication, especially something like that, to turn over a little bit.
Currie: Someone once said to me that it's hard work doing a column, and as you get older, it's harder to do this. Did you find that it was harder as you got older?
Eads: No. I thought it was easier as I went along.
Currie: Really? Why was it easier?
Eads: I just did so many things instinctively, you know. The questions I asked were always something. I interviewed Rachel Carson once, and that was very interesting, because she wrote The Silent Spring, and that was published by London Oxford Press. I think the New Yorker picked it up. Anyway, finally it was published in the United States, and she was known all over the country. She got a lot of publicity, too, from me, because this was the beginning. By no means were my stories about her instrumental in her fame or anything; far be it from that. But anyway, we became good friends. She died, you know, in Washington. When we were coming down here, I called her one day, and she was ill. Her mother asked who was calling, and I said it was Jane Eads. I said, "Don't disturb her."
She said, "Oh! If it's Jane Eads, she'll come to the phone." And she did. I asked her about the shelling on Captiva, because it was known for its shelling. She said, "Well, it's fairly
good, but the best shelling is at Marco Island," down south of here. There's a bunch of condominiums there now; it's terrible.
Currie: I'm sure you've seen all these changes. When you retired, of all the places that you worked, were you able to get a pension from anyone?
Eads: I didn't get one. I've got an insurance policy, a very small one—very small. I don't think Griff gets a pension, either.
Currie: Do you know if the AP had a policy?
Eads: They may have now. I'm not sure. They really had some bad policies, I think, in the beginning. I think women had to retire much earlier than men.
Currie: At what age did women have to retire?
Eads: Sixty, I think, or even earlier. They retired me, but I managed to keep writing the column without the contract or something.
Currie: So it was like freelance.
Eads: For a couple of years afterwards. I still wrote under my byline.
Currie: That's interesting. What other policies did the AP have?
Eads: I don't know.
Currie: That's interesting that they made women retire before men.
Eads: They changed that later. I was sort of active in the Newspaper Guild, but not too much in the AP Guild.
Currie: How did you get active in the Guild?
Eads: I had friends in it, who got me interested. When I worked for Cissy, I think that's about when we started. They had a Washington Newspaper Guild, and they were very active.
Currie: What were some of the things that the Newspaper Guild wanted to address?
Eads: Such things as women having to retire before men, and pay, salaries, vacations, and working hours. Everything. The same as today, only today they're even more concerned about different things. I think I was working for AP when I joined the Guild. I didn't go to a lot of meetings. I hardly went to any.
Currie: Did you think the Guild was very effective?
Eads: Oh, yes, I'm for the Guild.
Currie: Did other newspaper people join?
Eads: A lot of people were reluctant to join the Guild because they knew their bosses, in some cases, didn't approve of the Guild.
Currie: How would the Guild try to organize?
Eads: That I don't know. I just know that they were very active in Washington, and mainly through the newspapers, like the Washington Star and the Washington News. I don't think Cissy Patterson—they were the staff organizing the papers. As far as they were concerned, it really could do without the Guild, and didn't approve of it.
Currie: I guess that's how it is. When you're the owner, you don't like to see your employees organize.
Eads: Of course you don't. It's a union, you know.
Currie: It's interesting that the AP retired you, but then let you write your column. Do you recall how you negotiated that?
Eads: They were my boss. I never wrote a column without them seeing it or even discussing with them first.
Currie: I understand that. They had this rule that you had to retire, then they let you keep writing your column.
Eads: That was just for one or two years afterwards.
Currie: Did you ask to keep writing the column?
Eads: I think so.
Currie: And they were willing to let you keep writing on a freelance basis.
Eads: Yes. In order to do that, I think I had to give up various things, like insurance and all those sort of things that you get when you're under a contract. I don't quite remember, except that they did allow me, or ask me to go on writing until we retired.
Currie: When you moved to Captiva, what kind of things did you plan to do? You said you thought of doing some writing.
Eads: I did, but I never thought about what. [Laughter.] I did do some writing. One day I went in a small plane, a Piper Cub.
Currie: Revisiting your youth.
Eads: I talked to the Fish and Wildlife man on Sanibel. The two islands are together.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Currie: They were going to count the great white heron?
Eads: Yes, a large bird. It was nesting down around the Keys. He was going to go down to count them for the Fish and Wildlife Service. I found out about it, and asked if I could go along with him. We were all conservationists, close friends, and Griff, especially. So he took me along, and I remember getting in the plane on Captiva. It came down at the South Seas Plantation, which was only a short distance from our house. We flew down to the Keys, and he was talking a lot. He sometimes would get so interested, he'd take his hands off the plane! One time we saw a rainbow, and we were flying pretty high. He said, "Look at it. It's a complete circle." And it was. That's the only time I've ever seen anything like that. He would sort of point out things. He said, "There's a man that lives down there, he's a hermit. He doesn't see anybody, but he
fishes all the time on that little island down there." He was counting, and we could see the great white heron flying.
We got down to the Keys, and he had some friends down there who were in the Fish and Wildlife. We stopped at one place and got out a little bit and talked, then flew back. I had this story. I was making notes all the time.
When I got back, I was lying around in our guest bedroom. My typewriter was in there. I thought, "Why don't I do something with that?" So I wrote to Florida Wildlife, which was a small magazine published up in northern Florida. I asked them if they'd be interested, and they said yes, and could I send some pictures. I got a picture of these herons from Tommy Wood, the man I'd gone with, and they used the article. I have it right here someplace. They paid me something like $40.
Currie: Did you consider writing a book?
Eads: That was in Washington.
Currie: Not after you retired?
Eads: I thought about it, but it just would have been too difficult because I'd have to do a lot of research.
Currie: Did you continue to do articles?
Eads: No, but I did a lot of publicity. When we got our sanctuary on Sanibel, I did a lot of publicity for that, and I did publicity for the islands' shell fair. For about six years, the last six years, I have done all the publicity for a fund-raiser we had on Captiva.
Currie: So you lived on Captiva for 28 years?
Eads: Yes, and we loved it. We hated to move, but we got to thinking that as you get older, you want to be someplace where you can get some health care, because we were living on an island, and there were only a couple of doctors there. For a long time there wasn't any doctor on either Sanibel or Captiva. But then we finally began to have doctors in Fort Myers. But you know, when young girls would have a baby, for example, they had to get the ferry boat, or somebody had to take them over in a boat to the mainland. There was just no other way before they built a causeway. When they had the causeway, we had all sorts of transportation, but we still had to go quite a ways to get to our doctors in Fort Myers.
Currie: Was it sad for you to leave Captiva?
Eads: Yes. I still miss it. I think Griff does, too, more than anything. We miss the wildlife, we miss the birds. We have birds here. Wherever there's a big development of any kind, the birds are beginning to come here now. We had to have a maid, we had to have a yard man, and anytime we needed anything done, we had to call sometimes Fort Myers to get somebody to come over and fix something. I don't miss that one bit. I don't miss the insects, what they call "noseeums," little, smaller than mosquitos. For me, I was allergic to them. They seemed to come through the window panes. Even when we had those blinds, and we had screens, a special kind of screen, they'd come in anyway. We had a lot of little lizards that would get into the house. I didn't like them, but Griff would keep saying, "They're more afraid of you than you are of them." They'd get behind a picture and I'd go to the john at night, and I'd see these little heads peeking out from behind a picture frame, or they'd be in the corner. They were cute little animals. Some of them were bigger. Of course, then there were a lot of animals, alligators and
snakes. The snakes were mostly good snakes. There's only one really poisonous snake on the islands, and that's the coral snake. They had some rattlers at one time.
Currie: It sounds like it was a kind of rugged existence.
Eads: It began to build up when they built the causeway. Then they started building condominiums. They had a height limitation of up to 30 feet or something like that. That helped.
Currie: Now that we've sort of updated you, I'd like to ask you some philosophical questions. This is where you get to say what you think.
Eads: I hope they're not loaded.
Currie: No. If you don't like it, you don't have to answer.
Eads: All right.
Currie: When you look back on your life, what do you think the biggest change in journalism has been?
Eads: I think that, actually, the mechanics of it, partly, and I have a feeling that journalists have a better background, not that they all go to college and study journalism, but they have a better knowledge of the world itself, international affairs, habits, and custom. Everything has changed now with things that weren't in existence when I was starting out in the newspaper business—computers.
Currie: How would you have liked to have a computer when you were covering Chicago?
Eads: I don't know. I suppose I would have known how to do it.
Currie: It makes things faster.
Eads: That's right. So does shorthand, and I didn't have shorthand.
Currie: What was the happiest time in your life?
Eads: I think I liked all of it. I'm a pig; I liked everything.
Currie: Was there ever a time when you weren't that happy?
Eads: It wasn't because of my work; it was because of some personal problem, I think, more or less, family or something. There were times when I thought I should get more money or more of a play publicity-wise, and that sort of thing, but maybe some assignment that I would like to have had, but I can't remember. I mean, it didn't last long, that feeling. Ordinarily, when I look back, it was just a happy way to sail through life, hard work sometimes. I worked hard, and I think most people did. But it was worth it. It was fun. If you had a good story, you wanted to get it out.
Currie: A number of people have said to me that you weren't much of a self-promoter, that you never talked about yourself.
Eads: No, this is the most I've ever talked about myself.
Currie: I consider it an honor that you'd talk to me.
Eads: I didn't want to in the beginning, as you know. Maybe you don't know.
Currie: No, you told me. What changed your mind?
Eads: My husband and my daughter and my friends.
Currie: How did they change your mind?
Eads: They said it was an honor, and that I had a story to tell.
Currie: As a good newspaper woman, you probably recognized that as true.
Eads: I don't know. There are other good newspaperwomen who made the headlines, were better known. I suppose if I were young, I would want to be an anchor woman on one of the networks. I'm not sure. I just never liked to have my picture taken, I never liked to be up in front that way, but I suppose if I were starting out in TV now, I would be right along with them, want to do what everyone else was doing. I would want to be like all of the top people are. I would want to be one of the achievers, just like I feel I was, more or less, in the newspaper business.
Currie: So the anchor women today are the crack newspaperwomen of your day?
Eads: They're probably better. I don't know.
Currie: They're certainly visible, very visible.
Eads: Most of them are beautiful. Don't you think so?
Currie: That's one of the issues, that they usually have to be pretty attractive.
Eads: I don't think that's fair, particularly, because there's a lot of smart women who are not.
Currie: I agree.
Eads: Eleanor Roosevelt wasn't beautiful. She was to me because of her personality.
Currie: If there was anything that you could go back and do over in your life, what would it be?
Eads: I can't think of anything.
Currie: That says something.
Eads: 1t happened that way at that time, to me at my age at that time, and my circumstances. It was me and my bosses. I can't think of anything that could change it. You see what I mean?
Currie: It sounds like you're pretty satisfied with the way you lived your life.
Eads: I'm not egotistical about it at all. I'm not even so-called prideful of it, but I don't think I made too many mistakes.
Currie: It doesn't sound egotistical and prideful; it sounds like you're very confident about the decisions you made.
Eads: I did the best I could in that time, the time that I was working, and that's all you can ask of anybody, I think.
Currie: I agree. One final question. Have you seen ways in which professional journalism has changed for women?
Eads: I think there are many, many more women in journalism today. They've come to be accepted along with the men. I don't think there's any great distinction at all. I may be wrong, but there are quite a few of them that do complain and have brought suit, as you know, in recent years, because they've been discriminated against because they were women. You know about those cases. They've been in the paper in the last year.
Currie: What do you think about that?
Eads: I don't know. I don't understand why, but they had good reasons, I guess, where they worked, and they probably had legitimate reasons. But in most cases, I didn't seem to think that was exactly the case. It might have been some other reason that they were not allowed to continue.
Currie: For example, when you worked at the AP, if some women who worked at the AP had gotten together and wanted to sue, do you think—
Eads: I never thought of anything like that. There was never anything like that, that I know of in the AP in all the years I worked there. People were happy to work there. I was always proud to work for the AP. I really was. When I first went there, that was one of the things I felt.
Currie: Why were you proud to work for the AP?
Eads: It was an honorable outfit, and it just had a great reputation. I think it is a great outfit.
Currie: What if someone had decided, when you worked for the AP, that women should sue the AP?
Eads: It would have to be a pretty stringent case. I don't see anybody who'd feel that way. Maybe in other parts of the AP, maybe somebody covering the State Department. I'm not so sure that that didn't happen sometimes, but not anybody who wanted to bring a suit. That's a pretty big outfit to bring a suit against.
Currie: Some women did it after you retired.*
Eads: The Associated Press?
Eads: I didn't know that.
Currie: That's why I wanted to get your reaction. And they won.
Eads: I didn't know about that.
Currie: I was just wondering how you felt about the AP. I didn't want to color your reaction.
* For more information on the suit against AP, see the interview with Virginia Pitt Sherlock.
Eads: I can see where things like that might have happened. That early retirement thing was pretty bad.
Currie: I think that's about it, unless you can think of anything else you'd like to talk about. You also have a granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Do you ever talk to them about your career?
Eads: My granddaughter was not all that interested—you know, a teenager. She's no longer a teenager. She's the mother of a child. Rebecca will be four in August. Right now they're looking for a place to live. My daughter lives in Exeter, New Hampshire. She's a wonderful person, too.
Currie: What does your daughter do?
Eads: She teaches art in the public schools in New Hampshire.
Currie: And you have gone back to painting.
Eads: I may do some more painting. The problem is, on Captiva I had a studio until it began filling up with washing machine, luggage, and all kinds of stuff like that. But I still had a studio. Here I can sit at the desk, but I can't do any big canvases or anything. There is an art studio here. They've asked me several times to come on over and leave my things there. I don't like to paint with a lot of other women. They're always looking over your shoulder and saying, "What does that mean?" [Laughter.]
Currie: Maybe you could get studio time.
Eads: The woman who sort of runs it over there, part-time, said there are many days when there's nobody there at all. I may do that. I may do it.
Currie: Since you left Washington in 1958, have you ever had the urge to go back?
Eads: Up until last year, we did go back every summer for vacations for a couple of months. We loved that. For the last six or seven years, we rented a house on Capitol Hill, on 4th Street, Southeast. We loved it and saw a lot of our friends when we were there. We went to dinner at various places, new places, the National Theater, Kennedy [Center]. We loved this, but last year we didn't go because it was too much of a drive for Griff. We went to North Carolina. We've been going to North Carolina every year, except this coming summer we're not going anyplace.
Currie: Have you ever had the desire to get back into the reporting mill?
Eads: No. I'm too old for that now.
Currie: This has been a real honor for me to talk to you about your life.
Eads: You've been great.
Currie: I just remembered a question, because we were looking at your clips. It came into my mind that you always used the name Jane Eads.
Eads: Yes. I never thought about changing it. Maybe I told you earlier, when my daughter was born, we picked a name that would make a good byline. Her name was Berkson, you know. I thought of Babette and this and that, and finally we decided on Barbara, because we thought it would make a good byline.
Currie: That's a cute story.
Eads: I just started writing under that name. It never occurred to me. What do women do when they get divorces and stuff? They have to change their bylines.
Currie: So you needed to be identified.
Eads: It's just that I never thought of any [reason to change my name].
Currie: Did your daughter ever think of becoming a journalist?
Eads: No. I think she likes what she's doing pretty much. She doesn't do an awful lot of private painting, but she really has a flair. She's been too busy with teaching. She's interested in a lot of crafts and goes around to Boston and New England. I guess she's a pretty good teacher, because they seem to like her.