Ruth Cowan Nash was selected for interviews primarily because of her experiences reporting World War II for the Associated Press. She had considerable experience as a reporter for wire services and newspapers in the twenties and thirties.
The interviews were conducted at her farm in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Her husband, Bradley Nash, volunteered helpful information throughout the interviews.
In the indexes of the Washington Press Club Foundation oral history collection, she is listed primarily as Ruth Cowan, the name under which she was known as a journalist.
Margot H. Knight
March 29, 1990
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Knight: First of all, I want to say how honored I am that you agreed to participate in the project.
Cowan: Well, how honored I am that you selected me.
Knight: It's really interesting for me to find out how you grew up and where you came from. You were born in Salt Lake City.
Cowan: I was born in Salt Lake City, and lived there for a number of years. My father was a prospector, a mining prospector. Then after his death, I was about seven or eight years old; I'm not quite sure. I'd have to get the details out, and I can get that information for you.
Then my mother had been down to Florida to look into the way you went about getting a homestead, and she found that out, and got a homestead and a stone and timber tract, each 160 acres. So when my father died, we moved down there, and she put down a small house. Also, we had about four or five acres that were cultivated or made ready for grapefruit and orange trees; that's what we were going to raise down there, my mother. She had a pretty rough time of it, because I don't think she knew an orange tree from a grapefruit tree. [Laughter]
We lived there until—you had to live on a property, when you get it from the government, under homestead rights, so we fulfilled that requirement. It's, if I'm not mistaken, one and a half or two years, but that would have to be checked for correctness. And then we decided to go back and take a look at Salt Lake City—and that's where I was born, in Salt Lake City—and see if we wanted to move back in that area. It was pretty rough on my mother, trying to raise grapefruit and oranges down there. [Laughter] She didn't know anything about that stuff, and it was hard to get it done.
But it was lovely down there, just lovely. That's where I first learned to love animals, farm animals. We had a lot of chickens, and it was my job to take care of them. And so I went out and fed them, and I made pets out of them. I had one big rooster called—-let's see, what did we call that thing? It wasn't Gigantic, but it was something like that. [It was named Fatty]. And I had a rooster that I'd keep around in the house. I can show it to you. [Laughter] It just reminded me of my first real pet, and I used to carry him under my arm when I went around the place. The other chickens used to follow me. So when we left that place, and we had to put out the food for these chickens, of course, they were sold and all that, and I worried. And I still worry about what happened to those chickens. [Laughter] My first pets.
Then we moved back to Salt Lake City.
Knight: How old were you when you moved back?
Cowan: I imagine—well, I was made ready for the seventh or eighth grade; I'm not sure at that time which they had in the St. Mary's Academy. It was a private school, and I had started my life out there, my educational life, in that school, because my mother thought that I really should learn something. She felt the private schools taught you something. My mother had been a teacher when she grew up, so I guess she knew a little something about it.
I went to school there and finished the seventh and eighth grade. I tell you, I stutter on my age, because later on, I'll give you some details about trying to earn a living when they didn't want to hire you under a certain age. So I remember going in to one place, and my first question is, "How old do you have to be before you can apply here?" And they told me, and I said, "Well, I'm it." I wasn't; I was younger. [Laughter] And I've always had a difficult time with that. [Laughter] I told the government if they wanted to really know how old I was, they could do the research; I didn't care. [Laughter] I was too old now to care!
So where were we? I was telling you something about this.
Knight: You moved back to Salt Lake City.
Cowan: Moved back to Salt Lake City, and I finished school there, St. Mary's Academy, the grammar school. And then my mother decided she didn't want to live in the cold climate there. We had just more or less camped out in an apartment there in the place where my mother and father had lived before his death. My mother then—-well, we moved around, seeing where we might like to live, because we had a little money from that sale of property that we had and also a little other money.
So we came to San Antonio, Texas. My mother liked it, and I just thought it was wonderful. So she decided that travelling around and trying to investigate what you might do, and where you might want to live, and my mother felt that she wanted to get some kind of work to do and just exactly what it would be. She was a teacher when she grew up, so she thought, naturally, she would go back to teaching. Well, I didn't want to be moving around anymore, so she found a place in the Ursaline Academy that would take me in on that basis, not as a student, necessarily, but that I could board there.
I went out and got a job with—the name is Marks, the last name—a very large and very well established department store, and I was in the books section. I liked to read books, so I borrowed just about every book that they bought, practically, and became quite an authority on books, and people could come in and ask me what a book was like and so on and so forth.
So I decided I wanted to go back to school, so I talked with the superintendent of the place, and he said, yes, it would be all right, if I could get in shortly after lunch. So I made an arrangement with the Ursaline Academy for me to go to school. This must have been a very unusual arrangement, because here was I, working on the outside, living in this convent, which was a school, and a very well recognized school in San Antonio, and now arranging to go to a public school. I enrolled in the Main Avenue High School in San Antonio, and I found that I was pretty advanced in certain subjects. So we got me transferred. Well, it took me a little over two years to get out of high school there. Then, of course, by that time, I was ready for college, so I maneuvered around and found that I could get into the University of Texas.
The women's association connected with the grammar schools in San Antonio, the mothers, the parents, had some children in school there, and they liked me and invited me to come and visit them. They had a lovely home in San Antonio and went other places in the summer and so forth. And somehow or other, I was always tagging along with them [the John Cunningham family]. I didn't have much family. My mother was travelling around and trying to find out where she wanted to live, and could never make up her mind.
In the meantime, the deal on the Florida property went on the grounds; the man couldn't make the payments. So she got involved in a lawsuit, and you know what a lawsuit is. It goes from one stage to another. So it was all right with her if I stayed in San Antonio, stayed with these people on weekends, and went to college. So I got up there, I packed my suitcase and went up to—I was a nervy little thing. [Laughter] And went up to enroll—I started to say "enlist"—-enroll in college, and went in to see Mrs. Casis, who was the dean of women, and she hadn't seen me before. I put my suitcase down, and I said, "I came to enroll here."
And she said what did I want. Well, I didn't know what I wanted, so she thought, "Well, here's something I better talk to." [Laughter] So she took me around and sort of showed me what college was like. It was fine, and I wanted to do it. She was really quite a person. I'm not sure if it was Mrs. Casis or Miss Casis; you better make it Miss Casis. She was quite well known; she was the dean of the college at the time, the dean of women at the time I was in there.
Knight: This is the University of Texas at Austin.
Cowan: The University of Texas at Austin. I think I must have amused her, I guess, because I was just about ready to take over the college. [Laughter] And so they got me enlisted and that sort of thing, and I lived at the Catholic—the Catholics had a sort of dormitory there, Newman Hall. So I lived there, with the understanding that I was to go back and forth to the college. Well, that's what it was for. It was for college children that were enrolled in the college and had to have a place to stay. So that started my career in Austin, Texas, in college, and I did pretty well.
Knight: Let me go back a little bit. Tell me about your mother.
Cowan: My mother was very precise, very well educated for her generation, comes from a good family, the Baldwin family, up in Connecticut, around in that area, and she had gotten a job teaching, and had gotten out to Utah. She was very dignified, and she carried herself very erect. You notice I scrooch down like that? [Laughter] I can't sometimes stand up to these people. She was a little hard to stand up to, so I was kind of glad to go to boarding school, if you don't mind my saying so, and I'm sure she wouldn't, because I think I was a nuisance. [Laughter] Because she said, "Oh, it's so hard when you have a child. You've got to consider children, too, you know, when you're travelling around."
And I thought, "Well, I'll perch someplace." So I did. That's how I began to perch in San Antonio. Well, it was agreeable with my mother, and she visited relatives in Oklahoma and that sort of thing and back and forth. But she got involved in this lawsuit, as I told you, and we lost it, of course. I don't know. My mother wanted one way, and I wanted another. I can't explain it any other way, because I was very definitely going to get an education, and I did very well in Austin, well enough so that later on, they did offer me various kinds of little jobs in the teaching profession over there.
Knight: What kinds of expectations do you think she had for you? What do you think she wanted you to do?
Cowan: She wanted me to get educated and—I don't know what she wanted. I think she then thought we would settle down. She wanted to do her part by getting possession of this land or possession of some money from it, and that's where she got—and then she began to get ill, and occasionally she was hospitalized. Then she did wind up in an institution. There wasn't much I could do about it, because she was a little too firm for me, and I was ambitious to get something done. Then, let's see, where was I? I was in Austin, Texas, getting educated.
Then I was going back and forth, visiting this family in San Antonio. Their name was Cunningham. When I graduated from college, I got an offer to teach in the high school where I had gone, if I was qualified. So they tested me to see if I was qualified, and I was qualified. I wasn't too much older than some of the students I had. [Laughter] But of course, I had to be very precise, and I imagine I was an awful bore. [Laughter]
So then I taught there for about two years, and then suddenly decided that—well, one of the members of this family, Mary Carter, that I had moved in with was on a newspaper. Let's see. She was the sister of—well, first of all, this name Cunningham. John Cunningham and Elva Cunningham were the two people that took me in. They were the heads of the family. She was named Mary Carter, this woman I'm telling you about. She was then working on the San Antonio Evening News, and John Cunningham was the attorney that represented the interest of this paper. It was the San Antonio Evening News and another paper connected with it. San Antonio Evening News was the afternoon, and the other paper was for the morning. And I was on the afternoon paper. I started out by, on weekends, doing movie reviews that Mary Carter didn't particularly want to do. She had a beau at that time and was interested, and she wanted to have a little recreation. And so I did the movie reviews, and I liked it, and I did other kinds of things.
So I finally decided that if the San Antonio Evening News would take me on, I would quit the teaching business and go on a newspaper. Well, at that particular time, I remember, one of my things that I was covering was the San Antonio Board of Education, and I went in on the day when my resignation was presented, and here were people on this board, very shocked that I was going to leave the teaching profession to go on a newspaper. [Laughter] Well, I wasn't shocked; I was anxious to get on it. So I covered everything that I possibly could cover in San Antonio for the paper, just because I was maybe good at covering shows. Mainly, that's all I was going to cover. I was going to cover anything I found uncovered, and that's exactly what they wanted. So they gave me a lot of jobs to do, and I did pretty well.
I decided I would free-lance, because I was making money on the side anyway. It was already agreeable with the paper that I go ahead and do that. Then, of course, it was only a few dollars that I made on the first story. But anyway, I got a series of papers that depended on me, and one of them was the Houston Chronicle. And they wrote me and asked if I would like to come down for the Convention.  So I showed up down at the Convention and did pretty well down there.
Knight: Which Convention was this?
Cowan: It was the Democratic Convention in Houston, national. And did pretty well in that. And the UP saw me somehow or other, and offered me a job. So I went to Austin, Texas, back to Austin, went into the press room there, and was on the United
Press. I wasn't in charge of the—there were two of us on it, but I had my assignments, and I just covered everything I could find to cover. I never was shy about covering a story. If it happened, I went and covered it. [Laughter] I suppose that's how I made my reputation and how I got tired out, too, because I always kept that way.
So from Austin, a chap came through who was on the staff, executive staff of the—who am I working for now?
Cowan: Yes, I'm working for the United Press, using the name, R. Baldwin Cowan to conceal my sex. And he came through. No, he called up first, and he said, "I want to speak to the chap Baldwin who runs the United Press bureau."
I said, "Well, at the present time, you're speaking to her."
He said, "No, no, I want to talk to him."
I said, "There ain't no 'him' here." [Laughter] So he came up to see, and there was no "him" there. It was his day off.
And he said, "Look, United Press does not hire a woman. I'm awfully sorry."
And I said, "Well, maybe I'll get another job." [Laughter] So this happened all in the press room. So I was really fired, as it were, from the United Press then.
So I sat down, and I got the address of the AP in New York, wired Kent Cooper and said, "I have just been fired from the United Press because I'm a woman. Haven't you got in your big, extensive organization a place for a woman? I'm available."
And back that same afternoon came an offer for a job in Chicago. I didn't believe it! [because the date happened to be April 1st] And I thought the men were playing a joke on me. So I took it all around. Finally, I went down to the Western Union office, and I said, "Did you get this telegram?"
And they said, "Yes. Congratulations!"
And so I wired, "I'll be in on such and such a date." And it was in the next few days. Of course, I had to give UP few days, even though I was fired.
So I showed up in Chicago, and that's how I got on Chicago. And when I got in, I was met by a chap who knew me, through coming through San Antonio, and he was with the International News Service. He came down to the train, to get me off the train, so I wouldn't get lost in the big city. [Laughter] We went around to see a little of the city, and I turned up late in the afternoon at the AP, and they said, "We've been waiting all day for you, scared to death something had happened to you!"
I said, "No, I was looking the town over." [Laughter]
So they said, "Well, come on in. You can look it over from here from now on." And that's when I started with the AP. Well, of course, none of those organizations had women in those days, and the AP had a woman for a while, but they let her go, or she left—put it that way.
And then they put me on, and didn't know what to do with me. That was all right with me. I went out and got a story. Or when they'd talk over what was going on during the day, I said, "Could I help out on that?" or something of the sort. I wasn't a bit shy about that kind of thing. Well, they gave me a desk and a typewriter and told me to get busy! [Laughter] That's how I started, really, with the AP. You can't just sit around and wait for people to tell you what to do. And so I liked it awfully well, and worked there, went on the conventions when they came, you see. They brought their staffs with them, but nevertheless, here I was in the picture somehow or other.
The World's Fair started off. I have two volumes of pictures and my stories and that sort of thing that I saved from the World's Fair. They gave me an office down at the World's Fair, so I really was a full—time person on the job, and I used to get so mad because the fair didn't close 'til midnight. [Laughter] Well, I didn't stay always that late, but I had quite a lot of jobs on the Fair to do. I saved pictures and other people's stories and that sort of thing, and sent up two big volumes, or maybe there's more than that, of the history of the World's Fair in Chicago. Of course, I think I'll leave the stuff, when I die, to the place out there in Chicago, the Chicago Historical Society or the AP, because it's really a very detailed account of the fairs in that time, in that area.
Now where was I? I've got to get out of Chicago, haven't I? [Laughter]
Well, Kent Cooper came by, and I have a very nice book in there I want to show you.
Knight: His autobiography. I saw that when I was here.
Cowan: Yes, you saw it. Did you see the little note written in it?
Cowan: Yes. Well, some day I'm going to be able to read again, I hope.
I had good assignments in Chicago, and not all necessarily about women. I covered the medical society, the national convention of the medical society. Many national conventions, because somehow or other, I didn't regard myself as a woman, and therefore should be limited in what I could think and what I could do and what I wanted to do. And I think that's a mistake so many gals make; they feel, "Well, I'm a woman, and they push me around." They don't push you around any such thing; you push them back and go do your job, and you'll get on the front page. And that was the thing to do.
So then, I think, Kent Cooper—well, he came through several times, and I talked to him. He said, "Where would you ultimately like to go?"
I said, "Washington, D.C."
So a job opened in Washington, D.C., and they telegraphed out there and said, "We'd like to have Ruth Cowan in Washington." So I showed up in Washington, and that's how I got here. Now here I am in Washington. Now, you want any more background? That's it! [Laughter]
Knight: Well, what I'd like to do is go back and ask more detailed questions about some of the things you've already told me.
Knight: I'll go back and just go on, because I've got a nice sense of where you went.
Cowan: Yes, you've got a sense of how I rambled around and what kind of a person I was.
Knight: Yes, I've got a clear sense of that, I think. Tell me more about your house. Did you have any brothers and sisters?
Cowan: No. I had no family at all.
Knight: So it was just your mother and you.
Cowan: Just my mother and me.
Knight: Your father had died.
Cowan: My father had died.
Knight: Did you know him? Do you remember very much about him?
Cowan: Yes, I remember quite a good deal, and I saw him just shortly before he died, maybe a few days. And my mother didn't want me going out very much, and so he invited to take me to a show or something like that, and I got all dressed up and ready and waiting at the convent, and he never showed up. He fell in the street that afternoon. He was not well. He hurt his head, and he didn't live, and I didn't know what had happened. The nuns were all so nice to me, and everybody was so nice to me, wondering what in the hell had happened. [Laughter] And so a few days later, I found out that my father died. My mother was back to bury him. He was buried, and then we took off to Florida. That's how that was.
Knight: You were seven, I think you told me?
Cowan: Seven or older, somewhere in there. Don't ask me my age at that particular time. I don't know. [Laughter] I'm afraid that I'll contradict myself, which I undoubtedly would. [Laughter]
Knight: When you were around the house, did you discuss current events with your mother, or politics? Was there an interest in that kind of thing in your house?
Cowan: No, not particularly, but I read an awful lot. My mother was terribly interested in this lawsuit, and she had a lot of people there. We had some mutual friends in town. But I never discussed much with my mother. I don't think she thought I was too bright. [Laughter]
Knight: Did she work while your father was still alive?
Cowan: No. She painted china. She was a good china painter, and she sold some china, but that wasn't her living. My father had enough money to keep us aboard. [Laughter]
Knight: And then when he died, did she go back to work immediately?
Cowan: No, she didn't work at all. We went to Florida.
Knight: And how were you able to support yourselves?
Cowan: Well, she had this 360 acres of land coming, and, of course, 160 was—well, multiply 160 twice, and you know how much land it was—one was a homestead, and the other was a stone and timber. She qualified for both of those tracts of land. Then she didn't work at all. We had enough money to feed ourselves, from my dad's leavings.
Then we travelled around the country, and she couldn't quite decide where she wanted to settle down. That's how that moved around. Then, of course, the lawsuit started, and she went back there to try to win it, and she didn't get it done. It was just a very bad case.
And I was left in San Antonio, but I was willing to do it. I stayed at the convent, you see, for a while, and then got to know this other couple. See, Mrs. Cunningham was president of the Parent-Teachers Association, and that's how she knew me, and she took me home. I thought the home was very nice, so I moved in, I guess! I don't know. [Laughter] And Mary Carter was the newspaper gal. We all got along fine. John Cunningham was a very prominent lawyer in San Antonio.
Knight: So they adopted you, kind of.
Cowan: Practically they absorbed me into the family. I consider that almost my home. Then went on to the University, you see. Then when I would have some spare time, I went back to this place and stayed there. Yes, I moved in. I was in their home. They had three sons, and we all got along fine. I can get along with people.
Knight: Was your mother very religious? Was it a very strong Catholic upbringing?
Cowan: No, my mother was not a Catholic.
Knight: She was not a Catholic.
Cowan: No, she was a Christian Scientist. And I think she was pretty upset when I signed there—the Catholic school there was an excellent school, and she knew it was a place where I would be safe. She didn't expect I'd go out and get a job and start running the town or something. [Laughter] But that's what happened. Then, of course, I wanted to go to college, and the first place I turned was to a Catholic school in Austin, Texas. But it was too far from the University, and they weren't particularly anxious to have me, and I wasn't particularly anxious to stay there, because they would want me to go to school there, and I wanted to go to the University of Texas. So then they had this Catholic—where the kids, we roomed and boarded there. It was a boarding house for them. What do you say? A dormitory. And so I moved in there. That was Newman Hall in Austin, Texas, and I moved in. It was agreeable that I get a job and that I would be working back and forth. I wasn't under all the disciplinary things. This hall owned a couple of houses there, in which they took in faculty members. Well, they parked me in one of these places, and I loved it. [Laughter]
Knight: But you weren't Catholic yourself?
Knight: You were just working with them.
Knight: How did you choose the University of Texas at Austin? What made you choose that college?
Cowan: I think it's probably the one that I knew the most about, and also, I believe, the eldest son of the Cunninghams was going to Austin at that time. But that's the way I got to know it, and liked it, and got along fine there.
Knight: What kind of expectations for yourself did you have? Did you ever daydream about what you'd be when you grew up, or anything like that?
Cowan: I thought I might possibly be a writer. That was in the back of my mind. And I think it was sort of the predominant thing, so I fit right in with this family, with which I lived. Mary Carter, you see, was a writer on the San Antonio Evening News. I got on the San Antonio Evening News.
Knight: What kind of writing did you think you wanted to do when you thought about being a writer early on?
Cowan: I didn't have any specific idea what kind of a writer I wanted to do. I know that I wanted to write something; I wanted to be somebody; I wanted you to respect me. [Laughter]
Knight: Whose work did you admire when you read all the time? Who were your favorite authors?
Cowan: Oh, gosh. Name a few of them. I read most of them. I can't say that I had any real favorites. I read for an education. I know that I did that. I was a kind of shy person.
Cowan: Shy but aggressive.
Cowan: [Laughter] So anyway, I got places. Somehow or other, people—I think they were amused, more than anything else. And when I kind of discovered that, I didn't exactly like it. [Laughter] But I think that's what it was.
Knight: Did you do any writing when you were in high school or before you got to college?
Cowan: No, I was too busy getting out of high school. You see, I got through in a little over two years. College was—well, I finished, all told, a little over three years, but I broke it in the middle to do some—well, they shipped me around various schools to train me. Then the high school where I'd gotten my main education took me on. [Laughter] Algebra, of all things! And of course, I wasn't much older than
some of my students. [Laughter] And I was told I couldn't go with any of my students, and I said, "Who wants to?" [Laughter]
Knight: [Laughter] That's really funny.
Cowan: I never let anybody get ahead of me, if I possibly could, but I wasn't brash. In fact, I was very shy. But I was hell-bent I was going to make something out of myself. I didn't know exactly what, but I knew something, and probably it was in the writing field, because, you see, everything that I did brought me toward that. Of course, Mary Carter had a great deal to do with it, and I covered some of the movies for her, and some of the plays and that sort of thing. Oh, I know that I got interested in doing some play writing, if I could possibly do it, but it wasn't a dying thing. I just had to succeed; I had to go on and on and on.
Knight: Were you always a good student?
Cowan: Oh, yes.
Knight: Were you successful in that way?
Cowan: Yes. Except when I got to the University of Texas. My mother came to visit me, and my grades went "bang." She didn't like some of the things I was doing, and this, that, and the other, and I felt she ought to leave me alone and let me get my education finished. [Laughter] And she wanted to go on. Well, she had this lawsuit to tend to, and that got to be a—so she led her life, and I led mine.
Knight: Do you think she was proud of you?
Cowan: I don't think much proud of me, no. I think she was too concerned with trying to get this land back and that sort of thing. I think she regarded me sort of—I felt as though I was a nuisance. So I had to be independent, you know, take care of myself. Didn't want to be a nuisance to anybody. Still don't. [Laughter] And it's a very strong trend I have. Anyway, it served me pretty well.
Knight: Now, how did you decide what to major in in college?
Cowan: Well, I had English as the main major, and then I had a lot of history. I think English and history were probably my two main things. Then pretty soon I got a job. Well, I had a job in the library there, the state library, and everybody helped me. I have so many people to thank and to be appreciative. I got in the library. Of course, I borrowed every book they had that wasn't tied down. [Laughter] I read everything. I was a fairly good secretary, but I didn't know stenography or anything. Of course, you didn't have to know it so much. But I could type, and I could compose a letter.
Then after being in the state library, I got a job in the engineering department, in their semi-library in the main office of the engineering department. I didn't know much about engineering, but nevertheless, I guess I did all right. I didn't get fired. If I needed a job, I just went out and hunted one up. And if I found one, I tried to adjust to what its needs were.
But I always remember that I liked writing on the paper. Then, as you see, I lived more or less permanently with the Cunningham family. When I went back to San Antonio and started teaching, even there, I lived with that family. Whenever they moved or anything of that sort, I moved with them. Mary Carter and I had the same
room and that sort of thing, and I adjusted to their way of living. It wasn't a hard one to take. [Laughter] I imagine you gather that. I knew friends of theirs, and I had dates, of course, and they came home. I had been very carefully brought up in the beginning, so I had fairly good manners. Then they got a very large place out near the country club, and I moved out with them, then finally moved on my own.
Knight: Did you do any writing in college? Did you work for a college newspaper or anything like that?
Cowan: No. I can't remember writing anything for the newspapers.
Knight: So you basically learned by doing, when Mary Carter asked you to do these things.
Knight: Was she a college-trained journalist? Had she gone to journalism school?
Cowan: No, she hadn't gone to journalism school, no. She just somehow or other got a job doing movie reviews, and was darn good, and they put her on the movie review. Then I showed up, and she was dating, and Saturday night, she'd like to shine herself and get free of some of those things. Does that mean anything to you? Everything must be awfully confused.
Knight: No, I'm keeping track of it.
Cowan: Okay. I know, but I jump from one period to the next.
Knight: Everybody does. It's the way we think.
Cowan: I've done a lot of interviewing myself. Don't forget.
Knight: It was your stock and trade.
Cowan: Overseas and Washington, Chicago, back in Austin, San Antonio, and then overseas, finally.
Knight: Do you think having a college degree made any difference in the future work that you did or the jobs that you got?
Cowan: Oh, gosh, yes.
Cowan: Oh, absolutely. Well, for one thing, it gave you better command of language, of English, and it gave you education. You got to know different kinds of people and adjust to different kinds of people. Oh, no, college education—I got so I could adjust to almost any crowd. When I found that I was on the paper and I'd get sent out on assignment, I knew a little something about it. What else did you ask me about that? What was your main question?
Knight: I was talking about writing in college, and if you'd done any writing in college. You said that you hadn't really. I asked if a college education was valuable.
Cowan: I was pretty darn busy doing my lessons. You see, I had to work in the afternoons, and I got a job working, oh, I guess, from 1:00 o'clock on, or 2:00 o'clock on.
Knight: Because you put all the money together for college yourself?
Cowan: Most of it, yes. Oh, I didn't live very high, I can assure you of that, but I lived very nicely. I had a little money.
Knight: I'm going to turn this [tape cassette] over.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Knight: So you basically worked your way through school.
Cowan: Yes. I was very careful how I spent my money.
Knight: You taught, then, for two or three years, you were a teacher, as I recall?
Cowan: Yes. I got out and then taught at the same school where I had gone to high school.
Knight: And you taught algebra?
Cowan: I taught algebra. What did I say? How did I move out of my teaching there? I want to be sure and get the same thing.
Knight: Did you approach the paper about taking you on full-time? How did that occur that you got taken on?
Cowan: Yes, I approached the paper. Mary Carter took me in, and I got to know the managing editor and so forth and so on, and I was doing some of the stories for her. They knew it, you see, so they gave me assignments, and then, finally, took me on. Then she eventually quit and got married. Then I worked for the San Antonio Evening News for, I guess, a couple of years.
Knight: Do you remember your first day on the job at the paper, the San Antonio Evening News, your first full day as a reporter?
Cowan: Not especially, no, because I had done so many other kind of odd jobs on the paper.
Knight: I see. And who actually did the hiring? Who hired you?
Cowan: Walliser. Gosh, that's not quite the right name, but it's awfully near the right name. He was managing editor, and he had an office right off of the city room, and, of course, he knew what the city room was doing. He knew Mary Carter and Mary Carter's connections, the Cunningham people, so it was a very natural thing that they gave me a chance. I know that I didn't want to be a society reporter.
Knight: Had they offered that to you?
Cowan: No, they didn't. [Laughter] I think I probably said something about it on the way. I can say pretty frank things. And I really wanted training in courts, and I got training in courts. I helped cover the Al Capone case, and I had a very good
story. I had a feature instinct, and I remember walking down the aisle, and Al Capone was coming toward me, and he was limping. I looked down, and I said, "Ooh, new shoes. They hurt, don't they?"
And he said, "Yes." I used that as my lead, and you know where my story landed, don't you? [Laughter] That kind of thing. But I tended toward news I could do—fast news. But I liked the kind of a nice little—what do you call it?—feature angle to things. So I was really developed into a first-class reporter out in Chicago.
Knight: Tell me a little more about the San Antonio paper. What did you learn there? What did you learn from that first job, do you think, looking back?
Cowan: Well, I had a desk right along with the other men. They had it all cut out like this, and your typewriter was in there. Then they'd give me very odd assignments like they gave the other people, and I had an awful lot of conventions, and I learned to cover the conventions, and I learned exactly how you got your news, and I learned to interview people, which is sometimes not a gift you're born with. And you have to be interested in the person and interested in what the person is doing, or you don't interview very well. I was interested in just about everybody that I came in contact with, so I got a lot of interviews, and apparently did all right. I learned how to write my lead paragraph. I was shown by other men just exactly how to do things, and I got along with people who worked in the offices without much trouble. I didn't have any difficulty.
Knight: Were there other women on that first paper with you, besides Mary Carter?
Cowan: Not in the city room of the Evening News, no, there wasn't any woman there. But the society editors had very good ones in there.
Knight: Why didn't you want to be a society reporter?
Cowan: Oh, just write about parties? I didn't want to write about parties. It's all right to go to a party, but write about it? No. Let somebody else write the parties. I wanted to write stories about the real facts of living, I guess. [Laughter] I don't know. But I know that that was that way. Of course, I've written lots of society stuff; you had to when you worked in Washington. You covered the White House; you had to write very good society stuff, and apparently I did.
Knight: Did you ever feel that you were assigned or not assigned a story because you were a woman at that first job?
Cowan: Oh, I'm bound to have felt that way sometime or other, of course, because that's the way men felt. I can remember one time that a man had something—I'd been out of town, and I came back and found a man was doing one of my jobs, and I said, "Hey, get the hell out of that." I didn't say it that way. [Laughter] That's the one time I protested, and I can remember it brought a big laugh from the city desk. [Laughter] But no, I never had any jealousy on various stories, because I always felt I could handle a story. My idea was getting published, and how would I handle this story to get published, and where was the feature angle in it, more than anything else. A story had its news angle. If a train comes in and falls off a track, that's news. But if it just comes in, and you want to find out something about it, maybe it's the people that were on it. You might find some different ones on there. Now, what else do you want to know?
Knight: What else do you think you learned from that first job? You said pretty much other reporters told you about how to write a lead, and you kind of learned from them. Did you have any editors that had particularly helped you?
Cowan: Oh, yes, we had two. We had a city editor. The organization aboard papers, especially papers not necessarily the AP or anything like that, but even including the AP, you have a city editor, you have assistant city editors, and you have other reporters. No, you'd get big crosses like this through some of the stories—"Do that over again." And you'd go back and you'd do it over again. But later on, I got so that I could—calling in a story, for one thing, that's another technique you have to learn. And I used to write my outlines out like this and then call it in. And then covering trials. I never turned down a story or anything like that. Of course, in that day and time, you had stories at all hours of the day and night.
Knight: What kind of hours did you work at that first job?
Cowan: My first job, I came on about 9:00 o'clock in the morning and was supposed to work 'til around 5:00 or 6:00. But I worked just almost any time, and I liked to get night assignments.
Knight: How come? Why?
Cowan: Well, I suppose because they didn't think I should have them, I think. [Laughter] Then I would get assigned to the opera, for example. Now, I don't know one note from another, but I covered the operas, and I didn't know anything about opera. So I just went out and got hold of people that starred in it, and wrote stories about them. Then they got somebody to do the actual covering of an opera. So I got to know all of—you see, the Chicago Opera Society at that time was just tops. So I got to know them all. And I was backstage and everything else. I wasn't pushy, but I always seemed to be able to get around.
Knight: So you were at San Antonio just for one year, in 1928. You worked for the San Antonio Evening News.
Cowan: I think that's about the time. I can't say just one year. Now, some of my books carry that stuff. Who's Who, you know that collection?
Knight: Yes, that's where I looked up the information about you, was in Who's Who.
Cowan: Was it Who's Who itself, or was it that Who's Who of American Women?
Knight: Who's Who itself.
Cowan: Well, American Women, I think, has more in it, and I discovered—-I cleaned off one of those shelves the other day that I had all that stuff, and you might want to take that first.
Knight: Okay, I'll look at it.
Cowan: My husband, when the Who's Who publication was going to put out this series of Who's Who Among American Women, he wrote to them and gave them my background and that sort of thing. [Laughter] He always thinks that's the way he got me in that thing. Now, there's a whole series of them in there that I thought maybe you'd be interested in seeing, way back in that day.
Knight: So you went from the San Antonio Evening News, then, to the Houston Chronicle?
Cowan: Well, the Houston Chronicle, I just worked down there over that particular convention.
Knight: Just the one convention. Then that's when UP got interested in you?
Cowan: Yes, it was a little after that, and they wrote and asked if I would like a job.
Knight: What were you writing under? What was the name you were writing under then?
Cowan: I wrote under the name of Baldwin Cowan, or R. Baldwin Cowan, or sometimes Ruth Cowan, depending on what I was writing.
Knight: What do you mean it depended on what you were writing?
Cowan: Well, covering something that might go in the society section or the society page, it was, naturally, Ruth Cowan. And then if it was a real honest-to-God he-man story, it was R. Baldwin Cowan or Baldwin Cowan.
Knight: You made that decision?
Cowan: Yes, I made my own decision.
Knight: Why did you—I mean—
Cowan: I never signed my own name to a story. I left that to the city editor to do, and that's the way they worked it out, wherever I worked. Well, I worked all kinds of stories in Chicago, all kinds of conventions. I went in and picked up the assignments. "I want you to cover such and such a thing." I went out and covered it; that's all there was to it.
Knight: Tell me about this name business. So when you were in San Antonio, what name did you write under? You wrote under Ruth Cowan?
Cowan: Yes, when I was on the San Antonio Evening News, I wrote under Ruth Cowan. I wrote under the name of Ruth Cowan.
Knight: And that changed when you moved to United Press?
Cowan: I see what's gotten us off the track there. I was doing a lot of stories on the side and selling them on the side, and it was all right with the management; they didn't care what I did.
Knight: To what other places?
Cowan: Oh, I would send a memo, "Can I cover this?" Or "Would you be interested in this story?" And send it on the telegraph, telegraph them out. In those days, you could send these things out collect. Then I developed quite a number of papers that would call on me. Instead of having a correspondent constantly in San Antonio, they would have a part-timer, and the part-timer was me. I also got the Houston Chronicle.
Knight: So mostly papers in that region?
Cowan: The Houston Chronicle itself. What's the name of the editor down there? She had a cabinet office at one time. Don't say that I can't remember that name. But I want to be sure it's not the Houston Post. We'll have to look up. Oveta Culp Hobby.
Knight: Oveta Culp Hobby.
Cowan: Which one was she on?
Knight: I'm not sure which paper, but you got to know her through one of the papers, the paper that she worked on?
Cowan: The United Press sent me to Austin, Texas. That's when I was on the legislature there. I don't know how you can keep track of all this.
Knight: You were working for the San Antonio paper, and you were selling your stories to other papers around the region.
Cowan: Yes. Right.
Knight: When you covered the convention, the Democratic Convention, was that when the United Press became interested in you?
Cowan: I think probably it was. I took a vacation from the paper in San Antonio. They didn't want to send me down to Houston, but this other place said they would send me. So I went down, and the San Antonio Evening News got a little disturbed about it. But I think at that time I used the name of Baldwin Cowan. Going out and writing to some paper like the New York Times or any of these other papers, "Is there anything in this area that I could cover for you, that you're interested in?" I learned how to write those letters and send them to the managing editor or the city editor. I had that big red book, you know, whatever it is, that lists all the names. I could always thumb through and find out who was on the paper, you see. Then I found a story that they might be interested in, and I'd look down and see what paper was interested there. And I'd send these queries out. In those days and time, they didn't mind you sending them collect, you see. So then I would get back, and then I would establish these relationships. That's how I got this Houston paper.
But anyway, I knew her [Oveta Culp Hobby] down there. And how I met her is, when I was with the United Press, and I got assigned and sent to Austin, Texas, here I am right back in the place where I had gone to school and all that sort of thing. And I was on the Senate side, and Oveta Culp Hobby was parliamentarian, not elected, but a hired member of the staff on the House of Representatives. And I got to know her that way, before she married. But I covered her.
Knight: Did you purposely use the name Baldwin to prevent them knowing that you were a woman?
Cowan: Yes. Definitely. R. Baldwin Cowan, or just plain Baldwin Cowan. Oh, absolutely!
Knight: Did you start out using Ruth Cowan and had you had any turndowns? I mean, what made you make that decision?
Cowan: Oh, I must have had turndowns, or I must have been advised, "We don't care for women," or that sort of thing. And then I also sought to represent them. It was all right with the management at that time. See, the salaries weren't—you couldn't hardly live on them. [Laughter] So you could pick up things on the outside. They didn't seem to mind. They always had to know what you were up to.
Knight: What kind of money would you get for these stories that were picked up, do you remember?
Cowan: Five and ten dollars, something like that.
Knight: Would you use the same story for multiple papers, or were they all different stories?
Cowan: No, I would arrange them so that the lead paragraph would fit in with whatever they were.
Knight: So you had like a little wire service for all these papers.
Cowan: I was a little wire service unto myself, I guess. You might put it that way. So I had several clients. Then at night, when I was not working with the—where did I do that? Yes, I was in San Antonio. I used to go over to the office of the—what do you call them? Oh, that send their copy out. What's the name of where you go to send a telegram? Western Union office. Yes, Western Union office. And they always knew that I was coming in, possibly, and they had a typewriter ready for me, and I'd pound out stories like that, and then they'd go out like this. They went out that way.
Knight: You must have worked incredible hours.
Cowan: Yes, I did! [Laughter] And if I saw that that was the way to do it, I did it. It never bothered me.
Knight: So how did you come to the attention of the United Press, then? How did they know of you and your work?
Cowan: Oh, let's see. How could it possibly have been done? Some story I must have sent that they knew, or they heard of me some way or other and asked me to do something. Then I got sent down to Houston, Texas, and I think it was by the United Press. I know the home town paper didn't like it much.
Knight: Did they know you were a woman when they hired you, the United Press?
Cowan: Did they or didn't they?
Knight: Or were you hired more or less by mail or phone?
Cowan: No, don't you know I told you about this man calling up?
Knight: They only hired you by mail or through telegram.
Cowan: Yes, something like that. There were two of us on my desk, so maybe the other guy hired me. See?
Knight: I see.
Cowan: That's probably how I got on the job. And I was in the news room, and we had a long row of transmitters and that sort of thing. I never learned to do any of that. I don't know why; I just never did.
Knight: So how different was your job at the United Press than it had been at the paper?
Cowan: Well, with the United Press, you were writing for a wire service, and a paper, you were writing for a paper. There's a great deal of difference.
Knight: Did you prefer one over the other?
Cowan: No. Then, of course, I had my own little collection of clients that I had.
Knight: You were still doing those?
Cowan: Oh, yes! Then the Western Union—I did a pretty good business, and the Western Union would hold my telegrams, you see, and I'd call in and find out if anything had come in for me. So I got busy. Then I solicited stories. If I saw something was happening that I thought would interest another town, I'd take this big book, you know, like this, and look up and see what papers were in it, send out a query: "Can I help you?"
Knight: And United Press didn't mind that you had your other clients on the side?
Cowan: They probably didn't know it. No, I don't think there was much overlap. No, I was just an institution all by myself. I didn't know it. [Laughter]
Knight: Do you remember what kind of money you were making at San Antonio and what kind of money you made for the United Press? Do you recall?
Cowan: Very small. I don't like to say what it is. It was small.
Knight: I remember Beth (Campbell) Short was telling me she got an offer, when she got out of college, I guess, in 1929, for $25 a week, which she said sounded pretty good to her at the time.
Cowan: Yes, I think it was about like that. Oh, gosh, yes. That would have been big.
Knight: Were you paid the same as the men on the paper?
Cowan: No, of course not. That's the reason why you'd go out and get some stuff on the side, see.
Knight: I see.
Cowan: But then I loved to write, and that's one way I could get around and see things and meet people and that sort of thing and keep on the go.
Knight: So you worked for United Press for about what—for about a year or so before they found out. Less than a year?
Cowan: Less than a year when this chap came in. And he said, "We don't have women." So I said, "Well, you've got one now."
So he came up and said, "I'm sorry. We can't keep you." Well, he and I became very good friends. Then in London, I met him, and we were at a bar, and he said, "One of the worst things I did was fire you."
And I said, "Yes, I thought so." [Laughter] We were both on the invasion at that time.
Knight: Was this a written policy of United Press?
Cowan: No, it's just the way they did.
Knight: Just the way they did.
Cowan: Oh, sure.
Knight: But then subsequent, you'd been hired by someone else, obviously, who didn't pay attention to it, whoever hired you for the United Press job.
Cowan: Well, they hired me under the name of Baldwin Cowan, undoubtedly, you see.
Knight: But your co-worker had never let on to any of the superiors.
Cowan: No, he never let on, no. It didn't make any difference to him, you see. [Laughter] He probably was on my side.
Knight: So how long did it take you before you contacted AP? What did you do? What was your reaction when they first told you that you couldn't work for United Press any longer?
Cowan: Well, I told you about how he called up and said, "We don't have women." Then he came up. He saw I was a woman. He told me he was very sorry, but that I couldn't do it. And I said, "Well, I guess I can't." So after he left—it was done in the city room there, I mean, in the press room, so everybody kind of felt sorry for me. The chap that was in charge of the UP at that time, that was his day off. So I sat down, and that's when I sent my telegram on to Cooper in New York. I knew this was going to happen.
Cowan: Yes. And so he wired me back right away, and he said, "I know that the AP in Chicago is looking for a woman, and I'm recommending you." Well, that was Kent Cooper. So the room went in, you know, and when my telegram hit them, they said, "Okay, let's take her." So I was on the way.
Knight: How long did it take for you to get relocated?
Cowan: A few days. I didn't have much to pack, and I just got busy and got on the train and got up there.
Knight: That was a change.
Cowan: I went to the biggest hotel in town. I always did things like that. [Laughter] I looked it up in the telephone directory and it said the biggest hotel, so I signed up for the damned hotel. [Laughter]
Knight: Chicago must have been a big change after San Antonio and Houston.
Cowan: Oh, sure! Oh, it was very big. They had trains that run around on tracks up in the sky.
Knight: The L, yes.
Knight: Describe the office to me. How were you set up there?
Cowan: Well, they didn't know exactly what to do with a woman coming in, you see, on the staff.
Knight: Were you the only one?
Cowan: Sure! Well, the switchboard operator was a woman, and the secretary was a woman, the secretary to the boss. And I suppose the men said they didn't want me at the main desk, so they put a little desk out to the side there, and that's where they put me. It suited me all right, fine. They could keep out of the drawers in that desk. [Laughter] One time, I remember, the switchboard operator was just about where that place was, and I said, "You know, there's only one thing wrong with this thing. I haven't got a private telephone." Well, I never did get that private telephone. [Laughter]
I was a big joke to a lot of them. I got to know and I got along fine with them. I've got a good sense of humor, and I knew that I was intruding on their place, and well, I just got along, that's all. I kept to myself pretty well. They said, "You have a woman." This is what the gossip would be: "It disrupts the whole place. A woman is making goo-goo eyes at the men," and all that sort of thing. Well, I didn't make any goo-goo eyes. When it came time for me to go home, I went home. I had no romances around the place.
Knight: Had you decided that? Had you made a decision about that side of your life, when you decided to go into this work?
Cowan: No, no. I didn't intend to be in there permanently, but I was not going to interrupt the way in which the AP and the rest of them operated. Of course, I didn't tell them that I didn't see any of them that I'd fall in love with yet. [Laughter]
Knight: Did you socialize at all with the other reporters up there? Did you make friends?
Cowan: Oh, sure. We'd go down for breakfast and coffee and that sort of thing. Then I knew the families of the other people. That's what I did more than anything else, and I would be invited for Christmas and Thanksgiving, out to their homes. But I
didn't date, didn't make a policy of dating any of the ones that were there. That's not because I didn't find people that were not attractive to date, but they were all married, and I had my work, and they had theirs. But we could go down for a cup of coffee, for God's sake. Every morning we'd do that; I can remember that all right.
Knight: You said you kind of kept off to yourself. Did you work at winning their respect?
Cowan: Oh, yes, definitely.
Knight: What did you do? Tell me a little bit about how you felt and how you approached your work, knowing that they weren't really happy about having you there.
Cowan: It had to be good work. I told myself that. If at all possible, it had to be a scoop. Well, you can't get a scoop every time, but it had to be a little unusual and well written and well done. I never got mad when they said, "Oh, for God's sake, do this over." Once in a while, I got that, but I would try to get—and I asked their opinion about what they wanted and how they wanted it developed. Not too much, because they wouldn't want to make you dependent upon them. No, I caught on to the knack of how you started a story, and then if they think, "Okay, that was good."
I can remember the managing guy in Chicago got up from his desk and came over—"Congratulations. That's one of the best leads I've ever read." [Laughter]
And I said, "See?" [Laughter] Well, everybody laughed. I was a joke to them, and I worked it that way, to make them—I don't know. I've got a good sense of humor, and I laughed at things as they went along. Then sometimes I managed to get Underwood to talk things over with me on what we thought such and such a story would merit, especially when a convention was coming. Not a big convention, but a national convention of certain things, and I'd tell them. I got pretty knowledgeable on what news was and how it functioned. Then I got to know the families and was accepted in the homes of these people. I didn't disrupt the office. That was always the thing—"You have a woman in, and you've got turmoil on your hands." Well, that's nonsense.
Knight: Were there any of your fellow reporters that you were never able to win over?
Cowan: Never tried on all of them, no. If he didn't want me, that's okay. He didn't want me on assignments? Okay with me. No, I can't remember ever having been turned down when somebody said, "Well, Ruth can go along with you and get you something." And then I would tell what I was doing, and I did have the self-confidence to feel that I could do something that was worthwhile for the AP on a story, that I didn't need to have to—of course, I didn't tell the UP what I was doing, something of that sort. And they would say, "Well, what are you going to cover?"
And I'd say, "Well, I'm thinking about so and so. I think I'll interview so and so," not talking about going over to a convention meeting. You see, Chicago was a convention place. "I think I'll find so and so and see if they've got anything that's any good." And then I'd usually say, "You got anything on your mind?"
And then they would say, "No, you go get something." And then when I got through with it, the man who was in charge of the story was still there, I turned it into him. It seems to me that's the only way to work it, anyway. So that I never had the reputation of being hard to get along with, that I know of.
Knight: Were there any other women hired while you were there?
Cowan: No. From Washington, where did I go? I came from Chicago. I came to Washington. Then Washington was very different, you see. And I lost my luggage, and I had to find it.
Then they did have some women in Washington on their feature desk. What was the name? Sigrid Arne, she became a good friend of mine. Of course, they all looked me over. Then I was on the news desk. Who's that gal you were talking about earlier in the day?
Knight: Beth Short.
Cowan: Beth Short, yes. Her husband died, didn't he? She didn't marry again, did she?
Cowan: I think it was Beth Short I succeeded.
Knight: That's true. You did. I think we'll stop for the day, and next time I come back, we'll talk about Washington and some other things.
[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Cowan: Wes Gallagher was in charge of all the units over in North Africa at the time, you see, that I landed there, and he wanted me put right on the boat and sent back to the United States, and Iris Carpenter along with me.
All right. Now, go ahead and ask me any questions. I'll try to give you the answers. Brad will be listening to it, and I think we can probably get them straightened out.
Knight: I want to concentrate today on the time you did spend overseas during World War II. How did you get the assignment to go over? How did that come about?
Cowan: Well, it wasn't supposed to be that way. I had wanted to go over to London. I was, at that time, stationed in Washington, and I wanted to go over with Mrs. Roosevelt when she was making a trip flying back and forth or somebody else like that. But I would like to have worked in London, I said, for Time. I wanted to be transferred. Well, they dilly-dallied with it, and then just one day they told me that the assignments had been set up, and I would be going to London. So I got things fixed around there, and not supposed to tell anybody, not supposed to give any information. They arranged to have someone living in my apartment and taking care of anything that I needed, but I couldn't tell anybody that I was going out of the country, especially not to London or anyplace else.
So I found out that the WACs were going over there, and I had been covering the WACs from the very beginning. Oveta Culp Hobby was a good friend of mine, so she gave me some breaks—you know she was head of the WACs—and said that there would be a unit of the WACs going over there. I said, "Well, why can't you take me along? I've been covering the WACs. And if they're going over there, don't you want some coverage from London? We give over here in America great coverage to the girls that come over from England. Why shouldn't we get some in reverse?" So they agreed that it would be all right for me to do that.
Then you want to know how Inez Robb got involved in the thing. Well, I had some very good friends in New York that I used to go up and visit like that—Wiley Smith, who was head of one of the units, Universal Service was another one, a Hearst outfit. When I would come to town, he would take me to dinner, and I knew him when he was stationed in Washington as director of the Universal Service. So I looked him up. Somehow or other, that evening we encountered Inez Robb. I had told what's-his-name, Wiley Smith, that I was going overseas, and walking down the aisle, I said, "Gosh, I'm going to get to go overseas." Well, she just went to work right now, trying to go, too. I felt that it didn't bother me that there would be another woman in the thing or anything like that, whether I would go alone or she would be with me, or anything else. So we sort of joined forces to get this ball rolling.
For one thing, we had to—oh, a lot of things and details you had to do about your things when you were leaving and so on and so forth. I was going with the WACs,
definitely, so I had to get a uniform with the WACs. Well, they gave me one of the uniforms for the WACs, all right, to wear over there, and then I had one tailor-made, but I couldn't have any insignia on it. I went through all of North Africa with that, and when I got to England, those people looked at me a little oddly. So I just went into the AP Bureau, and I said, "Listen, I'm not going around wearing an American uniform or anybody else's uniform without an insignia on it. Put some on." So they did. They got me things up here for the neck and for the arms and all that sort of thing, the same things up there.
Knight: Why did they put you in uniform?
Cowan: Oh, they have a different way of handling the correspondents now than they had then. Then it was a different thing. Well, you had status with the military service, and you weren't a member of the thing, but you were, nevertheless, brought in that way, and you were subject to their rules and regulations. If they wanted to move the unit out, they moved you along with the unit, you see. And so you were always hunting for a place to affiliate with the military service so that you could get taken places like this, that, and the other. That was probably one of the reasons I wanted to see Patton. [Laughter] I wanted to get up front and have a look at what he was doing up there.
Knight: So who had to approve your going with the WACs besides Oveta Culp Hobby? Who else had to approve it?
Cowan: Well, the AP had to approve. The AP approved. I came in, I remember, and telling them that I had this chance to do it, and I'd go with the WACs. I was absolutely frank. You have to be frank with the immediate bosses like that. And they agreed, too, it was a good idea. Nobody ever said anything. I just vanished from the scene.
Knight: So you took care of details and you went with the WACs.
Cowan: With the WACs. I went up in New Jersey, and we all thought we were going to London at first. Somebody came along and told me that I couldn't take my winter clothes with me, all the winter clothes I had. They said I won't need them, and they said, "You're not going to need a lot of your own civilian things. You'll have a military uniform, and that's all right." Well, that was okay with me. So we were more or less attached—put it that way—to the WAC unit, Inez and myself.
Knight: It was a simulated rank.
Cowan: Yes, we got in a simulated rank. We stayed up there in New Jersey for a week or ten days, until they got orders to ship us. Well, we were all set and ready to go to London. [Laughter] We got out in the middle of the Atlantic or something like that, and somebody who had been on back and forth said, "This isn't the way to London. Even I can recognize that out here in the Atlantic!" [Laughter] So we said no, we were not going there. Then we were told that we were going to Africa. Well, the war had been starting in Africa. It had gotten that far, and I was just delighted.
So we went on and landed at Algiers. The first night they had a whatchamadoodle [air raid] overhead; it's very noisy. Then stayed at the hotel down there, and everybody knew and thought it was very funny at the day, but I didn't think it was funny, and I don't think Wes Gallagher thought it was funny. He said, "I don't want any women attached to my unit. Send them back!" And he said, "The ship's going back
here the next day. Put 'em on!" So Inez Robb got support from her outfit, and she didn't have the trouble that I had. Of course, it's all funny now, and Wes Gallagher and I are good friends. He's made some recommendations for me. He was later head of the AP.
Let's see. I've lost what I was telling you.
Knight: Wes Gallagher was the head of the unit.
Cowan: Yes, he was the head, and he wanted to send me back. But I thought and I said, "No." He wouldn't give me an assignment, you see, or anything like that to do. Well, that was all right. I knew how to figure out my own assignments, so I went around interviewing this person, who was in charge of publicity for the Army and the other branches of the military service. And I said, "What would you suggest I try to do today?" And so they would give me some suggestions, and I would do it. I'd bring them in and file them with the AP, and also I would tell the military that I had filed it. A lot of that stuff got back home, so they seemed to be pretty well pleased with me.
When it came time for the units to move from North Africa to go up to England—that's not press units; military units and that sort of thing, what had happened when Eisenhower and the rest of them were conferring, Marshall and Churchill. So I was with the contingent that was moved up while the others of the AP, most of them were sent home. There were several other units, but most were sent home. But there was no suggestion that just because I was a woman, I should be sent back now at this late date. I finally found myself in Gibraltar and then on up with the contingent of correspondents going into London to augment the place there and get ready for the real invasion. Now, that wasn't to come the next day or the next week. I was quite some time in London and so were a lot of the others.
Knight: What stories do you remember covering when you were in Algiers? Do you have any particular memories of favorite stories that you covered?
Cowan: Algiers, you mean, when I first got there?
Cowan: Let's see what I can think of. One thing that I can remember is in Algiers, with the unit that was going up to the front in Algiers, and I got up there, that was the one where we had to retreat and had to beat it back to Algiers. They turned us around up there, and I was with several officers. We commanded a car, and they drove back. Then I got stories about food and that sort of thing, but you're very limited when you're covering stories when you're in actual action. It has to wait until it cools off so they can't specify where you were and what you were up to. I had a good deal of difficulty getting specific names of people. I'd interview them and think, "When this story gets back to the United States, then they'll be very proud of so and so." Well, that story went in the waste paper basket as fast as they could put it there, because I'd told where the units were. So you were handicapped. But one learned that if I waited a few weeks, I could write about what happened up there when the enemy found out we'd been there and so on and so forth, whether we had won or we'd been kicked back.
As I started to say, I made progress to go back to London, and found some stories on the Riviera that were very interesting to write about and made some good friends on the Riviera, and they invited me into their homes and all that sort of
thing. I could see how things changed there. There were Americans there still. Then I just got hotel accommodations. It wasn't difficult. You just went into a hotel and somehow or other you said, "I'd like to have a room, please, and I'd like to have some meals attached to the room," and you got it. War is very different from peacetime stuff. So I stayed in several places along the Riviera, and then, finally, I got ordered formally to Paris, and I went up to Paris. I stopped in Rome on the way. I had to see Rome. Then from Rome on up, I worked my way and got into Paris. They were very glad to see me and said, "Oh, we have a lot of stories for you to do."
And I said, "Yes, I suppose you want to know what the latest fashions are in wartime." So I went to see what happened with some of the fashion industries, and I got along very well in that.
Then, finally, as things got a little more tense, I went back to London for just a little while. It seemed like just a little while, but I did a lot of covering in and out of various towns in England and Scotland and so forth. As I said, they gave me so much leeway. They didn't know what to do with me; that was the answer.
So then just as the war was getting involved, the place where you knew there was an invasion coming, I covered that as far as I could, telling them what might happen and so forth. Then I was sent down. I was very close friends with the WACs and stayed close to them all the time. We had the same hotel, same accommodations, and same billeting orders. Then the guy on the desk at the AP in London said, "How would you like to go to the south part of England?" I said, "Suits me. I don't think I've been down there." So he said, "All right, we'll send you down." So I went down to the southern part of England, and found that I was mixed up with a unit that was going to go overseas very shortly. Well, that was fine; that was exactly what I wanted. Then somebody decided that I was—a little question of whether they ought to look me over, and reported in to the headquarters of this unit that I was going to travel with, and two of the top people in the WACs came down, and we all met in some general's office. I don't remember who. They all knew me, and they said, "No, she's all right. She's the genuine object." Somebody had faked themselves to be me. I never did find out who did it or what, but they got that cleared up, so we all said goodbye, and they said, "See you in France," or something like that.
So I made one trip over with the medical unit to pick up some wounded on a plane, so we went over and we landed along the shore someplace, and they loaded up again and came back. Then I guess I did all right on that and thought that would give me a chance to go, so I got assigned to a unit that was going over, on a ship over. It wasn't very exciting. We whirled around a few times and took off and went over to France. We parked out there until they could unload, and then got on the beach. That was a little noisy. They worked to get people on the beach and up as quick as they could, and I was with the unit that they pushed up. I was dirty, too, and I ran out of face powder and everything. I had a rough time. [Laughter]
Knight: It sounds like you were pretty much on your own in terms of determining how much you did.
Cowan: I was very much, in terms of my own, but I always made it a point to tell the commanding officer of whatever unit I was assigned to or whatever unit I asked if I could join or that sort of thing. No, I never pulled any rank or tried to get by on any rule or regulation. I immediately went to the headquarters and reported myself in.
Knight: Within the AP, did you report, then, to whoever the bureau chief was for the sector that you were in?
Cowan: Oh, yes, I would. When I was working so much on my own, I was checking in with the military, finding out what stories they had that they were maybe going to release in some publicity that they would send around to the various units, newspaper units and magazine units, or any outlet in which they could get some publicity back home in the United States.
Knight: How did you get along with the other journalists?
Cowan: There were no other girls at that particular time, except when Carpenter and I went. There were some girls in London, some that I knew, who had gone over to England, one or two who had married and gone over. In London, of course, it was a different story. It was just like being home, as it were.
After I got over to France and that sort of thing, bumming around, and then the gal that was with me, Iris Carpenter, part of the time, we separated and went on different units and that sort of thing. I knew the nurses. I made a point of getting acquainted with them, any women units that were around. You see, the British had women in uniform—military uniform. Well, the uniform I was wearing was a done-over WAC uniform. [Laughter] It was pretty dirty—I, too. But it didn't have any insignia until I finally blew my stack and said, "Put something on me. Somebody will arrest me some day and I'll get shot."
Knight: What about the men journalists?
Cowan: Oh, the men were just—it was different in the day. Of course, we are not in war, you see. Now, maybe when we go to war, the men correspondents, both the writers and the photographers, will be put in uniform, and you're under a certain control. You don't go roaming around as freely; you have to go and get clearance to go. And it was never hard to get. Wherever I wanted to go, I found I could get there.
Knight: How did you get along with the men journalists?
Cowan: Oh, some of 'em didn't like me. I mean, Wes Gallagher wanted to send me home immediately, as I told you, and he said, "Hold the ship and put her on it, going back home!" [Laughter] Finally, we became pretty good friends, and he and I are now friends. Then I had no trouble. When I got to London, we were all friends. I knew a number of the men who were over there.
Knight: When you were in Algiers, going back just a little bit, that's when you covered Patton at the Kaserene Pass during that retreat.
Cowan: Well, I heard there was some action going on up there, and of course, you went sometimes by plane and sometimes you managed to get a group of soldiers that were moving up and that sort of thing. So I wanted to find out what was going on. Wherever I heard there was something happening, I wanted to try to get there. So I went up. On the way up there, we were in the plane, and the plane came down low enough so that you could see pretty well what was going on on the ground. You didn't want to be too high up, because they'd shoot you down. I saw that there was so much traffic going back this way when it should have been going that way. Troops that were successful would go that way. But here they were coming back. So I began asking questions. [Laughter] I ran onto Patton up there with several other officers, and I came up and said, "What's the trouble?" [Laughter]
And he said, "I guess it's the wrong way." Some remark like that; I don't know if it was that. So then I figured I'd better get myself back to Algiers myself, which I did.
Knight: I understood that Patton had been too busy to see the reporters.
Cowan: Well, he had, but he was out on the field, and I was the only reporter. I was with some other group, of course, and just—-well, you know, some of the other military officers that were up on various jobs without necessarily commanding a unit, and I was with one of those groups. We went up to him, and Patton couldn't do much else but sit and talk to me. I think he was so confused by the fact I was up there. [Laughter] That was nothing. I knew Patton after that time. We used to say hello and all that sort of thing.
Knight: Didn't you run into him later on after that retreat at the French Embassy in Algiers, as well?
Cowan: Yes. Did I tell you about that?
Knight: I've heard about that.
Cowan: What did it say?
Knight: [Laughter] It's your story.
Cowan: Yeah. I can remember, but I can't quite remember. I remember we were having lunch at the counter, because things were very informal in those days. But I don't remember exactly what was said then. If you'd tell me, I probably could recall it, because I remember talking to him. No, Patton was all right. I liked Patton very much. I have great admiration for him.
Knight: You were on the ship with Patton during the Normandy invasion, I read.
Cowan: Well, I think I was on the unit that was commanded by Patton, but I'm not sure. I can't recall that I did. If I said I did, well, I probably can find that I was. That's just procedure.
Knight: Tell me about the Harvard hospital unit, the unit that you went to in France.
Cowan: Well, I found out very early in the business that if I got in touch with organizations like hospitals and medical units and that, that I had a good chance of staying there, but if I wanted to get involved with a military unit, no, they didn't want any of that. I wasn't a good enough shot for that, I guess. And also, they didn't want women getting mixed in with the men units, if at all possible. So I just let them go do the fighting, and I went around and tried to write the interesting sidelights of the war.
I had made contact with a great many of the hospitals and field units, because I was always accepted there. The nurses were there, for one thing. They were used to the fact that there are women in this world, and that they can have a part in the war, too.
Well, one of the hospitals, the biggest one at that time in France, was the Harvard Hospital. I think it was Inez Robb. At that time we were about ready to get into Paris, and we started on this detailed trip into Paris, and stopped at this hospital. By that time, my hair was not naturally the color that I was wearing it, you see, and it had grown out a little bit, so I thought I ought to do something about it. I said, "I'm not a golden—haired person anymore, am I?" So they said, "No, you're not. You have a streak around there. It's a little darker."
So I went into this hospital, and I said, "Any chance of getting a pail of water?" I had a bottle of the stuff that I could put on it. "Does anybody know about putting some stuff on heads?" Yes, they did. So they gave me a dose of putting the bleach on my head and all that sort of thing, and washed it. And when I came up, somebody said, "Oh, my God, it's not the right color." [Laughter] So here I was, starting out with two layers of darker hair than my real hair, I think. She put something on there; I don't know. That's part of that story. So I got into Paris. One of the first things I did was to find a beauty parlor and get myself all in one tone up there. It was just fun. I didn't like it much.
Knight: Let's take a break and change the tape.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Cowan: When it came time to go in, Inez and I got separated. She wanted to go on one type of story, and I wanted to go on another, and we were on the outside of Paris. The train that went into Paris, wasn't it? Well, I was with one small hospital that particular time, and they were going into Paris, being transferred from out where the action was into Paris, and I wanted to know if I could get a ride with them, and I did. I got a ride on the train into Paris with this particular unit. I rode in the cabin, the engine, climbed up in the cab of the engine to see what it was like up there. There wasn't much I could see or look into. [Laughter]
Knight: This would have been when Paris was liberated in August of '44?
Cowan: No, no, it was earlier. Oh, no, we were still fighting in Paris, fighting for life, as it were. Then every now and then, I'd get with a WAC unit. We joined the WAC unit, we went into Paris in a car, an automobile. One of the WACS had enough rank to get a car, and we got in. We got quarters in one hotel and went up and pushed the window up, thought we'd wave the American flag out. Pretty soon somebody began firing at us, so we closed the window down and stopped it, decided it was a little bit too early. [Laughter]
Knight: You said in an interview that when you were assigned to these stories, that you were assigned to these stories with a women's angle on it.
Knight: What did that mean?
Cowan: Men in those early days didn't really know what to do with a woman reporter. Now, could she come in and cover a murder trial? Isn't that rather messy for her to cover? Shouldn't she be protected from that type of thing? Well, that was the early days. Of course, I was right out there where I wanted to find out what was going on.
Now, what was the question you asked?
Knight: The women's angle of stories.
Cowan: I always had to worry with the women's angle in something, but that was not the real story. I was after the real story.
Knight: Explain to me the difference. What would a women's angle story be, and what would the real story be?
Cowan: A women's angle would be covering nurses, covering hospitalization, covering whatever civilian things would carry over into the military, covering the food, but not covering fighting, the battles, not going in when they were planning what kind of a move they would make, when the military was planning what kind of a move they'd make. Like I can remember that one of Eisenhower's groups, the men came in and they were talking about what moves they would make in a particular maneuver they were making. And I was right in the back, standing right there. I never intruded in anything. I never wanted to get thrown out if I could help it. I didn't see much of a women's angle in it; I thought it was just a war—period. And I've been around when they were firing cannons and that sort of thing, but I didn't push my way in.
Knight: You preferred what kind of story?
Cowan: More or less human interest stories, what the whole thing was all about. I wasn't an authority on this thing, you know. What adventures various—I would go into a hospital in which they had casualties recovering, and I would talk to them and get their stories and write them and push some of them back and file them. Of course, a lot of those things didn't get printed, of course, didn't even leave the country because they couldn't. It would give too much away. That was their job, not mine.
Knight: The editors that you passed the stories on to.
Cowan: Right. Sure. I knew pretty well if I could write the story or not, but if so and so a person was wounded in such a battle that happened at such a place, perhaps that wasn't knowledgeable to the enemy, so why do it? You don't do it.
Knight: How would you actually physically get these stories? Did you type them? Did you write them longhand and send them on to an editor? How did they get to where they were supposed to get?
Cowan: I used the phone a lot. It was pretty hard, those phones over there, to handle, especially they have French operators, and I spoke no French. But I managed to get through. And then I used to write stories. If there were men correspondents who were going back or something like that, I'd give them something to turn into the AP. Usually I could find AP—enough of us were over there—that I could make connections with an AP chap and give him some copy to take back, or I would give it to some friends of mine. It got back all right. Not all you write, of course.
Knight: You also tried to join General Patton at the Battle of the Bulge, I understand.
Cowan: Oh, there's something about that I can't quite remember. I've been going back to when you asked about Patton. The Battle of the Bulge, that was in the later part.
Knight: December of '44.
Cowan: Yes. I can't quite remember what it was.
Knight: I understand that you didn't get to go, but they sent you to Rome instead, and you went to see Pope Pius XII.
Cowan: Yes, I saw him. I can't quite remember it. I know that there's something there with Patton, because we always remained kind of close friends.
Okay. Anything else?
Knight: I know that some of the relationships that you made during the war were helpful for you when you returned back to the United States. After you got back, did they keep your slot open at the AP, at the Washington Bureau? That was waiting for you when you returned?
Cowan: Yes. I was pretty exhausted when I came, and there were about—oh, six to eight of us, something like that, that they just simply got back into London and then put us on a plane and sent us home. We were glad to get home. I went to New York, of course, and they said that I should have some leave, so I met some friends, so on and so forth, and I had to get some clothes. I had no clothes. Then I didn't have to go to work. I went up to the AP office and reported in every now and then, in a few days or something of that sort.
When I came back, I did some initial writing, but I was awfully tired. Then they said I would be assigned to the London Bureau, and that was all right with me, but I didn't go back.
Knight: Why didn't you go back?
Cowan: Got my old job back in Washington. I liked it better. And I'd left my apartment in Washington. Several WACs had it. Hank Horrack—do you know her?
Cowan: Well, she was public relations for the WACs, and she was a very close friend of mine. We worked very good together. So when she came back a little ahead of me, she took my apartment, and a couple of other WACs still. The war was still on.
Knight: You came back in the summer of '45?
Cowan: Something of that sort. I'd have to look up the date.
Knight: And when did you start back to work at the Washington Bureau?
Cowan: About two months or something. I went down to Texas and stayed there. That's my home state, as it were, and stayed there about a few weeks and then came back, rested a little bit more, and I wanted to go back to work.
Knight: Now, you were involved at that point with the Women's National Press Club.
Cowan: Oh, yes. I think I joined the [Women's] National Press Club before I ever went overseas. Along early in that deal, I got elected president.
Knight: Tell me about your year as president. What do you remember most about it?
Cowan: Well, I had some very good speakers. Of course, I had Mrs. R. Then when they were working out plans for the peace and all that sort of thing, I had everybody that had a title, I think, in one of these departments, the head guy, I tried to get him to talk to the Press Club. And I had some very good programs because I got good people.
Knight: This was during the time in which women weren't allowed in the National Press Club.
Cowan: Oh, Lord, no. You could go in with somebody. You know, there's one little room off to the side there as you come in the main door. It's a room off there. I think it's a cloak room now. And that was a dining room. Some man member or some man that had connections with the Press Club could invite you to go in there to lunch or dinner. Then they got so that they would let two or three women come in if one of them was married to a man that was a member of the Press Club. But you couldn't go beyond a certain place over there. You could hardly get a check cashed. [Laughter] That was funny.
Knight: What happened when you had Secretary of State Marshall to the Women's National Press?
Cowan: Oh, that was the time we got mixed up. He got there ahead of me. I went down to one entrance to get him in, and I went to the entrance where men and women could—it wasn't the Press Club. It was a men's club right about K Street, somewhere there. Do you remember, Brad, what that thing could be? [Army & Navy Club] Anyway, there was one door which men and women could come in, and then they would—BZZZZZ—right to the very top floor, which they could have men and women at night shows and that sort of thing, night dinners. Then Marshall—no, I'm all mixed up. I know what you're talking about, but I can't get quite the connection of the thing. What did you have on it?
Knight: That the men were very upset that the Women's Club had gotten Marshall to speak about the Marshall Plan, and they couldn't come.
Cowan: Oh, that was the time that I had asked Marshall if he would come and speak, and he did. He said he would. We got mixed up getting upstairs, but that didn't have any real serious thing to it. But Marshall made the first public statement to the Women's National Press Club. Well, now, a woman in the National Press Club could invite a man to come if she wanted, as her guest, because they would let the men invite us to certain limited number of performances, types of performances they had. The men just couldn't get in, and here was Marshall making his speech, you see, the first one, and they were all out in the hallway. Oh, it was adorable! [Laughter]
Knight: Turnabout is fair play.
Cowan: Absolutely! [Laughter] Marshall was a great person.
Knight: Were there any efforts when you were with the Women's National Press Club to integrate the two clubs and merge them during that time?
Cowan: No, not that I ever knew anything about. I thought we were doing very well on our own. [Laughter] We were getting places that sometimes the men couldn't get.
Knight: For example, what kind of stories do you think you were able to do that they couldn't?
Cowan: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, of course. The men didn't want women in the President's conferences, and once in a while you would get in, but you always were having to stand at the back and that sort of thing. So Mrs. R. didn't like the way the women were pushed around, so she had press conferences, and she wouldn't let the men in! [Laughter] Funny days, those.
Knight: You had started covering Mrs. Roosevelt when you worked in Chicago.
Cowan: Oh, I was in Chicago when I covered her. Yes. Her secretary, we went down, and the mine got stuck down there. [Laughter] They had to get us up by inches, almost.
Knight: That was when she went to the Orient mine in Chicago?
Cowan: The Orient thing, yes. Have you got that?
Knight: I knew that you were on that trip.
Knight: But I didn't know you had gotten stuck.
Cowan: No, it was slow getting up. It wasn't really a stick; we weren't barricaded down there or left down there. But it was very slow coming up. I think they were afraid to let us off, I don't know. They had to just skip that. That was the time that I backed up against something. It was summer, and I had a light wool dress, a knit wool dress or something like that on, and I was covering Mrs. R's several functions in Chicago at that particular time. That was when I was stationed out there. I had to keep going from one thing to another. At the night performance of this group, some big women's club, everybody was all dolled up, and, of course, I showed up and here I had all this stuff that I'd gotten on me from backing up against this thing in the elevator, in the mine. And walked out, trying to find a place to hear Mrs. R. talk, and they just wouldn't let me on. Mrs. Roosevelt saw it, and she laughed and laughed and laughed, and said, "Ruth, come on over here and sit down here." And then I realized what was the business, so I said no, but I was awful darn mad. [Laughter] I imagine I covered the meeting without any spite, but I would have liked to have wrung their necks.
Knight: What other stories do you remember covering of Mrs. Roosevelt that stick out in your mind?
Cowan: Well, the first time I ever saw Mrs. Roosevelt was the time she came out after the election, and she had a lot of mail in her hands. She asked if anybody from the AP was there, and I acknowledged that I was, and I moved up front. She said, "Well, here. I brought these letters." And I said, "You're carrying our letters for us?" [Laughter] She handed me a bag of mail. They were personal things, you see. They weren't really letters that went through the mail. So I took them into the office, and I said, "Mrs. 'R' brought these things to us." Some people had left her, and she wanted the people from the AP to see them or something. I don't know what was in the things.
Knight: She had had a very good relationship with the women reporters, didn't she?
Cowan: Oh, yes, she liked them. She didn't like them being pushed around like they were, and if you went to something to cover something, and you had maybe a little difficulty getting a chair or something like that, she, sitting up on the platform, would move down and point to a chair or something like that. She was very helpful, one of the most helpful people you could possibly imagine. And she was helping the women. Any time that she could say a good word for a woman, she did. So the men, of course, didn't like that either, because good stories would break through Mrs. R's press conference, and I imagine she and the President plotted some of that stuff. Anyway, they got to the place where they would try to sneak in to us. One time she got up and just ordered them out of the hallway. [Laughter] "Okay, I see you over there. Get going." [Laughter] I was very fond of Mrs. R.
Then when I first came back from overseas, I went up to Hyde Park there for a little bit. She liked reporters and understood them. She liked men reporters, too, but they weren't going to keep the women from getting a break, too. This is early, you know.
Knight: Back in '33, when she first held a press conference.
Cowan: Right. And this is when civilization was a little different.
Knight: When you came back from the war and rejoined the AP in Washington, were you still the only woman that was there?
Cowan: In the AP?
Cowan: No, they had a couple in the Feature section, and then there was a gal taking my job while I was gone. She then went back home to get married, so things moved. I just got my same old desk and shoved the stuff in.
Knight: And you had a general news beat, the same beat that you'd had before, covering the White House?
Cowan: No, I was more or less—well, I had some of that. If it was special stories, yes, I covered the White House and that first. Then I was assigned to the Department of Defense. They thought I knew a cannon from a shotgun. I got along over there all right because I knew so many of those people.
Knight: And how much longer were you with the AP? You worked there until the mid-Fifties.
Cowan: About '55. [June 30, 1956]. Somewhere in the early Fifties. I don't know, Brad.
Mr. Nash: You were there 'til '56. We got married, and that was when you lost your job.
Cowan: Yes, I got fired! [Laughter]
Knight: I want to talk about that.
Cowan: No, that's a joke.
Knight: You were single all this time.
Knight: Was that a choice that you had made?
Cowan: Well, once in a while I did get an offer to change it. [Laughter]
Cowan: I didn't do it, of course.
Mr. Nash: You covered the press gallery.
Cowan: Oh, yes, I did. Right after the war, they'd learned that maybe women could do some of these jobs, so I was assigned to the press gallery and to the House Armed Services Committee in the House. Then, naturally, I would go into the press gallery to see what was happening to the bills that I was concerned with in the committee meetings.
Knight: I am interested, though—I've asked other women that I've interviewed—-in the choice that you did make. Did you think about marriage and think about having children and what that meant for your career?
Cowan: Oh, I did, of course, going along the way. I had a few love affairs, but that was not—everybody has those. When you're in high school, you fall in love with somebody.
Knight: I'm just curious.
Cowan: No, I was very anxious to be a success in the writing business and that sort of thing, and I had a lot of fun in those days.
Knight: Did you think that getting married might change that or getting seriously involved with a man would change that?
Cowan: Sure! In those days, the AP didn't want a married woman. Bess Furman—that was one of the reasons—did you know her or of her?
Cowan: Well, that was one of the reasons poor Bess lost out over there. She got married. A terrible crime. [Laughter] Hope you notice that as a joke. [Laughter]
Knight: Then Beth (Campbell) Short followed her.
Cowan: Yes. And then Beth Campbell married, and I followed her in, you see. Yes.
Knight: What about some of your other women journalist friends? Do you think they had difficulty making that decision?
Cowan: No, I don't think so. I think we were all more or less of the same opinion, and it just worked out that way for me. Any time that I got—I don't know, I was rather ambitious to get something done. I don't know. I just went from one place to another.
Knight: So what made you finally decide to get married?
Cowan: Well, if you were not of a certain age in AP, why, they put you on more or less kind of a retirement basis, which was not much good. I had met Brad by that time.
Knight: That's true. They had an after-55 retirement rule at the AP. Sigrid Arne was forced to retire at the age of 55 at the AP, I recall.
Cowan: Yes. So was—who else was up there? I think Bess Furman was, wasn't she?
Knight: Yes. I'm not sure if she left because she married or because she got hit by the retirement.
Cowan: I don't know either. I've forgotten.
Knight: Were there any reporters that you worked with who were married and had families? I know Sarah McClendon obviously was on her own.
Cowan: Well, that's different. The AP finally got some sense. Yes, there were others, but there were so many of those restrictions. It was very difficult for women in the teaching profession to ever become a principal. Who ever heard of that? Ages have changed a little bit, and it's very amusing to see how much they've changed in the recent last few years.
Knight: When you look at journalism today and you think about your career as a journalist, what do you see as different in the field, in what you read today in the papers?
Cowan: You mean the material, the content of a story?
Cowan: Well, they're different type stories, but if a person was covering a committee hearing, there would be very little, if any at all, difference in the way it would be written by a man or by a woman. A woman can take a viewpoint of that kind that it's a little more difficult for a man to describe a woman's hair-do and that sort of thing and her clothes. I don't remember, in covering the White House social events, I don't remember seeing too many men there, if any at all.
Knight: Do you see any other changes in the journalism field that you've noticed since you've retired from journalism?
Cowan: Well, I think that they're accepted, and then, also, they accepted women. You see, men didn't want women in, because sometimes they would get some of the prize stories. Now I think men are accepting women, and women are accepting men. Okay.
Knight: When you look back on your life as a journalist, what are you most proud of in the work that you did?
Cowan: I think some of the stories I did overseas. I mean, they seem to stay longer with me. And I was always proud when I got—well, of course, it was after I came back from overseas, I was assigned to military—over at the Pentagon, and I liked some of those stories. But a story, to me, was a story.
Knight: How do you mean?
Cowan: Well, it was a good story and it told something, and it met some need. I think of a medical campaign going on, and you would go to the medical headquarters and get what they were doing. That had no sex. Lots of stories don't have sex. [Laughter] And worth covering. [Laughter] That's a joke.
Knight: Well, thanks. I think we'll wrap up for the day.
Cowan: All right. I hope it's been worthwhile for you.
Knight: Yes, it has for me. It's been really fun today and the last time. You should look at the transcripts that I gave to Bradley and see if there are any corrections you want to make.
Cowan: All right. Will do.
Knight: And then I will come back in a few weeks and bring the transcript from today, and you can look at that, and we can maybe fill in some dates and fix some things.
Cowan: Yes, we could. We'll probably have some changes to make.
Knight: I'll also make you a copy of the videotape so you can have a copy of it. At the end, when we're finished with all these transcripts, I'll give you copies of transcripts.
Cowan: That will be fine.
Knight: You will have them for whoever you want to see them, which will be fun.