[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Currie: I was thinking that perhaps today we could start with some of Eleanor Roosevelt's press conferences which you covered when you went back to Washington in 1941 for the AP.
Eads: I thought it was 1936. I'm a little confused about the two times I was in Washington. It makes it kind of confusing.
Currie: The last time we talked, you mentioned Mrs. Roosevelt.
Eads: I don't have many clippings about that at all.
Currie: Do you recall, for example, the first time you ever went to the White House?
Eads: Yes, I now remember it was 1936 when President Roosevelt had a press conference in the Oval Office.
Currie: What's your understanding about why Mrs. Roosevelt started those press conferences?
Eads: She had so many activities and questions about what her plans were for the day or the week. She had a regular secretary, Malvina Thompson, and she also had a social secretary, Mrs. James [Edith] Helm. I've forgotten her name. There were about eight or ten, maybe twelve newspaperwomen who were signed up to come. I think it was announced to the papers, and there were about eight or twelve. We all had entrée to the White House through the press acknowledgment for the gate and the chief usher.
When we got to the White House, the chief usher took us to the Green Room, which is the drawing room right next to the East Room of the White House. We would go in there, and they'd pull this velvet rope across, because a lot of tourists were going through all day long and they'd go to the East Room. They'd see us behind this rope, and they always wondered what was going on and who we were. After a little while, the usher would come and say, "Mrs. Roosevelt will see you." He'd take the rope down, and then we would start up the stairs to the second floor of the White House, the family living quarters.
We went to a small room called the Monroe Room, which is a beautiful, small room. We all were seated around there on settees, antique furniture. There was a settee facing the newspaperwomen, and Mrs. Roosevelt would sit there with Malvina Thompson and Mrs. Helm. We'd start out with a little pleasantry. Then Malvina would read off the list of Mrs. Roosevelt's daily [agenda], that she would see the Girl Scouts at 10:00, somebody else all through the day, or she would go out to some community development of some kind.
Then after that, Mrs. Helm would give her social engagements, like she was having tea for the DAR [Daughters of the American Revolution] that afternoon. Then after that, Mrs. Roosevelt herself was open to questions. She got a few questions that she didn't think proper, and she didn't like questions about her children. "Why is Franklin, Jr. getting a divorce?" or Eliot?
Both of them got a divorce. And why this and why that about the sons. She said, "You must ask them. That's their life." So we had enough of that.
The group grew larger as time went on and more newspapers hired women. Male journalists were not admitted. Quite often she would go to look over some new development—Greenbelt, for example, a model agricultural station, where people lived. It was there we went one day in several cars. We got out and Eleanor was leading the pack. I mean, the newspaperwomen were following. She would come to a fence and she'd just do like this, sort of jump over it. Some others did that, too, but some of the girls, I remember climbing over. It was very interesting. We went all through the buildings and found out about the project.
There would be things going on at the White House that we were invited to, receptions and parties for the media only. It wasn't a part of her press conferences.
When Franklin died, she said she would see the members of the press at a certain time, so we all went. It was very sad. We went to the Green Room, down that end of the hall. The formal dining room, where all the big dinners are held, was where she was waiting, far down at the end of the hall. I think Malvina [Thompson] was with her. When we started down there to see her, a couple of the girls ran and put their arms around her, and that sort of thing. She held herself aloof, and I think she didn't think too much of that. She appreciated their affection, however, I'm sure.
I asked her where the boys were stationed at that time. It was during the war. She gave an answer as far as she knew. She said that they could have come home for the funeral, but they chose not to leave their service, because other servicemen had deaths in their family and she said, "I think it was a wise decision." So they didn't come. Maybe John, one of them, was here.
Then I remember standing down by the gate of the White House and seeing the limousine go out the last time with Mrs. Roosevelt and some other people, and I think James or one of the sons was with her. I think it was probably James; he was the eldest son. That's the last I saw of them.
Currie: That's the last time you saw Mrs. Roosevelt?
Eads: I saw her in other capacities, not as first lady.
Currie: So at first there were only about a dozen women who went to her press conferences?
Eads: Not many more than that. Two or three of them were from local papers, like the Star and the Post.
Currie: How did you get the assignment to cover her press conferences?
Eads: I don't know. I was doing women's assignments, and there were quite a few women's activities. I can't remember who all was on the regular news.
Currie: Was there a group called the Eleanor Roosevelt Press Conference Association?
Eads: No, they didn't organize an association.
Currie: When Mrs. Roosevelt would be asked questions, how did she relate to the women reporters who covered her?
Eads: Just as anybody else. She would try to answer them. If they were a little out of line—once or twice, I think, one girl asked a question, said that her boss had asked her to ask,
and she was very embarrassed. I don't know what it was. It was about some government business or something. I think she refused to answer, because she said it wasn't in her bailiwick, anyway. She said she fully understood that they would be asked to ask her questions.
Currie: I understand sometimes she got questions and some of the reporters would say, "Oh, Mrs. Roosevelt, do you really want to answer that?" or, "Don't you want to make that off the record?"
Eads: I think they probably did. I think those press conferences went on after. I guess I was there all the time.
Currie: I know there are several stories about how Mrs. Roosevelt decided to hold the press conferences. What's your understanding of why she decided to hold them?
Eads: I think I explained to you a while ago that Malvina [Thompson], her secretary, and press people at the White House were getting questions from all these women about her activities in connection with women's interests. I think that she decided that this was the way, to answer them herself. I think that's the real reason.
Currie: Since you were a friend of Lorena Hickok's, I'll ask you this. Some people sometimes give her credit for putting the idea in Mrs. Roosevelt's mind.
Eads: Maybe so, but Lorena wasn't there most of that time.
Currie: So she never told you that she gave her the idea?
Currie: Other than being a woman, what would you have to do to cover Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences? I know that she didn't allow men in her press conferences. Could any woman reporter go in and cover her press conferences?
Eads: You had to have a special pass.
Currie: How did you get the special pass?
Eads: Through the various government agencies. I think it was the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation] or one of those. A lot of reporters had to have passes to get in a lot of different buildings in Washington to interview people. We had to have special passes, some with a fingerprint and some with a photograph.
Currie: How did your editors feel about her press conferences?
Eads: They were interested. 1t was part of the picture, an important facet of news coverage in Washington, naturally, the first lady, who was as active as she was. Who wouldn't want to? She wasn't like Pat Nixon or Bess Truman by any means.
Currie: What were the differences?
Eads: They didn't want to talk to the press if they could help it.
Currie: It's interesting that you had said when we were off tape that your family were Republicans, but you're a New Deal Democrat. How did that happen? How did you become a New Deal Democrat?
Eads: It was during the Depression. We saw all the benefits that people in the country were getting from different legislative acts, and we're still benefiting from them, like Social Security. I mean, who wouldn't be interested in that? It just seemed like the people who really thought about humane ideas, progress, and so many things that are for the benefit of the people have to come through legislation, which has to be either initiated or approved by the White House, the Congress. I can say we just thought they were more interesting and nicer people. [Laughter.] That's not really true. There are an awful lot of nice Republicans.
Currie: During the time that you covered Eleanor Roosevelt, is there one time that you made a trip with her that stands out in your mind or one story that you covered?
Eads: The time we went up to Greenbelt was one. There were several others not too far away. Of course, at the wedding of Franklin, Jr., I rode up on the train with James Roosevelt and his wife. The rest of the family was already there in Delaware. But I wasn't really close to her. I mean, she was at the wedding ceremony in the church and afterwards the reception, to which I didn't go.
Currie: That's when he married Ethel DuPont?
Eads: Yes. It was a fabulous wedding. Did you ever hear of Ruby Black?
Eads: She was there. She had the room in the hotel next to me. I was up nearly all night writing that story. You have the front-page story. I was divorced from Seymour then, had been divorced for a couple of years, maybe a year. He was my boss in New York. He sent a wire and said, "Great story," you know. [Laughter.]
Currie: So your divorce didn't hinder your working relationship?
Eads: No, we were civil to each other.
Currie: What can you tell me about Ruby Black?
Eads: I think she covered the wedding for United Press. I'm not sure. She was an old-time reporter around Washington, and a good one. She worked for the Daily News in Washington, and she covered Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences. I don't know too much about her, except she was sort of a loner, but very good.
Currie: Why did you have to stay up all night to write the story about the wedding?
Eads: Because I was worried about it. It was the biggest story of the day! It was used in all the papers.
Currie: Why was the wedding such a big story?
Eads: It was the son of the president at the United States, and he was there, and the daughter of the richest man in the country, DuPont. It had all the elements, in those days, anyway, of interest to the general public.
Currie: Sort of a merger between politics and money?
Eads: Because of their prominence and their importance in the life of the country at that time.
Currie: Were there a lot of reporters who covered that wedding?
Eads: Yes, they had a pretty big crowd. They had representatives of papers in New York and Washington. I don't know where else.
Currie: You took the train from Washington to Delaware. Was there a special press train that went up?
Currie: You got there on your own?
Eads: Yes. I stayed in a hotel. I had my typewriter, and I wrote a long story before that, too, that they used. Both of them are in those clippings.
Currie: One other person has mentioned this wedding, so it must have been a big deal. It was probably logistically hard to cover, I would imagine.
Eads: I remember the woman from, I think, the New York Herald Tribune, maybe. They were regular in Mrs. Roosevelt's press conferences.
Currie: Did they issue bulletins to tell you about the wedding? How did you get your information so you knew what to write?
Eads: Just normal channels. Not everything that went on in the White House, everybody knew. You knew what the children were doing, all about the receptions, dinners and guests. But I mean, anything that happened to that family was public property; everybody knew it, even if they tried to keep it—and a lot of white House occupants do. There was no need to send a bulletin on this story. I mean, Franklin had been courting Ethel DuPont, and the wedding was just like any normal wedding.
Currie: Maybe we could talk about the Women's National Press Club. You were a member.
Currie: When did you join the Women's National Press Club?
Eads: At the very beginning, not with the first group, but I hadn't been in Washington very long when they asked me to join. Then they had their first big formal dinner that year, and I asked Dorothy Kilgallen as my guest. I have a picture of the two of us, but I don't know where it is, taken at that dinner.
Currie: Had you known Dorothy Kilgallen?
Eads: Yes, I knew her in New York. I knew her father real well.
Currie: Who was her father?
Eads: Jimmy Kilgallen. James Kilgallen. He was a newspaperman on the Hearst wire service. Both of them became famous.
Currie: She was a columnist at that time and very well known.
Currie: Was the Women's National Press Club the first press club you joined, or had you been a member of any other press club?
Eads: No, it was the first one that I know of, except the American Newspaperwomen's Club, which I also joined later. That was more working newspaperwomen. The American Newspaperwomen's Club was more social. They tended to invite congressmen and senators' wives and that sort of thing, as well as newspaperwomen.
Currie: Had you belonged to any other organizations before the Women's National Press Club?
Eads: There weren't many I joined. The Newspaper Guild and the Fashion Group in New York, earlier.
Currie: That's interesting.
Eads: I don't remember any other.
Currie: You decided to join the Women's National Press Club because you were invited to join?
Currie: Do you remember who invited you?
Currie: Did you think it would be helpful to your career?
Eads: Yes. Most of my friends were joining. It was a group that formed this club.
Currie: So you think most of the newspaperwomen in Washington joined?
Eads: I'm sure they wanted to. Whether they did or not, I'm sure they must have wanted to.
Currie: What kinds of things did the Women's National Press Club do?
Eads: They'd have lunches and dinners, and had prominent speakers. They had an annual dinner which was fun. They invited all the big-wigs in Washington to their dinner.
Currie: What was the annual dinner like?
Eads: It was just like the Gridiron or the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where they had the president [of the United States]. We used to have the first lady, whatever dinner it was. They put on skits. It was not quite as exclusive as Gridiron.
Currie: From the National Press Club archives, I have a picture of you in a skit at something they used to call a stunt party. Was that the annual dinner?
Eads: That's what they called it. This goes way back. That's not just the Press Club. I think other clubs had stunt parties.
Currie: Let me show you a picture of yourself in a chorus line.
Eads: I think I've showed it to you. With a big hat? That was a skit that we put on. Yes, that's it. Esther Tufty is in there.
Currie: She's playing Franklin Roosevelt there.
Eads: That may have been at another party. The names of the people are in here.
Currie: [Reads from clipping.] "While Mrs. Roosevelt watched, the most fetching members of the Women's National Press Club cavorted here in silk and cotton last night in a lampoon of the Japanese boycott. The party was held at the Willard. Left to right, showing hosiery, are Jane Green, Washington Post, Gladys Montgomery, freelance writer, Jane Eads, Washington Herald." So that's when you were working for Cissy Patterson.
Eads: That's right. Now that really gets you up. Then Helene Kravitz and Corinne Frasier, WPA writer.
Currie: Then the second picture is Hope [Ridings] Miller and Esther Tufty as Franklin Rooseve1t.
Eads: Hope was very pretty. She was such a pretty woman. This is interesting.
Currie: Did you ever help write some of the—
Currie: Was there a lot of competition to be in the skits?
Eads: I don't think so. I think they just picked the people they thought would be good, whoever was writing the script. When was this, I wonder?
Currie: This was 1939.
Eads: Esther Tufty, May Craig, Ruby Black. There I am. That's the boycott.
Currie: The Japanese boycott ballet. So this would be right before World War II, when you were in Washington the first time.
Eads: What's this?
Currie: That's a sketch of the costume that you were wearing.
Eads: [Laughter.] I don't want to look at any more. I think that's enough.
Currie: I thought that might jog your memory a little bit.
Eads: It's interesting. The Gridiron always had its big dinners in Washington and would invite other newspapermen and everybody that was important, including the president and first lady and Supreme Court justices and diplomats, and various other newspapermen. Griff was invited a number of times. Then the widows—they called themselves the Gridiron widows, the wives—used to once in a while get together. One time they had one at the White House, and I think Eleanor had a lot to do with it. They put on skits, and it was very funny. Eleanor was very funny in that, too.
Currie: She was in the skits?
Eads: Yes. They were all in it, and we just sat and watched.
Currie: The press sat and watched?
Eads: Yes. It was really a lot of fun.
Currie: Do you remember what kind of skit they did?
Eads: No. It was in the East Room of the White House.
Currie: Did you ever go to a Gridiron dinner as a guest?
Eads: Oh, no. I went to a Gridiron reception a couple of times. They didn't start asking women until quite later.
Currie: How did you feel about that?
Eads: I didn't mind it at all. [Laughter.] I thought it was great. I mean, it was longstanding and, I think, quite an honor to be a member. I used to think that. Maybe that's not true.
Currie: It's very selective, I understand.
Eads: Now they are taking women, I think.
Currie: But they didn't while you were a reporter?
Currie: You didn't miss that?
Currie: What benefits do you think you got from being a member of the Women's National Press Club?
Eads: I can't say that it was any special benefit, just companionship and exchanging ideas. They usually had a very good speaker, and it was good to belong, like it is with belonging to any select group.
Currie: So it was selective?
Eads: They didn't just invite every newspaperwoman. Maybe they do now, but I don't think so.
Currie: There was a National Press Club that was for men.
Eads: Yes. They even had a ladies dining room. You could eat in the same room and did, but they had a special room, called a ladies' dining room. Later, before I left Washington, it was quite a bit later, they made it so they'd take in women members, too, I think, because for a long time they had prominent speakers at their luncheons, and women weren't allowed. Then they finally let a lot of women journalists sit in the balcony and take notes—not to eat, but take notes from the speaker, after the lunch. There was a big hullabaloo about that from the women, particularly. Griff could tell you more about this because he was on the board at one time.
Currie: How did you feel about that?
Eads: I didn't have any particular feeling about that. If I wanted a story, I would try to find a way to get it. I didn't have to go to a luncheon to hear some guy talking. Sometimes you did
because they wouldn't talk any other way, but what I mean is that it wasn't the only way to cover the various personalities, unless it was some diplomat or somebody coming from a foreign country and only there for a day, or maybe just specially for the Press Club luncheon. For a long time, they didn't even take in blacks at the Women's National Press Club, either. The press gallery in the Capitol didn't take in blacks. Griff was very influential with the group to get blacks admitted to the Capitol press gallery and into the Press Club. I mean, they were entitled to coverage of any big news of the day, as well as anybody. They were mostly very capable, some of them much more capable.
Currie: Do you remember when the Women's National Press Club admitted blacks?
Eads: It was when I was still there, in the 1940s sometime. I don't know who it was. I think it was a Chicago newspaperwoman.
Currie: Was there a lot of controversy within the club about whether to admit blacks or not?
Eads: I don't remember any conversation about that.
Currie: I guess Washington was still in the 1940s and 1950s a very segregated city.
Eads: It was segregated when Martin Luther King was killed. We were in Washington on vacation, I think, when they had the march on Washington. We saw it on television at Dorothy Williams' house. I never saw anything so moving. It was terrific.
Currie: I think the Martin Luther King speech may be the best speech ever written. It was really quite something.
Currie: Before we went on tape, I said that maybe you could talk about some of the women reporters you knew, and you said something very nice, that they tended to be the people who were your friends and who you could count on.
Eads: As far as I know. There were two or three times when they would not play fair. They'd get a piece of information that we were not supposed to use for a certain time, and they would use it anyway. That happened a couple of times with one or two. There were some that sought more privileges than others, but as a whole, they were all very busy women and were more or less tending their own business. They were not trying to out-do. Of course, they were trying to excel in every way they could, and probably that was a feminine trait at that time, when you had to go against the male prestige.
Currie: Also you were competing for the same stories.
Eads: Not altogether.
Currie: Whose work did you admire particularly of your colleagues in the Women's National Press Club?
Eads: They were all sort of different. Like Liz Carpenter did one type of story, Esther Tufty another, and Bess Furman was one. Various different newspaperwomen had different—
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Eads: Sigrid Arne was a good reporter, and Ruth Cowan [Nash]was a good reporter, like I was. I mean, we had been really brought up in the newspaper business. We had to go out and dig and
get our stories in the earlier days of journalism. They didn't have press releases or things like that they would hand out to you before or at the door, giving the correct spelling of foreign dignitaries whose names you're hardly able to pronounce. They didn't have anything like that when people like Ruth Cowan and I and quite a few others, I would say, Liz Carpenter and others, Dorothy Williams, especially [were covering Washington]. Dorothy came from Detroit and they had their Prohibition gangsters up there, too, the whole set. I think they called them the "Purple Gang" or something. So it was a little different group than Mrs. Roosevelt's press conference. Some of them were just society reporters. I don't demean them by saying they were just society reporters, but that's what they concentrated on, women's social events.
Currie: So some hadn't gone out and sort of grubbed around.
Eads: Maybe didn't have to.
Currie: It's interesting. I picked up one of the stories that was written about you, before you were retiring. There was an interesting story written by Lawrence Eckland in 1958. He said, "In holding her own in what was generally regarded as a man's field, Miss Eads never lost her femininity, something that cannot be said of all successful newspaperwomen. Her co-workers, mostly male, called her 'one hell of a wonderful human being.'" What do you think of that?
Eads: I know who said that. That was a wonderful thing. That was a man who worked in the AP an excellent man, excellent reporter, James Marlowe. But he is long dead. Eckland didn't work in Washington. He was on an out-of-town paper. He came to my house and interviewed me one time before we moved down here.
Currie: I thought it was interesting that he said that you were a crack reporter, but you hadn't lost your femininity, which a lot of newspaperwomen had. Do you think that's true?
Eads: Not exactly. No, I wouldn't put that description blanket-wise on all, because I can't remember any particular masculine-type woman reporters.
Currie: Was that an attitude, though, that male reporters had about women reporters?
Eads: I don't think so.
Currie: This idea that you were good, but you were still feminine, and not everyone was.
Eads: I really don't know what the general attitude was. I got along with them, and we were all friends. I was with the men more frequently than I was with women reporters, naturally; there were more of them.
Currie: Did you pal around and go out together?
Eads: Yes, for lunch and cocktails and that sort of thing. [Tape interruption.]
[End Tape 2, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Currie: You have already talked about how you met your second husband, Griffing Bancroft, but we haven't really talked about him. What can you tell me about him?
Eads: He's a very interesting person. He's really an ornithologist and he's written several books about birds. When he was very young, he went on all these birding expeditions with his father, Griffing Bancroft, Sr., in California, and they went around in Baja California and around various mountainous regions. They collected birds' eggs. In those days, it was all right to do it, for the San Diego Museum. At one point, before World War II, they had one of the largest
private collections of bird eggs in the country. They have two birds named after them. That was his main interest at first. Now since then, he has worked on a newspaper in San Diego.
Currie: He worked for Hearst?
Eads: He covered the capital in the state of California, in politics at one time.
Currie: When you met him, he was working for which paper?
Eads: The Chicago Sun. He was working for the Chicago Sun shortly after I met him, but before that he had just come back from World War II, where he was in North Africa and Italy. During World War II, he was head of psychological warfare for this country, in North Africa and Italy. For his work in psychological warfare, he received one of the first of the Medal[s] of Freedom, the highest honor that this country awards a civilian. He is very proud of it. I notice he always puts it in his lapel, no matter where we're going, but he doesn't ever tell anybody. I tell people because I think it's quite an honor.
At that time, the Chicago Sun had a bureau in Washington, with, I guess, maybe a half a dozen correspondents, but then later they cut their staff to just one, I think. Griff was really out of a job at that point, but he got a job with CBS almost immediately as a radio correspondent.
Currie: Was that what he was doing when you met him?
Eads: No, really not. He had just gotten back from Europe. Remember I told you I met him through my former secretary at J. Walter Thompson. It was shortly after that that he had a couple of other jobs that didn't last very long, that he didn't like or he didn't fit in or something. Then he had the Chicago Sun job, and then CBS. While he was with CBS, he covered the Capitol, he covered the Congress, mainly the Senate, mostly political.
Currie: What attracted you to him?
Eads: I think it was his intellect. I used to say there's not many women who've married somebody who had a bird named after him and was eight-man down on a boa constrictor. When he was young, he worked in the zoo for a while with some young people, and one of the things he did was help hold this boa constrictor so they could feed it. They had to stretch it out. I had a lot of fun with that.
Currie: Before you met Griff, did you date other men?
Eads: Before I met him, I went around with other newspapermen, you know.
Currie: So you mainly dated newspapermen?
Currie: I have your wedding announcement. You met in '46, I think, and you got married in 1948.
Eads: 1949, I think it was, really. Yes. During the war, he was chief of the OWI Psychological Warfare Branch in Africa and Italy. This is his third marriage. He was married when he was very young, in Mexico. I don't think he even remembers her name, thank goodness.
Currie: I have a friend who describes her first marriage as an extra long date. That's how she regards it.
Eads: That's cute. [Laughter.] Griff is the grandson of Hubert Howe Bancroft, who was the historian of the West, who went out to California during the gold mining era, but opened a bookstore and bought a lot of real estate.
Currie: What kind of marriage ceremony did you have?
Eads: It was very brief and very interesting. I loved that minister. We didn't know him. We didn't go there to church. I don't know how we happened to pick him, except that he was very contemporary in his attitudes towards marriage and everything. We got married in a little garden of the church at high noon.
Currie: It says at All Souls Unitarian, which is still in Washington and they still have the garden.
Currie: It's sort of a little courtyard.
Eads: Very pretty.
Currie: Did you have many people attend?
Eads: No, nobody. Just our best man and my bridesmaid.
Currie: Who was your bridesmaid?
Eads: Martha Carney. She was a newspaperwoman.
Currie: You told me that you wrote your own wedding announcement.
Eads: Just for the AP. I just thought I'd tell them, because they were going to find out anyway. This was on a weekend, a Saturday, and I just wrote a couple of paragraphs that Jane Eads had gotten married.
Currie: Where did the two of you live once you got married?
Eads: We stayed in his apartment at first, and then we found an apartment in Georgetown, a very nice apartment. Barbara was going to be living with us, so we found this apartment on 31st and N Street, Georgetown. We stayed there, and Griff was working for CBS then, way out. Their office was way out in Chevy Chase, right near the Sears-Roebuck place, on Albemarle. We finally found a house that we moved into on Newark Street in Cleveland Park. Barbara and I found it. It was a two-story house and had a basement, a little study, a wonderful living room. I furnished it.
Currie: Once you got married, did you talk about the fact that you would continue working?
Eads: I never even thought about anything else. I just went right on working. It never occurred to me not to work. I couldn't have just sat around and been a housewife, ever.
Currie: That, of course, was when you were writing your column?
Eads: I don't think I'd quite got into that yet. I was writing features all the time, and I wrote one big article for Collier's magazine. It was all about Washington during the war, and it was kind of an interesting social piece. I think I'll find that if you'd like it.
Currie: After you were married, you were still working for the AP?
Currie: Was there ever a time when the two of you would be covering the same story?
Eads: No, only we'd sort of see each other. For example, I told you about the early morning that Harry Truman accepted the nomination. Griff was there for CBS.
Currie: Sometimes you were covering the same story, but you were never competing for it?
Eads: No. It wasn't anything like that at all. Quite often I'd go there when he was broadcasting, if it were possible, just sitting in the room where he was broadcasting. Not often, but once in a while.
Currie: You were saying earlier that you had some flexibility because you could write your columns at home.
Eads: Yes. I could select whatever I wanted to write about, and I could write them at any time, but I had to have them all in correct order on a certain day.
Currie: So you had to have a certain number of columns every week. Was that helpful that you could work at home?
Eads: Sometimes I rather liked it, but it was not always a good thing, because I felt I put things off sometimes. I'd have the material, but I'd put off writing it until late in the week, and it would sort of pile up. I mean, thinking of different stories and different leads to get into the story.
Currie: I think procrastination is, unfortunately, a writer's bane.
Eads: But I never really had too much trouble. I can't think of any time during my career that I was ever really—I was bored a little bit with being a club editor for Cissy.
Currie: What bored you about that?
Eads: I just don't like organized women's clubs, you know. I mean, they're all very nice women and all, wonderful to me, but I just wasn't interested in some of the things they were. As I told you, most of the clubs were national headquarters in Washington of clubs all over the United States. Their headquarters, their national offices, were in Washington.
The Women's Congressional Club, I used to go to all their meetings. They had their own clubhouse in Washington, and I used to like going to their meetings, because they always had the president and first lady, and senators' wives at special events. Husbands of club members were members of Congress. That made it more interesting. We sort of adopted each other. A lot of those women, some of them were very active in Washington, but they didn't get much publicity back home because reporters around Washington weren't covering women's clubs, meetings, and so forth, and who spoke. My column got to their home districts. My column was used largely by a lot of smaller newspapers. So they got publicity that way, and they were pleased to have some mention of what they were doing in Washington.
Currie: I'm sure that made you popular.
Eads: Well, it helped a little bit.
Currie: What kinds of things did you and Griff do for fun after you got married?
Eads: We went out with our friends to dinners often. He is really a very lousy dancer, but he's very wonderful company, and I could care less. But I would rather not dance with him.
Currie: So your friends were mostly newspaper people?
Eads: Yes, some people that we knew and had known in the past from New York. They came to Washington. We were pretty busy all the time.*
Pluses in the life of a Washington journalist in the era I was in the capital were some of the social activities to which they were invariably invited.
These included such interesting events as, for instance, the square dance in the East Room of the White House with Eleanor Roosevelt and her brother, Hall Roosevelt, leading the figures and the president enjoying the picture from the sidelines.
A gala party at the Soviet Embassy with bowls of caviar and Lucullan feast, where they signalled the guests the party was over by blinking the lights.
Parties at Perle Masta's, "the hostess with the mostest," where Harry Truman used to play the piano, and at Cissy Patterson's big house at Dupont Circle, where on one occasion she entertained newswomen by introducing a pair of prize-fighting cats!
The most fabulous were parties given by wealthy Mrs. Evalyn Walsh McLean, the greatest and most extravagant hostess, in her elegant home Friendship, on Wisconsin Avenue. Members of the Women's National Press Club and the American Newspaperwomen's Club, in their most glamorous evening attire, were flattered with an eight-course dinner with precious china, crystal and silver on tables spread with cloth of gold topped with their heirloom lace. Movies in her personal theater usually followed and little groups gathered in different conversational nooks to have "nightcaps."
I was included in one such group with Mrs. McLean herself wearing the famous Hope Diamond (now in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.). Someone asked about the gem and she took it off and tossed it to the questioner. It fell on the floor and rolled under a settee. A plain-clothesman, stationed at the door, plunged into the little alcove and the guests in their long gowns plunged to grab the precious item, uttering little sighs of relief when it was back in its owner's hands.*
Currie: Were there a lot of other couples?
Eads: Yes. Fletcher Knebel and his third wife or so, were friends of ours. Her name was Marian Knebel. I don't remember what her name was before she married Fletcher. She also belonged to the Women's National Press Club, and she married Fletch, and then we saw each other, but not frequently. One night she and I went to a Women's National Press Club dinner or something, and she came out to the house. I think Fletch met her. She and he came out to our house, and they were talking about the place they had in Florida on Captiva. They had bought a lot, and there were a group of lots, about eight, I guess, altogether. They said there were very few left, and it was right on the Gulf. We got so excited about it that I got on the telephone and I called a man who used to work for the Associated Press in London. I knew him also in Washington. He was editor of the Ft. Myers' News-Press down here at that time. I called him and asked him what he thought about Captiva, and he said, "Well, I can't see you there. It's a little remote."
* When reviewing the transcript, Jane Eads Bancroft wrote the notes between the two asterisks to add to the account of her Washington experience.
I said, "Maybe that's what we want." We got in touch with the same real estate agent, a young woman and her husband, that the Knebels had, and we bought the lot. I think we paid something like $4,000 for it. It's now about $4,000 an inch!
One vacation after that, about maybe a year, say, we came down to Captiva to see the lot, to see about building. We had hoped that the Knebels would build, but they decided not to, for some reason. But we went right ahead and did.
We liked it, and it was right on the Gulf, and it wasn't a very big lot either. We built a beautiful house. It really was. But we had an awful time because the contractor didn't pay his bills. I mean, he paid his help; he had to—the labor law. But he didn't pay the other bills, and then we were stuck with eleven liens in a year. Not long after we got that settled, so much on the dollar, we had a good lawyer, we got settled. We didn't have to pay all of it, but it was a heartache because we both were very careful about our money and finances and bills.
Then not long after that, there was a storm. It wasn't a hurricane. We lost 50 feet of beach in one night! I just about had it. I was scared to live in that house with that, because you never knew how capricious nature and the Gulf could be. The water came under the house, up to the wheels of our car, and we didn't have a telephone then. We had gone over on a car ferry. These ferries travel back and forth; that's the only way we could get to Captiva. So we waited until morning, and then we walked up the road to this huge resort place, now South Seas Plantation, and people came by, workers. They knew us. There weren't very many people there then. They came out to see how we came out. [Tape interruption.]
Currie: Why did you decide to retire at that point?
Eads: Every year after we were married, we came to Florida, some part of Florida, for our vacation. Our vacation always was in November. It would be right after the elections, and we both had to do some work on the elections. We'd come to Florida and we practically looked all around the state, always on the beach or someplace where we could fish. One time we were over on the East Coast, and we were leaving one of these motel places, which was on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic. We were going down the drive, and I said, "Are you thinking the same thing I am?"
And he said, "What?"
I said, "Why don't we stay down here or move down here and get out of the rat race?"
So he said, "That's worth thinking about." And we thought about it all the way home. I don't really remember how we broke our ties with our offices and all that, but we were very glad to do it.
Currie: So you were just ready to get out?
Eads: Yes, we thought we'd do other things, too, write, and I wanted to go on painting a little bit. I'd started lessons in Washington, just only briefly. That's how it happened. It wasn't long after that, we sold the house. Barbara was already in college then.
Currie: So you didn't have to worry about her.
Eads: No. She went to Holton Arms first, and wasn't very happy there and they weren't happy with her, either, I guess. Then she graduated from high school, Western High School, in Washington. Then she went to college in Michigan. She graduated from this college, and she wanted to go to Turkey. She had some help, and with her father, I knew a journalist at the Turkish embassy in Washington, and her father had some contacts in Turkey. She got a job in
charge of recreation for children of Americans in the embassy in Ankara and other people in Turkey. She married this boy in the Air Force.
Currie: Is that why she wanted to go to Turkey in the first place?
Eads: No, she didn't know him at all. She met him there. He had never gone to high school, but I did—and I still do—like him. I talked to him today. They just didn't make it. They were married and had a child, and they were stationed in Texas and finally in Delaware. They got a divorce, and now they're living in the same house.
Currie: So they're still friends?
Eads: Yes, but from what my daughter says, they're not really living like a married couple, but they're still friends. He's very nice, but he's pretty bossy. I don't know what went on between them, but they just didn't get along.
Currie: So Barbara was out of the house when you decided you were going to retire.
Eads: She was in Turkey when we went to Florida.
Currie: So you actually decided the two of you would retire in 1958, I believe.
Currie: You still had some years that you could have worked. You were about 57 when you retired.
Currie: Do you recall how the AP felt about your decision?
Eads: I don't think they cared all that much. They always had a long line of people waiting to get a job on the AP. I think it's a good idea for any publication, especially something like that, to turn over a little bit.
Currie: Someone once said to me that it's hard work doing a column, and as you get older, it's harder to do this. Did you find that it was harder as you got older?
Eads: No. I thought it was easier as I went along.
Currie: Really? Why was it easier?
Eads: I just did so many things instinctively, you know. The questions I asked were always something. I interviewed Rachel Carson once, and that was very interesting, because she wrote The Silent Spring, and that was published by London Oxford Press. I think the New Yorker picked it up. Anyway, finally it was published in the United States, and she was known all over the country. She got a lot of publicity, too, from me, because this was the beginning. By no means were my stories about her instrumental in her fame or anything; far be it from that. But anyway, we became good friends. She died, you know, in Washington. When we were coming down here, I called her one day, and she was ill. Her mother asked who was calling, and I said it was Jane Eads. I said, "Don't disturb her."
She said, "Oh! If it's Jane Eads, she'll come to the phone." And she did. I asked her about the shelling on Captiva, because it was known for its shelling. She said, "Well, it's fairly
good, but the best shelling is at Marco Island," down south of here. There's a bunch of condominiums there now; it's terrible.
Currie: I'm sure you've seen all these changes. When you retired, of all the places that you worked, were you able to get a pension from anyone?
Eads: I didn't get one. I've got an insurance policy, a very small one—very small. I don't think Griff gets a pension, either.
Currie: Do you know if the AP had a policy?
Eads: They may have now. I'm not sure. They really had some bad policies, I think, in the beginning. I think women had to retire much earlier than men.
Currie: At what age did women have to retire?
Eads: Sixty, I think, or even earlier. They retired me, but I managed to keep writing the column without the contract or something.
Currie: So it was like freelance.
Eads: For a couple of years afterwards. I still wrote under my byline.
Currie: That's interesting. What other policies did the AP have?
Eads: I don't know.
Currie: That's interesting that they made women retire before men.
Eads: They changed that later. I was sort of active in the Newspaper Guild, but not too much in the AP Guild.
Currie: How did you get active in the Guild?
Eads: I had friends in it, who got me interested. When I worked for Cissy, I think that's about when we started. They had a Washington Newspaper Guild, and they were very active.
Currie: What were some of the things that the Newspaper Guild wanted to address?
Eads: Such things as women having to retire before men, and pay, salaries, vacations, and working hours. Everything. The same as today, only today they're even more concerned about different things. I think I was working for AP when I joined the Guild. I didn't go to a lot of meetings. I hardly went to any.
Currie: Did you think the Guild was very effective?
Eads: Oh, yes, I'm for the Guild.
Currie: Did other newspaper people join?
Eads: A lot of people were reluctant to join the Guild because they knew their bosses, in some cases, didn't approve of the Guild.
Currie: How would the Guild try to organize?
Eads: That I don't know. I just know that they were very active in Washington, and mainly through the newspapers, like the Washington Star and the Washington News. I don't think Cissy Patterson—they were the staff organizing the papers. As far as they were concerned, it really could do without the Guild, and didn't approve of it.
Currie: I guess that's how it is. When you're the owner, you don't like to see your employees organize.
Eads: Of course you don't. It's a union, you know.
Currie: It's interesting that the AP retired you, but then let you write your column. Do you recall how you negotiated that?
Eads: They were my boss. I never wrote a column without them seeing it or even discussing with them first.
Currie: I understand that. They had this rule that you had to retire, then they let you keep writing your column.
Eads: That was just for one or two years afterwards.
Currie: Did you ask to keep writing the column?
Eads: I think so.
Currie: And they were willing to let you keep writing on a freelance basis.
Eads: Yes. In order to do that, I think I had to give up various things, like insurance and all those sort of things that you get when you're under a contract. I don't quite remember, except that they did allow me, or ask me to go on writing until we retired.
Currie: When you moved to Captiva, what kind of things did you plan to do? You said you thought of doing some writing.
Eads: I did, but I never thought about what. [Laughter.] I did do some writing. One day I went in a small plane, a Piper Cub.
Currie: Revisiting your youth.
Eads: I talked to the Fish and Wildlife man on Sanibel. The two islands are together.
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Currie: They were going to count the great white heron?
Eads: Yes, a large bird. It was nesting down around the Keys. He was going to go down to count them for the Fish and Wildlife Service. I found out about it, and asked if I could go along with him. We were all conservationists, close friends, and Griff, especially. So he took me along, and I remember getting in the plane on Captiva. It came down at the South Seas Plantation, which was only a short distance from our house. We flew down to the Keys, and he was talking a lot. He sometimes would get so interested, he'd take his hands off the plane! One time we saw a rainbow, and we were flying pretty high. He said, "Look at it. It's a complete circle." And it was. That's the only time I've ever seen anything like that. He would sort of point out things. He said, "There's a man that lives down there, he's a hermit. He doesn't see anybody, but he
fishes all the time on that little island down there." He was counting, and we could see the great white heron flying.
We got down to the Keys, and he had some friends down there who were in the Fish and Wildlife. We stopped at one place and got out a little bit and talked, then flew back. I had this story. I was making notes all the time.
When I got back, I was lying around in our guest bedroom. My typewriter was in there. I thought, "Why don't I do something with that?" So I wrote to Florida Wildlife, which was a small magazine published up in northern Florida. I asked them if they'd be interested, and they said yes, and could I send some pictures. I got a picture of these herons from Tommy Wood, the man I'd gone with, and they used the article. I have it right here someplace. They paid me something like $40.
Currie: Did you consider writing a book?
Eads: That was in Washington.
Currie: Not after you retired?
Eads: I thought about it, but it just would have been too difficult because I'd have to do a lot of research.
Currie: Did you continue to do articles?
Eads: No, but I did a lot of publicity. When we got our sanctuary on Sanibel, I did a lot of publicity for that, and I did publicity for the islands' shell fair. For about six years, the last six years, I have done all the publicity for a fund-raiser we had on Captiva.
Currie: So you lived on Captiva for 28 years?
Eads: Yes, and we loved it. We hated to move, but we got to thinking that as you get older, you want to be someplace where you can get some health care, because we were living on an island, and there were only a couple of doctors there. For a long time there wasn't any doctor on either Sanibel or Captiva. But then we finally began to have doctors in Fort Myers. But you know, when young girls would have a baby, for example, they had to get the ferry boat, or somebody had to take them over in a boat to the mainland. There was just no other way before they built a causeway. When they had the causeway, we had all sorts of transportation, but we still had to go quite a ways to get to our doctors in Fort Myers.
Currie: Was it sad for you to leave Captiva?
Eads: Yes. I still miss it. I think Griff does, too, more than anything. We miss the wildlife, we miss the birds. We have birds here. Wherever there's a big development of any kind, the birds are beginning to come here now. We had to have a maid, we had to have a yard man, and anytime we needed anything done, we had to call sometimes Fort Myers to get somebody to come over and fix something. I don't miss that one bit. I don't miss the insects, what they call "noseeums," little, smaller than mosquitos. For me, I was allergic to them. They seemed to come through the window panes. Even when we had those blinds, and we had screens, a special kind of screen, they'd come in anyway. We had a lot of little lizards that would get into the house. I didn't like them, but Griff would keep saying, "They're more afraid of you than you are of them." They'd get behind a picture and I'd go to the john at night, and I'd see these little heads peeking out from behind a picture frame, or they'd be in the corner. They were cute little animals. Some of them were bigger. Of course, then there were a lot of animals, alligators and
snakes. The snakes were mostly good snakes. There's only one really poisonous snake on the islands, and that's the coral snake. They had some rattlers at one time.
Currie: It sounds like it was a kind of rugged existence.
Eads: It began to build up when they built the causeway. Then they started building condominiums. They had a height limitation of up to 30 feet or something like that. That helped.
Currie: Now that we've sort of updated you, I'd like to ask you some philosophical questions. This is where you get to say what you think.
Eads: I hope they're not loaded.
Currie: No. If you don't like it, you don't have to answer.
Eads: All right.
Currie: When you look back on your life, what do you think the biggest change in journalism has been?
Eads: I think that, actually, the mechanics of it, partly, and I have a feeling that journalists have a better background, not that they all go to college and study journalism, but they have a better knowledge of the world itself, international affairs, habits, and custom. Everything has changed now with things that weren't in existence when I was starting out in the newspaper business—computers.
Currie: How would you have liked to have a computer when you were covering Chicago?
Eads: I don't know. I suppose I would have known how to do it.
Currie: It makes things faster.
Eads: That's right. So does shorthand, and I didn't have shorthand.
Currie: What was the happiest time in your life?
Eads: I think I liked all of it. I'm a pig; I liked everything.
Currie: Was there ever a time when you weren't that happy?
Eads: It wasn't because of my work; it was because of some personal problem, I think, more or less, family or something. There were times when I thought I should get more money or more of a play publicity-wise, and that sort of thing, but maybe some assignment that I would like to have had, but I can't remember. I mean, it didn't last long, that feeling. Ordinarily, when I look back, it was just a happy way to sail through life, hard work sometimes. I worked hard, and I think most people did. But it was worth it. It was fun. If you had a good story, you wanted to get it out.
Currie: A number of people have said to me that you weren't much of a self-promoter, that you never talked about yourself.
Eads: No, this is the most I've ever talked about myself.
Currie: I consider it an honor that you'd talk to me.
Eads: I didn't want to in the beginning, as you know. Maybe you don't know.
Currie: No, you told me. What changed your mind?
Eads: My husband and my daughter and my friends.
Currie: How did they change your mind?
Eads: They said it was an honor, and that I had a story to tell.
Currie: As a good newspaper woman, you probably recognized that as true.
Eads: I don't know. There are other good newspaperwomen who made the headlines, were better known. I suppose if I were young, I would want to be an anchor woman on one of the networks. I'm not sure. I just never liked to have my picture taken, I never liked to be up in front that way, but I suppose if I were starting out in TV now, I would be right along with them, want to do what everyone else was doing. I would want to be like all of the top people are. I would want to be one of the achievers, just like I feel I was, more or less, in the newspaper business.
Currie: So the anchor women today are the crack newspaperwomen of your day?
Eads: They're probably better. I don't know.
Currie: They're certainly visible, very visible.
Eads: Most of them are beautiful. Don't you think so?
Currie: That's one of the issues, that they usually have to be pretty attractive.
Eads: I don't think that's fair, particularly, because there's a lot of smart women who are not.
Currie: I agree.
Eads: Eleanor Roosevelt wasn't beautiful. She was to me because of her personality.
Currie: If there was anything that you could go back and do over in your life, what would it be?
Eads: I can't think of anything.
Currie: That says something.
Eads: 1t happened that way at that time, to me at my age at that time, and my circumstances. It was me and my bosses. I can't think of anything that could change it. You see what I mean?
Currie: It sounds like you're pretty satisfied with the way you lived your life.
Eads: I'm not egotistical about it at all. I'm not even so-called prideful of it, but I don't think I made too many mistakes.
Currie: It doesn't sound egotistical and prideful; it sounds like you're very confident about the decisions you made.
Eads: I did the best I could in that time, the time that I was working, and that's all you can ask of anybody, I think.
Currie: I agree. One final question. Have you seen ways in which professional journalism has changed for women?
Eads: I think there are many, many more women in journalism today. They've come to be accepted along with the men. I don't think there's any great distinction at all. I may be wrong, but there are quite a few of them that do complain and have brought suit, as you know, in recent years, because they've been discriminated against because they were women. You know about those cases. They've been in the paper in the last year.
Currie: What do you think about that?
Eads: I don't know. I don't understand why, but they had good reasons, I guess, where they worked, and they probably had legitimate reasons. But in most cases, I didn't seem to think that was exactly the case. It might have been some other reason that they were not allowed to continue.
Currie: For example, when you worked at the AP, if some women who worked at the AP had gotten together and wanted to sue, do you think—
Eads: I never thought of anything like that. There was never anything like that, that I know of in the AP in all the years I worked there. People were happy to work there. I was always proud to work for the AP. I really was. When I first went there, that was one of the things I felt.
Currie: Why were you proud to work for the AP?
Eads: It was an honorable outfit, and it just had a great reputation. I think it is a great outfit.
Currie: What if someone had decided, when you worked for the AP, that women should sue the AP?
Eads: It would have to be a pretty stringent case. I don't see anybody who'd feel that way. Maybe in other parts of the AP, maybe somebody covering the State Department. I'm not so sure that that didn't happen sometimes, but not anybody who wanted to bring a suit. That's a pretty big outfit to bring a suit against.
Currie: Some women did it after you retired.*
Eads: The Associated Press?
Eads: I didn't know that.
Currie: That's why I wanted to get your reaction. And they won.
Eads: I didn't know about that.
Currie: I was just wondering how you felt about the AP. I didn't want to color your reaction.
* For more information on the suit against AP, see the interview with Virginia Pitt Sherlock.
Eads: I can see where things like that might have happened. That early retirement thing was pretty bad.
Currie: I think that's about it, unless you can think of anything else you'd like to talk about. You also have a granddaughter and great-granddaughter. Do you ever talk to them about your career?
Eads: My granddaughter was not all that interested—you know, a teenager. She's no longer a teenager. She's the mother of a child. Rebecca will be four in August. Right now they're looking for a place to live. My daughter lives in Exeter, New Hampshire. She's a wonderful person, too.
Currie: What does your daughter do?
Eads: She teaches art in the public schools in New Hampshire.
Currie: And you have gone back to painting.
Eads: I may do some more painting. The problem is, on Captiva I had a studio until it began filling up with washing machine, luggage, and all kinds of stuff like that. But I still had a studio. Here I can sit at the desk, but I can't do any big canvases or anything. There is an art studio here. They've asked me several times to come on over and leave my things there. I don't like to paint with a lot of other women. They're always looking over your shoulder and saying, "What does that mean?" [Laughter.]
Currie: Maybe you could get studio time.
Eads: The woman who sort of runs it over there, part-time, said there are many days when there's nobody there at all. I may do that. I may do it.
Currie: Since you left Washington in 1958, have you ever had the urge to go back?
Eads: Up until last year, we did go back every summer for vacations for a couple of months. We loved that. For the last six or seven years, we rented a house on Capitol Hill, on 4th Street, Southeast. We loved it and saw a lot of our friends when we were there. We went to dinner at various places, new places, the National Theater, Kennedy [Center]. We loved this, but last year we didn't go because it was too much of a drive for Griff. We went to North Carolina. We've been going to North Carolina every year, except this coming summer we're not going anyplace.
Currie: Have you ever had the desire to get back into the reporting mill?
Eads: No. I'm too old for that now.
Currie: This has been a real honor for me to talk to you about your life.
Eads: You've been great.
Currie: I just remembered a question, because we were looking at your clips. It came into my mind that you always used the name Jane Eads.
Eads: Yes. I never thought about changing it. Maybe I told you earlier, when my daughter was born, we picked a name that would make a good byline. Her name was Berkson, you know. I thought of Babette and this and that, and finally we decided on Barbara, because we thought it would make a good byline.
Currie: That's a cute story.
Eads: I just started writing under that name. It never occurred to me. What do women do when they get divorces and stuff? They have to change their bylines.
Currie: So you needed to be identified.
Eads: It's just that I never thought of any [reason to change my name].
Currie: Did your daughter ever think of becoming a journalist?
Eads: No. I think she likes what she's doing pretty much. She doesn't do an awful lot of private painting, but she really has a flair. She's been too busy with teaching. She's interested in a lot of crafts and goes around to Boston and New England. I guess she's a pretty good teacher, because they seem to like her.