Gambling on a Magazine and a Marriage: Jane Grant, Harold Ross, and the New Yorker

Article excerpt

Although Harold Ross is credited with founding The New Yorker, in reality it was co-founded in 1925 by Ross and his wife, Jane Grant. This article describes Grant's crucial role in the magazine's conception, birth, postpartum struggles, and early success, showing how this pioneering periodical's beginnings were deep-rooted in the Grant-Ross relationship and in the couple's mutual enthusiasm for gambling. Also examined is Grant's career at the New York Times, where she began as a society department stenographer and about a decade later became the newspaper's first woman general-assignment reporter. It also looks at her work as a co-founder of the Lucy Stone League, which fought for women's right to keep their birth names after they married as a sign of their equality with their husbands.

Harold Ross and Jane Grant first met at an all-night poker game in a Paris bistro in December 1918, about a month after the signing of the armistice that ended World War I. Anxious to support the US. war effort, she had taken a leave from her New York Times society department job to work for the YMCA in France; Private Ross had just been named managing editor of the Stars and Stripes. One of the military newspaper's reporters was Grant's good friend from the Times, drama critic Alexander Woollcott, who brought her to the recurring Saturday night game that attracted fellow soldiers as well as foreign correspondents.1

Ross was captivated by Grant and energetically courted her for more than a year, first in France and then in New York City after she returned home the next summer. In Paris he had told her he hated New York and would never live there. But he wanted to be near her so he accepted an unpromising editing job in the city, where the two were married in March 1920. They agreed to live on her Times salary and save his to finance one of "our publishing dreams," as she called them.2 In February 1925, the first issue of The New Yorker appeared.

Writing about Grant two decades later, Ross asserted, "There would be no New Yorker today if it were not for her."3 Indeed, she was his partner in both founding the magazine and ensuring its early survival. But she has received scant recognition for her work, unlike Ross, who has been acclaimed for his vision and skill as the founding editor of this pioneering periodical.4 Yet The New Yorker's beginnings were deep-rooted in the Grant-Ross marriage, even as the strain of running the publication helped cause the marriage's dissolution in 1929.

This article describes Grant's vital role in the magazine's conception, birth, postpartum struggles, and initial success, shedding new light on its early years by placing them within the context of the marriage. Its larger purpose is to argue for the necessity of studying women who were their husbands' professional partners. Grant is one of numerous wives whose efforts were crucial to their husbands' journalistic success, yet these women's activities seldom have been recognized or examined. In part, this is due to the difficulty of researching their behind-the-scenes work and identifying the specific ways it made possible the achievements for which their husbands typically have received sole credit. But such studies are essential for a more complete, accurate portrayal of both women's and men's contributions to journalism history.

Grant's influence and efforts began so early, were so varied, and proved to be so vital to the realization of The New Yorker "dream" that an examination of them is especially valuable. At the same time, as united as she and Ross were in key goals, they were opposites in fundamental ways. Their dissimilar talents and personalities make it easier to distinguish the work each carried out, to show how they compensated for each other's weaknesses, and to analyze ways they worked together. Similarly, understanding what these inveterate gamblers brought to their improbable marriage helps explain the founding of their improbable magazine. …