Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950

Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950

Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950

Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950

Synopsis

During a time when female reporters were almost always relegated to the society and women's pages of the newspapers, a few hundred notable women broke barriers and wrote their way onto the front pages of metropolitan newspapers. Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950 takes a look at the lives and careers of women who worked successfully in this male-dominated profession. Kathleen A. Cairns examines the roles women played in early-twentieth-century newspaper journalism and the influence they had on future generations of newspaperwomen through the examples of Agness Underwood, Charlotta Bass, and Ruth Finney. Each of these front-page women faced her own challenges, whether in regard to class, race, or gender. To get to the newsroom, and to stay there, they had to craft subtle, clever, and exhausting strategies. They had to be tough but compassionate, deferential yet independent, tenacious but also gracious. Most important, they could never openly challenge larger cultural assumptions about gender or suggest that they sought to advance the status of all women as well as themselves. In spite of these challenges, front-page women played a significant role in reshaping public perceptions about women's roles. The public nature of journalism gave these women a large audience and a prominent stage on which to act out new professional identities. Their audience witnessed them traipsing through war zones, debating politics, and gaining scoops on high-profile criminal cases. The women viewed themselves as path-breakers, although they rarely openly acknowledged it. Between the lines, however, they suggested that they understood how important their success was to future generations of women. They quietly mentored other young female reporters, paved the way for the eventual admission of women into the all-male press clubs, and opened up more career opportunities for women.

Excerpt

Twenty-two years ago, I got a bear by the tail and couldn't let go. Newspapering has become my life, and I fear I'd be miserably unhappy if, while I'm in my prime years, I should forgo, or be crowded out, of my calling. . . . I'd be daffy if I thought I'd be content away from the newspaper profession. — Agness Underwood, Newspaperwoman

When Agness Underwood penned this paragraph in 1949, she was forty-seven years old and the city editor of the Los Angeles Herald and Express. In her ambition to be a journalist Underwood joined more than 23,000 other women who went to work as editors and reporters between 1920 and 1950. During that time women in the journalistic workforce grew from 16.8 percent to 32 percent. And at a time when less than 20 percent of married women in America worked, nearly 40 percent of women journalists combined careers and marriage. All of the women sought professional success, a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of connected- ness, both to the larger world and to a community of accomplished colleagues.

Most female journalists worked for women's pages published in newspapers and magazines. But a few hundred won coveted jobs as front-page reporters, working alongside male colleagues on city desks and in courthouses, police stations, city halls, foreign capitals, and, finally, on World War II battlefields. These women knew they were fortunate, that they had succeeded through a combination of tenacity . . .

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