Women were restricted from becoming professional journalists through custom and law in North America and Europe until the late 19th century, with women only being involved in the production of newspapers if they or their family happened to own the title. Elizabeth Timothy was the editor of the South Carolina Gazette in Charleston for seven years following the death of her husband in 1738, while taking care of her home and six children. She is reputed to have been first female editor and publisher in the United States. She was even praised by Benjamin Franklin, who used to be a friend and a business partner of her husband's, for her business sense. Although the newspaper was printed in her son's name, she included a note in the first edition after her husband's death that she was the editor.
Clementina Rind, an associate of Thomas Jefferson and a women's rights activist, became editor of the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg in 1773. Rind edited the newspaper for just over a year but she became popular with her criticism toward Britain and denounced its authority. The Virginia Gazette published Jefferson's pamphlet A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was one of the important precursors of the American Revolution.
Those women who were able to become journalists during the 19th century often faced discrimination, not least in terms of salary, where they were paid just one-third of what men earned. This sort of discrimination was one of the reasons why women in the printing business organized their own trade union in 1870. The 19th century also saw African-American women taking charge of periodicals. In 1841 Lydia Marie Child became editor of the Anti-Slavery Standard, the journal of the American Anti-Slavery Society.
Gradually, more newspapers and magazines started to recognize women as a target audience. Topics, such as clothes, beauty and cooking were more frequently featured, and women journalists were required to produce many of these. Nellie Bly (born Elizabeth Cochrane) worked for Joseph Pulitzer's The New York World and was one of the pioneer investigative reporters. She gained huge popularity in 1887 when she faked a mental disease to gain access to Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island to experience first-hand brutality and neglect to patients.
Bly's career inspired many young women and in 1905, 1 in 5 employees in printing and publishing was female. Various state organizations of women journalists had been established and in 1937 the National Federation of Press Women was founded. After the end of World War II, there were many more opportunities for women in newspapers and magazines, and in the relatively new broadcast media of radio and television.
Many women were noted for their serious journalism. The reputation of Martha Gellhorn (1908-1998) as a top war correspondent lasted long after her death. She covered events in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and was in Finland in 1939 for Collier's Weekly. During World War II, she travelled to China and Europe, and into the 1960s, Gellhorn also covered the Vietnam War. After her death, a journalism prize was established in her name.
Katherine Graham (1917-2001) was a publisher, rather than a journalist, although her journalistic instincts when running the Washington Post for two decades helped oversee the coverage of the Watergate scandal which eventually forced the resignation of a U.S. president, Richard M. Nixon. Graham's memoir, Personal History, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.
British newspapers benefited from the writing of several leading women journalists, who were often influential in the feminist movement. Jill Tweedie (1932-1993) wrote in The Guardian between 1969 and 1988 on feminist, humanist and liberal issues. Katharine Whitehorn (b 1928), who wrote a weekly column for The Observer for 36 years until 1996, was better known for her wit and observations.
Televsion journalists gained huge popularity. Barbara Walters (b 1929) was the first woman to co-host a news program on a U.S. network. She is also known for her celebrity interviews and news specials and has won several awards for best talk show.
Perhaps the most notorious woman journalist of the early 21st century is Rebekah Brooks, a former celebrity columnist who rose to edit Britain's two biggest selling titles, but who in 2011 was implicated in a "phone hacking," scandal that forced the newspaper's owner, Rupert Murdoch, to close the News of the World.