Academic journal article Journalism History

May Craig: Journalist and Liberal Feminist

Academic journal article Journalism History

May Craig: Journalist and Liberal Feminist

Article excerpt

Washington political columnist May Craig was hardly known to readers outside of Maine, where her daily column was published for more than thirty years in a variety of state papers, including the Portland Press Herald. Yet this tiny women, who titillated audiences and terrified guests on "Meet the Press," was an ardent feminist who accomplihsed many "first" for female reporters at a time when the women's rights movement was all but dead. Her most important accomplishment for women came when the "May Craig Amendment," prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex, became federal law as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

She was known by her colleagues in the press corps as "`the little woman in blue' who outquips presidents"1 and as "`hell fire' on women's equality."2 Yet her daily 1,000-word column appeared in a small chain of Maine newspapers and was rarely read outside the state. As a journalist, she was sometimes laughed at by male colleagues who called her a "feminine Simon Legree"4 or a "supporting player."5 Yet in 1964, journalist May Craig's stature as a veteran Washington political columnist and panelist on "Meet the Press" gave her the unprecedented clout to suggest to U.S. Senator Howard Smith (D-Va.) that he introduce an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex. The senator obliged, the bill eventually passed, and for the first time in U.S. history women were given equal employment protection as part of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.6

For Craig, passage of the civil rights legislation was the culmination of a thirty-three-year career spent writing a daily column about Washington politics for the Guy Gannett newspaper chain and fighting for women's rights. By the time the seventy-six-year-old grandmother witnessed the signing of the Civil Rights Act, she was a veteran of many "firsts" for women. Indeed, her life and work offer an interesting example of a woman journalist who became an important voice for liberal feminism during the "doldrums" years between the first and second wave of American feminism.7

Although the exact definition and emphasis of liberal feminism varies, in general liberal feminists strive to gain equal rights for women (and to a lesser degree for all citizens) through legal and social reforms. Typically, this includes working within existing political and social systems, using legal strategies such as lobbying and legislative action, and building coalitions to attain social and political reforms. Though often criticized for not taking more direct and radical measures to challenge systemic inequality, liberal feminists are credited with many of the legal, political, and educational reforms that have given women more equity and opportunity over the past two centuries.8 As Rosemarie Tong wrote in 1989, "It is doubtful that without liberal feminists' efforts, so many women could have attained their newfound professional and occupational stature."9 Craig's feminist firsts paved the way for many women, particularly journalists.

Craig was born Elisabeth May Adams on December 19,1888. Her father, a Scottish immigrant, worked in the phosphate mines of Coosaw in Beaufort County of South Carolina. After her mother, Elizabeth Ann, died when she was four, her father was left with six small children and tried to recruit relatives from England to care for his family. When this failed, he separated them, allowing friends to adopt several of his children. At age six, she went to live with Frances and William Weymouth, an older, wealthy couple who owned the phosphate mines where her father worked. Although the couple never legally adopted Craig, she spent the rest of her childhood with the Weymouths and moved with them to Washington when she was twelve.10 While life with the Weymouths was materially comfortable, it was far from affectionate, and she found herself the only child in a cold and lonely household. …

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