The Historical Importance of Women in Journalism

It’d be easy to reflect on the impact men have made on journalism. There are countless of examples to choose from. Look at the two male journalists from the Washington Post that brought down the leader of the free world with their talents. In fact, sometimes men’s efforts seem so big that the other gender’s efforts seem quite underwhelming. This is not the case. Like anything else in life, a woman’s subtlety can be far more influential than a man’s ostentatiousness. It’s been a long and interesting journey that has ultimately paid off. And though in the early years of journalism, women took on light, fluff pieces or received no credit for their work, they have made great strides and broken through gender barriers in the field and continue to do so.

Women in the Colonial era are most commonly pictured as serene housewives. Hard working, absolutely; but hard at work with things like helping out around the farm, educating her children, and cooking three nice, healthy meals for her boys. Her boys that were off creating the land that would become America. But that was only the surface. Beyond that, there were women who had a different idea of what they should be. Take Mistress Jose Glover, who owned the first printing press in America in 1638. In 1762, Sarah Updike Goddard started a tradition among the women in her family when she financed Providence Gazette, which was then passed on to her daughter. Ann Hoff Green took over her husband’s newspaper after his death, and turned it into a controversial media that discussed pressing issues at the start of the Revolution against England.

That type of restriction could not last forever. Eventually, women wanted control of their own thoughts and opinions. One of the women to make the biggest boom was Sarah Buell Hale who began editing a magazine called Ladies’ Magazine (later changed to Godey’s Lady’s Book). The magazine’s biggest competition was Peterson’s Ladies’ Magazine, whose editor was Ann S. Stephens. Both magazines focused primarily on fashion, etiquette and fictional stories, but it was a step in the right direction. In the 1830s, however, the real leaps began with journalists such as Anne Newport Royall, who published a weekly sharp-tongued editorial about political life in Washington, D.C. Also in the political field, Emily Edson Briggs was sent regularly to report on news about the state of affairs in the White House. In fact, she was the first president of the Women’s National Press Association in 1882.

With the Civil War firmly behind them, it was time for new issues to be brought to light; the biggest issue, for women, being that of Woman’s Rights. At the head of the pack was Susan B Anthony, who put out The Revolution. Around the same time, Victoria Woodhull and Tennesse Clafin started Weekly, a rather radical periodical that advocated legalized prostitution. Myra Colby Bradwell started Chicago Legal News, a paper that offered and supported issues like suffrage and improving zoning laws. Eliza Nicholson did a similar thing with Picayune, which threw out its support for animal rights and working women. Ida Wells-Barnett and Nellie Bly used their power of their pen to expose the cruelties of lynching and working in factories. Bly became well known for going undercover (in fact, her real name was Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman) and discovering the truth of what was happening to the point where her own life was at risk. Winifred Sweet Black was also known for taking such risks.

With the 1920s, came a new view on women in the journalism profession. More and more women were going to college, and coming out of it fully prepared to take on what used to be a man’s job. Tackling hard issues like corruption within America’s wealthiest, Ida Tarbell wrote about John Rockefeller’s monopoly on oil, which ended up influencing the government and antitrust legislation. Helen Reid, once in the position of the New York Herald Tribune, used her power to hire more women on staff. Dorothy Thompson ended up with the amazing chance to interview Adolf Hitler, a task that would normally be left to the strongest man. Also, in the early 1940s, it was the decade of the woman. As it saw Dorothy Schiff become the first woman newspaper publisher in New York City, Cissy Patterson purchased two newspapers in Washington DC, forming the Washington Times-Herald. Her niece, Alicia, began publishing Newsday from Long Island. Newsday went on to win numerous awards due to Alicia.

It may seem as if the journey’s road was getting smoother and sleeker; being constructed of new pavement, rather than rutted dirt roads. Nothing ever comes that easy, because along came the invention and rising popularity of radio and television. While their words were strong, people would not believe that a woman’s voice was the right one to break the news. They were meant to look pretty and deliver nothing more than the weather or a human interest story. Pauline Frederick was one of the first women to not sit down in submission. Instead, she went out and reported in dangerous areas, until she was offered the job as NBC’s United Nations correspondent. She was the first of many women to ride the second wave of women breaking through the journalism barrier, making news reporting what people know it to be today.

Women have dabbled in all forms of media. They’ve taken on dangerous assignments in the field, reported on controversial breaking news from in front of a television camera and created entire magazines from the ground up. Their drive and audacity have been a constant reminder of how persistence conquers ignorance. They haven’t given up on revolutionizing the field as a whole and will continue to be a vital component of the journalism field.

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