“Good Girls” Take a Stand – and Change the News Biz
For decades we saw no women’s bylines in newspapers and magazines (outside the Women’s Pages;) journalism was “a man’s business.” So what happened? In The Good Girls Revolt author Lynn Povich tells the story of the women of Newsweek and their lawsuit – filed because there was no other way to get things to change. Among their stories, that of writer Lucy Howard. (that’s Lucy in the photo above, with star Newsweek writer Peter Goldman.)
A pretty girl who hid her strong opinions beneath a pleasing demeanor, Lucy was also a debutante like her mother. “All my friends were debutantes,” she explained. “That’s what we were thinking about—parties, dancing, boys, and martinis.” Although her parents didn’t care whether she went to college, Lucy chose to go to Radcliffe because a cousin went there. “Something was driving me to get out of how I grew up,” she said, and indeed, she found life on campus liberating. “I had a good time at Radcliffe. You could goof off. I got contact lenses—I wasn’t ‘froggy four-eyes’ anymore—and I got honors. I didn’t take advantage of all the academic things, but I became much more adventuresome in terms of meeting all kinds of people, which is why I came to New York.”
In New York, Lucy found herself totally unprepared for the work world. “The word ‘résumé’ was completely foreign to me,” she recalled. “I didn’t have a goal. I thought I was going to get married.” Determined not to be a secretary—“at Radcliffe, they fill your head with the ‘best and brightest,’” she said—she scoured the “Help Wanted—Female” ads for something other than menial jobs and two weeks later, ended up at the Career Blazers employment agency. “They told me there was a training program at Newsweek,” she recalled. “Did I ask what was involved? Did I have any idea what it was?” In her best dress and gloves, she went off to the interview at Newsweek, where an editor asked her if she knew George Trow, another Harvard graduate who later became a writer for the New Yorker. Worried that she might say the wrong thing, Lucy cautiously answered that she knew George had written the Hasty Pudding show at Harvard. The editor said, “His father’s my best friend—when can you come to work?”
Lucy joined Newsweek on the mail desk in September 1963, and got hooked on news when, in November, the first wires came across that President Kennedy had just been shot and Newsweek scrambled to cover the story. In March, she moved to Nation as a researcher. During the 1968 primary, when Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy, and later, Bobby Kennedy were running for the Democratic nomination, Lucy and Margaret did a fair share of reporting. “Jay [Iselin] sent us all out because there were so many candidates in 1968 and not enough guys to cover them,” said Lucy, “and we suddenly realized we could be reporters.”
In the fall of 1969, Judy Gingold invited Margaret and Lucy to lunch at the New York Women’s Exchange, a cheery consignment shop and restaurant on Madison Avenue whose aim was to help “gentlewomen in reduced circumstances”—the perfect description for our little group. Founded in 1878 so that Civil War widows could earn a living by selling their wares, the Women’s Exchange was overflowing with knitted baby clothes, hand-made rag dolls, and beautifully embroidered linens hanging on the walls. In the back, down a few stairs, was a small restaurant filled with wooden tables and chairs. Over the next six months, the Women’s Exchange became “Command Central” for the Newsweek crew as we plotted our homegrown revolution over home-baked crab cakes and claret lemonade.
When Judy approached her, Lucy had just returned from a month in San Francisco, California, where women’s lib was in the air. She had brought back tie-dye shirts from the Haight-Ashbury district and buttons that read UPPITY WOMEN UNITE. Over lunch with Lucy and Margaret, Judy explained about Title VII and they discussed writing an anonymous letter to the EEOC describing the Newsweek situation and asking the commission to investigate. After endless meetings, they gathered one night at Margaret’s apartment on Eighty-Ninth and York, where the three women finally drafted the letter. “Judy was the philosopher and theoretician—super smart and could talk every angle,” explained Lucy. “Margaret could cut right to the heart of the matter and say this was wrong, this is what it should be. My role, as I saw it, was to make sure everything was nailed down, that there were no holes or openings for mistakes. On the way home I was supposed to drop the letter in the mailbox but like a good researcher, I wanted to reread it once more, so I didn’t mail it after all.”
Lucy was particularly offended by the treatment of her friend Pat Lynden, a fellow researcher in the Nation section. Pat had been reporting on New York Mayor John Lindsay, who was hoping for a slot on the Republican presidential ticket in 1968. But just before the Republican convention in Miami that summer, Pat was told that she wasn’t going. Instead, a young male reporter would take her place—and by the way, would she please turn over her notes to him? “That made me really angry,” said Lucy. “The summer in Berkeley had really changed my view of Newsweek. I don’t think I was capable of initiating the suit, but when I saw what happened to Pat, that galvanized me.” Margaret also felt aggrieved on behalf of both Judy and Pat. “For Judy to come back from a Marshall and be offered a job running copy—that was mind-boggling,” she recalled. “Judy was very angry at that point. Pat was someone who did want to be a journalist and had done a lot of reporting work in New York, and then to have to turn over everything to a guy—that was unfair.”
From the book The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich. Reprinted by arrangement with PublicAffairs (www.publicaffairsbooks.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2012.
Photos courtesy of Newsweek