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“Good Girls” Take a Stand – and Change the News Biz

“Good Girls” Take a Stand – and Change the News Biz
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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.”

Victory Day. Notice Newsweek/Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham at the table, 4th from the right.

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.

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Photos courtesy of Newsweek

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59 comments

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6:52AM PDT on Sep 15, 2012

good article, thanks

2:46AM PDT on Sep 14, 2012

thanks for sharing

9:27AM PDT on Sep 13, 2012

Another example of where we will be headed if you elect Romney.....

9:28PM PDT on Sep 12, 2012

Inequality: an American fact. Time for change.

9:41PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

I see a lot of women in the news. A lot of high profile women. So what is the problem? I LOVE that we have come so far! there is always going to be issues. I love Megyn Kelly and Heidi Collins here in MN. Intelligent women who worked hard (just like guys) to get where they are!

7:57PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

finally!! women is so important"" taking off all vail!... equality! :)

7:45PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

Thanks for the article. very true.

5:40PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

Thanks

4:06PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

ty

3:10PM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

The internet has helped to change the way news is delivered that could omit some of the former publishers controls that guided (controlled) each story. Also it could enable a much more thourough search for background, thus more legitimacy. The internet could be a woman (or man) investigative reporters best friend.

But can they stand the heat when wrongdoing needs reported... but they fear retaliation? Like corrupt court judges, politicians and such? Seems there should be some new blood in news reporting that focuses on wrongdoing, especially at the local level.

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