Friday, July 30, 2010
I just learned that long back-ordered DVD about Dallas women's page editor Vivian Castleberry will soon be available for shipping. Here is a link. It would be a great addition to any journalism history class.
Also, the Dallas Observer blog just posted an interview with me and more of my transcript from one of Vivian's talks at the Sixth Floor Museum. Here is a link.
I love when Vivian gets the recognition she deserves. So many women's page editors are forgotten.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
This is a narrative about discovering Bobbi McCallum and about the historical process. Often, as scholars, we focus on the results – what it is we found. This is the story of how I got to the results. It is patterned after the work of Gabrielle Burton in Searching for Tamsen Donner. In the book, Barton explored her own research process as a writer.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Most of journalism history considers the content of women's pages to be soft news. Yet, a closer examination of the women's sections in the 1950s and 1960s shows more complex content. There was soft news - personality profiles, fashion stories and features. Yet, there were also stories about politics, education news and family violence.
The women's page editors created a new kind of news within the social fabric of their communities – a kind of quilted news. Quilts have become recognized as art – largely women’s art – in recent decades. Some credit the counterculture’s arts-and-crafts movement in the 1960s for the renewed attention to the craft. Others view the country’s bicentennial celebration in 1976 as the spark for a renewed interest in quilts. From an artistic standpoint – the real status came when New York’s Whitney Museum featured a quilt show in 1971.
The following explains the art of quilting:
In the production of cloth the sense of personal creation and connection to one’s production is so direct that the exploitation of this kind of work arouses one’s personal core and powers of resistance all the more strongly.
This kind of approach parallels what women’s page editors were doing in their
own sections. Women's page editor Dorothy Jurney explained her approach in an article in the January 1956 American Society of Newspaper Editors’ publication. She suggested editors cover home and health stories from more of a hard news than a soft news perspective. She wrote that the home beat should be “no different fundamentally than the police beat.” She echoed her approach in a 1988 speech at the Penney-Missouri Awards Banquet: “What is generally regarded as ‘soft’ news should be elevated in the editor’s mind. What the community is talking about, thinking about is vital to readers. The story might not be an event that happened yesterday. It may be a lot more nebulous.”
The above quilted was created by Dallas women's page editor Vivian Castleberry with help from her husband, Curtis Castleberry.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
I have spent the last three days transcribing the taped speeches of Dallas women’s page editor Vivian Castleberry at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas. I am working on a book about Vivian.
Some of the information confirmed what I have already known. I also heard some new stories. For example, Vivian explained the difficulties that married women faced under Texas law. She told the story of graduating from college and getting her first Neiman Marcus charge card. At the time, she was a writer for a chemical company magazine. After she married, she called Neiman Marcus to get the name changed on her credit card. Instead, the company cancelled her card. As a married woman, the card must be in her husband’s name. (He had just returned from war and had no credit. But, that was not the issue.) That was what life was like for Texas married woman. As Vivian’s friend lawyer Louise Raggio noted, when Texas women said “I do,” they didn’t anymore.
It has been wonderful to listen to Vivian speak. As she said in her speech, “I had the most wonderful career imaginable even on the days I went home with headaches and heartaches.” It is my honor to tell her story.
Monday, July 26, 2010
A week from today, Lance and I will be at the archives at UW-Madison. We are going through the papers of Kathryn “Kay” Clarenbach. Here is a link to the extensive finding guide.
Kay was a leading feminist but not always the most visible. Much of her work was done behind the scenes although she did serve as the first president of N.O.W. I am curious how she negotiated change with conflicting personalities.
We are going to examine Kay’s relationship with journalists – especially her communication with women’s page reporters and editors. I’m thankful for the UCF grant to make the trip.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
Yesterday, I received a copy of this image. (It can be found in the papers of the Penney-Missouri Awards at the University of Missouri’s Western Historical Manuscript Collection.)
In this photo, taken at a Penney-Missouri Awards’ workshop, are three award-winning women’s page editors: Sandra Wesley, Betty Preston and Edee Greene. One of the strengths of the award program was the workshops that allowed winners to share their secrets for success.
I presented a paper about Edee Greene, the women’s page editor at Fort Lauderdale News, last year. She was a fascinating person – a caring friend, a community advocate and a funny writer.
I am working on a revision on my article about Betty Preston, the women’s page editor of the Glendale (California) News-Press. She was one of the few women of that era (career beginning during World War II) who would eventually be promoted to newspaper management.
I am in the process of writing about Sandra Wesley, a Boca Raton News women’s page editor. She was in the next wave of women I study – those who started at newspapers in the 1960s.
Another thing that Sandra and Betty had in common is that they were Michigan natives who escaped those cold winters for sunnier locales. Florida and California women’s page editors dominated the Penney-Missouri competition. They often teased Award Director Paul Myhre about having to visit chilly Missouri in March to get their prizes.
Friday, July 23, 2010
The wonderful folks at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri just posted these images of Jo Werne. Jo, who died last week, was a longtime reporter at the Miami Herald. She spent many of those years in the women's pages.
I was sad to learn of her death so I wanted to share these images in celebration of her career.
The great women journalists of south Florida are so intertwined - I find connections on a regular basis. Late summer, I found a note from Jo to Helen Muir (a Miami journalist and library advocate) in Helen's papers at the University of Miami. The September 29, 1975 note on Herald letterhead begins, "Helen, luv." Boca Raton News reporter and editor Sandra Wesley was also a good friend of Jo's.
These images of Jo are from her 1972 Penney-Missouri Award for fashion writing. (The photos can be found in the papers of the Penney-Missouri Awards.) In later years, Jo focused on writing about furnishings.
I plan to explore her work on furnishings - one of the four Fs of the women's pages - in the upcoming months.
I just learned that my paper about columnist Eleanor Hart has been accepted for presentation at the Florida Communication Association conference. She worked in the women's pages of the Miami Herald in the 1950s and 1960s. I went through her papers at the South Florida Historical Society last year.
My paper focuses on how her column reflected the community's negotiation of change in terms of race and gender. The integration of neighborhoods and working mothers led to heated letters from readers.
Advice columns, like the women's pages, are often overlooked by media critics and historians.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
NPR had this interesting story about libraries becoming trendy.
The growth of libraries was largely based on women's clubs who raised funds and awareness - an acceptable form of activism. These clubs were heavily covered in the women's pages.
In Miami, Helen Muir was both a women's page reporter and an advocate for libraries. I have gone through Helen's papers at the University of Miami and plan to look at the intersection of women's pages and cultural institutions like libraries. Women's pages helped to create the foundation of many communities.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I was just assigned a book review of Everglades legend Marjory Stoneman Douglas - the book is called An Everglades Providence. In addition to her environmental work, Marjory wrote for the Miami Herald. She was friends with women's page journalists Marie Anderson, Helen Muir and Dorothy Jurney.
Below is some great video of Marjory.
More attention needs to be paid to the work of garden clubs and the work they did in conservation - a common topic for the women's pages.
The I Hate to Cook Cookbook has been reissued for its 50th anniversary. The USA Today reviewer noted: "The book's premise, unheard of in June Cleaver's day, was for women to get in and out of the kitchen as quickly as possible." I just ordered a copy.
The author, Peg Bracken, had a background in advertising and was a witty writer. This is from the original book: "Start cooking those noodles, first dropping a bouillon cube into the noodle water. Brown the garlic, onion and crumbled beef in the oil. Add the flour, salt, paprika and mushrooms, stir, and let it cook five minutes while you light a cigarette and stare sullenly at the sink."
Her book was considered revolutionary at the time - a public rejection of something a woman was supposed to treasure: spending time in the kitchen. According to her New York Times obituary: "Long before the microwave became a fixture of every home, “The I Hate to Cook Book” was creating a quiet revolution in millions of kitchens in the United States and abroad. Three years before Betty Friedan touched off the modern women’s movement with “The Feminine Mystique,” Ms. Bracken offered at least a taste of liberation — from the oven, the broiler and the stove."
Her book was reviewed in the women's section of newspapers.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
I just ordered some letters between groundbreaking designed Bonnie Cashin and Penney-Missouri Award winner and Washington Star fashion editor Eleni Epstein.
Bonnie's papers are in the Special Collections at UCLA. I discovered the letters after a second review of the finding aid. Eleni's maiden name is misspelled in the aid. At some point I hope to go through Bonnie's papers.
Bonnie was a designer for Coach purses. The company issued a special edition of Bonnie purses a few years ago. I just won the above bag on eBay - I am curious about her role as a design leader post-World War II.
I am curious about the relationship between Bonnie and newspaper fashion journalists. I am applying for a grant to go through her papers at UCLA.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Today I am going to watch the film, Sisters of '77. Here is background about the historic conference in Houston, the first federally funded U.S. National Women's Conference.
I am watching it in preparation for going through the papers of Kay Clarenbach at the University of Wisconsin next month. Kay was the director of the conference.
Women's page editors Marie Anderson, Dorothy Jurney and Marjorie Paxson attended the conference as delegates. Jurney and Paxson would go on to edit the official report to the president. It was just another example of the interaction of women's page journalism and feminism.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
This morning, I am sitting in the garden and working on a chapter of my book about Dallas women's page editor Vivian Castleberry. I am writing about the years when Tom Johnson arrived at the Times Herald. He was the first editor who really understood what she was trying to do. It is a reminder that while most male editors were not supportive of transforming women's page content, some did understand. (Other examples would include Jim Bellows and J. Edward Murray.)
Vivian and Tom exchanged some emails in 2004 that I went through. Here is one of my favorites from Tom to Vivian: “What I always respected the most was how effectively you achieved change. You did it by persuasion, by logic, by the soundness of your argument. You did not cry, scream, protest, resign or threaten lawsuits – although there were times you were justified in taking any of those steps. You just kept on course, bringing attention to women’s rights.”
Friday, July 16, 2010
I am beginning the collection of information about 1960s Milwaukee Journal women’s page editor Jean Otto. She wrote some amazing articles in the women’s sections – news about rape, workplace inequities and daycare issues. Dorothy Jurney and Vivian Castleberry described Jean as a progressive women’s page journalist.
In 1972, Jean became the first woman on the editorial board at the Milwaukee Journal – one of the first women in this position in the country. In 1979, she became the first female president of the Society of Professional Journalist – an organization that excluded women until 1969.
She led a national effort to have March 16 — the birthdate of James Madison — officially designated as Freedom of Information Day.
Those efforts resulted in a Congressional resolution signed by President Reagan. Otto helped organize the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and is the founder of the Colorado Freedom of Information Council.
She went on to create the First Amendment Congress. I just ordered her memoir, First Love.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
I recently learned the papers of the Penney-Missouri Awards at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri have been processed. Here is the inventory. It’s an impressive listing.
The Penney-Missouri Awards, which began in the 1960s, were the top recognition for women’s pages in the country. Awards were given in different circulation sizes with special categories in reporting and fashion. Winners then attended a several-day workshop at the University of Missouri. I wrote about the awards for the April 2006 issue of Journalism History.
Among this collection are the stories of most of the top women’s page journalists in the country – especially those who were publishing progressive content in the 1960s. My favorite part is the stories of the individual winners. Each winner sent in her own biographical sketch. It is interesting to see how the women described themselves. The letters between Director Paul Myhre and the winners are also great. (I hope to write about Paul's role in the future.)
Another great part of the collection is the photos – both formal, studio shots and informal shots from the workshops.
Lance and I have gone through the Penney-Missouri papers several times – finding new treasures each time. We miss our visits to the Ellis Library!
I was so sad to hear of the death of longtime Miami Herald reporter Jo Werne. She died earlier this week. Here is her obituary. (I always noticed her byline since my middle name is Jo.)
Jo often covered furnishing – one of the four Fs of the women’s pages. Yet, in 1972, she won a Penney-Missouri Award for fashion. Here is what I learned about her from the Penney-Missouri Papers at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri:
Werne combined her hobby with her work and it led to the 1972 Penney-Missouri Award for fashion writing. A reporter on numerous beats, she had been sewing for years. Raised on an Ohio farm, she joined the 4-H when she was 9 years old and given the choice of a project. Her options were to learn to sew or raise a hog. She chose the former. Her handmade bean bag won a blue ribbon and her interest was sparked. She described her hobby as “therapy, after pounding a typewriter all day long.”
Her award came after her search for inexpensive fabrics. In researching, she discovered a booming polyester knitting industry in Miami. The work resulted in the article: “Polyester: A New $70 Million Business.” In it, she described what polyester is and how it was made. She visited the fabric mills and interviewed the workers. A Penney-Missouri judge, a senior editor at Time, wrote of her “reporting colorfully on the sociology of the Cuban work forces. The result is a very human dimension.”
There sure were some amazing women journalists at the Miami Herald over the years. I plan to examine Jo’s furnishing reporting next Spring.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I am continuing to collect information about the history of the Newspaper Food Editors and Writers Association. I came across this article about their 1978 meeting. At the gathering, speakers focused on the future of food.
This is the lead: “Science fiction generally paints a bleak picture of food in the year 2001: daily doses of little red vitamin pills and tasteless chemical mixtures, or diets of sautéed mealworms, crunchy crickets and vegetable-protein concoctions.”
I am planning a conference paper about the group and food editors Peggy Daum and Ann Hamman. Understanding the food sections adds to journalism and culinary history.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
I came across the story of Katie Carlson yesterday while researching the history of the Association of Food Journalists, Inc., (formerly the Newspaper Food Editors and Writers Association, Inc.). Katie was an officer in the organization in the 1970s.
Carlson started as food editor of the Daytona Beach News-Journal in 1971 and was promoted to women's editor in 1977.Her food pages won first place in the national Vesta awards competition for three consecutive years starting in 1973.
I loved this quote from her obituary: "She was Martha Stewart before there was Martha Stewart," said Carlson's daughter, Susan Wright of Ormond Beach.”
I am planning on writing more about these food editors and the organization they created.
Monday, July 12, 2010
I just came across information about Clementine Paddleford - considered America's food journalist. A book was recently written about her (Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate) and there was a panel about her life at the New School. Here was the description:
"Clementine Paddleford was the first American journalist to take food seriously. In her legendary columns for the New York Herald Tribune and This Week Magazine, she pioneered a smart, sassy reporting style that managed to elevate food writing from the dull formulas of home economists to must-read material.
Flying around the country, sometimes in a Piper Cub plane, which she herself piloted, she worked tirelessly to gather the best recipes from cooks in every region. That meant seeking out the best cheesecake in New York City, hunkering down in chili parlors in Texas, and touring salmon canneries in Alaska—and tasting everything she could find in between. It also meant that between 1948 and 1960, she traveled more than 800,000 miles in the pursuit of food—more than three times the distance from the earth to the moon. The marathon paid off: Paddleford’s weekly readership topped 12 million during the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1953, Time magazine named her America’s “best-known food editor.” At the height of her career, Paddleford made a salary of $250,000—at the time an almost unheard of sum, especially for a woman."
Her papers (including the above photo) are at K-State University - where Lance earned his master's degree. Somehow it often comes back to Kansas.
I am looking forward to learning more about Clementine's career - she sounds fascinating.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Today, NPR featured this story about swearing – although completely ignored the question of gender. (Being the one who can use curse words is really an issue of power.) This was something that was an issue for women journalists in the 1950s and 1960s. Curse words were a common reason given for excluding women from the newsroom.
Detroit and Miami women’s page journalist Roberta Applegate provided this anecdote when she covered the Michigan governor for the Associated Press during World War II:
Applegate recalled that while visiting with the reporters, the governor would often mutter “hell” or “damn” under his breath, and then apologized to her. Eventually he said to her, “Well damn it, this is the pressroom.” Later, she was convinced she had been accepted when the men stopped apologizing for using profanity.
Roberta’s papers are at the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri. My article about Robert is in the March/April 2008 edition of Michigan History Magazine.
The Wisconsin Magazine of History has digitized the article Lance & I wrote about the fight of Milwaukee journalists (including women's page editor Aileen Ryan) to join the Milwaukee Press Club:
Wilmot Voss, Kimberly; Speere, Lance "Way past deadline: the women's fight to integrate the Milwaukee Press Club"
"In this article, Kimberly Wilmot Voss and Lance Speere explore the fight by female journalists to enter the male-only Milwaukee Press Club beginning in 1966. Voss and Speere examine how the women's protests to enter Milwaukee's Press Club became symbolic of the larger women's fight for equality occurring across the country in the 1960s. The article also describes some of Milwaukee's pioneering female journalists such as Mrs. H. L. Bridgeman, Laurie Van Dyke, and Aileen Ryan."
It is available here. The article includes some great images from the Special Collections at UW-Milwaukee. Amazing how overt sexism was at the time.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Watch CBS News Videos Online
I am now studying the history of grocery stores. These stores provided much of the advertising for women’s pages in newspapers.
Here is an interesting story about the history of grocery stores. The reporter wrote:
“Women in particular were freed from the chore of shopping at several locations. ‘Supermarkets played a large role in liberating the woman,’ said Louis Bucklin, professor emeritus of business administration at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. ‘They reduced the amount of time they had to spend on shopping, with fewer trips to the store.’”
I am looking to track the impact of food advertising and the content of the food sections. By the 1950s, there was a clear separation between advertising and editorial at most major metro dailies.
Friday, July 9, 2010
I got the great news yesterday that my paper, “Food Journalism or Culinary Anthropology? Re-evaluating Soft News and the Influence of Jeanne Voltz’s Food Section in the Los Angeles Times,” has been accepted for presentation at the American Journalism Historians Association conference in Tucson in October. Jeanne was a food editor at the Miami Herald in the 1950s and the L.A. Times in the 1960s.
In celebration, I made one of Jeanne’s recipes: wine, herb-baked chicken. It's from the Favorite Recipes of America's Food Editors.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
The Miami Herald had this interesting column about the number of women who do not have children. According to the Pew Report, today, nearly 20 percent of women end their child bearing years without biological children, compared to 10 percent in 1976, a new Pew Research Center report shows. The columnist notes, “Researchers believe public attitudes have changed, putting less pressure on women to get married and bear children.”
``The fact that nearly one in five women does not have a child of her own is an enormous transformation from the past,'' says D'Vera Cohn, coauthor of the Pew report, More Women Without Children.
Many of the women’s page editors went without children. For example, these women married were childless: Gloria Biggs, Colleen “Koky” Dishon, and Dorothy Jurney. The following women also did not marry: Aileen Ryan, Marie Anderson and Marjorie Paxson.
I have often wondered about whether some of these women felt they had to choose between their personal lives and their careers. Last summer I got a little insight into Miami Herald women’s page editor Marie Anderson's private life. (She is the blonde in the above photo.) Her former food editor Jeanne Voltz wrote in a letter that the single Marie had her heart broken at a young age and did not recover. I found the letter in Helen Muir’s papers at the University of Miami.
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Today I am writing about Gloria Biggs who went from St. Petersburg Times women's page editor to the first female publisher in the Gannett chain. I am focusing on her conflicted feelings about feminism which I discovered in her papers in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri.
On one side were there letters in which she embraced women’s liberation. Biggs responds to a congratulatory letter from the coordinator of the Brevard County Library System: “I was delighted with your “women’s lib” list of books.”
Biggs responded to a letter from the women’s editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer:
I put in a very special category the words you wrote on your card: ‘Thank you for all women.’ Others have expressed the same thought but none quite as movingly as that. I thank you for it. And I won’t forget the debt I owe to all those who have marched and protested and worked in the dark and lonely hours. I hope that I can accomplish something here that just might make it easier for someone else’s tomorrows."
At other times, Biggs rejected the idea that her promotion was tied to her gender. She responded to Florida Governor Reubin Askew’s congratulatory letter in a way that discounted the concept that her gender made a difference. She wrote: “Although it is, of course, a thrill to be the first woman promoted to publisher of Gannett’s 53 newspapers, I find now that I have been in the job for a while that the fact of being a woman or a man isn’t very significant."
I hope to complete a case study of her promotion to send to a communications journal.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
I have been pondering the importance of getting history right – making sure the facts are truly facts.
In academia, we send out our research to peer review in the hopes of getting published. These readers can determine if the methodology is strong or if the right literature is cited. What they can typically not determine is if the story is complete.
That is why I was so pleased to get the following email from Irene Nolan, formerly of the Louisville Courier Journal. (I interviewed her a few years ago for my article about Carol Sutton, a former women's page editor and the first female managing editor of a major metro daily, who is pictured above.) Irene wrote:
“In the last almost 25 years since everything the events that unfolded in Louisville, I have spoken to many reporters -- about the Binghams, the sale, Gannett. This is the first time that I felt like a reporter really understood what I was saying. I think Carol would have approved of the way you portrayed her life and career.”
It was great to know that my version of history was correct.
Monday, July 5, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
As we celebrate Independence Day, it is important to note the contributions of women. Several women’s page editors contributed to official government action regarding women’s rights.
Marjorie Paxson (women’s page editor and journalist in Texas and Florida) went on to be the editor of the daily eight-page newspaper published in Mexico City during the UN World Conference for International Women's Year in 1975. She also was a copy editor of President Ford's Commission on the Status of Women report, "To Form a More Perfect Union."
The main editor of the report, "To Form a More Perfect Union," was Dorothy Jurney. Dorothy was women’s page editor of the Miami Herald and Detroit Free Press.
Jurney and Paxson, along with Miami women’s page editor Marie Anderson were delegates to the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. (That is Marie and Dorothy in the photo above. It can be found in Marie's papers at the WHMC at the University of Missouri.)
These journalists were true feminists despite the way they were typically treated by the many in the women’s liberation movement. They helped to create more independence for women.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
The New York Times has posted this story: “Equal Rights for Women? Survey Says: Yes, But ...”
The reporter wrote: "People around the world say they firmly support equal rights for men and women, but many still believe men should get preference when it comes to good jobs, higher education or even in some cases the simple right to work outside the home, according to a new survey of 22 nations.
The poll, conducted in April and May by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project in association with the International Herald Tribune, shows that in both developing countries and wealthy ones, there is a pronounced gap between a belief in the equality of the sexes and how that translates into reality.
In nations where equal rights are already mandated, women seem stymied by a lack of real progress, the poll found.”
Here is Broadsheet's take on it.
Sounds like maybe the ERA could actually pass? Here is more about the current fight. I am hoping that Florida approves the legislation.
Here is a link to my article about the fight for the passage of the ERA in Florida in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the women's page editors, who would have supported the legislation, had lost their jobs by the 1970s.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Today I am working on a chapter of my book about Dallas women's page editor Vivian Castleberry. I am writing about her coverage of the assassination of President Kennedy. Vivian is included in the above book.
I am working on the material I collected when I went through her papers two years ago. Vivian was covering the "women's angle" of the president's visit to Dallas. This is from Vivian's recollection of that day at the Trade Mart, where the president and first day were to have lunch:
"In time of peak tragedy, there are so many small human interest stories that get lost among the bigger things. One of the stories I never saw published was about the room set up at the Trade Mart as an office-home away from Washington for the President. It had a replica of the rocking chair he liked. It had the red telephone for instant communication back to Washington. Following the confusion at the luncheon, that office replica was absolutely silent, absolutely void of people. Two colorfully wrapped, gaily ribboned packages marked for Caroline and John-John sat, undisturbed on a table."
In my research on newspaper food journalist Jeanne Voltz (Miami Herald and L.A. Times women's sections), I have collected all of her cookbooks - other than the ham book. In addition to some great recipes, I have learned much about Jeanne through her childhood recollections and acknowledgements. Above is my favorite of her cookbooks.
Last night we made the above recipe made with Florida oranges.
This is how is turned out - yummy!
I hope to hear if my conference paper about Jeanne is accepted soon.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
There has been plenty of media attention paid to the makeover of Wonder Woman. This is the Women’s Media Center’s take on it: “Wonder Woman in Pants is Not a Feminist Win.” What the analysis does not address is how hard women fought to wear pants. (I am presenting a paper on this topic at the National Communication Association convention next November.) Up until the women’s liberation movement, women were barred from wearing pants in the workplace and at restaurants.
Former Texas and Florida women’s page editor Marjorie Paxson ran into a “no pants” policy when she first became a newspaper publisher for Gannett. On her first day of work in the 1980s, Paxson learned about the former male publisher’s clothing policy: women cannot wear pants. Although Paxson said she had planned to look “every inch the lady publisher” and had purchased a number of skirts, she decided to wear her lone pantsuit to the office on day two. The next morning, wearing a pantsuit, she walked into the Muskogee Phoenix departments. On the way to her office, she went through the pressroom, through the composing room and through the news room. By noon, the publisher’s secretary came upstairs and she said, “Everybody is asking if there’s been a change – if they can wear pants?” Paxson called a meeting of the department heads that afternoon and announced a change in the dress code – they could wear pants.
She later learned that many of the female employees went shopping that evening. The next day, of the 45 women working at the paper, 29 were in pantsuits. She recalled, “That story got around town very quickly.” In fact, Paxson remembered shopping at Sears when the clerk looked down at the name on her credit card. She looked up at Paxson: “Are you the new lady at the paper?” Paxson replied that she was, and the clerk responded: “I’m so glad you let them wear pants.”
Pants had become a symbol of change – a challenge to the status quo in terms of gender roles.