Thursday, June 30, 2011
I have long been interested in the story of Billie O’Day. I first learned of her as a winner of two Penney-Missouri Awards (the top recognition for women’s pages) for her work in the women’s pages of the Miami News in the 1960s. I also knew that she had quite a career in music and radio.
Yesterday, someone posted to this blog his memories of Billie’s work at Radio WIOD. This caused me to look back over Billie’s career.
Billie Corinne Womack (O’Day was her radio name that she began using as her own name) was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in 1919. As a child she both played football and music instruments. She earned an undergraduate degree in music at Hendrix College.
She moved to Miami with her mother in 1943 and began taking graduate classes at the University of Miami. She played violin for the University of Miami Symphony for four years.
In 1944, she became the music librarian at Radio WIOD. She then teamed up with Jack Berry for the weekday program “Billie and Jack.” In 1949, she became the conductor of the Miami Symphonic Society Orchestra. She was named the Miami Young Woman of the Tear in 1954 for her work at Radio WIOD.
She was hired as the club editor at the Miami News in 1958 and soon became the women’s editor at the newspaper. She won Penney-Missouri Award in 1962 and 1963. She continued to be a conductor until at least 1964, according to a newspaper article. After the end of the women’s section, she was a music and television editor at the newspaper. She retired from the News in 1984 and I lost track of her after that.
I am hoping to learn more about her musical background for a history magazine article.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I just learned that Northern Florida women's page editor Peggy May has died.
According to her obituary: For many residents, Peggy is best known for her contributions to the Northwest Florida Daily News over five decades.
She was hired in December 1963 at age 35 as the “society editor” and quickly became the “women’s editor.” From there, she held many jobs at the newspaper, which evolved from the Playground Daily News to the Northwest Florida Daily News during her tenure.
For the last decade of her career, Peggy was a lifestyle writer who focused on food and religion stories.
This was my favorite part of her obituary: "Peggy had a gift for spotting a word that was out of place and was particularly attentive to grammatical errors.
Several days before she died, a nurse told Peggy that she needed to get her “laying in the bed right.”
Even in her weakened state, Peggy caught the error.
“Lying in the bed right,” Peggy said quietly."
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I came across this letter from Fort Lauderdale News women's page editor Edee Greene to Penney-Missouri Award Director Paul Myhre and his wife Mary. Over the years the three became good friends, as noted in the tone of the letter.
In this letter Edee mentions having lunch with Beverley Morales who was pregnant with Maria at the time. I am working on a paper about Beverley right now. Her long career has taken some time to document.
My article about Edee is currently under review at a journal. She was the funniest of the women's page editors. Her letters are as funny as her columns were.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
This afternoon I am working on revisions for the article I am working on the women's section of the Milwaukee Journal. I am focusing on the work of fashion editor Aileen Ryan - a three-time Penney-Missouri Award winner.
During her first summer of work in 1921, Ryan attended a meeting to hear Milwaukee Journal Editor Marvin Creager say he was happy to have females on the staff because “women have cleaned up newspaper offices.” Ryan later recalled the statement made her feel as though she had been hired to use a mop.
Ryan started under the editorship of women’s page journalist Elizabeth B. Moffet. Moffett had been recruited from the Kansas City Star, where she had pioneered a new method of covering fashion that went beyond simply promoting the clothing of the advertisers. Moffet was hired because the Milwaukee Journal publisher wanted to “handle fashion news with more objectivity.” Moffett would visit the local fashion houses and bring along an artist to sketch the clothing. She would then give a critical analysis of the styles.
During her first trip to New York, the fashion capital of the country, she made fashion journalism history. It was 1931 and at that point, only magazine reporters and buyers were allowed into the fashion shows. Ryan would not accept that policy. She knocked on as many as 12 showroom doors a day and got access to about a third of them. She recounts that no one had heard of the Milwaukee newspaper, but she eventually prevailed and sent clips of her stories to those New York designers. Ryan said that eventually “the New Yorkers began to understand the value of what I was doing.”
Ryan continued to fight for more access each year, and she slowly was able to get access for her photographer, too. This meant other newspapers had to buy their fashion photographs from the Milwaukee Journal. In 1937, images from Ryan’s trips to the fashion shows in Europe became the first color photos in the Journal.
During Ryan’s reign, Wisconsin played an important role in the fashion world: Milwaukee was a major textile-manufacturing center in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1963, Ryan convinced the Milwaukee-area apparel and textile makers to unveil their products in Milwaukee before the New York shows. As part of that drive, she helped to establish the Heritage Milwaukee event to promote local companies such as the Junior House (now J.H. Collectibles) and the Great Lakes Mink Association. The showings at the event attracted newspapers from across the country, including the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. As many of two dozen fashion editors would make the trip to Milwaukee for the event – putting the city on the fashion map.
According to the late Milwaukee public relations executive Lyn Skeen, Milwaukee’s fashion industry was larger than its brewing industry at the time: “Fashion was big business in our state.” And a 1969 article in the New York Times, noted that Wisconsin ranked fourth nationally as a producer of women’s fashion apparel, behind California, New York and Texas.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Today I went through letters between Paul Myhre (director of the Penney-Missouri Awards - the top recognition for the women's pages in the 1960s) and Drue Lytle, women's page editor at the Honolulu Advertiser.
By the early 1960s, Drue oversaw 15 reporters including stringers from eight major military bases on Oahu. Her section placed at the Penney-Missouri Awards in 1962 and 1963.
Yet, despite her recognitions for her work, she was in a constant battle with management to improve her section. She wrote in a 1964 letter to Paul Myhre: “My pages seem uninspired and I don’t know much to do about it. I have so much mish-mash that the boss says I MUST run – bridge, horoscope, today’s spiritual thought, Ann Landers and the like. It doesn’t leave much elbow room to do the flashy local stuff.”
He responded: “Sympathize with what you call the ‘mish-mash’ that the boss orders. That really eats up space. Why don’t you work out a schedule of two or three features to hit hard every week or drop a series on an important issue every now and then.
Drue listened to that advice and encouraged her staff to conduct issue-based series. Two of those series - one about child abuse and another about the drug LSD - went on to win the Penney-Missouri Award for investigative reporting. Both series were written by Pat Hunter who I will be writing about later this week.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Yesterday was Father's Day. We spent the weekend visiting big trucks (that's son Curtis James featured above in a fire truck) and then at the beach.
My son is forever connected to the women's pages. He is named for Curtis Castleberry - the husband of of Dallas women's page editor Vivian Castleberry. He is the wonderful father of five daughters. The two Curtises met last fall at a celebration for Vivian.
His middle name is in honor of James Bellows - the husband of women's page editor Maggie Savoy and a wonderful editor, himself. Jim died while I was pregnant with Curtis. I did get to interview him about Maggie by phone before he passed away.
Happy belated Father's Day.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
I am doing some work on Hawaii women's page journalist Pat Hunter today. Above is her story - one in a series - about divorce law in Hawaii.
Hunter won two Penney-Missouri Awards for investigative reporting - one for a story about child abuse and another about LSD in which she used the drug as part of the story.
A wonderful librarian in Hawaii has located Hunter's obituary and an editorial tribute to her at my request. I plan to create an outline about her career and impact.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I recently got the nicest email from Beverley Morales' sister which reminded me to get back to work on telling Beverley's story.
Beverley was an award-winning Florida women's page editor in the 1960s. (She won a Penney-Missouri Award while she was at the Sun-Sentinel.) She also had a career in investigative reporting and was a successful grant writer.
Yesterday, I discovered her University of Wyoming master's thesis: "Press coverage of Native American affairs focusing on four Montana and Wyoming newspapers." I just ordered a copy of the thesis.
I am continuing to work on an article about Beverley and her colorful life. I am largely focusing on her editing of the Native American newspaper, A'Tome.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
My book review of Freedom for Women: Forging the Women’s Liberation Movement, 1953–1970 has been published in this month's Journal of American History.
Here is part of the review: "Giardina’s role as an organizer in the movement makes her story unique. (In addition, a transcript of Giardina’s oral history is available at the Smathers Library at the University of Florida.) This book includes her views after decades of retrospection. She wrote that the purpose of her study was to highlight the role “the non-feminist social movement played – movements in which women held a contradictory position of more equal partnership and freedom for contribution.” She met her goal.
The book does have its weaknesses, though. Giardina noted movement leaders would only speak to female reporters, and thus these journalists became enlightened about gender inequity. This is an overstatement. Many female journalists – mostly from the women’s pages – were well aware of the principles of feminism. What Giardina does not note is that some feminist leaders also refused to speak to some of these women’s page journalists, preferring to speak to only those few women in the news sections.
Furthermore, Giardina’s reference to writer Helen Dudar and her Newsweek cover story about the movement in which Dudar was “converted by her assignment” was a simplistic explanation for women journalists of the time. What Giardina leaves out is significant. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, female reporters across the country sought a bigger role at their publications only to be rejected. This included Newsweek, where women were restricted to researchers and filed a class-action discrimination lawsuit. In other words, choosing the freelancer Dudar as an example of progress or enlightenment was an insult to the qualified women already on the staff.
While much of the women’s liberation movement scholarship has involved the East Coast, it is interesting to finally hear the story of Florida feminism. What could use further exploration is the role of women’s page journalists and clubwomen of Florida who were laying the groundwork for questions of equality for women. For example, the Fort Lauderdale News’ women’s page editor Edee Greene used her columns and her clout to establish a domestic violence center and threatened to launch a protest against a restaurant’s male-only lunch policy in the 1970s. She did not need anyone to raise her awareness about inequities for women."
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
It was announced last week that Jill Abramson has been named the editor of the New York Times. The first time a woman will be in that position in the newspaper's 160 year history.
The Women's Media Center has a great article about the promotion. Here is a portion of it:
"The news last week of Jill Abramson’s promotion to executive editor of the New York Times cheered feminists and female journalists alike, perhaps no one more than the women who sued the newspaper in 1974 over sex discrimination in hiring, pay and promotion.
“Finally! I thought I was not going to be able to hold my breath long enough,” said Betsy Wade, a former foreign desk copy chief who under her married name, Elizabeth W. Boylan, was the first named plaintiff in the 1974 lawsuit. “I’m immensely pleased. Just delighted.”
“I was very pleased. I said to myself ‘well, it’s about time!’” added Grace Glueck, a former art critic who was also among the seven named plaintiffs."
There was a women's page journalist turned bureau reporter who had to sue for sex discrimination. Her name is Mary Lou Butcher and she sued the Detroit News after being marginalized due to her gender. I presented a paper on her lawsuit that I hope to turn into a paper.
Monday, June 6, 2011
While many male editors did understand what it was that women's page editors were trying to do to improve content, several others did. In that category, I would include J. Edward Murray or J.E.M. Letters found in several archives demonstrate his mentoring of women and his value of women's pages.
One example was found in the papers of women's page pioneer Dorothy Jurney in the National Women and Media Collection. Jurney worked with Murray in the New Direction for News project, which documented news coverage of women’s issues, in more than a decade of her retirement. In their correspondence, Murray mentioned the difficulty that he and other male editors faced during the early years of women’s liberation: “Some editors, like me, who have tried their best for a long time to learn how to be fair concerning the news of women now find themselves too often accused of never having thought about the problem at all.”
I have long regretted that I never got to interview J.E.M. Then, I came across this column, Belated Thanks to an Editor. In it, the writer noted that J.E.M. declined to be interviewed just a few months before his death. Somehow this made me feel better. Maybe he would have declined my request, too.
I plan to write a paper about the male editors who supported the progressive women's page editor.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
I recently received a new file of letters from Florida women's page editor Gloria Biggs during the 1970s and 1980s. They are at the Mudd Manuscript Library at Princeton University. Most of the letters were back and forth between Biggs and George Beebe about her work with the World Press Freedom Committee.
My favorite part of the file was a handwritten note from Biggs on a February 9, 1978 letter. She wrote: "P.S. I know you're as delighted as I am about Marj Paxson's promotion to publisher."
Marjorie Paxson was a Florida women's page editor who became the fourth female publisher in the Gannett newspaper chain. Biggs had been the first.
Those Florida women's page journalists had a strong bond.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
I just learned I received a course release from UCF for Spring 2012 to study one of the topics of the women's pages: food. In particular, I will look at the intersection of food policy and media coverage. Little is known about the coverage of food news in the women's pages.
This will build on the research I am currently doing on the work of the New York Times food editor Jane Nickerson in the post-World War II years.