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Women in Journalism Pass Another Milestone

Originally published by Andrea Mitchell for the Washington Post

On Sept. 17, another milestone will be passed for women journalists. Kristen Welker is set to become the 13th moderator of “Meet the Press,” the longest-running show on American television. For the first time, every Sunday public affairs program will be moderated or co-moderated by a woman as Welker joins Dana Bash, Shannon Bream, Margaret Brennan, Jen Psaki and Martha Raddatz at the helms for their respective networks.

Not that long ago, “woman journalist” was almost an oxymoron, especially in broadcast news. When I applied for my first job, at an all-news radio station in Philadelphia in 1967, I was told the newsroom was no place for women. I talked them into hiring me for the overnight shift, where I’d be less “disruptive.” I was so grateful to get my foot in the door, I hardly noticed my job title: “copyboy.”

By 1972, women were among the reporters covering the race for the White House. But Timothy Crouse’s rousing book about the traveling political press corps was titled “The Boys on the Bus.” It was simply assumed that the news business was an all-male, all-White domain. That was true even when a woman was the boss. In her 1997 memoir, “Personal History,” Katharine Graham, the powerful former publisher of The Post, recalled that the Gridiron Club (founded in 1885) and the National Press Club (founded in 1908) were among “many unenlightened, regressive sanctuaries of male supremacy” in the nation’s capital.

The same year Crouse reported his book, a group of female journalists picketed outside the hotel where Gridiron Club members were holding their annual dinner. Graham wrote that she and her friend Meg Greenfield, who later became The Post’s editorial page editor, wanted to see the action — without attracting any notice. With Greenfield behind the wheel, Graham “hunched down as best I could” in the car, “trying to avoid being seen.” This gave her a “hilarious perspective” on the white-tie club members, the line of limousines and the picketing female reporters. Judith Martin, who wrote The Post’s “Miss Manners” column, wheeled a baby carriage for effect.

The National Press Club refused for decades to admit female members or even allow them to attend newsmaker luncheons. In 1955, the club relented by offering space in the balcony. According to a 2019 club history by its historian, Gil Klein, the only speaker who refused to appear if women were excluded was Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1959. To accommodate him, the club permitted 1.4 women to attend for every 10 men. (History does not record how they arrived at that formula.) Only in 1971 did women attain full membership; fittingly, United Press International’s pathbreaking White House correspondent, Helen Thomas, became the club’s first female officer.

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