American Women Journalists/Foreign Policy WWII Discussion (Jan. and Feb. 1996)

American Women Journalists/Foreign Policy WWII Discussion

Two queries:

From:      Theresa Kaminski     
     21 Jan  1996

I am looking for information on Doris Rubens Johnston, an American journalist who worked in Hong Kong and Hankow in 1938-39, had a show on Radio Manila called "World Scene and the Far Eat" in 1940(?)-41, and was interned in the Philippines during World War II. She published a book after the war called _Bread and Rice_. I think she was educated at Columbia U in the early 1930s.

Is anyone working on women journalists of this time period? Any additional information would be helpful. Thanks.

From:     Margaret Paton Walsh          23 Jan 1996

I'm working on American women and the start of the second world war and wondered if any list subscribers could suggest names of women who wrote editorial columns in the newspapers in the late 1930s and early 1940s which dealt with foreign policy issues or discussed the war in any way. At present I am focusing on Freda Kirchwey(The Nation); Ann O'Hare McCormick(The New York Times); and Dorothy Thompson(syndicated; but I wondered about other possibilities.

[Editor's Note] It seems the query raises the possibility for an interesting discussion appropriate to this list. Does gender make a difference? In other words, do women journalists writing for American newspapers before World War II deal with foreign policy issues differently than men? Maureen Flanagan has argued in her work on Progressive Era Chicago politics that female reformers and party activists had a very different agenda than their male counterparts. Is the same true of American female editorial writers in the "phoney war" years? KL


From: Cora Greer

23 Jan 1996

Check out Elizabeth "May" Craig in the Portland[Maine] Press Herald. I believe she was writing columns at that time.

From: Beth Nelson 23 Jan 1996

You might try looking at Margaret Parton. I believe that she was writing as a foreign correspondent during the war years for the Herald Tribune. I'm not sure how much she covered foreign policy issues, but I do remember she interviewed Gen. MacArthur in Japan at the end of the war. She has published a few books, and her personal papers are in the Univ. of Oregon archives.

From: Amy Hague 23 Jan 1996

You might consider two journalists whose papers are in the Sophia Smith Collection: Helen Kirkpatrick(Milbank) was the Geneva correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, 1936-37 and several other newspapers, 1937-39; and for the Chicago Daily News in London, France and Italy from 1939-46. Helen Hiett began "Paris Letter" in 1940 in an effort to raise American support for the French, and was also hired by NBC to cover their Paris bureau.

From:     Genevieve G McBride    
        23 Jan 1996

I forwarded query re: women columnists on American foreign policy to the journalism historians listserv and received the following from Maurine Beasley, professor at U of Maryland(who was on the Washington Post staff for 10 years prior to her academic career>) She is the author of half a dozen works on women in journalism history, including _Eleanor Roosevelt and the Media: A Public Quest for Self-Fulfillment_(U of Illinois, 1987) and _Taking Their Place: A Documentary History of Women and Journalism_(American U, 1993 which has several entries on your period--but few are columnists, much less on foreign policy. Still worth a look.

>As far as women columnists are concerned, I think there were very few to begin with. Eleanor >Roosevelt might be included in the list. In her "My Day" column she frequently gave asides that >might be construed as comments on foreign policy in favor of the U.S. supporting the British in >the pre-Pearl Harbor period.


From:               Genevieve G McBride           23 Jan 1996

An earlier query on Doris Rubens Johnston, also forwarded to the journalism historians listserv: Another reply from Maurine Beasley of the U of Maryland, now site of the Broadcast Pioneers Library.

>I am always interested in women journalists, particularly of that time period. I don't know >anything about the women you mentioned, but the Broadcast Pioneers Library now has moved >to the U of Maryland campus. The curator is Tom Conners, a good friend of mine. His e-mail >address: tc@umail.ulmd.eduActually, Tom is the archivist in charge of the National Public >Broadcasting Archives, of which the BPL has become a part(at least on a temporary basis.) You >might drop Tom a note.


From:           Margaret Paton Walsh          26 Jan  1996

Thanks to all who responded to my query. I'd like to take up the moderator's question about whether gender made a difference and see what list members think. My own work tends to suggest that, as fas as U.S. involvement in WWII goes, gender was not a significant indicator of opinion. The three commentators I mentioned- Freda Kirchwey, Anne O'Hare McCormick, and Dorothy Thompson-were all advocates of U.S. aid, in increasing amounts, to the Allies in Europe, and argued for this based on the assumption that the United States could not isolate itself from the events in Europe and that the war represented an ideological struggle in which the U.S. had an immense stake. One of the motives behind my original query was an interest in women commentators who might have taken a more isolationist line, since the isolationist movement *claimed* a strong following among American women. (A claim, I might add, not supported by my research among groups of American women other than commentators.This is not to say that there were not many women isolationists but rather that I haven't found much reason to believe that women were greater isolationists than men.)

From: Kriste Lindenmeyer <> 26 Jan 1996

My grandmother, a German immigrant to the U.S., was a vocal supporter of America First. My grandfather, on the other hand, didn't voice any opinion about possible US intervention in the war. I have no idea if this was typical, or based on gender, ethnicity,etc. She had two sons at draft age and much family still in Germany. However, so did my grandfather. Perhaps the immigration historians can offer some insight?

From: Theresa Kaminski 27 Jan 1996

I did a research paper on Dorothy Thompson when I was working on my master's and I, too, did not find that gender had an impact on what she wrote about, however it may have had interesting

consequences for her writing career.

Doris Rubens Johnston, who reported on the Japanese invasion and occupation of China, was anti-Japanese, which was the reason she ended up leaving China. She commented in her book that the reason why she got one of her newspaper assignments while in China was because of the belief that she would write stories from the "woman's angle." She grabbed the opportunity but it doesn't appear that her stories had any of this particular angle. Incidentally, Rubens abandoned her graduate work in psychology in order to go to China. She was deeply concerned about world events and thought her contribution should be to publicize these events.

From: Julie Sibel 27 Jan 1996

I'll second Margaret's belief that gender was not an indicator for isolationist sentiment in WWII. The women in my doctoral research were leaders for the US civilian defense movement. While most used mildly isolationist rhetoric, all felt that involvement was inevitable and pushed the White House to develop a plan for coordinated homefront defense.

From: Lisa Krissoff Boehm

27 Jan 1996

In regards to the discussion on isolationism and gender, I would like to bring in what I know about isolationism and the community of immigrant women in Chicago. A good number, including Lucy Russo Palermo, who may have been the first Italian-American woman elected to office in the United States (she was city commissioner of Chicago, elected in 1934), were members of a group which comingled the ideas of motherhood and isolationism, "We, The Mothers Mobilize for America, Inc." The group objected to sending their sons overseas into battle and worried that this would leave the United States without adequate manpower for defense. "We, The Mothers" had ties with the America First Committee. The women went to Washington D.C. to protest Lend-Lease, wearing traditional black mourning dresses and veils during a sit-in on the White House steps. A few women in the group were brought up on charges of sedition by the FBI.

From:             Maria Elena Raymond          01 Feb 1996

I haven't seen Sigrid Schultz of the Chicago Tribune mentioned in this thread. She was the first of three women, including Anne O'Hare McCormick and Dorothy Thompson to win a staff position as a foreign correspondent. Goering allegedly referred to her as "the dragon lady from Chicago." She was based in Berlin during the war. Schultz started out believing the German people would control their own destiny...until the first Nazi victory in the Reichstag in 1930. Much later she blamed the American diplomats of the 30s for not recognizing Hitler's plan for global conquest and the evil of the Nazis. She was quite deliberate in her writings in staying away from editorializing. She stuck to the facts as she learned them, and felt that would be enough to show readers what was happening. She returned to the states in '41, then entered Gemany with American troops in '45--working for the Tribune, McCall's magazine and Mutual Broadcasting. She was possibly the first American woman to enter Buchenwald w/the US troops.

Two other women went on to report in WWII...and you might want to consider them. Mary Marvin Breckinridge was a photojournalist who was in London the first night the Germans bombed the city. She often reported for CBS radio, becoming the first female foreign correspondent on the staff of a radio network. Murrow took a liking to her and used her reports frequently. Interestingly, she dropped the name "Mary" and reported as Marvin Breckenridge for her radio work.

The other correspondent was Helen Kirkpatrick, from the Chicago Daily News. She traveled with the Free French forces to avoid restrictions placed on American female correspondents. In 1937 she was writing columns for the London Sunday Times, and claimed the way the editors changed her columns that it was clear to her the British press did not want to face the truth about the inevitability of war w/Germany. Kirkpatrick enraged the US State Dept. when she wrote favorable articles about DeGaulle and in Chicago a subscriber who objected to women covering military strategy, set off a debate among the editors of the Daily News, although they ultimately stood by her.

In my personal studies of female journalists I have not found any woman I could point to and say, "Aha, she wrote/reported in such a fashion because she was female." *However*, I do feel there were many times women showed more fortitude, quick-thinking and a reluctance to sit around the local bars and have information hand-fed to them than there male counterparts, thus enabling them to beat their competition outright, and to glean added vital details for stories that might otherwise have been seen as mundane.

From: Barb Freeman 13 Feb 1996

On this topic I wonder if those interested would find it useful to determine how much of what these correspondents wrote was actually part of the government propaganda/censorship efforts. Women who stayed at home and wrote stories about the war certainly did that (I have written about a Canadian example of such a writer, Madge Macbeth, in the latest edition of American Journalism.) Were they ever expected to write human interest features from a woman's perspective, as well as cover the nitty-gritty stuff. Just thoughts while I sit here at the keyboard. I arrived late on this listserv so I'm not sure what suggestions have been made already But certainly one objective was to have women support the war--very important for the morale of the troops,etc.