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Women in the Media: From the Margins to the Mainstream (February 2020): Correspondents Abroad

by Camille McCutcheon

Correspondents Abroad

Margaret Fuller has already been discussed as the first female war correspondent for her coverage of the Italian revolution in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century (1917 to be exact) Peggy Hull (1889–1967)—born Henrietta Eleanor Goodnough Deuell—became the first woman to be accredited as a war correspondent by what was then called the War Department. Hull, whose career as a war reporter spanned nearly thirty years, was working as a war correspondent for the El Paso Morning Times when, in 1917, she visited the US army camps at the front and wrote human-interest stories that were published in the newspaper. She went on to cover the Siberian Conflict (1918–19) for the Cleveland Press and the 1932 Japanese attack on Shanghai for The New York Daily News, and she reported on World War II from Hawai’i and the Pacific Islands. The only book-length study on Hull is Wilda Smith and Eleanor Bogart’s The Wars of Peggy Hull: The Life and Times of a War Correspondent. The authors include excerpts from Hull’s news stories and other writings. Since a compilation of Hull’s writings has not be published, Bogart’s book is notable not only for its biographical treatment of Hull but also for providing examples of her reporting. Margaret Fuller has already been discussed as the first female war correspondent for her coverage of the Italian revolution.

Dorothy Thompson (1893–1961) was one of the premier journalists and political commentators of her day. She worked as a foreign correspondent in Europe, and in 1934 was expelled from Germany for writing articles that criticized Hitler. In 1936, she began writing a thrice weekly column, “On the Record,” first for the New York Herald Tribune and later for other newspapers. She used the “On the Record” column to warn against the threat of Nazism, which earned her the nickname “Cassandra”—after the figure in Greek mythology whose warnings went unheeded. Peter Kurth’s award winning American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson was not the first biography of Thompson, but it is an exemplary work on her life and career. Other valuable resources on Thompson include three collections of her writing: Let the Record Speak, a selection of her columns; “I Saw Hitler,”1 which is based on Thompson’s in-person interview with Hitler in 1931; and Listen, Hans, a collection of anti-Nazi speeches addressed to a hypothetical friend named Hans. Also valuable is Thompson’s Dorothy Thompson’s Political Guide: A Study of American Liberalism and Its Relationship to Modern Totalitarian States.

Martha Gellhorn (1908–98) is remembered as one of the greatest war correspondents of her generation. Gellhorn covered the major international conflicts of her lifetime, from the 1937 Spanish Civil War through the wars in Central America in the mid-1980s. She wrote articles for Collier’s Weekly of New York from 1937 to 1946 and for The Guardian of London from 1966 to 1967. Caroline Moorehead’s biography of Gellhorn—Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life—was shortlisted for the Whitbread Book Awards, and it is the definitive account of Gellhorn’s life and career. Primary resources on Gellhorn include the Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn, which Moorehead edited; The Face of War, a collection of Gellhorn’s pieces on foreign conflicts; and The View from the Ground, a compilation of her peacetime reporting.

Margaret Bourke-White (1904–71), one of the world’s foremost photojournalists, was an accredited war correspondent. She worked as a staff photographer for Fortune and Life, for the latter covering World War II, photographing a bombing raid and the liberation of Buchenwald, and also the Korean War. Photography critic and art historian Vicki Goldberg provides a well-researched account of Bourke-White’s life and career in Margaret Bourke-White: A Biography. Bourke-White herself published numerous books, among them Portrait of Myself (a memoir), Shooting the Russian War, and They Called It “Purple Heart Valley”: A Combat Chronicle of the War in Italy. The Photographs of Margaret Bourke-White, edited by Sean Callahan and published posthumously, includes more than two hundred of Bourke-White’s black-and-white photographs.

Beverly Deepe Keever (b.1935) was the longest-serving American correspondent to cover the Vietnam War. In Death Zones and Darling Spies: Seven Years of Vietnam War Reporting, Keever provides insightful historical analysis and a personal memoir of her years covering that war. Keever wrote for various weeklies and newspapers, including Newsweek, The Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Herald Tribune, and she was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting for a series of reports she wrote from the front at the siege of Khe Sanh (1968) for The Christian Science Monitor. Keever’s perspective as a female war reporter—and her subsequent thirty years teaching journalism and communication at the University of Hawai’i—make her book a valuable addition to the literature.

Killed by an explosion while covering conflict in Syria, Marie Colvin (1956–2012) spent twenty-seven years (1985–2012) as foreign correspondent for The Sunday Times newspaper. One of the most significant war reporters of her generation, Colvin covered major conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Libya, Sri Lanka, and the Middle East—Iraq and Lebanon as well as Syria. Lindsey Hilsum, also a reporter, offers a frank portrayal of Colvin in her outstanding biography In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin, which won a 2018 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for biography. Colvin’s journalism is collected in On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin, which includes not only her war reporting but also interviews she conducted with Yasser Arafat and Muammar Gaddafi.

Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World, edited by Zahra Hankir and including a foreword by Christiane Amanpour, gathers nineteen essays by Arab women journalists who work for newspapers, websites, magazines, and television outlets in places such as Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. This valuable and timely collection allows readers to appreciate contemporary Arab women’s voices as they describe the challenges they face—detention, harassment, rape, threat of death—both living in and covering a war zone.

 

1. Thompson, Dorothy. “I Saw Hitler!” Hearst’s International Combined with Cosmopolitan [Now known as Cosmopolitan], March 1932, pp. 32–33, 160–164. 

Works Cited