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Women in the Media: From the Margins to the Mainstream (February 2020): Covering Finance, Business, and Politics

by Camille McCutcheon

Covering Finance, Business, and Politics

Sylvia Porter (1913–91) was the first personal finance columnist and she was, at one time, a household name. With a career spanning sixty years, she is the only financial journalist to appear on the cover of Time.1  Like many other women journalists of her era and prior, Porter began by using initials in her byline (S. F. Porter) to hide her gender, but in 1942 she began to use her full name. Her column, which was syndicated in 1947 and entitled, “Sylvia Porter,” reached an estimated forty million readers in more than 350 US newspapers. Porter also wrote popular books on finance (among them How to Get More for Your Money, Sylvia Porter’s Money Book: How to Earn It, Spend It, Save It, Invest It, Borrow It, and Use It to Better Your Life, and Sylvia Porter’s New Money Book for the 80’s). Tracy Lucht’s well-researched and well-written Sylvia Porter: America’s Original Personal Finance Columnist is the first and only book on Porter; Lucht’s coverage is solid.

Affectionately dubbed “midwife of OPEC,” Wanda Jablonski (1920–92) covered the oil industry from the 1950s through the 1980s. She began her career during the 1940s at The Journal of Commerce, where she wrote articles about the oil business. Like Sylvia Porter, she first used her initials as her byline (W. M. Jablonski) to disguise her gender. However, by the 1950s, when she worked for Petroleum Week, she used her full name. Jablonski eventually became so influential that she was known simply as “Wanda.” In 1961, she became the first woman to found a major business publication, Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW), which is now considered the bible of the oil industry. Anna Rubino, who worked as a reporter for PIW during the 1980s, tells Jablonski’s story in Queen of the Oil Club: The Intrepid Wanda Jablonski and the Power of Information, an excellent biography.

As a turn-of-the-century labor journalist, Eva McDonald Valesh (1866–1956) became a voice for labor reform, working women, and the working class in general. She reported for Progressive-Era newspapers such as The St. Paul Globe, The Minneapolis Tribune, and later the New York Journal. She was also managing editor for the American Federationist, the organ of the American Federation of Labor. Elizabeth Faue’s Writing the Wrongs: Eva Valesh and the Rise of Labor Journalism provides an excellent account of Valesh’s life and career, situating Valesh in the historical context of the Progressive Era.

Maurine Hoffman Beasley’s award-winning Women of the Washington Press: Politics, Prejudice, and Persistence is the most definitive account to date of women in the Washington press corps. Starting in the 1830s and continuing through the first decade of the twenty-first century, Beasley chronicles the discrimination female political reporters faced in the nineteenth century, discrimination that lingers still.

In 1974 Alice Allison Dunningan (1906–1983) self-published A Black Woman’s Experience: From Schoolhouse to White House, an account of her life as a political reporter in Washington, DC. Dunnigan’s life story is important because she was the first African American female reporter accredited to the White House press corps and to the US Capitol. She was also the first African American member of the Women’s National Press Club. Dunnigan began her journalism career reporting for several African American newspapers in Kentucky. She later joined the Associated Negro Press (ANP) and became ANP’s Washington bureau chief in 1947. She covered the White House and the Capitol in the 1940s and the 1950s. Fortunately for contemporary readers, the University of Georgia republished Dunningan’s invaluable memoir, retitled as Alone atop the Hill: The Autobiography of Alice Dunnigan, Pioneer of the National Black Press, edited by Carol McCabe Booker.

Ethel Payne (1911–91) was a contemporary of Dunnigan, and Payne became the US’s most prominent African American female reporter of the civil rights era. In 1951 Payne was hired as a reporter for the Chicago Defender, a premier African American newspaper, and two years later she became the Defender’s Washington correspondent. She joined the White House press corps and became the second African American woman to receive White House credentials.  In 1972, Payne became the first female African American radio and television commentator on a national network (CBS), and she was the first African American correspondent to cover the Vietnam War. James McGrath Morris chronicles Payne’s life in his award-winning Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press. In writing the book, Morris received support from Payne’s family and friends, and in telling Payne’s story he incorporates material from her personal papers, newspapers, and FBI documents. He also highlights the history of the Chicago Defender.

Mary McGrory (1918–2004) became the first women to win the Pulitzer Prize for commentary for her columns on the Watergate scandal for the Washington Star. Her journalism career spanned the period from the 1954 Army-McCarthy Congressional hearings (which proved to be McCarthy’s downfall) to the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. McGrory wrote more than 8,000 columns for the Washington Star and later the Washington Post and was syndicated in some fifty US newspapers. John Norris knew McGrory both professionally and socially, and he used that relationship to good advantage in Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism. Norris also uses McGrory’s columns and interviews with her colleagues and friends to write his biography of McGrory. Phil Gailey collects McCrory’s work in his edited volume The Best of Mary McGrory: A Half-Century of Washington Commentary, which includes material spanning her fifty-year career in journalism.

 

1. Time. November 28, 1960; vol. 76, no. 23.

Works Cited