The Women Who Paved the Way  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   March 1994

The Women Who Paved the Way   

By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi (sricchia@iupui.edu) is an AJR senior contributing writer.     


For a quarter of a century, Julia Edwards covered the Korean and Vietnam wars, and riots and revolutions in more than 125 countries. In 1988, she wrote "Women of the World: The Great Foreign Correspondents," a book that recounts the accomplishments of scores of women reporters. Among them:

Margaret Fuller, America's first woman foreign correspondent and one of the world's first professional war reporters. In 1849, Fuller reported for the New York Tribune on the French forces of Louis-Napoleon and their invasion of Rome. Four years earlier, Fuller's book, "Women in the Nineteenth Century," created a furor when she called for equality between the sexes: "We would have every path laid open to women as freely as to men. If you ask me what offices they may fill, I reply – any."

Mary Roberts Rinehart, among the first American reporters to reach the front lines in World War I. In an account filed from Belgium for the Saturday Evening Post she wrote: "The German lines are very close now. The barbed wire barrier tears my clothes... No man's land lies flooded but full of dead bodies... Here the stench begins... My heavy boots chafe my heel, and I limp. But I limp rapidly. I do not care to be shot in the back... I have done what no woman has done before, and I am alive."

Sigrid Schultz, the pipe-smoking Berlin bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, earned praise in John Hohenberg's book, "The Great Reporters and Their Times," as "one of the finest of all women foreign correspondents." In 1925, Schultz became the first woman foreign bureau chief for a major American newspaper. She took pride in the fact that Nazi chief Hermann Goering commonly referred to her as the "dragon lady from Chicago."

Anne O'Hare McCormick of the New York Times cultivated Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler as sources for her columns on international events. In 1937, she became the first female journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for reporting. Edwards wrote: "Danger never fazed McCormick. When the Allied forces invaded France, she insisted on going to the front to interview General George S. Patton, although night had descended and the roads were pock-marked with bomb craters... Patton was indeed surprised by his late dinner guest."

Dorothy Thompson, whose column "On the Record," appeared in 200 newspapers with a combined circulation of around 8 million. She was among the first reporters Hitler expelled from Germany. When the press corps gathered to see her off, she told them, "My offense was to think that Hitler is just an ordinary man. That is a crime against the reigning cult in Germany which says that Mr. Hitler is a Messiah sent of God to save the German people." In a 1940 cover story, Time magazine listed her as second in power and prestige only to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Martha Gellhorn covered the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese invasion of China, the American invasion of Europe, and finally, Vietnam and the 1967 six-day war in Israel for a variety of publications including Colliers' and the Guardian of London. In 1940 she married Ernest Hemingway, who dedicated the novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls" to her. In 1982, at 74, she wrote to Edwards lamenting, "I wanted terribly to go to Lebanon this summer, but nobody would send me."

Margaret Bourke-White is commonly referred to as "one of the greatest news photographers of all time." She was one of the first correspondents to cover the North African campaign in World War II. When Life magazine was launched in November 1936, Bourke-White took the cover photograph for the first issue. Later, she became the first journalist to reach the furthermost observation point on the Korean War front.

Marguerite Higgins received national recognition for her daring coverage of the Korean War, netting her the George Polk Award for overseas reporting and the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, shared with five colleagues. The New York Herald Tribune reporter was in Vietnam in 1954 to record the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, then returned for Newsday in 1963 to cover the American war. Edwards wrote that "as a correspondent, Higgins made it because she was as intelligent as her competition and would rather die than face defeat."

Gloria Emerson of the New York Times was among the first to expose the false body counts and bogus awarding of medals to high-ranking U.S. Army officers in Vietnam. She was among the corps of American reporters accused of opposing the war, ultimately causing the Americans to withdraw in defeat. Emerson won the George Polk Award for excellence in foreign reporting; her book about Vietnam, "Winners and Losers," won the 1978 National Book Award.

Dickey Chapelle, a Milwaukee-born daredevil, was the first woman combat correspondent known to be killed in action. During World War II, the photojournalist moved in with the Marines under fire in Okinawa. Years later, she parachuted into Vietnamese jungles held by the Vietcong. In 1965, Chapelle was marching with the Marines when she stepped on a land mine. Her obituary ran on the front page of the New York Times. Her photos appeared in such leading publications as Look, Life and National Geographic. l

– S.R.

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