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Remembering women.

A few years ago, retired Associated Press reporter Katherine Harris told an oral historian about her first job interview six decades earlier. "I went to the United Press and the man said, |Well, we just don't hire women at all.... You know, it's not good work. It's dirty in here. We have lots of carbon dust....'"

Attitudes didn't improve much as she continued her career. "I often thought of what a managing editor at the Oakland Tribune had said, that they didn't want women because they'd either fall in love ... or they would get married and have a family that would interrupt their interests, or they would blow up some way. Well, I had done all three in my career, but I didn't ever stop working."

Sarah McClendon, who has run her own news bureau in Washington since 1946, also had a difficult time. McClendon, 82, says that as a single mother in the 1930s, her editors would tell her, "We can't give you a raise because this man's wife is going to have a baby," or "This man has to come a long distance to work, so he has to buy a new car."

Over the past five years, Harris, McClendon and 47 other women have shared their recollections for an ongoing Washington Press Club Foundation project documenting the experiences of veteran female journalists. Copies of 60 interview transcripts will eventually be stored at 13 journalism schools, the National Press Club and several other locations for use by scholars and students.

The project, funded in part by the Freedom Forum, several newspaper foundations and the National Endowment for the Humanities, was launched by Peggy Simpson, a former Associated Press reporter who hoped to provide younger journalists with female role models. Fern Ingersoll, the oral historian who directs the project, points out that although two-thirds of journalism students today are female, their textbooks tell them little about what has been accomplished by women.

Ironically, the project decided not to ask journalists to conduct the interviews, some of which run nearly 10 hours. "We felt that [oral historians] would have no preconceived notions, as journalists sometimes tend to have, about how the stories should turn out," Ingersoll says. "Oral historians are trained to listen more than anything else, and to let the interviewees go with their own understanding or memory of an event."

The women's careers span the century. Some recalled the days when the idea of a female journalist was an oxymoron; others found opportunities during World War II, when men left their jobs for the front. Still others joined the profession after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Among the younger journalists who have agreed to be interviewed are Dorothy Gilliam of the Washington Post, Connie Chung of CBS, Carole Simpson of ABC and Nina Totenberg of National Public Radio.

Chung says she wanted to take part because she's "getting to the back nine of the golf course [and] it's time to talk about what we've been doing all this time.... It's distressing to me that we haven't achieved parity yet." Adds Totenberg, "Any time there's a project dealing with women it's a good idea to get involved. It seems like they're always doing these things about men."

Margot Knight, an oral historian who until recently was a consultant for the project, says it "tackles many feminist themes without being too aggressive. We didn't want to concentrate on the first women to be successful so much as shed light on the more subtle issues, the everyday ordeals that professional women go through."

She says that even though women journalists continue to experience discrimination, the project is an effort to remind them "how hard it was just to get to the point where women were even considered capable of covering hard news."
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Title Annotation:women in journalism oral history project
Author:Revah, Suzan
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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