Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Press Girls

The inauguration of a new president is coming up so I will intermix a few stories about Presidents, the press and politics for the next couple of weeks.

You wouldn't call them "Press Girls" today, but back in 1933, that's what a group of women reporters were called who covered Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House.

It started out as a project by Mrs. Roosevelt to ensure that women reporters kept their jobs during the depression. In March of 1933 she announced she would hold regular news conferences in the Red Room of the Executive mansion, but only female journalists could attend.

Even though they were called "girls", most of the ladies were beyond their "girlish" years. Maud McDougall had covered William Jennings Bryan and President Kckinley. The New York Times reporter, Winifred Mallon, had covered the Teddy Roosevelt administration some 40-years earlier.

Some male journalists of the time belittled " the girls" as being little more than incense burners, but the ladies got their share of exclusive stories on the administration.

No story was quite as striking as the scandal of the Civil Defense Dancer. It was a stark reminder that no matter how comfortable the relationship between reporter and news maker, a story is a story.

After Pearl Harbor, Mrs. Roosevelt had taken a volunteer job with civil defense and she hired a friend at a salary of 46-hundred dollars a year to teach physical fitness. The Washington Post broke the story, charging that Mrs. Roosevelt's friend was hired to teach dancing in air raid shelters. By the time Congress raised it's collective eyebrows, both the dancer and Mrs. Roosevelt had left their civil defense posts.

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