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"A Tortuous Route Growing Up": The Rise of Women in the American Society of Newspaper Editors Alf Pratte One of the overlooked historical milestones in American journalism took place in April 1987 when Katherine W. Fanning of The Christian Science Monitor became the first woman president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE). In assuming the post following fifty-six men in the sixty-five-year history of the professional group, another Boston editor observed that ASNE and Fanning had taken "a tortuous route growing up." According to former ASNE president Thomas Winship, "it took some 60 years of maturing before the all-male ASNE hierarchy could bring itself to elect a woman as its president."1 Although delayed by individual, institutional, social, cultural, political , and public relations obstacles, the tortuous process leading up to Fanning's election is important to consider. The period beginning in 1922 provides clues as to why the mainly male establishment first discouraged, then encouraged, women into its inner sanctums of membership and leadership. Minutes, ASNE Proceedings, interviews, and its own house organ reveal much about the organization that elected Fanning and why it failed to respond positively to the deeply gendered prejudices of American society and exert greater institutional leadership on behalf of women editors and other minority journalists.2 The purpose of this research is to review the major personalities who helped or hindered women in an organization serving as a middle ground between reporters and publishers. It describes the winding path provided women to gain acceptance in editor's offices and in ASNE. The study also cites various representative articles to demonstrate the individual, societal, and institutional attitudes existing during this period and how they discouraged editors from supporting gender diversity. Ironically, the key staff gatekeeper for the male organization during this period was a female, Alice Fox Pitts, who served as a secretary, executive secretary, and, with her husband, as editor of the ASNE house organ from 1931 until 1963. A graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, she worked as a reporter and editor in New Bedford, Washington, and Buffalo before being recruited to handle the administrative duties of the fledgling ASNE for more than three decades.3 Despite her key position, however, Pitts appears to have been limited in accelerating change on behalf of women. Indeed, the records and her writings indicate © 1994 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 6 No. ι (Spring) 52 Journal of Women-s History Spring she and the other female members served primarily to faithfully mirror a male, white organization and the culture and period they lived in. Indeed, much of the evidence shows that over most of its history, the ASNE treated women idiosyncratically, if they were even treated at all.4 ASNE minutes, ASNE Proceedings, and the ASNE Bulletin provide no evidence of any women members during the first decade of the society. In addition, there is scant indication of interest in women's issues as reflected in the pages of the Bulletin edited by Pitts. During the period following passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 and the start of the Depression , news articles and comments appearing in the society's house organ appear to reflect the times as well as the condescending attitudes toward women, rather than supporting and encouraging diversity in the journalistic workforce. Although overlooked by the editors, it was also a period when subtle changes were beginning to take place. Frederick Lewis Allen suggested this in his description of the shopstore mannikin as a symbol of the new woman in America: The new type of the early nineteen thirties was alert-looking rather than bored-looking. She had a pert, uplifted nose and an agreeably intelligent expression; she appeared alive to what was going on about her, ready to make an effort to give the company a good time. She conveyed a sense of competence. This was the sort of girl who might be able to go out and get a job, help shoulder the family responsibilities when her father's or husband's income stopped; who would remind them, in her hours of ease, of the good old days before there were all determining booms...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 51-66
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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