May 13, 2023
“Undaunted,” Brooke Kroeger’s new history of women in journalism, tracks the victories, setbacks and pathbreaking careers that have marked the decades-long fight for gender parity in the field.
By Jane Kamensky
Raise your hand if you’ve heard of Anne O’Hare McCormick. I hadn’t, and as the director of Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, which holds peerless collections documenting pioneers in print journalism, I could have, and definitely should have. Brooke Kroeger’s compendious and lively “Undaunted: How Women Changed American Journalism” introduced me to her.
Born in England in the early 1880s, McCormick became as eminent a reporter as any in the United States. In 1921, while working as a stringer for The New York Times in Rome, she took the measure of a rising young legislator named Benito Mussolini. In the coming years, she would also interview Stalin, Hitler and the Irish revolutionary leader Eamon de Valera.
Male colleagues were left sputtering as this “sparkly, matronly freelancer” regularly “big-footed them with dainty toes,” Kroeger writes. The Times put McCormick on the payroll and then on the editorial board, a first for a woman. In a photograph of that table of mandarins, it’s easy to spot her, among 15 white men. At the New York World’s Fair, she was presented as “the Woman of 1939,” chosen for the honor by an all-female jury over Eleanor Roosevelt and Georgia O’Keeffe, among other nominees.
It’s tempting to imagine McCormick as one of those figures, so often female, whom history has ignored: a candidate for a post-hoc obituary series like “Overlooked No More.” In fact, when she died, in 1954, her obituary ran on The Times’s front page. A tribute by her colleagues, printed under a bar of mourning black, celebrated her “genius for seeing.” Knopf published a posthumous volume of her reporting, “The World at Home,” with a fawning introduction by the columnist James Reston, whose name you probably do know.
Read it on the New York Times site