Happy International Women’s Day!
For some crime-solving by a non-fictional woman journalist, see last year’s International Women’s Day episode of JHeroes. This year, we’ll start with fiction and get back to reality — including women war correspondents — before the end of the page…
“Lois Lane” may have been radio’s best-known woman journalist, but old-time-radio can introduce you to both fictional “sob-sisters” and real-life women writers and editors whose work might otherwise slip through the cracks of a 21st century journalism education. Lois was far from alone as a fictional woman reporter on radio, as this tale about one named Linda Travis will illustrate. The Green Hornet‘s “Daily Sentinel” had several women on the staff. One routinely scooped the paper’s male reporters. Another was the paper’s star photojournalist. And Lenore Case, the editor’s secretary, sometimes switched into a reporter or editorial-writer role.
Linda Travis didn’t arrive until the eleventh year of the long-running series, but earned the editor’s respect (“exceptional… keen-minded, smart…”) by going undercover on her own initiative in pursuit of “a page-one screamer and a credit line.” At the end of her third episode, she became the first person to discover that Britt Reid himself was the Hornet, seeking non-editorial ways to bring criminals to justice: Green Hornet: Exposed
(Her fall 1947 story arc eventually brought Reid’s father, Lenore Case and the police commissioner in on the Hornets secret, previously only shared by his crime-fighting sidekick, the multitalented Kato. See Martin Grams and Terry Salomonsen’s book, The Green Hornet: A History… for details.)
Among radio’s fictional journalists, Wendy Warren was perhaps the only one of either sex to deliver a real-world network newscast — a daily “women’s news” lead-in to the soap-opera that bore her name. Comic-strip reporter Jane Arden was adapted for radio, although without the high-fashion paper dolls that supplemented her Sunday comics.
For part of their radio run, the title characters of the daily soap opera “Betty and Bob” were newspaper publishers. Another Betty, a publisher’s daughter on the anti-Roosevelt “American Family Robinson,” came up with a “crowd-sourcing” plan to save the family paper a half-century before the Web gave other publishers similar ideas.
“Sabra Cravat,” who edited an Oklahoma frontier paper in the Academy Award winning film “Cimarron,” was even more the star of the story when it was adapted for radio — and it was adapted more than once. Other women journalists from the movie screen were presented in radio adaptations of films like “His Girl Friday,” “Front Page Woman” and “Woman of the Year.”
There were many more women reporters in starring or supporting roles on mystery and detective series, from “Jane Endicott: Reporter,” “Hot Copy” (“Ann Richards, girl reporter”) and “Sandra Martin: Lady of the Press” to “Crime Photographer” and “Front Page Farrell.”
But radio also told the stories of real-life newspaper women, most notably several World War II correspondents featured in the series “Soldiers of the Press,” and several 19th and early 20th century women editors, publishers and authors featured in the bio-drama series Cavalcade of America — abbreviated and one-dimensional though many of its its half-hour portraits were.
So far, I haven’t found radio biographies for two of the turn-of-the-century women journalists best-represented in today’s media history textbooks, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Ida Tarbell. Perhaps in the 1930s and ’40s DuPont’s patriotic and self-promotional Cavalcade, for one, had limited interest in following Wells into racial issues or Tarbell into Standard Oil’s robber-baron capitalism.
Still, the brief biographies of women who did make it into Cavalcade’s upbeat historical dramas may inspire readers to not only listen, but seek out more thorough writings about and by these significant women journalists. Some may be less well-known today than they were to radio listeners 60 or 70 years ago. Here are the ones I’ve found so far: