LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings By Barbara La Valleur — National Women’s History Museum And Women In Journalism

On Dec. 16, 2011, I became a card-carrying member of the National Women’s History Museum in Washington D.C.

Founded in 1996, it is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about diverse historic contributions of women.

A major focus of NHWM is to raise awareness — and funds — needed for a world-class permanent museum near the National Mall in the nation’s capital to display the collective history of American women.

For me, my affiliation with NHWM started with a letter signed by Meryl Streep, who was on the National Advisory Board. It’s not every day I receive a letter from my favorite actress, so, of course, I read it, despite it being at least three pages long and no, it wasn’t an original signature. Trust me, I licked my finger to try and smear the ink. It didn’t.

What soon followed was the first of my meager yet steady annual $25 donation. I even have a Certificate of Appreciation to prove it!

As a result, I receive regular emails about the museum’s progress, which I find interesting, even though the museum hasn’t even been built yet. Congress did approve legislation calling for it’s creation in December 2014.

I look forward to receiving their semiannual brochures, each with a theme and an update from Joan Bradley Wages, president and CEO of the NWHM.

The latest publication struck a real cord with me, and I devoured it start to finish. I enjoy the unusual size (6 inches by 10.5 inches), the artistic layouts, photo presentations and graphics. I like the looks of it.

The new publication was titled, “A Different Point of View” and features the late Hazel Garland, the first African American to serve as editor-in-chief of the New York Times and a nationally circulated newspaper.

The topic of the newest publication: “Women in Journalism.”

Tracy Lucht, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the GreenLee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, wrote the terrific lead piece.

“These women used a variety of methods to establish careers in journalism, which can be broadly characterized using the following themes: femininity, advocacy, novelty and equality,” Lucht wrote.

Starting with the story of Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), born into slavery, a schoolteacher, co-owner of the Free Speech and Deadlight newspaper in Memphis, Tenn., who throughout her life crusaded for racial justice and gender equality as a writer, editor and founding member of the NAACP.

And ending with the story of Lucile Bluford (1911-2003), then managing editor of the Kansas City Call, who was “denied admission to the University of Missouri’s graduate program in journalism because of her race. …Bluford finally accepted an honorary doctorate from the university in 1989 after decades spent fighting for civil rights as a distinguished publisher and member of the black press.”

At the bottom of the eight-page article are the names, dates and photos of “Women in Journalism,” including important events from Elizabeth Glover, who owned American’s first printing press in 1638, to 2015 when the “Women’s Media Center found that men generated 62.1 percent of news while women generated 37.3 percent.”

Here are a few more fascinating facts from “Women in Journalism”:

1738: Elizabeth Timothy was the first female newspaper publisher and editor in the U.S.

1836: Sara Josepha Hale was the first American woman named editor-in-chief of a major magazine called Ladies’ Magazine.

1850: Jane Grey Swisshelm became the first women to sit in the press gallery in the U.S. Senate.

1872: Mary Clemmer became the highest-paid female journalist earning $5,000 a year from the Brooklyn Daily Union newspaper.

1919: The National Women’s Press Club was established and it took 52 more years — 1971 — for women to be admitted into the National Press Club!

2011: Jill Abramson was appointed the first woman executive editor of the New York Times, the pinnacle and most prestigious newspaper in the U.S.

It was also interesting to read about Martha Ellis Gellhorn (1908 – 1998), who reported on every major world conflict over her 60-year career and is considered one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century. I’ll bet she had some interesting stories to tell that never made it into print.

Nostalgia brought back memories of my earliest days at Moorhead State College (1963-1972) — now Minnesota State University Moorhead — when I was the first person to major in Mass Communications at the college. There wasn’t even a Communications Department!

One of my accomplishments in life of which I’m quite proud are those early years supporting the late Dr. Roland Dille, president of MSC, and the faculty in establishing a viable, distinguished Mass Comm Department for budding journalists and photojournalists. The late Marv Bossart of WDAY fame was my adviser.

My She-roes then and for many years were Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Gloria Steinem and Katherine Graham. On the local front, I’d have to add my former colleague at The Forum and one-time roommate, Nancy Edmonds Hanson, to that list as well. Their presence in print and broadcast media gave me hope that I’d “make it,” too.

My first gig after graduation was as editor of Carib Magazine in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a weekly tabloid-sized newspaper. Good grief, those were the days, as they say. I was not only the editor but the only writer, photographer, layout editor and headline writer. I had a part-time typist and a few stringers on several of the Caribbean islands.

I lived on St. Croix and flew in a sea plane every Sunday night to St. Thomas, where I had an office. It was there I wrote my stories on a typewriter (before the days of computers), have my photos printed and lay out the paper. Then, I’d fly back on Wednesday after the paper was printed.

I “was” the staff. I performed that job on St. Croix with no phone, no typewriter, no mail box, no office and no car. I got my stories was by walking the streets and talking to people. What a trip!

After about a year, I’d had enough of the seven-day-a-week, 8 a.m.-to-midnight work schedule.

I never once went to the beach in St. Thomas for God’s sake! I went home and slept for a week.

After my “glamorous beginning,” I was ready for a bit of normalcy. I accepted a position as chief photographer of the Daily News at Wahpeton, N.D.-Breckenridge, Minn. My first assignment was to take a photo of an unusual mushroom.

It’s hard to believe, yet to the best of my knowledge, at the time I was the only female chief photographer of a daily newspaper in the entire Upper Midwest — including the states of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado — a geographical area the size of Europe (before German reunification).

Actually, I eventually did end up in Europe for 20 years and landed a great freelance position once my girls were 9 and 10. I became a Freiwillige Journalist for seven German newspapers in the Bergstraße region between Frankfurt and Heidelberg. I had a blast and loved every minute of it developing and printing all my own photos. No digital back then.

While I may not have made the “big” time — one of my goals in college was to be a Star Tribune photojournalist — I did have an article with two photos in the Strib on April 26 titled “I Left My Heart in Des Moines.”

For additional information about the National Women’s History Museum, visit NWHM.org or follow us on Facebook, Twitter and You Tube.

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