6 Female Journalists of the World War II Era
By Aiyana Edmund | On | Comments (0)
These six female journalists of the World War II era, who reported on and documented from the field, pushed gender-defined barriers and fought for what they believed in, paving the way for women correspondents who came after them. They contributed to history with their groundbreaking work and bravery as journalists, photographers, and correspondents during the world war and in some cases beyond. At right, Ruth Baldwin Cowan’s WW II press credentials. See more about her later in this post.
Photo of Margaret Bourke-White from TIME
Margaret Bourke-White (1904–1971) broke through the field of photojournalism with many accomplishments, including several “firsts.” She was the first American female war correspondent, and the first foreign photographer permitted to take photos of the Soviet five-year plan. In 1929, Bourke-White became the associate editor and staff photographer for Fortune magazine and later in 1936 became the first female photojournalist for Life magazine.
In 1941 she traveled to the Soviet Union as Germany broke its pact of non-aggression and was the only foreign photographer in Moscow when German forces invaded. Her recognition is also noticed in both India and Pakistan for her photographs of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi. In the film Gandhi, she is portrayed by Candice Bergen.
Dickey Chapelle (1919–1965) was an American photojournalist known for her work with National Geographic from World War II through the Vietnam War. Fearless when it came to covering a story, Chapelle was jailed for two months during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 when she was captured by Russia and falsely accused of being a spy.
Earning respect from both the military and journalism community, Chapelle learned to jump with paratroopers, and often traveled right along troops in the field. One of her “firsts” is of a sad circumstance as the first female correspondent to be killed in in action. While covering the Vietnam War, a land mine exploded and she was hit in the neck with shrapnel. Dickey Chapelle was buried with full military honors, a rare honor for civilian journalists.
Marjory Collins (1912-1985) was an American photojournalist known for her coverage of the home front during World War II. She described herself as a “rebel looking for a cause.” She began her career in NYC in the 1930’s working for PM and U.S. Camera magazine.
Post-World War II, Collins combined her passions of writing and photography and worked internationally as a freelance photographer. A devote feminist and activist, she founded the journal Prime Time “for and by older women.”
Ruth Baldwin Cowan (1901–1993) began her career as a weekend movie reviewer, but quickly became a reporter for the San Antonio Evening News. Ruth Baldwin Cowan dropped her first name and began freelancing for The Houston Chronicle and soon the United Press under the pseudonym Baldwin Cowan to conceal her gender. Since the publications strictly forbid hiring women, she was fired after being found out.
Fortunately, the Associate Press, hired her promptly. She worked for the AP for the next 27 years, first covering World War II from an outpost in Algiers. Her superior did everything he could to sabotage her, but she always found a way around him. Pre- and post-war, she covered Washington D.C., including Eleanor Roosevelt’s press conferences and a multitude of human interest stories. Read her obituary here.
Martha Gellhorn (1908–1998) was an American journalist, novelist, and travel writer who’s now considered one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century. During 60-year career, she reported on nearly every major world conflict, from the Spanish Civil War, to the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, through the outbreak of WWII, and the Vietnam War.
While she may be known as the third wife of the novelist Ernest Hemingway, her accomplishments as a journalist far outshine the brief marriage. In attempt to witness the Normandy landings, Gellhorn hid in a hospital ship bathroom and impersonated as a stretcher bearer to gain access to the action. That made her the only woman to land at Normandy on D-Day in 1944. She was among the first journalists to report from Dachau concentration camp after it was liberated in 1945.
Marguerite Higgins Hall 1920–1966 was an American reporter and war correspondent, covering World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War for the New York Herald Tribune and Newsday. After witnessing the Hangang Bridge bombing in Seoul, she was denied entry to U.S. military headquarters in Suwon, South Korea after arriving by raft with her colleagues.
She was ordered out of the country by the general, but after making an appeal to his superior, the Herald Tribune received a telegram stating “The ban on women correspondents in Korea has been lifted. Marguerite Higgins is held in highest professional esteem by everyone.” This was a major breakthrough for all female war journalists. Higgins was also the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Foreign Correspondence in 1951 for her coverage of the Korean War. See more about Hall’s Pulitzer Prize.
If you’d like more on this subject, try to find the film No Job for a Woman, the 2011 documentary that focuses on Martha Gellhorn, Ruth Cowan, and Dickey Chappelle, and their fight for the right to report on World War II. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to find this film to stream online. Check for it at your local public or university library.
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