7 Female Journalists of the World War II Era

The female journalists of the World War II era highlighted here reported on and documented from the field, and pushed gender-defined barriers.

They fought for what they believed in, which was the right to report and expose the folly and brutality of war.

These women contributed to the historic record with their groundbreaking work and bravery as journalists, photographers, and correspondents during the world war and in some cases beyond. Above right, Ruth Baldwin Cowan’s WW II press credentials. See more about her later in this post.

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Margaret Bourke-White

Margaret Bourke White

Photo of Margaret Bourke-White from TIME 

Margaret Bourke-White (19041971) 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. Learn more about the incredible career of Margaret Bourke-White.

See the Classic Cameras Used by LIFE’s
First Female Staff Photographer

 

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Dickey Chapelle 

Dickey chapelle on the USS Boxer

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.  

See the brilliant photos by the first American
female war photographer killed in action

 

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Marjory Collins

Marjory Collins

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.” Learn more about Marjory Collins.

 

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Ruth Baldwin Cowan

Ruth Baldwin Cowan

Ruth Baldwin Cowan (1901–1993) began her career as a weekend movie reviewer, and quickly became a reporter for the San Antonio Evening News. She was also known as Ruth Cowan Nash and simply as Ruth Cowan.

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.

 

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Martha Gellhorn

Martha Gellhorn

 

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 H-tler 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.

See also: Martha Gellhorn: Quotes from a Courageous Woman.

 

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Marguerite Higgins Hall

Marguerite Higgins Hall
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.

 

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Helen Kirkpatrick

Helen Kirkpatrick, World War II correspondent

Helen Kirkpatrick (1909–1997): When Helen Kirkpatrick applied for the position of war correspondent for the Chicago Daily News in 1939, the editor told her, ”We don’t have women on the staff.” She responded, “I can’t change my sex. But you can change your policy”—and was hired.

In addition to war reporting, she specialized in diplomatic correspondence and used her platform to warn of rising of European fascism in the years leading up to World War II. She was a vociferous opponent of the appeasement policies of the British.

After studying at Smith College, Kirkpatrick studied international law at the University of Geneva in Switzerland. In her storied career, she accompanied the American Army to the Normandy landing in 1944. 

Leonard Miall, a fellow journalist, called Helen Kirkpatrick “one of the first and best American war correspondents in the Second World War, was always at the forefront of the action.” Learn more about Helen Kirkpatrick.

 

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World War II Female War Journalists

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.

 

More female World War II Journalists to explore:

 

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African-American Women Journalists horizontal

You might also like:
10 Pioneering African-American Female Journalists

 

8 Responses to “7 Female Journalists of the World War II Era”

    • Thanks Timothy. She has been added (and certainly deserves a full article on this site). I also still hope to add Lee Miller, Ann Rosener, and Sigrid Schultz.

  1. Martha Gellhorn set the bar so high that it would be close to impossible to pull a chin up and cross it. She was a woman in unprecedented times that did not surrender to the powers that be. “That’s not possible” or “you can’t do that” we’re not on her vocabulary at the least. I think Martha Gellhorn was the greatest war correspondent of the 20th century. A hell of a lot better than her ex husband… what’s his name? Oh yeah…..Hemingway

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