Peggy Simpson

“I started a beat on the women’s political movement.”

Interviewed by Judy Waxman, July 2021

JW:  It’s July 12, 2021 and I am here with Peggy Simpson, and we’re both in Washington, DC, at our respective homes. Peggy, I always like to start with asking you your full name and where and when you were born.

PS:  Peggy Simpson, I also go by Peg. I was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1938, the day after Christmas.

JW:  Briefly, tell me what your life was like before you got involved in the second wave women’s movement.

PS:  My parents were divorced when I was nine, so I was reared in San Antonio by my mother with a sister. And I wrote a lot of letters to my father, who was in Hawaii with a weather service. And I wrote a lot of letters when I went to Corpus Christi, which was his home, with cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents there. And I wrote a lot of letters back to San Antonio.

I like to write. But I had never met a reporter, actually, before I became one. And I decided when I went to North Texas State University (State College at the time) that I didn’t want to be undecided, that I might try this thing called journalism, although I didn’t know anything about it. And I was hooked within the first year, because it was not a distinguished school in the sense of mega stars. That meant the students did everything. We interviewed everybody. You had to learn everything. You had to be correct the first time around. And I also was picketed by people who didn’t like the stories that I wrote, which I thought was terrific.

JW:  You had to learn everything as a student journalist.

PS:  Well, and you weren’t afraid of anybody, and you had to get it right the first time. And you had a lot of autonomy to suggest stories and write them. And I ultimately had no clue where I would get a job, because the major newspapers were not hiring women for anything except society. And I was not going to do society or soft news.

I got my first reporting job as an editor of a weekly newspaper in Hondo, Texas, which was about an hour out of San Antonio. And I did work 80-hour weeks and loved every minute of it. And then I was a stringer for the Associated Press. There was always something: somebody run over by a train or there was a murder trial. The murder had already happened, but I covered the trial. And 18 months later, I went to the Associated Press in Dallas on a vacation relief job and then to Austin on a vacation relief job. And then about 18 months later, I got a permanent job with the AP in Dallas in 1962.

JW:  Were you the only woman on the staff?

PS:  There had been one woman before me, but at the time I was there, I was the only woman. And what people always ask me about is “Will you cover the Kennedy assassination?” which I did. I was the AP reporter in the jail when Ruby shot Oswald. And I basically just went for the phones, and called the editors who were my bureau chief, and another bureau chief who had gathered in Dallas for this momentous trip of Kennedy.

My bureau chief was a big promoter of mine. I was younger by maybe two decades of everybody else in the bureau. There was a large regional bureau. But you fill out forms and say, what do you want to do when you grow up? And I always said I wanted to go to Washington and be a reporter. And so about New Year’s Day of 1968, I was transferred from Dallas to Washington and directly to cover Congress and cover the Southwestern regional beat.

There were no women among the five states that I covered. There were about 75 members of Congress, but there were no women among them. I covered anything those people did. But I also covered whenever the state officials came. The governor or the attorney generals that came to town. I never covered anything in all of that time involving women. And then in 1981, I noticed the Women’s Political Caucus, but that was covered by the reporters at the White House. It was probably covered by a lot of people, but not by me.

But the main way it was publicized was when President Nixon’s friend Lewin, who was one of the White House reporters, wrote a story about Nixon making fun of these women in trousers. Everybody knew about the Caucus from that day on. And in the fall of 1971, I got a telephone call from Deborah Leff, who was working for the Caucus. And she said, the caucus has invited Fannie Lou Hamer to come and testify before Congress. And we would love it if you would go cover that news conference.

And I said, “The White House reporters cover that.” And she said, “Are you a real idiot? Don’t you know that White House reporters don’t do second day stories? And anyway, she’s going to be in Congress, not at the White House.” I did whatever I had to do that day and told my bosses that I was going to go cover this news conference. They were trying to put pressure, especially on Democratic members of Congress, to slate more women on the presidential as delegates to the presidential nominating convention. They wanted 50% of the delegates to be women.

The Caucus had invited Fanny Lou Hamer as a civil rights name person to say, “I support this also. I’m a woman. I’m a black woman. But I support this – more women delegates.” And that was the first story that I covered in all of the time that I covered the women’s political movement.

I eventually started a beat on the women’s political movement. I was one of about five reporters. Eileen Shanahan was covering taxes for The New York Times on an economic beat based in Congress. But she was so outraged that The Times had never covered the origins of the equal rights movement and that there were no stories that anybody covered. They had a big staff covering Congress, but they didn’t think that was newsworthy. She started covering things that were happening. And, of course, it was the aftermath of the passage of the civil rights laws. They pass a law. But you have to have implemented legislation. And there were all of these hearings that were starting to occur on Capitol Hill.

There weren’t that many women in Congress, but they were sponsoring bills and getting hearings on them. And I was going to cover a lot of them. And it was news to me that there was any discrimination out there. I just put one foot in front of another and started covering these hearings. Kay Mills was at Newhouse news bureau at the time. She later went on to the LA Times. But she and Shanny and I were three of the main people. And there were two other people, one worked for the New York Observer or the National Observer. And there were other reporters. But we were the people who made the major beats out of this.

JW:  Do you remember any of those particular hearings that stick in your mind?

PS:  Tons of them. I mean, one of them was women couldn’t get credit on their own. And then when they got divorced, if their husband had a bad credit rating, it stayed with them and they couldn’t get credit on their own. There were statistics from the Bureau of Labor, the Labor Department BLS, saying women who are divorced are really likely to be impoverished because they haven’t worked maybe for ten years, 15 years. They don’t have credit. They don’t have a house. There was this economic disadvantage.

Pat Schroeder got together with a very conservative Senator from Iowa. And together they said this was a family values issue. And they put together the legislation that had a lot of different parts to it. One was that a husband’s bad credit rating would not follow the woman after a divorce.

Another was that they opened up the Civil Service so that women who had been home for ten or twelve years, could make a case that they had management skills. All the things they had been doing, not just running a household but running kids and doing all of that and to be eligible for civil service jobs, good paying jobs.

Bankers or anybody interviewing you for credit were not allowed to ask you if you were going to become pregnant. It’s none of their business. But that was a common question that they asked, so they could disqualify you for a loan. You’re not long for the world in the workforce. And we shouldn’t risk our money on you because you’re not going to be there that long. Those were just a few of them.

JW:  Displaced homemakers. Isn’t that what they were called?

PS:  That’s right. When I worked for the AP in Dallas, the AP bureau was in the Dallas Times Herald newspaper building. And I was friends with a number of the people who worked there. And women were paid far less than men because it was assumed that if they were working, they weren’t going to be working for long, and then they would be supported by a man. And you shouldn’t give them equal pay, because that was just ridiculous. Women didn’t believe that they deserved less pay, but this was the argument that had been made forever, and they had to live with it, if they were going to get a job at all.

And most women were not covering politics. They were not covering sports. They were covering education and society. Among the things that I got involved with later, I started an oral history program for the Washington Press Club Foundation. And I guess I actually wrote stories about this for the AP. There were a lot of women society editors throughout, especially in Dallas, but there were some in DC as well.

And when their bosses were out of town, they would somehow be able to find the space to do really in-depth stories on women and women’s lives. And how women were progressing or the barriers that were keeping them from progressing. And the bosses would come back and say, how did that get in the paper? These women had a whole file of stories that they were really the grassroots troops watching after women and their progress or the barriers to their progress. They weren’t members of any organization necessarily. They were just smart reporters.

JW:  Do you think you got paid less than your male colleagues?

PS:  I know I did. I ultimately was a named plaintiff in the class action lawsuit against the AP. And when they did discovery on that, I was paid a lot less then all of the women in the Washington Bureau and there were ten out of 100 at the time the lawsuit was founded. And one woman was the daughter of a former general manager of the AP. She wasn’t paid less, but all the rest of us were paid considerably less. Yeah.

And Eileen Shanahan, who was one of the people who developed a beat on the women’s movement, she was a named plaintiff in the class action lawsuit against the New York Times and was just devastated to learn that as somebody who was on the front page four days out of five, she was paid like 30% or 40% less than the average New York Times guy, who was never on the front page.

JW:  She was the star. And yet she was a woman. How did your lawsuits work out?

PS:  None of the lawsuits went to trial. There were about a half a dozen major media class action lawsuits. All of them were settled out of court. All of them were settled with affirmative action mandates for five years or so. And they basically opened the doors to women and to a large extent, also women of color on all those publications, including the AP.

JW:  And your pay went up at that point?

PS:  I had left the AP by the time the lawsuit was settled, and I think the pay is still probably not equal. But women are in management and they are foreign correspondents. They’re all over there, in all aspects of the media these days.

JW:  Tell me more about your covering the National Women’s Political Caucus. You went to those hearings and yet you continued to cover it as well, right?

PS:  The hearings were put on by members of Congress. They weren’t put on by the Caucus. But the Caucus had people sometimes who testified before them, and they certainly were alerting me to things that were coming up. One time I got a call from Catherine East, who was not calling on behalf of the Caucus, but on behalf of another group that was monitoring women. And she wanted me to go cover something that ultimately was one of the first hearings on Title IX.

Title IX was part of the civil rights; it was another National Education Equity Act. They were having the hearings on that. And there were a bunch of women coaches who were testifying. And I said, “I have nothing to do with sports.” Catherine said, “Yes, but this is very important. And it’s a part of the women’s political movement and you really should do that.” So, I went over there.

Debbie Leff didn’t keep lobbying me because by the time I had covered one or two things, the AP gave reporters a lot of autonomy. And I was covering the Hill; I wasn’t on a desk job. If you did your day job, basically covering all those 70 members of Congress and whatever hearings they were involved in and anything else, and you wanted to write an enterprise story, you could do it.

I started to beat on American Indians and on Hispanics. I’m from San Antonio and so there was a lot of activity with Hispanics as well, trying to prove that they were not sleepy, dumb Mexicans sitting under a cactus tree like the Frito-Lay ads were insinuating with their graphics, and they were getting organized. And the women’s political movement was getting organized in a big way. And it was just one story after another. I covered four or five years of it.

JW:  You mentioned about in ’72 the Caucus, trying to get equal number of delegates. Did that happen?

PS:  Pretty much. It was a struggle. They actually did better with the Republican members of Congress for the Republican nominating convention, where they got measures in the platform on child care and other things. It was like pulling teeth for the Democrats. There were five of us who had applied to go cover the nominating conferences in Miami. And all of us were turned down by the Washington Bureau chief. He was very shy. He didn’t want to meet your eyes when he was saying no. And he was very soft spoken.

And I talked to the guy who had been my Dallas bureau chief. He was then managing editor of the AP in New York. And I said, “This is ridiculous. I mean, I’ve covered all year long. I’ve been doing the enterprise stories on this.” And he said, “Look, go in and talk to the Bureau chief. Don’t cry. Don’t shout. Just make your case, that you know more about this particular subject than anybody else in the Washington Bureau.” And I got a spot that was, ironically, opened up because some guy had to stay home and watch after the kids because his wife got sick.

JW:  So, you got there in ’72 and you watched both conventions?

PS:  Yes, both of them. I wrote a lot of stories. There was a lot of news coming out of those conferences as related to women and women organizing for more political power. Shirley Chisholm was one of the many people who was organizing. Pat Schroeder was organizing. And a lot of things were happening. It was a great story, and papers used it. If you write a story and it’s carried on a number of these radio stations or newspapers, then that makes the people in New York say, well, [it] must be a story. We’ll keep going. And that’s what I did.

I also went to Mexico City. Before that, the AP, sent me and another AP reporter named Betty Ann Williams. And the two of us went to Houston to cover a United Nations International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City. Every country in the world had their own internal country-wide conference leading up to Mexico City. Activists were organizing and putting together their own plan of action, country-wide plan of action. And this one was in Houston.

And there was a big protest contingent that also went there, led by Phyllis Schlafly. And Betty Ann covered the protesters. I covered the main scene, which was fights between Betty Friedan and Bella and Gloria Steinem. I also took my mother and I got her to work as a volunteer in the press office. She was so excited and she’d never been involved in anything organized. But she was totally there. I don’t know what she was doing in her volunteer work. I never saw her hardly. But it was an exciting time.

What happened is people got there and found out that there was a conference right before the International Women’s Year conference. It was run by oilmen, for oil. And they just decided to extend their hotel rooms. So, when Bella and everybody started to check into the hotel, there were no rooms. Oh, so sorry. The previous men just decided to stay. It was absolutely awful. And I wrote about that. And I don’t remember that my story had anything to do with it, but they ultimately got housing, obviously.

JW:  And then you went to Mexico City. And what was that like?

PS:  Well, that was in 1975. Well, before I got there, the local Mexico City staff of AP reporters had met every head of state, everybody who was coming to represent their country. They met up at the airport and they would ask them if they were bra burners. And these people didn’t have a clue what that had to do with anything.

By the time I got there, these AP reporters had written 25 or 30 stories saying the head of the Philippines delegations denies that she’s a bra burner. Or the so and so denies that she’s a bra burner. The Russian delegation was headed by their cosmonaut. And she also denied that she was a bra burner. And when I got there, I was so outraged by the scene that had been set.

There was another thing that happened when the Cuban delegation head, who was Raul Castro’s wife, or Fidel’s. I don’t think it was Fidel’s wife. I can’t remember who it was, but it was a leading Cuban woman’s rights person. And so, I had finagled this interview. When I was off to that interview, I got a call from the guy in New York who was head of the foreign Bureau.

And he said, “No no no, forget about that. We have another assignment for you. We want you to go cover Liza Minnelli and Burt Reynolds and ask them what they think of bra burners.” And they were in town to make a movie. And I said, That’s totally outrageous. And he said, “You have to do it. And so I did that. And I had to ask them what they thought of crazy feminists in town for the women’s conference, and Burt Reynolds thought that was the most obnoxious question he’d ever been asked.” He said, “Well, they open the door for me. I open the door for them.”

JW:  Burt Reynolds thought this was outrageous. And what did Liza Minnelli think?

PS:  She thought I was ridiculous to ask anything. She just tossed it off. But I called again my former Dallas Bureau chief, and I said, “I’m just going to leave if this is what I’m going to be told to do by the idiot.” He said, “I’ll take care of him. You just keep writing the stories you’re writing because lots of newspapers are using them.”

JW:  Did you stay with AP after that?

PS:  I stayed with the AP until 1978, I was on a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. But what had happened was that I learned that there was a class action sex discrimination lawsuit against the AP – that was news to me. It was filed by a woman who covered the United Nations. She wanted to be a foreign correspondent. And the AP said, “Shirley, you are doing such a good job. But we couldn’t send you to be a foreign correspondent. There were no women foreign correspondents. We couldn’t do that because you need to know foreign languages.”

So she learned three foreign languages and then applied again. And then they had another reason why they turned her down. We had a Wire Service Guild President at the time named Kenneth Freed. He just died two weeks ago. But he was always rescuing this lawsuit, which had been before the EEOC had found probable cause that there was discrimination and paved the way for all of us to go into federal court. But the AP in New York kept trying to bury it and Ken Freed kept going over to the EEOC and rescuing it and resurrecting it again.

So when it came to the second stage, Shirley Christian had been the named plaintiff in the first stage, which was before the EEOC. Once you got the letter to sue of probable discrimination ruling by the EEOC, then you had to get new named plaintiffs and Shirley was the only one still left at the AP. So I decided I would sign on to this second phase. And I did. There were eight of us, including Fran Lewin, who had been at the White House and Ginny Pitt, who is now an environmental lawyer in Florida. But at that time, she was on the general desk in New York.

Most of us didn’t know each other. Fran and I, of course, were together in Washington. But the rest of us, it’s the AP, you’re all separated all over the world. And we didn’t know each other, but Ginny Pitt knew all of us because she was on the general desk in New York. And she’s the one who kept making connections. And she brought down Jan Goodwin, who was the lawyer that was going to take us on. And the AP women in the Washington Bureau got together. And I decided I would sign onto it. And then Fran decided she would sign onto it.

I was doing that with my eyes wide open. But I had learned so much from all these hearings. Like I said, I didn’t have a clue that there was this discrimination out there. You talk about systemic racism. This was systemic sexism because it was buried so deep in attitudes and practices. And it was just taken for granted. Like women are paid less or women can’t get these jobs because of many reasons. And I learned about this through the hearings. And I knew that if that applied to the AP, that I didn’t want that to be the case. I signed on to it.

And when I was at Harvard on a Nieman Fellowship that year, when I formally signed on to it, my former Dallas bureau chief was on a trip to Europe or something. When he came back, he called me and I told him what I had done. And he said, I already know that. I knew all of this all along and you’re a stupid bitch and he hung up on me. And he thought I had had a good easy life. That [I] was a good AP reporter. And I would be getting further, etc.

JW:  Where did the lawsuit go?

PS:  Well, I was deposed. I might have still been at Harvard, and I went up to New York for the deposition, and it was 8 hours or something like that. And one of the things I talked about was a lunch that I had had with my bureau chief when we were still in Dallas. After the Kennedy assassination, he’d been making speeches about how I was the youngest reporter by two decades. And I was still standing after that weekend.

And I said, “You’re making all these speeches and that’s great. But right now, I’m 24 or something. And if I wanted to, for instance, aim to have your job in the future, is there anything I should be doing differently right now? I know I’ve been saying I want to go to Washington and cover Congress but is there something I should be doing to get the kind of experience that would allow me to have a job like yours, which I think would be great?”

And he leaned back in his chair and it was a dark Mexican restaurant. And he just laughed and laughed. And I thought, I don’t know what I said that was funny. I don’t know anything that’s funny about what my question was. And he finally said, “You couldn’t do this job because to do this job, you first have to have a job that sells the AP services. If it’s an AP client, you want to sell them more radio feeds or more foreign feeds. And to do that, you have to drink them under the table. I know how to do that, because I’ve been drinking them under the table, and we couldn’t send a woman out to do that job because the wives of these executives wouldn’t like it. They would be horrified if a woman was drinking their husband under the table.”

I thought, well, this doesn’t make sense to me, but if that’s the way it is. But he said, “You’re a great reporter, you want to go to Washington, I’ll send you to Washington.” And probably about two years later I was sent to Washington. But that was one of the stories that I told in the deposition, because I said he was a big supporter of mine. He wasn’t making this up. He wasn’t making up sexist rules. He was just reflecting what was the sexism within the AP. And he was personally very supportive, not just of me, but of other people. I learned later of other women across the AP who were in that first generation of women breaking barriers. And he was very supportive of them. But the AP was the AP.

JW:  Did you win the lawsuit?

PS:  All of the lawsuits were settled out of court. They were all settled with a lump sum, pretty piqued lump sum of money to the named plaintiffs. Ours was, I think, about $60,000 split between seven people. And we gave most of it to Ginny Pitt in New York because she had organized us. And then there was $70,000 put aside for the Wire Service Guild, which had really supported us and was the mainstay supporting us. They were footing the bill while this was going through the EEOC process. And then all of the lawsuits had affirmative action mechanisms in them, which only lasted five years. But it was enough to get a lot of things, a lot of doors opened and a lot of people promoted.

JW:  So it did work.

PS:  It was a major factor that was part of what was going on all across society, which were the lawsuits and the activities following up on the civil rights laws in 1964.

JW: So, this was in the ’70s, and the later ’70s it sounds like.

PS:  And the ’80s. These actions didn’t just stop. They went on. They continued to have to be fought. I’ve been a reporter for 55 years. My last reporting job was as a freelancer for the Women’s Media Center. And I wrote for Mary Thom, who was the person who took outside copy for the Women’s Media After she was killed in a motorcycle wreck, I stopped writing. And I haven’t written anything since then. That was about seven years ago.

I was one of the founders of the Dupont Circle Village, the national village movement. And I’m still very active in that. I’m on the national board and the regional board. And I was the President of Dupont Circle Village, second President there. And I’m still active there. It’s another form of making sure we all have more options.

JW:  Explain what the Village is for the people listening to this.

PS:  It started in a big way in Boston about 14 years ago on Beacon Hill, when people who were professional marketers or PR people or financiers said, we love our neighborhood. We don’t want to move just because we’re getting older. And so how do we make a plan to stay here, to make it possible for us to stay here? Our kids are making noises that they want to move us out of our houses and move us into institutions. We don’t want to do that. And we like our neighbors. We like our businesses. So how do we do it?

They got together something that became Beacon Hill Village, and they started and had a false start and started again and had a true start. And then about four years later, somebody from the New York Times wrote about them as a new model for retirement that is basically started from the ground up by people rather than the government top down. And a village is what the people in it want it to be. But it’s a new community. In our case, it’s a new community.

You may not know the people who are your neighbors one block over or even next door. If you’ve been doing this great job that keeps you on the move all the time, you probably retire and want to still use your skills, but don’t know how. You don’t know anybody who lives near you, because we’re running too fast to join groups. And it’s an organization that has activities where you can join or where you can start activities yourself. It uses the skills of the members, and it is a place that reduces isolation.

The village movement is a major factor in reducing isolation and in providing all kinds of activities and community connections to people in it. At Dupont Circle Village we have about 270 members. And there are about 350 villages nationwide. They’re different from each other. They’re 13 villages within DC, and some of them are run by volunteers, some of them have a paid staff. Capitol Hill Villages, the largest, it has five paid staff members and about 500 members. We have, like I said, 275 members and we have a lot of volunteers. And it’s a fantastic model for aging in place and aging in a community.

JW:  After this era of activities in the ’70s and ’80s, did you cover other women’s activities?

PS:  I started a column for Working Woman magazine. I wrote a monthly column for them, continuing to cover the Caucus and all kinds of other things. I did that for about four years or five years. My editor was Julia Kagan who was in New York and we talked shorthand on what was going to be interesting to cover the next month. I wrote all kinds of stories.

After I came back from Harvard, I started an oral history program under the Washington Press Club Foundation. Then the Washington Press Club and the National Press Club had merged. And one person said, “We ought to give that to Harvard for a scholarship for a woman.” And I said, “That would be awful. They don’t need the money, number one, [and] there’s not even a journalism program really at Harvard. And what we ought to do is find out about our own journalists. How they started, what obstacles they faced, do oral histories on them.”

One of the courses I took when I was at Harvard, you couldn’t take any courses for credit, and one of the courses I took was by Barbara Solomon and it was on women in the workforce. I thought I already knew everything. And she was teaching from Rosie the Riveter oral histories. Oral histories that had been done on women who worked in wartime factories. And then when the war ended and the men came home from the war, then most of them lost their jobs. I was shocked.

I just didn’t know that and then I realized that of the people who were stalwart members of the Washington Press Club, Fran Lon and Helen Thomas and Mary McGrory, and you could just go on and on and on. Many of them had worked in the media and got bounced from their jobs. When the men came home, they found their footing with other jobs, but they were displaced for a time. And we did our oral histories, starting with the oldest first. And then we had done about 70 oral histories. We hired professional oral historians.

And I had somebody from Columbia University, the Baker Library, I think. And the guy had just arrived there, the oral historian. He was so excited that we were doing this because there were no women. They had big oral history questions, but there were no women. Nobody had done oral histories on women. They had African American oral histories. But no African American women in them. And he was so excited.

He came down and helped educate me about what an oral history was. And then I educated the Washington Press Club Foundation and we did about 75 lifetime interviews. And when I mean lifetime, I mean, the one they did of Eileen Shanahan, I think, was 25 hours. We did categories. We did oldest first. And then we had a lawsuit generation of categories where we did the AP. I refused to be interviewed myself, because I was in charge of the committee deciding who was going to be interviewed. But we did the AP and the New York Times, NBC. And all kinds of people who covered sports, women who were the first sports reporters and then foreign affairs. All kinds of ways of looking at these frontline women who broke barriers in journalism.

JW:  What years were they conducted?

PS:  1979 to 1980. We have originals at the Baker Library and at the National Press Club. And then I foisted them off on about 30 different journalism schools or sometimes women’s studies programs. Because they’re all great.

JW:  They’re fabulous inspiration for women today, I’m sure.

PS:  Well, and the Washington Press Club Foundation is still continuing them, sort of. They may do one every other year.

JW:  Is there anything else you’d like to add before we close?

PS:  Well, I stopped being a reporter. I went to Poland; I went to Eastern Europe for ten years. After I was at Harvard, I was hired away by the Boston Herald to be their national political reporter. And I traveled full time for about three years. Teddy Kennedy was going to run for President, and they had to have somebody who already knew politics and knew how the system works and I did that for about three years. Then that paper, the Boston Herald, was sold to Murdoch, and I’m not going to ever work for Murdoch because his first newspaper in our country, was my hometown paper in San Antonio, The San Antonio Light. And I don’t believe in made up news. So that was that.

The Hearst newspaper writ large, created an economics beat for me. So, I continued writing within the Hearst Bureau. And I covered a lot of stuff involving women. But not so much the women’s political movement as a movement. I still did that for Working Woman, for the column that I wrote for them. And then I was hired away from Hearst by the two Australian women who bought Ms. Magazine.

That was in 1988. And they’d never had a Washington Bureau. But Anne Summers who had been an economics reporter for Fairfax Communications in Australia, had been in the States for more than a year. And she was shocked at the fact that Ms. was up for sale, and she persuaded Fairfax to help her buy it. And they got venture capital money from Citibank. They hired me to open a Washington office and I did that for about 18 months. It was a difficult fit. Mary Thom was there, and she was fabulous. She was a founder of Ms. But I was scared of her because she was the founder of Ms. I’d never written for Ms.

I always wrote about everybody. I wrote about Republican feminists and Democratic feminists and Republican people who were hostile and Democrats who were hostile to whatever I was writing about. But Ms. had not been used to that coverage of Republicans. And I said, “Well, that’s what I do.” And I still wrote a lot of profiles of major Republican women who were heading organizations or heading Cabinet bureaus or whatever. I was shocked at how much visibility and how much name recognition Ms. Magazine had. I didn’t know that.

One day my editor came to me and we were covering another national presidential nominating convention, this one in Kansas City. And she said, “I just want to tell you about something that could affect all of us or might not. There is a group of religious right women who have started an advertising boycott against Sassy, the teenage magazine that Sandra and I started.” Sassy was competing against Seventeen. “And we wrote a story in the second issue of Sassy about if you are sexually active, you should make sure your boyfriends use condoms.”

And these women said that the two Australians were trying to get all the teenage girls pregnant in the United States. And I said, “Listen, have you ever gone to a PTA meeting, or do you understand the hot topic that Sex-Ed is in the United States?” And she said, “No.” That was it. Those people, along with a lot of name brand fundamentalist pastors, and evangelists, they got $26 million worth of advertising canceled. And Citicorp lost their shirt on that. And so Sassy was closed down. Ms. was suspended. I was told to stay put because it’ll all turn out fine. But eight months later, I got a call from Robin Morgan who said, “Okay, so sorry. You’re not going to have a job. You have two more weeks on the payroll. That’s it.”

And she wasn’t interested in having a Washington Bureau that covered national politics. She was more into global anyway. Ultimately, I had to figure out what I was going to do next. And I started calling these people that I had worked with in journalism schools across the country, I worked with on this oral history thing. And one of them had a job. Anyway, I got a job at Indiana University. They had somebody get sick, a science professor. I couldn’t do that. But they worked out something where I taught all about the US media.

And then that summer of 1990, I went to Eastern Europe and the lines had disappeared and everything was chaotic. And I hired a translator and covered what was being reported about women and covered women’s magazines that had been under the Soviet Union era in these countries, and were collapsing at that time. But I did a lot of reporting from Eastern Europe. And then I went back to Indiana as a journalist in residence for nine months.

And then I got a call right after that ended, from a guy in Warsaw who said, “We started a class on the US mass media, and we signed you up to teach it.” I said, “Whoa, that’s nice for you to tell me. When does it start?” He said, “It starts next week. We could do it if you could be here in three weeks.” And so I went back to Poland, and I stayed for ten years. And I covered a lot of women’s issues in Poland, but mostly I covered the transformation of a country and covered it from business [point of view]. The people who were willing to hire me were people with business magazines, who wanted to know if these people were smart or stupid? Were they going to buy their products? How and what was going to happen?

And then when I came back, I ultimately worked for Mary Thom at the Women’s Media Center. I didn’t want to do any freelancing back here because I know how difficult that is. But I kept my house at Dupont Circle, and I had paid for my trips back and forth with the rent of that house. And thank God I kept the house. And that’s what I did. And I wrote for Mary, and I don’t write anymore. But I’m still a reporter at heart, finding news.

I think there are a couple of things in my life that have made enormous lifetime impacts on me. One is the women’s political movement, coverage of it and how that impacted my seeing the world. And the second is what I did in Eastern Europe, coverage of it and how I saw stuff that I never would have thought was true, because I had been subjected to all the propaganda of how wonderful everything was over there. It wasn’t. And how they were rebuilding, one step forward, two steps back.

The people that I keep up with are the people I knew, in many cases, covering the women’s political movement.

JW:  Well, this has been very fascinating. I thank you so much for taking the time with me. 

PS:  Absolutely. My privilege, and my pleasure.