AEJMC: Washington Women Catherine East & Vera Glaser

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“Are We Going to Remain the Lost Sex?”: Catherine East and Vera Glaser as Agents of Change for Women in Washington

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  • It was early in 1969 when wire service reporter Vera Glaser received a phone call from longtime government and civil service employee Catherine East. She said that Glaser would likely be interested in some statistics about inequities women faced throughout American society, a little discussed topic at the time. Glazer replied: “Indeed.” The interaction between Glaser and East was the beginning of a political and media partnership that helped promote rights for women at a pivotal time in the country. While they were recognized by the time of their deaths for their contributions to feminism, their work was largely done behind the scenes and their methods have only recently been uncovered in their papers and the papers of other government women. Together, East and Glaser worked inside and outside both the government and the media to raise awareness for women’s position and issues. The phone call from East was in relation to Glaser’s question to President Richard Nixon during a 1969 televised press conference. It was the President’s second press conference and Glaser felt the journalists were asking easy questions. Glaser, representing the North American Newspaper Alliance, was lucky enough to be in the third row – reporters further back were unlikely to be called upon. One of the only women in the room, Glaser wanted to ask a tougher question than her colleagues. When it was Glaser’s turn, this was her question: “Mr. President, since you’ve been inaugurated, you have made approximately 200 presidential appointments, and only three of them have gone to women. Can we expect some more equitable recognition of women’s abilities, or are we going to remain the lost sex?”The question led to audible chuckles from the many male reporters in the room, and the president also initially responded as if it was a joke before seeming to realize he was on television. This was at a time when nearly every question from a female reporter at a presidential press conference led to laughter. Nixon recovered his composure and then said he would look into the issue. The question also led to numerous phone calls and then follow-up stories across the country, crediting Glaser for raising the topic of women’s limited roles in the leadership of the federal government.Vera Glaser interview, August 19, 1997. “A Few Good Women,” 6. Available in the Penn State University Archives.Vera Glaser interview, August 19, 1997. “A Few Good Women,” 6. Available in the Penn State University Archives.
  • Five-part series about women & inequities; many of the facts about discrimination against women used in the stories came from East.She graduated from high school first in her class, a position that typically meant a scholarship to Washington University. Instead, that year the honor went to a male who had been at the school for less than a year. Decades later, she recalled the snub, writing that her high school experience, plus some workplace discrimination, turned her into “a fighting feminist.”She began her career in magazine, newspaper, and radio journalism before turning to governmental public relations work in the 1950s, including overseeing the women’s division for the Republican National Committee. Glaser became a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance in the 1960s. Then she became the Washington Bureau Chief for the Alliance in the 1960s. Her articles typically ran in the women’s pages. (She joined the Washington Bureau staff of Knight Newspapers in the 1970s.) Glaser played a significant role, although often overlooked, in early coverage of the movement. These stories were written prior to Glaser becoming friendly with East. For example, in 1963, she wrote a wire story about discrimination against women. In it, she noted a “simmering resentment over the relatively few women in top appointive and career posts.”Vera Glaser, Women’s News Service, “Women Discriminated Against?” October 16, 1963.
  • She was an occasional guest on the television program “Meet the Press.” She recalled one program when she asked pointed questions of President Lyndon Johnson’s consumer affairs advisor Betty Furness. Glaser recalled: “One of my questions was so tough that it tripped her up and LBJ was furious. Before we got out of the studio, he was on the phone telling her how she should have answered me.”Ken Hoyt and Frances Spatz Leighton, Drunk Before Noon: The Behind-the Scenes Story of the Washington Press Corps (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1979), 292.
  • National Organization for Women’s first presidentBetty Friedan described East as “the midwife to the contemporary women's movement.”East came to Washington, D.C. in 1939 and began work as a clerk at the Civil Service Commission, which became the Office of Personnel Management. She rose through the ranks of government to serve as executive secretary of the Committee on Federal Employment in President John F. Kennedy’s administration, the Interdepartmental Committee on the Status of Women, and the Citizen’s Advisory Council on the Status of Women. She then held senior posts with every presidential advisory commission on the status of women from 1962 to 1977. East’s influence often went unnoted, so much so that friends called her “Deep Throat” after the shadowy Watergate figure Mark Felt. Anthony Ramirez, “Catherine East, 80, Inspiration For National Women's Group,” New York Times, August 20, 1996.For the work she did to promote the rights of women, East was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.
  • The information about East and Glaser came from numerous sources often not available to researchers of behind-the-scenes women: personal papers – which included newspaper clippings, personal and professional letters, and notes Glaser wrote as she collected information for her stories. (East’s papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard University and Glaser’s papers are at the Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.) Their oral histories were also studied – East’s oral history at the Schlesinger Libraryand Glaser’s oral histories with the Washington Press Club and the Pennsylvania State University’s oral history project “A Few Good Women.” There were also references to East and the creation of the National Organization of Women in the papers of Kathryn “Kay” Clarenbach, the first chairperson of the organization.
  • After its run, Glaser’s series led to a variety of responses from readers. One reader said she was hoping to get more information about women’s organizations. She wrote, “I’m very much interested in conditions affecting women as I have encountered some very cruel and senseless situations.” Glaser responded with information about the National Organization for Women and contact information for Catherine East. She also received a letter from a Chicago woman who described herself as the “voice of the women’s liberation movement. It began “Dear Sister.” The author wrote to clarify a point in the series stating the women in the movement “are mostly white and young, we are not students.” She provided contact information about her radical organization. Glaser responded with a letter beginning “Dear Sister” and wished the group luck. Not all letters were supportive. One reader wrote, “Just a short time ago results of a survey showed most women abhorred working under a woman, so I don’t think women should blame men because they are not top leaders.” The letter ended with the damning statement, “Without Christianity, every day is Halloween.” Marilyn Hamlin letter to Vera Glaser, May 7, 1969. Papers of Vera Glaser, Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. Vera Glaser letter to Marilyn Hamlin, May 12, 1969. Papers of Vera Glaser, Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. Joreen (no last name) letter to Vera Glaser, March 25, 1969. Papers of Vera Glaser, Heritage Center, University of Wyoming. Vera Glaser letter to Joreen, May 1, 1969. Papers of Vera Glaser, Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.Dorothy Foufas letter to Vera Glaser, March 18, 1969. Vera Glaser, March 25, 1969. Papers of Vera Glaser, Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
  • In one case, Glaser passed along to East a flier regarding a March for Life event. “I thought you’d be interested in seeing the material this group is distributing to the press.”
  • “I have serious doubts about the propriety of my belonging to an organization devoted to pushing women’s rights, but I do want to give all possible support.” She then requested that she be listed as an anonymous member: “If this is difficult or embarrassing, forget it, as Mary Eastwood will keep me informed.”Catherine East letter to Kathryn “Kay” Clarenbach, August 5, 1966. Papers of Kathryn “Kay” Clarenbach, University of Wisconsin.
  • The official release date on the Presidential Task Force on Women’s Rights report was April 1970. (Glaser was a member of the Task Force.) Yet, the White House did not release the report at the time. After several weeks of questioning by feminists and a few in the press, the report was leaked to the Miami Herald. The source has not been clearly identified. Several books give Glaser credit for the leak as she was working for the Knight newspaper chain at the time, which owned the Miami Herald. One book author wrote that the White House assumed that Glaser was the source. In East’s oral history, East said that the source was not Glaser. Glaser, herself, never verified that she leaked the information. Kotlowski 231.Stout, 44.
  • Who Says We Can’t Cook?, 1955. The first printing of 5,000 sold out in a week.Second Helping, 1962. Elinor Lee, Washington PostElinor Lee was a graduate of Beaver College. She was a teacher of dietetics at a hospital and a home economist before taking a Washington radio job in 1937. When she left radio, her morning program, “At Home with Elinor Lee,” was the top-rated radio show in the 9:15 time slot, and her 12:15 p.m. show, "Home Edition," was one of the top 10 daytime shows in the nation's capital. Lee joined the staff of the Washington Post in 1953, but she continued to do her food and homemaking program on the radio. She resigned from the radio show in 1955 to devote full time to The Post's food section. Under Lee’s direction, the paper’s food and homemaking coverage grew from a single page to a full-color section, which appeared on Thursdays. She retired in 1970. She married and had one daughter. Marian Burros, Washington StarMarian Burros earned an English degree from Wellesley and had two children. She was an early member of the Association of Food Journalists. She wrote about food for several Washington, D.C. newspapers, including the Washington Star in the 1960s, and the New York Times. She authored numerous cookbooks, a few of them with a childhood friend. She scored major scoops in covering the White House when she learned that the cake for Luci Johnson’s wedding cake was eight feet high and that it was carried to the White House by the Secret Service through the back roads of Washington. Violet Faulkner, Washington StarViolet Faulkner was the food editor of the Washington Star from 1946 until she retired in 1967. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin and taught home economics in Minnesota high schools in the 1920s. She wrote a weekly column for the St. Paul Dispatch and conducted cooking schools before moving to Washington in 1935. She taught home economics before joining the Star. She was a judge in the Pillsbury Bake-Off. She was married, but her husband died in the mid-1940s and she lived until 1996. She was on the editorial committee for the Second Helping cookbook.
  • AEJMC: Washington Women Catherine East & Vera Glaser

    1. 1. “Are We Going to Remain the Lost Sex?”: Catherine East& Vera Glaser as Agents of Change for Women in Washington Presentedat AEJMC2013 Kimberly Wilmot Voss Associate Professor University of Central Florida
    2. 2. 1969 Presidential Press Conference •Vera Glaser: “Mr. President, since you’ve been inaugurated, you have made approximately 200 presidential appointments, and only three of them have gone to women. Can we expect some more equitable recognition of women’s abilities, or are we going to remain the lost sex?”
    3. 3. Vera Glaser
    4. 4. Glaser: Meet the Press
    5. 5. Catherine East
    6. 6. Archives & Oral Histories
    7. 7. Educating Politicians & Raising Awareness • Glaser: Letter to top advisor Arthur Burns • Burns: Phone call to Glaser to deny • East & Glaser: Glaser and East came up with a three-page memo to Burns • Burns’ meeting: “Nonsense” • Charles Clapp: investigated the women’s claims and found them correct.
    8. 8. Educating Politicians & Raising Awareness • Glaser: a list of potential female candidates for the Supreme Court. • Glaser: list to First Lady Pat Nixon & East • Pat Nixon: would speak with her husband • East to Glaser: “Thanks so much for letting me see this. Hope this leads to the first woman Supreme Court judge – and it very well may; and if it does, she’ll probably never know how it happened.”
    9. 9. Using the Media to Spread Their Message • East & Miami Herald’s Marie Anderson • Mailed packets to a network of other feminists around the country
    10. 10. Using the Media to Spread Their Message • Glaser: Five-part “Female Revolt Series” ran in 50 newspapers • It addressed “the inequities that women must face in a male-dominated society.” • The five requests were equal protection under the law, day care centers, legalized abortion, and “a poverty program that does not discriminate against women.”
    11. 11. Using the Media to Spread Their Message • East wrote in 1970: “Some top Federal officials now expect women’s rights to be a major issue of the seventies. It is fair to say Mrs. Glaser’s series was a giant step in that direction.” • The entire series was read into the Congressional Record.
    12. 12. Using the Media to Spread Their Message Reader Responses: • “I’m very much interested in conditions affecting women as I have encountered some very cruel and senseless situations.” • “Without Christianity, every day is Halloween.”
    13. 13. Using the Media to Spread Their Message • Letters, press releases, and newspaper clips • East provided documentation or anecdotes that Glaser could use in her stories. • Glaser would provide material that East could either use to prod governmental officials to action or that she could pass on to feminist leaders.
    14. 14. Working Behind the Scenes • Virginia Allan said East was “the Thomas Paine of the women’s movement. She used her Xerox machine like he used his printing press.” • Creation of N.O.W.
    15. 15. Working Behind the Scenes • Job advertisements with gender classifications • East sent a note to Kay Clarenbach following a story in a December 1968 issue of Life magazine about “unsexing the classifieds.” East wrote: “We need letters to the editor from as many women as possible.”
    16. 16. Working Behind the Scenes • Presidential Task Force on Women’s Rights • “A Matter of Simple Justice” • Leaked copy to the Miami Herald
    17. 17. Dorothy Jurney
    18. 18. Future Study: Including Soft News

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