Women in journalism: my mother’s view from the 1940s

My mother’s article about journalism as a career for women

We got a precious glimpse into attitudes to women in journalism in the 1940s this week when my father Bob Skinner gave me a handwritten article my late mother Rosemary Skinner (nee Preece) wrote over 70 years ago as part of her journalism training.

I could hear Mum’s voice as I read her talking about rude awakenings, and advising women reporters to dress quietly but with distinction. (Her point being that you may be present at an inquest and a fashionable reception on the same day.) Intriguingly, she comments that ‘the old saying “women are the unfortunate victims of sex prejudice” is rapidly dying’, given that there were more openings for women workers on a newspaper at the time. I suspect that may have been a little optimistic!

Rosemary Preece as a young reporter

Mum’s own career in journalism was short lived. She put down her reporter’s notebook for good after my sister was born in 1953 when she was just 25. (It was common for women in the Fifties to give up their careers on starting a family, in many cases because unenlightened employers insisted on it.) Reading her article today, I can’t help thinking she could have done very well, with her determination, her way with people and her unique personality. She wrote all those years ago that ‘most women reporters soon learn to add a small amount of charm, and larger amounts of persuasiveness, even persistence’. Mum had all those qualities in abundance.

You can reads Mum’s article below: click continue reading.

Journalism: An article in a ‘Careers for Women’ series

By Rosemary Preece

If any girl thinking of journalism as a career is looking at her future through rose coloured spectacles, seeing a succession of exciting first nights, gay parties or frequent murder plots to solve, she is heading for a rude awakening. The lives of most journalists are not in the least bit similar to those of movie-pictures or thrillers. Every girl must feel that journalism is a vocation if she is to know its thrills and pleasures. She must be alert, have a pleasing personality and the stamina to enable her to miss meals or stand particularly boring or trying days. A reporter must not be easily discouraged and, most important, she must know how to listen as well as talk intelligently, and take a keen interest in her fellow beings and their activities. If the would-be journalist feels she could live up to each of these demanding points and has the determination to succeed in her work, then I would say she will eventually realise her ambition. A good, sound knowledge of shorthand is essential and it is wise to master these subjects before applying for your first job. This knowledge, later in your career, might be the deciding factor for an Editor to give you your first chance.

There are more openings for women workers on a newspaper at the present time, and the old saying “women are the unfortunate victims of sex prejudice” is rapidly dying. Apart from the “Women’s Page” on most dailies, there is a distinct feminine section in ordinary reporting – women’s meetings, social functions, weddings or bazaars, which present many disadvantages to the male reporter. Each occasion might give the woman her chance. It is then up to her.

Valuable training is given on a weekly paper, preferably one published in a town where the trainee is given the opportunity of attending meetings of the local authorities, and taught the benefit of making personal contacts and the round of enquiries. Here she learns to acquire a memory for faces and names, where people are to be found and at what hours of the day. All essential points in obtaining a story. She will learn also that contact with the men and women of every class will give her first hand understanding of their thoughts and activities, their likes and dislikes, which will prove invaluable to her when she has moved further afield to the larger papers.

In journalism, education has not finished when you pass through your school gates for the last time. It is essential for the journalist to keep abreast with the news, to read every line of every paper or magazine she can procure. Never forget that mixing with the man in the street is not sufficient. Find out more about him by reading his letters to the Editor or even the adverts. A reporter must always be alert; she must develop a keen news sense; often a passing remark might mean a feature article the Editor will grasp with pleasure. Talk to people, and try to guess what news items will appeal to them in general.

The art of interviewing is learned with experience, but most women reporters soon learn to add a small amount of charm, and larger amounts of persuasiveness, even persistence. A woman can often be more understanding than her fellow males, and these qualities, together with tact, are soon recognised by the Editors. However, both in interviewing or other branches of journalism, accuracy is essential. Names, initials, dates, speeches must all be correct. Learn to write with care, even though you are racing with time.

Just an additional note on a subject which might appear irrelevant, but is quite important – dress. Every woman reporter should dress quietly but with distinction. During a day’s work you might cover inquests, police court sessions, fashionable receptions, or public meetings. You must learn to dress to suit each occasion. Avoid over dressing, hats or frills that require adjustment; you will have too much to think of to worry about your personal appearance. Remember other people will take an instant like or dislike to you at sight, an important thing when a news story is at stake.

Journalism is a hard career, but is never dull. Your personal social [life] will suffer, but the thrill and satisfaction of your work will be sufficient compensation. A well known editor of a women’s department of a London newspaper once said, “There are journalists to whom the smell of printer’s ink is incense, and the roar of the printing press music”. After only a few years on the staff of a newspaper the work will have “got into your blood”, and for you, too, this apt and honest statement is true.

Reviewer’s comment: Good style and excellent material

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