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Helen Thomas died today, she was 92. You may remember her sitting among reporters during White House Press Conferences. She usually sat in the front row. Thomas never had trouble asking the ‘tough questions’, even when the person she directed them at, tried to side step an answer.
Thomas became the first female member of the White House Press Corps during the Kennedy administration in the 1960s. Her reporting spanned ten decades, and eight presidents. Thomas was a true trailblazer for female reporters — in the 60s women were still only being offered ‘female’ jobs like nursing and teaching. In 1970, Thomas was named UPI’s chief White House correspondent, the first female to achieve that position. She remained there until she became a syndicated columnist for Hearst Publications. Thomas was the only female print journalist to accompany President Nixon during his historic trip to China in 1972. She retired in 2010.
The “Mary Tyler Moore Show” didn’t air until 1970 – a show about a single, young woman working as Associate Producer of WJM-TV’s Six O’clock News in Cincinnati. Thomas was a ‘real-life’ Mary Tyler Moore, working in that field for nearly a decade already, but as a girl growing up in that era, I never heard of Thomas. I was fascinated with the character’s life of Mary Richards and was influenced by her when I grew older, taking several writing and journalism classes in college.
I wish Thomas had written a ‘memoir’ of her experiences working in a male dominated journalism field. I bet she had some – no, a lot of good stories to tell. I wonder how Thomas learned to take a lot of male ‘jousting’ and some outright snide comments. This was back when it was “ok” to say sexually charged comments to women. The first sexual harassment case was not decided until 1976. From what I read, she could ‘hold her own’ and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to anyone. She had to be one ‘tough cookie’ and seemed to not let anything deter from her goal — honest reporting of the news.
Sleep well Helen Thomas and thank you for all that you did for working women, both in journalism and other male dominated professions.