Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Nan Robertson, thank you

Monday, October 19, 2009

Nan Robertson died last week. Maybe I missed it, but I saw only a hint of the outpouring of tributes I expected, especially from women journalists.

She was one of the trailblazers, a Pulitzer Prize winner who was known as a generous mentor to countless women in journalism. Certainly she was an inspiration for many more.

Nan was 83 when she died and had made her career, mostly at The New York Times. She started there in 1955, in an era when “women’s news” was a beat. She wrote hundreds of articles on fashion, shopping, and decorating before moving, in 1963, to the paper’s Washington bureau. There her assignment, as she described it, was covering, “the first lady, her children, and their dogs.”

She wrote candidly about her own life, her struggles with alcoholism and depression and, most famously, her horrific experience with toxic shock syndrome, which ultimately led to the amputation of eight fingertips.

Her 1992 book, “The Girls in the Balcony” told the story of the federal class-action suit successfully brought against The New York Times by 550 women employees alleging discrimination in pay, assignments, and chance for advancement. The “balcony” in the book’s title was the less-than-second-class area at the National Press Club in Washington where women journalists could look down at the auditorium from which they were barred. Women were not allowed in the auditorium even on business until 1955 and were denied membership in the Press Club until 1971.

It is shocking to realize how relatively recent those days in the balcony were. But in 2009 around the world, in new media and old, women journalists are writing substantive news stories. And their voices are being clearly heard in the public discussion of how information is gathered and shared. Thank you, Nan.

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