Longtime National Public Radio correspondent Nina Totenberg has a new book, Dinners with Ruth, about her long friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In an interview on CBS Sunday Morning, she was introduced as one of three “founding mothers” of Public Radio. The others were Cokie Roberts and Linda Wertheimer.
Maybe I have been too negative about my own kind—white men—as I have restudied American history and rethought my own life and values. But maybe not. I keep learning about the actions and policies promulgated by white men that have given us a present many of us are desperately trying to correct. The white men who let slavery be the unwritten law concealed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The white missionary men who preached patriarchy and assimilation in their versions of Christianity—and sometimes indulged their own needs for power and sexual fulfillment on women and Native children. The white researchers who used unknowing black men in their study of syphilis. You get the picture.
When I went to an all 1960s reunion at the U of California Riverside, the first informal night about fifty of us sat around tables in a twice remodeled version of what had long ago been a horse barn we still called “the barn” in the 1960s. When asked to remember the most striking thing about their time at UCR, woman after woman rose to say “I wanted to major in pre-med and go to med school, but was told to aim at teaching biology,” or “I wanted to get a PhD and do research, and was told I should think about teaching or a lab job.” One woman rose to say that she had whipped every man on the tennis team but not been allowed to play one collegiate match.
You’ve come some ways, women, while my kind has done all it can to stop and stall you. Maybe your best trick has been to go where white men aren’t—to new fields of work. Like Cokie Roberts and Nina Totenberg did at NPR, when NPR was new and young and not yet settled by white men.
When flying was new, you filled the air. Bessie Coleman had to go to France—and learn French—to get flying instruction and become the first licensed African-American woman pilot in the US in 1921. Amelia Earhart flew the Atlantic solo in 1932. Bessie Halladay trained male military pilots for WW II in Ontario, and later was airport operator in here in Joseph.
The war correspondent—no maybe the foreign correspondent—I admire most is Jane Ferguson, an Irish-British journalist who is not yet 40 and has covered the Middle East, with stints in Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Sudan, for CNN, Al Jaziri, and now PBS for most of her life. She found time to report from Ukraine this spring, and was near the American photographer shot by Russians near Kiev. I love the way she stuffs her long blond hair mostly under a head-covering when she’s talking with the Taliban. Mostly I love her brisk, strong voice and succinct stories from whatever front.
Journalism is a field where women were rare—Time Magazine hired college educated women to be receptionists and researchers, not writers—but now are making their marks. On PBS and NPR, but even on Fox News.
And now women are finding their ways in traditional male employment in many ways. You are judges and cabinet secretaries, governors and senators, leaders of Native tribes and universities. I’m especially proud of my 23 year-old granddaughter, who recently got her CDL and drives truck and operates an excavator in an all-male construction crew in Portland, Oregon.
Happy Labor Day, women!
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