By: BettyJean Downing
From “drivel” to substance : transforming the women’s pages of the American newspaper ~Rodger Streitmatter
Dorothy Misener Jurney has been called the godmother of the transformation of the women’s pages in the nation’s newspapers. Jean Gaddy Wilson, a scholar of journalism, has said that Dorothy Jurney “single-handedly changed American newspapers” by changing the women’s pages. Dorothy was born in Michigan City, Indiana, in 1909 and her father, a newspaper man, had a deep influence on her career in journalism.
When Dorothy and I met for her oral history she had recently moved to a retirement community in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Just prior to my visit Dorothy had had a serious fall but, she managed to show me around the beautiful grounds of The Quadrangle and her warm and newly-decorated apartment. We settled into work in the library of the Manor House, a large, wood-panelled room with comfortable and attractive furnishings, a fireplace, and expansive views of the winter scenery.
Under her father’s tutelage Dorothy learned nearly every aspect of journalism, from subscriptions to layout to press type and machinery as well as what made a good story and how to edit it. Dorothy worked on her father’s paper, the Michigan City News, and then through her long career was an editor on the Gary Post-Tribune, the Miami News, the Washington News, the Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
As women’s page editor Dorothy influenced an entire generation of women journalists by demonstrating that women’s pages could be more than a compilation of club notices, recipes, and bridal announcements. (See other oral histories in this series.) Dorothy worked to see that her reporters covered such cutting-edge, substantive news stories as pay discrimination against women, homosexuality in the schools, news in the black community, women workers in the auto industry, and women in politics. Her biographer, Sharon Nelton, has noted that the stories Dorothy published beginning in the 1950′s have become front page stories today.
Dorothy’s oral history also reveals that her career as a journalist was deeply undercut by discrimination. Hers is a classic tale of the strong forces which prohibited the advancement of talented women in journalism precisely because they were women. Catherine East has said that Dorothy was born too soon, and Jean Wilson told me that Dorothy would have been a major editor if she had been a man. When the men went to war Dorothy was promoted. But, when they came back, she had to leave. As a result she lost many of the opportunities she richly deserved and it took its toll on her own self esteem and sense of entitlement.
Dorothy was always interested in what made a good story from the standpoint of what people in the community needed to know. As women’s page editor, city editor, or managing editor Dorothy was convinced of the service newspapers owed their readership. Dorothy remains deeply interested in the grand sweep of American journalism, particularly the role of newspapers in educating the public and advancing democratic principles. Dorothy was a founder of New Directions for News, a center of innovative research in journalism at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She was the first woman board member of the Associated Press Managing Editors organization. And, in 1988 Dorothy was awarded the University of Missouri Distinguished Service to Journalism Award.
Anne S. Kasper
I ask that it be noted that this interview was conducted less than three weeks after I had sustained a concussion in a fall on the ice here at the Quadrangle on Dec. 31, 1989. I wanted to do the interview on the January dates, fearing I might be completely incapacitated later. I offer this explanation for the poor quality of my responses and beg the reader’s indulgence.
Dorothy M. Jurney
June 20, 1990