In the founding of the American press, many men’s names surfaced as the founders, writers, editors, photographers and so on. However, despite the rarity of their gender, the few women in the field stood out for more reasons than the obvious.
Margaret Fuller is considered the first female foreign correspondent while working for the The New York Tribune under Horace Greeley. Fuller was unlike many of the women at the time, having received extensive education from her father, Timothy. After learning Italian and German, Fuller began translating pieces from fellow feminists like Susan B. Anthony, placing her in the feminist spotlight.
Her fame in the feminist circle through her work on Women in the 19th Century, placed her in view of journalists everywhere. Ralph Waldo Emerson actually gave Fuller her start, inviting her to join in the Transcendentalist circle and become the editor of The Dial (a transcendental journal) from 1840-1842. Shortly after, Horace Greeley spotted Fuller for her strong opinions in Women in the 19th Century and welcomed her onto his staff as a literary critic.
In the summer of 1846, Fuller left for Europe as the first female foreign correspondent. While in Europe, Fuller traveled to many different countries and met with many distinguished artists and writers. Overall, she sent 37 reports back to the Tribune. Fuller ended up meeting her husband and having her first child in Italy, returning to New York in 1850 by ship when forced to return due to war in Rome. However, she never fully returned as she, her husband and her son died in the shipwreck. Margaret Fuller is still considered one of the strongest feminists leaders during this male-dominated age.
Nellie Bly is known as the first and probably most influential female investigative reporter. Bly, unlike Fuller, lacked a male role model in her father, as he passed when she was six. However, this tragic loss prompted Bly to enroll in school in order to support her widowed mother. But due to the lack of financial support, she was unable to gain higher education.
However, Bly’s first journalism job came out of her feisty response to a sexist column in The Pittsburg Dispatch. The editor, George Madden, hired her as a reporter in 1885. While at the Dispatch, Bly focused her columns on women’s rights and smaller-scale investigative reporting such as exposing poor working conditions in sweatshops.
But Bly soon left to move to New York where she began her career at The New York World. This is what she is most famous for, as she became a famous investigative reporter for her asylum exposé, where she went undercover for 10 days as an insane patient to write about the infamous institution on Blackwell’s Island. Later, she also travelled the world in 72 days, in an investigative stunt to prove it was possible. Bly’s work is still widely read and revered as the beginning of the yellow journalism age.
Dorothy Knapp and Barbara Walters
Though it is hard to pinpoint exactly who was the first woman to serve as a reporter on television, Dorothy Knapp is undoubtably the first woman to sign a contract with NBC in 1930. She was hired to give beauty talks on NBC’s New York station, W2XBS. Knapp was both a model and actress, having guest stared on other networks to talk about beauty before finally getting a contract in New York.
Barbara Walters, on the other hand, is credited with being the first female on a network news program. Walters signed a $5 million contract with ABC television as an anchorwoman for five years beginning April 22, 1976. Later on, she became known as a television personality while producing women interest stories on the morning programming.
All these women have a few things in common. First, they all have the drive and strength to defy social expectations of women. Despite the man-run media world, these four women have inspired and driven their perspective fields of journalism, leaving their mark in history.