[The day the suit was filed,] we chipped in to fly our youngest researcher on the staff, Sunde Smith—because she could qualify for the student fare on the Eastern Airlines shuttle to Washington—to deliver a letter explaining why we were suing to Katharine Graham, who was the owner of The Washington Post, which owned Newsweek. Unbeknownst to us, Katharine Graham was vacationing in the Bahamas, so later that morning, after we announced our suit, Oz Elliott and the chair of Newsweek, Fritz Beebe, called Kay Graham in the Bahamas to tell her that the women had filed suit. And Kay Graham famously said, as she reported in her own book, “Which side am I supposed to be on?”
It just shows the confusion that was happening with women at that time. Suddenly, women had to challenge everything we had been raised to believe was a woman’s place in the world. And some of us had a hard time really doing it. Some of us were angry enough to be happy to do it. I wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t the first to get it, but I did see the injustice of how women were treated at Newsweek.
I have to say, there were a lot of women who came to Newsweek, saw the lay of the land right away, and left, and became very successful writers. Nora Ephron, who was hired as a mail girl—she left right away. Jane Bryant Quinn, personal finance writer; Ellen Goodman, columnist for The Boston Globe; Susan Brownmiller—they all left within a year, knowing that they would never be writers at Newsweek.
Describe the Mad Men-style office environment. That’s something people who are starting out today cannot believe.
The thing about newsmagazines [in those days] is, you have a class of young women who are coming in, and then you have all these guys: married, single, whatever. It naturally sets up this sort of “office wife” situation, because all these women are checking stories for these guys—the “holy writers,” as one of the women said. It was very tempting, and I must say, whether they were married or single, there was a lot of sex in the office. There just was. And of course, after the sexual revolution of the mid-’60s, even more so. Because there are a lot of people in their twenties, and hormones are raging, and the Pill had come, and the sexual revolution was on, so…
And there was no AIDS yet.
There was no AIDS. And most of it was consensual. It wasn’t sexual harassment, you know. As Nora Ephron said, they wanted to sleep with you, and if you said no, you didn’t have to. Nobody was really pushing you. So, on the one hand, there was a lot of sex, and people were having affairs all the time.
On the other hand, there were things that happened that today, you would say, really crossed the line. There were bosses who were having affairs with their direct reports. One of the senior editors who was having an affair with a researcher who reported to him, asked for her to get promoted, and she got promoted. Now, who’s to say why she got promoted? There was an editor who was stalking one of his researchers and said, “If you don’t marry me, you’re going to have to leave Newsweek.” Ultimately, she left.
So what happened after the suit was filed?
[The company] immediately decided to negotiate an agreement and settle; they certainly weren’t going to go to court! They would promise to hire and promote and give women writing tryouts and send some women to the bureaus. They did send some women to the bureaus, and that was successful—the women who had already been doing a lot of reporting in New York did well. The women who tried out as writers—three or four staff women—all failed, for various reasons.