Beginning in 1921, Katherine (Kay) Harris spent nearly 50 years working in journalism and journalism-related jobs. As a reporter for Associated Press in New York City and San Francisco from 1932 to 1956, she covered the Lindbergh kidnapping, the birth of the United Nations, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and the trial of Tokyo Rose, among many other important stories.
Before she settled at Associated Press, Harris worked at the Kansas City Journal; the Salt Lake Telegram; the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin; the Daily Commonwealth in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin; the Oakland Tribune; the New York World Telegram; and the Kansas City Star. At the Star, she met the man who would become her first husband, journalist Edwin G. Pinkham.
At many of these newspapers and at the Associated Press bureau in San Francisco, Harris was the first woman the organizations had ever hired to cover news. Women working on society beats were fairly common, but a woman who wanted to cover news was a startling concept. A photograph included with these interviews shows the young Harris in the San Francisco Associated Press bureau, a lone female surrounded by men, some wearing the journalist's archtypal green eyeshade.
Harris retired from Associated Press in 1956 because AP then required women to retire at age 55, although men could work until age 65. Harris says she didn't question the policy, and instead held six subsequent journalism-related jobs in political and university press relations. Her last job was working in the public relations office at Stanford.
These interviews were conducted at Kay Harris' home on the Stanford University campus. Her modest two-bedroom apartment, within half a mile of the center of the university, became available to Harris because of her second husband's position as a retired Stanford University professor. Now widowed, Harris lives alone but leads a very active life that includes swimming, attending campus events, traveling, and hosting family guests.
Harris prepared for these interviews by sorting through boxes of letters, photographs, and clippings. During each interview, she referred to a short list of two- and three-word items she had written before the interview as reminders of specific subjects to discuss, but otherwise she used no notes.
At the end of the last interview session, ("in my ninetieth year," she observed), Harris walked me to my car, which was parked in front of her apartment. We passed her white 1986 Dodge convertible sitting in the carport, and she said she was shopping for a new car, another convertible, one that would go faster than the Dodge. She's always liked driving a convertible, she said, so "I can feel the wind in my face."
As a writer, she was known both as Katherine Beebe and Katherine Pinkham. In this oral history series, she is indexed primarily as Katherine Beebe.
January 3, 1991