Washington Press Club Foundation
Jane Eads Bancroft:
Interview #1 (pp. 1-9)
June 2, 1988 in Naples, FL
Kathleen Currie, Interviewer

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[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Currie: Where were you born?

Eads: Near Chicago, in Harvey, Illinois. It wasn't exactly a suburb of Chicago. I never heard it called a suburb, and I don't remember it very well, except I remember my brother and I would hide in the clothes closet when my father came home, just for fun, to surprise him.

Currie: You had how many brothers?

Eads: One died when he was a year old; I never knew him. Then I had an older brother who, I think, must have been four years or more older than I. Then a younger brother. Both of them are dead. The older brother died when he was about 20. He was in the Navy. He was on a ship in dry dock at Philadelphia. The younger brother died just since we've moved to Florida. He lived in Chicago and was in the advertising business.

Currie: So you were the only girl?

Eads: Yes.

Currie: Sandwiched between two boys.

Eads: Yes. When my mother died, we moved to Florida.

Currie: You were very young when your mother died?

Eads: Yes, around three, or four. It was in Florida that I first realized that my mother had died, because we were playing, and some little kid said, "Where's your mother?"

I said, "She's gone on a long journey." That's what my father had told me when she died. And he said, "Oh, that's not true. She's in the ground. You'll never see her again." And my brother and I ran upstairs. We were playing under the house. All the houses were built up like a lot of them now.

Anyway, we left there and we lived in Fort Madison, Iowa, briefly. My grandmother lived there. I didn't live there very long. Then we went to Peoria, where my father was with International Harvester Company or something. We went to high school there, my brother and I. I remember my father, when we lived in an apartment, bought my brother a collie dog and me a pony. Imagine that! In an apartment!

Currie: Where did you put them?

Eads: We put the pony in the stables people rented in those days, and the collie, I guess, we kept in the apartment. [Laughter.] But we moved from there before we graduated from high school, to Quincy, Illinois.

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When I was about 16 or so, my father got married again to my stepmother, who was only nine years older than I. She had been a schoolteacher. She was really very tiny and very bright, and we got along pretty well.

Currie: What did your father do for International Harvester?

Eads: I think he was a salesman. I think he had to do with farm equipment. That's what he did in Quincy. He was head of a farm implement company in Quincy until he died, which was when I was working in Chicago.

Currie: How would you describe him? What kind of man was he?

Eads: He was wonderful. He was very handsome and so proud of us kids, always doing things for us. My aunt was a wonderful woman, too. But my father loved to buy things for me—clothes. I remember at various times, like Easter, he'd bring home hats and real pretty things for me. I enjoyed that very much. I think that's where I got my love of clothes and fashions. I even remember when I was a very young girl, clipping fashion pictures out of magazines that a neighbor girl had, that we never got, like a Vogue magazine. It sort of followed me through in the fashion, because I did a lot of fashion writing later in Paris and in New York.

Currie: Did your father give you any guidance as to what he thought you should do with your life?

Eads: No, because, actually, I sort of knew what I wanted to do. I mean, I wanted to do something; I wanted to get out, go to a big town. I don't know how that evolved, but first of all, I finished high school. Then that summer, I worked as a proofreader. There were two newspapers and they were both pretty successful. One was an afternoon, and one was a morning paper in Quincy. I knew some guys on the other paper, and one of them told me about the job on the other paper, a proofreading job, and I got it. I worked there all summer for a very small sum, and I was the only proofreader. I read the whole paper from the front page to back.

Currie: How would you do that?

Eads: You just read the typewritten copy and look for a mistake in punctuation and spelling and that sort of stuff.

Currie: Were you located at a desk?

Eads: At a desk in the city room. Several times I would be working at night, and I'd be the only one there, except a real tall guy, a skinny guy, who was the Associated Press man there. He had a desk near my desk. I remember I hardly ever saw him sit down. Anyway, that's not important. But one night, he asked me to read a proof on a headline he wrote for the story to go in the paper, and it was the death of [President Warren] Harding. I have to laugh to myself when I think how long ago that was. It came over the wire, you know, and so he wrote out this headline, and I read the proof on it to see about the type and all. I don't know how I knew those things. In those days, you could go out in the composing room, when you couldn't later on; the union wouldn't let you touch a piece of type.

Currie: So would they bring you the proof at the desk?

Eads: Yes.

Currie: And then you would go through it and send it back to the composing room? Is that what happened?

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Eads: As far as I can remember.

Currie: What drew you to this job?

Eads: Because I needed a job, and that was the only job I heard of around town. I wanted to go to the university, and I needed some money. Of course, I made about $15 a week or something like, or maybe less.

Currie: This is when you were 16?

Eads: Yes, when I got out of high school. I went from there and finally got another job. That was as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in the country, outside of Peoria. My stepmother had been a schoolteacher. I didn't get it through pull at all, but I wrote to the superintendent of schools of Peoria County, and they had this school. It was in the country, and they needed a teacher. There were three farmers on the board, and I thought they were pretty stupid, but anyway, I told them how much I wanted, which was $100 a month, and I was afraid they'd turn me down.

Currie: That was a big raise.

Eads: I got it. They interviewed me. I went on a train from Peoria to this little town, Trivola, it was called. They interviewed me in the railroad station, and I got back on the train and went back to Peoria. Then I got the job and I went there. They didn't have any place for me to stay. I was like Ichabod Crane. Finally, some farm family volunteered. They had two really bratty kids, and the girl was just awful. She was older than I, about a year or two. And I stayed with them for about a month, and then there was a nice farm family, they had the newest house in that area. All the other houses were very old. They had a farm and it was within walking distance from the school. It was quite a walk, but it wasn't as far as the other one. I wasn't an outdoor type, and I still am not an outdoor type.

I had this school, and all the grades, except the first and the third, and in my eighth grade were two big, tall farm boys who were my age. They would sort of tease me, but I had pretty good discipline after a while. At first they tried to help me with the fire. Then their parents said—I was getting a salary—the teacher should do her own chores, so they quit, and I had to get to school early enough, and it was icy cold. I had to build a fire in the stove before I could start teaching. But it was a new experience for me. It was like going to a foreign country.

Currie: What did you like most about that job?

Eads: I think that it was different and that I was sort of in charge, and also the kids, I loved them. I had one or two that gave me trouble, but they were interesting and they were farm kids, and I didn't know farm kids.

Currie: You lived with a family the whole time you were there?

Eads: It was a year, just a year. I saved $400. I got $100 a month, and I saved $400, which was half my salary. Then I was able to go to the University of Illinois. I got a lot of bids to sorority rush parties.

Currie: Was that the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana?

Eads: Champagne. One day during the rushing season, I got a letter from one of the sororities; I've forgotten which it was. They said they'd completed their rushing, and they had gotten their membership, or whatever it's called, their pledges, lined up, and they cancelled one

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party or something. Well, that hurt my feelings, so I remember going up to my room in this rooming house, and crying, and I made up my mind that would never happen to me again. So I had about three or four other sorority parties. I wrote or called, or whatever I did, and cancelled out everything.

There was an older woman at the university who was, I think, an instructor, very nice and attractive, and I met her. She liked me, I guess. I met her on the campus one day, and she asked me about these things. I told her what happened. She gave me the dickens. I still hadn't turned one down. She made me go to the phone and call them and accept, which I did, and they wanted me. They wanted to pledge me, and they wanted me to stay with them overnight. They wanted to hide me, because you're not supposed to do this.

Currie: You weren't supposed to do what?

Eads: They invited me. I guess in the rushing season, it's something you're not supposed to do, like inviting you over for dinner or staying overnight.

Currie: I see. So they wanted you to spend the night, even though during rush, they weren't supposed to do that.

Eads: That's right. And they wanted me to join their sorority, and I wouldn't do it. I said I didn't have any money and that my father wouldn't like it. They said, "Can we call your father long distance?" [Laughter.] I said, "No." I'm sure he would have said yes, but I didn't.

I went to a rooming house. There were other girls there, and I liked them all. We had a lot of fun.

Currie: You didn't end up joining a sorority?

Eads: I was only there one semester. Money ran out. I wanted clothes and other things.

Currie: So you bought clothes?

Eads: Well, partly. Anyway, I didn't stay. My grades were pretty good, but I really wanted to go to Chicago, which I did. I stayed there for a while.

Finally, my father and the publisher of the paper in Quincy, the Whig-Journal, it was called, wanted me to come back and edit a junior newspaper. It was a Sunday supplement to their regular paper. That was quite interesting. I was there, I guess, two years, anyway. I organized it so that I had an editor in each school and reporters for each grade, and a sports editor, and I went around to all the schools, talked to the principals, and it was really quite interesting. Then I wrote editorials. Somewhere along the line, all those clippings and editorials got lost, which I've been very sorry about ever since, because I'd like to know myself how I came out with my writing editorials.

Currie: Do you remember the name of the publication?

Eads: It was the Quincy Whig-Journal, junior Sunday supplement, a junior newspaper. It was like a regular newspaper, only it came out on Sunday only in tabloid form.

Currie: I'd like to go back a little bit. In your family, you said your father was a wonderful, exciting man. Was he a political person at all?

Eads: Not that I remember. We never did talk politics, except when I went to Chicago and became a Democrat and he was a Republican.

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Currie: What kinds of things did your family do to have fun?

Eads: I don't know. He took us out. We'd go out to dinner to boarding houses in those days, and we went to visit relatives sometimes in other places. One time we went to the theater, I remember, and took walks in the park on Sundays. He loved to take me and my brother for walks in the park. He liked to show us off. Then he got an automobile, one of the first, and we'd take rides in the country. Right after I graduated from high school, I was at home several times after that to live, but mostly the time I was growing up, it seemed to be when I was a teenager. I don't remember.

Currie: Do you recall what kinds of things you read as a young woman or teenager?

Eads: Not really.

Currie: Earlier you said you wanted to be something, to get to the big city. Did it ever cross your mind that you would be a journalist?

Eads: Never, never, never. There weren't very many women journalists in those days, anyway. The society editor of the paper, the club editor, that would be about it, and the secretaries. No.

Currie: What kind of fantasies did you have, that you wanted to do with your life?

Eads: Oh, I don't know. I guess I daydreamed a lot, but I can't remember what about.

Currie: When you were in high school, did you work for the school newspaper? [Shakes head "no."] No?

Eads: I studied art when I was in high school, and I was interested in art more than anything. When I was in about the fourth grade or something, the teacher complimented me on a design for a plate that she had the children do. I've been painting more recently. I did those up there. [Pointing to pictures on the wall.]

Currie: Those are lovely. Those are wonderful.

Eads: That's about it.

Currie: Did you think maybe you'd be an artist?

Eads: No.

Currie: When you were in high school or even earlier, what kinds of activities did you do?

Eads: Mostly art. High school in Quincy. I liked boys.

Currie: Your eyes lit up.

Eads: They put on plays, and I was so disappointed once when I got a part in a play, and I was just a maid.

Currie: You wanted a bigger part?

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Eads: Yes, I wanted a bigger part. I had lots of friends, girlfriends, and we had a hiking club, not a regular organized club, but a group. We used to hike, and I was so proud once, when we walked a mile, because that's the most I had ever walked. [Laughter.]

Currie: Did you have a lot of boyfriends?

Eads: No, but I just got along well with them. I'd have dates. I remember my first date. My father nearly had a fit, me having a date. I had to be home by half past eight or something like that.

Currie: Do you remember what you did on the date?

Eads: We went in a car. He was a newspaperman, and I didn't really like him. He was kind of stocky, and he was a year older than I. I think he was the one that got me that job, and I think he was the sports writer. But he was very nice to me, a very nice guy. We went out, and there were bluffs around Quincy, and we sat in the car and looked over at the bluffs and talked. He never made any passes. I wouldn't have known what to do if he had. [Laughter.] I think my father scared me.

Currie: How did he do that?

Eads: He didn't want me to go out with boys at my age. Too young, I guess. He seemed to think they were like the evil empire. [Laughter.]

Then I graduated from high school.

Currie: Since you had two brothers, did you think there was any difference in the way your father raised you, and the way that he raised your two brothers?

Eads: No. My father made me take piano lessons, and made my brother take violin lessons. Neither one of us were musical, nor could we play, but whenever we had company, he asked us to play something. I pity the poor guests. Neither one of us cared a bit about it. I played a lot with my brother. He and I were very close, always. My older brother seemed to be always in trouble of some kind, and my father sent him to Culver Military Academy. Finally, when he was in his late teens, he joined the Navy. He died while he was in the Navy. I only remember him once, when he was home on leave, I guess. He was sitting at a desk, and he had a pen knife or something on the desk, and I went to look at it. He said, "Don't you touch that. It's dangerous," or something. So that's all I remember. He was really a handsome young man. I remember his looks, blond.

Currie: Then when you graduated from high school, you got the proofreading job. Can you tell me what you remember about the news room at the Quincy Whig-Journal?

Eads: That everybody was bent over their desks and working like dogs. [Laughter.] I mean, I hardly had any conversation with them. People I talked to were out in the composing room, the printers, the press men. They don't have those anymore.

Currie: No, they don't.

Eads: You've missed something. When the paper went to press, the whole building shook. It was absolutely the most thrilling sound I ever heard.

Currie: Describe that for me.

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Eads: You knew that the paper had gone to press, that everything had been written that was going to be in the paper the next day, it was out there in type, and they rolled the machines around, and it would come out a newspaper.

Currie: So you'd be in your desk in the city room, and you could hear the press going?

Eads: Oh, yes! Even in Washington, when I worked in the Washington Star building for a long time, AP [Associated Press] offices there. The Star didn't have what they have now, whatever it is. I don't know because I haven't been in the press room. One time since we've been down here, I went into a news room in Fort Myers near here and I couldn't recognize it. It wasn't at all like—we used to have a typewriter on our desk and a lot of paper on the floor that we had to wade through. It was dirty, but fun. The editor and city editor would sit at the desk in the middle of the room, and they'd call for a boy. "Copy, please," a copy boy. Then you'd give your copy, when you were finished, to a boy, and he'd run it to the city desk. Then it would go to the copy desk, where they'd write the heads and what would amount to proofreading on a regular newspaper.

Currie: At the Whig-Journal, about how many people worked there, do you recall?

Eads: They'd have a sports editor, a society editor, a club editor. There were two women sitting at a desk in a corner, I remember. One was society editor. And there were other people around the room doing things. I don't know what they were doing altogether; they were reporters.

Currie: So there were two other women there.

Eads: Yes, the society editor. Every place I've been, there's always been some woman to do some woman's job. Of course, they had a copy desk, they had the editors and people like that. There must have been 15 or 20 people.

Currie: So you would get all the copy from all of those people and have to proofread it?

Eads: Yes. I can't remember how I got it. I just remember that I had it after it was set up in type and I went through it.

Currie: Did you like that job?

Eads: I found it sort of interesting. I mean, I didn't have time to do anything else. I didn't have time to look around, and I was there late sometimes. You know, you just read the things through and you see if it needs a paragraph, and you'd make the sign for a paragraph, you'd write that on the copy.

Currie: Do you recall anyone who was particularly helpful to you at that job?

Eads: I had one city editor that I liked very much, but he just seemed to be interested in me. When I went to Chicago, he wrote to me one time. He was, I thought, a very interesting man. There were several men on the paper that were good to me, you know, sort of looked out for me. I used to walk home at night. I remember walking home for what seemed like miles, because I lived out a ways in town. At night, you know, I would have been scared to death doing that, but it seemed to me that I was always with one or two of these newspapermen. One especially, who worked for the Associated Press.

Currie: The Associated Press had an office in the Quincy Whig-Journal?

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Eads: They had a man. I don't know what it's like now, but most papers have somebody who handles all AP and UP wire copy. That's all I know. I don't know what they do now.

Currie: So he wasn't employed by the AP. He was employed by the Quincy Whig-Journal?

Eads: I knew very little about it. I hardly knew what they did. This man was just standing there, editing all that stuff, sending it out to the composing room, that's all. It was almost all out of town, this stuff, you know, wire service copy.

Currie: One or two of them would walk you home at night?

Eads: No, I wouldn't say that, because I'm not sure they walked all the way home. No, I wouldn't say that. But we'd go sometimes to a restaurant and get chili and stuff like that.

Currie: What did you think of these newspaper people that you were meeting as a young woman?

Eads: I liked them. I liked them better than anybody else.

Currie: Why?

Eads: I guess they were about the only people I knew. Well, that isn't really true, but the only people I had close contact with. They were interesting. They were aware of what was going on, and curious about what wasn't, and so forth.

Currie: You mentioned that you had a composing room, which most newspapers don't have now. What did your composing room look like, and how did it operate?

Eads: In the composing room, like any big office, there was men sitting around a printing machine, like a desk, and I mean like editors. They handled different copy, sports copy or society or straight news or this or that. And they'd go through it and they'd make it fit so that it would fit in a column, and they'd write a head[line] for it, a head like this. They'd have to make it fit.

Currie: Was this when they had what's called hot type?

Eads: I don't know.

Currie: I thought that at that point, probably what they had was the machine where they would actually—

Eads: Oh, no. Oh, no. No, the copy would be from the original source, from the reporter. [Then it would go to] an editor for the copy desk and then [from] the copy desk was sent to the composing room, where it was set into type. There were two separate units completely in both places that I remember the most. The composing room is like downstairs, down on the floor below or something. The copy desk was right in the same room.

Currie: I see. Did you ever have to go down to the composing room?

Eads: I never did in Chicago, or I never did in a big newspaper, but I did on the Quincy Whig-Journal. It's the only time I did, because the unions don't let you touch a piece of type. Anybody outside a union member couldn't touch it.

Currie: What do you think you learned from your job as a proofreader on the Quincy Whig-Journal?

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Eads: I don't think I learned anything unusual. You know, it was a summer job, and I did it the best I could, anyhow. It was so long ago. It was really a kind of a chore, because when you're reading a lot of print like that, looking for errors, you get pretty tired—column after column.

Currie: Pretty tedious.

Eads: Again, I say you didn't have time to get bored.

Currie: Was it unusual that they would hire a woman for that job?

Eads: I don't know. I don't think so. I think they just needed somebody.

Currie: They didn't much care.

Eads: Somebody who was bright enough to do it.

Currie: What did you end up majoring in, in college?

Eads: I didn't major. I was only there one semester, and it was a dazzlement to me. It was big. I don't know how to describe it, but I had a lot of friends in the rooming house, and I had a few dates.

Currie: Maybe this is a good place to stop, because next you'll go to Chicago.

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