Jane Eads Bancroft was a "journeyman" reporter for more than forty years. Her career took her from covering Chicago during Al Capone's reign, to pre-World War II Europe, to wartime Washington, D.C. She covered murders, gangsters, trials, Paris fashion shows, society and politics, all with the idea that she was a reporter and getting a story was her job.
One of the biggest stories of Jane Eads' (the by-line she used) career came in the late 1920s when she was assigned to the first transcontinental commercial air traveler on a flight from Chicago to San Francisco for Hearst's Chicago Herald Examiner.
Eads began her career as a proofreader for the Quincy, Illinois Whig-Journal. After reporting for a small paper, she landed a job on Hearst's Chicago Herald Examiner as a general assignment reporter. At the Herald Examiner she covered the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and did an extensive series on nightlife during Prohibition. Among her colleagues was Hilding Johnson, later made famous by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur in their play, The Front Page. In fact, Eads' Chicago career was very much reminiscent of the journalistic life Hecht and MacArthur immortalized.
From Chicago, Eads moved to New York and the Associated Press, where she again was a general assignment reporter. Shortly after moving to New York, she married a colleague from Chicago, Seymour Berkson. Berkson was sent to pre-World War II Europe by Hearst, and Eads went with him. There, she covered American society and Paris fashion shows for Hearst. One of her scoops was the burgeoning romance between British King Edward VIII and American socialite-divorcée Wallis Warfield Simpson.
After returning to the U.S. and divorcing Berkson, Eads worked in Washington for the Hearst wire service. After the service closed down, she was hired as a "club reporter" by Cissy Patterson, publisher of the Washington Times-Herald. Just prior to World War II, she took a job in public relations at J. Walter Thompson in New York. When war broke out, she returned to the AP offices in Washington. After the war she wrote a daily column, "Washington Letter," for the AP for twelve years.
Before traveling to Florida for the interviews, I talked with Dorothy Williams, a retired UPI reporter who was a close friend and colleague of Bancroft's; Hope Ridings Miller, a reporting contemporary of Bancroft's from the Washington Post; and Isabelle Shelton, a former reporter for the Washington Star, who suggested Bancroft for this project. They all gave her high marks as a very solid reporter. They also said that she was not the type of person who would seek the limelight either now or during her reporting career.
I also found some material on Jane Eads during several days of research at the National Press Club (NPC). The NPC was especially helpful with research on Cissy Patterson, Eads' boss at the Washington Times-Herald, activities of the Women's National Press Club during Eads' membership days, and Eleanor Roosevelt's press conferences, which Eads covered.
In addition, Bancroft generously allowed me access to her scrapbooks. Yellowing copies of "sob sister" articles and reports on Paris society before World War II gave me much insight into Bancroft's day-to-day work. (So far, Bancroft has not elected to give her papers to an archive. I encouraged her to think about doing so.)
Jane's husband, Griffing Bancroft, was instrumental in convincing her to do this oral history interview. Mr. Bancroft is the grandson of the well-known California historian, Hubert Howe Bancroft, for whom the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley is named. Jane Eads Bancroft says that her husband and her only daughter, Barbara Berkson, convinced her that her experiences should be recorded.
Both Bancrofts welcomed me warmly, arranged for me to stay in the retirement complex where they live and often invited me to share meals with them. Jane and I held morning and evening sessions in the living room of their apartment, a comfortable home decorated in bright, tropical colors. Several of Jane Bancroft's post-retirement paintings line the walls.
Jane Eads Bancroft was chosen for this oral history project because of the breadth of her experience in journalism. For example, her reporting encompassed the styles known as "sob sister" reporting—stories written to gain sympathy for their subjects—and "stunt reporting"—stories written by reporters who did daring acts and became part of the story themselves.
Since Jane Eads Bancroft was known professionally as Jane Eads, we have chosen to index her oral history under that name.
April 19, 1990