Washington Press Club Foundation
Gladys Montgomery Singer:
Interview #2 (pp. 16-31)
February 9, 1990 in Washington, DC
Kathleen Currie, Interviewer

Go to Session One | Session Three | Session Four | Session Five | Session Six
Index | Cover | Home
Page 16

[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Currie: The last time we talked—

Montgomery: I was going to say I was enjoying my teaching at Cranston, but never forgetting my goal. My mother thoughtfully sent me the town paper each week, but, of course, she never bothered with the ads. But I did, and I saw, to my surprise, that Babson's Reports needed a person to go to Washington for one month to do an economic report. So I applied for the job.

It was coming on a weekend so I could leave my school long enough to come to Wellesley and apply for the job. After an interview, I was selected, perhaps partly because it was limited to only one month, and a more seasoned reporter perhaps hesitated on a one-month basis. Whatever the reason, the fact remains, I got the job. So that meant I spent several days in the Wellesley office of Babson, getting ready for what was expected of me in Washington.

Currie: Did you have any background in economics?

Montgomery: I didn't take any course in economics. My major was history, and my minor was English. However, I had been brought up in a house where the fundamentals of economics were pretty apparent, my father being president of the bank and our household run on a carefully planned background.

Currie: So how did you go about preparing yourself for this one-month assignment? What things did you read?

Montgomery: I can't tell you now what things I read. I only know that I had certain points that they wanted to be made that would be of interest to the Babson readers in that particular period. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the report that I sent in. Probably I never expected to use it later. But whatever it was, this assignment came from answering that Townsman ad.

Currie: What was Babson's Reports? What kind of publication was that?

Montgomery: Babson's Reports was a business publication covering what the businessman needed to know about what was going on in his particular field. In Washington, it reported for the readers what was going on that they would be interested in.

Currie: It was like a Business Week?

Montgomery: It was a Business Week type of magazine.

Currie: When you were preparing to come to Washington to do this month-long project, were there other women reporters in the office at Babson in Wellesley?

Montgomery: As I recall, there were no women reporters in the office. Otherwise, they probably would have been considered before the ad went in the paper.

Page 16

Page 17

Currie: With your weekend preparation, you decided to go to Washington?

Montgomery: I decided to go to Washington. My mother was at the station, not wanting me to go so far away. My father, who thought it was a preposterous thing to begin with, was kind enough, however, to hand me a small check and add to it, "Well, you will be gone only one month and then you will return wiser, I hope."

Currie: Not much encouragement!

Montgomery: So there was no great enthusiasm, in fact, no enthusiasm at all, as I set out, and, inside me, I was a little afraid.

Currie: Understandable.

Montgomery: It was a full day, a day's trip to Washington by train at that time, and I was met at the station by a classmate of mine, with whom I stayed for one month, the period in which I was supposed to be there.

Currie: She lived in Washington?

Montgomery: She had a job with the Bureau of Standards, and she was an extraordinary physicist who made quite a reputation in her lifetime. But anyhow, at this time, we were just classmates from Wellesley who were joining forces in Washington. She showed me around the city, more or less, the buildings where I might be wanting to go, and I got a little feel of the city, after which I started in myself, following the line that I'd received from the Wellesley office. I began to interview this one and that one.

However, after about two weeks, I saw that this probably wasn't going to be very important to them. One day I was sitting in Lafayette Park, just discouraged and wondering what to do next, when I looked across at the Babson office just on the other side of the small parkway in the vicinity of the White House. I had been warned not to go to the Washington office because Mr. Babson was not pleased with the man who was heading the office, and there was a growing friction between the two men. So my warning was, "Keep away." However, as I sat in that park and looked across at the office and remembered that this man heading it came from my home town, I thought, "He may tell me how to do this better. He may give me a little guidance."

So I went to the office and he very pleasantly met me. Then I told him what I wanted to do, and he looked incredulously at me and said, "What a thing to give you to do in Washington! What a person to send for that!" Which, indeed, didn't encourage me in the least. Then he looked again and he said, "You know, I think I'll give you a little training. I'm not going to write a line for you, but I'm going to give you a little training, I'd like to outwit that Wellesley Babson office and prove that they really did get someone who could do the job." He said, "I have a problem with Mr. Babson and I don't believe I'll be here very long. So if you want to come again as I've explained now, I'll go ahead with it." And, of course, I did. That's how I got started.

Currie: What were some of the things that he told you or some of the ways in which he trained you? What did he do for you?

Montgomery: I don't remember too much. I remember he said, "You've got interviews all right enough, but you haven't any outstanding quotes. You haven't anything to arouse the attention of the reader. You've got to interview ones that will give you a quote. You've got to approach the person, not trying to bluff, but a straightforward question, and then don't hang around and try to get more. Just take what you can get and go, but be careful how you choose and how you

Page 17

Page 18

conduct yourself for it. All right. You should go, for instance," and he named one or two places which I don't recall now. Anyhow, I left feeling very much encouraged.

So after a little more time, I went back with what I had, and he looked at it. He still wasn't too pleased, and he said, "You say you're a writer? But I don't see much here that I think would warrant your taking on that title. Now I'll tell you. It's good as far as you've gone, but you've got to pull it around." He then gave me a few tips. As I look back on it, I think the report that I took to him was not as bad as he made it seem; I think probably he didn't want me to get the idea that he would do the writing. But if I had that thought, it certainly proved that he did not intend to do any of the writing, which he never did.

Currie: So he told you how to rewrite?

Montgomery: Yes, he told me how to do these things, but he did not do it. He would not do any writing and never did. However, he would criticize and advise.

Currie: He was head of the Babson Washington office?

Montgomery: He was head of the Babson Washington office. They had a disagreement which was mounting in importance with other smaller disagreements, to the point that he was likely to be fired, and if not, he was looking for something different. So that's how I went in on that.

Currie: Do you remember his name?

Montgomery: His last name was Little, and I can't remember his first name.

Currie: He was also from Wellesley?

Montgomery: His parents lived there. He was married and living in Washington. That's how I thought he might help me. Actually, his mother knew my mother, but I don't think that's necessary to put in.

Currie: So you finished this report within the month?

Montgomery: Yes. In the meantime, Mr. Babson had returned from a lecture trip out through the middle west, and when he got back and found that they had hired, as he called it, "a little slip of a girl" to do an important report for Babson, he was astonished and, beyond that, he was angered. He said, "Book me for Washington. I'll go down and get rid of that one right away."

Well, in the meantime, I received a call from Wellesley saying that Mr. Babson would be in Washington on a certain day and he would be very glad for me to have dinner with him at the University Club. Well, I thought that was so nice of him, and I just looked forward to it. But we'd hardly been seated when he glared at me and said, "The reason I asked you here was to fire you."

Currie: How did that make you feel?

Montgomery: Well, that stunned me for a minute, and then it seemed as if I got a lot of nerve. I said to him, "Mr. Babson, I was hired for one month. I've only been here two weeks. I intend to give you a report that you will like. You're considered a good sport, and I'm sure when you know that this month's agreement was signed in your office by your own representative, I'm sure you will let me stay the remaining two weeks." Well, he wasn't known to be a good sport. But anyhow, a signed agreement was nothing one had to argue about.

Page 18

Page 19

So he said, "All right. You stay. But on the last day of that month, you have your bags packed and you plan to go home where you belong. You've stayed here long enough at my expense of having a good time."

Currie: Can you describe Mr. Babson a little more?

Montgomery: Mr. Babson was an imposing figure, kind of a forerunner in his predictions, I'd say, and one that partly from his own appearance and partly from his pronouncements was quite highly regarded in economic fields. He wouldn't be going on a lecture course if it weren't that they wanted him. I don't think he was an endearing figure, but he was an imposing person. Anyhow, to me he wasn't endearing, that's for sure.

Currie: And this was your first meeting with him?

Montgomery: I knew him. I don't think I ever spoke to him, but I knew him around Wellesley. I think my father knew him, but not any reason to be too well acquainted. My father knew him. He was the president of the bank, and Babson did business with the bank, so I guess it was about as far as that went.

Currie: That's pretty depressing, though, to think that at the end of this month you were going to be booted out.

Montgomery: Yes. I took the report back to my recently acquired friend in the Washington office, and I could see a different look as he read it. So I thought, "Well, this time I've written the information they want."

Currie: So you felt good about it.

Montgomery: Yes. I felt good about it. It was sent to the central Wellesley office. To my surprise, it pleased, as they called him, "old Roger." [Laughter.]

Currie: Who's old Roger?

Montgomery: Roger Babson!

Currie: Oh! They called him "old Roger"?

Montgomery: No, the man who hired me in the office called him, joking, "old Roger."

Currie: But not to his face.

Montgomery: Oh, no, no. Mercy, no! The next thing I knew, he had told the person in his office to get in touch with me and say that I could remain in Washington and be a part of the Babson office if I wanted to.

Currie: Did he say, "I was wrong. You did a good job"?

Montgomery: No. That I could be a part of it. The salary was small, but he added, "Tell her she's got to earn that," small as it was.

Currie: Do you remember how much it was?

Montgomery: I don't remember now, no. It was pitifully small, I guess, but any salary would look small compared to today, so that isn't too unusual.

Page 19

Page 20

Currie: What year was this that you first came to Washington?

Montgomery: This was in 1921, because it was the year when, if I was choosing in time, I would have found a most exciting period to come to Washington.

Anyhow, the meeting with my friend on my return to the Washington office was a happy one, and I took various assignments from him. Then I said, "You know, I think that we should have a representative in the White House press group. Would you mind if I put my name in?" Well, he didn't plan to stay and was even more emphatic about it in his own mind, I guess, so he said, "Oh, well, you can try if you want to." So I filled out the papers and sent in, and it didn't take long to get a reply that I was turned down.

Currie: What did they say? What was the reason they turned you down?

Montgomery: I don't know as they had to give any reasons. They just simply said, "You did not meet the qualifications, and therefore it is with regret that we do not accept you."

All right. That was enough to turn anyone off, but I telephoned the chairman of this committee and said that for some reason or another, I felt that I was qualified to be in the group, and I wondered if I could be present at their next meeting of that committee, because I thought I could explain a little better than I wrote. I've always thought it was a dull time of the year and I looked extraordinarily young. If I'd been on a newspaper and gone through the various steps that I would have had to get to Washington, I never would have been there at my age.

Anyhow, I was given a time to appear at their meeting. As I approached the office area of the White House, I was afraid. My legs felt like they were made of rubber. I knew that this was my one chance, and I could not take any time to be afraid. So when I got in and was properly introduced and questioned as to why I thought I should become a member, I said, "As I look around this group of reporters (which was indeed small, with only about four or five women in it), I don't see any woman reporter and maybe not any man representing a completely business publication. Business page of a newspaper, yes. It seems to me that a business magazine should have a representative. I don't doubt there are some more qualified than I am, but I'm the one that asked it, and on that basis I'd like you to consider me."

Well, they were so astonished at this presumptuous remark that they voted me in.

Currie: Good for you! So the reporters themselves controlled who covered the White House?

Montgomery: The reporters had their own group, yes, the White House press group. That list was approved by the White House, but they had to make up their own list, and that was the one that I was seeking. Once on that list, it would be extraordinary if the White House didn't accept it.

Currie: Why did you think it was important to cover the White House?

Montgomery: Because it was the prestigious group. It gave you entrée and it did something for me that I perhaps didn't anticipate then; it made me eligible to cover the Disarmament Conference of 1921. That was November 1921.

Currie: Can you tell me about the Disarmament Conference?

Montgomery: The Disarmament Conference included five powerful nations. It was the first time that an international conference of this proportion had been held in the United States. Therefore, for our country it was of even more importance. There were five of what were considered the powerful nations worldwide, and several others that came in, not in that inner five group.

Page 20

Page 21

Currie: Do you remember who the five were?

Montgomery: Yes. There were Japan, Great Britain, Italy, United States, and France.

Currie: So they were all coming together here.

Montgomery: So I joined the press group to report the first session. The aim of the conference was towards a peaceful world, and the session was only the beginning of meetings that lasted through November into February of the following year. However, for Babson reporting, I only needed the first session and the overall, and then a summation at the end. So it was a colorful opening with all the various insignias and medals and so on, and the notables.

The thing that interested me about that is that unexpected to me, I changed my status with Babson from a nobody to a somebody. How did that happen? Well, Mr. Babson had been on a lecturing trip, and he decided he'd interrupt his return to Wellesley to spend a day in Washington and watch the notables coming out from that first session. So he didn't bother to call the Washington office, but just stood on the side and watched.

The meeting was over and the dignitaries came down the steps of Constitution Hall and marched out toward the street, where they could get their vehicles and so on. As they came down the steps, the bemedalled and bedecked representatives from these countries led the group of the Washington dignitaries, and then came the press. "Towards the end of the press," he tells afterwards, "whom did I see but not the head of my office, but that young girl that we had just taken on, marching out of that building as if she was somebody." I don't remember his exact words, but I'm giving you the gist of it.

But at any rate, the reason the head of the Babson office didn't cover the event was that he had a lead under way for leaving the Babson office. He didn't want to take the time to go there because it didn't look like too much copy, anyhow. So that's how I happened to get it. This event changed my rating.

Mr. Babson took a different turn and I was told that in his lectures, he often added a sentence, speaking before corporations or business interests, he often added, "And don't overlook the importance of having a woman in your organization being placed in a position of importance."

Currie: Wow! You really turned him around.

Montgomery: Yes. I turned him around so much that in later years, he wanted me to open an office. He had closed his Washington office temporarily when the lease ran out in the building and could not be renewed. He wanted me to take on a newsletter.

Currie: You mentioned there were about five women in the White House press corps.

Montgomery: Only as I remember it. I don't know whether I can remember them all now. There was one from the Philadelphia paper, one from Chicago, one from New York Times, one from the Evening Star, and there may have been another one. By the way, they were all much older than I and had had considerable number of years in their paper before they were assigned to Washington.

Currie: How much older than you were most of these other reporters?

Montgomery: Well, they were in middle age.

Currie: Mid-forties?

Page 21

Page 22

Montgomery: I'd say they were more likely the forties.

Currie: Were there any of the women reporters at that time that you remember? I think you mentioned earlier, before we went on the tape, that you knew Cora Rigby.

Montgomery: Yes. I knew Cora Rigby.

Currie: We haven't put it on tape, so it might be an interesting thing to tell how you met Cora Rigby.

Montgomery: I met Cora Rigby when I was going for my first time to a press conference, after I'd been accepted as one of the White House correspondent group. At that time, the press conference with the president [Warren Harding] was held in his office, and when his secretary, or whoever he designated, announced that the president would see the press, the ones that were there just moved as fast as they could into his office and stood around his desk.

Currie: That was the Oval Office?

Montgomery: It was the office of the president. I'm not sure that it was the Oval Office then. Anyhow, as we stood out there waiting, this rather elderly woman spoke to me. I had learned she was Miss Rigby, the head of the Women's National Press Club. She said, "My dear, I just want to warn you. Don't try to crash these gates. You can't get in here. You can't bluff your way in. Be careful." And then I said, "My credentials, I think, are perfect." She didn't believe me and she moved away, because she didn't want, I guess, to get caught when they stopped me, if what she feared was true.

Currie: They would stop you from going into the press conference?

Montgomery: She thought I was bluffing my way in, and she wanted to warn me not to try, because I couldn't get away with it.

Currie: So you think that was a friendly approach?

Montgomery: Oh, yes! I think it was that she didn't want me to be embarrassed, because she thought that I just was going to push in without too much notice. That's how I got to know her. We became very good friends. She was the top woman reporter.

Currie: What made her the top woman reporter?

Montgomery: Well, she had support enough to get it. She was president of the Women's National Press Club. That had been organized not too long before I came into the picture, but I wasn't aiming for that right away. I needed to get a little more footing. But anyhow, she was respected for her writing and she was, as I say, president of the fairly newly formed Women's National Press Club. It was only a few months later when I joined the club.

Currie: For which newspaper did she work?

Montgomery: She worked for the Christian Science Monitor bureau. There was a case in the Monitor that had been going on for a number of years as to whether the paper or the church would govern the policies of the Monitor. It was decided in favor of the church, which meant that a British editor who was very much against this, was fired. My husband was kept on the paper, but being an inveterate smoker, he knew he wouldn't be there very long, so he decided to leave.

Currie: This was much later.

Page 22

Page 23

Montgomery: Much later, but then Miss Rigby was made head of the office. She became head of the Christian Science Monitor office in Washington. I believe then she was the only woman in Washington who was head of a bureau.

Currie: Can you share some memories of Cora Rigby?

Montgomery: Yes, I can. I remember that I was looking for an apartment and I asked her, as we came out of one of these press conferences, "Miss Rigby, do you know any place that I could get a room?"

She said, "Well, I'll tell you. I have a room that I rent, and the person has recently moved out of Washington."

[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]

Montgomery: She said, "It's a lovely room. I have a fireplace in it that really works, and I think you'd be very happy because it's convenient." It sounded perfect, but I said, "How much is it a month?"

So she said, "Well, I've been getting so and so."

I said, "Oh, that is beyond my budget. I'm sure it's very nice, but I must find some place that is within my income."

And she waited a minute and she said, "Well, how much would you pay?" Now, I can't remember. Somehow thirty dollars a month seems to stand in my mind, but it must have been different than that. Anyhow, she said, "Well, that's less than I get, but I believe I'd rather have somebody that is compatible in my building and would get along friendly with my mother." She lived with her mother. So she said, "If you're interested, you can have the room."

Well, I took the apartment. I enjoyed it very much. We got along all right together.

Currie: So it was you and Cora Rigby and Cora Rigby's mother?

Montgomery: Yes, until I married. At any rate, the years went by and Cora Rigby no longer headed the bureau because she'd retired. She became very fragile and ill. It seems to me it might have been cancer, but at any rate, whatever it was, being a borderline Christian Scientist, she wouldn't do anything for it.

So it came to the time—this little bit I do want to add—when she wasn't going to live much longer. I went to see her, and she was in her living room with a great big shawl around her. Being a very aggressive person that took the forward step, it was quite a shock to see her in front of the fireplace with a big laundry basket. In those days, they had a very sizable laundry basket filled with clippings of this thing or that thing, which she would pick up and look and throw in the fireplace. These were praises that had come to her or certain things in her career that stood out with considerable importance. One by one, she was tearing them and throwing them in the fireplace. Then she picked up what appeared to be a book and she said, "My book!"

I remember saying, "Please don't do that. Please don't throw these. Please, please, don't." But she looked as if she was already out of the thinking of that day, and the book, along with the others, was thrown in the fireplace.

Currie: Was this a book about her life?

Page 23

Page 24

Montgomery: I don't know what the book was about. It was a novel, I think. Someone said I featured some way in it, but I don't know. That isn't important. It was the end of a career. I thought how many newspeople I've known who always said that when they retired, they were going to write a book. That seemed a stock remark. But usually it ended with the waste basket or the—well, couldn't be the fireplace, but anyhow, usually it was destroyed and never accomplished. So it's interesting to know that in the course of time, the Women's National Press Club became a part of the National Press Club, which, indeed, was recognition of women's importance in the reporting field. However, to me, talking about Miss Rigby, there is a room there in the library section dedicated to her under the title—I'll get the title.

Currie: Was there anything else that you observed about Cora Rigby in those years of living with her, about her reporting style, for instance?

Montgomery: Well, I don't know that I did. She wasn't writing about things that I'd be writing about mostly. It's interesting. She was the daughter of a judge in Illinois, a prominent judge, and when she got out of college, she could have gone back to her home town and married this young lawyer that she had been seeing, and have raised children and had a very happy home life. So she broke away from that background, and I've told you a little about her, but it's interesting that as a woman, she could have followed what in that time was more or less the course that many women did follow.

Currie: Did she ever say why she didn't?

Montgomery: She simply said she wanted a bigger and broader life. It was by example more than by words that she showed how she was making her choice. Today a room is dedicated to her in the National Press Club.

As long as we're talking about the National Press Club, the Women's National Press Club joined the National Press Club. It's kind of interesting that photographs of the past presidents of both the men's press and the women's press were put on the wall of this special room according to the year of their presidency. So the men and the women become a part of history. That is one way the women have come ahead.

Currie: Is there anything else you'd like to add about Cora Rigby before we leave her?

Montgomery: I want to say that she was perhaps the most prominent of the greats in the women's reporting group in my early days. This continued up to her death, which left a number of years in my career that she didn't play a part.

Currie: Did she ever show you the ropes or anything?

Montgomery: Yes, she did teach me a lot about reporting in Washington. We often would have lunch—well, not so often lunch as dinner, together, and often her mother was included so as not to leave her too much alone. But I was often on my own. If I asked her for any help, she'd give it to me. She went about her business and I went about mine. It was a lasting friendship. She taught me a lot about reporting. Whether she did it by example or whether she did it by telling, however it was, I did learn a lot from her, and it was a friendship that I really valued.

Currie: Can you think of something that she taught you?

Montgomery: Of course, I don't say I copied her way—it was still mine—but she was very straightforward when she went to interview anyone, and she knew what she wanted when she went there, the same thing that I always followed. She made a number of friends of the ones that were in prominent positions. Among my news sources, I don't know as I ever made any special friends from them. I aimed at knowing my sources in a friendly way, but never too well.

Page 24

Page 25

Now, she was the same. I never heard of her going off with anyone. My approach was also professional because I knew what I wanted. I wanted my career, and I didn't want things that might come back to me one way or another and not help me.

Currie: You mean like a romance?

Montgomery: A romance or something like that. Well, I often went out with friends that I knew, but not ones that I interviewed.

Currie: So that was a rule you made, that you wouldn't go out with your sources?

Montgomery: I said, "Know your sources in a friendly way, but not too well." I was so young that I knew it would be bad for me, you know. We'll come to the part when I became Washington editor. How did I handle that? That would be more to the point than right now.

Currie: Okay. This was at a time when Warren Harding was president.

Montgomery: Yes, I reported on the Disarmament Conference for the several months it lasted. The beginning and final decisions were used. I saw Harding on two occasions when I realized that there were two sides—well, they say two sides to the coin—but two sides to the man. Going back to my first press conference, when we got in the room where the president was and stood around his desk, Miss Rigby—and by the way, all the years I knew her, I always called her Miss Rigby made the first remark.

Currie: Did everyone call her Miss Rigby?

Montgomery: No, no. Cora. Everyone called her [Cora], but I seemed to have that idea of her being so important, that I always said Miss Rigby.

Anyhow, Miss Rigby said, "Mr. President, those are beautiful flowers on your desk today, beautiful roses."

He looked at them and said, "Why, yes, they are, aren't they?" Then he hesitated, looked a little at the room. He said, "I believe I'm going to give one of them to each of you ladies." So he took one out, gave it to this one, that one, that one, and finally, he looked and he saw this new face towards the back of the room, and he waited a minute. Then he bowed to me and I came back and handed me the last one given to the ladies. Well, that was such a little human touch of respect for the women and love for the flowers, that he showed one side of him. He was discredited for ways that we don't need to go into; he had an unfortunate ending.

But there was one other time when I got to know President Harding that perhaps stayed in my young mind always. It was during the ceremony for the "Unknown Soldier," who, by the way, had been selected from—I believe there were four "unknown" soldiers buried in France, and one of them, when it was decided, was to be removed and brought to this country as the first. There were four American unknown soldiers. So this one was the one that was going to be the first of the unknown soldiers to be buried at Arlington [Cemetery]. There was quite an international attendance at this because of the background that I've just mentioned. There I saw Harding at his best. He made a very eloquent speech, which was amplified by telephone for the first time, so that it could be heard in Madison Gardens and in New York and also in San Francisco. It was quite an event as the forerunner of electronics, you might say, that these people, because he ended his very powerful and sincere speech with, "And now we are all searching for peace in the world. Let us close with the Lord's Prayer. Will you join with me?" And he began with the words of the Lord's Prayer.

Page 25

Page 26

It's said that even in New York and San Francisco, for the first time, some of them even joined in those words. But there was the Harding who moved his audience and moved people beyond the confines of Arlington towards a world where we might look forward to having no more unknown soldiers.

Currie: How did Harding respond to the press?

Montgomery: In a friendly manner. But he was a person who was moved too much and too wrong by friends. He was loyal to his friends and often loyal to the wrong ones, which got him into trouble and eventually to his downfall.

Currie: How did the press treat him?

Montgomery: Well, of course, when the press gets hold of something that's a story about wrongdoing, they're going to play up wrongdoing. I don't remember too much. It's just a question of going back and looking at newspapers, which I don't think is too important to do. It was just that he was moved too much by friends who proved to be disloyal to him.

Currie: Did you ever cover any of the emerging scandals of Harding?

Montgomery: No. The scandals weren't particularly Babson material. But you couldn't help from—well, I went to his press conference and would pick out whatever was of interest to my publication. But he was a tragedy, a tragedy. What was fastened on him was legitimate, I guess, but the man himself was moved too much in the wrong way by friends that he trusted.

Currie: Also at this time, what was it like working in the Babson office in Washington? How many people worked there?

Montgomery: The Babson office was very small and it only had the man that I worked for, a secretary, and myself. That's all that was in it. It was very small. Now do we go into the closing of the office?

Currie: Yes, I think we can go to that next step now. You'd been covering Washington for some time for Babson, and you alluded to the fact that this head of the office, Mr. Little, was going to leave. Did he finally leave?

Montgomery: One day he got word that he was fired. I was thinking before that, when I wanted to put my name in for the press, he said, "Oh, well, they won't take you, anyhow." He said, "I'll bet you a dinner at the Powhatan." Well, the Powhatan Roof was the place then. "My wife and I (he called her by name; I don't remember her name now), we'll take you to dinner there." He said, "I'll even take a dance with you." He had no idea this would happen. When it did happen, he very gallantly paid his debt and we, the three of us, had dinner and a good evening at the Powhatan Hotel.

Then he did get fired.

Currie: Do you know why he was fired?

Montgomery: Yes. He was fired because for some time it had been a disagreement between Washington and the Wellesley office about the building being in the red. He would not act as a real estate rental agent. Babson had taken a longtime lease on the building, and that was in the wartime. It was located at 10 Jackson Place, located across from the State War Navy Building on a small street—Jackson Place—that only held maybe seven small office buildings, and they were along on one side. On the other side of the street was Lafayette Park, across the street, and in

Page 26

Page 27

front of Lafayette Park was the White House. In front of 10 Jackson Place was Blair House, at the end of that street, and across the way was the State War and Navy Building.

Currie: He had taken this building during the war. So he leased the building.

Montgomery: It was comparatively small. It held his office. It held two, maybe three, apartments, you know, and it had a basement that was full of desks and chairs and so on from World War I days, all piled up there. The first floor, where his office was, in the back of it was a room that had a window in it, but it was a storeroom.

Anyhow, when Little left the office, I was there with a secretary awaiting a replacement. A week or two went by when word came that Mr. Babson wanted me to take over the building, and one of the requirements would be to take the building out of the red. That was the reason Little left—one of his main reasons. He said, "I'm not a real estate agent, and I don't want to mix reporting with real estate because I am a reporter." So Little left with Babson saying, "Tell her she has to take that building out of the red and she has to produce enough to be worth the salary that she will be getting." The salary was so little that if I hadn't had anything else with it, I would have had trouble.

I thought, "I've attained my goal: I'm a reporter in Washington. Now, if I want to continue to be a reporter, I don't see any other opening right now." So I told the office in Wellesley that I would take it for six months on that basis, but at the end of the six months, I would have put the building out of the red or I would want to leave. I had no idea then what I was going to do, and I was told that was satisfactory.

There was space in that building that wasn't being used and I reorganized things. I got permission to sell the desks, which were quite a number, in the basement, and all the furniture from the World War I days. Then I cleared it out and I advertised an ideal location for a photographer wanting to be close to the White House. It hardly went into print when a photographer took it and stayed there the length of time that I did.

Then what about that room on the first floor that was piled up with papers and boxes from World War I days but had a window in the back? So I had that cleaned out and I reserved enough desks, etc., for use whenever I faced an emergency. I put a desk, chair, bookcase in there, set it up for a small office. I advertised it: "Ideal location for young woman lawyer." And a woman by the name of Lacy, I think her name was, she became quite prominent, rented it. "Ideal for woman lawyer who wants her name on the building." I forgot how I worded that. Anyhow, she promptly took it.

Then I had the fourth floor; you had to walk up old stairs to get up to it. It was a big room with a sizable window looking out on Lafayette Park. So I advertised this for a lawyer looking for a location close to the White House and Lafayette Park. Anyhow, there was a man in New York who was getting a divorce from his wife and wanted to get away, wanted to come to Washington for a limited time, and he quickly took that apartment.

Then what with the ones that were already taken, another one and one or two others, the building was rented and it was out of the red with what I had left over from the basement, etc. I was ahead of time out of the red with the building paying for itself. So there was no reason to feel that I was going to be dismissed.

Currie: Because you rented the whole building, you stayed on as head of the Washington office?

Montgomery: Yes. There was no reason to fire me at that point. There was a feeling of satisfaction. There was limited praise that I had taken the building out of the red.

Page 27

Page 28

Currie: How did becoming head of the Washington office change your life?

Montgomery: Well, it didn't. As far as personnel, there wasn't anyone there but myself and a secretary. I had the title of correspondent in the Washington office of Roger Babson Reports.

Currie: Did it change the kind of work that you did at all?

Montgomery: Well, yes. When I took the building out of the red, part of the agreement was that I would not continue to do any collecting of rents or anything like that, that I would be free of all the real estate end of whatever was involved in the building.

Currie: But in terms of the stories you were covering, did it change? Did you cover different stories? Did you have more freedom?

Montgomery: I had more freedom and more requests for more lengthy analysis of whatever they wanted. I can remember that, but I don't remember those stories now.

Having reached that point, in the meantime, I had been enjoying the friendship of a young Scottish reporter who at that time had taken over the position that Cora Rigby had as head of the office of the Christian Science Monitor.*

Currie: So she had been head and then he took over?

Montgomery: Then he took over as head of it, and she was close to retirement. So it was no ill feeling or anything; it was just that she retired and he was appointed as head of the office.

Currie: That was A.J. Montgomery.

Montgomery: Yes.

Currie: How did you meet him?

Montgomery: I met him through Miss Rigby, who wanted me to meet him. She said, "We have a very attractive young Scottish person reporting, and I think you'd enjoy knowing him." So we had dinner together and then he'd take me out. Finally, it reached the point where he wanted me to marry him.

So I thought I would marry him and told my father. Well, of course, a reporter was enough to turn him off to begin with. When I said a Scot, he said, "What kind of an education does he have?" I said, "Oh, he has two degrees from the University of Glasgow. He has a B.A. degree," and I've forgotten what they called the next one—M.A., I think. Anyhow, he had the two degrees. When he graduated, he was offered an assistant professorship to teach in the University. He was really outstanding in English and Greek, and if you would ask him the meaning of a word that you didn't know, if it were either from the Latin or Greek, he would know it in a minute. He was well regarded by the press.

But anyhow, to my father he was a foreigner. Well, as I look back on it, I'm inclined to think that anyone who didn't come from Boston would probably be classed as a foreigner. So I left and decided that I'd take two or three months. My father took me to Europe to see if he could break up this thing.

Currie: You left your job?

Montgomery: I left because I was going to marry Monty. I went to Europe and came back, still wanting to marry him.

* There is some confusion here over whether Cora Rigby preceded or followed A.J. Montgomery as head of the bureau. Ed.

Page 28

Page 29

So the Washington office of Babson also was having some changes, because the lease was running out on the building, which had been leased during World War I and then from then on. There was no way it would be renewed, because the discussion then was to take that whole street and make it a part of the White House combine, which it is now. So Babson temporarily moved his office to Baltimore, and that kept on (the moving) until there seemed to be an indication that another war was brewing, World War II.

Currie: You didn't go to Baltimore with Babson at all?

Montgomery: I left before the lease ran out. It was then in the working. I knew I wasn't going to—of course, I wasn't going to go to Baltimore. It meant that he lessened his coverage of Washington then.

Then it was before World War II that he decided to open his office in Washington, and he had taken I forget what location now, but that is when he sent word that he wanted me to write a newsletter twice a month on happenings in Washington.

[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]

Currie: Did they expect you to do the work that two of you had previously been doing when you were made head of the Babson Washington office?

Montgomery: They expected me to cover whatever they wanted covered in Washington.

Currie: So you were supposed to do the work of two people?

Montgomery: It really amounted to that. But they probably thought I would collect the rents, at least, but I didn't. I had a part-time secretary then. I was a reporter and I would continue to be that.

Currie: It's interesting, too, that you took over this office and they expected as much, if not more, from you alone as they did from the two of you.

Montgomery: Yes. They just didn't divide it in their own minds that way; they just said, "Now you take over the office."

Currie: Did you think to question that?

Montgomery: I think I concluded I'd let well enough alone and not dig into them again. I had what I wanted. I was rid of that, and I could ride along on the praise of getting them out of the red without stirring up something that might be furthering more discussions.

Currie: Did they pay you the same amount that they had paid him?

Montgomery: No, they paid me somewhat more, but I can't tell you what now. It was very little. I remember years later when they wanted me to handle that newsletter and head of the office again. Mr. Babson offered me more salary than I was getting at that time with McGraw-Hill.

Currie: It's interesting that Cora Rigby introduced you to your first husband. You described him a little bit. What attracted you to him?

Montgomery: He had a great deal of charm. He was popular with the men of the press and even now he's popular with ones that can remember him. He had an interesting background and was an interesting person and had a lot of nice ways about him. Sometimes you fall for a person and you

Page 29

Page 30

can't exactly analyze why you did fall. It's just that he was what was good for me and a person so far from the ones that I'd met in Wellesley, so different, that it was refreshing to me, too.

Currie: How was he different?

Montgomery: His background. I can't tell you now how he was different. He was very brilliant, but he never carried his brilliance around to be objectionable. He was great on telling stories about something or other or someone, and he would always tell them, kind of in a matter-of-fact way, he'd reach the point and then his face would broaden out in a smile. He was likeable, let's say. That's many, many, many years ago.

Currie: Where were you married?

Montgomery: I was married in Wellesley, the Wellesley Congregational Church.

Currie: Could you describe your wedding?

Montgomery: It was the first wedding in the newly renovated Congregational Church, which made it of interest in the town. It was a lovely wedding event in the church with a reception afterwards in my home, which was very near the church. My father, who could rise to any occasion, of course, couldn't have been more pleasant and hospitable.

Currie: So it was a formal wedding?

Montgomery: Not unusually formal.

I remember when I took over that building, as I told you, going back a little, my mother, I remember she was quite perturbed over my managing a building and a woman being alone there doing this. She made up her mind she'd come down to visit me. So she came down, and we were looking through the building when one of the tenants came out. I was trying to think how she worded this. I have it. Mother said, "Well, how is my daughter doing?"

He answered, "She's a bit austere." That was the correct answer.

Currie: How old were you in 1924 when you married?

Montgomery: Well, let me see. I think I was 24 then.

Currie: Did you expect that you would go on working after you married?

Montgomery: No. It was agreed that I could do publicity for conventions or short occasions, but no steady job. It was at a time, too, when it was really more acceptable for women not to take the jobs of men when there were so few. If your husband earned enough so that you didn't need the money, it was quite acceptable not to take a job.

Currie: How did you feel about not working?

Montgomery: Well, I didn't mind too much then, because I was in love. I had more time at home and I took on publicity for large conventions. I remember doing one in Gettysburg, which was very difficult because they didn't have a way of getting stories back and forth as they do now. Also I had, in that time, with a friend, we started a publicity bureau, but my husband put his foot down and I decided it was not right for me.

Currie: Maybe this is a good place to stop.

Page 30

Page 31

Montgomery: I think so.

Page 31

Go to Session One | Session Three | Session Four | Session Five | Session Six
Index | Cover | Home

© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.