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Currie: Good morning, for the final audio interview. The reason I was so anxious to turn on the tape recorder is that you were talking, before we got on the tape, about some of the process that you went through when you wrote for Electronics magazine. You said that you wrote a column called "Feedback."
Montgomery: Yes. I wrote a fairly long article on a subject called feedback. My editor said, "It doesn't sound like you think—feedback. But it's a name that is well known to readers in this magazine, so just take it at that and get the information we want." So that went on for several months. Then he told me that they were getting the magazine to the public at a longer stretch of time than had been when we started, so that some of the material that looked like hot news was now too late. So he said, "I think we'll have to stop that and take on longer articles with your contributions often embodied in an engineer's story." That meant that I would send by teletype news items, or I could also put in what I might have gathered from an electronic engineer. However it came, this would go by teletype and frequently it would be embodied into the article that an electronic engineer on the staff was writing.
By contrast, Textile World, I liked very much because I could say and write something that was more satisfactory in its length and its reporting than I could in Electronics. My Textile World articles were several pages in length and often featured as the lead article. This wasn't always true. If it was a news item and not of any great length, I could write it myself. Where it involved any electronic technical language is when this other took place. After the war, there were plenty of electronic articles when electronics was declassified, so much of it.
Currie: You had said before we went on the tape that the New York editor had said to you, "We may take your reporting, but often we have to put it in a more technical language for this publication." Is that essentially it?
Montgomery: Yes. "We'll take your reporting, but we have to put it in a more technical language."
Currie: Also I think there were a couple of other stories that you did that maybe we'd like to talk about.
Montgomery: I was present at the first public broadcast of color TV. This was held at the National Guard Armory in Washington. In order to watch experimental tests from Washington to Baltimore, a pharmaceutical company was seeking permission from the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast a Johns Hopkins operation to an American Medical Association meeting in Washington. The press was limited to a number who would be interested in this.
Currie: What impressed you about this particular story?
Montgomery: Well, what impressed me about it was that progress, as you might call it, was made only to a rather limited degree because there was a lot of distortion in the reception that we had. It was the forerunner of something much better, and as the forerunner, it was important.
Currie: It sounds like you covered a lot of stories like that.
Montgomery: Yes. Well, another story that I believe would be of interest was March 21 in 1946. I was an "official observer" at the U.S. Navy air station. The few reporters that covered this came by invitation and were presented by the Radio Corporation of America with a certificate for the historic progress. Of course, that meant of the Navy.
Currie: What was the progress?
Montgomery: It was the first demonstration of war-designed airborne television.
Currie: Would this have been the SONAR?
Montgomery: No. Let me just think this out. What I gave you first was the first public broadcast of color TV in August of 1946. The public wanted to know when FCC would make a decision naming the approved system, when it would be available to the public. At the National Guard Armory in Washington, there were experimental tests from Washington to Baltimore.
The programs sponsored by the pharmaceutical company went to the point of wanting permission. This is, I believe, the first one, to get authorization from FCC to broadcast a surgical operation from Johns Hopkins to the—well, let me see. It was the national forthcoming meeting in Washington of the American Medical Society.
In contrast today, an electronic engineer watching the color TV called it terrific—for that day, I mean. As I recall, this picture showed a brilliant colored scarf, a nylon blouse, a package of cigarettes. I guess that's about all I remember now. But a beautiful blonde model held up the objects one by one, and in slow motion so that there was no speed to the showing whatsoever. That is the time that the one next to me said he thought it was terrific.
Currie: I see. This was some of the first color TV then?
Montgomery: Yes. Well, the question then was there were two systems that seemed to be paramount, and one required an adapter and the other did not. But FCC was about to show one and then the other and make a decision. So there was a great deal of interest as to how far this one would go in the final decision-making, because there was an adapter that could be put on the set and make it that much better.
Currie: But that was not the U.S. Navy air station.
Montgomery: No. This came just prior to the TV hearings on color television, at which time other competing systems would be shown.
Currie: Was this one of the major stories that you covered for Electronics?
Montgomery: Well, it wasn't a major story. Yes, in a sense it was—the first color TV that FCC might select as one that would be the one that they themselves would favor.
Currie: Are there any other major stories that you'd like to talk about before we move on?
Montgomery: Another story was the State Department's first conference for women writers, one from each NATO country, to be held in NATO headquarters, at that time the Palais de Chaillot, and at SHAPE headquarters in Paris. I was selected by the United States Department of State. The meetings were devoted to briefings, round-table discussions, and interviews at NATO. This was the first conference for women writers that NATO had ever held.
Currie: That's interesting. What did you gain from that experience?
Montgomery: Well, I got a better idea of what NATO meant and what NATO was doing, but I also was very much interested in the women selected by the NATO countries to be representatives from their countries to these meetings. I found a very intelligent and outstanding group of women. Not all of them spoke the English language, so it had to be interpreted from time to time, but I did feel proud of the women that NATO countries had chosen to represent these countries at such a meeting.
Currie: During the last interview we talked a little bit about your membership in the Women's National Press Club. I was wondering if we could talk just a little bit more about it. Do you have any particular memories of the stunt parties that the Women's National Press Club used to hold?
Montgomery: Yes, I do. Being president of the Women's National Press Club was a challenge to get speakers of importance, newsworthy importance to the members of the club. The congressional dinner was the one held early in January and, in my year, attended by the leaders in Congress, the four top men.
The speaker that was of special interest at that time to a number of leaders in Congress was how this new Dr. James Killian was going to handle the science and technology information. In other words, he was the first science and technology advisor to a president, and what sort of a person was he? So his remarks were especially important. During my introduction I made reference to his liking for maxims. He said that one of his students at MIT, where he was president now on leave, had mentioned, "The farther I am from where I am now, the smarter I am." And he said with a smile, "Maybe that maxim applies to me now." I go back to the prestigious Gridiron Club, limited to fifty outstanding male correspondents selected by the group, which gave an all-male dinner each year, usually attended by the president, with skits and song, as they do now. Nowadays a few women reporters have been added to the number. The performance is pleasing satire and aimed at great and near-great on the Washington scene. To counteract our exclusion from the event, Mrs. Roosevelt invited the wives of the Gridiron and Women's Press Club corps to an evening of our own skits at the White House. Mrs. Roosevelt abounded in energy, so much so that reporters who followed her were simply exhausted. FDR himself was to have said, "Oh, let her get tired just for a day!" That makes the skit showing her mounting a hobby horse said to belong to ex-president Calvin Coolidge, seem all the more hilarious. I do not remember the skit, but I'll never forget the hobby horse and the rider.
Currie: That was during a skit?
Montgomery: That goes back to the Roosevelt days. I've named two or three others—Dan Kimball, the assistant secretary of the Navy. This being the White House correspondents' annual dinner, from which women members were excluded, even though we all paid our dues. When the big event with the president came, the women were not admitted because they would have no women in that group at that time. Of course, we were all furious, but we felt a little better when Dan Kimball, the assistant secretary of the Navy, issued an invitation to the "underprivileged ladies of the White House Press Association" for dinner at the Carleton Hotel on that night. He had even gone to the trouble of getting outstanding guests, including a number of individuals in key positions in the government, so much so that the big dinner of the men was in a way overshadowed by the prestigious group of Dan Kimball's.
In order to show our appreciation, we brought birthday neckties to him, so that as I remember, there were at least forty neckties presented to Dan Kimball for his interest in the women's cause.
Currie: Were the neckties for any particular reason?
Montgomery: No, I don't know why we chose neckties, except they're the thing that cost the least and could be duplicated. But I don't remember. It well might have been the reason that they took neckties. But I can still remember that huge pile of neckties and the astonishment on the face of Dan Kimball. His invitation read at the bottom, "Good for one dinner only." And the last line, in my recollection, goes much later to the fact that he married one of our members, Doris Fleeson.
Currie: Was he her second husband, then? She was married originally to John O'Donnell.
Currie: That's interesting.
Montgomery: There were two or three others that I have here.
Currie: You can add them. At that time the Women's National Press Club and the National Press Club were separate. Women belonged to the Women's National Press Club and men belonged to the National Press Club. Did you ever feel excluded from the National Press Club?
Montgomery: No. The Women's National Press Club had a high rating in the qualifications for membership in the club. The men's press had an associate list which we never had in our club. So when a top speaker had an invitation from both clubs, it became rather a problem which invitation to accept. It became more and more of a problem to the clubs themselves. The Press Club decided that an invitation should be issued to the Women's National Press Club to join with them.
Currie: What did you think about it?
Montgomery: Already plans had been made for a preposterously expensive headquarters building for this Women's Press Club, but that was abandoned, not so much for the project itself as when the members became more practical as to what it would cost. And even what looked like a substantial amount of money in their treasury, was nothing to what this fantastic building would cost. So anyhow, without going too much into that, because it never did get too far, the decision was made that the two clubs would join.
Currie: What did you think of that decision?
Montgomery: Well, it seemed, from a practical standpoint, the thing to do. As it turned out, we had turned in somewhere around, I think, $250,000. I may be wrong in that, but approximately that amount of money to the treasury. However, the men's press did not choose to accept the money. They felt that theirs was theirs and ours was ours. So the money eventually ended in the women's Washington Press Club Foundation, which is now operating most successfully under that name. In fact, this very project that we're talking about now comes under that title.
The men had a far greater amount than we did, and so perhaps for two reasons: one, it was out of proportion. Secondly, this allowed us to keep something worthwhile for women in the new setup.
Currie: I noticed in the unpublished memoirs that you let me read, you said that not all of you were quite sure that merging with the National Press Club was a great idea.
Montgomery: That's true. There are several of our most distinguished members who still cling to that idea, that it was a poor decision. However, the Press Club has been most generous, and as of
today we have a woman president of the National Press Club, and there is no pronounced feeling against that person being president. That is a big step forward.
Currie: You said some of the most prominent members feel it wasn't a good deal. Do you know why they feel that way?
Montgomery: Well, I can't now interpret quite what they felt, but I would say that perhaps we had a stricter requirement for membership.
Currie: The National Press Club allowed associate members, you said. Associate members were members who weren't working press, is that a fair definition?
Montgomery: Associate did not meet the requirements for membership that was always the case with the National Press Club. The American Newspaper Club was another news group, or as it turned out, many in the same group as the Women's National Press Club, but they had members that could be high officials, and it was easy for the wives of outstanding members to be a part of that club, which meant that a number of our own members belonged to both clubs. In fact, I do belong to both clubs. The other one is a nice club where you have a more sociable time with one set whose husbands perhaps, or even themselves, may be in key jobs.
As I have said, the reporting in Electronics was limited during the war period because of the fact that it was marked "secret" or whatever the title.
During this period, I one way or another got hold of the words "LORAN" and "SONAR." I had no idea what LORAN stood for, or SONAR, or what it did, but thinking I would be in line maybe for a raise, I called my editor and I said, "I have learned two words that your electronics experts may want to track down—the words 'SONAR' and 'LORAN.'" I heard not a word from the other end of the line, and after what seemed a rather long silence, my editor said, "Go immediately to the secretary of defense in the Pentagon. Don't say a thing to anyone, and report to Don Fink."
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Currie: You were to report to this man Fink, who had been in your office but was now in the service during World War II.
Montgomery: Yes. He had had an important position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. More on that if you want it. But when I went to interview him, it was simply that he told me that both of these were very vital words to our war efforts, and that he could not say any more about it, except to tell me that they were so important that he hoped that I would enter into no conversation on it, which I assured him I wouldn't.
However, all I knew, anyhow, were the two words and didn't know any more. But I have learned since the war that LORAN is long-range navigation, and that SONAR is sound navigation. Well, really, the whole thing was involved with sound navigation and ranging. That sonar was—and maybe, I don't know whether it is now—an underwater detection system whereby submarines and so on could be detected. Therefore, that was nothing that they wanted to be exposed. This LORAN was important because it was related to positions for the navigation of ships and aircraft.
The system was initially begun at the Massachusetts Radiation Lab at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Lab, where Don Fink was engaged in the research and later became head of that division. So therefore, he was well equipped to have a prominent part in this. So he was advising the army air force on the use of LORAN and also related devices. Some of the design could be credited to Fink himself. So important was his work that later on,
he received the presidential medal of freedom—or was it the congressional medal? I will check on that.
Currie: Did you then stop pursuing the LORAN and SONAR story?
Montgomery: I didn't pursue it further because, of course, when it was declassified, it was logical that Fink would write his own article. Keith Henney was involved somewhat in that. So that it became a New York story and not a Washington one.
Currie: That was after?
Montgomery: After the war, when it was declassified.
Currie: Did other reporters respect classification? For example, when you were told that these were classified projects, you stopped pursuing them. Did other reporters do the same thing?
Montgomery: Well, I think, generally speaking, reporters fall into whatever the requirements may be. However, whether it's this or anything else, there are always reporters who want to get a story to their papers ahead of anyone else. If it's placed in the category of injury or hurtfulness to our country, there aren't many reporters who would do that, I believe. I don't seem to remember now, and I'm not sure that there weren't some, but if there were, they were not allowed to report anymore, and none of them wanted to be barred from that. Plus the fact that some of these highly technical things, they didn't think the press would care much about, anyhow. So if there had been any pronounced case, I guess I would have remembered it.
I think these two are good examples of not reporting, rather than what I reported, rather, falling under the category of no story, which, of course, is not what you want.
Currie: No, actually, I think it is something very interesting because it presented you with a dilemma. You had found out about something, but it was classified. I think this is a very interesting dilemma.
Montgomery: I would not go ahead until I had checked. Now, I might have gotten something more out of that, because how did I know the name? But first of all, I would check with my editor and see if he wanted me to go ahead. When I got the response that I did, of course, I did nothing more about it. But I don't know how much further it could have gone, anyhow. At least I didn't keep nibbling at it.
Currie: I think it's one of those ethical dilemmas that presents itself, and it's very interesting.
Montgomery: That it is. Here are two good examples of it, too.
Currie: Was there ever a time when an editor wanted you to pursue a story that you didn't want to pursue?
Montgomery: Well, I wouldn't say I didn't want to pursue it, but it looked like maybe I couldn't pursue it. It was with Admiral Rickover, who was called the father of the nuclear Navy. I was supposed to get a story from him for our young Nucleonics magazine. I wasn't very keen about it, because he was rather a gruff, disagreeable type of person, but I approached him. Getting in touch with him as he was leaving one of the offices, I asked him if I could have a few minutes of his time. He turned around, looked at me, and said, "I don't have time for anything other than what I'm doing."
I said to him, "You mean you don't have time for the only magazine in the nuclear field open to the public? Admiral, if you don't have time, that is what I will report. But remember,
this is the only one in the field that this country has access to right now." I turned as if I were going to leave. I took a chance, you know.
He said, "What do you want, anyhow?"
And I said, "Only a very few minutes of your time." He gave me a very few minutes. But after that, I had no trouble at all making an appointment with him, but I very carefully kept this appointment to the very minimum I could. So this is the same Rickover that I read about in the Washington Post many years later going out with a blast and saying how the whole world was going to be knocked out. I have the exact words that he said. "The human race probably will blow itself up in a nuclear war."
Currie: In other words, he predicted nuclear annihilation?
Montgomery: He predicted. That's exactly a good way to put it. Then he later said, "If a workable agreement could be made," but the agreement was so impossible that the thought of the annihilation of the whole country sent a shudder through the press.
Currie: I'm sure.
Montgomery: As well, of course, as the readers.
Currie: Was there ever a time when you wanted to pursue a story but your editor wouldn't let you?
Montgomery: Well, the one I've given you—SONAR and LORAN, that was all right on that.
Currie: The Rickover story was difficult. Was there ever a story that you thought was improper that you should be reporting on, that they made you report on or that your editor insisted you report on?
Montgomery: We had a very good relationship with the New York office. I can remember when I went there, because I was told to appear at the office and I was told that I was to be made Washington editor of Electronics on a trial basis, and a little of what that meant to them. But never was I told, "This doesn't fit into your title of Washington editor." He did tell me, he said, "I feel I should tell you—first of all, what do you want to be called her in the office? Mrs. Montgomery or Gladys?"
I said, "I prefer Mrs. Montgomery." So I was always known as Mrs. Montgomery, which I think is the working way to have it.
He said, "But I will tell you that I had a person following you on your assignments the first few days to see how well they received not you alone, but a woman taking over these questions on such a subject as electronics. I found that you passed very highly. So that is why I'm telling you now that I'm taking a chance on you as Washington editor."
Currie: How interesting.
Montgomery: That's kind of from the women's standpoint, don't you think?
Currie: Yes, it's very interesting. Very interesting.
Montgomery: In my semi-technical field, I always believed that an assignment is an assignment. Get to know the sources that you should know, the persons, but never get to know them too well. In other words, do your job and let it go at that.
Montgomery: It was one that I always followed. I would go out. Sure, I'd go out and have dates. I'd go to dinner and all that, and parties, but never with one from whom I was wanting to get information. That may not apply all across the line for others, but for my particular work, certainly it was necessary.
Another thing that I felt in my reporting, now that we're on the subject of it, when I was told I was going to be Washington editor, I wasn't overjoyed. I said nothing except, "Well, I hope it will work out very well," or something like that. But I concluded that since much was classified at that time, the best thing I could do—no, it wasn't. I'll take it back. It wasn't classified at that time. It was a little bit later.
But I concluded that my best approach was getting to know the societies or the groups like, for instance, some of the key ones doing work in, say, the Bureau of Standards, the Naval Research Laboratory, the Signal Corps, know some of those top people, and go into the laboratories, spend as much of a day as I could or as I was welcome to spend, get to talk to these men who were working, and find out what they were doing and what was it that they were trying to do. This all came before we had any restrictions on what could be told.
But when there was a story that could be released on something that didn't prove to be that important or something, I would say, "I want to get as much in detail as I can, but if you think that you have said anything that you wish you hadn't, because of our lag in publication I have about two or three days that I can have anything changed." So this is where I am so far apart with the newspaper reporting. Of course, nobody was going to give anyone time to change, but this is what I did, and that's what I'm reporting. I only had one person ever call, and that was very quickly adjusted in his mind. But I said, "If there's any part of this you want to omit, just let me know and that will be taken out, I assure you." Only once did a person say, "Well, I don't believe I should say that," and it was removed. Therefore, not that I used it that often, but they knew me for being a straightforward, reliable reporter.
Before the restrictions were taken off, I had said, "If the time comes that you can give me a story, will you do it?" And always they said they would. I said, "If you want to write a purely technical article which cannot be done now, anyhow, would you consider, please, Electronics?" And invariably they said yes. Well, I had a pretty good foundation for being on top of a number of things of importance. Really, to the delight of my editors, sure enough, several of those called me after the war and said that they had remembered what I had said and "I'll give you a story now." Occasionally one would say, "I'm prepared to do a technical article now. I have time to do it." And I'd call my editor and say, "So and so in such a position is now ready to do a technical article, but would it be advisable for me to get a short outline of what he intends to put in it, or would you just take as is?"
Sometimes it went one way and sometimes the other. But always there was a feeling that I'd play straight with them, and I think in my peculiar type of reporting it was a plus for me. Certainly it's as far a cry as you could ask for away from newspaper reporting. However, it's important to get to know your source, get to know what the person or the company or the paper is going to really want of you. I did get to know what Electronics wanted. Sometimes the story would be good and I'd get a teletype, "Ask him if he can put a little more in on such and such a thing." So I would go and say that, "My editor is very much interested." Always a compliment first. "But he would like a little more. Could you elaborate? Because I thought it might be lack of time on your part. If possible, could you just add a little that I could have inserted there or so?" And if possible, he would do it or he'd explain why he couldn't do it.
So in the meantime, I got along very well in another group that I belonged to, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS. It has that big building downtown there. I was, of course, in the press section, but when I retired from McGraw-Hill, I wrote a formal note saying I was retiring and therefore I felt that I should notify them and not look as if I were on the active list. I got word back, "For your contributions, we do not want to accept, but we do want to add you to our special list.
Currie: Was your practice of telling sources that they could change something if they needed to, common?
Montgomery: Well, they could only do that, mind you, for a day or two, you know. I mean, as I say, I only had one that had misgivings of whether he should have said quite as much as he did. Maybe not because he was overstepping, but perhaps due to the fact that he intended to get this out to the public. If one was held in a government position and any device which depended on this was put into public use, whatever profits came from it never came to him. As long as you work in the government, the profits all go to whatever group you're in.
Currie: Did other reporters on the McGraw-Hill publication also give people the chance of a couple of days' grace period?
Montgomery: Well, I don't know, because I was the only one in the Washington setup covering electronics. My editors told the office that they wanted information coming from me. So therefore, until the last head of the office, I never had any worry one way or another.
The Institute of Radio Engineers, it's now IEEE, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, that's the title of it now. It had a writing and speaking division in Washington. I did one or two things that the group needed. I thought it was always good to make yourself useful if you can in some capacity. They called me one day and said, "Oh, my, we have an unexpected speaker coming and we have no one to put out a release. Do you think you could do that?" So I asked the head of my office; they told me to go ahead, and I wrote the release.
Another time they called—this was the writing and speaking division—and said—I can't remember now for what reason—"We need to get a moderator for this meeting. Would you take it?" Well, I'd never been a moderator in my life, but you can't pass.
So I said, "Well, I'm not seasoned in that kind of thing, but if you want to take a chance on me, I'll try to make it a credit." They told me to go ahead. At the end of my career, they gave me a luncheon and they had two other awards that they gave me. I was told the president of the IEEE came down from New York for the luncheon, and they gave me an award which is hanging on the wall—you'll see it here—for my helpful services and so on.
Currie: That's very interesting.
Montgomery: I took a hard assignment and I tried to do it in a way that I would gain respect.
With all our talk now about Washington and the feeling of suspicion for the press, you might say, it's interesting to note that after one of our stunt parties—the head or assistant head of the military government notified me that they were going to have a special review, a military review, dedicated to the services that the Women's National Press Club did for the community.
Nowadays when the city is coming up to all sorts of criticisms, it's nice to know that there was a time when a special military review was put on for our club.
Currie: We've been going at it for quite a while now.
Montgomery: You're beginning to get one story after another, aren't you?
Currie: This is just great. This is what oral history should be. I was wondering if we could go to a portion of the interview where you reflect on your life.
Montgomery: What I consider the high points. Yes.
Currie: Yes. What did you consider the best time of your life?
Montgomery: Well, there were two points I'd like to bring out. First of all, my great feeling of achievement when, with nothing for me, I had become a Washington reporter. Graduating from college, what did I want to do? Something different. What do you mean by something different? Well, reporting. What do you mean by reporting? I mean Washington reporting. All right. What experience have you? I guess I must have been interviewing myself at this. But anyhow, none. How do you think you're going to be a Washington reporter? I don't know, but I know one thing: I am going to be a Washington reporter. And until I know exactly how I'm going to take teaching and I'm going to keep my eyes open and somehow I know it'll happen.
So I taught for a year, a year and a half, and then, as I've already reported, I saw the ad. As I've already reported, I was assigned for one month to Washington. Then based on that position, the thing that I felt was my big thing was when I was doing Washington reporting in the White House correspondent group.
Currie: That would have been when you were working for Babson in the twenties?
Montgomery: Yes. The other thing that stands out in my mind was I remember, with awe, the Women's National Press Club, where I had joined in the early twenties. What stands out in my mind there is being president of the Women's National Press Club, which loomed very high in my aspirations and one that I really never thought would be possible. That, I felt, was a challenge.
When I was one to welcome Queen Elizabeth II, I was thrilled to do it, but it was the other two things that seem to stand out in my mind, because I knew I hadn't earned that through the years. I was making that welcoming speech because I was president of the club that was welcoming, and also I had the top rating because, to my good fortune, I was welcoming a Queen and not a King.
By the way, I did welcome a King way back in the early days before I belonged to the National Press Club. When I was a member of the Women's National Press Club and chairman of the hospitality committee, King Paul of Greece was going to be our speaker. Being head of the hospitality committee, I met him. It was one of those ferociously hot days. When we got in the elevator at the old Willard Hotel to go to the top floor where he was going to speak, he said, "I hope they have air-conditioning." And I said, "Your highness, so do I." There was no air-conditioning, of course.
Currie: It's interesting that you say the two best times in your life were when you were a young woman reporting in Washington for Babson and when—
Montgomery: No. The big thing in my life was that I had attained a goal, and I believe that for everyone graduating—it happened to me from Wellesley College—but to have some kind of a goal that you want. I had the goal of Washington reporting. It didn't look like it could be possible. I never came to that conclusion, anyhow, because I knew it was going to come, but I didn't know how. It did come, but it took several detours to get there. That was my big ambition.
The next one was, because I saw how much it could mean to be president of the Women's National Press Club, what a challenge it offered! So when I was offered the presidency, I took it with a great feeling of that challenge.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Montgomery: I had it offered to me before, but then my husband was alive. I don't want to say it, but he said, "Oh, those women just kill you with all their demands and so on." [Laughter.] And he said, "No, I think you're not able to do that. You're not strong and you'd have a lot of problems and so on." So he said, "If you want to do it, count me out." I finally decided that after he died, I would accept the presidency. I don't remember that there was any competition. That was the second big thing that meant a lot to me in my life.
Currie: Since we're on the good things, what was the worst time of your life?
Montgomery: Well, the worst time for me was something so unexpected in all my reporting that I could hardly believe it was true for a while. The last head of the Washington office—and I take some reluctance in making any criticism of McGraw-Hill, for which I then had, and now have, the highest respect—but he did not want a woman in the Washington McGraw-Hill office. Especially did he not like one with as good contacts as I had. So he made it miserable for me in ways that you could hardly believe that anyone could stoop to do it, but he planted all sorts of untrue stories about me.
I remember when an uncle of his came, who had worked on the paper where my husband worked. I think it was the Herald Tribune, but I don't know what it was now. But they had worked together and had become very good friends. So this uncle came around to see that I was all right, and George stood in the door to hear everything. My friend turned to him and said, "This is a very good friend of mine. If you don't treat her well, I'm going to chastise you." Now, I've always remembered that "chastise" word. In later times, I should have called this uncle for a little chastising, although I'm not sure whether he was alive at that time. But anyhow, I don't know how you define chastising in the way he treated me, but he was always invited to every big WNPC [Women's National Press Club] event, and I always gave him a complimentary introduction. He had little effort to hurt back from me. However, it's too bad that that memory should linger in my mind when never from a source of a story or from an editor did I have any criticism of my work or the way that I conducted my work.
Currie: In his attempts, did he try to fire you?
Montgomery: Oh, yes. He tried to fire me, but I was getting fairly near retirement, as I could say. When my husband died, I didn't have a lot of money and I was afraid to let go and not get what I would get in retirement, which is the reason that I stayed. I feel if I was doing it again, I should have gone to New York and placed my cards right on the table.
I believe it was a little before '57, McGraw-Hill did away with all Washington editor titles, after the war and "secret" category was lifted. There was so much activity and so many stories that the old staff, like myself, covering it, could not adequately do so. It was decided to have the city desk-type (of organization), where reporters would be assigned by the desk. So once having been assigned to a subject, you were more than likely to be staying on that one. But I was told that I was not to be assigned to a single electronics story.
Currie: The head of the Washington office told you that?
Montgomery: Yes. My New York managing editor continued to send requests to me and some of the others on the staff. He was notified that he must either comply with the ruling or he was out.
I went to New York, and I said to the managing editor, "Mac, I've come up here to tell you not to send any more to me. You've continued to do it, and I appreciate it, but you've worked twenty-five years to get to be managing editor, and I don't want to be the one to hurt you on it." So I said, "Don't do it."
He walked over to the window, turned around, took out his handkerchief, and wiped his eyes. He said, "That is not my doing."
Currie: It must have been very difficult for you to handle. [Tape interruption.]
Currie: You were talking about this head of the office that gave you such a hard time right before your retirement from McGraw-Hill.
Currie: You said "In fairness, I don't think he ever disliked me."
Montgomery: No. I was saying that I don't believe that he ever disliked me, but he was trying to establish himself, and the fact that I had been in the office so many years—in fact, I believe I was about the only one left from the World War II days as a full-time reporter. We had one or two that were part-time only at that war time. Whatever it was, the big thing was he didn't want a woman there as a reporter. The big thing was to try to get rid of that woman so that he had a clean slate of men working.
Now, I can say one thing, going ahead a long time. McGraw-Hill office today has several women on the staff, high paid and tops in reporting. This is also even more evident in the New York offices, women in key positions.
Currie: Did you ever confront the head of the office, and did he ever tell you that he didn't want a woman in the office?
Montgomery: No, he was too devious to ever want that approach, probably. But I remember, just to show you, one day I was on the deadline for what I was getting out on teletype and I had a call to go to his office. So I sat down, and he reached down in the lower drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of pickles and took out one on—I don't remember if it was a toothpick or a little stick or what it was—and handed it to me. He said, "This is very good. I want you to try it. I keep the pickles down in the lower drawer here because I don't want my wife to know I'm bringing them in, because she says I shouldn't eat them." So he nibbled away. But I put mine down on the desk. I was sitting facing his desk. I put it on something on his desk.
I said, "Is the interview finished now, or do you have something more?"
"Oh, no," he said, "I can see just what I thought. You're too high and mighty to eat that, aren't you?" Was that strange?
And I can remember saying to him, "If there should be another time, be sure and put a cracker with it." [Laughter.] But that is a strange thing.
Currie: Sounds like he was goading you.
Montgomery: So I'm just as glad I did tell you that, because I never could figure it out. I never said anything. I don't believe I ever said anything in the office. They were all my friends in the office. They all stood by me, but they knew where their job was. There was nothing that anyone could do.
This I don't want in.* But I remember when I was leaving, I decided to give it a light touch. There's nothing worse than a grump, you know, grumping about things and so on. So George was at this so-called little luncheon thing for my retirement, and so I was called on to make a few remarks. I said, "I'd like to speak on the subject of strange people I have met in my days with McGraw-Hill." [Laughter.] His eyes stuck out of his head, you know.
Currie: He looked as if he thought for sure you were going to talk about him?
Montgomery: Yes! So I told little off stories, they were nothing. I said, "Now I'll get around to my subject. It's with great regret that I sever my connection." You know the speech you'd make. But I never got over his expression when I poked that little thing in. Several of the men came up to me and said—I'm out now, so I can just die laughing—"That was the funniest beginning for a retirement speech I've ever heard!"
Currie: I'm sure!
Montgomery: I can't help it, but I have that kind of a humorous idea of never leaving anything dour, you know. So that was—don't put it in.
Currie: You can take it off.
Montgomery: No, no.
Currie: How did your father and mother come to feel about your chosen career of journalism?
Montgomery: Well, my father was never enthusiastic, and that's putting it broadly, about reporters. So to think that I was a reporter in Washington, the fact that it was Washington didn't register too much. I was always wanting him to think differently about it, so when I got an autographed picture of Coolidge, it was with a lot of pride, in which he had written some bit beside his name—they telephoned and told me that he wanted to autograph a picture. I said, "Would you please ask him if he would autograph for my father, Charles N. Taylor, and just write a little pleasantry and sign it?" They telephoned again and said, "The president wants to be sure that you don't want this for yourself." Of course I was wrong not to let it go, but I put it for my father and I sent it to him. Oh, I was so proud inside of me that I could do this. But he thanked me. Of all the presidents he knew, I think Coolidge was not his favorite. What was that story they told about Coolidge saying some one remarked that he was sure he could make Coolidge say more than two words. When Coolidge heard this, his answer was, "You lose."
Currie: Yes, that's an apocryphal story.
Montgomery: Yes. That's one you've heard before, I know. The autographed picture didn't evoke any amount of thanks to me for getting it or changing Father's feeling about me being a reporter in Washington.
However, before he died, he had decided that I was going to continue to live in Washington and he wanted me to have what he thought anyone married for a number of years should have—a house, a home. He came down, bought a lot, well situated. I thought it was out too far, because it was out on Albemarle Street, and that seemed awfully far out to me, now being right in town, you might say. Anyhow, he bought the lot and said he had a builder that he would like to send down, and he would get in touch with me in a week or two.
The call came. The call told me he had dropped dead. So in less than a week from when he came down and was then wanting me to have this, he died before I could get up there. He said only one thing. He may have said something to Mother, but he couldn't talk much. He said, "I want Gladys' house to go as planned." When I got up there, he was dead. But my mother,
* Montgomery agreed not to remove this story.
feeling that he had said this with great effort, felt she should go along with the house. I had said that the house was going to be hers, not mine, because it was hers. So the house, which was—and still is—a nice English type of home, was built. Meantime real estate had dropped.
Currie: This was the Depression.
Montgomery: To the Great Depression. He died in '29. Mother was left with this load, but remembering that sentence of his, despite the Depression, she had it built. The builder had no idea of Washington or how to proceed here, and it cost much more than the estimated amount that my father had placed on it. So Mother said, "I want you to live in it, anyhow." She said, "It does fall to me, but I want you to live in it."
But then I decided I would go back to work no matter what my husband said. But I stayed in the house. We stayed in it. My husband wouldn't participate in anything. He never put a cent in or he never took a cent out. He said it wasn't his affair. But it was sold at a loss because my doctor said I couldn't—I'd have to get out of that or I'd have a breakdown, and he said, "This is the last time I'm going to say it to you."
Currie: Because it was just too much of a burden.
Montgomery: Burden. The loss. I kept trying to get it to be sold so I could get out with even money and turn it over to Mother, because nothing was said that he was leaving it to me. It was that he was apparently going to surprise me with it, because he had said that to her. I wanted to go ahead, but never did I have anything to say it was mine.
Currie: His death must have had a tremendous effect on you.
Montgomery: It had an awful effect. When I found out, when I looked at the write-ups about him, he was always so busy that he didn't have much time to get chummy like a father and daughter would, you know, but he had been instrumental in either advising or having built water systems in several New England states, so much so that about forty projects were accredited to him. As one story said, he brought much pure water to New England. So he was really very much thought of, and he founded the Wellesley National Bank and was president of it for twenty-five years.
I can remember, as a youngster, when I grew up enough, that my mother took me to the annual town meeting. Town Hall was an old building that had a balcony. I was allowed to sit in the balcony with Mother and listen to his report. He was head of the board of selectmen of the town, so he would make the annual report. He was a good speaker. I would listen to his speech. All in all, his life was very filled and it was only when he died and I went to the funeral and I realized that the paper had asked that all flags in the district be flown at half mast, and that many came in to Mother to tell of the kindly things he had done to the family that tided them over a bad period. So then I knew how much he cared for me and how little I had given back to him. I felt badly about it.
Currie: I'm sure you gave a great deal to him.
Montgomery: But he was a very kindly person. He simply didn't understand. When I got married, it was the first marriage that had taken place in the new church. So it became kind of an event in the town. I didn't want it, because I knew he wasn't so keen about the wedding, but with his position, head of the board of selectmen in a town, which is like a mayor, that was in New England what they had for the mayor, it arrested attention for the Townsman newspaper. And Monty hated it, you know. But anyhow—
Currie: What's the most impact that your father has had on you?
Montgomery: He loved beginnings. Like the bank. There was no bank, and he felt that the town was more than capable of having its own bank. He set to it 'til they got it. One thing after another. He loved beginnings in the town. He believed that the town had a great potential for growth, and he did many things. The water systems—he believed that those towns needed this water, and he was graduated, of course, I told you, from the University of Maine. But in those days, I believe they hadn't taken the title of University of Maine. It was a state university, but it became very shortly the title of University of Maine.
But anyhow, I feel that I like beginnings. I like, for instance, when I got started with McGraw-Hill and I had a chance to take a government position paying much more—really I can say much more because I had started in with a very small salary—why, I thought it had an awful lot of promise, and I rather enjoyed being in on it, rather than just sitting in a government office. Various things. I liked the idea of being a first with Nucleonics, and I liked—well, I can go on with several that I really liked. That drive and that love for beginnings, I think more or less I inherited from my father.
The head of the Washington office said, when he paid me a compliment one time, he said, "You spoke well at the meeting, but don't credit yourself; you had some ancestor who was a good speaker." [Laughter.] So I always think I didn't go back to the usual ancestor, but it may be my admiration for my father's speaking did sort of brush off a little on me.
Well, I can go on with that, but you don't want any more of that. I had such a varied career with firsts, that it's hard to dig them up right now, fifty or sixty years later, you know.
Currie: Very hard. How did your mother come to feel about your career?
Montgomery: She wanted me to marry this patent lawyer, young. He was in the war and afterwards—I'd known him for years. I didn't want to marry him. No use to say why. So whatever Father said was all right with her, because it was that kind of a marriage. But when I told her that I was running this building in Washington, she began to think, "Well, she isn't safe there running that building."
Currie: That's when you were working for Babson.
Montgomery: Yes. Later on. This goes way ahead. So she came down to see how I was doing with this or what I was doing with it, you know. So she met one of the tenants that were in the building. As I said, there were three or four there. I introduced her to him and said, "This is one of the tenants."
She said, "Well, is my daughter giving good service? Do you feel satisfied?"
His answer was what made her feel at ease with it, not that it was intentional. He said, "Well, I'll tell you, Mrs. Taylor. She's a bit austere." That was just right. There was no funny business then. "She's a bit austere." So she said, "Well, I don't think that's a bad quality."
"Oh, no," he said. "We get along all right here in the building. But you asked me and I just told you. She's a bit austere." [Laughter.] So that was the way that I got on easy street with my mother, because she thought that was all right. She became rather proud of things that I did, you know, and she realized that I had done it without too much help from the home.
Currie: What do you think you inherited from your mother?
Montgomery: Well, I wrote here kind of a description of my mother, and I would like to think she was a leader in the community. She was a good mother, but she would not say anything against my coming to Washington because she felt that what my father said was enough. I'll send you the few lines that I wrote about her, which are very good. She was attractive and had a wonderful sense of humor, which my father didn't have too much of a sense of humor. But when my mother told things with her light touch, he would get amused at that. I would laugh, too, although many times I didn't know the point of it at all. [Laughter.]
Currie: To keep up a—
Montgomery: To keep up with her. But she was popular because she was vivacious, and she was tall and straight and she had a swinging step, you know. She dressed attractively. I never remember her coming to the table in the morning disheveled-looking like we all do now, many of us do. But she was always perfectly groomed. Well, maybe not perfectly, but she looked like the head of the household. You know. She had that look. She was popular, but so close as their marriage and so proud she was of him that when he died, much of that sparkle and easy-going vivre left her quite a bit. I wouldn't say entirely, but it left her without that joy of living look that one can have. I realized how deeply she grieved over his death.
Currie: Was your mother still alive when you were working at McGraw-Hill?
Montgomery: Let me see. The story I told you was when I was, I think, with Babson.
Montgomery: I can tell right away when it was that she died. She gave me one of the gifts they can pass on; it's the family Bible. I have that with a lot of dates in the front of it. She lived for—I can't seem to remember whether she was alive when I was president of the Press Club or not, but she could well have been. I don't think she was alive quite that long. But she was alive when I'd had quite a little bit of exposure, you know, that was favorable.
Currie: She got to see your—
Montgomery: She was awfully proud, yes. I think she was alive when I introduced the Queen.
Currie: Did that impress her?
Montgomery: Oh, well, she thought that I had handled it very well, you know. I don't remember that she—
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Currie: What changes have you seen in journalism in all the years that you have been a journalist?
Montgomery: Well, I've seen, of course, a tremendous change in the opportunities, the jobs that women could take. When I graduated, it was pretty much limited to teaching and secretarial work, though the secretary never got to be any great influence in the company. It was a chore, really, that she had. So there were really very few opportunities for choice.
After the war, women had proved themselves to the extent that not only the war, but opportunities thereafter made a much bigger choice. Of course, when industries such as electronics and the numerous inventions that came out of even taking one portion of a system or one portion of a piece of equipment and finding a useful turn by doing this, that, or the other, we began to have many, many more opportunities for women. Then when the computer started,
of course women proved themselves quite nimble in the word-processing and then the computer applications. So big or little, there were many opportunities coming to women.
The thing that hurt perhaps the most was the pay. The pay never equaled what the men were getting for comparable work, nor has it in many cases—I'd say never. I said in some cases it may have, but in many cases it has not reached the amount that a man gets for the same job.
Currie: For example, what did you make as compared to what men in your office made at McGraw-Hill?
Montgomery: I don't know exactly that I can say that, because I never knew what they did make. But I remember having this head of the office that I'd mentioned say to me, "I can hire a woman for a third less than I pay a man, and if you don't like it, you can leave." So you can sort of decipher that and know that when he hires a woman, it's at the lowest amount he has to pay, probably, and say that it's a third less. Means that I was pretty far down. Now, when I went to work for McGraw-Hill—I might put this in—I started with really a very small salary.
Currie: Do you remember what it was?
Montgomery: I can't. I would tell you if I could, but I just don't. I mean, I'd tell you off the record, but I don't remember. But I was told the head of the office knew me. One thing that helped me get the job was that he knew me when I was made a member of the White House correspondent group, and he had followed my career at some of the meetings that I was reporting. So that he thought very well of me. His word was instrumental in my getting the job.
The salary was small, but he told me that he had authorization to increase my salary when I'd been there a short time, enough that they could see in New York what it was worth to the company to give me more. But the unfortunate thing was that about that time, salaries were frozen and I was frozen into that miserable little amount for the war.
Then when the war was over, the women—I think there were only two by that time, women besides myself—if the editor asked for the woman to be retained, she was to be retained. I was the only one that an editor asked for. So that was how I got there. I did get some slight raise in salary, but things happened too quickly, so that I didn't ever get the salary that I should for what I did. I got some raise when I became president of the Press Club, but I'm thinking it was certainly no comparison to what some of the men get when they get into that position. Seems to me now it was $500 or something like that. I think that was it, as a matter of fact, the raise. Because George had it. They sent word that I was to get a raise in salary. That's what he gave me, and said, "She has a raise."
Currie: So becoming president of one of the press clubs was considered very prestigious by your company.
Montgomery: It is generally considered that by all companies, I think. It is considered, generally speaking, of importance.
Currie: Are there any other changes in journalism that you'd like to talk about?
Montgomery: As I've said, in electronics, I believe there are a number of women in key positions now. Of course, there are a lot of openings in the computer field that women have taken. So I don't know whether there could be any case made against the number that are in the key top jobs or not. I don't know that. As far as I know, like the Women's Press, I mean, as far as the National Press Club goes, I told you they have a woman president, and there's no feeling at all.
Currie: In the last interviews we got to your post-retirement and your brief stint with the General Federation of Women's Clubs and then you worked for the Nixon Arts Committee. Then you went on to the board of the Kennedy Center, is that correct?
Montgomery: Yes. I didn't go onto the board; that ought to be made plain. I had a presidential appointment.
Currie: Then after your presidential appointment was completed—
Montgomery: To the President's Advisory Committee on the Arts. Now, that was very important then because the Kennedy Center was in the process of being constructed, but it was not yet completed. It was near completion, but different committees were being set up, different things that would involve this committee in an advisory capacity, which was what it was.
Currie: I know you last time talked about going to the openings of the Kennedy Center.
Currie: After you left the President's Advisory Committee, what happened in your life then? I know you had a second marriage.
Montgomery: I told you that was a very short marriage. He was a very close friend of my husband's and I knew him and his former wife very well. She died. He was a Christian Scientist, and she, too. With all their what they call "right thinking," she died of a cancer of the throat and she was a speaker, or whatever they call it, in the church. Yet she died of that. He died of an intestinal cancer. Monty died in 1957; I married Russell in 1975.
But when we married, my first husband used to kind of joke because my first husband was a superb writer and he was on the Washington staff of the Christian Science Monitor, and he used to have day after day what they called the "Turnover" column. So when the change was made, he was retained in the office here and the decision was that the church could control the policies of the paper, rather than the paper itself. So those who had been attached to the paper itself, like the head of the office at that time, were dismissed. As I said, he wrote what they called the "Turnover" column many times, which made him more than just a reporter, made him rather important. But he didn't stay very long, for one reason or another. For one thing, he was a heavy smoker and he knew that that would be a short life for him when that became known. So he left and he went to a newspaper, but he left that when the paper was sold. Wasn't it the Herald that was sold? I believe so. New York.
Currie: He worked on the New York Herald?
Montgomery: He worked on the Herald. It doesn't matter. He left. He was on the Herald Tribune, but he said that they were overstaffed there. He finally ended up with the Republican National Committee, though as for politics, I don't think he bothered much one side or the other. However, when the elections were over, Coolidge was being elected, but anyhow, he was slated to get a very good position by the president. The president said he wanted him because he had done a very good job. But he didn't get it because he wasn't an American citizen. He had his application and was well along towards getting it, but you can't assign anyone to anything just because a person is getting along towards that time. Who knows what would happen a few days before, even? So he didn't have that, and that was somewhat of a blow to him. I guess he hadn't thought about it.
Currie: He was a friend of your second husband?
Montgomery: Yes. We were talking about my second husband. So he died, and Russell Singer's wife had been dead before that quite a little bit. So Russell telephoned me one day from Florida and said, "We've talked about it and talked about it, but now let's really say it. You come down here for a couple of weeks. If you decide you don't want to get married, I have arranged with a friend of mine—this husband and wife are going to be away and have offered the apartment to me. So you can stay there until you decide what you want to do." But he said, "Come down expecting or hoping, as I will, that you will marry."
So I came down. Monty would always say that Russell had an anxiety attack when Monty was going to help him with some speech or other. But it was always a joke, because he really did have it. And so he was quite ill for a while.
Currie: So you decided to marry him.
Montgomery: I decided to marry him, but I had no idea there was anything more than he was just complaining of the usual attacks. So then he did go to a doctor and the doctor told him that he had a cancer. So Russell was very perturbed about me, and I said, "Well, never to mind. We'll go ahead." I said, "We'll just say you don't have it." Well, we came back here and then he had a rather bad attack. This time the doctor said, "If he had come to me earlier, I think I might have done something for him. But now it's too late."
Currie: That's sad.
Montgomery: Everything looked so good and everything. So I had hardly been married, you know, less than a year, when his death—he had a house near the Chevy Chase Club, in that area in there, and I inherited the house. Well, that's another story.
Currie: What made you decide to want to marry again?
Montgomery: When Monty, my first husband, died, Russell said, "I want you to know that whatever is the matter with you, we'll take care of you. You don't need to worry about expenses or care." "We" was his wife, whom I knew well, too. "We'll always take care of you." So that was a great relief to me, you know, knowing that. So when he said to me, "I hope you'll marry me, because I need you," I remembered what he'd said many years ago, and I thought, "Well, this is just another one of his attacks, anyhow, and above all, I remember he was going to take care of me." So that's how it came about.
Currie: This was after you'd retired.
Montgomery: Oh, yes. I was in my early seventies then.
Currie: You were brave to take on a marriage in your early seventies.
Montgomery: I did! I wouldn't ever if he hadn't said—and repeated it several times—that he would take care of me. So it was quite a care, you know.
Currie: Oh, I'm sure.
Montgomery: I'm not going into that, but that makes another story.
Currie: It completes your life. Is there anything else that you would like to reflect on? Was there any one of your colleagues, for example, whose work you particularly admired?
Montgomery: I admired a number of my friends, but their reporting was so different from mine, and mine was so different from them to understand, that we didn't have much rivalry at all.
I had many good friends. I guess I was never really the chummy type. New Englanders are a bit that way and they don't mean to be, but they are kind of lone workers, you know. I find now that with this handicap I have of the ankle injury, that so many friends have come here day after day to see if I'm all right or bring me the news or something.*
Of course, Cora Rigby was the one that really taught me a lot about reporting, the first president of the Women's National Press Club. Other friends, I'll think afterwards, "Why didn't I mention her? She did so much for me." Sometimes she's not alive and sometimes I just, on the spur of the moment—
Currie: It's something you can add when we get the transcript. If you think of something, we can certainly add it.
Montgomery: We've been doing a lot of things that really didn't come right into my career. Be sure to leave out what I told you there.
Currie: If you see anything on the transcript, you can delete it.
Montgomery: But they've got the transcript there, whether you take it out or not.
Montgomery: They've got it there.
Currie: You can take anything out.
Montgomery: I can take it out for somebody to see it, but the original that they've taken out will always be there, won't it?
Currie: The original transcript?
Currie: No, no. That doesn't get sent. Only your corrected transcript gets sent to the archives.
We've been at it for quite a long time, and I think maybe it's time to wrap up. I just want to give you an opportunity, if there's any other thing you want to add.
* Montgomery was in a full leg cast at the time of the interview.
© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.