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Ritchie: Let's see. In our last session, Isabelle, we talked about your work at the Cincinnati Enquirer's Washington bureau and you told me about getting the job at the Washington Star. And you just mentioned that you wanted to add something about that.
Shelton: Well, what I don't think I mentioned before was that during the period when I first came to Washington and went up and down the halls of the Press Building looking for work, as I told you, I also went to the daily newspapers. And I almost was hired by the Star at that point. The city editor, a man named Ed Tribble, wanted to hire me based on my five years' experience at the Chicago Sun. But he said, "I have to check with the managing editor who's out of town for a week. Come back in a week and we'll see."
Well, I went back in a week and he said, "Gee, I'm sorry. I can't hire you. The managing editor says we have enough women in the newsroom." They had three at the time. That would be illegal today. That's a prima facie case of sex discrimination but of course there weren't any such laws then.
But it says something about where women were in the profession then, I think. A lot of us, as I've said, were hired during the war. But once the war was over, the thinking went back to pretty much the way it had. Of course, it's all changed now. There are more women journalists today than men in this country. They haven't broken through the glass ceiling very much. They don't have the top management jobs. But they're all over the landscape covering things, including on radio and television. And I just love it every time I see them or hear them.
Ritchie: They're not confined to the women's pages.
Shelton: No, absolutely not. A few weeks ago, during the campaign, some program had a interview with the press spokesmen for the three campaigns, [Bill] Clinton, [George] Bush and [H. Ross] Perot. And I had been watching for a few minutes before it suddenly struck me: All three of them are women. And it didn't strike me as strange and it didn't seem to strike the station as strange. It was just the way things are. And I love it.
Ritchie: You mentioned last time that you followed Liz Carpenter's suggestion of looking into the job on the women's page because a friend of hers was leaving and the friend said it wasn't such a bad job.
Shelton: Yes. She said that they had just started to change—she had only been there about six months and then decided to get married. But when she had been hired, she like me had had broader experience but had been added to the society staff because they had decided—I guess the managing editor and/or editor decided they had to reach out a little bit beyond the way they'd been covering—the way they covered society was very much like the way I told you it had been covered at the Cincinnati Enquirer. There were certain old-line families—cave dwellers as they were called in Washington; I mentioned that before—who were what constituted Washington society.
Now, there was one additional and important element in Washington that Cincinnati did not have. In addition to the cave-dweller society, there was also what they called "official society," meaning the president and the senators and the cabinet members. And they did cover them. But they covered them basically at their social events, which still was pretty limiting.
About half or more than half of the time everybody in the society department was devoted to writing wedding and engagement announcements, a stultifying dull thing to do. Now they don't run them at all except as paid ads. But they not only ran them, a lot of them were quite long and in considerable detail, like the bride's gown was an off-white peau de soie, what kind of flowers she carried and the bridesmaids carried, and the names of all the people in the wedding party. It was ghastly stuff.
Fortunately, I didn't have to do much of it because the woman's editor who had hired me—the society department and a club department and a kind of a miscellaneous department were all under the woman's editor.
Ritchie: And who was that?
Shelton: Her name was Betsy Caswell. When she hired me, she said Herb Corn, the managing editor, who was the same man who said he didn't want me in the newsroom because he already had three women, Herb Corn said, "You tell her not to waste her time on those weddings and engagements. I'm not paying her top dollar to do that." So I don't know what anybody else was paid. I think I was paid sixty-eight dollars a week but I guess that was high by those standards.
There was one woman who covered diplomatic events, embassy receptions. And one woman who covered White House formal events, there weren't that many White House events then. This was with the Truman administration. It was very structured. There were six big receptions every year, just like clockwork. They just always happened every year. There was one for the military, one for the Supreme Court justices, one for Congress, one for—I don't remember the other three but it just set in cement.
Ritchie: They were the main social events?
Shelton: That's what it was. We didn't have very much—there were some but there weren't very many world leaders coming yet. A lot of White House entertaining now is one or another prime minister coming to visit but there wasn't that much back then. Washington was still recovering from the war.
Ritchie: And a much smaller town at that time.
Shelton: Oh, it was much smaller, yes.
Ritchie: So all of the people in this department that you went to work in were women?
Shelton: Oh, absolutely. There wasn't a man in sight. As a matter of fact, we had our own little world, so to speak. We were on a different floor in the old Washington Star Building at Eleventh and Pennsylvania. The city room and all the rest of the editorial department was up on the seventh floor. We were down, the women's department and maybe the feature department, music reviews and that kind of stuff, maybe they were down there, I don't remember. But anyway, we were miles from the newsroom. We rarely saw any of them except in the lunch room on the top floor. We'd get to meet a few of them up there.
Ritchie: You mentioned that there were three women reporters in the city section. Were there any other women on the paper that you remember?
Shelton: I'm trying to remember if maybe any of the reviewers were women, but I don't think so. No, except secretaries and maybe copy girls. That was it.
Ritchie: One of my questions today is why were you reluctant to write for the women's page?
Shelton: Any place else in the world it still would have been terrible, in my judgment. It was because Washington had this—I mean, the idea of covering just the old social set and their teas and charity balls would have bored me to pieces. But because Washington had this second dimension, official Washington, it had a
potential. And that was exactly what, in a kind of a groping way, the management upstairs had decided they wanted to spread out beyond the old cave dwellers. But they also kind of didn't know quite what they wanted. And I remember one of my colleagues there, a woman named Betty James—Betty Miles, then James—said to me, "You know you can make almost anything you want out of this job because they don't quite know what they want either." Well, that was wonderful. It was Open Sesame for me.
Ritchie: So there wasn't a strict policy. You were allowed to develop—
Shelton: They just knew they wanted something different from just covering the cave dwellers. So I just sort of took the ball and ran with it which was easy—it was like giving a kid a huge blackboard with a box of chalk. It was just wonderful. Or giving an artist paints and all the canvases he wanted. It really was possible to make pretty much anything I wanted out of the job because nobody in the women's department, because of the way it had been structured all those years, had any particular interest in changing it. They were going to keep doing it the way they had done it. So I was pretty much able to do what I wanted with it.
It also was an interesting, expanding time in Washington. More and more countries were being formed as a result of changes growing out of World War II. There was such an explosion of new countries. It was one reason that Blair House was acquired. During the Roosevelt years there were so few visitors—visitors from overseas, important visitors, that they would literally stay in the White House. There have been a lot of stories—I imagine you've read about Winston Churchill padding up and down the hall in the middle of the night, insisting to Eleanor Roosevelt that he had to go see Franklin [Roosevelt] at four in the morning because he'd just thought of something very important, walking around in his nightshirt with a brandy in one hand and a cigar in the other.
Ritchie: That's a wonderful image.
Shelton: Yes. But the time came when there were enough world leaders that that wasn't practical so then the White House acquired Blair House across the street and began putting foreign visitors there. But all this was kind of just developing as I went to the Star and began writing about it.
Ritchie: What was the competition like from other newspapers here in Washington at that time?
Shelton: Oh, there were four dailies, which is kind of hard to believe, but there were.
Ritchie: The Post?
Shelton: The Post, the Times-Herald—there had been five papers—the Times and the Herald had combined but that was before I got here. It was owned by Cissy Patterson who was related, I forget exactly how, to Robert R. McCormick, the founder and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Joe Patterson, McCormick's cousin, had founded the New York Daily News. Their story was that they sat on a dung heap in, I think, France during World War II and decided to go home and each start newspapers.
Anyway, they had started them and they were both very successful. And their cousin owned the Times-Herald. I have a feeling maybe one or the other of the two men had some interest in the paper. But she ran it, without question.
Then the fourth paper was the Daily News which was a tabloid, a bright, lively tabloid, owned by Scripps-Howard. They all covered society. I think I mentioned earlier that the society coverage on the Daily News consisted of a column by a woman named Evelyn Peyton Gordon, a very bright, lively column which I used to crib from heavily when I was doing society columns for the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Ritchie: So there were a number of other newspapers that were competitive.
Shelton: Yes. But they weren't doing things very much differently from the Star at that time. I just happened to hit at a time when things were changing which was very good for me and I'm sure for the papers.
Ritchie: How did you get your assignments each day?
Shelton: Well, sometimes they would be dictated by events. Then I would be assigned to cover a given event. But I did an awful lot of feature interviewing of women. I pretty much did all of that on my own. I mean, I would talk to the editor. But I would come in with like ten ideas. It was just a wonderful smorgasbord of possibilities to do things. For instance, I hadn't been at the Star too long when the administration changed and the Eisenhower administration came in. Well, I interviewed all the cabinet wives. I did a series and I won an award from the Newspaper Guild for that series.
Ritchie: What is the Newspaper Guild?
Shelton: That's the union of editorial people at newspapers around the country, the American Newspaper Guild.
Ritchie: But you weren't a member of that. It was editors?
Shelton: No, no. It's workers. The editors belong to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Reporters—at unionized papers, not all of them—belong to the American Newspaper Guild.
Ritchie: So you were a member of that?
Shelton: I was a member. I had been a member in Chicago. I joined in Chicago, not for good, solid union reasons, I have to admit. Even back then, I was a political junkie and I was persuaded to join the union because they had a PAC, a political action committee, and I wanted to be active on that.
You know, that's an interesting bit of history that I think a lot of people don't know today. As I'm sure you know, there's a great deal in the papers these days about terrible things done by the PACs, how they're distorting the political process. PACs started in the forties, they were started by the unions. We think of them now as big corporate computers. The union started them as a way to sort of equalize the influence on politicians that the corporations had because the corporations had so much more money.
Philip Murray, then head of the CIO, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which is sort of a holding company of a lot of industrial unions, decided that the unions could by combining small contributions from thousands of workers, even millions of workers, could bring some countervailing force. It worked quite well for some years and then of course the corporations realized what a good idea that was and they got into the act and now things are unbalanced again because they have so much more money than union workers. Anyhow, how did I get off on that?
Ritchie: The award you got. But I wanted to ask you another question. Was it a strong union at the Star?
Shelton: Yes, it was quite strong. We had a strike later, about 1954, I think. I forget the year.
Ritchie: And you were an active union member?
Shelton: Reasonably active. I didn't have enough time to be in a leadership role. But I was a solid supporter.
Ritchie: We got off on that because you talked about your series on cabinet wives.
Shelton: Oh, yes. There were just hundreds of stories to write, again because of the explosion of new countries—new ambassadors would come to town and I would interview the wife. There wasn't anything I
couldn't write about as long as it had a women's angle. It was really that wide open. Many of the ambassadors' wives were fascinating, either because they came from a country that was very different and they would talk about some of their own exotic practices.
Ritchie: It would make good reading.
Shelton: Oh, yes, very good reading. And also their reactions to America were often quite interesting. They would be so utterly astonished at such simple things as going to a grocery store where there were thousands and thousands of items—they just weren't used to doing things that way.
The French ambassador's wife, for instance, talked about how in Paris she'd have to go shopping every day. They had little teeny refrigerators, if they had them at all, and there was no way to preserve food. So you went every day to the little bake shop and got your croissants or whatever and the butcher to get your meat and all that. They couldn't believe these huge stores that had everything in the big refrigerators where you could buy a week's supply and store everything.
Ritchie: Especially during this time period when the suburbs were booming and things like supermarkets were really taking off.
Shelton: They were just beginning to take off, yes.
Ritchie: So you really had a lot of room for negotiation in terms of what you covered.
Shelton: Oh, very much. And as I said, in a sense, the society editor and the women's editor almost didn't pay attention to what I was doing. They just wanted space filled because they both had come out of sort of a different world and a different time and I was curious about everything.
For instance, there were even then, although not like today, but even then there were some women doing fascinating things, like at NIH [National Institutes of Health], for instance. And I would find a woman who was doing some interesting experimental work. And then I interviewed all the women in Congress. There weren't that many, but I did stories on all of them. And once in a while, I even could find a woman's angle story on Capitol Hill though there wasn't nearly as much of that as there is now.
I even covered some of the early—you know, ever since women got the vote in I think 1920, the National Women's Party had been trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. Well, it was kind of a joke on Capitol Hill. Every year the National Women's Party would get a great many senators, usually in fact a majority of the Senate, to sign on to a bill calling for passage of an Equal Rights Amendment. And every year, even though a majority of them had signed the bill, somehow the bill never came up. It just never was brought to a vote. So it was kind of a charade. Usually there weren't even hearings. Once in a while there would be a hearing and I could cover that and make a story out of it. Later it really got quite interesting but I'm talking about the early years.
Ritchie: So what would your typical day be like? You would go into the office?
Shelton: I worked ten to six, if I got off at six.
Ritchie: If you didn't finish by six, were you paid overtime? Was the sixty-eight dollars for a forty-hour week?
Shelton: Supposedly, but most of us didn't turn in overtime. If you, for instance, were given an evening assignment when you'd worked all day and it was a clear assignment, then there would be overtime. But normally there was kind of a sense that, well, maybe you could have written the story faster and been done by
six o'clock. That may or may not have been true, maybe sometimes it was true. But anyway, unless it was a clear assignment that took you beyond the eight hours, we didn't turn in overtime.
I remember the physical circumstances at the Star. There was no air conditioning at that time and they got just incredibly hot during the summer months. We had fans, the old-fashioned ten- and twelve-inch fans, that we would put on the floor to blow some cool air on our legs as we were sitting there at our typewriters.
Another small but funny detail, this fourth floor where the women were in this old building didn't even have a women's room. It had a men's room which had been converted to a women's room but they didn't bother to take out the several urinals that were in there. They just turned off the pipes but they were still there.
Ritchie: It was basic renovation.
Shelton: Yes. Yes, very basic renovation. There were some stalls, too, and we used the stalls and the wash basins.
Ritchie: So you would go into the office by ten?
Shelton: I would go in by ten. After a year or two—and as I think back, this was maybe an additional reason why I was hired at the Star because I had begun, even at the Cincinnati Enquirer—although mostly I rewrote the Washington papers. For the society column, I had begun going to little press conferences that were held at the White House by Mrs. Edith Helms who was the social secretary to Mrs. [Bess] Truman.
Ritchie: How would you get invited to this?
Shelton: They were just on the ticker and any reporter—well, I had gotten a White House pass and any reporter with press credentials could cover them. We didn't get a lot of news out of it but we got a little which I somehow could—I could kind of work it in to the weekly column I did for the Enquirer. So the Star became—that was part of what they knew about my background when they hired me. Apparently they were aware, though I was not at the time, that the woman who'd been covering the White House for them for many years, when she wasn't writing weddings and engagements, was beginning to reach retirement age. So after a couple of years, I began doing that at the Star, too.
I want to mention Mrs. Helms. She was a fascinating little figure. She was the widow of the navy rear admiral who had gone to the Versailles conference with Mrs. Woodrow [Edith Galt] Wilson—that's how far back she went—because she was tuned into social niceties as the wife of a rear admiral. She had stayed with Mrs. Wilson through the Wilson term at the White House and then gone on to other things. Then when the Roosevelts came to the White House, Mrs. Roosevelt hired her as the social secretary. And she stayed all the way through. She was still there, stayed through the Truman administration. So she was the one who held the press conferences, which were either weekly or bi-weekly.
Ritchie: And these were first ladies press conferences.
Shelton: Oh, strictly first ladies press conferences, strictly the bare-bones minimal schedule. She would give us each a handout—I think it must have been every two weeks because you would have like four or five events, either that were going to take place at the White House or that Mrs. Truman was going to attend, maybe like a luncheon, benefit for the Red Cross, that kind of thing.
There almost was no reason for a press conference, she had so little to give us. She wouldn't even give us the guest list of the few White House events there were. Sometimes she would rather grudgingly tell us what the flower arrangements were going to be.
Ritchie: And now you see that in the paper, the guest list.
Shelton: Oh, sure. It all changed. She personified sort of lavender and old lace. She wore fancy blouses with lace on them. She was a little teeny wispy woman, perfectly charming but not a very good source of much news.
Ritchie: Did this change when the Eisenhowers came in?
Shelton: Yes, but not terribly much. Mary Jane McCaffrey—I'm trying to remember whether her title was press secretary or social secretary—anyway, she would meet with the press. And it was a little more forthcoming in terms of information but not very much. She almost never—well, backing up—Mrs. Truman never wanted to meet with the press. Bess Truman was a delightful woman who did things the way she wanted to, which is kind of what Harry Truman did, too. I thought she was very admirable in the sense that she never put on any side. She just was what she was. And she'd invite her Independence, Missouri, bridge club to come and play in the White House. She didn't feel any necessity to be a public person in the world and she wasn't.
Almost the only time we ever had an interview with her was after the White House had been renovated. The Trumans had moved across the street to Blair House during a major renovation of the White House. It was in such bad shape that the architects said, only partly joking that nothing was holding it up but the paint. So the Trumans, for a considerable period of time, lived across the street at Blair House. Well, when they moved back to the White House, she did actually take us around and up in the second floor to the private family quarters and show it to us. But that was the only time.
Then moving on the Eisenhowers, Mrs. [Dwight D. (Mamie)] Eisenhower was protected from us almost always by Mary Jane McCaffrey who seemed to think that the first lady couldn't handle us.
Ritchie: "Us" meaning women—
Shelton: "Us" meaning women reporters, yes.
Ritchie: There would have been no men in this group?
Shelton: No, they wouldn't have been barred. Eleanor Roosevelt, going back to her, who had very interesting press conferences—I only know from reading about it, I wasn't here yet—gave a big boost to women in journalism because she had very newsworthy weekly news conferences and she wouldn't let men cover them. So women were hired by the wire services and the local Washington newspapers strictly so that they would have someone to cover her press conferences. At that time they had no women reporters.
Ritchie: They needed them then. One, they needed one.
Shelton: Yes, they needed one and one is what they got. No, after Mrs. Roosevelt, there wasn't anyone who tried to do that. Men weren't interested. This was a women's world.
Where was I?
Ritchie: Mrs. Eisenhower.
Shelton: Somehow, Mary Jane McCaffrey, we had the sense, was trying to protect Mrs. Eisenhower from us. So we rarely got to see her but every once in a while, by accident, something would happen. For instance, we were there one year covering the White House Christmas decorations. The White House each year makes a big thing about the tree in the Blue Room and various other decorations for around the White House.
This particular day we were just about to leave and we were down at the door when Mrs. Eisenhower came home from having visited her daughter-in-law, Mrs. John [Barbara] Eisenhower who just had a baby. And she came in and saw us there and was just bubbling with enthusiasm about the new baby and chatted just delightfully. We all got a very good story out of it. It made us kind of wonder why Mary Jane was protecting her.
There are a lot of stories about Mrs. Eisenhower having a drinking problem. We used to wonder if maybe that was why she was protecting her. But I reached the conclusion in my own mind that she really did not have the problem. I think there was a period—Mrs. Fred [Roberta Dixon] Vinson, the wife of the Supreme Court justice who lived at the Wardman Park Hotel, residential section, as did Mrs. Eisenhower during World War II, said that she was drinking a lot during that period. She was worried to death about her husband over in Europe. I don't think he was out in the front lines ever but still she was worried about him. And she may or may not have heard the stories about Kay Summersby, the woman he supposedly was involved with. But anyway, she was maybe drinking too much then.
I don't believe she was in the White House. I would look at her and she had clear eyes, clear skin, and while we didn't talk to her very often, we would see her at social events. I just don't think it was true any more. I think she had a bad period for understandable reasons. Anyway, we very seldom got to see her.
Ritchie: Was it easy as a member of the press to get access to social events?
Ritchie: Like luncheons or receptions?
Shelton: Yes, it was, particularly for the local papers. The Star, really above all the other papers, was then a very well-respected paper in town. It was kind of the paper of the old cave dwellers but it was respected in government, too. It, at that time, when I started there, occupied the position in Washington that the Washington Post does today. You wouldn't turn down a request. Maybe at a very private—well, you wouldn't ask to go to a seated dinner for twenty people or something in someone's private home. But certainly at public events, it was no trouble. It was a lot easier for the host and hostess then because there was not nearly the crush of reporters that there are today.
Ritchie: When you covered these stories, did you ever take a photographer with you?
Shelton: Oh, yes, quite often. We knew—I and other reporters knew all the photo staff quite well.
Ritchie: So, you would go—
Shelton: We would go out together.
Ritchie: You would cover it together.
Shelton: Normally yes. Once in a while, he would have to come. I say "he." There was one woman photographer but it was mostly men. Occasionally he would be coming from another assignment and would meet me there but most of the time we went out together. He would drive because he had so much equipment that he needed the car.
Ritchie: How would you get there?
Shelton: That's what I mean, we would go together. I had a car and my husband had a car and we drove to work. Part of the time it was in his garage but then when the Star moved down to Southeast Washington, that was further on for me so I took the car. But I never used it in my work.
Ritchie: You would take a taxi?
Shelton: I would take a taxi to places. Very rarely I would take the car, if it was way out in some suburb or something. But most of the time I would take a taxi, except a great bit of the time I was with a photographer. Sometimes he would take me—for instance, if I was going to interview someone, he would drive us there and get his pictures. And then he might go on to something else and I'd have to get myself back.
Ritchie: When you interviewed the people, did you use a recorder?
Shelton: Not for a long time.
Ritchie: How did you go about doing it?
Shelton: Well, it's kind of interesting what got reporters to start using—at least in Washington, what got reporters to start using tape recorders. During the [Lyndon B.] Johnson-[Barry] Goldwater campaign, Goldwater would make a lot of sort of wild off-the-cuff remarks and reporters would report them with great glee, because sometimes they were pretty far out. Like one time he said that "Well, they ought to lop off the eastern coast of the United States and let it fall into the sea." This because he didn't have much use for Eastern liberals.
Well, this was kind of getting Goldwater in trouble on the campaign. So his press secretary would deny that he said things that they knew he had said. Once the press secretary—and this was pretty funny—said, "Well, why don't you report what he meant, not what he said."
Ritchie: So it was up to you to interpret what he said.
Shelton: Yes. But what happened was there were rather serious controversies with reporters on some occasions with the press secretary denying that Goldwater had said that. So reporters began carrying tape recorders so they could be sure.
Then another thing that gave impetus to that—this was earlier, at least the White House reporters had begun doing it earlier, because General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower had a funny way of talking.
[End Tape 1, Side A; begin Tape 1, Side B]
Shelton: Sometimes he would talk in long, rambling sentences with clauses in the middle that could change the meaning of it. You had to catch a lot of it to be sure you had it right. I remember one time I happened to cover him at some event where he came to make a speech. Then of course the White House press had come along, too. But for some reason—although I guess our White House reporter was there, for some reason because it was a part of an event I was covering, I was supposed to quote his remarks in my story. I forget now what the event was but it involved some important world situation. And what I reported was totally contradictory to what the White House reporters had gotten. This was because I took shorthand and the little clause in the middle that totally changed the meaning of it, I had been able to get because I could do it faster.
So anyway, this was a problem for White House reporters that they knew they had. So they began using tape recorders for that and then you play it back and—
Ritchie: You would have the verbatim.
Shelton: You'd get it right. Yes.
Ritchie: So when you did interviews, you would prepare for them and then take the interview down in shorthand.
Shelton: Yes, in part. I had kind of a half-assed shorthand, if I may say so. I took shorthand courses in Chicago. I'd take it for a couple of months at a Gregg shorthand school and then I'd run out of money, so I'd stop and then I'd go back. Also, a lot of what they did would be phrases that you would use in business letters, things like that. A lot of it wasn't—partly because I never finished the course and partly because it was geared strictly to secretaries writing letters, business letters—it wasn't appropriate, it wasn't adequate for the kind of interviews I was doing that ranged all over the world. So it was a kind of a combination of half shorthand and half longhand.
It was an advantage to me because most reporters didn't take shorthand at all and didn't have tape recorders yet. When I was out on trips with first ladies, often, as is true with any event whether it's a man or a woman, there would be a situation where only three or four reporters could fit, say, into a room where the first lady was going so we would have pools. People always wanted me to be on the pool because they said she takes such good notes. So that was my inadequate shorthand but it was better than none.
Ritchie: Than others had. Then you would go back to the paper and write your story?
Ritchie: Or type your story?
Shelton: Type it, yes. At that time, we did a fair amount of phoning in, too. The Star had about five editions. I could cover a morning hearing on Capitol Hill and get the copy in to the final edition, get the story written and have it make the final edition. I think I could file it as late as up to twelve or twelve-thirty. That would be if the story was going to go into the main news section. And somehow I seemed to get into a lot of things which although I had covered them for the women's section turned out to be something that the newsroom wanted.
Ritchie: How would that work? Would your editor bump it up to the newsroom or the newsroom knew that you were covering that?
Shelton: It worked both ways. Sometimes we thought it would just be a kind of a routine story that would appear in the next day's women's section and then the speaker—let's say a United States senator—would say something that was so newsworthy that I knew it belonged in the news section. So I forget now whether I called the women's editor, I probably did, or maybe in time it worked out that she just knew if I—it was okay with her if it was newsworthy, I would call and offer it to the city desk or the national desk.
An awful lot of those stories came out of my coverage of the Women's National Democratic Club. And I don't remember quite how that happened because in the beginning we did have a separate club department that covered club events. But anyway, I covered so many events at that club that they used to jokingly say I was an ex-officio member. Of course, I couldn't be a member of anything as a reporter—I mean any political type thing.
Ritchie: So you would cover their luncheons?
Shelton: I would cover their luncheons, and they were very newsworthy luncheons. In fact, the House and Senate members—and sometimes other government officials, but particularly congressmen in the House and Senate—had learned, had figured out that if they wanted to get press coverage on something they were better off making the speech at the Women's Democratic Club. And this sometimes happened—there was a Republican Women's Club, too, but somehow their events generally didn't make as much news, I don't know why.
Anyhow, the member of Congress had figured out that they would get better play if they said it at the Women's Club than if they tried to say it on the floor where jaded reporters hear people talking all day long
and were disinterested in it. So they would save this particular thing. So I got an awful lot of stories that ended up in the news section, fairly often even on page one.
Ritchie: Do you remember your first page one story? I should have been on the lookout for that when I looked at the scrapbooks but I—
Shelton: No, I'm trying to think if I did. It seems to me when I was flipping through the scrapbooks earlier, including those two that I now can't find, I did notice something but it's escaped me. Maybe I'll think of it later. I was trying to think of areas of other women's stories that I covered. It really was just wonderful because I could cover anything as long as a woman was involved in it.
Ritchie: Well, the whole time you were doing this, of course, you were raising a family, which meant you had many other responsibilities.
Ritchie: And Diane was born in what year?
Shelton: Six years later. Gale was born in 1950 [January 23] and Diane in 1956 [January 31].
Ritchie: Did you work while you were pregnant?
Shelton: Yes, right up to the end both times. At the Star I had to lie about when I was pregnant, when I thought the baby would be delivered. The Star had a rule that you had to quit or begin taking unpaid leave three weeks before the baby was expected to be born. And we couldn't afford those extra three weeks. And I knew that I could work up to close to the end. At least I thought I could because I had with the first child.
Ritchie: And you were in good health.
Shelton: I was in good health, yes. You know, doctors don't necessarily know too well, anyway. As the time comes close to delivery, they can zero in but they weren't sure. So they usually asked you, or at least they did then, "When do you think this conception may have occurred?" So I deliberately made it three weeks later than when I thought it had occurred, which I thought would allow me to work three weeks longer, which indeed worked out rather perfectly.
Ritchie: And you mentioned you took unpaid leave. There was no paid leave.
Shelton: There was no paid leave, no. I forget how long they would allow. I think it was thirteen weeks after that would be allowed, plus the three weeks that they insisted you take before. But I took almost nothing before. Maybe literally nothing. I think I was supposed to go to work the day I decided that it was time to go to the hospital. And I don't remember how many weeks I took after. Probably about six which is what I did with the first child.
Ritchie: And then what type of child-care arrangements did you have?
Shelton: Pretty much the same as I had told you about the first child. There were at that time a great many lovely black women who were willing to come in and do that work. Some worked out better than others. But I would go two or three years with the same person. That was usually about as long as it lasted. Then something would come along; I don't remember what now. It was the same sort of frightening situation that I had described when the first child was born. There's always the day when the babysitter calls up sick. And even though by that time I had made some friends in Washington, I did not have the kind of a network of friends who would help out in a situation like that. They were either fellow working women journalists—
Ritchie: So they weren't in a position to—
Shelton: So they couldn't do anything. Or the wives of reporters who were generally older and had older children. And also we were scattered. You know, it's kind of a big city. You have to have somebody who lives rather close by or a family member who'll drop everything and run in a crisis. So it was a continuing problem.
Ritchie: Do you remember if you felt pulled between the two places?
Shelton: Oh, terribly, just terribly. I remember saying once to Mrs. Arthur [Bernice Moler] Fleming whose husband was then secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, who had, as I recall, five children and had always stayed home, though she was obviously a very well-educated, very intelligent woman—but I said something to her about in a way regretting that I wasn't there with my children, because we'd been talking about her children. And how torn I felt, that this was the decision I'd made and I really didn't have any choice in making it but I felt guilty about it. And she said, "Well, some of us who stayed at home aren't sure we did the right thing, either." Obviously she had the feeling that with all her education and talents, she wished she could have done more.
Ritchie: She might have had a career.
Shelton: Yes. I have a feeling—I read that she wrote a book that kind of talks about some of that stuff, in relatively recent years, but I'm not sure.
Ritchie: Of course, you mentioned earlier that yours was a financial situation.
Shelton: Oh, yes. I had no choice.
Ritchie: But you also loved what you were doing.
Shelton: But I loved what I was doing. I don't know what I would have done because I did love it. And also, if I'd gotten out, if I hadn't gone right back to work—I had such great difficulty getting a job in the first place, I don't know that I could have come back in to journalism, if I'd left. At least that was my sense of the situation.
I remember once saying to my child's pediatrician how guilty I felt about not being there. And I said this particular day whichever daughter it was had called in tears because the other children were out playing in puddles. There had been a heavy rainstorm and they were out playing in puddles and the maid wouldn't let her do it because she didn't have any rubber boots or even what we used to call rubbers. And I said, oh, if I'd been home I could have run up to Sears—we happened to live a few blocks from it—and bought her a pair. And that was the kind of thing that worried me. And the woman pediatrician, very intelligently I now think, said, "Oh, don't be silly. If you'd been home, you probably would have had your head in the bathtub scrubbing and you wouldn't have been able to go to Sears anyhow."
But yes, I did have very conflicted feelings, guilt feelings about it, from which I have not totally recovered yet, I might add.
Ritchie: But if you worked from ten to six, you didn't get home until six-thirty, seven?
Shelton: Six-thirty, seven, and that's assuming everything was on time. The maid, whoever she was, would have fed the children. They couldn't wait that late to eat. Sometimes she would—she would have, in fact, sort of started our dinner. And then she left when we got home and I finished it up. No, I think my children suffered because of that. One good thing that it did do to them was give them a great sense of independence and self-reliance.
Ritchie: Managing on their own?
Shelton: Yes. I remember once, Diane must have been about eight. By this time, I'd started writing a syndicated column, which we haven't talked about yet. It was a weekly column and I would drop it off at the main post office on my way home that night of each week because it would get to New York faster. The syndicate was out of New York.
So this particular evening I called Diane to say—I don't remember where Gale was but I called Diane to say that, "Well, I'm leaving now but it will take me a little longer because I'm going to stop at the post office," which she knew all about. This was the main post office, it was then the main Washington post office right next to Union Station. And as I walked in there, a man behind the counter looked up and said, "Mrs. Shelton?" Well, I couldn't understand how he knew who I was. Diane at eight years old had found me in the main post office. I wouldn't have had the gall to do that. A phone call had come in from somebody that she felt was important and she had to reach me. She called him up, described me, and he found me. I thought that was pretty wonderful for an eight-year-old. And my friends used to say when she would take messages that, "Gosh, she sounds so grownup." So it did have some advantages. But as you can see, I'm practically crying as I'm telling you this. I really have great guilt about all of this.
Ritchie: And they're better people for it, probably.
Shelton: Yes. I think they missed a lot. But, who knows?
Ritchie: Were your bosses understanding if you had to leave?
Shelton: No, not at all. That's another thing. In fact, I remember—sometimes, you know, I would have evening assignments, especially as I began doing more White House things. I remember some time had gone by now and more women were covering more activities than just the old cave-dweller Washington.
I remember one of the women in the department being very resentful because—in this particular case it was against another woman reporter, though she probably felt the same way about me—being very resentful because this other woman reporter had tried to get out of covering something on the ground that she had a couple of children to get home to. And the reporter who was complaining to me about it said—she was single and she said, "That isn't fair. She wants to not have to cover that night assignment so she can stay home with her children. But how about me? I'll never get out and meet anybody to get married to and have children, if I have to take all the night assignments."
So no, there was absolutely no sympathy. It was just a—well, we were kind of odd-man-out.
Ritchie: And I'm certain at the girls' schools most of the mothers were not working and available for school activities.
Shelton: And that was true, too.
Ritchie: Home room mothers, helpers, that kind of thing.
Shelton: I made a great effort and a fairly successful effort to attend school events that Gale participated in. I felt that was terribly important—Gale and also Diane. But no, I was never active in the—I think we called it the Home and School Association rather than the PTA but it was the same thing. I never could go on trips. And of course, the girls were both in Girl Scouts and there, too, they like to have mothers coming along for events and I never could do any of that.
Ritchie: We talked earlier about your husband being a traditional husband and that you didn't expect much of him as women do today of their husbands in helping out with the household, dividing responsibilities. And that would have continued through the girls' childhood?
Shelton: Yes. I'm trying to put it in—I can't remember when my consciousness first started getting raised when the women's movement came along. Maybe I'll have to flip through the scrapbooks a little bit to remember. But I guess the girls were pretty well raised by then. Willard and I went our separate ways in 1965 so it wasn't an issue after that.
But I just accepted that that's the way the world was. Women had two jobs, which a great many of them still do. You work all day and then you come home and do the work in the house at night. You do dinner and the laundry, et cetera, et cetera. I just felt that was the way of the world. I was glad to have the—I did love my work. I absolutely loved it. I was pulled apart all the time by trying to do what I had to do for the children, and wanted to do, and also do what I wanted with the job.
Ritchie: And you had a demanding job, too. I mean, it wasn't a secretarial job where you went in and sat at a desk and could leave at a certain time.
Shelton: No. And it got worse as the years went along. I know we're going to get into the sixties a little later but when Lyndon Johnson became president, the whistle blew and you ran. And that was even more true of the men who covered him but he did things so spontaneously that it even affected when there'd be a social event at the White House, things like that.
Ritchie: And you would have to drop everything.
Shelton: You'd just drop everything and go. I don't know whether you want me to tell you this or wait till we get to that period. But it speaks so well so maybe I can just tell it to you.
Ritchie: Go ahead.
Shelton: He had just become president. This was literally a month—it was thirty days after John Kennedy had been assassinated.* And during that thirty days' mourning period, the Johnsons had not moved into the White House residence. The thirty days were over and they were moving in and it was just a couple of days before Christmas. So women reporters went over for that annual look at the White House Christmas decorations that I mentioned earlier.
On this particular day, the staff had done a good job of getting things ready in a great hurry, the decorations were all up and all the fireplaces had been lighted in the big public rooms—the Green Room, Blue Room, Red Room, et cetera. I noticed it was kind of smoky when we got there. Well, I learned later, they were going at such lickety-split speed to get all this done that they'd forgotten to open the flues in the fireplaces.
But anyway, so I think I'm going to go to this event that will take an hour or less and go back to the office and write the story. But just as we finish looking at the decorations and we're about to leave, Liz Carpenter said, "The President has invited Congress to a reception, starting in like fifteen minutes, and you are invited to stay and cover it, if you would like."
Ritchie: Well, of course, you'd like.
* November 22, 1963.
Shelton: Of course, we would. Congress had flown home. At least the Congress had adjourned the day before to fly home for Christmas. But they had failed to pass some bill that Johnson thought was important. I think it was a bill to send wheat to Russia where they were starving. I forget the details but Johnson felt it was very important.
So in his usual manner, he, metaphorically speaking, reached up to the sky and pulled their airplanes out of the air. He got the White House telephone operators, who were wonderfully efficient—they can find anybody any place in the world—to call them all back. He needed this bill passed before the holidays. One congressman whom I happen to know, Dick Bolling of Missouri, was found on his yacht—he had married a quite wealthy woman who had a yacht—and they were down off St. Maarten's in the Caribbean and they had gotten a message through to him and plucked him off his yacht to come back. That's just symptomatic of Johnson.
So we stayed around for the reception. And it was kind of wonderful. It's the first time I'd ever really seen Johnson in action, trying to persuade people of something. He had a reputation for arm-twisting but I thought it was just a figure of speech. Well, it's really kind of actually true. I would watch and as the Congress went through the line, he would grab someone's arm and put his other arm around their shoulder and get his face about two inches from theirs as he talked to them. He really was twisting their arm. And it was kind of wonderful to watch.
Then after everybody had gone through the receiving line and they had gone into the state dining room where there was food and drink, he decided he should address them as a body. So he climbed up on a chair. One of the things that Jackie [Jacqueline] Kennedy had done—and I know I'm jumping ahead of myself, we'll talk about this later—was do a lot of things to renovate the White House. And among the things she had done was put new, beautiful, gold-colored, cut velvet on the dining room chairs.
Well, we were kind of in reverence of all the things that she had done. And when Johnson, in order to be seen by everybody, even though he was pretty tall, he climbed up on one of the gold chairs. We all kind of flinched because we had been taught to regard all these pieces of furniture rather reverently by Mrs. Kennedy.
Ritchie: And you'd been through the renovation.
Shelton: We'd been through the renovation, yes. So he addressed them. So as you can see, in terms of scheduling and getting home and all that—here I was kind of a captive in the White House. I couldn't even telephone anybody. There wasn't time for that. My office didn't know where I was, my husband didn't know where I was.
Then, finally the reception is over and we were going home and we were on the lower level of the White House, the level below the big staterooms where we had left our coats and boots, which we then used to call galoshes. We were pulling them on and the president came by. That was the level that led through to his office in the West Wing of the White House. There were just four of us: Frances Lewine of AP, Dorothy McCardle of the Washington Post, a woman named Hazel Markel, who worked for radio stations, I don't know where, and I.
So he said, "Oh, hi, girls. Come on over. Do you want to see my new office?" So of course we were dying to see his new office.
Ritchie: Once again you had to—
Shelton: Once again we trundled over. And he took us all through, showed us his office which he had changed some paintings. I remember he put up a painting of some president he particularly admired. I don't now recall who. Took us into the cabinet room where again he'd made some changes, explained why he'd made them. Then said, "Here, I've got something here I'll show you." And he sat down at his desk. That's the picture that you've seen. He had the White House photographer, who was always around, come and take our picture.
What he was showing us—and I know this was a front-page story but I don't think it was my first—he showed us his new budget that he had not yet sent to Congress, and he said—
Ritchie: This was his first budget?
Shelton: This was his first budget. He'd only been president a month. He said, "You girls are as good reporters as those guys who are over here every day. I'm going to give you a good story." He showed us the figures, told us that he was going to keep the budget—I believe the figure is below a billion dollars but it's so long ago I don't remember the figures. Anyway, it was a hell of a news story because nobody knew what was going to be in his first budget.
Then he got showing off, which he loved to do. He called Mrs. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, who at the moment was in Florida, as I recall, inquired very gently, nicely, about how she was and how her children were and was there anything he could do for her and if there ever was, "you all let me know." The conversation went on for five or ten minutes and we all were taking notes furiously. And then when he hung up, we were very conscious all the time—which I don't think he was originally—that Jackie Kennedy would just die if she knew women reporters were standing taking notes on this conversation. She didn't have too much use for us all the time she was in the White House.
So anyway, something came over him after he hung up, although he'd seen us taking notes. He said, "You all better make this part of it off the record."
The funny thing that happened about that, about an hour after I got back to the office—by then it was, I don't know, about nine o'clock or something—I got a call from him. And I learned that Frances Lewine got one, too.
Ritchie: From the president?
Shelton: From the president. This was by now, say, ten. I was in the middle of writing my story. The Washington Post had by that time come out with the early edition. And Dorothy McCardle for some reason—I'm sure she just got mixed up, I'm sure she didn't do it on purpose, it was a very long, confusing day—she used some of the Jackie Kennedy quotes. Well, Johnson having realized how much Jackie wouldn't like it, had conniption fits, and wanted to be sure that we understood that they shouldn't be used, which indeed we did understand. I'm sure he called the Post, too, and asked them to take that out and I'm sure they did, though I don't think I followed through looking, even.
But anyway, the point of the story is that's the kind of thing that could happen to you when you're supposed to be home with your children. Well, if I hadn't known that Willard would be there, I would've had to go home and miss this gorgeous story.
Ritchie: Having him there, at least you had—
Shelton: At least there was somebody there.
Ritchie: The leeway to stay late.
Shelton: It was difficult for him, too, in the sense that my life was so unpredictable, more and more as Johnson came here because that particular event that I told you about was a little more unusual than most but the idea of things popping up at the last minute at the White House—or other places—was just kind of part of daily life. He worked mostly on weeklies. You don't have that kind of deadline pressure, most of the time.
Ritchie: You know, we talked earlier about a photographer going with you. Who would decide what photograph would go in? Would that be another department?
Shelton: Yes. There was a photo editor. Every paper has them, big papers. They have a photo editor who has a staff—I think we had something like ten photographers on the Star. And they would assign one photographer to an event. Sometimes it wasn't a very good idea to have the photographer just come in the beginning and leave, as I was telling you often happened, because sometimes something would come out of the story that you wished the photographer had been there for. But quite often all you wanted was a handsome head shot of the woman.
Shelton: Yes, portrait. If it turned out that she collected something interesting, maybe you wouldn't find that out soon enough. You did what you could to find things out in advance but—
Ritchie: And then they would write the captions for the photographs from your article?
Shelton: Sometimes. Or if it's just a head shot they don't need that. But yes, there was time back in the office to get any material, if they needed it.
Ritchie: What about headlines? Who would do the lead for the article?
Shelton: Well, there was a staff of editors. We had one period fairly early in my being in the women's department when the then-assistant managing editor got the idea that everybody should know how to do everything in the department. So we all had to have a period of being editors rather than reporters. And that sometimes involved getting there at six o'clock in the morning and going up to the composing room where the page was being put together. Everything is different now but that's the way it was done then.
Ritchie: Did you like doing that?
Shelton: In the first place, I hated getting up so early. I've always been a night person. But no, I didn't particularly like—it was kind of interesting briefly just to know how it was done but once you found that out. He even gave us a chance. He said that he would like to know, would we rather be reporters out on the street or maybe editors because in time there would be—I'm not talking about the editor, people who edited copy, there would be other openings there. But I opted for being a reporter always. I loved being out on the street, interviewing people. And I would have hated to be just sitting in the office editing copy.
Ritchie: Can you think of some of the political highlights of the fifties that you would have incorporated into your writing? Of course, the presidency and Congress are so natural.
Ritchie: What about something like the [Army]-McCarthy hearings?*
Shelton: Yes. I felt very involved in those because Willard was covering them. I was not covering them. Occasionally I could write for—we had a Sunday magazine section—not magazine, opinion section, like the Post has today, most big papers have it. Occasionally I could write a story for them. A man named Charles Seib who later became managing editor, at that time was head of that Sunday section. And occasionally I would get an idea and write a piece for him. One of the ones that I did that I was most proud of was a long interview with one of the—one of the people who'd been totally smeared by McCarthy, one of the—I don't even remember his name now [John Stewart Service] but he was one of the people in the State Department that they felt were—McCarthy alleged were pro the Chinese communists. And he had practically ruined this man's career, as he had a lot of other people.
I did what to me was a fascinating interview with this man who talked about his years in China and why he thought what he did, and the terrible things that had happened to his family as a result of McCarthy.** It got a big play on the front page of the section. It was an excellent piece. So I got as close around the edges to the main story as I could.
But since that didn't have any women in it, it wasn't something I could write for the women's department but I could write it for Charlie Seib.
I wrote some other stories for him, too, but in time the woman's editor got very resentful of that. Although I was doing that totally on my own time. It was the kind of thing—for instance, I could write it at home. I had a typewriter, I had almost like an office setup in the basement, deliberately down there because if I was typing in the middle of the night, which I was likely to be doing, it didn't wake up anybody upstairs. So this was done totally on my own time but she resented it so I pretty much had to stop it.
Ritchie: Would you have covered political conventions in the fifties?
Shelton: Yes, because there was always a women's angle there. The first year I came to Washington, at which time I—
[End Tape 1, Side B; begin Tape 2, Side A]
Ritchie: You were saying the first time you came to Washington?
Shelton: The first year I came to Washington, in February of 1948 to get married, was of course a convention year, a presidential year. And I went to all—there were four conventions that year, all in Philadelphia, the Republicans, the Democrats, Henry Wallace's Progressive Party—if you remember Henry Wallace who had been vice president under Roosevelt—ran as a more liberal to left candidate that year. And then I'm trying to remember what the fourth party was. I guess it would have been Strom Thurmond running on a—
Ritchie: The Southern.
* Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin had built a reputation as a patriot by exposing alleged Communists in all facets of American Society—from the State Department to Hollywood. In the process he ruined many careers. When McCarthy challenged the U.S. Army, he overstepped his bounds as the Army's special counsel, Joseph N. Welch, revealed, in hearings lasting thirty-six days in 1954, the crudeness of McCarthy's character and campaign and destroyed what remained of McCarthy's support. **See Appendix 24.
Shelton: The Southern—I can't remember the name of it, but anyway, it was a segregationist kind of party. I didn't cover any of those—I guess I was still at Congressional Quarterly then—but my husband covered them all. And I would go up on the weekends—maybe took a few days off, so I attended them.
But the 1952 convention—conventions, plural—I'm sure I did cover for the women's angle. That's one of those books I can't find. My memory is going to have to be refreshed on some of this stuff.
Ritchie: So as long as there was a woman's angle, you—
Shelton: As long as there was a woman's angle, I could go. There was always a woman's angle in the social activities that were going on at the convention. And interviews with the wives of the candidates.
Ritchie: Did you ever have trouble getting access to people for interviews?
Shelton: Not very much, again because the Washington Star was so respected in Washington. I did the first interview with a great many wives of public figures who came to Washington, which I'm so aware of because they would talk about it, maybe years later, "Oh, you were the first one to interview me."
One of the things that's always surprised me about those interviews was how frank people were. You know, there's been talk in recent years about how the press intrudes upon people like wives of accident victims or families of accident victims. And I think there's some truth to that. On the other hand, what I never kind of understood, even while I was asking the questions—and I didn't ask that kind of intrusive questions. I wasn't dealing with people in great stressful situations, either. But quite often I was surprised why they answered me so fulsomely, you know. Moving forward again to these people who feel they've been victimized by reporters, why don't they just say no? I feel like a traitor to my profession but you can say no. It's very hard for a political figure to say no. He almost has to answer it because he loses more points than he gains if he seems to be avoiding it.
Ritchie: But in terms of a private citizen—
Shelton: But in terms of a private citizen, just say "I don't want to talk about that." Or don't raise the subject. Sometimes they would raise subjects that I hadn't even raised.
Sort of in that connection, an interesting thing would happen fairly often when we, Willard and I, would go to some social event. I remember it happening particularly out at Bobby [Robert F.] Kennedy's. People would know Willard. At least the man would know Willard, if it was the man who was the political figure which it usually was. And the wife would have gotten to know me. And sometimes the wife, because she was involved—in Ethel Kennedy's case, for instance, because she was involved in what Bobby was doing, she too had gotten to know Willard. But they didn't put us together at all. And then we would show up somewhere and they would say, "Oh, you two!" Willard and I lived totally separate lives in our work but they would cross somewhat.
Ritchie: In the same profession but very separate—
Shelton: Yes, because I was covering the women, who were usually the wives.
Ritchie: Did the Star cover black news, news of the black community?
Shelton: No, it just did not, period. Certainly the women's department didn't. But I would say pretty much until—certainly they began paying more attention after Martin Luther King was killed, was murdered.*
* April 4, 1968.
Ritchie: But in the time period that we've been talking about, the fifties, there would not have been much coverage, if any, of black community activities or black news in Washington.
Shelton: No. There just was not. There was a black paper. I don't even know if it's still published. It was quite well regarded. It did the coverage. There wasn't even much crime then. There wasn't the kind of—regrettably there's a lot of news now involving blacks that has to do with crime. But there's also a lot of constructive news about blacks now.
No, it was kind of another world that did not get the coverage that it certainly deserved. And certainly to the extent that the society department was covering the social scene, they wouldn't have touched it. It seems to me that the upper-class blacks, the ones who had pretty good jobs, did have a debutante ball every year, as did the white people, of course. It seems to me maybe we would run a photograph from that event, which they would submit, a group photograph of all the black debutantes, but not even accompanied by a story. And that was it.
While I'm sure there were black scientists, for instance, doing good things at Howard University—which if I'd been covering then, too, I might have been interested in doing, poking into and seeing if I could write about. But in fairness, I have to say I never went looking for an interesting black woman at Howard. It's probably my fault. It's just a part of the world we didn't pay any attention to, which is too bad.
Ritchie: Well, of course, your interest in politics kept you very closely tied to the political scene.
Shelton: Yes. And there wasn't that much black activity in politics at that time.
I had been fascinated, as I think I told you—and maybe I didn't—in Chicago with covering blacks. The whole civil rights movement I practically saw—I felt I saw it begin in Chicago and I was covering all those activities because nobody else in the city room liked to cover it and I loved it, I was fascinated with it. But it just wasn't anything that we covered.
I remember the day of the Martin Luther King famous March on Washington.* Kennedy was president then, that was in the sixties. I was dying to cover that because the people who were leading it, who were holding press conferences the week before and all that, people like A. Philip Randolph, one that I particularly remember—I knew all those people because they'd all been a part of the beginnings of civil rights activity in Chicago when I was covering it on the Chicago Sun. I was just dying to become a part of that.
Ritchie: Back in the forties.
Shelton: Yes. I even talked to the women's editor about maybe I could work the city desk that day because I knew these people. Well, she was very prejudiced—bigoted, actually—and was just appalled at the very idea. She said, "Don't you dare go up there and get involved," and all that. She sent us all home in taxis that day. To her this was just a terrible, frightening event that was happening. She sent us home early. So I went home and watched it on television, with tears streaming down my face, because it was so wonderful.
Ritchie: So you were sent home in taxis for your own safety?
Shelton: That was her feeling, that, you know, the black mob was taking over the city. To me it was a very exciting, sort of defining moment in this whole black movement that I felt I had sort of seen begin back in Chicago.
Ritchie: But hadn't seen much activity here in the fifties?
* August 1963.
Shelton: No. No. My whole world changed in every respect when I got married. Everything that I covered in Chicago, I didn't cover any more, and I was—well, certainly after I got to the Star, totally confined to the world of women.
Ritchie: But, because of your location, you were able to take advantage, every advantage of the situation with the political people.
Shelton: It was absolutely wonderful what a wide landscape there was that I could cover if I could find a woman's angle.
Ritchie: So you worked hard at that.
Ritchie: Because in many places you would have been confined to the teas or the—
Shelton: Oh, yes. That's why I say, any place else but Washington I think I would have just died in the women's department. But in Washington it was totally fascinating.
Ritchie: So it was a good combination of your interests and the situation.
Shelton: Of my interests and—I just happened to hit Washington at the right time when this was changing and expanding.
Ritchie: This might be a good place for us to stop today and then start with the sixties next time?
Shelton: Yes, that would be fine.
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