Washington Press Club Foundation
Sarah McClendon:
Interview #1 (pp. 1-20)
May 2, 1989 in Washington, DC
Margo Knight, Interviewer

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[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

McClendon: My family heritage is from England and Scotland and Wales, a little bit of French. We lived in an old southern town dating from about 1830, sort of the center part of East Texas, which is a different section from other places in Texas. It's more southern and less western, and noted for its culture. Its people tried very hard to have culture in this area, and they were not rich. They were given to cotton and agricultural economy, and one crop would become a glut on the market, and everybody would go broke, so they'd go to another crop. It turned out year after year after year, and it was very fascinating to watch how they would go to the maximum of production and success in one thing, and then it would just collapse completely, and they'd go to another. This is why I have great faith that Texas economy will still come back after the disaster of the 1980s.

Anyway, it was fascinating to grow up there, because my father and mother (Sidney S. McClendon and Annie Bonner McClendon) were very interested in public affairs. My father came from North Louisiana and his father had been a slave owner with a considerable number of slaves at the end of the Civil War, and lost his slaves, of course, and lost his hundred bales of cotton which the government never paid him for.

But I came from that Civil War background, and it had a great impact on the culture and the economy and the thinking. People were still living through the war, because, of course, they were occupied in Louisiana. Most people in the United States don't know that Louisiana was occupied by northern troops after the war. My father was a devoted Democrat because at eleven years old, he had marched up the hill with the Democrats, saying, "Democrats, ain't ya happy?" because they got their state back again and they were back in the union. I think that was 1876. He moved to Tyler as a young man, seventeen years old, with a promise to his mother that he would never take a drink in a saloon, and he held to it.

My mother came from a great family of southerners who dated back to Virginia and North and South Carolina. They came right through the southern states to Texas, and on both sides of my family there were members who fought and they were pre-colonists, pre-Revolutionary War, and then they fought in the Revolutionary War. Some of them fought in the Civil War, but mostly my grandparents were at home during that war. Some uncles and cousins fought in the Civil War.

We lived in Tyler. I was the youngest of nine children. My people were poor. My father had been a merchant. He had a book and stationery business and he sold pianos. He was one of the first people in East Texas to sell on credit. He was very attentive to his family, a very good provider, but he had to sort of be a farmer and a businessman to provide for all that crowd to eat. We lived in a great big, huge house that the family bought from relatives, and the house is now being restored, not because of me, but I was born there, but it's being restored because of my family's prominence. It's a community development [project] now, and I'm very proud of it.

I learned in this house. I listened to all the debates. I listened very carefully to everything I heard going on. It was quite an education. My mother, when I was about six years old, would take me with her, going out in the country with Mrs. Cone Johnson, who is a relative of Elizabeth Carpenter. She was a very beautiful woman who divided her time between Washington and Texas. She was a leader in getting suffrage for women, and so she and my mother teamed

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together. They would go out to the smaller communities near Tyler and urge people to vote for women's suffrage. My mother had no babysitter and no day-care center, so she took me along with her. I listened to their speeches, and when I would come home, my older brothers would tease me and say, "Oh, now, Sarah," when I'd kind of ape the speech. So they would put me up on the table and have me make the speech for them. So this was a good education, the whole thing. My mother was a great person for women to have careers. She always inspired me to be whatever I did, not to just marry and have children, but to have a career and be a professional person.

Knight: How would she do that?

McClendon: By what she talked and what she admired and what she urged people to do. She had married at twenty-one and began having children right away. She always wanted to write. She wrote every day. She was a prolific writer. She wrote the history of our school, the history of our church, the history of our family, and she wrote to her sons and daughters who were absent from home. This writing was a great communications network. I have many of the letters. In many of the letters that I have read since she died, I have found that she was always extremely worried about would there be any money for Sarah to go to college, would Sarah have some opportunities. She wanted me so much to have opportunities. Why she pressed this more than for the older three sisters I had, I don't know, except for the fact that one was a schoolteacher and always going to college, the other two were not so anxious to go to college. One ended up in business, but one wanted to just stay home, but she had to work in the post office. She was one of the first women in our county to go to work in World War I.

I learned public affairs by not only listening to them talk. We would have long discussions at the dinner table. We'd sit around, maybe twelve or fourteen of us, at one long table in our dining room, and then we would go on summer evenings to sit around the porch. Maybe there would be friends in, maybe not, but we'd be sitting there, and maybe we'd eat watermelon or we would listen to political discussions. I was always interested in that.

My mother and father had made an agreement before they got married, and they married, I think about 1889, somewhere along in there. They made an agreement that they would always try to help people who were downgraded or depressed or underdogs, and they would try to help them in the community and go to visit the sick and try to help people as much as possible. This feeling of service to others carried over completely with me. I was always watching what they did and observing. I was learning so much from them.

Then we had several congressmen call at the house, and we would fix special dinners for them. My mother was a good cook, but having so many children, she always had to have help in the house. Although my mother was no longer a Methodist, when the Methodist preachers held a conference in our town, she always insisted that we slide over and double up in the house and make room for one or two of them to have a place to stay during their conference. We did that, and then we had them to supper. Of course, we listened to them talk. I was fascinated.

Then I heard my mother belonged to a literary club and went to a meeting once a week every week, and they reviewed books, great books. She would come home and just give us the whole lesson. So we learned a lot from those books. Then she would tell us about the meeting, the prominent women in the town there. Then I heard all the discussion of World War I coming on. I remember it just as today, being down and hearing at suppertime that we had gotten in the war, April 6, 1917, I think. We had gotten into World War I. Then I was there when my brothers left, and it was the saddest, most depressing thing in the world. It was horrible to see my mother have to tell goodbye to her boys to go. We thought overseas was the end of the world. We thought it was so far away and so terrible to have to go overseas. That very word just sent daggers through your heart.

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We were a very poor family, so everybody in the family tried to work at something or other. [Telephone interruption.]

We were talking about going to war. It was a horrible experience to see how they grieved over saying goodbye to these two boys, two young men. One was in law school at the University of Texas, and he volunteered. He was one of the first volunteers. The other one was married, but he was going. Later on, another brother was about to go, when the war ended. During the war, we in our house had two stars on the door as a flag for service, and we knitted, and I helped knit, wristlets for the wrists of the soldiers, and gloves and scarves and things like that. We would gather around with the neighbors, a group at our house, knitting and sewing, like cousins and relatives and friends.

Then at school, we had these patriotic parades. Oh, we were terribly patriotic. We sang these songs and learned all of these songs. We would march downtown in parades. I marched in many a parade around the square.

Then we had a square in our town, a courthouse square, which was wonderful. Every Friday night they had a concert there. This was in the summer, of course. You didn't go with kids from the other parts. This was a very restricted town. You didn't see kids from East Tyler or North Tyler. We lived in Southwest Tyler, I guess. Anyway, I would meet some of these kids. We were allowed to go around the square by ourselves for maybe a time or two, and we would meet other kids and talk to them and play with them and dance with them and play games with them. Then we'd meet there every Friday night. We found out there were kids from other parts of town. [Laughter.]

Then when World War I was over, it was five o'clock in the morning, and my mother got us all out of bed, and we knelt down and said our prayers. My brothers had met overseas, which was very unusual. They were never captured, and we were very grateful for that.

Another thing, we did church in our house. My father was a devout Episcopalian. He converted my mother from Methodism, and she became such a great—she sang in the choir, and every time the church door opened, we were there. We had to walk about a mile and a half or two miles to get to the church, but we went to every service. Then we went to midnight Christmas Eve, midnight mass.

Another thing I remember very much was singing in groups for Christmas and Easter. We would go and practice hymns for a long time beforehand, and that gave us a lot of group feeling. We just had a lot of patriotism about our city and our town. We were trying very hard to get new industry, and trying very hard to upgrade the town. We watched very carefully everything that went on.

In our home, we had friends from time to time, and it got to the point, since as I grew up, I had a big house, I used to have a lot of parties. We had a huge room, a parlor, that we would have parties in and we could have dances in. We had a player piano that you pumped music. I would take meal from the kitchen and put it on the floor in the parlor, roll up the rugs and put the meal on the floor and pack it in, make it real slick for dancing. We had great dances there.

Knight: Sounds like you grew up in a very sociable environment.

McClendon: I did. Yet my brothers and sisters were always so nice to me, because I was the youngest in the family. I had a better life than they did, and they were just wonderful to me. Then when it came time for me to go to school, one of my sisters, a schoolteacher, she didn't have a great huge bill [to pay], but she provided all the tuition for me to go to Tyler Junior College in my town for two years. If it hadn't been for the Junior College, I wouldn't have gotten to college, because there was no money. We had a huge vegetable garden which we shared

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with widows and neighbors and friends, where we'd have surpluses. My mother would put up 140 jars of jelly, maybe, and we would help her. We would help her as much as possible. She'd make these wonderful, great cakes before Christmas and put them aside, wrapped in white linen, and every now and then she'd pour some bourbon over them and hide them in the dark.

I don't know, we just took part in everything that came along. I was in plays at school and I got into little theater. I loved little theater. I acted in several plays there.

But the funniest thing about it was that from the time I was about twelve or thirteen on, until I was about sixteen, we went socially in our town. They created entertainment for the teenagers at homes. They'd go around a circle of friends. Each one would have a party, then the next one would have a party, then the next one have a party. The parents would make great preparations for these parties. They would have decorations on the windows and the ceiling, cakes and the favors, prizes, and all that to make it interesting for us. We often had dancing to Victrola music Friday nights and that sort of thing. It helped us all kind of stay together and not get to be too bad juveniles.

But I was at times a juvenile delinquent, too. I remember riding around the square, going the wrong way late at night, thinking, oh, what a great adventure it was. Then I remember moving some lanterns from construction sites in front of people's doors, things like that which I should have never done.

Tyler Junior College was a nice experience. That's where we really began to mix with other people in other parts of our community and our county. While I was at Tyler Junior College, I had some wonderful teachers. The first year they were exceptional teachers. They realized that they had to introduce our community to what college was, and they had to introduce students, who were raw, into what it was like to be a college student, what was expected of you in college. So with that as an introduction, I think I fared better. I was writing themes for other people, as we called them, who didn't like to write. I liked to write. So I would write for my own and some others, and sometimes I'd get paid $1.50 or $3 from some student to write their theme.

Knight: Plagiarize.

McClendon: Well, not plagiarize it, but I mean, I would write it for them, you see. They would put it out under their name. But whether this schoolteacher knew about this or not, this one teacher was very badly crippled, but she came from a town where there was a great school of journalism, the University of Missouri at Columbia. She taught us French and drama, and we had great plays. She knew us pretty well. She went to every baseball and football thing we had. She stayed with us so much that she got to know us better.

One day she said to me, "Sarah, McClendon, you will become a reporter. You will go to the University of Missouri School of Journalism and learn to be a reporter." And I said, "Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am." I never even thought of it before. I had thought all along that I'd be a lawyer, because most of my family, the men, were great lawyers. My grandfather had been a great judge, and he got on the Supreme Court of Texas, and all of his brothers and so forth had been either lawyers or preachers. So I thought surely I'd be a lawyer. But I realized that women weren't going to make much money that way, nor would I have any practice at all.

I had to go to work. I knew I had to go to work. I went to work at fifteen in a bank as a telephone operator, and didn't listen in but one time. [Laughter.] That was one of our officers who was talking to his girlfriend. We all knew he was talking to his girlfriend, so I did listen in on that. He was so long in the booth. My sister was there, in charge of the bookkeeping department, and she made me a bookkeeper after a while. I thought, "What am I doing here?" I worked there about two years. I thought, "What am I doing? I'm just feeding myself to this machine. I've got to get out of here. I've got to go somewhere and do something."

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So we decided that I would try this University of Missouri business if I could just get the money to go there. My cousins, who were wealthy, had gone up there and lived the high fine sorority life, and they thought I should try for a sorority. I didn't even know what a sorority was, nor did I care. But anyway, I had to go and buy winter clothes and wear winter clothes in the heat in September, because that was the thing to do. You had to arrive in winter clothes. That was the social thing to do. You had to look good and smart in winter clothes. So we did that. I borrowed the money. My sister helped me, who was working in the bank. Another sister helped me. I borrowed some money from one of my mother's old boyfriends, and she was very embarrassed, because she didn't want people to realize how poor she was. All of her relatives were well-to-do, but she had so many children and everything. As my father once said, "If I had not had to spend the money on all my children and to spend it on myself, I would have had a lot of money." But they enjoyed their children.

So I got together a little bit of money and got to the school, the University of Missouri. Of course, I just wasn't the sorority type and I didn't know what this was all about, and I didn't make the sorority. Oh, it was terrible, all my life, that I didn't make the sorority.

Knight: You felt that way?

McClendon: My family. Big failure. Big failure. Oh, life was going to be nothing for me. Absolutely nothing.

So a woman came by, a counselor for the Episcopal Church. I was Episcopalian. She called on me at my room where I was staying, and offered me a job taking care of her two children, coming to live at her house, living free in her apartment and taking care of her two children while she worked, and have one meal a day with them. So I took the job and went to live in this older house. It was my first winter away in cold weather, and the heat worked in every room except mine. When it did work, every now and then it would come a black soot all over everything in my room. [Laughter.] So I would take those kids. She was from the East, from New York, a very cultured, very well-educated woman from a great family of artists and sculptors. Her husband had left her, and she was kind of broken-hearted and crushed about all this. So when she was working with these young people at the Episcopal Church, it was wonderful to hear her talk and be around her presence, which was lovely. She was educating me all the time, too.

But when I would take the children out for a walk in the afternoon, I'd usually see some good-looking student from the university that I thought, "Oh, my, isn't he good-looking?" and all that sort of thing. About that time, the kids would say right before him, "Missy Kennen, I want to go to the bathroom!" [Laughter.] It was very embarrassing. I'd be in a movie house and they'd sing out. Anyway, the kids didn't do so well, I don't think, under me, but I tried to tutor them as best I could.

Then we decided to do something else, I would stay on or something. I don't know, she finally put them in a school, into Catholic school. She became a Catholic while she was there, just to show you how independent she was. And I thought, "Oh, that's terrible! Don't you dare do that. You should never do that." She became a Catholic, and I really began to understand what she was doing and going through. She thought it was a beautiful religion.

So eventually, about a year later, I became a Catholic while I was at the University of Missouri. I remember going out one day, a beautiful morning, and I thought, "I'm an agnostic. I don't believe. How did all this get here, this beauty? The rocks and the hills and trees and flowers, how did it get here? Man didn't make it." So anyway, I became a Catholic, too. When I came home from school and told my mother and father, they had been listening a lot to some Catholic radio programs, and they didn't object. They didn't object at all. They didn't say "no"

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and "terrible." They said it was a fine religion and it was a hard religion to live, but it was sincere, and they didn't mind. But my older sister, who had helped me go through school, left home. She wouldn't spend Christmas with me. She said I couldn't go to church over there, that nobody went to church over there "but the Mexicans and Dagos," which was true in our town at that time. [Laughter.] It was just about that way. Only two or three families were not that way.

When I got home from school, I graduated in '31. [Telephone interruption.]

Where were we?

Knight: This is a good opportunity for me. You were talking a little bit about when you got home and turned Catholic. I'd like to really go back and ask more questions. You told me about your mother and what she did. What are your strongest memories of her? What's your strongest impression of her as a person?

McClendon: How sweet she was and very, very gracious and lovely. Her hair was altogether white. I never saw her hair when it wasn't white, because I came along when she was about forty-three years old, and her hair started turning white in her twenties. But she was so sweet and gracious and understanding, thoroughly understanding. You could always talk to her. There were older sisters and brothers who every now and then would try to keep you from talking to her, and they'd try to talk for you, and I didn't appreciate this, because they would sometimes tell her how she should feel about me and what I'd done and everything.

So at thirteen years old, I began to coyly keep my distance from these older brothers and sisters, and keep my secrets to myself of what I planned to do and was doing. But I could go and talk to her about it, and she would understand. So I withdrew into myself somewhat, which was sort of a mistake, withdrawing into myself. I was timid, quiet, scared, and wouldn't tell other people what I was thinking or wouldn't ask their advice. The main thing that was bad about it was that I didn't ask their advice and counsel. I would kind of rely on my own judgment, which was not always so good. I did that until many, many years later in my life when I got to be a reporter in Washington. After I had been here a long, long time, I found out that it's wise to get counsel from other people and to network with other people. I could only do that in my later years.

Knight: Did you do that to protect yourself when you were young?

McClendon: I was protecting myself from my brothers and sisters, who would say, "Don't let her do that. Do this, do that." They were trying to make up my mother's mind for me. But it grew to the point of being suspicious and staying into myself and withdrawing into myself, and not being real cozy, confidential with other friends. I was very wary of being confidential. I was wary of telling anyone or letting them know what I was planning to do, because there was competition and I had to be a little crafty about it if I wanted to win something. I had too many bad experiences of finding out that when other women found out what you were doing or what boy you wanted to date or what you wanted to do, they would try to take him away from you. I had so much of that, that I just became very isolated. I sort of withdrew into myself, which was not good. It was a personality trait that I had to overcome, which I have overcome now. I talk to everybody and tell everybody everything. [Laughter.]

Knight: Went the other extreme.

McClendon: Now I ask everybody for advice and try to find out what they're doing, and I work with a lot of people. I have a whole group of people who call me all the time to give me news.

Knight: What expectations and dreams do you think your mother had for you?

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McClendon: Oh, she wanted me to have a career, very much, a profession, and she was glad for me to go to the University of Missouri to be a reporter. She wanted me to be tops. She thought I could write, and she thought I would write. She should have been a reporter herself. She would have been a great reporter had she had the chance. So she saw all these things that she wanted to do, I think, in me, and she wanted me to do them. She also knew that I was interested in public life and politics. My father was chairman of the Democratic National Committee in our county for thirty years, which meant he ran the elections. He was in charge of the elections. We would help him sometimes go and collect the votes. When I became a reporter, I was always out working for the paper collecting votes that night. We would go with him to political rallies and speaking engagements on the public square. We thought it was terribly important. Then he was in politics himself.

We were not rich at all. We were having a hard time getting on, because there was no money left from any estate or anything that my mother acquired or he acquired. So when I was three years old, I remember it distinctly, I was two or three years old, Woodrow Wilson was elected president. He was banking so much on Wilson's election, and worked hard for Wilson to be elected, because if Wilson were elected, he was going to be named postmaster, and that was going to give us a state income for the month. We'd know what we were living on. So I ran to meet him when he came home. The first night we were told that Wilson had lost; the other man had won. We all went to bed thinking Wilson had lost.

Then the next day we found out Wilson had won, and when my father came, I ran to meet him and take his hand. I was so glad that he was named postmaster. And he was a great postmaster. When he was in the post office, he was very patriotic and believed in serving the people. On Sunday afternoons after church, he would go to the post office, and if there was a letter there for a family who had a boy overseas in the war, or who was in prison or something like that, he would find this letter that had just arrived, he wouldn't wait until the next day and let the postman take it out to them. He would walk and take the letter to them and deliver it himself on Sunday afternoons. This was a great service and wonderful. He knew how people wanted to hear from their sons, because he wanted to hear from his sons.

Then he dressed me up in a little Red Cross costume like a Red Cross nurse and put me and my sister in the post office selling war savings stamps and bonds. We had little booths there for us, and we sold these in the lobby. That's what you were supposed to do, allowed to do. It was a war savings thing. So we did that. Everything we were supposed to do in the war, we complied. We would buy surplus meat which the army had sold. They wanted to get rid of that. Everything they wanted to save. We would get postcards in the mail, which I think was very fascinating. It was done by Herbert Hoover. He did a marvelous job as food director. I can't tell you his exact title, but it had something to do with food nutrition. We got postcards in the mail from him telling us how to cooperate, what to do. Everything he told us to do, we did. We'd have meatless and wheatless days. He would tell you like that, to conserve food. Everything that we were supposed to do that day, we did, you know. And if every family did that, it would have had a great impact. Just think, we got these cards in the mail from the government.

Knight: What are your strongest memories of your father?

McClendon: I didn't quite appreciate my father as much, because he was often gone and absent down at his store downtown, trying to make a living, and was often not there at mealtime. My mother would keep food for him and serve it to him when he'd come home. Then I'd sit with him while he ate. I have the greatest admiration and respect for him now, and I talk about him all the time, because I realize what ideas he was putting into our family. He was a great reader, and he insisted on every day we were supposed to read the newspaper. Everybody had to read the newspaper. He read it every day, the Dallas News. He was a great speaker. He would give the Masonic funerals, and people would come from thirty and fifty miles around to hear him give

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a Masonic funeral, because he did it so dramatically and so beautifully. The way he learned to read, he couldn't read at all at first when he was a little boy growing up. There were no schools in North Louisiana after the Civil War. His mother was a great reader. She would tell him, "Don't give me china. Don't give me silver. Give me books." She said, "I've been around the world several times," meaning she had read her way around the world. But she told him if he didn't have an education, didn't know much to read—he hadn't had any schooling much—she told him to read the Bible and Shakespeare, and those were the main books he read. His speeches got to be great. He could quote whole passages of the Bible in his speeches and whole passages of Shakespeare.

He was a young man in Tyler, right after he moved to Tyler. He came there by stagecoach from North Louisiana, Monroe. When he came there, not knowing anything and not being in any social life or anything for Sunday afternoon, he would go out in the woods, as his mother had taught him to do, with these two books, and just lie out there and read. He went to work for a nice family there, had a nice store, and they introduced him to some nice young ladies. That's how he met my mother. He went to church and he met nice people at church. He always kept himself with nice people.

He used to teach me. One of the main things I remember about him is he told me, "You should go. You should take part. You should be present at public events. You should take part in things, make contacts with people. Contacts are the greatest things you can do. You never know when that contact will come back to you." Woodrow Wilson was not a great politician. He was more of a student, but he went to the Democratic Convention, and there he met three men who became three very important men in his life when he became president. One was his attorney general, one was his postmaster general, and one was his great confidant who stayed at the White House with him and advised him on matters. So he said, "That's what contacts can do for you. He just met these men at the convention. You should go."

One time I had a chance to go to Europe, and I was going to borrow the money on my insurance, pay for my way and go to Europe to visit these people over there. My father made me go. He urged me to go. I didn't want to go. I was scared. I didn't want to go by myself. I didn't want to travel by myself. I didn't want to go to another place; I was really scared. He said, "You must go." He forced me to go. I think that urging, the character that they gave us, and what they inspired us to do were very important in our lives.

Knight: Did you ever think that you were raised any differently than your brothers were? Were there different expectations for the girls?

McClendon: When my older brothers were in the room and I would be sitting down and they would come in the room, my mother would have me get up and give them my chair. [Laughter.] Because I was a child. I guess that was more or less because I was a child rather than I was a woman. But I remember getting up and giving them my seat. Yes, there were lots of times when I think the older brothers in the family had a lot more opportunities and were given maybe more encouragement than my sisters. But it was my sisters' own fault, because they were kind of timid and stayed around home. The men went out to work for themselves. But nearly everybody in the family worked at something. Everybody in the family turned out to be successful in something, and they were nice and successful people, respected in the community.

Knight: Were you taught ladylike behavior?

McClendon: Oh, yes.

Knight: Tell me about that.

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McClendon: I was taught to, of course, be deferential to my elders and not to talk when they were talking, not to make noise.

Knight: Have you followed that?

McClendon: I guess not. [Laughter.] But I certainly followed it in my younger days until I found out that with too much competition, I had no chance if I didn't do that, didn't become loud. It wasn't that I particularly preferred to be loud, it's that I had to be competitive. I had to do something, I found out.

After I graduated from the University of Missouri, I went with a friend of mine to Chicago. I was going to try to get on the Chicago Tribune. I met my boyfriend there in Chicago. I had so little money, I was afraid to go across town by myself. I was just afraid. I had so little money and I was afraid if I got on a big paper, that everybody would be better. I had a terrible inferiority complex, terrible. I was very timid. I thought, "Everybody will think I'm no good and I'll get fired right away if I go to work for this paper. I wouldn't know what I was doing, and I wouldn't know Chicago. I better not try it." So I wired home for some money. My brother sent me some money, and I went right home and stayed in Tyler.

Then I got to thinking, "My gosh, if I don't get a job on a newspaper, I'll die. It'll just kill me. I've got to. I have to write and I have to produce. I have to get the story out."

So I called up this newspaper editor. I was playing tennis one Sunday afternoon. I went in the house and phoned this editor of the Tyler paper, on Sunday afternoon, mind you. I asked him if I could have a job working for him. He said, "Come around tomorrow and we'll talk about it." Can you imagine the gall?

So the next day, he and I talked about it, and he said, "I have a special project. I don't have any place for a reporter, but I have a special project for you to write some stories to get us a hospital. That will be your job. I'll pay you $10 a week."

I said, "Yes, sir!" I was delighted. I knew we needed a hospital very badly in that town. We had about ten beds in one little rundown place. At that time, there was a Depression all over the nation, except in our spot. We were the only white spot on the nation's business map. We were the white spot because they had found oil. The biggest fields that were ever found, they found within about twenty-five or thirty miles from my home town. Everybody in the world started coming in there, pouring in there, and there were all kinds of accidents in machinery, heavy machinery, heavy equipment, automobiles and trucks, many accidents on the road, many accidents at the fields. They started bringing in these patients. There was one other little tiny hospital in a little old rundown office.

So we started writing stories every day about the need for the hospital and what we would do if we had the hospital, what happened today, what we would have done if we had the hospital to take care of that man or that situation, maybe he wouldn't have died. Started writing about how much a hospital would bring to a town, the economy would develop it, how we would go about getting the hospital, who would build it, who would run it. We just kept those stories up every day. Finally, they voted for the hospital.

So we got the hospital built, and it was turned over to some Catholic sisters. We got the hospital built. It was ready to be occupied and was going to be opened the next day. That day there was a terrible explosion in the school, and 290-something people wiped out. So the hospital opened at once. That was a terrible disaster. I covered that disaster. I got a scoop on it. I was at the beauty parlor when it happened. I got through with the beauty parlor and said, "What's going on?"

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"We think the New London School just blew up."

I said, "What?" I grabbed my photographer, and he and I went out the door. We didn't wait to ask questions. We drove right to it and got there, the first reporters to get there. We had to drive about eighteen miles to get there. There were bodies lying all over the ground. One man was walking around, alive. I said, "There's no need to talk to the dead. I'll talk to him." He was assistant superintendent, and he told me what he could.

I just went to the telephone and called it in. We had a deadline later on my local paper, but I was watching it. I was Tyler representative for International News Service, which was the news network at that time. It's no longer in existence. I phoned them in Dallas and gave them the story, and they got it out as a scoop. They paid me a bonus for the scoop. But that was the last phone call out in about three days. They had to put up emergency phones and mobile phones when they could get them, all that sort of thing. People and equipment poured in there. My newspaper started getting calls from London and Australia and everywhere, wanting to know what it was all about, what had happened. In five minutes, these children would have been out of the school and on their way home. It was a bad mixture of gas and air, and apparently the buildings had been piped by talent from the oil field who knew pipes and used them, but not professional piping. They had not gone through standard tests, apparently. There was a bad mixture and it caused this explosion.

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

McClendon: That was good training for journalism, because it was terrific. People came from the biggest papers and the biggest networks all over to cover. They didn't know the town or the area or the community. I worked with a lot of them. It was good experience for me. I went out there and stayed all night. I rode to the hospital with the first load of patients for the new hospital, and a Red Cross nurse and I rode in an open truck with those patients. Then I went back to the scene and stayed all night. It was just like a war zone. I saw bones that were just like they'd been boiled in oil, it was that violent an explosion. Some of the people were never identified at all, and some of the patients' parents went from community to community to the morgues, looking for their children. They were still digging all night to try to find out if there were any more people.

Knight: As a young reporter, did you have to struggle with objectivity? How did you separate your emotions in a situation like that?

McClendon: It never was hard for me emotionally to go up [to a situation]. We had many, many terrible accidents, many bad accidents on the highway that I'd just get out of the car and go over. I would just go up and immediately—I used to marvel at myself, thinking, "Why don't I think, 'Oh, my, you poor thing'?" I would just go up immediately and say, "What's your name? How old are you? What happened?" I'd just get all the facts down, all the story down, because I wanted to get the story and get it out.

I held back my emotions on this, because it may have been partly a state of shock in that particular explosion, but after that I covered many other explosions and murders, because we had every kind of activity. We had con men, we had mafia from Chicago, gangsters from Chicago down there. We had con men from Europe. We had all kinds of things. It was such a terrific experience, the oil boom. Not just that explosion, but the oil boom. We had people sleeping in the lobby of the hotels, row after row of bodies, no other place to sleep. We had men chained to trees outside in one little community, because they had no jails. We had bank buildings torn down and schools torn down for them to drill oil wells.

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Knight: So a lot was happening in that time.

McClendon: One of the first stories I covered bothered my family very much. That happened in my family several times. One of the first stories I covered, I found out some cousins of mine had been royally entertaining at their house socially this couple from Chicago, that everybody was going after Mr. and Mrs. Kagy Jones. They thought they were just great people. They found out later on, when they were killed in Houston by some rival mobsters, that they had just been gangsters from Chicago. So when I wrote the story about how these old dames in my home town, including my cousins and aunts and uncles and all that, had been entertaining these people and taking them into their social hearts, the family was pretty mad at me. [Laughter.]

One time I had the experience of my sisters coming to me, my oldest sisters, who said, "Sarah, this is awful! You cannot do this anymore. You must not. You cannot. You've got to be a lady. We saw you this afternoon on the courthouse square, sitting and talking to an old, old tramp. You mustn't talk to people like that. You must remember who you are. You're a McClendon." [Laughter.] He was a delightful old fellow.

There are all kinds of stories like that. I went to jails and fed some of the prisoners that I had covered, who were not going to get meals. At night I'd take them hamburgers, and they'd give me more stories. I knew a very well-known associate of Clyde Barrow, who was a famous outlaw. I knew his associate, Ray. I think it was Ray Thompson. I covered the trial on him, and I took him hamburgers in the jail. At the time I was dating a federal agent who was incensed with me for taking hamburgers to those prisoners. I covered the federal courthouse, and I covered all these offices very carefully. I covered federal courts. One time we had 250 people at one day's sentence.

I got to know the oil-field characters, and one of them was a woman named "Dirty Neck" Jesse. "Dirty Neck" Jesse liked good-looking clothes, and she wore good-looking clothes. But she suddenly came to court one day, and we thought, "Why is she here?" We found out later on that she was the one who was controlling the hot oil movements. She was the one who told them when to go and not to go out of the oil fields, to take the oil at night. She was apparently doing a big business, and they said she could put any man in the oil field on the spot, she knew so much that was going on. She was a good-looking dame, and I liked to cover her. Her husband deserted her for another woman, and she was just killed. I remember all that.

I remember going to a place called the Iron Head Cafe, which was run by a woman who said she never took a dime for a date in her life. Her girls didn't do it; they just danced. They danced their shoes off. She was so much against reporters that the sheriff took me down there to see her and get a story by giving me an assumed name and telling her that I was his niece. While I was down there as his niece, my cousin walked in and said, "Hi, Sarah. What are you doing down here?" [Laughter.] Anyway, she lived right near the Iron Head Cafe, where there had been murders. The reason they called it the Iron Head Cafe is because the man who was proprietor of the cafe held an iron chain under the counter. Instead of a gun, he held an iron chain which he would bring out and use to hit people if they tried to attack him or make trouble.

Knight: Let me go back just a little bit about your writing. It sounds like you learned to enjoy writing from your mother.

McClendon: Oh, yes. I learned.

Knight: What is the earliest piece you remember writing at home?

McClendon: They had it for me one time. They saved it for me for a long time. I was amazed at what it was. I don't remember now where it is or what it was about, but it was something I scratched early in life that they thought was unusual, so they kept it for me.

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Knight: Did you share your writing with your mother?

McClendon: Oh, yes. Oh, sure. She and I talked a lot about it. She was really into writing, and she collected material for a book or two, which she didn't get to write, but mainly she was mostly interested in history and events. I was, too.

Knight: But you'd never thought about being a reporter until this one high school teacher had mentioned it?

McClendon: No. I thought I was going to be a lawyer, because I was going to debate in the courtroom. I was always debating, or rather questioning, and asking questions, wondering if that was right or not. We would have real arguments in the house at our meals and on our porch at night, on politics and different things. We didn't always agree. It always worried me that some people would get in violent arguments. I thought, "It's too bad. They should love each other." [Laughter.]

Knight: You mean your own family?

McClendon: Yes.

Knight: Well, they did, didn't they?

McClendon: It always bothered me if they got in big arguments with each other. I was always trying to make peace.

Knight: Weren't you involved in the arguments?

McClendon: I would argue some myself, I guess, but I didn't go for violent feuds and that sort of thing. The oldest children often go in for, "I don't like him. I won't speak to him," that sort of thing. My oldest brother, when he would come to see us about once or twice a year, Sunday afternoon he would take us into the parlor and say, "I want to talk to you in the parlor." Oh, I hated that. To this day I hate when anyone says, "I want to talk to you." I shun—

Knight: What did he want to talk to you about?

McClendon: I shun away. He wanted to tell me about my conduct or whether I did this or that, and was I obeying my mother and father. I just didn't like that idea. I to this day, when anyone says, "I want to talk to you," I say, "Oh, what about?" [Laughter.]

Knight: You mentioned earlier that you had gotten into a little bit of trouble, but were your parents very strict with you?

McClendon: They were pretty strict with me. They felt they had to be. One time I lied to my father. He told us to go to church, and I went out with this date. He was worried about my going on this date because the boy was older than I. He told us to go to church, and we didn't go to church. When we got home, he knew I hadn't gone to church. So he whipped me. He whipped me with a belt. I knew he didn't want to. That was all right. I got a few whippings. We had a few whippings. I always hated so much for the other person to get the whipping. I couldn't stand somebody getting a whipping, but they got whippings. They felt like they had to, to make them behave. But they sure did bring up people who behave. They all turned out very well. Everybody graduated from high school but one brother, and he became the smartest member of the family from reading. Then most of them graduated from college, not all of them. One of my sisters didn't go to college, but she went to business college and became a very successful bookkeeper in a bank, a businesswoman.

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But we all tried to help each other, and we're still trying to help each other, all the time. When the boys left and got really good jobs and were doing well elsewhere, they still would send back money or send back assistance, try to help the parents and younger brothers and sisters. We loved to have them come home, you know, have family reunions and things like that.

Knight: What turned the corner for you when you decided not to be a lawyer and be a reporter? How did you make that decision?

McClendon: This woman talked about how attractive this school was and how wonderful it was and it turned out good reporters. I got to thinking in my own life, well, I liked to write and I liked to ask questions, and I liked to find out and investigate things, find out things. The more I heard about it, the more I decided that that would be a good idea. But there was no money, and by hook and scrape, my sister who worked as a bookkeeper in the bank took me to Dallas and bought my clothes. Another brother bought this, another brother bought that. Then when I was in school, all the time I was at the University of Missouri, when I had no money, this one brother who was working, I don't know how he did it, he was doing well, but he wasn't a rich man by any means, he sent me $60 a month. I know one time at school I didn't have any money for some reason or other, and I ate sandwiches for a month, I think on credit or something or other.

One thing I learned very well at school. I got a job one time, I begged for the job. (They didn't want me to ever be a waitress, and I didn't want to be a waitress, so I shied away from those jobs.) One time I got a job saying I could do something I couldn't. I really didn't know how. It was a clerical job, and it was over my head. I learned pretty quickly that one of the worst things in the world you could do was to have a job that's over your head.

I did this, too, this crazy thing. I didn't think you had to study at a university. I thought you just had to go out with the boys and have dates and do the best you could. I didn't work hard, didn't study hard, and didn't realize how hard you had to work at a big university. So I was failing in my courses. I was trying to take care of these two children, trying to go to school, trying to date, trying to live without any money, and all that business. It was cold and the heat wouldn't work in my room. Everything was against me, sort of. So I didn't do well. I was really in bad shape with my grades, looked like I was going to flunk out.

I told them if they'd let me go to school up there, I would never come home in the summer. I'd wear winter clothes in the summer and not buy any clothes in the summer. I couldn't do that. It was very hot. I had to go buy clothes. Came Christmas, I wanted to go home so bad, I was so homesick. So I advertised in the paper for a ride and told them I would help drive the car. I got a chance to ride home with this couple and their son in an unheated Ford car that we started off in six below zero. We drove through Missouri and Oklahoma. One night they were asleep, and I was still driving around hazardous roads in the mountains and everything, which I shouldn't have been driving around in. I don't know how in the world I lived. We finally got to this little town where we thought we could stop, and we only had one room with all of us, strangers and me, all had to stay in this one room. No separate bathroom or anything, you know. It was terrible. We had a hard time finding any place to go to the bathroom. We huddled around this little stove, very cold, trying to keep warm.

By the time we got to Dallas, my brother and his debutante girlfriend came to meet me. I was riding in on a bus then, and I had on these heavy winter clothes, a big shawl around my neck. Terrible. They were horrified, absolutely ghastly, horrified at the way I looked. I think he was embarrassed. They took me home to Tyler for Christmas, and I immediately developed diphtheria, which I apparently had caught on the way at some time. So I was very sick with diphtheria. It's a very bad disease to have, you know. It can kill you. I was very sick.

So my father wrote to the president of the university and told him I was not going to be able to come back by the time school started again after Christmas, that I was very sick.

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Dean Walter Williams, head of the School of Journalism, a wonderful man—he and his wife started the first School of Journalism in the country—wrote the dearest, sweetest letter back, saying for me to get well, that was the main thing, and not to worry about the grades, just get well and I'd be all right. He said it was all right.

So I was able to go back. With as bad grades as I had, I was able to get back in school. I picked up after that and began to get the feel of the thing. That was a school where you had a real newspaper being put out, you worked on holidays and Saturdays there, and really worked and would get credit. So other people would go home on holidays and weekends; I would work. I loved it. Then they gave me a job to cover downtown circuit court, and I liked that. I enjoyed covering courts particularly, because I guess I knew so much about law. I had heard it all my life from my family. I loved covering courts. It was lots of fun.

We had a wonderful teacher there named Rosko Ellard. He later went to Columbia University in New York. He was a great man and he was an inspiration to me. I also had Dean Williams for principles of journalism the last year he taught. But the University of Missouri was a great, wonderful school for journalism. They really taught. They really made you reporters. Oh, I learned really how to cover a story and standards of journalism and how to write it correctly and how not to do, how to interview, how not to promise that you'd leave something out, and always try to get the story. That's one of the things I learned—always get the story, which I believe to this day. Always get the story. And try to figure out a way to get as much of it in the paper as you possibly could, despite the people's opposition.

Then we had an editorial class, and in this editorial class they let us crusade. They let us take up causes. I liked that. We had a bad condition with sanitation of our milk in this town. I took up the cause of getting a good standard for milk and raising the quality of milk in the town. I won the case. I won it through writing editorials and stories, and we got this changed around. So that was my first crusade.

Then when I went to Tyler, I could go right into a newspaper office after that training. I could go right in and feel perfectly at home. I knew what to do. I knew that you were not going to let somebody keep you from getting the story, and you were going to get the story, regardless. You were going to get all the facts, and you weren't going to let somebody bribe you on the way back or promise you something not to write the story. I had men in Tyler try to bribe me.* [I knew the] simple things.** So I felt very much at home, going right into this office, because I had had the training in what it was all about.

I know a lot of people, sons and daughters of newspaper people, who go right into an office and start writing columns and start writing good stuff, but I wasn't putting myself forward as a great writer. I was putting myself forward as a reporter, a woman reporter who was going to prove herself, because the men were all acting like women reporters couldn't do anything but

* Re attempts at bribery. First, was a carton of cigarettes offered by the Smith County judge, now dead. He did not appreciate my turning it down. On another occasion, it was the offer of a fur coat from a lawyer, now dead, if I would disclaim an account I had written when covering a federal court trial of a man who attempted to rob a bank in which I had said that he did not have counsel at the time he was sentenced. He used this statement later to ask for a rehearing, much to the disgust of the judge and the US lawyers, now dead, who had to go to California to settle the matter. SM.
**As for "simple things," I knew the little technical matters, like writing on one side of the page and putting "more" at the bottom of a continuing page. I knew I had to be accurate and get names right. I knew to write simply, not to use flourishing phrases and insert editorial opinions. I would imagine that any person trying to start out as a reporter would be severely handicapped if he had not had the basic training in journalistic rules and ethics which I had at a school of journalism. SM.

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society, and I was going to prove myself to be a reporter who could handle any news. So I worked day and night. I worked Saturdays and Sundays, and I worked on the morning paper. I worked on the afternoon paper. That was my job. When that was over, I worked on the morning paper, too, in order to prove myself.

Every now and then they would come to me and say, "We have to cut back the budget. We don't have a society editor. Sarah, you have to go back and be the society editor." I'd go back to being society editor. Well, to keep the job, I would do it. But I would get through with the society, then go to work on general news again, in order to keep my name in before the staff and the editor, as a general reporter, and to keep my reputation going, and to keep my reputation with readers going. So that was pretty hard to do, but I just lived and breathed it. I just loved it. I became married to it.

If I went out with somebody to a party at night and we were dancing around, and I heard there was a murder at the tourist court, I would leave the dance and go to cover the murder. The boyfriend would be pretty much upset with me, but to me this was far more important. If I was out somewhere, I would call the paper and see what was going on. I ran to the fire trucks and got on them to ride to a fire once. That was one of the things I once aspired to do. Sometimes I'd be covering news, and the other reporter on the paper, when he and I were covering general news, he'd be drunk and sick and wouldn't come to work, and I would have to cover the whole beat, the only reporter that day. I'd have to go to City Hall, have to go to the Courthouse, have to watch the hospitals and the deaths, and do everything that came up. It was really a tough job, but you really learned that way.

Knight: You said there was an attitude that women should only do society pages. Was that an attitude that you felt when you were at college?

McClendon: No, that was not at college. That was in the newspaper in Tyler, Texas.

Knight: Did they ever talk to you about that attitude when you were in college? Because that's the way the world was in many papers.

McClendon: No, they just told me that women might be assigned that way, and then they might be assigned otherwise, but to try to get what you could. Of course, my greatest fear was the recession was on, the Depression, and the country was in a bad way, and we might have a very hard time getting a job of any kind. That was my fear, that I would not get a job as a newspaper reporter. I knew there were lots of women who got trained well in the profession, but never got jobs at all. Here in this town, to this day, there are loads of them who will testify to that. But I was so determined that I thought I would die if I didn't get a job on a newspaper.

So I got this job on this newspaper, and after I'd been doing this for two or three days, some man—I can't remember who it was—told me not to write a story. He said, "You know, Sarah, not to write it." Well, to me that was unprofessional. That was not fulfilling the standards of journalism. I wouldn't promise him that I wouldn't write the story. I knew I was going to write it. I went back to the office and wrote the story. So he went to the editor. That's what everybody did in this town, they went to the editor immediately, to complain about you if you did anything they didn't like. So he fired me after I'd been working there for a few days. He fired me, because this man was an important man.

There was a great, fine, nationally-known newspaperman. I don't think I can remember his name. He was from New York City, and he was representing the syndicates. He was working, I think, for United Press News Service in their syndicate division. His job was to visit the editors, find out what they liked, what they wanted. He was in our town, and he was at the home of my editor. He heard all this conversation. He heard him saying that I was fired. He left my boss' house and drove over to my house, and took me to dinner and talked to me. He said,

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"McClendon, this is a temperamental editor. He's temperamental, very temperamental." And he was. "If you learn to work for him, you can work for anybody in this country. Why don't you try to go back there and go back to work for him? Swallow your pride." So I did, and we got back together, the editor and I. He told the editor to take me back, and I took the job back. We went on like that for about four years.

While I was working for this editor, he was a crusading man, very much of a crusader. After we got through with the hospital, we crusaded on other things.

Knight: What was his name?

McClendon: Carl L. Estes. He was quite a boy, quite a personality, a flamboyant personality. I learned a lot of things under him. He often would tell me, "You work at home, McClendon. You're living at home. You don't need as much pay as the rest of them on the staff." They'd tell me, "We have a new budget. We're going to give you a raise. But we can't give you a raise because this man's wife is going to have a baby," or, "This man has to come a long distance to work, so he's got to buy a new car. We have to give him the raise." Things like that going on all the time.

I was smoking. I had just come home from college, and I was smoking. There was a little Mexican bare-footed newsboy around all the time, and I'd hug him and be nice to him and that sort of thing. He told the editor, "You know, that lady in there, she smokes." The editor put a sign up on the board saying, "No lady who works for this office will smoke in public."

Knight: What was your response to these things as they happened?

McClendon: I knew that I would be wanting to smoke. If I smoked, I'd want to smoke in public. So I quit smoking. The way I did it was, I was sick at my stomach for two or three days, and I didn't particularly want the smell of tobacco when I was sick at my stomach. So when I got through with that, I didn't start again. But I still missed it for a long, long time. It was kind of hard, but he put that sign on the board. [Laughter.]

Knight: Were there any other women working on the paper?

McClendon: I don't know whether there were or not. I don't remember. But "No lady who works in this office will smoke."

We had a lot of interesting interviews. A lot of things happened. I wrote a story about an oil queen who came to town with her long, low car, open top, you know, yellow. It was a long, yellow roadster. Great wealth. She was darn good-looking. I interviewed her. I just wrote about this blonde, good-looking, and wealthy woman, just like you would write sort of a gossip-column piece about her, told all about her, what she said, and everything. She didn't mind, but the rest of the women, "That's no way to treat that woman, a new visitor to our town. Girl, that's really being too bold and too outspoken. That's not the way to do it." So they objected to that.

Then this editor of mine, every now and then he would write an editorial for the front page. Oh, gosh, he would singe people or tie them in knots with his vitriolic criticism, always pursuing his own views. He couldn't stand for anyone to criticize him. His wife owned the paper, and she was timid as could be. They got phone calls at night from citizens who were just upset. Everybody was in the dog house. They had to stop what they were doing, had to keep these stories out of the paper. I didn't believe in keeping any story out of the papers. The banker had a lot of influence on him. I knew this. The banker was in the friendship of the father of this woman who owned the paper. Her father had been in the bank and once had been befriended by this banker, so this banker would use this as a threat over them all the time if he didn't want something in the paper. Somebody would get to him and say, "Don't print that story." If you've

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worked on a story, you want to see it printed, you know; you don't want to see them suddenly act as if they don't believe you, what you said and everything. So I got in a lot of squabbles like that. It made us sick to death if we didn't.

Knight: So would the stories be printed or not? Or did you back down after that first time?

McClendon: They had the final say because they owned the paper. There wasn't anything I could do. If I wanted to work there, I had to go along with what they had to do. So I just had to be very careful. At the same time, I'd try to get the story and try to get it in.

One time, though, the newspaper editor wrote this very bad editorial denouncing the preacher who was holding a revival on the public square, because the preacher had been there some time. The preacher wanted to get more and more publicity, and he wanted to get more and more customers. So he was calling certain people by name, criticizing them, some of our most prominent citizens. As he criticized some of our more prominent citizens, they got very, very angry, and told everybody he was going to beat up my boss. [Telephone interruption.]

So the preacher was saying, "I'm going to go down there and beat that editor up! I'm going to beat him up!" And everybody knew he was going to. "He called. He's coming after you. He's coming after you." They heard this rumor all over, and they told Carl about it, and everybody in the office knew that the preacher was going to come in and try to beat the editor.

So the preacher came down the street, waving his arms like this, moving, and people started following him. He went into the office, went right to the back. He was in the outer office, and we were in the inner office. The preacher walked in, and he and Carl started flailing around on the floor, wrestling and fighting. The men all fled! Every one of them fled. They knocked over the desks, they knocked over the typewriters. There was a pipe that protruded from the floor. You know how they sometimes do, under the desk. The desks hide them so they're safe. When the desk turned over, the pipe was right there, and the preacher was getting him closer and closer and closer, going to ram his brains in on that pipe. He would have brained him! He would have spilled his brains all over the floor. I saw what was happening. I didn't know what in the world to do. I looked around, and there wasn't a thing I could do, nothing in the world I could do. There was a telephone, one of these phones. You've seen them, like that. You could put your hand under one of them and hold it up, pick it up. So I just picked up the phone, got right over the top of the preacher, went right down on his head as hard as I could, and it stopped the fight. Otherwise, my boss would have been killed, I know. So anyway, it stopped the fight. [Laughter.]

Years after that, somebody started telling that story about me, and I thought, "Oh, my gosh. Everybody will think I'm not a lady. They'll think I'm a terrible person, a horrible person." I was really worried about it at first, and now I'm— [Laughter.]

Knight: Did you worry about that, when your family would say you weren't being ladylike?

McClendon: Yes.

Knight: Did being a reporter sometimes conflict with being a lady?

McClendon: Oh, definitely! All the time, especially riding in the fire truck to the fire, up with the chief in the front, and chasing ambulances. I was all over the emergency rooms all the time, went right in. They would let me go right into the emergency room and interview the patient on an operating table. They let me into these small hospitals, which I covered. They would let me go in, and before we had our big hospital, I would read the charts of each man. I knew which ones had diseases and which ones didn't. I usually could make it out from the symptoms I read about, what was their diagnosis or what was going to happen to them.

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We had some fascinating stories. We had one man who was a German man, a lovely, beautiful fellow who died in a car wreck, and they were going to ship his body back to Germany. They said one person could go with them, did I want to go along, a free trip to Germany. I didn't go. I was the one that the hospital nurses finally saw around there so much, and they were so busy that they said, "McClendon, you tell the parent that the child has died. You go out and tell the family." So I often had to do that. I did that, because I was close to the nurses, and somebody had to do it. Of course, I had all the information, anyway. From that I got more information, and I had to get more information. I had to interview the family so we would know what the story was.

Then we had an old man once, who lost his memory, a beautiful, lovely, charming old man with white hair. Nobody knew where he came from or what, but he'd lost his memory. All he could say was, "Goddamn." He looked gentle and sweet and lovely, but he was trying to talk, trying awfully hard to talk, and he'd say, "Goddamn." We put his picture all over the country, trying to find his family. We never did find them. I think he died.

Another hospital case I had, we had this woman for days she was deaf and dumb, and she couldn't tell us where she came from or what or how. We thought she came from somewhere around there. We didn't know. It took us days and days to find her family, and we finally found them and took her home one night to this little house with a dog trot through the middle and very poor people. It was a family of deaf and dumb people. Most all the children were deaf and dumb. She had somehow gotten out on the road and gotten to town, gotten away. So we took her home. [Telephone interruption.]

Knight: Do you think, being a woman, there were stories that you were either asked to cover because you were a woman, or stories that you were not asked to cover?

McClendon: No, I think a lot of these stories, some reporters would have shunned them and said, "I'm not doing them." But I think my interest in people and my sensitivity to humanity is one reason that I covered some of these stories. I was always asked to cover funerals, the main funerals in town. My main boss asked me to please go and see the family, because I was a woman, and they asked me to do the obituaries. So I always had to do the prominent obituaries. Sometimes the family had a skeleton in there, too, they didn't want you to know about. It was kind of difficult. Sometimes they wanted a picture, and sometimes they didn't. Sometimes they wanted the age used, sometimes they didn't.

One case I covered that was pathetic, we found a fellow that was like a little creature, who couldn't walk well, and he had fallen in fire several times and gotten burned. He was just like a little animal. So they kept him in a pen in the ground, kind of like dug down eight or ten feet down, where he couldn't get out, and kept him tied most of the time when the weather was nice. We went to work on that story, and we had the most terrible time finding an institution to take him. But we finally found one where he could have a life, at least in an institution that could care for him, because his family could not care for him.

Knight: Do you think that the paper thought of you as a certain kind of reporter to cover certain kinds of things, or did you feel like you were asked to do all kinds of things?

McClendon: No, I was a general reporter. I'll tell you what I was doing. I would often initiate the assignment. Most of the time I would think of it or hear about it, and I'd go and ask him if I could cover the story. Sometimes I'd get to cover it, sometimes it would be assigned to somebody else. One thing we did, I made a deal with a photographer. I didn't drive a car and didn't have a car. He drove the car. He was a great photographer, and he had a good sense of news. He and I went out together on all kinds of missions. One night there was a rapist escape, a black man escaping, and everybody was looking for him, the sheriffs and dogs and everybody else looking for him. They couldn't find him. They were kind of cooling the scent, you know. So this

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photographer and I kept on working all night, trying to find him up there in the woods. I thought afterwards, "My God, suppose we'd found him?" [Laughter.]

Knight: You would have interviewed him! [Laughter.]

McClendon: We had great times together.

Knight: You graduated from the University of Missouri in 1931. You had gotten another offer in Chicago?

McClendon: No, I hadn't had an offer. This best friend of mine went up there to see her boyfriend. I had a boyfriend up there, too, and I thought, "Let me go up there and see, while I'm up there, if I can't get this." She hadn't graduated, but I had. "I'll see if I can't get a job on the paper while I'm up there." It was just a wild thing to do. I had no appointments or anything. We got up there, and I decided I didn't have enough money and I was too scared. The main thing, I just really didn't have enough money to get very far across town or anything.

Knight: Had you had any offers or looked for a job before your senior year ended, before you'd left?

McClendon: No, no. Some people had in the school. Some people worked hard on that. Some people were helped. Some people were offered jobs. I know I had a boyfriend there who was from Japan, who was an excellent newspaperman. He had had experience, and he was offered a job by United Press before he ever got out of school. He ended up working in Paris for the International News Service before he was interned in World War II.

No, I didn't know what I was going to do, how, or why. I guess I would have been smarter to ask somebody to help me try to get a job. I hadn't thought of that. Everybody was kind of on their own, and they were really wanting us at the paper. They didn't give us much help at the school in the way of getting jobs, because the business was so bad throughout the country. In fact, they warned us that we might never get a job. This depressed me, but made me all the more determined that I would get a job or else. That's why I took the job for $10 a week, because salaries were low then, anyway.

Knight: I was going to ask what your starting salary was.

McClendon: Ten dollars a week, and $10 when you found him. He was often out of town. [Laughter.] So if I hadn't been able to get home, I would have been in a bad way. But there were a lot of newspapermen coming through town to ask for a job on the paper, who were very low. One man was about to starve to death. I took him out to my house and fed him that night, and he told me years later, "You know, I was really starving to death when you gave me that sandwich and a glass of milk that night."

Knight: Whose reporting work did you admire at that time? Did you have reporters you looked up to?

McClendon: Inez Robb, I knew of her work. I knew a lot of good people's work, but, actually, I didn't have terribly too much time to consider other people or outside interests or anything. I was just running as hard as I could. I got to work as representative in that area for other papers besides International News Service. I got a paper from Dallas and Fort Worth and Shreveport and Houston.

Knight: This was after the Tyler paper?

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McClendon: No, no, this was while I was at the Tyler paper. I had already made these contacts. Whenever they had news, I serviced them. So all of this kept me pretty busy.

Knight: Let's stop for today.

McClendon: Okay.

Knight: Thanks a lot.

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