Washington Press Club Foundation
Sarah McClendon:
Interview #3 (pp. 44-62)
June 27, 1989 in Washington, DC
Margo Knight, Interviewer

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[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Knight: Last time we talked, you had entered the WACs, and we talked a little bit about your work with the WACs. I wanted to continue to talk about that. You said that you were assigned to the Surgeon General's Office.

McClendon: I was the first WAC on orders. There was another WAC over there, but she didn't have any orders. She was over there helping as a physical therapist, but she didn't have any orders. So I was the first formally put there.

Knight: What kind of stories did you cover?

McClendon: Oh, it was fascinating. Absolutely fascinating. I loved it. You see, we had all the army surgeons in the field throughout the world. The army had to make reports, and they wrote in about the operations and about what happened, what they were trying to do and how they did it. Many of their papers were used as examples to tell other surgeons. They were screened in our office by Dr. [Michael Ellis] DeBakey, a noted man now in Houston [Texas]. They were screened by him and others, and they would put out bulletins for the other surgeons in the field to read, giving examples of their experiences and what they'd done under pressure and that sort of thing.

Then the first time I ever heard of penicillin, we had obtained some. A private family wrote in to try to get some, and we started using penicillin for soldiers, we started using sulfa drugs for soldiers for the first time while I was there.

I dealt a lot with the publications for the American Medical Association. They had to clear everything with us. And I dealt with newspaper people, my friends, who later became my colleagues in the press corps in Washington. Esther Tufty and different ones would come by there to get news stories, and I would help them get them, as far as I could.

Our job was to help any reporter who came by. Lots of people came by from Medical Press and from Office of War Information. One woman wrote in from Africa, was a mess officer, and wanted permission to serve in the mess hall, as a food, a native little animal that was popular with the native people. Some of the soldiers had eaten it and liked it, and she wanted permission to serve this. I'd give anything if I had kept the letter and had it now, to know what kind of animal it was. I'd just love to have that story; it was a good story. All these things came under the heading of what had to be looked at by the army surgeon general.

Then I worked under a very noted man named Munro Leaf, who had put out the book called The Brave Bull. He dealt with a man out in El Paso named Tom Lea, who was noted for his drawings of bulls. Munro Leaf put out books for, I think, children. He was an interesting officer, a young fellow, a very nice man. Then I worked with several interesting nurses. The Nurse Corps was, of course, under the surgeon general. We had to supervise anything that they put out.

My best assignment of all in my whole life, I think, was being told that the army had decided as a policy that it was going to try to prepare the people of the country for the return of the wounded and maimed and the burned, the blind, the deaf, the men with amputations, and maybe the men who were mentally ruined. So to do that, they sent me to some hospitals up in Pennsylvania, where they were already working on burn cases. They did tremendous things with

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burn cases in the army. Most of the things that we know about how to treat burns today we got either from the hurricanes and the hurricane people, who taught the army, and the army perfected it. We had a lot of people hurt in automobile accidents, too, overseas.

But my job was to try to prepare the people for how we would write articles or how we would prepare people to get other people to write articles. We mainly wanted to get other people to write articles in magazines, to get these people ready for this. You see, in World War I, many of them were just killed. They just didn't come back. They were gassed or killed or died of the flu or something. This time we were bringing a lot of them back, but wounded. We wanted them to be accepted in society, so we immediately began working with Walter Reed [Hospital] on prosthetic cases. They began perfecting them, and now they're doing just a wonderful job on that, that and the Veterans' Administration.

I went up to the hospitals in Pennsylvania, Valley Forge, another hospital up there near Pittsburgh, where they worked on the blind and the burned and the amputees, and got some ideas from them about how they felt, the soldiers themselves. I interviewed the soldiers, interviewed a lot of the doctors and nurses about what they were doing, what they were able to do, and came back and tried to get some of these ideas into magazines. It was very interesting. I really think we were doing a worthwhile job there, because people did turn. When they came home from World War I, if they were hurt or maimed or something, they just didn't get a job; they sat on the street corner with a tin cup. We wanted to avoid that. It was a very wise thing for the army to do. So I was very busy with that. One woman wrote us and told us that she had lived with a one-legged man for years and she thought her experience might be helpful, and it was.

So I loved the job. I would have kept it for a long, long time. But you see, I had married this man who had left me, and I was going to have a baby, so I didn't tell them, because I needed the money, I needed a job, and I wanted to keep on working in the job. I loved the job so much. So I just worked for eight months. Then I went in and told them, this doctor. He said, "I didn't know it." [Laughter.]

Then I went home and stayed for a month, helping them with speeches and things that they needed to write. So I wrote from home.

Knight: Were you still working for the WACs?

McClendon: No, I was working sort of on a person-to-person basis, because I was still in the service, and they could call on me if they needed to, but I was still doing some work at home, writing speeches. I did that for a month, and then I went to Walter Reed Hospital and had the child. Then she came home. When she was nine days old, I got a job downtown.

Knight: Let me go back a little. I saw you quoted once as saying that that was a sad romance, one of many sad romances. How did that all come about?

McClendon: We were just very, very lonely. I think it came about through loneliness, more than anything. In Washington, we were sort of shunned because we had on uniforms, and the soldiers saw uniforms enough during the day. They didn't want to see uniforms at night. We were working in the Pentagon. Several of the girls who roomed together, we were working in the Pentagon until 9:30 at night, and we'd get home by ten o'clock, and we'd have to go out to eat. Some of the girls wanted to have a drink around the house. By the time we got out, we didn't see anybody or meet anybody or anything at all, no social life at all. It was very hard. We wanted to meet people, we wanted to have a good time, but when we had any time off, we couldn't go anywhere or do anything because we didn't know anybody.

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I just happened to meet this one person, and he had just fallen out with his great love, so it was kind of on the rebound. I was lonesome. We didn't know each other very long. It was a mistake, just one of those mistakes that you make, I guess, in wartime.

Knight: You dated a lot before that. Why marry him?

McClendon: No, I didn't date a lot in Washington at all. Not in the army I didn't. I dated a lot of people afterwards. I didn't date so many people beforehand. Of course, I had been in love with a man that I never expected to see again. So it was just too bad, just one of those things that you think you do and a lot of people did in wartime. You had sort of a feeling that this was going to be the one and only chance you might have. You know what I mean? Because you didn't know who was going to be going out next, where they were going.

Knight: He was a soldier?

McClendon: No, he was not a soldier; he was a civilian. But I did date one man, a soldier in Washington. He's now a book publisher. He's the first man I dated in Washington. Every time I see him, we laugh about it.

Knight: How long were you actually married? When did you get married?

McClendon: I don't have the dates and I don't have all that information with me. I've locked it up. I married, I believe, in September. We thought everything would be all right, but it wasn't. So I was really having a very hard time. I was quite surprised when I found out I was pregnant.

Knight: Did he know you were pregnant when he left?

McClendon: No. So it was very sad, very bad. There wasn't anything I could do about it. I had so many problems because I had to stay working, stay on duty, and meet my obligations there. I wasn't feeling very well. [Laughter.]

Knight: I can understand that.

McClendon: We had a lot of things to do in the office, and I was trying to act like it wasn't happening, but it was. I think I was sick in many places in Washington where I was eating downtown a lot. [Laughter.] I was sick nearly every place in town. When I look back on it, it seems incredible it ever happened. But it was really quite something, and I'm glad it happened, because I have this wonderful daughter. She's moving back to Washington now. She's coming back here with her husband. He's going to be a Washington correspondent. So I'm going to let them have the house, and I'm going to move to an apartment, I hope here in the neighborhood.

Knight: That's terrific!

McClendon: So if we don't finish our project here, we'll finish it in the apartment. I won't know until around July 1st whether I'll get the apartment I want. But everything will work out, I'm sure. Now she's very proud to have been the first WAC born to an officer at Walter Reed. [Laughter.] I didn't tell her for a long time.

Knight: Did the father ever know?

McClendon: He didn't know her, no.

Knight: But he found out eventually, because he had been married to you, and you became famous.

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McClendon: Well, no, no. He died about two years after this. So it didn't make any difference about that.

Knight: I read that this was pretty much of a secret, that you had to keep having a baby a secret.

McClendon: No. I think what I said was that I didn't tell my boss when I went to work downtown, because some people would frown upon that and think it was very unusual, and he might not have wanted me to work there. I don't know if he would have or not. But he was so tender-hearted, he was the kind of man who always picked up alley cats and brought them in and took them home. He was so tender-hearted, someone said he would not have allowed me to work if he'd known that. But if he hadn't allowed me to work, I couldn't have fed her. You know what I mean? It was a vicious cycle. I had to work and I needed a job, so I just didn't tell him.

The first day I was out at the Capitol, I ran into Dorothy Williams, a newspaperwoman around town, been here a long time, we all know. Whether she's retired now or semi-retired, she's probably still writing. But she used to work for UPI. I ran into her at the Capitol, and she said, "Well, I do declare!" I told her about my child, and she said, "I do declare! If I had a child, I'd stay home with it. I wouldn't come to work. I'd stay home with it." I said, "I would have, too, if I could have." [Laughter.] It's what you had to do. I had to make a living for the child. I didn't want the child to be dependent on my family, and I didn't want her to be in a foster home or have her adopted. I was going to keep her. I needed to work, and it was better to work up here than to go back to Texas to work, I thought.

Knight: Had you thought about that, going to Texas?

McClendon: I thought about it and decided against it, because I thought if I was in Texas, I'd probably be living with my family and they'd all be telling me how to raise my child, what to do, and what I'd done wrong, what I hadn't done right and everything. So I just said, "Well, I'll stay here." Here was a better market, anyway, as it turned out. So I stayed. I was lucky, though, to get this job.

Knight: What was the job?

McClendon: It was in the Press Building on the twelfth floor. He needed people to work so desperately in the office, because men were off at war, that he asked me to sit down and go to work right away, not to leave the office.

Knight: What was the business?

McClendon: He was a news correspondent, reporting news and writing news.

Knight: For a service?

McClendon: It wasn't a service; it was a bureau, a big bureau. But he had been asked to take a paper that he didn't really want, didn't have a good reputation. He liked to have everything very smooth. So he gave it to me, and that was my job. They paid me. I was a correspondent. I have a picture of myself somewhere downstairs, in the Press Building, against this doorway with my name on the door: Philadelphia Daily News, Sarah McClendon, News Correspondent. That's how I got it.

So I started covering the Pennsylvania delegation. I didn't know anything about Pennsylvania politics or law or anything. I had to go out to the Capitol to cover it. I found out that this man who was the office manager didn't like women, didn't want another woman around, and he told me. So I finally went to him and said, "Why didn't you tell me there was a press gallery?" He didn't even tell me there was a press gallery. I said, "I found out I can get in

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touch with all these men if I go to the Capitol, but when I go to their offices, they're always in the Capitol. I found out there's a press gallery. Why didn't you tell me?" He said, "Well, I figured you wouldn't be here but a few days." [Laughter.]

Knight: Because he thought that you'd leave on your own?

McClendon: No, he thought I'd be just no good and would be fired in a few days, and they'd be able to get rid of me or something. He was like that.

Knight: What was the name of the service?

McClendon: It wasn't a service. The reason I'm careful is that the man who did it was Mr. Bascom N. Timmons, and he was so careful. He never liked to call himself a service, or he never liked to call himself a bureau. He felt like that destroyed somewhat the personal relationship you had with your bosses, and he represented many people. I think he had about thirty-something papers that he represented at this time.

Knight: So what was it called?

McClendon: It was called Bascom N. Timmons. He had been here a long time, very well experienced, and he had an office manager. He had people working for him on these different papers. They were regional papers, nearly all of them, except he had one or two national papers. But they were mainly regional papers and he had regional correspondents working for them. Then we would all contribute to a column once a week. Any little thing we had that we thought was good, we'd give to the column. We did that together. But my office was across the hall. All the rest of his papers were in other parts of the country far away from Pennsylvania, and I was the only one on the East Coast, I think, and I worked for this Philadelphia Daily News. He got me the job, but I was designated as the correspondent. On my passes and everything, it was "Sarah McClendon, national correspondent for the Philadelphia Daily News." They paid me; they didn't pay him. He didn't want to take the paper, so he just gave it to me.

Knight: How had he found out about you?

McClendon: I had written him a letter. I think before the child was born, I wrote him a letter and told him that I was going to be in Washington, needed a job, and was an experienced reporter. I think he said something about "Come by to see me sometime," and I went by his office. I went out for my first examination by a doctor after the baby was born, some routine examination, and I came back by the Press Building to see him. He asked me to sit down and go to work. I left the baby at home with a black woman, a babysitter, and told her I'd be home in a few hours. I had to call home and ask to stay longer until I could get home. I didn't dare not take this job, because I needed it so badly and it was offered, so I was going to do it. So from then on, we started.

Knight: Let me go back just a second. You formally left the WACs at what point in time?

McClendon: June 16, 1944. My discharge was not effective until then. So I was technically still in the army when I went to work for him. The child was born on June 3rd at Walter Reed, which was a baby factory. They tried to get me to go to another hospital and have the baby, at Columbia Hospital for Women, and I said, "No. I'm an army officer and I'm entitled to this hospitalization, I'm entitled to this treatment, and I'm going to have it." So I stayed.

Knight: The WACs tried to get you to go to Columbia?

McClendon: No, the army doctors tried to. See, by September of '43, the bill had been passed to take the Women's Army Corps and make it a part of the army. It was no longer the Women's

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Army Auxiliary Corps, WAAC; it was WAC, Women's Army Corps, but part of the army. We took another oath to stay in. Some girls got out then; I didn't. I stayed in. So we took the oath in the Pentagon here in September of '43. So the army was the one controlling me then, you see, not WAC.

So it was a wonderful experience to be a public affairs officer in the Pentagon, first for the WAC. We left that out. That was a great experience, because I was liaison between the Women's Army Corps headquarters and the Bureau of Public Relations, which was army, navy, air force, everything all down there together. That included photography and movie films. I did a lot of work with movie people, and it included magazine people. The magazine people would come by for ideas, just to find out what was going on, to help the war effort. They wanted to help, but they wanted an idea. They wanted to do their own writing; we didn't have to do their writing. So I did very little writing at this time. I mainly was collecting data and ideas and matching pictures with events and that sort of thing.

Knight: This was before you went to the Surgeon General's Office.

McClendon: Yes. This was fascinating. In the Pentagon there, I met all kinds of people who later were very well known or were known up to that time, too—authors, magazines authors, writers and reporters, then famous generals. That's where I met one man whose concern I still work for. He was a first lieutenant and I was a first lieutenant. Right after that, he was sent overseas to work with Eisenhower at his headquarters over there, and he was a newspaper editor and publisher. So when he came out of the army, he came back to the Press Building. He was talking to Timmons. At that time he was looking for somebody to handle several of his papers. He owned about three papers.

Knight: What was his name?

McClendon: Frank Mayborn. He was a smart man, had a lot of experience with public relations, working with all kinds of national media under Ike. He was one of his top advisors in public relations. So he came to Washington and wanted someone to represent his papers. They were small papers in Texas. About that time the men were coming back from the war, and Mr. Timmons had to take them back under the law, and he was pressed. He had more people on his bureau and around him than he could pay. So he said I ought to be like May Craig. May Craig had her own bureau, and she had an office there in the Press Building, very independent. He said, "You're an independent-minded person. You ought to have an office, too. You ought to have a bureau. You should do it, and I'll help you." So he helped me get started. I had one or two [papers] on my own by that time. So he introduced me again to this man whom I'd met in the Pentagon, who wanted somebody to help him with his papers. I took the job, and that was in 1946.

Knight: So you worked for Timmons for two years?

McClendon: I worked for him about two and a half years. After a while, I got away from the Philadelphia Daily News. I don't remember why. It was a terrible paper at the time.

Knight: Why do you say that? Why was it terrible?

McClendon: It was considered a very offbeat paper, sort of sensational, a tabloid, and went in for real big glaring headlines and things like that, and was trying to make its way against the big Philadelphia Inquirer and the [Philadelphia] Bulletin. So it was not really one of the most accepted papers on the social scene. [Laughter.] But I had some interesting experiences with them, the assignments that they gave me, and I loved to cover the stories just the same.

Knight: Tell me about some of those.

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McClendon: One story I covered was a hearing in Annapolis [Maryland] on a sex scandal down at Annapolis, and I had to go down there and cover that for a while. That was very interesting. Just anything that came up. They'd have enough nerve. Some of the papers were too polite, too timid, and too refined to ask burn-out questions, and these people would give me a query and I'd have to ask something real hard. I was also covering the Pennsylvania delegation, the delegation from around Philadelphia. I had about six people to cover. That was interesting. Covering the senators there was interesting. I don't know what happened to the Philadelphia Daily News. We got away from that for a while, and I was glad to get rid of it. I went on to cover for other papers in Timmons' collection.

Knight: Which?

McClendon: I covered for Columbus Dispatch in Columbis, Ohio, for quite a while, and then I was pulled back to go on some other paper. I also covered for Tennessee papers. Very little did I cover for North Carolina, but some at times we had to. I covered some for Louisiana, New Orleans area, and Columbus Dispatch, I remember very definitely, and Chattanooga Free Press. Somebody else handled the National Tennessee and altogether, it wasn't too big a paper, not too important. I did some work with some of the Texas papers. I wanted to work for the Texas papers, but didn't get to right off. I finally got to work for some of the Texas papers. He had papers in Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Shreveport, Louisiana. I guess that's all.

Knight: Did you like that job with Timmons?

McClendon: Oh, I loved it.

Knight: What was good about it?

McClendon: It was a newspaper job, really great. He insisted I get a White House pass right away. He told a man to see that I got a pass and see that I went to a lot of press conferences, and I got around and got to know everybody. "See that this girl gets around. See that she gets to go to these press conferences. Get her in on everything. I want her in on everything." So I did. Lots of times, even then it was hard for some people to get White House passes, because they were crowded up there. These were war years, and a lot of people wanted them and couldn't get them. But I got one right away in June '44. I didn't know there was a White House Correspondents' Association until, I think, a year or two later, but the White House Correspondents' Association didn't amount to a hill of beans, and it doesn't amount to anything now. It only gives a dinner. They're now trying to pull it off of having meetings in a phone booth and decide who was going to be president next time.

Knight: Did you join when you first found out about it?

McClendon: Oh, yes, I joined. We all joined. It was a good idea to join.

Knight: Women were allowed to join that organization?

McClendon: Yes, but not the [National] Press Club. As I told you, I couldn't get an office in the Press Club unless I got it through some man who was a member.

Knight: No, you didn't. When we go to that, I'll remember that and I'll ask you again. Were there other women who worked for Timmons?

McClendon: Oh, yes, several other women. Very smart, good women worked for him. I met Flora Lewis, and she didn't work for him, but I met her there. I met Ann Cottrell Free there. She worked down the hall.

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Knight: Did she work for him?

McClendon: No, she worked down the hall. She worked for the New York Herald Tribune, I think. I met the [Cissy] Patterson woman, who worked for New York Daily News. I met a lot of women who worked for the [Washington] Star and the [Washington] Post. I met a lot of women. But women who actually worked for him, there were, I'd say, about three or four, at least two.

Knight: The papers would give you the assignments?

McClendon: They would send queries if they wanted to know something or something was coming up big in their territory. But we covered the delegation for them every day, and we knew pretty well what was coming up because we read their papers. We'd study their problems. That's the first thing you do when you're going in to work for a regional paper like that; you should study the industries of the area and its agricultural products and problems. So we could pretty well feel. We usually told them if a story was coming. In all my life, I have never had very many queries from editors, because nearly always, by covering, I knew what was coming up, and I would write the story in advance, tell them about the story and suggest that we have the story. But a lot of people get a lot of queries. Of course, now we do so much on the telephone. We used to just wire back and forth. Now by doing it on the telephone, we discuss how we want it, what we want, whether it's a good idea or not. Sometimes ideas are turned down. They usually use it. But we find out what they already have on it, what they don't, and what they need and want. So it's much better to do it by telephone.

Knight: Not as much writing goes on that you have to not use.

McClendon: I dictate a lot on the telephone if I'm not doing so much writing, and don't use so much wiring. I used to wire an awful lot of copy every day by Western Union, and I used a lot of words. Pretty expensive for some of these people.

Knight: Financially, you said you were paid by the papers.

McClendon: Yes.

Knight: How did Timmons get his money? How was that arrangement done?

McClendon: I was paid by the Philadelphia Daily News when I worked for them. When I worked for him on other papers, he would give me a check out of his own. Then I had two accounts on the side, as I recall, and they paid.

Knight: They paid you by the story?

McClendon: Oh, no, no. Paid by the month, paid by the week. Timmons paid by the week. That was customary.

Knight: What were your working hours like?

McClendon: Some people didn't start in the Press Building until ten o'clock. Started between nine o'clock and ten o'clock, I guess, and we didn't get there very early. So between nine o'clock and ten o'clock, and go on at least through six o'clock. Sometimes there would be night assignments, but not often. Later when I was working for myself, the hours just—there was no limit.

Knight: That still sounds true for you today.

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McClendon: Oh, yes.

Knight: A lot of women struggle with this now. What did you do about child care?

McClendon: They don't struggle with it now. They have a picnic now. They don't have any trouble now at all. We didn't have any tax credit, we didn't have anything. I looked at ads in the paper, I called up people and talked to them, interviewed them, and lined up people. I kept a list. Every time one of them would work for a little while and couldn't work, I'd keep her name and list. Maybe I'd go back to her later. Some would say, "I can only come for a short while." I'd say, "Well, come on, anyway," and maybe I'd get two of them to come for a short while, stagger the hours. But I didn't do that very much.

I found one woman who wanted a place to stay with herself and her six-year-old boy. So I got a small apartment and I put the woman and the boy in the bedroom. They slept in the same bed. He was six years old. Sally's crib was in that same room. Sally was just a baby, so she could get up and look at her at night. I slept in the dining room. I fixed up a bed in there, made it into a couch, I think, in the daytime, and I slept in the dining room. Then I had sort of a living room and kitchen, bath, and we made out very well. The woman would go away for weekends with her little boy, and then she'd come back.

When I didn't have her, when she left me, I got somebody else who came and stayed, who didn't have a lot of education, a white woman from the mountains. She didn't have a lot of education, but she took care of children. She would leave Friday afternoon, Friday evening, and go downtown to see her boyfriend and stay the weekend. So when I came in Friday, she'd be leaving out the door. That happened a lot. I had a lot of people like that. But she was very good with the child and I could depend on her.

Then I had one woman who worked for me who just had absolutely no education at all, but she was kind. She was very unkempt, but she was certainly kind. I had all kinds and descriptions of people who worked for me. I kept a list, and anybody I heard of who ever had anybody else on their list, I got them on my register, too. Sometimes I'd find taxi drivers in the city who were raising their children on the seat of their car, and we would exchange lists of babysitters. You just did everything you could.

One woman came to me one night and she applied for the job, and I took her. She was going to move in. Turned out she was running away from her husband. As soon as she moved in, he came after her and took her home. So that was short-lived.

One woman applied to me for a job, and I didn't give it to her because she said she was pregnant and she needed a job real bad. I felt real sorry for her, but I couldn't give her the job.

Knight: Didn't you ever get discouraged?

McClendon: I didn't have too much time to get discouraged. [Laughter.] I would come in just whooped from the job, just beat, and they'd be going out the door. Maybe the child would be crying, and I didn't have time to take off my clothes and sit down and get a drink or read the paper or something. I had to go to work looking after the child. I had plenty to do. I kept all sorts of formula written out on the wall, typed it, and instructions, instructions how to get me, what to do at certain times of the day, what to do for the routine of the child.

Knight: Did you ever have any conflicts when she was sick?

McClendon: Oh, yes, plenty, plenty, plenty.

Knight: How did you resolve those?

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McClendon: I'd call them every now and then during the day, too, to see if they were on the job and what was going on. Once I could not get anybody. I absolutely could not get anybody, and I had to go to work to keep the job. So I didn't know what in the world I was going to do. It was the beginning of the week, and I had absolutely nothing I could do. I was just at my wit's end, and somebody said, "Call the Red Cross." I called the Red Cross and they sent me a black woman, a very kind black woman, for a whole week, until I could get straightened out, and didn't charge me one penny. Can you imagine that?

Knight: That's amazing.

McClendon: Can you imagine that?

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

McClendon: Liz Carpenter was having trouble. She had a couple of children. She was having trouble. We were both having trouble. We were backing a move to get the Ways and Means Committee of the House to do something about giving some sort of credit off our income tax to people for the amount of money we had spent out on child care. We did get something passed; I've forgotten what it was. It was very minor relief, but it was a little bit of relief.

Knight: When was this?

McClendon: That came some years after I was into this. So it must have been in the early fifties. Anyway, when I'd be working at the Press Club, if my boss was up at the Press Club at the bar and I tried to get him on the phone, if it was his wife calling, he didn't want to come to the phone. I would need to ask him questions, but I couldn't go up there to see him, because it was a man's club. I couldn't go up there on my own.

Then when I was working on my own news service after 1946—in December I started that—I had to share the office with some other man. One time I was sharing it with two loud, loud men who were both very dirty. It was awful. One was in the back, one in the front, and I had a little desk in between. Sometimes I shared it with very nice people who were very nice and kind. But one man I shared with is now editor of the paper up in Concord, New Hampshire, and I see him every now and then. We always speak of each other as our being roommates.

Knight: Did you keep the existence of your daughter from your boss the whole time?

McClendon: Oh, no, no, he found out about it. He knew about it.

Knight: How long after you started working there?

McClendon: Just a few weeks. A short while.

Knight: Did he say anything to you?

McClendon: Oh, no. Two Christmases I was there, and just before Christmas, the office manager, who didn't like women, said to me, "I don't think you'll be here after Christmas. I don't think we'll need you after Christmas," which was a delightful way to begin Christmas. He said it to me, and I was still there the next year. The next Christmas he did the same thing.

Knight: Why?

McClendon: I guess he thought I wasn't very good or very hot or something like that. I wrote a lot of copy. I wasn't very brief, and I wrote a lot of details. I've always been a detail person.

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I don't think I'm the greatest person to write leads; I'm much better at writing now than I was then, because I learned to write. When I went into radio in 1969, I really learned more about writing. That improved my writing amazingly. My writing is probably better now than it's ever been.

Knight: You were there for two and a half years?

McClendon: I worked there from June '44 until December '46.

Knight: What was the real trigger for you to start your own service?

McClendon: It was the men coming back from the war, who had worked for Timmons before they went off to war. By law they were entitled to get their places back. They were free. The war was over, and they were needing their jobs and wanted to come back. They came back to work.

Knight: You said Timmons helped you. What did he do?

McClendon: He encouraged me, he told me how I could do it, he told me how May Craig did it. He said he thought I could do it, that it was suitable for me. He said he would help me, and he did. So he helped me to get this Mayborn account, which was several papers. I already had at least two on my own. I'm not sure whether there were any others or not, but he told me how I could do it and what I could do. It was just wonderful that he helped me. I could always come and ask him anything I wanted to and use his library. He was that way with everybody who ever worked for him. Everybody came back to help him.

Knight: Did other women that were there also lose their jobs at that time?

McClendon: Some of them were married or marrying or getting away or moving away. One among the men who came back was Jim Free, one of those, and two very nice men who are now dead. One of the men who came around looking for a job while I was there was Les Carpenter. Mr. Timmons told him there was no job, nothing. I dashed after him, down that old hallway, and told him I thought there was going to be a job pretty soon; I had heard about it. I told him, and he followed that up and got in. Then he and Liz—well, don't ask me. We were competitors. It wasn't a happy arrangement. We shared the same office. I had the Beaumont Enterprise, which I'd gotten on my own, which was a morning paper.

Knight: You had worked for them before.

McClendon: Yes. I worked for them before I came to Washington. Les heard, through me, that the Beaumont Journal, the afternoon paper, was going to need a correspondent. He and Liz signed up with them and were working with them for a month in the same office with me, competing with me, listening to all my phone calls without telling me. So that was a pretty dirty trick, you know. That was pretty dirty.

Knight: Early when you first started, or later on? I've heard that you had problems with them.

McClendon: I was there first, see, and I went down the hall and told him about this job, and he came and got the job. So then he heard me say that this paper needed somebody, so he got it. That's perfectly legitimate. But he was working for them, in competition with me. We were in great competition, the two papers. He was listening to all my sources and hearing what I did in the same office, and writing it for them for a month before I found out about it.

Knight: When you were both still at Timmons?

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McClendon: Yes. Timmons allowed us to take papers on our own if we wanted, to connect with papers on our own if we needed to. I had the Beaumont Enterprise, and he connected with the Beaumont Journal. That was a pretty lousy thing to do.

Knight: When you moved into your own space, was it pretty much a one-woman operation?

McClendon: Oh, yes, it's always been a one-woman operation. I had friends in the building with whom I sometimes shared information and sometimes they'd give me tips. That helped a lot. But I had one man that I had worked with some at Timmons, who went on his own, and he had specialized in oil and gas. We could share a lot of things. We were pretty good friends. Sometimes you could get good tickers and sometimes you couldn't.* Tickers were very expensive. Sometimes you paid for a set of press releases each month to be delivered at your door. That was paying for a lot of paper you didn't either want or use, but you looked for everything you could. You looked in the bins for tips and you looked on the ticker and you talked to people. You talked to congressmen and you read newspapers, pretty much like you do anytime.

Knight: How many papers did you start out with then?

McClendon: I think I started out with five, I believe.

Knight: The Texas papers?

McClendon: Yes, they were all Texas. They were interesting, because they involved covering the military in a big way. At that time we were adding bases and cutting out bases, moving troops home from the war and all those things, and one of my instructions from one of my editors was, "Don't let Herrin Air Force Base at Sherman die. Do not let it die. Do not let it be closed. That's for you to see, and you ride herd on it." He had me contact the White House all the time and the Pentagon all the time about several military bases that were right close to where he had newspapers. He was very involved. We pushed for these bases to grow. I had lots of interesting experiences covering this. Later on I got more newspapers near military bases, and it was always a big economic thing to keep that base alive. So every day I was doing some military story.

In the fall, when Congress was not in session, I would get the Pentagon to give me a set of orders that I could fly on air force planes, where there was space available, so I used that to go out and travel around to different bases in different parts of the country. I'd get off at the base. I'd tell the commanding officer ahead of time I was coming, through the public relations office, to speak to the commanding officer. I'd have a visit with him, and then he'd let me go in and see interesting things on the base. I'd live maybe in the guest quarters for maybe a dollar a night or something like that, two dollars, eat on the base, maybe have friends nearby to take me out to supper or dinner or something like that. I got lots of good stories that way. I traveled all over the country that way when the Congress was out, but you can't do that now. Every time you go out on a military plane, even if there's a space available, they'll make you pay. You pay so much, or maybe you can't go.

Knight: Were the Texas papers pretty much the basis for your operation for a long time?

McClendon: They were, and that's why people to this day will say, "She works for a string of Texas newspapers."

Knight: You don't like that.
*Ticker refers to the news tickers or electronic typewritten schedules of news conferences or events printed each day and circulated to customers of the Associated Press, United Press International, and Reuters. SM.

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McClendon: I haven't done that in years, you know. And they'd always say "a string of," you know, and that's kind of a silly term. Because each one you worked for individually, you worked for them for salary, and you had to keep up with the people who came to town, the big delegations from those cities. They'd come to town to try to keep their special interests going, their special agriculture interests, or their water dam. I'd always cover the hearings on water dams. That was a big thing to cover; it's not now, but it was then.

Knight: How did you expand the market and get more papers?

McClendon: Sometimes I would hear about it and try, but sometimes they would hear about me. Through a friend, I know one time I got the New Hampshire Union Leader, a big paper in New Hampshire. I got it through a friend. She called me and said the publisher had offered it to her and she didn't want to take it because she really wasn't experienced enough to handle it, so she didn't want to handle it and she wanted me to. That was three papers—that was New Hampshire Union Leader and a Salem, Massachusetts, paper, and a paper in Burlington, Vermont. So I took all three of them. It was very interesting. At the time I didn't know it, but at the time Florence Lowe had been working with her husband. They had some connection in New Hampshire; I don't know what it was. They had heard about this, that this job was coming up. They couldn't handle it. They were in Variety by that time or something, so heavily into this other thing that was taking all of their time. So they were trying to get it for Liz Carpenter and Les. Just about this time, they found out that I had it.

It was a very interesting paper to work for, very interesting. A wild man, but he didn't bother me. He didn't tell me; he didn't dare, I guess. I don't know. He was afraid of something. He never did tell me how to write news or slant a story. If he had any dirty work to do, he'd come down and do it himself. But he did give me a few queries, and one of the queries he gave me led to a big scoop. That was the vicuna coat and Sherman Adams incident.

Knight: Tell me about that.

McClendon: We'll jump in years if we do this.

Knight: That's okay.

McClendon: I was covering the White House, and he told me to ask the White House. Sherman Adams was the assistant to Eisenhower—the assistant, you know, he really had gotten himself a tremendous job.

Knight: We can wait on this story, and I'll make a note about it. You can tell me in the future. That will be good.

McClendon: Okay.

Knight: So you got a lot of papers through word of mouth. Did you ever turn anybody down?

McClendon: That's why it was so important to be up at the Press Club. The men up there in the bar would hear first about each other's going to leave, or each other's losing his job, or each other's got a boss who's going to expand or something. They would hear about these wonderful plum jobs, and we couldn't get in on that. So they usually got them way ahead of time. That was another reason I wanted to go up there.

Knight: What was your involvement up to this point with the Women's [National] Press Club?

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McClendon: When I was a public affairs officer of the WAC , in uniform, I went there. They gave me a courtesy card, and I went to their meetings.

Knight: Did you become more active?

McClendon: Of course, when I was out of the service and working here, I notified them that I thought I was able to have active membership, and I did. I went into both Women's National Press Club and to the American Newswomen's Club, which is another club here in town.

Knight: Were you active in those clubs?

McClendon: Oh, yes, I was very active.

Knight: What did you do specifically with the Women's Press Club?

McClendon: I never did have any office to speak of, except corresponding secretary. It was pretty much a closed operation, I thought, very much a king-maker's. But I served on a lot of committees and I was always on a housing committee, trying to get us a clubhouse.

One of the experiences that I had with the Carpenters that you should have on there, if I haven't already told you, is about the time I was working for the Beaumont Enterprise. Everything was just wonderful, we were getting along fine. Les had decided that he was going to open his own bureau. He was doing the same thing that I had to do. He and Liz were going to open their own bureau. He was a member of the [National Press] Club, and they had a nice freshly painted office, plenty of room for bookcases. They were moving in, and there had been some change, a shift, at the books in Texas of the Beaumont Enterprise and [Beaumont] Journal companies. They had two Washington correspondents, and they decided they certainly could do with one. They were going to have less competition between the two papers, and they could do with one.

So which one would it be? They would go to Washington and see. So three men came—the business manager, whom I knew and who was a good friend of mine, the lawyer, and some other official of the paper. They walked in my office just before Christmas, at a time when I had Sally downtown to see the Santa Claus parade. So she was in my office. I could still work, but she was sitting in my lap at my desk. I'm in the middle desk of a little narrow two-room office, really just one room, very narrow. There's one loud-mouth man out here on the telephone, very loud and very messy, and another loud-mouth man back here on the telephone, and me and my telephones here. That was the only office I could get at the time. They walked in to see. There was no room for them, no place for them to sit, no chairs. We contrived something for them to sit on for a few minutes. And then they went to see Les. Les was down the hall in this brand-new office he'd just opened up, airing, beautiful, just freshly painted, light green, looked so nice and neat and clean. He and his wife were working together. It looked like they were going to get two for the price of one.

Anyway, so they took the paper, although I had had the paper for many years, you know. They took it from me and gave it to him.

Knight: How did you feel about that?

McClendon: I was really broken-hearted. I really loved the paper and I loved the people I was working for. I was well known down there, and I'd done a good job for them. I was fighting hard for their projects. They had a lot of water projects that had to be looked at a lot. I had all the background and study and had worked on those things. So I was very heart-broken, but that's the way it went.

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Knight: Was this friendly competition?

McClendon: Oh, never! Never, never. I don't know what happened. I don't know why this happened, but I was going to be on "Meet the Press" with somebody. All of a sudden it came out in Drew Pearson's column, that Sarah McClendon was a very hard-right conservative. She was such a hard-right conservative, it was too bad that she was going to be on "Meet the Press." That was the first time I ever learned that I was a hard-right conservative. [Laughter.] It just sounded like I was awful, like I was a terrible person. Somebody had said this to Drew Pearson and he used it. So we strongly suspected that the Carpenters did it; we don't know.

Liz got the Houston Post, which was a paper I had long worked for as a civilian, I mean before I went to Washington. I would have loved to have had it. They were in competition for that, and they won out on that. Then I think Mrs. Hobby helped them get a house. They had a lovely house out here. They used to give a lot of parties. I had a house out in Virginia, and I was giving a party one night. My parties were very, very small, if I ever gave any at all. I was giving one for several members of the Texas delegation, and Liz and Les called up and asked if they could come, too. They'd heard I was going to have a party and they wanted to be there. This is where you really got a lot of news. All the Texas correspondents at that time went to parties for the Texas congressmen all the time. We got lots of news.

Knight: What time period are we talking about?

McClendon: When first I came to Washington, these various parties occurred. A lot of other people would give them; we wouldn't be the only ones. They were really great. If you'd get to these parties, you'd get all kinds of information. They began to stop along about the time that Lyndon Johnson became president, for some reason or other. They just stopped. Somebody put a crimp into it, of having Washington correspondents with the parties. They just kind of cut us out. At that time, we'd always gone to all the same parties together. So that was when he became president—about '63 or something like that.

Knight: So this would have been mostly through the late forties and then during the fifties?

McClendon: Yes. They called up and asked if they could come to my house for the party that night. I said, "No. I'm very sorry, but no, because I'm having very few people and I don't have room." I didn't see any point in having them, because they were really competition. So they didn't like it, but they never asked me to theirs, and I never called and ask if I could go to theirs.

Then the worst thing about it all was when I was trying to get in the National Press Club in 1955. I got some mail to sign my application, I had it all filled out, and I sent it to the Press Club by Western Union. They claim they never received it at all, and it didn't come. I proved to them by Western Union that it had been delivered.

In the meantime, here comes a story out in the Washington Post saying that women of the Washington National Press Club do not want to join the National Press Club. Women don't really want to join it; they don't want it. "It's a man's club; we don't want it." Liz Carpenter was quoted. She was on the board or something at the time. Maybe she was president of it. Anyway, she was putting this out in the newspaper that women who were Washington newspaper reporters didn't want to join the National Press Club. Well, the heck they didn't! I sure did!

Knight: Had you pressed for a long time?

McClendon: I'd been working on it for years! I was eligible the whole time as a newspaperwoman, except for the fact that I was a woman.

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Knight: That's what we were talking about when you got on the phone, was your involvement with the Women's [National] Press Club. So you were on a lot of committees?

McClendon: I worked on committees. Anything they wanted me to do, I was delighted to do. I wasn't asked to do much. But I was so anxious for us to have a clubhouse of our own, that they did put me on the Housing Committee for a search group, and I searched for years. Every time I'd find something, I'd go to a meeting, and people like Betty Beale or Doris Fleeson would knock it down. We'd just lose every time. They said, "We can't have one. We can't run it. We don't know how to," which was a bunch of stuff. May Craig told me, too, that she'd had a club one time, a clubhouse for women, and it didn't go over. We lost it and it was gone, and it was absurd for me to think that any women's press club could ever have a clubhouse of its own in Washington.

Knight: Why?

McClendon: She said they couldn't do it, they couldn't run it, they couldn't pay for it. So I proceeded to prove that was wrong. When I was president of the American Newswomen's Club, we bought a clubhouse. It could have been done all along by lots of people. We have a beautiful clubhouse; we still own it and operate it. It's kind of seedy-looking now, but it's surely a valuable piece of property. That club is still going.

Knight: In your experience, was there a real split between what different women within the group wanted for the future of the group?

McClendon: What they wanted for the future?

Knight: What they wanted the group to be?

McClendon: I think the National Press Club was always hanging over our heads, a very bad thing. Ruth Cowan did a good job of this. She fought it. She went to the State Department with letters. I don't know whether she told you this or not; surely she did. She told you, I'm sure, about getting George Marshall to speak. She went to the State Department and asked them please to start turning some of their speakers, their heads of state who came to town, turn them over as speakers to the Women's National Press Club, and not all to the National Press Club. They declined. They didn't want to do this, because it was more prestigious up there. They had a club building, a clubhouse, and we didn't. We always had to go to some expensive hotel to have our meetings, and that made it more expensive for the members. But she found out the reason why we really couldn't get the good speakers was because the State Department was doing this. They would ask the National Press Club to provide a forum for these heads of state coming overseas.

So that's what prompted my question, largely, to Jack Kennedy, which was, "How can you allow some members of your Cabinet to go to the National Press Club and speak, when they don't allow women?" When [Nikita S.] Khrushchev and [Jawaharlal] Nehru came to the Press Club to hold press conferences, they wouldn't hold them unless the National Press Club promised that women could get in, which was interesting. And Oveta Culp Hobby got us in to have dessert on the same floor as the men. [Laughter.] All those little things really hurt. They really hurt.

I told you about the time I would see these people going up, taking their children to the Christmas party, and I couldn't take mine. When I finally got to go, I took my daughter and my grandchild. [Laughter.] That's how long it was! Those things really hurt. Of course, it isn't important, didn't amount to a tinker's damn. Now I wouldn't even be caught dead at it. But at that time it meant a lot.

Knight: Was there a real split in the Women's Press Club about wanting to join the National Press Club?

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McClendon: I had resigned from the Washington Press Club.*

Knight: Women's?

McClendon: It was still called the Washington Press Club, I guess, at that time. I had resigned from it by the time they had that merger fight.

Knight: Why did you resign?

McClendon: I resigned because I thought they were treating me very badly. I was very low on income at the time. I had lost some papers; my papers had been bought or merged. I was not retiring. I was old enough to retire, but I was not going to retire. I asked them if they would cut my dues in half, and they refused. They said that because I had not retired—but you see, the injustice was that a lot of the girls in the Press Club had worked for the government, and as they retired from the government, they would then take jobs with other people doing other things. So they had their retirement check and they had their other job, too. Yet they were retired, so they paid half fee, and I couldn't. So I thought it was an imposition on the woman who was still trying to work and keep active, and I didn't appreciate it.

Another thing I didn't appreciate at all, you never could get a table of any decency, at any decent location, unless you took a very exciting, strong, interesting personality who was news.

Knight: To the dinner, you're talking about.

McClendon: Yes. If you took just any ordinary person, you weren't going to get anything. Of course, I knew this. I had this senator that I thought was very high in the news, very important, Senator John McClellan of Arkansas, that used to head a committee that was investigating everybody on the Hill. So I had him and his wife, and I went in. As we always did, we'd go in and fix our placecards around ahead of time while the other people were having their cocktails. So I went in and fixed my placecards around at a nice table. It wasn't the best table, but I guess it was two tables back from the back of the room. But it was in a pretty good location, and I had my card just right so that Mr. McClellan was right near the speaker.

I came back. We were a little late, because I thought the cards were there, I didn't have to worry. I came back. My table had been moved, my cards were on another table, my cards were messed up. Mr. McClellan had his back to the speaker and we were right where they served the food. Every time they served by, they almost dropped some food on somebody. It was very crowded and right by the waiters as they came out of the kitchen. A very bad place to be. I said, "Somebody moved my table. Somebody just moved it." That meant that they just picked up my cards and put them on another table.

Knight: Someone did.

McClendon: And took that table. I always suspected one girl who had a lot of diplomats with her, but I don't know. I asked the president to do something about it, to investigate it, and she would never believe it happened. She'd never take my word for it. She always assumed that I just imagined it, and she said that if it happened, she couldn't believe it or she couldn't do anything about it. Anyway, she never did anything about it. I just didn't like that; I thought that was terrible.
*In January 1971, the Women's National Press Club admitted men journalists as members, then changed its name to the Washington Press Club.

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Knight: It sounds like you didn't have that good a relationship within the club. Was that true?

McClendon: We didn't. A lot of the king-makers picked the officers. We had a small group that ran it a great deal.

Another thing I didn't like was that a black woman named Alice Dunnigan had been trying and trying to get into the club. I didn't know anything about this until she just happened to mention it to me one day at the Press Club. She said she had tried to get in, and every time she was trying to get in, her sponsors, who were Doris Fleeson and, I think Bess Armstrong—I'm not sure—of the New York Times, but Doris Fleeson was one of them. They would always tell her, "Now is not the right time. Wait another year. Now is just not the right time. Wait." Well, she appealed to me about how she was so sorry about that, so disappointed, and the years were running on. I said, "That's perfectly awful. It's just disgusting. I'll sponsor you and I'm a southerner." I got another woman, a southerner, to sponsor her, and we wrote her out right quick. She told Doris Fleeson that she was getting in under our sponsorship, and Doris was livid with rage at me. She was furious with me. She fixed it up somehow or other so that this woman, this black woman—I felt really bad about it—she went in under not my sponsorship, but Doris'. But it forced the point, and Doris had to sponsor her and bring her on in, or else it was going to look very terrible for Doris, the "great liberal." Doris was furious, livid with rage about that.

Knight: Did she get in?

McClendon: The woman got in, and we treated her well. She died in the club, and she was the first black woman to get in. It was a good breakthrough, but the woman, I thought, treated me very badly, after we had gone to all this trouble to sponsor her and everything. She never did say anything else to me about it; she didn't even thank me or anything. She went in under Doris Fleeson. She wouldn't have gotten in if we hadn't forced the point.

Knight: I don't think that's widely known.

McClendon: Well, probably not, but that's the truth. The other woman's name was Eleanor Hamilton. She was a southerner. We both agreed that we should do this right away, that it was disgusting. One reason why I applied to the National Press Club, when I made out an application in 1955, was because they had finally let in their first black man. I figured if they let in a black man, then maybe they'd let me in. But you can't imagine how awful it was up there. It would be a cold, rainy night, you'd be working until midnight, no restaurants open anywhere around the place, and you'd be hungry and want a hamburger or something. You couldn't go up there and get it because you weren't a member of the club.

Then one time they had a Texas lawyer running for the Senate named Thad Hutchinson, who came down. He didn't mean anything by it; he didn't know any better. He told all the Texas reporters he'd meet them for a press conference in the bar at the Press Club. So I went up there to attend the press conference, and I said, "I understand I'm allowed to attend the press conference." They said, "Well, yes, but it's in the bar, so you can't go in." No woman was allowed in the bar. One time one woman named Molly Van Rensselaer Thayer had gone into the bar, and they raised Cain. They said, "She's no lady!" But anyway, there he was holding a press conference for Texas reporters in the bar, so I didn't do a thing, but I made myself do it. I had to do it. I stood outside at the desk. The desk was right close to the room where you went into the bar. I just stood there and I beat on that desk and yelled and screamed for him to come out. I made so much commotion and yelled and yelled and beat on that desk until they came running out of the bar to see what was the trouble. I said, "Mr. Hutchinson, you're having a press conference in the male bar where I can't go, and I want to attend your press conference." So he

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said, "Sarah, I didn't realize anything about it." So he came outside and held the rest of the press conference outside for me.

Knight: He did?

McClendon: Outside for me.

Knight: On that note, I see that my tape recorder is blinking. We'll stop for the day.

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