Washington Press Club Foundation
Lois Wille:
Interview #2 (pp. 37-74)
October 30, 1991 in Chicago, Illinois
Diane Gentry, Interviewer

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[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Gentry: I think that we left off yesterday just when you were going into the newsroom, when the former woman who worked there went into the Marines and a spot opened up for you. I was curious, if you could describe some of the relationships with men and woman. You've described them with women but how did the men feel about you coming into the newsroom, for the most part? Were you welcomed?

Wille: There had always been, as I mentioned, usually two but at least one woman working as a reporter at the Daily News for many years, so it wasn't—

Gentry: They were older than you?

Wille: You mean at the time they arrived? I don't know.

Gentry: No, I mean the one that went into the Marines, was she?

Wille: Several years older, I suppose. Anyway, it was nothing earthshaking that a woman arrived to work in the newsroom. But there were only two of us, Helen Fleming whom I mentioned who covered education and I was working as general assignment. But there were women working in the feature section, the women's section. They were used to having women in the workplace. I also, even that early, had been active in the union, the Chicago Newspaper Guild, so I knew a lot of them quite well, and they knew me. I seemed a smooth transition. I don't recall—certainly no hostility.

Gentry: The men treated you as an equal, would you say?

Wille: I wouldn't say an equal because the women were a novelty. We were different. It wasn't an equal. But no hostility and lots of friendliness. Because women did have very limited kinds of things they covered, I also was not a rival. I was not a threat, which may have been significant.

Gentry: True. Did you also see the people in the newsroom in social situations? Did you go out together and do things together?

Wille: Oh, a lot. A great deal. I think this has always been a factor on newspapers because the hours are often long and there's a lot of cooperative work and a good competitive team spirit so that you form good friendships, friendships that I still have to this day from my very early days on the Chicago Daily News. And that was important.

Some of the people I knew in the newsroom because they had gone to Northwestern and we had overlapped. Others I got to know very quickly. It was an important part of our social life. Of course, there was always a group that went to lunch together but we often saw each other on weekends and had parties in each other's homes.

Gentry: Of course, your husband was a journalist, too, so he had a lot in common with them.

Wille: Right. And he knew the people that had gone to Northwestern. But the Daily News did become really the focus of our social life, as well.

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Gentry: Almost like a family or is that a little—

Wille: Oh, not at all. That's absolutely true. We knew everything about each other's lives and shared joys and triumphs. It was a wonderful atmosphere. People took great joy in someone else's accomplishments. If someone got a scoop, the whole newsroom was excited about it. Maybe because it wasn't a big staff. It had a big circulation. It was 600,000 plus. But the staff was relatively small, very hard-working because it was small, and just had a great collegial feeling.

Gentry: That's great. What were your usual working hours at the Daily News?

Wille: They were pretty well—9 to 5:30 was officially the working hours. The two women, Helen Fleming and I, were assigned only to daytime. A new male reporter would have gone, after a few weeks, to the midnight shift and then to the middle shift and then eventually graduate to days. Those shifts were considered too dangerous for women so we only worked daytime hours. It was not till the early seventies that women began working those other two shifts on the Chicago papers.

While in a way that was very nice, because it gave us more standardized lifestyles, it also closed off certain kinds of stories that were important in a city like Chicago—big crime stories, the big fire stories, and the kinds of investigations that spin off from fires and crimes. Also, because those evening shifts were fairly small, the reporters often got to fill in on the city desk, so you began to work your way in as an assistant city editor, into the editing function. And that was something that was closed off to women. But I can't say that I was disappointed that I didn't get the great privilege of working from midnight to 8 a.m., following firefighters around the city. I also got better assignments because of my working hours.

Gentry: But your husband, for a time anyway, was working those hours, wasn't he? So you probably never saw him.

Wille: Right, because he was a new, young reporter at the Sun-Times so he worked the midnight shift. Although it was not long after I got to the newsroom that Wayne transferred to the CBS radio station—radio/TV station—and also worked days.

Gentry: Was he an announcer there?

Wille: No, he worked in public relations.

Gentry: I see. You talked about the other women doing quite a few of what you called "Our Gal" stories in the fifties.

Wille: There was a long, ancient tradition in American journalism for women to do that kind of thing. Do you remember a woman who used the by-line "Nellie Bly" who went around the world in eighty days? That was part of the "Our Girl" era.

Gentry: That was a long time before that, yes.

Wille: Right. She got herself committed into mental institutions and wrote about it. Women had been doing that for a century by the time I arrived in the newsroom but it still hung on. Women still did stunts and wrote about them in the first person.

Gentry: Was that considered demeaning?

Wille: I didn't consider it demeaning. It was really fun. I liked the adventure side of it. Things like that still happen occasionally but now men may do them as well as women. And it's nothing I did full-time.

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Gentry: What are some of the things you did?

Wille: Well, my first week in the newsroom I flew with the Navy Blue Angels jet stunt team. And that was great because that was before jet passenger flights—I don't think they were very common yet at that time. And we broke the sound barrier. They were performing at an air show in Chicago. And I flew with them and got to wear a flight suit and learned what the ejection button was. It was just great. I did a first-person story on it.

Gentry: I think that would be fun.

Wille: We did somersaults and all kinds of acrobatic movements and zoomed up to Milwaukee and back. Actually, reporters still do that today. I've seen first-person stories not too long ago of flying with the Navy Blue Angels. But the difference probably is then the Daily News took a picture of me in my flight suit powdering my nose. And I don't recall—the headline probably said something like "Our Gal Flies with the Blue Angels."

The planes were late in arriving. The story was held up, and I had to phone it in on deadline, which was exciting, too, since, as I said, I was very new in the newsroom. I remember that story with particular fondness because the Daily News took out an insurance policy on me, good for that one flight.

Gentry: See, they valued you.

Wille: Yes, but it named itself as the beneficiary, which I thought was funny.

I did some other kinds of stunt reporting. I played pool with a great pool player—or maybe he's a billiards player, I don't know—named Willie Hoppe. Oh, what else did I do? I brushed the teeth of a rhinoceros at Brookfield Zoo. It was part of a story on what it's like to work in a zoo as a zoo attendant.

Gentry: That doesn't sound quite as easy. Did anything happen?

Wille: No. The creature opened its mouth and I had a great, big brush and I brushed its tooth. It was very compliant. And there was a picture of me doing that. There were maybe half a dozen or so such things.

Gentry: With your love of adventure, many of them would be fun, I would think.

Wille: They were. They were also part of an era of cornier journalism that has died out as newspapers have become more sober and more responsible and overall much, much better. But it's also interesting that in those days newspapers had much bigger circulations, too, than they have today.

Gentry: True. True. But that might be partly television's fault.

Wille: Although there was television, there was.

Gentry: Everyone didn't have it at that time, in the fifties.

Wille: No, but probably most of the—this is the late fifties, '58, '59. I'm sure most of the readers of the Daily News had it.

Gentry: Now, we talked about women getting into the newsroom. Now, Chicago I'm sure by the late fifties and sixties had a lot of blacks coming from the South. Would they be hiring black reporters at all at that point?

Wille: Blacks had come much before that. Chicago had a fairly large black population. When I began, I believe there was just one black reporter. A couple of more came, at about the same rate as women, I think.

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Gentry: So they were breaking in, too.

Wille: Yes.

Gentry: How long did it really take to get into general assignment reporting and the really meatier stories?

Wille: In those first days I did, in addition to the stunts that I mentioned—which didn't happen all that often—a lot of interviews when celebrities would come through town. I remember meeting the Duke and Duchess of Windsor when they arrived by train. Movie stars—I had breakfast with Cary Grant and Gregory Peck.

Gentry: Yes, and what did Cary Grant tell you? I remember that.

Wille: Do you remember that? How do you know?

Gentry: I saw it in your retirement story.

Wille: Okay. One of the few times I was censored, Cary Grant—he was a delightful person to interview. And among the many things we discussed was his love of fine fabrics and clothes—good clothes made out of fine fabrics. And he said, for example, because he values good fabrics, he always bought ladies' underpants. He liked silk and satin underpants and men's weren't made in those fabrics and he always wore women's underpants.

This was a breath-taking revelation and I put it in my lead. And my city editor, a dear man, Ritz Fischer, called me over and said, "You know, the Daily News is a family newspaper and I really don't think we should be telling our people that Cary Grant wears ladies' panties."

Gentry: You broke that information in your retirement story.

Wille: Yes, that's the first time it saw print. Was that in there? I don't remember that was in there.

Gentry: A belated scoop. It was the last line in the story. That's why I remembered it.

Wille: It didn't even cause a ripple now, did it? Poor Cary Grant. I did those kinds of celebrity interviews. Chicago is the nation's leading convention center and there were a lot of stories covering whatever convention happened to be in town. I spent a lot of time interviewing politicians' wives since there were no female politicians and I spent a lot of election nights with Eleanor Daley, the mayor's wife, and other women—

Gentry: Did you ever get to Richard Daley? You spent most of your time with her but—

Wille: Oh. You mean did I ever get to meet him, in the early years?

Gentry: Did you interview him as well?

Wille: Only as an adjunct to her. One time I went to their home to talk to her and do a story on their house and he was there. But the focus was Mrs. Daley.

Gentry: What was she like?

Wille: She was difficult to interview because she wasn't really forthcoming but very gracious, very lovely, very loyal and proud of her husband and her family. I remember saying something to her during one interview about the mayor being—I wouldn't have used the word "fat"—heavy or something. She got really upset. She said, "Actually, he's not. He may look that way but he's got very broad shoulders and not fat at all." That really charmed me, that she should be protective of him to the point of—

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Gentry: I saw that story.

Wille: Oh, you did?

Gentry: Yes, in your files.

Wille: She was reserved and lovely. And their little kids were around. The mayor was very protective of his family.

Gentry: Is she still alive?

Wille: Yes, she is. Sure, she still lives in Bridgeport and she attends a lot of functions and I've seen her fairly recently, at the new Mayor Daley's first inauguration she was there, and looked lovely and elegant. She's not one of the easiest people to interview but one of the most intriguing, I think.

There were a lot of feature stories including a lot of what used to be called "sob sister" stories, stories of sad happenings in the big city. And some of them I tried quite early on to turn into something more substantive. For example, if I wanted to do an interview with a man whose three children had just died in a slum fire, I tried to find out why the building burned, perhaps there were some housing code violations and city inspectors hadn't been doing their job or something on that order.

And I had a city editor who was very cooperative about that and gave me the chance to explore those kinds of avenues: Ritz Fischer—whom I mentioned to you yesterday, too, I believe. He was Jewish—well, he was both Jewish and Catholic. He'd become a Catholic at the time of his marriage. And maybe because of that he was very concerned about relations between religious groups and ethnic groups and racial groups and was active in something called the National Council of Christians and Jews, which tried to make Chicago's religious, racial and ethnic relations somewhat better. And because of Ritz's interest in that, he gave me a number of assignments on people that got awards from this group, the NCCJ, or issues that this group was concerned about. So very early on, I got to write about group relations in the city and I liked doing that very much.

It was only after a couple of years that I was able to make kind of a specialty of investigative reporting with a social welfare angle. I still had to do the feature stories and take my turn at doing obituaries and the little kinds of fillers that newspapers ran a lot of in those days.

Gentry: Well, I guess everyone does that, man or woman.

Wille: Sure.

Gentry: But these sob-sister stories you mentioned, were those traditionally women's stories? I mean, did most people assign those kinds of stories to women? I assume by the name they did.

Wille: I think so. I think if there was some terribly great tragedy in the city, then everyone did them. For example, I had been in the city room for a couple of years when a Catholic grade school burned, Our Lady of the Angels, December of 1959, and ninety-two children and three nuns died. The whole city room staff worked on a story like that. When that story broke, when the fire alarm came in, I was doing something that sounds a little odd, I was filling in as the city desk secretary and phone operator. We had one named Margaret Whitesides who is still around. She runs a newsletter now for everybody who worked at the Daily News.

Margaret was the city desk secretary for many years and when she went on vacation, I would fill in for her, as the junior of the two females on the staff. A man was never asked to fill in. It was a big break-through when after a couple of years one of the men had to fill in for Margaret instead of me.

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I was working the phones on the city desk that afternoon when the alarm came in and then, of course, stayed on to work through the night—as a reporter, not as the phone answerer.

Gentry: Of course, when I talked to Mike Royko, he told me that that was the first time he had noticed you in Chicago, in that fire—at the inquest, not at the fire—in the inquest following Our Lady of Angels fire. And he said he thought he was the cocky, young City News Bureau reporter and he was very full of himself. And he saw you interviewing people so fast and you were bobbing up and down in all these places. He thought there were twelve women instead of one but it was all you. That's what he told me.

Wille: I've heard him tell that story, too. It may be true. I remember the inquest. I don't remember Mike, as terrible as that may sound.

Gentry: It's interesting that your career and his almost paralleled each other in all the years that you moved, from the Daily News to the Sun-Times and to the Tribune.

Wille: He started at the Daily News a couple of years after I did—he worked at City News Bureau, as he mentioned to you, which was an avenue closed to me, so my route was the women's section to the news room. Mike was able to do the more traditional thing, working for City News Bureau and then going to the news room.

Gentry: This was part of the Daily News, you mean?

Wille: The City News Bureau?

Gentry: Yes.

Wille: No. I think—didn't I mention it yesterday? It's a news gathering operation run jointly by the Chicago newspapers and the radio and TV stations. It operates as a news service like AP or UPI does.

Gentry: That's how he broke in.

Wille: Right. And so did many of the finest reporters in Chicago.

Gentry: Except for the women.

Wille: The City News Bureau had a big anniversary not long ago when Helen Hayes came because her husband, Charlie MacArthur, had got his start at City News Bureau.

Gentry: But it was closed to women.

Wille: It was except during World War II.

Gentry: Right, of course, they needed them.

Wille: And then it eventually opened during the seventies. But at the time I started, it was closed. But it was a great training ground. And when Mike came to the Daily News, he was the star at City News Bureau. A great writer with a wonderful flair and also a great reporter. And he quickly became a star at the Daily News.

Gentry: He considers you his best friend. That's what he said to me.

Wille: That's nice. That's nice because we have worked together for a long time and are interested in the same kind of stories.

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Gentry: That's what I was going to say. You're interested in the same kind of stories but was it kind of a mutual admiration of each other's work that led to that friendship? You could have been rivals, of course, in a way.

Wille: No, as I mentioned to you earlier, people weren't. There wasn't that feeling at the Daily News, ever.

Gentry: That's great.

Wille: Maybe it was because it was an underdog, it was an afternoon paper. Or maybe it was because of the kind of people who were hired. There was a group of us that Mike was part of and involved, to my mind, the best newspaper writer in the city, ever, named Bill Newman, M. W. Newman. I guess he was the reporter at the Daily News whose work I admired the most. And if there's anybody I tried to pattern myself on, it was Bill Newman. He's still working at the Sun-Times.

Gentry: What did he write?

Wille: He wrote mainly urban affairs material then and did pioneer work that's so great, the first stories of the abuses of urban renewal and of public housing. He's a lovely writer, beautiful writer, and just a splendid person. Bill and his wife Nancy Newman, Mike and his wife Carol, Eric Lund and his wife Florence, Nick Shuman, whom I mentioned to you, I worked with a great deal, and his wife Marilyn, Bob Schultz and his wife Vernette. We saw each other all the time. Bob eventually became city editor of the Daily News. Eric was associate managing editor. There was not ever any rivalry.

And when Mike began doing a column that appeared periodically from the county building—he was covering county government—it was just sensational. It had all the qualities that makes his current column so great. And a lot of us formed a fan club, hoping that he could turn that into a full-time column.

Gentry: And he did in the end. And many books.

Going back just a second to that Our Lady of Angels school fire, you covered the inquest, the story—

Wille: Later, after the fire.

Gentry: Did you cover the fire as well that night?

Wille: I went that evening to the scene. My assignment was to interview the parents of a child who had died. Another reporter was to interview the parents of a child who survived. So when I got there, I made the rounds—I don't remember where I got the name of the family—hospitals, the morgue, and found a family and went home with them.

As so often happens when you—and I've had to do it a lot—when you interview somebody at a time of terrible tragedy and loss which to the public may seem like intrusion—and I think this is one of the things people think is awful when journalists do it, and maybe it is when you put a camera in somebody's face—but I always found that when you say, I want to talk to you about your little girl, who was burned to death or murdered or whatever, that they want to talk and they want to tell people about her.

Gentry: Perhaps it's a catharsis.

Wille: I think so, at least in that early time after the tragedy. I found the parents some place—as I said, I don't remember whether it was the hospital or the morgue—and went home with them. It was just terribly moving because they brought out all the scrapbooks—I think she was an only child—they brought out her scrapbooks and confirmation pictures and her little dresses and talked and talked. I probably spent nearly the whole night there.

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Gentry: Did you find yourself getting emotionally involved in something like that?

Wille: You have to share people's feelings, I think, but you also have to be able to go back to the office and write it. The Daily News's deadline I think was something like 8:00 a.m. because it was an afternoon paper.

Gentry: This was late at night, when you phoned it in.

Wille: It was during the night. And then I went back and wrote the story, sometime before dawn. That was the first tragedy of proportions like that that I worked on.

Gentry: I thought it might be.

Wille: There aren't many of them, thank goodness.

Gentry: No. That was a very big tragedy.

Wille: Later, I don't remember how much later, I did kind of a followup story about a child who survived the fire—it may have been the first or second anniversary of the fire—who was still either hospitalized or had gone back to the hospital for skin grafts, to do a story on the kind of trauma suffered by children who went through it and how they cope with it afterward, with being a survivor.

Gentry: It's very interesting to do those followup stories, I think, to bring that back.

There were a lot of big national stories in the 1950s and I wondered if any of them touched your life or if you covered any of them. One of them I know you didn't cover because you were still in college was the McCarthy era. Did that in any way affect your life? Obviously, you didn't write about it, but did you know anybody who might have been blacklisted?

Wille: No. The only fallout from the McCarthy era, I was in college then and on campuses, some professors may have belonged to some group on somebody's subversive list and we would talk about that in class. But it didn't have any impact on my life. And by the time I started reporting—I think that there was an issue in the state legislature on requiring loyalty oaths for schoolteachers but by the time I was doing serious reporting, that era was dead, so it didn't play a role in my work.

Gentry: Now, by the fifties, I think that city dwellers had started to move to the suburbs, hadn't they? And that's part of what you wrote about much later but I believe that's when it started, in the fifties?

Wille: It started in the post-war era. It didn't really reach—it didn't affect the city that much until the sixties, the mid-sixties.

Gentry: And of course, you have a major piece on—

Wille: The reporting I did in the fifties was mainly feature writing and the kinds of stories I described, so I didn't write about issues of significance.

Gentry: Was that written then by other people, do you remember, the flight of city residents to the suburbs?

Wille: Not in the fifties. That flight didn't—it wasn't a flight then. The growth of the suburbs came, I think in those years, mainly with the return of World War II veterans needing housing. So whole new suburbs were built, like Park Forest in the Chicago area and other suburbs that grew with new subdivisions. There was some movement out of the city. But Chicago reached its peak of population in the 1960 census, so the 1950s was not a drain on the city. The loss of industry and the loss of population was not a factor. What happened in the fifties is that the suburbs grew a lot, but not at the expense of the city.

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Gentry: Was the paper covering—I know you weren't—but the migration of the southern blacks to Chicago, were there stories on that that you can remember, even though you weren't covering them? Since that was a big movement and one of the places that many of them ended up was Chicago.

Wille: Bill Newman, whom I mentioned, did stories on the beginnings of the urban renewal phenomenon in Chicago, which was an outgrowth of that. As the black population increased, the neighborhoods that were open to them quickly deteriorated because the old houses that may have housed three families at one time were carved up and began housing twenty families. And landlords squeezed—the buildings turned over to owners who exploited the newcomers.

Slums grew rapidly, with miserable housing conditions. In many cases, the response of the big cities, when the slums got unbearable, was to tear them down and then build something new and less dense for a group with somewhat more income. And the poor and the black families that had lived in the slums then had to move on to create new tenements in any place that was open to them.

And that phenomenon the Daily News reported quite well in the late fifties and early sixties. I did a little bit of it. Bill Newman was principally the reporter on it in those years.

Gentry: I have worked with women who worked on southern newspapers in that era and there would be almost nothing about blacks in their paper that would come in. But that wasn't true in Chicago, was it? I mean, if something positive happened to a black, it was reported equally or somewhat equally?

Wille: No, it wasn't. It wasn't covered that well. Blacks probably were covered chiefly as they impacted the white community.

Gentry: This is exactly what they said. If a black murdered someone, then that was a story. But if a black did something good, it was not a story.

Wille: Although Chicago had some important and powerful black politicians and they were in the news a lot. A Democratic committeeman and congressman named William Dawson, with the exception of the mayor of Chicago and not always with that exception, was the most powerful politician in the city. And there were a number of other influential black committeemen and aldermen. But Dawson was probably the single most powerful politician in Chicago because he controlled so many votes. He had been a Republican and he shifted to become a Democrat under Roosevelt. No one could become mayor of Chicago or head of the Cook County Democratic party without going to Bill Dawson and getting Bill Dawson's approval and consent. So in that sense, he was more important than Mayor Daley because he helped create Mayor Daley—

Gentry: That's interesting.

Wille: —And Mayor Daley's predecessors. So blacks were in the news in that sense because they were politically powerful. Dawson was part of what was known as the Cook County Democratic machine until his death which was—hmm, when did he die? Wayne and I were living in his district at that time; it must have been the late sixties.

Gentry: And he must have brought other blacks in on his coattails, to some extent.

Wille: Well, he controlled the vote. He would tell blacks how to vote. And they would. That's how the machine operated. He had his lieutenants under him and they had their precinct captains under them and virtually the entire black vote was Dawson's to deliver as he wanted. I mean, the Chicago elections were pretty—they were not as clean as they are today and there were all kinds of ways of controlling votes. Everything from saying you'll lose your welfare benefits or you can't go to Cook County Hospital any more, or here's five dollars, this is how you vote. And that was one of the ways Dawson controlled the vote.

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Gentry: They did that in Texas, too.

Wille: I imagine.

Early in the 1960s, the Chicago Daily News did a landmark series on the status of civil rights in Chicago. It went on for about a month. A number of reporters worked on it. I did some of the stories. By that time I was doing a lot of reporting on welfare issues. In fact, the series that won the Pulitzer Prize on the refusal of the Illinois Public Aid Department to give birth control information to women on public aid grew out of my reporting on public aid issues. That was tied in with the civil rights movement, too. So a lot of the stories that were assigned to me originally because I was a woman became major news in the sixties because they involved poor people and minorities.

Also, I should tell you about the big breakthrough in the city room—the arrival of the second general assignment female reporter.

Gentry: Oh, yes, tell me about that. You mean another one retired?

Wille: No. No, no. This was an additional one. And it really, I think, broke a lot of ground, and I'm pleased with my role in it. The Daily News and a lot of other big city papers had traditionally had two females, one who did education and one who did general assignment, which was me. And I had a friend in the women's department, Georgie Ann Geyer, who also had gone to Northwestern and arrived at the paper a couple of years after I did, as an assistant to the society editor. Gee-Gee had been a Fulbright scholar and had studied in Vienna and in Mexico and spoke several languages and was a wonderful writer, very intelligent, very ambitious and did not want to spend her life covering society news.

Soon after I arrived in the news room, I began lobbying our city editor, Ritz Fischer, to add Gee-Gee to the staff. Ritz liked the kind of work I did and I had a good relationship with him so was able to talk to him about Gee-Gee. He was reluctant to do this because it was such a radical step. But he also needed good writers and good reporters and he liked the work that Gee-Gee was doing and he knew she would be useful.

I remember so clearly the breakthrough conversation. He said to me one day he thought he would give her a chance. And he said, "You've been here about a year now and one thing that I like about you and I appreciate is that you've never cried. Would Gee-Gee cry?" And I said, "Not a chance. Gee-Gee never cries." I went back to Gee-Gee and said, "Whatever happens to you, you cannot cry. You cannot let anyone in the newsroom ever see you cry."

And it was amusing to both of us and kind of frustrating, too, because newsrooms were pretty raucous places in those days; they're very quiet and orderly now. But then they were really wild. And the men could have tantrums and throw their typewriters and yell and scream if something happened to their copy or go off on two- or three-day benders and it was considered very colorful and part of the great Chicago tradition in journalism. But Helen and Gee-Gee and I had to always be very cool.

Gentry: Ladylike.

Wille: But at least in control and calm or we would have been thought, you know, frail and temperamental creatures.

So Gee-Gee did transfer to the newsroom and quickly became one of the top reporters on the staff.

Gentry: She started getting foreign assignments after a while, didn't she?

Wille: She made those assignments, she didn't get them.

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Gentry: Oh, I see.

Wille: I can tell you about that, if you like. Gee-Gee grew up on Chicago's South Side in a neighborhood that was changing. Neighborhoods didn't integrate in those days in Chicago. They changed from white to black. So Gee-Gee was very interested in that phenomenon and did some early reporting in it and also recognized virtually before anyone else did the importance of the growth of black-run community organizations in Chicago, which were new to any big city, and she wrote about them. Again, the Chicago Daily News was really the only newspaper paying attention to these kinds of stories in the early sixties.

Gee-Gee, because of her earlier travels, wanted to become a foreign correspondent; the Daily News at one time had a great foreign staff. It was fairly small by the time Gee-Gee and I joined it. But her ambition was to be a foreign correspondent, and there was just no chance of the paper ever giving her that kind of assignment. They were very difficult for anyone to get, male or female.

So Gee-Gee applied for an Alicia Patterson grant, a fellowship, and won it. They're very, very hard to get, very sought after. Hers involved going to Latin America and writing about people's movements and changing political and economic and social institutions in Latin America. But as part of that, the Daily News also agreed to print some of the things she wrote. The Alicia Patterson Foundation paid for it so the Daily News got a free extra foreign correspondent. That gave Gee-Gee a whole new career. She went on to become a distinguished reporter of international affairs, particularly in the Middle East, has written a number of books and writes a Washington-based syndicated column.*

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

Gentry: You had another wonderful opportunity in the late fifties, I think it was '59, to cover Khrushchev's visit to an Iowa farm. Can you tell me about that?

Wille: He went to Iowa to the farm of Roswell Garst, a farmer who had been in the Soviet Union and had invited Khrushchev to see his farm as a reciprocal invitation. The Daily News assigned a number of people—Peter Lisagor who was the head of our Washington bureau, whom I had not yet met but knew was one of the finest reporters in Washington and one of the greatest Daily News reporters and writers ever. Also George Thiem, who was the agricultural writer of the Daily News, since part of it was a farm story; Khrushchev wanted to see a big, successful American farm. And then I went to do features and sidebar things.

I went out there with George Thiem and I did stories about the town's preparations for the arrival of Khrushchev and then his visit itself. It was wonderful fun. The Garsts gave a picnic for Khrushchev. The Secret Service had closed it off. I think there were pool reporters there but the thousands of reporters who descended on this little town to see Khrushchev were all milling around the outside of the farmhouse. And I wanted very much to get inside.

The house was set off with some thick shrubs and bushes. And I crawled through the bushes at some point in the rear of the house and literally bumped into somebody else crawling through the bushes. We had both taken off our name tags and somehow during this encounter confessed to each other that we were reporters. It turned out it was Peter Lisagor. So that was my initial meeting with Pete. We made it through the bushes and then mingled with guests at the picnic.

Gentry: You just snuck in there and they didn't realize that you had come through the bushes? There were enough reporters to blend in?

* Her most recent book is Guerilla Prince, a biography of Castro.

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Wille: No, there weren't, but practically the whole town was there and Peter and I must have blended in with the Iowa townsfolk, although the Secret Service was on the lookout for invaders. I don't know what happened to Peter. I think he got nabbed by the Secret Service and tossed out fairly soon. I got into the house and I was in the living room for a while while Mrs. Khrushchev had one of the Garst grandchildren on her lap and was looking at family albums. And Nikita was there handing out little medals—Soviet tie pins or something, lapel pins.

Gentry: Were there any reporters in there?

Wille: Not that I know of. I didn't ask because I didn't want to call attention to myself, alert the Secret Service.

Gentry: There were townspeople?

Wille: Yes. The Garst family and all the people from the town were there. Anyway, I spent a little bit of time out in the back yard at the picnic. It was a big picnic. There were a couple of hundred people there. And some time in the livingroom. And then because it was afternoon and time for our last edition's deadline, I went upstairs to the bedroom and made my fatal error and pressed my luck. I called the paper from the bedroom to say, "I'm here, in the Garst house," and this is what's going on. And one of the patrolling Secret Service agents caught me and heard me and threw me out.

Gentry: Not too smart.

Wille: No. It wasn't. But it was a wonderful assignment.

Gentry: I'll bet. It made for many stories afterwards, I'm sure.

I want to talk for quite a while about your '63 Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on government's failure to provide birth control data to indigent women at the Cook County Hospital and in other clinics. And the research is so extensive on that series of stories. I think there were ten stories all together?

Wille: The original series was probably five. There were later followup stories. The only reason I say it was probably five is that the Daily News had a policy of not letting a series run more than a week in those years, so it was probably five or six.

Gentry: The research was so extensive, the way you presented every side of the issue. How long did you work on that series? It must have been months.

Wille: It was written and published in '62, I think. And then the prize was awarded in '63. It was an issue I was familiar with quite a while before that because in covering public aid issues and talking to caseworkers and talking to people in public aid, one of the things that they mentioned is that women had no access to birth control services as part of their medical care. Some of the physicians at Cook County Hospital were very concerned about this also. They felt they could not give complete medical care to a woman if they couldn't tell her about contraceptives. In fact, they were under orders, if a woman said, "Is there any way I can avoid getting pregnant again?" they had to refuse to answer her, refuse to discuss it.

This was true in Cook County Hospital, where the great majority of poor people went for their medical care, and also in the city-run clinics where women went for prenatal care—indigent women. And in the Illinois State Public Aid Department, where caseworkers had contact with low-income women.

Gentry: The Pill was relatively new then but it was out.

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Wille: The Pill was out. It was an issue that none of the papers wrote about because they feared that the policy was entrenched because of the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church among Chicago's political leadership and also because the church was just very powerful in the city itself and that it would be offensive to readers if this subject were written about.

Gentry: The statistics are overwhelming and really surprised me: 20,000 babies were born at Cook County Hospital in 1961? It's just incredible. I mean, that's a lot of babies. And most of them are indigent.

Wille: Oh, if they were born in Cook County Hospital, they were all born to indigent families.

Gentry: So in other words, they would all have to get on the public welfare eventually, probably.

Wille: That's true. Anyway, I had wanted to write about this problem for a long time, both because it was important to women's health and because it denied an essential part of health care to poor women that more affluent women got as a matter of course. It was difficult, though, to make any inroads because the city editor that I mentioned, Ritz Fischer, whom I admired in so many ways, who had a good conscience on so many issues, was a very ardent Roman Catholic.

Gentry: Is he the Catholic Jew?

Wille: Right. A good convert. It was something that Ritz did not want to write about. Poor Ritz developed stomach ulcers and was out for extensive surgery and away a long time. And his first deputy filled in. His name was Bob Rose. Bob had none of Ritz's inhibitions about the story. He thought it was important.

Another ally who pushed it—actually, he really paved the way for my being able to do this—was one of my colleagues, Jay McMullen, who was our city hall reporter. Jay was active—I shouldn't say he was active in it, but Jay had a lot of friends who were active in the Planned Parenthood Association—and he was very concerned about the high birth rate among indigent people. Jay later got an element of fame and notoriety when he married Jane Byrne, who became Chicago's first woman mayor. And then he became her press secretary.

Jay lobbied heavily for writing something about this whole ban on contraceptive services and information. So Jay and I plotted together how we would do these stories. And then when Ritz went off to the hospital and Bob Rose took over, Bob Rose said, "Go right ahead. Work on it." I had a lot of help from the Chicago chapter of the Planned Parenthood Association, in particular Mary Jane Snyder, who was their public affairs chief.

Gentry: I've talked with her.

Wille: Do you know Mary Jane?

Gentry: By phone. She was part of my research on another woman, a very good friend of Marj Paxson.

Wille: Oh, is that right? Mary Jane was my guiding light on this series and just helped me gain access—Planned Parenthood ran some private clinics that gave birth control information and services. They couldn't get reimbursed by the state and they were overwhelmed with patients they couldn't handle because of the refusal of the city and the state.

Gentry: These numbers are so great.

Wille: The doctors at Cook County Hospital were very helpful, in particular the women physicians and obstetricians at Cook County, and so were a lot of the public aid people, the caseworkers who chafed under the restrictions that they were operating under. I wrote the series and it was finished about the time Ritz got back from his ailment.

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Gentry: Wouldn't it have taken you months to collect all that information?

Wille: We never had the luxury of months to work on anything. No, I probably worked on it for several weeks. But a lot of it I knew because I had done a lot of reporting in this area. Ritz was very nervous about this series and I had to keep pressing him on when it would see print, if ever. And finally I told him that I understood that our chief competitor, Chicago Today, the afternoon paper—maybe it was still called Chicago American at that point—was working on a similar one.

Gentry: Was that true?

Wille: No. I don't think so. But it could have been. And I told Mary Jane Snyder at Planned Parenthood I had told Ritz this and I said, "If you should ever run into him, mention that you've been talking to reporters." Anyway, it was just really the worry about competition breaking it before we did that made Ritz finally loosen up.

And then he did something else that horrified me when I found out about it. He told me he had given it to a good friend of his, a priest, to read to make sure there was nothing particularly offensive in it.

Gentry: And what did he say?

Wille: The priest? Well, fortunately, Ritz's friends in the Roman Catholic hierarchy were really admirable people and this was the most admirable of all, Monsignor John Egan, who's been a great friend of mine ever since, and still is, Jack Egan. Jack recognized the problem and he had a couple of suggestions here and there, and they were fine because it was to make sure that I was representing accurately what the Roman Catholic church felt about the issue.

So it seemed that the series was about to be published and then, shortly before, I was called in for the first and only time in my career by Marshall Field IV. I'd never met him. This was after Field had bought the Daily News from John S. Knight. That sale happened, I think, in '59 or '60. He was a very shy and nervous man. He suffered from emotional problems and eventually killed himself, but was a wonderful man and I will always be grateful to him. He told me he was very nervous about the series. And he thought there was a chance that the Daily News would be denounced at every Catholic pulpit and maybe some Protestant pulpits as well the Sunday after it appeared, and there might be a boycott organized. But he felt it was the right thing to do to print it, that it was an important series and he was going to go ahead and print it. That was my only conversation with this troubled but wonderfully courageous man.

And the series ran and we weren't denounced. I mean, there was very little fallout, which didn't surprise me. I think that the nervous editors didn't realize that the Catholic church had moved beyond a lot of its old rigid teachings and that it recognized a social problem, which this was.

Gentry: Certainly when there're 20,000 babies born in one year and they're all indigent, that's going to cause problems in the school, the welfare.

Wille: The important thing really was not that there shouldn't be 20,000 babies born to poor women, but that the poor women shouldn't have more babies than they wanted to have and felt they could raise well. As a result of the series, the Illinois Public Aid Department changed its policy and so eventually did the Chicago public health clinics and the Cook County Hospital. And word came from Mayor Daley to change the policy at the clinics.

Gentry: Mayor Daley agreed.

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Wille: I think he probably felt—I don't know how he felt—but he probably concluded it was in the city's best interest. He always recognized when he had to bend and when he had to change. That was one of his strengths. And that series the following year won the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

Gentry: So everyone was delighted that they had run that series.

Wille: Was delighted afterward. I wasn't around. Wayne and I were in Egypt when the Pulitzers were announced.

Gentry: So you didn't think you were going to get it?

Wille: No, I didn't think, but in fact, we had a small staff and when the paper nominated things for the Pulitzer entries, people had to write their own letters and I had to write the covering letter for that. Wayne and I were—I don't know where we were going—but I remember that I wanted to get out of the office fairly early for some reason that Friday and dashed the letter off very quickly; I don't even remember what it said. And then I forgot about it.

It didn't really occur to me until we were in Egypt, in Luxor, about to leave to see the ruins of some ancient temple and to take a little sailboat across the Nile to the other side when our guide said, "Oh, you have cables at hotel." By this time we were already on the water. We said, "Cables?" He said, "Cables for you." We thought, "Somebody died," and it ruined the whole day and I couldn't wait to get back. I thought, "Who would cable us?" No one's going to send us good news in a cable, there couldn't be any news that good.

Then when we got back that evening, Wayne ran up to the hotel to get the cables and he came running down the slope—I was still in the little boat on the Nile—waving them, looking like a crazed person, hopping around, and I didn't know what was wrong with him. The first one he handed me just said, "Congratulations, Mary Jane," from Planned Parenthood. I thought, "Why is Mary Jane Snyder from Planned Parenthood congratulating us on our vacation?" It seemed bizarre.

The second one was from the staff and it said, "We're all so thrilled about the Pulitzer," and there was a whole bunch of names, everybody from the Daily News newsroom.

Gentry: What a way to get the news!

Wille: Yes, it was great. Ritz had been trying to put a phone call through but we were in the southern part of Egypt, not in Cairo, and it was difficult—it was the next day, I think, when he got through to us. So we went out for an extra—we had been staying at some awful little hotel because it was cheap—and went out for a really nice dinner that night.

Gentry: I'll bet you had a nice celebration.

Wille: It was exciting.

Gentry: That's an interesting way to get the news.

Do you think a male reporter would have found a story like that and really pursued it?

Wille: Yes, because as I mentioned, Jay McMullen was concerned about it. A number of other people, Bill Newman also. Jay more from the standpoint because he covered City Hall. He could see the kinds of emerging city problems. And Bill Newman because he did a lot of work in low-income neighborhoods.

Gentry: It was a story with many facets.

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Wille: I think that it was a lucky break that Bob Rose let me work on it—in fact, if Jay hadn't been tied up with City Hall, Bob may have had Jay do it instead of me. Probably it helped because Bob knew there was a lot of sensitivities involved and it had to be done—maybe he felt that Jay's viewpoints on it were too strong or I would present it in a way that would be more printable. I don't know. Anyway, it's a story that the men had recognized, too. I probably pushed a little harder to get to write it.

Gentry: Do you remember in that era any real good stories that were discovered by women because they were women? You know, because they had a special affinity for stories?

Wille: We're speaking now in the early sixties. By this time, there were a few more women in the newsroom. I told you that Gee-Gee Geyer was the big breakthrough because that broke the rule about only one woman on general assignment. Then also in the early sixties, this may have been 1962, two more women were hired. One, Betty Flynn, was working on the Minneapolis Tribune—there was a strike in Minneapolis. Betty was from Chicago, from the West Side, the Austin neighborhood, and her paper was out—she was out on strike for a long time. And like a number of people from the Minneapolis papers, she then applied for other jobs and was hired by Ritz Fischer to be the third woman on general assignment.

It was funny when Betty was in for an interview. Of course, all the men were noticing her because they thought—it was clear that this was someone in for a job interview. And she had great red hair and was stunning looking.

Gentry: Irish, of course.

Wille: Yes. And Ritz called me over and said, "You know, there's someone I really would like to hire, Betty Flynn. I think she knows the city, she grew up here, I really like her, but you talk to her and tell me what you think of her." And I thought—and I was happy to do that and I liked her and told him that. But he wouldn't do that with a man. If he's thinking of hiring another man reporter, he's not going to call Nick Shuman or Bill Newman over and say, "Talk to this guy and tell me what you think of him." But he wanted to be sure, you know, she would fit in.

So Betty was hired and then a short time after that another woman—Judy Klemesrud, who grew up in Iowa, got her master's degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York, later went on to the New York Times and was one of their top reporters. So there were a few more women and we all did the kind of—

Gentry: These changes came in the early sixties?

Wille: In the early sixties. We all did the kinds of stories that, as I mentioned, became big news at that time because they involved issues of human rights and civil rights. Betty did a number of stories of children dying or getting brain-damaged from lead paint poisoning in tenement buildings. Lead paint was already outlawed but it just wasn't being removed or covered up. It wasn't being painted over. The city didn't enforce its building code. So I think those were stories that Betty got to do and did well because—well, I won't say she did well because she was a woman. She got to do them because she was a woman, because it involved sad happenings and children and slums. The school system was getting to be pretty bad at that point and Betty and I both did stories on deteriorating schools.

So, because we were women, we got to do the kinds of significant urban stories focusing on urban problems that men usually didn't do. There were all kinds of stories we couldn't do. Many beats were closed to us. The whole financial department and the labor beat—

Gentry: You couldn't cover them?

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Wille: There were no women working in sports, finance, no women photographers, no women artists—the midnight shift and the night shift, which had a lot of the crime stories, the political reporting. So there were great swatches of journalism we couldn't venture into but what we were able to do we made into big stories.

Gentry: When I talked to Mike Royko, he said you were a master at series of stories, such as the one series that you won the Pulitzer for. And he said that's a very difficult kind of journalism because—you know, running five to ten stories on a subject because it's so hard to keep interest.

Wille: It's hard to organize. You don't want to just repeat—you don't want to do one blockbuster story and tell it four or five other ways because a lot of the issues that I wrote about were complicated and it couldn't be told in one story. He's right. It is difficult to do. And it's still difficult.

Gentry: Each one has to have a gem in it to keep them reading.

Wille: Each one has to add something to it but be fresh in itself. And newspapers still have a problem with this. The Tribune has done some wonderful series on social problems in Chicago but I think just from the ones that I did at the Daily News, I would have done them differently. I would have made them shorter—they went on too long—and I would have made sure that each story was a separate entity in itself. But that's the way I approached them.

And I did do a number of them. The first one I did probably was 1961. That was on the juvenile court in Chicago. That is especially dear to me because as a graduate journalism student at Northwestern, I visited the juvenile court a couple of times and thought it was badly run. It was a terrible place. The rights of the children and their parents were abused. It was closed off to the press so the public never knew what went on there. Judges hated to go there because the cases were so difficult. So the judges assigned there usually had something wrong with them. They couldn't function properly in any other court so they were shifted off to this court. It was something that piqued my interest as a student and I was eager to write about it when I became a city-side reporter.

I got a chance one day when I did a story about a woman who was arrested because she had chained her little child to a bed when she went off to work. And someone heard the child crying and found him chained to a bed. There was a custody hearing in which she was in danger of losing custody of him. I think she was Puerto Rican or Mexican—she didn't speak English too well and was not well represented in the court. But what struck me about this is that she had to work to support this child and had no means of child care and because she was worried about the child during the day was acting out of what she thought was in the child's best interest, chaining him to the bed. But it sounded awful. I think she lost custody of the child and I wrote something about the juvenile court procedures that took away custody instead of trying to find some child-care plan because she seemed a very caring mother.

I got a phone call the day that story appeared. It was a fairly long story but somewhere back in the paper. I got a phone call the morning it appeared—or the day it appeared—from a lawyer named George Leighton who did a lot of work in juvenile court, a black lawyer, who eventually went on to become a federal judge and is now retired from the federal bench and practicing law again, one of the great legal minds in the city and someone who will always hold a special place with me because he helped me do the first really serious reporting that led to something. George Leighton called me and said that he was a lawyer and did a lot of work in the juvenile court and he thought there was a lot wrong with it and a lot that I should see, that a reporter should see—

Gentry: This was prompted by your story.

Wille: Right. It was a problem because the court was closed to the press. The press couldn't sit in on court proceedings at that time. So they were conducted in secret with all kinds of violations of rights.

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He said, "Would you like to see the court? Would you like to see what really goes on in the court?" And I said, "Of course." And he said, "All right. I'll take you there. You can be my secretary, or legal aide, or whatever." So I spent several days in juvenile court at George Leighton's side. He was able to look up files to show me—well, first in what awful state of disrepair their files were, files getting lost or misfiled or just nonexistent. All kinds of things that were—I mean terrible violations of parents' rights, kids' rights, civil rights, and just sloppy court procedures.

There is no way I could have done this going in there as a reporter. It was the first undercover—I guess you could call it undercover operation because I was posing as somebody else. And it convinced me that there are some kinds of stories that you can't get as a reporter because they'll clean them up for you.

I had told Ritz Fischer about George Leighton's offer and he was willing to give me the time to work on this. And I did a series of stories about the abuses of the juvenile court. The Cook County juvenile court I believe was the first in the country. It was inspired by Jane Addams' work. It had a great history and it had become just such a travesty of what the women who founded it had in mind. So there was a special reason for wanting to write it. That was the first significant series I did.

Gentry: So it was important to go undercover to get that information out.

Wille: It's the only way I could have got it.

Gentry: Yes. Certainly.

Wille: If they had let me in—occasionally they let reporters in to see the working of the court but you saw a sanitized version of it. Each side was represented with lawyers and the judge was awake and sober and, you know, it wasn't at all like the things I saw at George Leighton's side. It ran as a series and it created quite a stir among child welfare agencies, who wanted something done about the court. I got a lot of cooperation from them.

Gentry: Did it come out how you got these facts?

Wille: I don't believe so. I don't remember. I don't think so. I just wrote what I saw. I don't think I ever said. But as a result of that, I established some contacts with people from a group called the Juvenile Protective Association and other child welfare activists that were valuable sources for me for years after that. As a result of this series, a few community leaders formed a group to reform the juvenile court and to protect the rights of adults and children who appeared there. And it was the first thing I did that resulted in some changes in the system and a forerunner of the kinds of stories I often did.

Gentry: That was after the Pulitzer?

Wille: No, that was before.

Gentry: It was before.

Wille: This, as I said, was the first series of that kind that I did. And then the second one was in something laughingly called the Cook County Mental Health Clinic, which is where they put people that were considered for mental commitment—commitment to mental institutions—and kept them locked up there for two weeks without being able to shave or wash. So by the time they came in for their hearings, they all looked crazed. And that was also undercover because it was the only way to see it, to see what really went on.

Gentry: Tell me how you went undercover.

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Wille: It was after the juvenile court series appeared and I was approached. It may have been through some people from the American Civil Liberties Union who had been helpful in getting some reforms in the juvenile court or were working with me on reforms in the juvenile court. They were also concerned about these mental health hearings. They put me in touch with some social workers at this clinic, which was an adjunct to Cook County Hospital. And through them I got a key to the wards and a white coat and I got a clipboard. That was all I needed. I just wandered around for a couple of weeks to see what was going on and wrote about it.

So in a sense, I misrepresented myself because I didn't wear a badge saying "I Am a Reporter." But neither was I administering treatment or doing anything that was harmful or disruptive. That series produced some changes in state commitment procedures that I think were quite important.

Gentry: There were some frightening stories you told in that series.

Wille: Both of those two series preceded the one that won the Pulitzer prize.

Gentry: Well, this is probably a good time to ask these questions. There's been so little written about the ethics of news gathering. They like to get the opinions of the journalists we interview. Since you did go underground on those two stories, was that the farthest you had ever gone in your career to get a story, those two, when you went underground and no one knew who you were?

Wille: Let's see. The mental health clinic and the court. I did it one other time in Cook County Hospital. I'd heard several reports that Cook County Hospital had this wing or big room which they called their room for boarder babies. These were infants who were born at Cook County Hospital whose mothers sneaked out for some reason. Either they couldn't care for the child, didn't want to care for the child, or they were addicted—anyway, they left the baby behind. Often these children were born addicted, were sick or undernourished. And Cook County Hospital just kept them in this big room while various social agencies tried to figure out what to do with them. They got very little care. They were fed and bathed periodically.

Gentry: Just a bunch of cribs in a big room?

Wille: Right. There were maybe a couple dozen of them at any given time. But they were almost all emaciated because they didn't get the nurturing that a newborn needs. I had been told this is one of the worst sights you're ever going to see. But I couldn't call as reporter and say, "Hey, I want to see this place where you keep all these leftover babies," because they'd say it didn't exist.

Gentry: Hardly.

Wille: Or else they—they wouldn't have let me in. But there were a group of women who were doing volunteer work at Cook County Hospital who said, "You can come in with us." And they got for me one of the outfits they wore as volunteers. So that was—again I didn't feel I was violating any great ethics by pretending to be a volunteer because I wasn't administering medicine.

The odd thing that happened while I was there in this room—it was an overwhelming experience because the babies—they were too weak to cry. They looked starved. They looked like the pictures you'd see of children in Ethiopia. They were fed but they were starved because they weren't getting any other kind of attention. And many of them had sores and they were little skeletons with big eyes staring at you. They weren't all infants. Some were several months old and had been at Cook County Hospital their whole lives. The room smelled. Some of them were diapered, some weren't. They weren't washed enough.

But while I was there, I saw somebody coming through in a white coat, holding surreptitiously a camera, and it was Henry Gill, one of our photographers. And Henry was equally appalled to see me because neither of us knew this but both of us had managed to get there at about the same time. And it was really fortuitous because Henry wanted to take some pictures of what he had heard.

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Gentry: You mean he had this assignment that he was on?

Wille: It wasn't an assignment, it was something he had heard about. Henry had done, I think, pictures of famine in Africa and someone had said to him, "You should see these babies right here in Chicago at Cook County Hospital." So Henry, using his own devices, had got in, as I had got in, so it worked out fine because we were able to illustrate my stories with the most heart-rending photographs that paper has ever run. Children staring out from—

Gentry: They never caught him taking pictures?

Wille: No.

Gentry: Everybody neglected the room.

Wille: Yes. People rarely came there. The children staring out looked as if they were—the infants were in prison because they were behind these crib walls, staring out with big eyes. So that was another so-called undercover. I know it's been discussed a lot in journalism on whether this is proper. I don't think it's proper to do what reporters used to do many years ago and that's posing as somebody else as a shortcut to get information—you know, posing as a deputy coroner or whatever. I would never do that. But when there were times when I felt that there was an issue of public health and safety at stake, and I could only see the truth going in as somebody other than a reporter, then I didn't hesitate to do it. If in all three of those cases I had arranged to go there as a reporter, I would have seen sanitized versions—

Gentry: Or never gotten in at all.

Wille: And as a result of my seeing them the way they really were, there were some reforms initiated.

Gentry: Oh, I agree with you totally.

Wille: But that issue is still being debated. The Chicago Tribune in past years did some fine series as a result of undercover work. A great investigative reporter, Pamela Zekman, who's now with Channel 2, the CBS-TV station in Chicago, did some splendid work at the Tribune that led to nursing home reforms and reforms in hospital emergency care. And then later at the Sun-Times she did the same kind of work on abortion clinics, things that she could only have gotten going undercover. And she still does it for Channel 2. It's a little more difficult now since she's been on television because she's more recognizable.

Gentry: Yes.

Wille: But Jack Fuller, the Tribune's editor now, is one of those who believes it's wrong.

Gentry: Oh, he does?

Wille: Yet years ago the Tribune won a couple of Pulitzers, one on voting fraud in Chicago, because it placed someone there working.

Gentry: Did she win a Pulitzer for some of the things you mentioned?

Wille: Pam was part of two Tribune task forces that won Pulitzer prizes. And I believe the Tribune's vote fraud series won a Pulitzer also.

Gentry: But Jack wouldn't let her do that now.

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Wille: I don't believe so. I think he'd have to be persuaded and it would be difficult to persuade him but he just thinks it's unethical, as a lot of journalists do, to ever pose as somebody you're not.

Gentry: Perhaps that's one reason she might have moved to TV.

Wille: No. No, because Pam left the Tribune years ago and went to the Sun-Times and did the same kind of work at the Sun-Times, and went to television only—the Sun-Times hated to lose hey—because she felt there were some things that visually would be helpful to see, that you could do visually that you couldn't do at newspapers, and because television didn't do serious investigative work at all and she wanted to be the first to do it. And she was, and has done some wonderful work.

Gentry: And she's still doing it?

Wille: Yes. But the issue of undercover reporting is still being debated, and I surely think it should be done when it's essential. You've got to have a good reason to do it, though.

Gentry: On the other hand, have you at any time felt pressured to be a booster for Chicago, on the other side of the ethics question?

Wille: You mean in reporting?

Gentry: Yes. When you really didn't believe it?

Wille: I never felt that. The newspapers in the early days were often guilty of that kind of boosterism, partly because they didn't write a lot about the things that were wrong and also because they felt it was part of their civic responsibility to present this face of this healthy, vital city. I guess I was lucky because my first city editor, Ritz Fischer, was concerned about social problems and the Daily News was the first of the Chicago papers to write about them in depth. So I didn't feel that kind of pressure.

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

Wille: There were reporters at the Daily News that I think did feel pressure occasionally to put a more favorable side to their material. We went through a phase where we had an editor who worried a lot about offending the city's business and political establishment and a couple of good people left during that era because they felt they couldn't write the things they wanted to write.

I really can't recall, though, any problem of that sort that I ran into. And most of the reporting I did during the sixties reflected something wrong in the city, because I was writing about urban problems. I spent a lot of time writing about the school system, about slum housing, about inadequate public health facilities, segregated housing patterns—

Gentry: You weren't on the beat.

Wille: I don't recall anything getting censored or getting sent back to me saying, you know, we can't say this, it'll make people angry. There was one issue that wasn't written about much until later and that was the loss of jobs and people from the city that began in the late sixties. I think that was partly because it wasn't recognized when it first happened and it wasn't until the early seventies that a number of civic leaders began expressing concerns about that. Even then, the papers weren't writing about it.

Gentry: You mean people and businesses moving to the suburbs?

Wille: Yes.

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Gentry: I was going to talk about that later. Another question of ethics, was there any difference in the way you treated public and private people, when you interviewed them, like public officials or private persons? You did so much with public officials.

Wille: The way I treated them? I don't know. I hope not. I don't recall. No. I don't know quite what you mean. You mean whether I was more deferential? I doubt it.

Gentry: No. What I meant is some people feel that if you're a public official you can be written about more critically. If you're a private person, maybe you should be protected a little more.

Wille: Most of my contact, writing about public officials in those years would have been about something they were doing wrong, or something they weren't doing, and I surely didn't feel protective of them. Most of my contact with private people probably was as victims, in those year.s I mean, they were people who lived in bad housing or who weren't getting medical care. Although I also wrote about slum landlords and private people who were part of the victimization.

Gentry: Did you get interviews of the slum landlords? Would they talk to you?

Wille: Yes. They would speak defensively. If they talked at all, it was to tell me what terrible tenants they had.

I usually didn't have too much trouble getting people to talk to me, at least once, because I didn't appear threatening. That was one major advantage that women had over at least a lot of men, especially in the years when there weren't that many women reporters, because a lot of our interview subjects probably felt that we didn't pose a threat to them or they could put something over on us, that we wouldn't see through them. That only works once, of course. You can't keep going back to the same person and—

Gentry: I was going to say the first politician might think that about you but after the story came out, you lost your cover.

Wille: Exactly. That's precisely right. But that's why you really take advantage of that first time.

Gentry: You'd better believe it. Do you think journalism ethics have changed over the years?

Wille: Oh, I think they've improved enormously, as have newspapers improved enormously. We talked briefly about boosterism. There was also another facet of that and that's that newspapers were quite cooperative—there was a sense of cooperation with advertisers, with their ad departments, that just wouldn't be done today. For example, the State Street Council, a business organization that represented the major department stores along Chicago's State Street, would have fairs or some sort of events on State Street and invariably the papers covered them—big stories and photos, and all they were were free ads. And there was a lot of that going on that you just don't see today. A lot of things put in the paper as news that was done only to please major advertisers.

Gentry: You see it in San Antonio still.

Wille: Do you?

Gentry: Yes.

Wille: But also reporters are better. I mentioned that I think there are times when you have to go undercover to get the story, when it's important for the public well-being to do that. There are a lot of reporters who did it just as a way to get information or to exploit people and used to pride themselves on always going in as somebody else, just to fool people. And there were reporters who made up things. The standards of reporting have improved enormously.

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Gentry: Such as the woman that won the Pulitzer with a fictitious story.

Wille: Right.

Gentry: That was in Washington.

Wille: That was an exception. There was a period of journalism that came in in the late sixties and early seventies of sort of semi-fictional journalism, of inventing case histories.

Gentry: The new journalism. That's what you're speaking of.

Wille: Yes. Of making composite stories or anecdotes that could have happened—

Gentry: Words that could have been said, but weren't.

Wille: There had always been a lot of reporters who did that. It really wasn't that new. It's just that it became far more noticeable—or talked about more in the seventies. That's a lazy form of journalism, that you do when you don't want to take the time to get the genuine information. It's never essential, you never have to do that. You do occasionally have to go undercover. You never have to invent composite quotes or make up fictional characters to illustrate your points. I would never do that. I never had to and no good journalist I know has ever had to do that.

Gentry: After you won the Pulitzer in '63, did you find that you were getting a lot better assignments after that?

Wille: Sure. Let's see, '63. I'd been in the newsroom five or six years by that time, still relatively new. People stayed for decades, once you got a job as a reporter. So I was still considered a relative newcomer. But I had done a couple of series before then, the one I mentioned on the juvenile court and on the mental health commitment procedures, so that a pattern of doing that kind of reporting had already been set. And I guess the Pulitzer confirmed it. I was given a lot of freedom to make my own assignments.

Gentry: I wondered about that, if these series you created were your own ideas.

Wille: Most of them. Not all, but if I couldn't think of anything else, the city editors usually could.

Gentry: You were given the time to work on them properly.

Wille: Yes.

Gentry: There were several there that really intrigued me. One was the Vietnam series. Could you tell me about that?

Wille: That was in the early—probably 1970? I guess the Vietnam War was already pretty intense by that time. The first one I did—and it was a single story, not a series, but one that still is so vivid to me because I can remember those interviews so well. And that was more than 20 years ago. It was a Memorial Day story. We always did—the papers did feature stories on Memorial Day. And I thought it would be good to do one on the parents of people killed in Vietnam because the death toll was getting pretty high. Every day our obituary page would carry obits of people killed in Vietnam.

And my city editor said fine. I watched the obit pages, I went back several days, and got a selection of names. And because it's such a diverse ethnic city, I wanted to get a black soldier and a Polish soldier and an Hispanic soldier and so forth. I called their families and that was hard, you know, to do the interviews.

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Gentry: They were newly dead?

Wille: Sure, within probably a matter of weeks, or maybe a month at the most because I just started paying attention or looking through the obituaries for them. And everyone said yes. I mean, they all wanted to talk about their son.

There was one series of interviews that I maybe consider more difficult and more moving. But this was surely the second most painful. Everyone had a story to tell that was so sad and so very American. The father of the Polish-American boy. I remember him so well because the death of his son destroyed his whole family. His wife was always very nervous and his son did not want his parents to know he was Vietnam. So he arranged to have his letters forwarded from a friend of his stationed in Alaska. So when his parents got the news he was killed, it was news to them that he was in Vietnam.

Gentry: It must have been a tremendous shock for them.

Wille: His mother had a nervous breakdown, eventually either died of a heart attack or may have killed herself.

Gentry: I think she died of a heart attack.

Wille: Did she die of a heart attack? His sister developed deep emotional troubles and when I went to see the father, he was there alone, just a broken man.

I remember the Mexican-American family so well because they were so patriotic. They were fairly new to this country. I would have expected them to be bitter. They come here—and also the Polish family—they came here as immigrants and what happens? Their son goes off to serve this country and gets killed. But they weren't. They were just so—felt they should be such loyal Americans.

The black family lived in Cabrini-Green, a housing project. Even surviving growing up in Cabrini-Green is a feat in itself. This was a very brave family. And that father I remember was very—I thought one of the few who showed anger, you know, that his son was sent off to fight in this war, and it was wrong, and his son was dead. I don't believe the mother felt that way. She had to be proud of her son. It was the only way she could cope with his death. The only way most of them could cope with their death is to say that their children died in a noble cause.

And then there was a young blond boy from the city's Northwest side, who I believe was an only child, and his parents were so proud of him. And I think he was killed in Cambodia at that time when it wasn't yet known that U.S. troops were going into Cambodia.

Anyway, each of these families I thought was something special and had something special to say, not just about the city but about the country. I loved doing that story. It was a very hard story for me to do.

Gentry: I was wondering if it was hard for you to do because wasn't your brother in Vietnam at that time?

Wille: He was already back. He had made it through. But I think I had a special affinity with people worrying about relatives in Vietnam and in my own mind, I had already resolved that the war was wrong, for many reasons. These families were just very moving.

Gentry: That was one of the most moving series I've read of yours. I think it's just a beautiful series.

Wille: That was one story, wasn't it, I think? It was a long story and it read like a series. But I think it was one story that ran on Memorial Day. And Daily News ran with it a list of all the men from the area killed in the war.

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I did a series later on returned veterans. That followed it by some time. And that was the idea of a young Daily News reporter who was a returned Vietnam veteran. He thought that it would be interesting to see what kind of homecoming they got because it was different from every other case of veterans coming back from a war.

Later, maybe about six or seven months after I had done the piece on Memorial Day, I did the veterans—again I tried to get a cross-section of them. The one I remember best is the first one I did. I went to talk to a young man from a Chicago suburb; but with him at the time, just by sheer coincidence, was a friend of his who had become heroin addicted. Or maybe they both were. I don't know. Anyway, they talked about the impact that dope had on the young servicemen in Vietnam at that time and were very emotional. It was a story I felt was important because people were just starting to realize that as the veterans were returning, a lot of them had become addicted, and why they had become addicted.

Gentry: That was one of the most moving interviews.

Wille: The mother of the boy I talked to said to me that some Vietnam veterans came back without arms or legs, and her son came back without his mind, because it had been destroyed by dope.

Then some that I talked to made fine adjustments, some didn't, some were very bitter.

Gentry: How did you go about finding those families at that time? It wouldn't be death notices. Was it word-of-mouth?

Wille: Hmm. I'm trying to remember. It was 20 years ago. How did I find out? Word-of-mouth, I guess. We by that time in the newsroom had a couple of men who'd returned from Vietnam and they knew of somebody, or somebody knew of somebody else. I knew of a couple of people, I knew of friends who had a friend who had a son, or whatever. Or I think I also called some Chicago-area employers to see whether they had recently hired anybody, a veteran. And I talked to the Veterans Administration to get the names of some people who were going to the VA Hospital for some sort of post-Vietnam treatment. A lot of phone work and then you finally narrow it down.

Gentry: Do you often or do you ever get so completely involved in one of these families or one of these people you interview that you check them years later and see what's happened to them, go back to them and see if they've recovered from their problem?

Wille: I probably should but I don't. I feel very involved with them at the time and then quickly you're writing about something else. There've been just a couple of cases where I did that but it was more I think them keeping in touch with me or letting me know or dropping me postcards. That's happened often. People that I will have interviewed or had contact with will let me know how they're doing. I very rarely took the initiative. I guess because you're busy and you move on to somebody else.

Gentry: I liked your series on immigrants very much, too.

Wille: Oh, that was one that I enjoyed doing. Chicago grew fast because of the arrival of immigrants and has always been known as the place where immigrants come because they could get a good job, from the 1830s on, and that's still true today. The places the immigrants come from change over the years.

But I wanted to do that because I wanted to remind people that while they may think that the heyday of heavy immigration was the wave that came in 1848 or the wave that came in 1890 or in the 1930s, that it is continuing. It's different because of where the people come from but it has the same kind of energizing effect on the city but also brings some problems with it. So I did a series on the new immigrants, the immigrants that came—I believe that was in the early 1970s, 1974.

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Part of that series was to get figures and data from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, to see who had come in the past and who was coming today, and then to track down some of the new arrivals and to see where they lived. In some cases it didn't change. I talked to a Polish family who was newly arrived and came to Chicago's Northwest side where Poles had been coming for a hundred years. And this I believe was a doctor, had been a physician in Poland, and he and his wife were working as janitors until he had a sufficient language proficiency so he could take the foreign physicians' exam to qualify.

Gentry: And the German lady that got the ulcers, because she was working so hard?

Wille: I knew of Ingrid because she was a friend of my mother's. She was a beautician in Arlington Heights and went to Arlington Heights, probably, because that's where German immigrants had always gone. Yes, Ingrid ended up fairly soon after coming here owning her own shop and doing a great business and, yes, getting severe stomach ulcers because of all her worries and work. Ingrid is still flourishing with her business in the Northwest suburbs.

Then there were also new immigrants. I think there was a man from India—or at least some references to Filipino and to the number of other immigrants from Asia. India sent many—Chicago's hospitals couldn't run without the immigration from India of physicians and medical technicians, and also engineers. It was an Indian engineer who created Sears Tower.

Gentry: Really?

Wille: Yes, a very famous civil engineer. I enjoyed that series a lot.

Gentry: I could see immigration trends eating breakfast this morning. The doctors and nurses from India. It was like every one I saw was from another country. There was a Japanese one, one from the Caribbean. So it was like a mix of cultures coming in in one wave.

Wille: The neighborhood that Wayne and I live in now, which is near the West Side Medical Center and near the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a great example of Chicago's new immigration because it's filled with people from all over the world. It makes an especially good place to live.

Gentry: Do you get to know them?

Wille: Sure. As much as you ever do in a city.

Gentry: That's what I was wondering. Like in New York, you often don't know who lives next to you.

Wille: It's not like growing up in the suburbs where you live next door to people for decades because it changes more. But we know that our townhouse complex has, I think 43 or 45 townhouses, and it has a couple of events every year where people see each other. And we know each other through the townhouse association and it's wonderful because the townhouses are about one-third white, one-third black, and one-third other. That's kind of Chicago's future, if not pretty near its present, in demographics.

Gentry: And then all around you is an Italian neighborhood, isn't it?

Wille: It's basically an Italian neighborhood. The Italian neighborhood had been here for a couple of generations, and is still here but had an influx of new people because of the growth of the medical center and because of the university. But the neighborhood before that was heavily Greek and before that it was Jewish and before that it was French. It was a typical city neighborhood that changes and evolves as the city changes and evolves.

Gentry: One of the most interesting things about Chicago is all the ethnic groups—and the neighborhoods.

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Wille: I think so, too. And they've kept their individuality to a large extent, too. At least their restaurants. There are great restaurants to go to for different ethnic groups in every part of the city. But no, it still has a lot of its old neighborhood feel. We've always lived in city neighborhoods that were as integrated as you could be in Chicago. We moved in the early sixties to Lake Meadows, which was a development that grew out of one of the early urban renewal projects and was put up to create an integrated setting in a city that then was very heavily segregated in its housing patterns. We wanted to live in a neighborhood that was both black and white and there weren't many. Hyde Park near the University of Chicago was one of the only ones, except for these new apartment buildings along the lakefront, the near south lakefront, and we lived there for a long time. I liked that a lot. And then when we bought a townhouse, we wanted something that also was racially and ethnically integrated.

Gentry: That's interesting. You would never have moved to the suburbs, would you? You felt reporting on the issues you did, I assume you felt you should be in the city.

Wille: Well, there's a practical reason. I wanted to live within a short 10 or 15-minute commute to the office because the hours were often long or occasionally you might be called in to come in quickly when something happened. So it was much more convenient to live close in. But I also felt because of a lot of the things I was writing about, I didn't want to live in a typical all-white area, because as it was, when I got calls—and I got them all the time—if I'd write about some city problem, "Well, how'd you like to live next door to them?" I said, "Well, as a matter of fact, I do and it's fine. I wouldn't want to live any other way."

Gentry: Another interesting thing that I've learned about you is that you don't drive and so you almost have to live in the city in order to do your work and be able to use the public transportation system.

Wille: That's true. I had a driver's license for a while. When we were married, my father gave us a car so I felt I had to learn to drive. And we were going off to New Mexico where Wayne was stationed in the army and it was essential to drive. So I got a license. And when we lived in New Mexico I drove a lot. But you never saw other cars there, very rarely. Driving was easy. I could zoom all over the desert.

Then when we came back to Chicago I was just terrified of driving in the city so I stopped and just never kept up my license. I made half-hearted attempts to relearn to drive since then but it's never really that important in the city because Chicago has a good public transportation system. It gets an awful lot of abuse, the CTA [Chicago Transit Authority], but it's very, very good. I think it's as fine as you're going to get any place in the country, if not the world. I could and have gone to every corner of the city by rapid transit train or by a bus or a combination of them. Sometimes it takes a while but you can always get there. And I also liked it because it let me see more of the city.

Gentry: It never hampered you in getting a story, not to be able to just jump in your car and go?

Wille: Oh, never.

Gentry: Never?

Wille: Never. And I never had to worry about where to park. It may have involved a little walk but that was okay. That was always interesting, too. Stories where you had to get fast in an emergency, the paper normally would send a photographer anyway. So I always had wheels for the story like that. Other times when I was going off just for interviews, when there wasn't a photo required, I liked going by public transportation, and I never felt threatened by it or nervous about it.

I had a little protective trick that someone told me about, to take a clipboard along, with a yellow legal pad, and that was kind of the trademark of a public aid caseworker. And they said if you go into a neighborhood and you feel unsafe, no one ever hurt the public aid workers, so you're safe.

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Gentry: That's interesting.

Wille: Well, I guess. I'm not sure it was essential but I did it anyway.

Gentry: Why not? To protect yourself a little bit.

Since we were talking about these series that you did, of all these interviews, we'd like to talk about the technology of newspapers at the time. My assumption is, before the early seventies at least, that you took notes and typed on typewriters. You didn't have the computers in the office, did you?

Wille: That's right. That was the mid-seventies when the newspaper was converted.

Gentry: A journalism student now doesn't even know what a typewriter looks like.

Wille: And they use tape recorders more. I started using tape recorders also by the mid-seventies—

Gentry: Or lap-top computers.

Wille: Yes. Right. No, we were paper-and-pencil reporters and came back to write on typewriters. And because we were working on typewriters, you couldn't transmit sections of stories by pressing a button via computer, so if you were on deadline, you'd write three or four paragraphs and yell "Copy" and a copy person would come and take it to the city desk. That teaches you a special kind of discipline in writing. You've got to have it pretty well organized in your head what you want to say and how you want to say it and in what order, because you're sending your story up in takes, a couple paragraphs at a time.

Gentry: And you can't mess up, you can't reverse them.

Wille: It imposes a good discipline on you.

Gentry: Yes, I'll bet it does.

Wille: Except that a lot of the reporting I did later on was series and that was different. I had the time to do whole stories at a time. I wasn't doing them paragraph by paragraph.

Gentry: But you did turn to a tape recorder by the mid-seventies, for most of the interviews?

Wille: For a lot of the interviews, by maybe the early seventies. If I was doing a profile of somebody and it was important to get long snatches of quotes and to get their cadence and their style of speech.

Gentry: Then would you transcribe it or would you just listen?

Wille: Well, a combination. Maybe you would take notes to let you know at what point in the tape recorder, you know, a certain quote came in and then transcribe that part of it. And then by the mid-seventies, I was doing a lot of political reporting. By this time, on the politicians themselves, not just their spouses. And it was important to get accurate quotes. And I was doing some traveling with politicians. I traveled with Jimmy Carter for a while. Ronald Reagan when he made that abortive try at the presidency in 1976—the nomination for the presidency. I did a lot of work on the '76 campaign, spent some time in Plains, Georgia, doing various Carter family interviews.

Gentry: You covered his whole campaign, didn't you?

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Wille: Not the whole. I picked it up here and there. But as I said, I spent some time in Plains and went back to Plains election night. And then I also did some out-of-town reporting in '75 and '76 where a tape recorder was useful.

Gentry: Did you find that a lot different, covering, say, Jimmy Carter when you would probably be in a whole pool of journalists, than the kind of work here, like investigative work, where you were all by yourself, it was your idea?

Wille: I hate pool reporting.

Gentry: Well, I do, too.

Wille: Sure, you're always looking for ways to get with the subject alone and have a bit of time.

Gentry: And don't you really feel the competition of television news at that point? On that kind of public thing, like a campaign story?

Wille: Absolutely. But I never covered whole campaigns. The kind of thing I did would be to be with somebody for a few days with the express purpose of getting an exclusive interview and doing something more in depth. So while I did some of the day-to-day deadline stories that would be competitive with TV or other newspapers, it was only as an adjunct to getting whatever—you know, this profile or whatever the reason was that I was there on that campaign. So it was more the time that I had alone with Carter or Reagan.

Gentry: What was your impression of Carter?

Wille: Carter was difficult to interview because you never felt you were getting—you were never taking him by surprise or getting an answer that wasn't carefully thought out well in advance. But I thought he was very smart. It was obvious he had had some problems in Georgia that could be troublesome as president and that turned out to be so. He didn't work well with the legislature. He hadn't in Georgia either. But I thought he really knew what was wrong with the country and his agenda was fine. The only problem was he didn't know how to implement it. But I enjoyed greatly covering his family.

Gentry: Billy?

Wille: Billy Carter was just a joy to interview and so was his mother. So was Jimmy Carter's wife and his sisters. And just being in Plains was a lot of fun.

Gentry: I'll bet it was.

Wille: By that time, I was just pleased to be able to do the kinds of significant political stories that women were starting to do in those years, that I couldn't do early on.

Gentry: You were out on the road for several years, weren't you?

Wille: About two years. I spent some time at the United Nations, during that period, covering the Security Council when there was a debate on the Middle East. And that was great and a different kind of reporting. And I covered the week in the Boston school integration saga when the schools were first being painfully integrated and there were riots and lots of ugliness.

Gentry: That was mid seventies, wasn't it?

Wille: Yes, I think that was '75. Several stories like that.

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Gentry: You at least—maybe not all women but you at least could do almost anything a man could, couldn't you, by 1975? Of course, you had won the Pulitzer, which not every woman could do.

Wille: Things began to change with the women's movement—with the civil rights movement and the women's movement. But it was mainly—things opened up for women both because of pressure from women's groups on the outside and from pressure by women within the staff. By the early seventies, the Daily News had a number of women who were reporters.

The turning point, at least on the Chicago Daily News, was the Democratic convention in 1972 in Miami, where women and the women's movement were going to become a big thing at that convention. And the Democratic party had just changed its rules so that women were going to make up—I don't know, X percentage of the delegates for the first time. And the Daily News sent to cover that convention its usual all white male component. A number of us thought that was awful and our editor should have known better. I drew up a petition, a complaint, to our editor at the time and it was signed by just about every woman on the staff, from the food writers to the women who were working in the newsroom. And we told them of our unhappiness with that and also our dissatisfaction with the role of women on the paper in general.

Our editor at the time, Daryle Feldmeir, was quite sensitive to this and very impressed and moved by that. He had several meetings with us to see how we could change things, and that opened up a lot—as a result of that, a woman, Linda Lenz, became an editorial writer. She's a young woman who had covered suburban politics a lot and that was a big breakthrough for the Daily News. A woman was named assistant city editor, Diane Monk, another breakthrough. I did a lot of national reporting.

Gentry: Didn't you cover both conventions in '72?

Wille: Not both. Not the Democratic convention. The Democratic convention was the one that aroused the protest because the Daily News sent an all-male staff. But as a result of that protest, I did cover the Republican convention.

Gentry: Now, as a woman you couldn't have done the '68 convention, which was right in Chicago, or did you?

Wille: Oh, I did. I did because it was in Chicago. The whole reporting staff worked that convention. I did some feature stories. Features turned out to be the main thing at that convention. I did stories about the police riot in front of the Hilton Hotel and the events outside the convention hall. The whole staff was involved in that.

Gentry: When they saw what was happening, I'm sure—

Wille: So anyway, I would really have to credit the women's movement, helped along by women inside the paper, with changing the role of women in the newsroom. The leaders of the women's movement made it very clear to editors around the country that if you don't start treating our issues more seriously in the paper and giving women better jobs on the paper, you're going to lose our readership. And women have long been the bulk of newspaper readership, so editors took that to heart.

Gentry: I was going to ask you if you thought the women's movement had done a great deal to improve women's status on newspapers.

Wille: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

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

Gentry: In this same era of the women's movement, do you know any women who brought suit against their newspapers?

Wille: I know of them. You'd have to check to make sure I've got my facts straight on this. I knew Eileen Shanahan and I believe that she and other women at the New York Times brought suit because there may have been a pay differential or there was a problem of the kinds of pay and promotions women were getting at the New York Times. And I know that women at I believe Newsweek brought suit. And there was a woman at the Chicago Tribune who filed suit because she felt—something came up on a Saturday when she was working, an out-of-town assignment, and she was the logical one who should have gone. Instead, the editors ran through every male who was there until they found one willing to go and didn't ask her to go. I think her name was Terry Schultz. She's the only one in Chicago that I know of who did that.

We never got to that point at the Daily News although we made it clear to the editor that we would be prepared to sue if things didn't change. But as I said, he was very good about it and asked us, "What sort of things should I be doing?" and we worked with him to make sure we had women covering politics, women moving into the business section, women photographers, women moving up the ladder or getting a chance to on the city desk. He also on his own initiative organized a series of what he called sensitivity sessions that were run by a group of women on the paper for the men on the copy desk and the men who were news editors on what kinds of things offended us in the way women were treated or referred to in news stories.

Gentry: They really listened to you.

Wille: They did. They had to because our editor was sitting there making sure they did. A lot of them were dragged in kicking and screaming, some of the old-timers. But it was a fine idea because we were able to say lots of things that had been chafing at us. Some of the things they should have known; some of the things they didn't know. They were the usual—if a woman was named head of the Republican party, the headline said, "Grandmother to Head Republican Party." Or photos of women in bathing suits—a woman delivering mail in Australia in December in a bikini because it's hot. The silly excuses to use a woman in a bikini on the front page. The paper still did that kind of thing then.

Or to write about women in terms of their families and their homes rather than their achievements, even though it was their achievements that had made news. And, too, referring to them as "girls" in print. We ran through a whole series of things. And also the kind of jokes that may have offended us in the city room. It was a great event for us as women on the paper and a good thing for the Daily News to do. I don't know of anything similar at any other papers—there probably were. But it certainly had a good effect on our paper.

Gentry: I'm sure it did. There's a quote from you in Marian Marzolf's book, Up From the Footnote, talking about this. You said that the women's movement and some of the affirmative action and legal suits caused some women to analyze their own professional roles. You are quoted [on page 106] as saying, "I began to want to affect policy. I realized no one at the paper thought of me as part of the decision-making process." I think that was a 1972 quote and I think part of that led to you covering the '72 Republican convention.

Wille: I'm trying to remember when I would have said that. I know I said it but I can't remember the circumstances. But that's true. By the early seventies, by the time that we were starting to put pressure on our editor for change, I had for quite a while been recognized maybe as the paper's—along with Bill Newman—the top reporter and writer on the paper. I'm excluding Mike Royko because he was already a highly successful columnist then.

Gentry: But he wrote in a different format.

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Wille: Right. Bill Newman repeatedly during the years had had opportunities to move into management but really didn't want to because—Bill is a wonderful writer and reporter and he's always hated—he just would have hated managing people or having to make policy decisions. I was never given the chance to say whether I wanted to make that switch or not—and I'm not sure that I had wanted to because, like Bill, I loved what I was doing. But I really felt I should have been considered. By that time, I had been in the newsroom a long time and never had had the options that men had had on whether they wanted to move into management. And while I pretty well could decide what I wanted to cover, I couldn't say what other people should be covering. I wasn't part of the management team.

Gentry: Weren't you then, after that, named assistant city editor, for a while, of special projects? And according to what I read, part of that was you were responsible for putting out a special monthly section called "Plus."

Wille: It was short-lived. I'm not sure how many editions there were, but that's true.

Gentry: What was it?

Wille: The Daily News had always specialized in doing the kinds of series that we had talked about. It really was that sort of series only packaged as an entity by itself. We did a couple of them. One was on people's fear of crime, whether it was valid. We knew that people were afraid in Chicago, afraid of crime. Was there really a reason to be afraid? How to keep from being a victim of crime. How to get better law enforcement. And that was a whole package that was put in one entity called "Plus." I made the assignments and did the editing as well.

Gentry: So you were in management, so to speak.

Wille: Right. There were just a few things like that but it was an expensive thing to do and the Daily News already was struggling to stay alive, so "Plus" didn't last very long. I occasionally filled in on the city desk on weekends but I did not—my ambition was not to be city editor or assistant city editor. I never wanted to stop being able to write. So that also limited the kinds of options. I know that when I had discussions with my editor, Daryle Feldmeir, he said, "You say that women should have a bigger role. What do you want to do? Do you want to be assistant city editor?" Do you want to be this kind of editor, that kind of editor?

I always had to admit I didn't want to because I didn't want to stop being a writer and reporter. But what I wanted him to realize is that maybe other women did, whose talents lay more than mine did in editing and assigning stories.

Gentry: You never really wanted to be an editor.

Wille: No. No. I always wanted to write, to continue writing. And the difficulty was finding something to do that still gave me a role in policy without losing the writing. And Daryle Feldmeir, the editor, tried to work out ways—he recognized, this is an old problem on newspapers—it surely wasn't unique with me—that anybody who's had some amount of success as a reporter and writer, usually if they were male, were asked to work on the city desk. And then they stopped being a reporter and writer, which they didn't want to do. Or if they didn't mind it, they probably hadn't been very good at it in the first place, so they got to be city editors without having been good reporters and writers. That's an old problem and newspapers still haven't solved it too well.

So Daryle Feldmeir formed a small group of what he felt were maybe the best idea people on the paper that would meet periodically and think of things the paper should be doing and projects it should be undertaking, as an attempt to bridge this gap between the people who did the editing and assigning and the people who did the reporting and the writing. And I was part of that. So I gradually got sort of into management in a peripheral way.

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Gentry: Got into management without giving up writing, which is what you wanted, really.

I want to go back to one thing. After you had written many stories about Mayor Richard Daley, the first one, that tarred him in exposés, then in 1971 your paper and the Chicago Sun-Times, which was jointly owned by Marshall Field, endorsed Mayor Daley. And you and many other reporters, I understand, were aghast about that and protested. Could you tell me that story?

Wille: By that time, by 1971, both the Sun-Times and the Daily News—which as you said were jointly owned by the Field family—had done some splendid investigative work on what was wrong with the city. And invariably it led back to City Hall. I mean, whether it was the lack of housing code enforcement and the growth of slum housing, the miserable failures of the Chicago school system, the inattention to public health and the kinds of public health problems that were growing, and the problems with race relations that were being ignored, the political machine's insensitivity to urban issues, and just the basic old-fashioned corruption in city government—a city government by pay-off and who you know rather than who you should be serving.

Both papers had done exposés on this and series on this, and had done editorials saying it isn't enough to, say, fire the housing commissioner, get a new urban renewal commissioner, get a new police commissioner. It's time that the mayor has to get personally involved in this and clean things up. And then both papers, you know, just very blissfully endorsed Mayor Daley again.

Gentry: Did he have anybody running against him that was fairly good?

Wille: He was fairly good. But our protest, I think, was not so much that the mayor's opponent should have been endorsed but that the editorials endorsing Daley ignored the series that both papers had done over the years which pointed out the troubles of the city. So a small delegation of us from the Daily News and the Sun-Times met with Marshall Field, our publisher, and told him—

Gentry: Is this the same nervous man you were speaking about before?

Wille: No, this is his son. That one died. This was the Marshall V. We told him our problems, why we were unhappy with that endorsement and why we wanted some kind of space to put our view in. Why we felt the paper's two editorial boards were out of touch with reality and what was best for the city.

Gentry: That's pretty unusual, isn't it?

Wille: Probably. Both staffs were thoroughly aroused about this but the people that went in to talk with Marshall were people that we felt could afford to do it. I did it. A couple of other people that were top reporters at the Daily News and the same thing with the Sun-Times. We knew we weren't going to get fired for this. We also knew that our editors, Daryle Feldmeir at the Daily News and Jim Hoge at the Sun-Times, were not going to take that out on us nor was Marshall Field. We just wanted them to know how we felt and we wanted some free space to say what we wanted to say.

Marshall, being a good business person, said, "Well, you can get that space but you have to buy it. If you want to buy an ad and say that, that's okay, but I'm not going to give you the space. I hired an editorial board to make these decisions and that's a decision they made." So we said, "You mean if we get the money, we can buy an ad and run our editorial?" And he said, "Sure, you can do that." Then we asked him if we could get an employee discount buying the ad and he said, "No, you pay the full rate."

So we went back and we started this fundraising drive in both newsrooms. It took huge amounts. They were big ads. In the Sun-Times, it was a full page—the Sun-Times is a tabloid—and in the Daily News a half page. We raised a lot among the staff but we also appealed to outside people from various civic groups and others that were concerned and felt that Mayor Daley, who had been very good for the city in some ways,

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could no longer respond to the kind of problems Chicago was having by 1971, and should not be reelected. That was the message we wanted to get across.

His opponent, Richard Friedman, a bright, young attorney, recognized a lot of these problems. He was the Republican candidate. It isn't so much that we thought Dick Friedman would have been a great mayor for Chicago. The Republicans probably never could get somebody with that kind of experience to take their nomination. But at least Dick knew the problems and recognized them and we felt strongly that for the good of the city, Daley should not be reelected.

We collected enough money to buy our ads and the two groups of reporters at the Daily News and the Sun-Times nominated me to write an endorsement editorial, the first editorial I ever wrote. So I wrote it and groups at both staffs approved it. And we bought our space and it ran. It was quite a daring thing to do, I guess. And I also admire Marshall Field for selling us the space. A lot of publishers wouldn't have done that. And Marshall later told a friend of mine at some dinner afterward, he said, "You know, that editorial of the staff made a lot more sense than the one that my editorial boards wrote."

Gentry: I saw that quote.

Wille: That was the first editorial I ever wrote. I never thought that eventually I'd be spending my career writing editorials.

Gentry: Mike Royko says that editorial stands out in his mind, when he thinks back on your editorials, that first one you wrote, under that kind of pressure.

Wille: It was great fun to do. Marshall's other requirement was please do this on your own time. I'm not going to pay your salary while you sit there writing this editorial. So I did it at home at night. I was very conscientious about that.

Gentry: Do you remember what you said?

Wille: No, I don't. It talked about the kinds of problems that a city like Chicago was facing in the seventies and why it needed a different kind of person as mayor. The old order of the powerful political machine telling people what to do and running city government didn't work any more, that you needed a kind of government that was more open, that took in all parts of the city, that was responsive to all parts of the city, paid attention not just to the condition of the streets and to the needs of the big downtown businesses but to things like public health and public schools.

One of the problems in Chicago was that its governmental leaders never used its public schools. They used private schools or the Catholic school system, so they didn't care about the public schools. And Chicago's still paying a price for that. Every area that I wrote about as a reporter, I think I've seen some improvement in, except public education and that's gotten worse.

Gentry: It has?

Wille: Absolutely. And that's terrible. It's never going to be a healthy city unless that's attended to.

Gentry: Is the machine still alive and well in Chicago?

Wille: No.

Gentry: No. It isn't?

Wille: It's gone.

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Gentry: It's gone? Completely? Even with Richie there?

Wille: And the difference in the two—the difference in father and son is really the story of the difference in—I mean, what's happened to the old political machine. Part of it is—a lot of things happened at once. The growing independence of blacks as a result of the civil rights movement; selecting their own political leaders instead of the ones that were schooled under Bill Dawson, the man we talked about earlier. The black political movement, the growth of neighborhood organizations.

Something we didn't talk about that I did a lot of reporting on was the importance of neighborhood organizations in a city like Chicago. There was a man named Saul Alinsky, a sociologist, who started out in Chicago and is kind of the parent of the neighborhood organization movement in this country. And some of the neighborhood organizations he helped start, the grass-roots organizations helped change the face of Chicago politics, particularly The Woodlawn Organization [TWO], his first black political organization.

Then what happened also—it was very significant—was a whole battery of federal court decisions that really destroyed the machine. It could no longer hire and fire for political purposes, which cut the guts out of the political organization. If you couldn't use firing as a threat, or hiring as an award for political work, that changed things dramatically.

So all of these kinds of things changed the machine: Grassroots neighborhood organizations developing their own political organizations, the black movement, the civil rights movement, and the federal court decisions. And these were all coming together in '71.

Another factor—and he should be given credit—when Lyndon Johnson was president he started the War on Poverty and the Model Cities movement. He wanted grassroots community organizations to have a role in their affairs and to help improve their neighborhoods. R. Sargent Shriver was the head of Johnson's War on Poverty. He had quite a struggle with Daley, who saw this as a threat to the political machine—which it was, you know, to help neighborhood organizations get strong. And that was a fascinating part of Chicago's political history, the struggle between R. Sargent Shriver, the brother-in-law of a man Daley adored, John F. Kennedy, and Mayor Daley, the last of the big, powerful, big-city mayors.

Gentry: I didn't realize that because I worked in that era but I didn't realize the radical changing.

Wille: It got to the point of Daley calling Johnson and saying, "Get this guy off my back," and the president did, because the loyalty of the Mayor of Chicago was more important to him at that time. That was just a fascinating part of that whole era.

And in other big cities, neighborhood groups were getting political power and changing the face of city governments. In Chicago, which was the birthplace of the neighborhood movement, this wasn't happening; the old-fashioned political machine was still in control. So there were a lot of reasons why by 1971 Mayor Daley should no longer have been mayor. He got elected, of course, and he got elected again after that. But politics in Chicago had begun to change.

His son runs quite a different kind of government. He's got some of his father's instincts on political control but he recognizes—I mean, he saw it all happening and he saw the kinds of problems his father was going through and he knows the importance of having to be more inclusive and working with community groups and community organizations. He knows that the role of the precinct captain is gone. They are dead. Television is the new precinct captain. You've got to be able to use television. And it's different.

Gentry: I didn't realize that era was completely gone in Chicago.

Wille: There may be a new kind of political machine forming but it's not like the old one. It's got to be more inclusive. The old alliance between two people, the white Mayor Daley and the black Bill Dawson, is gone.

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Two people can't control things today. The change was already apparent when Mayor Daley died in 1976. His successor, Michael Bilandic, really could not handle the machine the way Daley had. He was defeated by Jane Byrne, who understood city government a lot better.

That was really the beginning of a new era in Chicago. She was elected because she built a grassroots movement. But she never was able to then establish the political base that would permit her to govern. She had to make some bad alliances in order to govern. Harold Washington carried it a step further, much further, with his election. And the current mayor has quite a different style than his father.

Gentry: You are quite pleased with him?

Wille: Yes, I think he understands what you have to do to run a modern city today. I'm sure at times he wishes he could do things in the old way but he knows he can't. If he's got a machine, it's an inclusive machine, not the exclusive kind that his father had. I like him a lot. I like him personally and I like his governing style.

Gentry: How old is Richie Daley?

Wille: He's maybe in his late forties. Can I tell you the first time I met him, the first time I interviewed him?

Gentry: Yes. How long has he been mayor now? I'm trying to remember.

Wille: Since 1989. This is his first full term. He had a short term first, completing two years of Harold Washington's term. Washington died in '87 and was succeeded briefly by an interim mayor. Young Richard Daley was a young lawyer, I think working out of the city corporation counsel's office, some job Daddy got for him, when I first met him. I think it was in 1968 or 1969, a time when other young people his age were rebelling against their parents, looking terrible with long hair and doing outrageous things, and the musical "Hair" was running downtown. Chicago had just gone through the painful '68 convention.

I wanted to interview Richie Daley as an example of the young generation not rebelling against the old generation. Jay McMullen, whom I mentioned to you, who later married Jane Byrne, helped set up the interview. Richie may have been in his early twenties. He was very nervous, very ill at ease.

Gentry: No thought of becoming mayor at that time.

Wille: No, I'm sure he didn't. Daddy was mayor. But he also knew that I was an enemy. He knew that I had written a lot of things that I'm sure were discussed at the Daley family dinner table. He was nervous for that reason, too.

I just couldn't get him to say anything except yes or no. I finally asked him whether he'd seen "Hair" and I expected him to say yes; I thought we could discuss this. No, he wouldn't see that. That was indecent. It's an interview that just charmed me because he was just such a good son. He was so different from every other young person that I knew of that era. It was a family with no rebellion. There is no generation gap in the Daley household. And so I wrote of profile of him then.

Gentry: So after he said he hadn't seen "Hair" and he wouldn't see "Hair," did he loosen up and tell you some more?

Wille: No, but he blushed. Even the mention of "Hair" made him blush.

Gentry: Do you think he's still that innocent?

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Wille: No. No. He's changed a lot through the years. He had one experience that changed him dramatically, the death of a child at the age of two, who was born with spina bifida. He and his wife spent a couple of years taking turns sitting up with that child. Before that, he had the reputation, at least, of being kind of a snotty kid in Springfield. He became a state senator and obviously he was deferred to because of who he was, and he was, I guess, pretty obnoxious to deal with.

The death of his little boy was a profound thing in his life and it still is. He still talks about it a lot. When he was elected mayor and he thanked people, and when he was re-elected, he said, "On behalf of my wife Maggie and my children," and he included Kevin, the little boy who died. He still talks about him. It was a watershed in his life, as much as his father's death, and made him a different person.

He's also a smart politician; he knows that you can't govern the way his father used to govern. And he seems to me much more interested in governing—the nuts and bolts of running a city government—rather than running a political organization. I think he's been a good mayor for Chicago.

I love to think of that first meeting. He was so scared. I know he thought I was going to write something really evil about him.

Gentry: Did he call you after he saw what you wrote?

Wille: No, no. He wouldn't do that. His mother called.

Gentry: She did? Did she like it?

Wille: Yes.

Gentry: Were you active during your career in any women's journalism associations such as Women in Communications, formerly Theta Sigma Chi?

Wille: No. I didn't really have time nor the interest to be involved in them. And then when the women's movement began, I felt I shouldn't be involved. I just thought I could be more effective doing what I was doing at the newspaper—and I don't think reporters should get involved in causes. It just destroys your credibility. So I've just never been active.

Gentry: Special interest groups, so to speak?

Wille: Yes. I've never been active in anything.

Gentry: Now, you mentioned the union sometimes. And the Daily News, I take it, was it unionized?

Wille: Yes. It was when I started.

Gentry: And you were active in that.

Wille: I was. I was on the bargaining committee for a number of years and then an officer of the Daily News unit and then an officer of the local which took in the—the Tribune is not unionized nor was the American—just the Daily News and the Sun-Times and a lot of the community newspapers.

Gentry: Did they not have some strikes? I seem to remember them having strikes but maybe I'm wrong.

Wille: Not while I worked. I think there was a printer's strike many years ago but that was before I started.

Gentry: So the union was effective. Did it improve working conditions?

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Wille: Oh, immeasurably. It improved hours and conditions and salaries.

Gentry: And you were always paid equally on scale of experience, with no distinction between men and women—

Wille: Oh, of course. That's one of the great virtues of the American trade union movement. I think that would be true of every union, wouldn't it? I can't imagine a union having separate scales for men and women? I hope not.

Gentry: I don't really know. I doubt it. But certainly the other journalists that I have talked to who were not unionized found there were great differences and disparities in salaries.

Wille: It may have been easier for men to get merit raises. Merit raises were still years ago given if you had a big family to support or something like that. They may have thought women didn't need money as much as men. But the Guild would police things like that. I was active in it until I had to quit to become editorial page editor, which was a Guild-exempt position. I served on a lot of bargaining committees and eventually became an officer of the Chicago area local, of the Guild.

During my early years at the Daily News, I always got the minimum. One of the criticisms of the union always has been that it's more interested in raising minimum wages rather than leaving some of that money for merit raises, to give higher pay—to raise the salaries of outstanding people. But I always got the minimum until—I was still getting the minimum after I won the Pulitzer prize. By that time I had done a number of stories that had resulted in community action and was annoyed that I was still getting the minimum.

Gentry: I don't blame you.

Wille: I had been on the Guild bargaining committee that year, and when we argued for higher minimums—I don't remember who the company representative was, but he said, "Well, don't pay so much attention to the minimum, only the minimal employees get the minimum." So after the Pulitzer and I was still getting the minimum, I was angry. Instead of going to our editor, I went to the union and said, "Do you remember that quote about only our minimal workers get the minimum, when they didn't want to raise it? Well, I'm still getting the minimum." So the Guild formed a little committee that went in to meet with our editor and complain on my behalf. And the only reason I finally got a raise above the minimum was because of Guild intervention. I would never have gotten it otherwise.

Gentry: And after that it stayed, I assume? Oh, no, after that, you went on the editorial page.

Wille: No, this was back—this was in the early sixties, the time I'm speaking of now. Newspapers, especially since I worked for a newspaper that was dying, were not known for being especially generous with raises. There may have been a little inequality. There weren't that many women. The women who worked there, like me, never had children—none of the other women in those years I believe did; if they were pregnant, they left and didn't come back. So I think probably our male counterparts may have gotten a little better pay because the editors felt they had to support families, which is wrong. So they would give those merit raises over and above the union scale. But at least in the eyes of the union, we were all equal.

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