Memories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

pattern of discrimination at Newsweek.  I’ll take the case. . . . ”

   Class Case: Another reason Eleanor took our case was that we were the first women in the media to sue and, it turned out, the first class action suit by professional women.  “At that time, there were almost no cases involving women—certainly none involving white women,” she recalled.  “If there had been a women’s class action suit, I hadn’t heard of it.”  Most of the cases had involved black factory workers discriminated against via seniority systems or biased testing. . . .

   But Eleanor still had to convince us.  We began meeting with Eleanor in the evenings, in what became a six week boot camp in power politics.  “It wasn’t a case of me convincing you,” she later said.  “We met so many times precisely because the women had to convince themselves.  You knew you were on the frontier and you all had to discuss what was happening.  But I had to keep telling you the truth.  You’re the crème de la crème—what the hell are you afraid of?  You’re smarter than these guys, they’re taking advantage of you, and when the court sees your credentials, their eyes will pop out.”

   Raw Truth: Sitting in her apartment at 245 West 104th Street, Eleanor would cut and devour slices of raw onion—one of her pregnancy cravings—as she harangued us to screw up our courage.  When we explained the researcher job and how all the decisions were made by men, she was shocked.  “This is one of the great dictatorships in the history of magazines!” she exclaimed.  She was also surprised by our naiveté.  “You gotta take off your white gloves, ladies, you gotta take off your white gloves,” she would say.  At one point, fed up with us all, she yelled, “You God damn middle-class women—you think you can just go to Daddy and ask for what you want?”

 

  The Good Girls Revolt

By Lynn Povich

 

   This essay is excerpted and edited with the permission of Lynn Povich from her book, The Good Girls Revolt  How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace,  published by PublicAffairs, a division of Perseus Books Group, New York, 2012.  Copyright Lynn Povich, 2012

 

   Editor’s Note:  Newsweek once made history as well as reporting it.  On March 16, 1970, the day that Newsweek published a cover story on the new women’s movement titled WOMEN IN REVOLT, forty-six female staffers filed a gender discriminate lawsuit against their magazine.  They were protesting a system in which all but one of the writers and editors were men and all the women were clippers, fact-checkers, and researchers – lower paying jobs without much opportunity to move up. The suit was the first class action case brought by women journalists, opening a new front in the women’s revolution that would transform the workplace.  Sex discrimination suits against The New York Times, CBS, Time magazine and many other media soon followed.

   The protest was conceived by Judy Gingold, a Marshall Scholar who was relegated to a research position at Newsweek. In the fall of 1969, a lawyer friend told Judy that segregating jobs by gender was banned by the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  Gingold realized that now she had a moral imperative to do something. Fearing reprisal, she cautiously recruited her friends Margaret Montagno and Lucy Howard, both researchers in the magazine’s in the Nation section. Then they asked Pat Lynden, a reporter in Newsweek’s New York bureau, and Lynn Povich, a junior writer in the Life & Leisure section, to join the group.

   One-by-one, the women secretly recruited nearly all the women at the magazine and after agonizing discussions—should they just petition the editors directly?--they decided to hire a lawyer.

 

   Povich’s account:

   That led us to the American Civil Liberties Union, where we met with the assistant legal director, Eleanor Holmes Norton.  Five feet, seven inches and five months pregnant, Eleanor was an impressive figure with an Afro to match.  As we sat in her office explaining our case, she grabbed a copy of Newsweek and opened it to the masthead [the list of editors, writers and reporters ranked from the top down].  She looked at it—and then looked at us—and said: “The fact that there are all men from the top category to the second from the bottom and virtually all women in the last category proves prima facie that there’s a

 

. . . The Sunday evening before we filed the suit, we gathered at Holly Camp’s apartment to work out the details. . . . Our final act that evening was to sign the [Equal Employment Opportunities Commission] complaint, which had to be in the mail before midnight.  As we solemnly lined up, we felt the thrill and the terror of what we were about to do.  There was no turning back.  One by one, we recorded our names on the historic document.

   The next morning, thirty of us arrived at the ACLU an hour before the 10 a.m. press conference.  We nervously started setting up the wooden chairs. . . .When Gabe Pressman, the popular NBC reporter arrived, recalled Margaret Montagno, “I thought, ‘Aha—this really is an event!’ ”

   After the press conference, most of us [working] in the back of the book [sections] and Business went back to the office.  Judy [Gingold], Margaret [Montagno] and Lucy [Howard] went to lunch at a small restaurant near the ACLU to celebrate.  As they toasted the women’s movement and each other, Judy kept yelling, “We did it, we did it!”  The next morning, the women met again at the Palm Court in the Plaza Hotel with Pat [Lyndon].  Over croissants and champagne, they read the newspaper accounts of the press conference out loud.  “I was annoyed that I was called a respectable young woman,” remembered Pat, “and amused that the Daily News called us ‘Newshens’!”

   Meeting Oz: When Lucy and Pat went into the office later that Tuesday morning, they ran into Oz [Elliott, Newsweek’s Editor-in-Chief] on the eleventh floor.  “How do you feel about what happened?” Pat asked him.  Oz immediately invited them into his office, where they talked for forty-five minutes.  “First, Oz said how hurt he was,” recalled Pat.  “Then he asked, ‘Why didn’t you come to me?’  Lucy said we had—we came many times in many ways.  He listened to us but didn’t concede anything.”  Lucy was insulted because Oz said, “I can understand you, Pat, but Lucy—you are such a nice girl.”

   . . .[In an interview with Povich before he died in 2008], Elliott said,  "My consciousness at the time was zero.  Here we were busily carving out a new spot as a liberal magazine and right under our noses was this repressive regime—and no one had a second thought!  It was pretty clear to me on that Monday that the women were right.”

 

Lynn Povich joined the Paris bureau in 1965 as a secretary, moved to New York as a researcher in 1966, became a writer in 1969, was named Newsweek’s first senior editor in 1975 and left in 1991.