WASHINGTON – World War II changed the face of the Washington press corps,according to a congressional historian.
Donald Ritchie,associate historian of the U.S. Senate,said Wednesday in his lecture hosted by the U.S. Capitol Historical Society that the second world war “transformed the Washington press corps totally.”
Ritchie's lecture was based on material from his book “Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps,” which is scheduled to be released by Oxford University Press in early 2005.
Prior to the war,the Washington press corps was white,male and newspaper-oriented,and female reporters usually did social reporting,Ritchie said. But the war created a demand for political reporters.
“The war emptied out a lot of the Washington news bureaus,” Ritchie said.
Women and minorities were given much more of an opportunity to report on politics,and the complexion of the press corps changed as a result,Ritchie said.
“The war also saw a concerted effort on the part of the black press to integrate Washington,” Ritchie said.
Print was the dominant medium leading up to World War II,and the war was when radio reporters started to make their presence known in Washington. They were “not well respected by the print reporters,” Ritchie said.
The war also brought about another change in the makeup of the Washington press corps. Some foreign correspondents began to work out of Washington instead of New York,Ritchie said.
The full transition to Washington didn't happen for many years,as Ritchie said it was “well into the Cold War when Washington became the center of attention for foreign correspondents.”
The cause of women was greatly helped during the war by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Because female journalists were often stuck reporting for the women's pages,Roosevelt held press conferences that produced political news that only female reporters could attend. Her impact on the Washington press corps was great,Ritchie said.
“As soon as she was no longer first lady,they felt her absence,” Ritchie said.
The women were not only hurt by Eleanor Roosevelt's departure from the White House,but they were also hurt by the end of the war.
The women encountered a “post-war cult of domesticity,” Ritchie said. The women were sent back to the social pages,even though many of them wanted to keep reporting political news,he said.
Ritchie added that it took women two decades to regain the positions they lost after World War II. Despite this,“after the second world war,the Washington press corps was larger and more diverse than ever,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie was the second lecturer in the historical society's Eighth Annual August Brown Bag Lecture Series titled “The Capitol and Congress in Depression and War,1929-1945.”