[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Biagi: We're supposed to start at the very beginning, so if you want to just talk to me first about where you were born and how your life started, that's terrific.
Beebe: I'm sorry I wasn't born in a log cabin or anything. Middle-class, middle west, WASP background. I came across, going through all this junk, a picture of my mother's graduation from this Ohio college in 1890, just 100 years ago in June. I have it in there. I can also show you a picture of her house in Indiana and where my father grew up in Illinois, which was near Galena, and the family knew Grant.
Biagi: What do you remember most about your mother?
Beebe: Oh, if I start on Mother! I'm sorry you couldn't interview her, because she had real distinction. She was going to be a musician, and instead she was a music teacher and married Father and brought up her family, as one did. She hated to cook, but she did it. [Laughter.] She even sewed and made my clothes and had never learned how at all, because they had help at home.
Then when I was in college, she had a banking career at my father's suggestion. He was the idea man. She went to this bank. It was the First World War. She'd always done the household finances; Father didn't like math, but Mother did. She had done it. Women were having money. For the first time they were working then. So she said, "How do I do it?" He said, "Well, it's always well to go to the biggest person and the biggest thing."
So she tried for an appointment with the biggest man in the biggest bank in Kansas City. Took her quite a while to get to him. I don't know how long she worked at it, but she got there. Like bullets, she gave her ideas about this. He said, "You interest me very much. Make another appointment with my secretary." It took her three or four months to get it. She didn't know anything about banking, you know.
Biagi: And she'd never been in banking before?
Beebe: No, no!
Biagi: And she had never worked before outside the home?
Beebe: No. Well, just schoolteaching for a year or two. So she was sort of a publicity person, I guess. She wrote longhand letters to everybody. She knew everybody in town and joined all the clubs and made speeches about family allowances. She always was serious about that. We always had allowances. Father started the children to learn about money. Inside of a year, she had doubled the deposits from women in the bank, and after that, of course, she went up to
become one of the first officers of a bank in the country and helped organize the National Association of Bank Women, had conventions there with rotogravure* publicity, and she loved it.
Biagi: Which bank was that, do you remember?
Beebe: Commerce Trust Company. I was in college during the First World War, and it was then that women were having their money, before 1920.
Biagi: During the war, would you say 1915?
Beebe: No, no. I went to college in the fall of 1917, and it would be 1918 when she first went in.
Biagi: In the meantime, what was your father doing?
Beebe: Father was the intellectual in our family. Unfortunately, he spent his life with Swift & Co. (the big meat packers), finally credit manager for Shift & Co., because he had had a terrible setback. They were Chicago people, and Father's people were the ones that Mother said she got a little tired of hearing about. [Laughter.] They were professional and literary people. My goodness, this really does go back. I can show you pictures of his ancestors he was so proud of, who had a fight with the establishment in Chester, England, and won out after going clear to Parliament with the thing. You don't want to go back this far.
Biagi: No, but I do want to know about your dad.
Beebe: Anyway, Father didn't have much regular schooling. He and his two brothers were tutored by a Unitarian minister, so he had a lot of literature but he said his grammar was "limited to indicative mode, present tense, lickety-cut, straddle the fence." He never, never liked math very much. When it came time to get a job, he had relatives in Chicago that recommended him, and he got a job at Peabody Coal Company. He was secretary of the company.
Biagi: This is in Chicago now?
Beebe: In Chicago. Father had his suits made in London and he went to opera, and he was quite the gallant. He was a wonderful dancer and whatnot. Mother was teaching school with an older woman that she admired named Katherine Beebe, for whom I was named. Katherine Beebe took Mother home. She thought she'd like to have her in the family, introduced her to 11 eligible Mr. Beebe, and she said she picked the best one. [Laughter.] They had a wonderful little home in Evanston. Mother lost her first child. [Beebe said off the tape that her mother's first son who died was named Donald.]
Biagi: When did they get married?
Beebe: They got married in '95. Mother was 25, and I think Father was 30. They courted during the World's Fair in Chicago, went on their bicycles every day. I don't know what Father was doing. Anyway, maybe this job wasn't so pressing. But I'm sure he was good, because he studied coal and he always wanted to know about everything. I'm sure he did well. But it seems that the owner's son in New York was getting rather wild with wild companions, and they decided to send him out west to Chicago, and the only job that was suitable for him was the one
*A process preceding color in newspapers—expensive, better quality paper, sepia (brown) tones for photos.
my father had, so they just gave him my father's job, and Father was on the street. He didn't know anything about anything then. They had a terrible, terrible time.
Biagi: This was the Peabody Coal Company. They let him go?
Biagi: And they had just gotten married after that?
Beebe: No. One child had died, and my brother Stanley was born. Father didn't want to go back to the family and was trying to get a job. He didn't have any particular training, you see, or anything. They had a horrible time. Mother had to take the baby back home to Plymouth, and people looked at her as a grass widow. Finally, he got a job in the stockyards for something like $12 a week. He said, "We can't live on this." Mother said, "Yes, we can."
Biagi: Is that in Chicago?
Beebe: In Chicago. They lived in a tenement. There was one faucet in the yard, and Mother said, "I had always thought the poor could at least be clean, and now I realized why they couldn't." She had diapers with the baby.
Biagi: With the one faucet.
Beebe: And they lived way, way up. Oh, it was terrible.
Biagi: How long did that last?
Beebe: Father was so scared, you see. He was always afraid to leave. He just went up with Swift & Co., and then he was moved out to Kansas City, where I was born.
Biagi: When did he move to Kansas City?
Beebe: I was born in 1901.
Biagi: So before 1901, at some point he moved out there.
Beebe: Very shortly. Mother was pregnant that whole first summer in Kansas City. It was over 100 every day for six weeks and, of course, no air-conditioning or anything. They had a very small house at a rather poor end of town.
Biagi: And there was Stanley and you.
Beebe: That's right. I was on the way. I was born in September, you see. I just had my 88th birthday last Saturday.
Beebe: Sixteenth. 1901. I was born in a terrible-looking house on Olive Street in Kansas City.
Biagi: Do you remember the address?
Beebe: No, no. It's gone now, which is fortunate. [Laughter.] If I had gotten famous, they wouldn't have any place to put a plaque. And I wasn't expected, either, by the way. They had planned parenthood, but there was a slip-up. So when I arrived, there was rather consternation.
Biagi: How inconvenient! [Laughter.]
Beebe: Yes. But Mother always told me I made up for it because I never gave any trouble. I was a very happy baby. My brother was a rebel all his life, and they had a lot of trouble. Her father was a doctor, by the way. She said my grandfather said, "She's too happy. I don't think the child has good sense." [Laughter.] So I had to make up for my coming. Then Father just kept sawing away and wound up as credit manager. He should have been on a college campus, because he read all the time. He loved to read and he loved to discuss. When my brother was a teenager, they would talk about what my mother called the "whichness of the is." I would listen. I missed it so when I later went to a women's college for two years. There weren't any men, and nobody talked about anything except just what we were doing.
Biagi: Then in Kansas City, tell me a little about living there. Did you stay in that house?
Beebe: We had a lovely time. By the time I remember—in fact, my first recollection, I think, is of moving. I was three years old, and we moved to what was a nice, two-story, middle-class house then. They picked one that was across the street from 80 acres of pasture land that was being held for real-estate money. So we had those 80 acres to play in, in a city, which was wonderful. And my childhood was very happy. We didn't have much money. Father was a saint. He lived to please Mother and do whatever she wanted, and she always wanted something, so it worked out that they were devoted to each other. I never heard a cross word between them. People say that wasn't true, but it was. I didn't know people threw frying pans at each other. I thought everybody grew up that way. I think probably that's one reason that I never was bitten much by ambition, to be conspicuous. Father said, "A gentleman is never conspicuous." [Laughter.] He played with us. Oh, goodness, he had to ride something like three streetcars to get to his work in the stockyards. You couldn't live near there. Nobody had cars yet.
I remember the first car that came on our block. There was excitement! All the children got a ride in it and we went 25 miles an hour! Look!
Biagi: Who owned the car?
Beebe: Some neighbors that had no children and had, therefore, a little more money and decided to change their horse for a car.
Biagi: Did your family have horses?
Beebe: Oh, no. We weren't in that bracket. Mother had college friends, and we went to church for a while in the more fashionable end of town. We had friends who did. But no, we didn't.
Biagi: So you had your feet and the streetcars.
Beebe: Most everybody did that, so we didn't feel deprived. Of course, public transportation is always better when that's all there is. People used to smell, you know. They didn't have deodorant and it was hot, and the working people all expected to smell. When the streetcar was crowded, it wasn't too pleasant.
Biagi: Tell me about grammar school.
Beebe: We went to the neighbor grammar school.
Biagi: You and Stanley both went there?
Beebe: Yes, we both went. We had a walk of about three-quarters of a mile, but we went through a park. It was a city park, very, very nice.
Biagi: Do you remember the name of the school.
Beebe: Oh, yes. Thatcher School. I had a teacher in the first grade I always will remember. She was tops. Later, when I was back on the Star covering education for awhile, she was then teaching others how to do it, so I was in luck.
Biagi: What was her name?
Beebe: Her name was Miss Robinson. Wilma Robinson. Imagine that coming out! I think that was it—Wilma Robinson.
Biagi: Why was she so special?
Beebe: She made us all feel good, and we liked to learn. We'd sit on the floor and she had cards that she flashed, with phonetics. I was never bored. We learned to read and write.
Biagi: That was first grade?
Beebe: That was first grade.
Biagi: Did she teach any other grades?
Beebe: I don't know what happened after that. She later was on the faculty of the junior college, which was sort of a teachers' college. I was there until the sixth grade, when Mother jerked me out because there was a teacher who was in her eighties. Of course, there was no pension, so she couldn't stop teaching. She was not fit to teach. She was throwing ink wells at the sixth graders. [Laughter.] Mother just—
Biagi: Did she ever throw an ink well at you?
Beebe: No. I was only there for a couple of days, and Mother put on her hat and went down to the Board of Education and got permission for me to go to anther school, which was a longer walk and not right in my district, but Mother was a determined character.
Biagi: What about Stan?
Beebe: Stanley was through. He had graduated from that. That's the only thing he ever graduated from. He got into trouble, and finally they took him out, and he took examinations to get into college. He didn't get a college degree, either. Mother discovered that by second semester he was in the library reading all the philosophers and hadn't gone to any classes. So Stanley's degree was from elementary school. He, too, was an immense reader.
Biagi: When you left sixth grade?
Beebe: Sixth and seventh grade. We only had seven grades in Kansas City. I don't know why that was. Also, Mother got me into kindergarten a year early, because Stanley was bored. Our Aunt Katherine Beebe was a kindergartner and in Who's Who for that. We had had a lot of that
at home, and he was bored. That's what happened to him in school; he was bored. So Mother was determined I should start earlier, and I got to kindergarten at five, which is what they do now. But Missouri law said that taxpayers were only responsible at six. Kindergarten was fairly new.
Biagi: The different school you went to, do you remember the name of that?
Beebe: Scarritt. That was a little better district for the northeast end of town. The upper-crust group lived rather close to that school. I made some good friends there, and Mother was always pushing for me to have more social contact. I was a very shy child. I was bothered when people spoke to me. Later, when Mother told people I was being a newspaper reporter, they said, "Katherine? It can't be!" [Laughter.] This is a totally different thing, you know. When you have a commission to do something, you do it. But I still feel just as shy personally. Always have.
Biagi: In that time when you left seventh grade now at the Scarritt School, where did you head after that?
Beebe: We had moved again. Meanwhile, this 80 acres had gone, and we moved. We were only a couple of blocks from the high school. It was a brand-new high school, Northeast High School. I went to it, graduated from it in three years, in 1917, with distinction. And very unhappy I was, because, of course, all that amounts to anything in high school is how popular you are, and I was not. My brother was the Beau Brummel, sought by everybody. Girls would come to the house—"Is Stanley there?" [Laughter.] But you see, I was only 15 when I was graduated. But I was unhappy in high school and so there was nothing to do but study.
Then Mother was very ill. That's another reason she wanted to make up for a huge expense they had.
This isn't journalism, you know.
Biagi: Sure it is.
Beebe: But it is history. She had an infection in her antrum. They were young and healthy, didn't have any doctors. The dentist said, "There's an ear and nose man upstairs here in the building. I don't know anything about him." She went up. He thought he could drain it out, take the tooth out and drain it. Instead, he went up and he was a butcher. He wrecked her eyes. She was totally blind for three weeks, she lost the sight in an eye, and she was two years with great pain.
Biagi: Is that when she was working at the bank?
Beebe: Oh, no, no. That's one reason she wanted to do something to make up for all the money. There was no health insurance, you know, at all. Father was still on a small salary.
Biagi: Swift didn't provide any?
Beebe: Oh, goodness, no! There was nothing. There was nothing! So it was up to you. Good free-enterprise days, those were. And you didn't expect it. I mean, so what? I guess they were in debt. They never talked about money to us, and we always had lots to play with.
Father put up swings and rings, and we had a playhouse in the back yard. Mother saw to it that the children played in our yard. The grass suffered, but it was much better to have everyone there. We always had fun, and Father played with us every night. He read to us every
night, one on each arm of his chair. We learned to read that way. The Fourth of July, we had the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack in washtubs in the yard, which also meant there was plenty of water in case we'd get burned, you know. We had cigar boxes at that time. We whittled little boats and put masts and sails on them and things, and we would put firecrackers on them and have a battle. We had lots of fun. It was lots of fun. Mother was always there, and anything that was wrong, she fixed it. Father came home and played with us, and it was nice.
Biagi: So at 15, what does a 15-year-old do, headed for college? Were you?
Beebe: Mother had gone to this little, as she said, one-horse college in Ohio. She was supposed to go east, too, to Wellesley and didn't want to go there, but she was 16 when she went, scratched her name on the window with a diamond ring her boyfriend had given her, and people didn't know she had. When I went there, I saw the window. I was next door to it, and there it still was. She scratched her name and her roommate's name on the window. So Mother had gone to this Western—I think it was still called Western Female Seminary at Oxford, Ohio. That's where Miami University is. I have this picture in there that I will show you of her and the class. She was going to be a concert pianist, by the way, but she had kind of a nervous breakdown in college and wound up schoolteaching instead for this brief time. But she wanted me to go. Also, I had a scholarship—$50. Not for any reason of excellence, but because Mother knew the woman who had been head of the college when she was there, married a wealthy man who moved to Kansas City, and she had this little $50 scholarship and thought I should have it.
Biagi: What was the name of the scholarship? Did it have a name attached to it?
Biagi: It was just $50.
Beebe: Fifty dollars, yes. Mother thought it would be a good thing, since I was so young, to be at a woman's college, since I had only brothers, I was a tomboy and always played with the boys and beat them at shinny. We had basketball hoops on the trees and we had turning poles in the yard. So I went with the idea, "Now I must make friends and I must not go off by myself," which I was inclined to do. So I made a great effort to do that. "Now I'm going to get into activities."
In fact, when I decided to get through high school in three years, I counted up my units and I was only one unit short of getting out of there, you see, and I wasn't happy in high school. I had time to persuade them to let me do it. I had this interview with the vice principal. I said, "I can get out of high school if I just have one more unit, and couldn't I take that outside of school?" He gave me a long lecture about how you really needed to be a little older and it would be a good thing if I would stay and take more things there. He made a very plausible, nice, long talk and got up to dismiss me, and I said, "Well, I think I'd still like to get out." [Laughter.] So I then persuaded somebody to give me a course in natural geography or something like that—isotherms. I don't know how I did it. He did. After school, I went to him and I got that unit with math and got my unit and graduated.
But the day I graduated, Mother was then at Mayo Clinic. She was three times there with all this terrible business. That's the only housekeeping I learned, too, because Mother wasn't functioning and I kind of had to. She was a great teacher, though. She could lie on the couch and tell me what to do. But she was again up at Mayo, and Father, of course, was working. My brother then was in college at a small college in Missouri. So nobody was there for my graduation. I didn't think anything about it.
Biagi: Was it during the day?
Beebe: Yes, it was during the day. But this program had stars for the ones who had gotten certain grades, and I had two stars by my name, so when I went up to get the diploma, there was applause. I thought something had happened. I looked around and didn't see what they were clapping about. Of course, they were just clapping because I had two stars by my name.
Biagi: What did the two stars mean?
Beebe: No grade below A- or something like that. It was a scholarship thing. I was very surprised at that. So my idea was that if I had to stay in high school, I was going to join everything and be in activities and see what I could do, but I wanted to get out of there. So at Western, I went with the idea of getting into activities, and I did.
Biagi: In high school, did you work on the high school newspaper? Did you do anything like that?
Beebe: No, nothing. I had to go home and keep house a good deal of that time. I'd go home. I had a very good friend on the block, who played. In those days, you see, there was no television and no radio or anything, and you played sheet music. So she got all the popular songs and she played them. I loved to sing, but can't. [Laughter.] So I would do that a little bit in the afternoons, but I was not in any high school activities at all. I think I was in the French club. I was crazy about learning French and had even a little of it in grade school, believe it or not. They had some idea of enrichment even then, and they had somebody come after school. We had pottery and French and little stuff, so I took French all through high school and all through college, and still I couldn't understand it or speak it, but I've had quite a bit.
Biagi: So you went to college. You went away, essentially, to college. It wasn't very far. How far was it?
Beebe: It was two nights—let me see. You went to Chicago overnight on the train and you went down again, so it was a two-day trip.
Biagi: About how many miles away?
Beebe: To drive it now wouldn't be too much, but look at the map. Oxford, Ohio, is near Cincinnati, and Kansas City is on the western border of Missouri. So you didn't come home weekends. My granddaughter is amazed at this—we sent our laundry home. There were special laundry cases. You'd flap it this way for this address, and this way for the other address, and you sent your laundry home.
Biagi: That was a good deal.
Beebe: It was a very good deal, because when it came back, I'd have little pies in it. All the girls said, "What did you get in your laundry?" [Laughter.] But around the post-office box, here were all these laundry cases, because there were no washing machines. What would we do? We wore more clothes, too, more underwear. No nylons. So you had to have it done.
Biagi: Were you excited about going away to college?
Beebe: Yes. I can remember sitting on the floor by my bookcase. I always was crazy about books. Christmas was a big time, and we'd have all these presents. There were always books.
I'd get to that pretty soon, you know. I sat on the floor by the bookcase and cried quietly, felt that I was leaving home, leaving everything behind.
I was very homesick when I got to college, and I wrote to Mother. I've got a letter in here saying, "Mother, please come." And she came and saw that I was with the wrong roommate. She again had taken steps to see that I got in a good, new dormitory, and that was wrong, because the freshmen were all in the other one. I got one of the pills of the school, who was later thrown out. She was a junior. Mother sized her up in no time, you see. I was trying to be nice because I knew I must make friends with everybody, and she was an upperclassman. So Mother straightened that out very quickly and I went back to the big dormitory. There was only one building that was there when she was there in Western Female Seminary, a big old brick thing, three or four stories high. We had a lot of tradition, tradition about things that you were to do, which was to secretly climb up to the roof and sleep all night. Very dangerous, too, but, of course, we all did.
Biagi: You did that?
Beebe: Yes, I did that. I came down the next day with a spider bite on my eye, which was not good. [Laughter.]
I went out for athletics.
Biagi: What did you go out for?
Beebe: Tennis. I was class champion and runner-up for the school championship, because I'd always played tennis with boys. I'd never had any instruction, but I played with the boys and, of course, the girls hadn't. So I was pretty good. I also won the high jump in a track meet, having gone out just the day before. They got some of the sports department at Miami University to come over and see if we couldn't line up some people to have some events. So I jumped. I didn't know how. I just pulled my legs up under me and jumped.
Biagi: How high did you jump?
Beebe: I jumped four feet. If you try to do that that way, you will find that it's not easy. [Laughter.] So the next day I won the high jump, and my roommate's brother had made an ice cream soda bet that the other gal would do it, because she was much bigger and stronger. So that was a nice triumph. And we hiked. We would hike out on the unpaved road to Meredith, which was a farmhouse that made wonderful chocolate pie with whipped cream on it. You see, we didn't have anything to buy, no place to buy anything. The college was a mile from the town of Oxford, and you walked. If you walked there and got something to eat, you were just as hungry when you got back. [Laughter.] So we ate three meals a day in the dormitory, which was, of course, I guess very good for us. But there was no place to buy candy bars. There was nothing at all.
Biagi: No vending machines?
Beebe: No vending machines of any kind. The only hope you had if you missed breakfast, the muffins that were left over were put in a great big can, and when the mail came in at 10:00, the muffin can, you could get a muffin to get you through until noon. But that was the way it was.
Anyway, when I left as a sophomore, I had my letter, my "W" letter for six things.
Biagi: Which were?
Beebe: Goodness. I don't know if I can remember that. I got one in gym. I did that by asking the teacher, "How do you get your letter in gym? Doesn't everybody do the same thing?" "You always come on time and you do what's told." So I got in the front row and did everything hard, and I got the letter. That was one. Tennis was one, and the track meet was one. I guess swimming. We all had to learn to swim before we could graduate from that women's college. What would be the other? Oh, basketball I played and hockey.
Biagi: What position?
Beebe: You know, girls' basketball was different. We had three. I played guard and then I played forward, but I wasn't particularly good. But just being on the team was one thing for the letter. Wasn't that enough?
Biagi: That's fine. That's good.
Beebe: There were six.
Biagi: We'll have to think about it.
Beebe: The letter to sew on my sweater, which reached to my knees, I didn't get until after everything. Oh, I know. I got a Better Baby prize of five dollars. Some man who cared about women's physique—I suspect the colleges would have a good time with him now—he was a donor. He put some money up and every year there was a Perfect Baby. We were all measured when we came. We had to take gym, you see, and you were supposed to be improving. But the Perfect Baby was the one that had the best measurements at the beginning, and then the Better Baby was the one that had made the most progress. I was the Better Baby.
Biagi: That was the sixth one? [Laughter.]
Beebe: That was the sixth one, and I got five dollars.
Biagi: That was a good award. Did he come and give you the five-dollar award? Did he come and give out the awards, do you remember?
Beebe: You know, it's very vague. I suppose he was there, but we were awfully bored with that.
We went every morning to chapel. This college, which was then Western College for women, had had a Presbyterian background. We started every morning with chapel for half an hour, which was not too bad, because that was where you found out what was going on and all the announcements. Everybody was there, so there was nothing to do otherwise. It wasn't too bad. Of course, we went to church on Sunday. I sang in the choir, if you please. Of course, I couldn't sing, but they were having a new chapel built, and they had to expand the choir. So they were urging us, if we could sing at all or would try, to come out. So the man tested me and he said, "You know, you can match tones, but you don't know where anything is." He said, "Stand next to Mildred Nusbaum and you'll be all right." She was a musician, one of my good friends. So I sang in the choir and had a lovely time, because they couldn't stop me. However, I had to move away from her. She was alto, and you know, the sopranos always had the air, so I couldn't stay with her, so I had to move over to the sopranos in order to get by. [Laughter.]
Later, after the chapel was dedicated and we had had the expanded choir for dedication, the choirmaster said that now they wouldn't be needing so many people, so I just didn't show up
again. I knew I was a tail-ender. He met me on the sidewalk not long after, and he said, "What's the matter? You're not coming to choir."
I said, "Well, I can take a hint. You didn't need so many people."
He said, "We'd like to have you." Apparently I paid attention, you know, and he said, "Please come back." So I did. It was handy, too, you see, because you didn't have to dress for church. You could go out and wade around in the Talawanda River and have a picnic, and then just toss the choir thing over your head and you were set. So that was a plus, too. I liked it. I had a good time there and had many friends.
Biagi: How many students?
Beebe: About 250. Then, you see, to move to the University of Wisconsin with 7,000—one of the other girls in our immediate group—you always form your own little group—also decided to go. It was considered sort of treasonous to leave after two years, as many wanted to, so we didn't say anything about it. I was later accused of starting a stampede to Wisconsin, because two others went, too, and we didn't even know they were going. But somehow or other, they thought I was responsible for it and were not very friendly about it.
Biagi: Your lower-division classes that you took before you left Western, what did you study?
Beebe: It was humanities stuff, and I've always been glad I had it, because I think I paid more attention and got my mind opened more at that time than ever since. It was the only really humanities education I got, because at Wisconsin I was in a trade school with journalism. I didn't know it. I didn't know I wasn't getting an education. I had a degree and good grades, but I didn't really know. I didn't have English literature. I got through college and high school without any chemistry or physics and thought it was smart. I've been sorry ever since.
Biagi: Did you study anything at Western College that you really remember being important to you?
Beebe: I had to study Latin, for one thing, and I had thought that I was through with Latin. We had to do that in high school in those days, and ordinarily you had four years of Latin, but I had only the three. Since I was getting through, that junior year I was taking a very heavy schedule, my mother suggested that I have a pony for Caesar. She said, "You shouldn't do this if you aren't conscientious, but it will save you time. You make sure how the construction comes, but it will save you time." So I used the pony. When I got to Western, I discovered I had to take more Latin, so I had been weakened by that. I had a wonderful Latin teacher. She later became president of the college.
Biagi: By "pony," clarify what you mean by that.
Beebe: A pony is a translation. I told the teacher about this, and also she found this writing above the words as we studied, you know, writing the words. She said that, too, would weaken us. She gave us the first idea of scholarship. I didn't, I think, absorb it too well because I finally did well enough in Latin that she wanted me to go on and take more than I needed to, and I said, "But what for? I won't get any more credits." [Laughter.] I couldn't understand scholarship that well. But she was good.
Biagi: What was her name?
Beebe: Miss Byrne. What was her first name? People didn't have first names then, you know. I can't think what it was. Her best friend was the English teacher, Miss Windgate.
Of course, we had English, much English, and very good prose help. We had to do it and we had to write, and we had to take elocution and we had to get up and speak. That was always hard for me. The teacher had a system. She said, "Now, who's ready?" She wanted us all to stand up. Everybody who was prepared was to rise. So that then when she called on us, we couldn't back out. My system was not to rise until the class was just about over. Then I would rise. [Laughter.] I would get up and say, "This morning I'm going to tell you about Ellis Island," and the bell would ring. I did it, I think, three times, and my classmates said, "What's going on here?"
Biagi: You figured out the system.
Beebe: I don't think my grade was very good in elocution, but I still was getting good grades there. We had lots of English. I didn't take Bible. I've been sorry since, because they had a Bible teacher, and I later wished that I had.
I had biology. That's how I got out of taking any other science. We had lab. We had animals one semester and plants the other, you know. That was really almost the extent of my science. Terrible. And math—oh, yes, math. A very poor teacher who was a good mathematician, but very young and she didn't know how to teach. French, too.
Biagi: All women teachers?
Beebe: The man who taught organ and the choir. I don't believe I had any other man teacher when I was there. No, I think they were all women teacher.
Biagi: Were there any writers or any particular books at that time that were really important to you?
Beebe: We had a visiting celebrity, Edgar Stillman Kelley. But he was a musician. They had a house on campus, so they had—
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Beebe: I can summarize, you know.
Biagi: I bet you could write a quick news story. If you had to write a news story about yourself, what would you say?
Beebe: I've thought of that. The only distinction I have, I suppose, is being one of the first small group of women that managed to escape out of the sob-sister society box of newspapers and stick to news and do it. That's my distinction, if any.
Biagi: What headline would you put on that story?
Beebe: I know what they'd put: "Pioneer Newswoman Dead."
Biagi: Oh, no! [Laughter.] No. If you wrote a news story about you today? Let's go back. We've got you in college.
Beebe: At Wisconsin now?
Biagi: Let's go to Wisconsin. That's what you did next.
Beebe: There was a question of whether I was going to go east to Wellesley or Wisconsin. Again, Father and Mother thought, "Now it would be better to be in a co-educational place."
Biagi: This was what year now?
Beebe: Let's see. I was '17 to '19 at Western. At Western, the Armistice was signed and we straggled in a funny little line from Western into the town of Oxford. It was a mile of dusty walking, not very exciting. But the war was on while we were at Western. It was exciting, you know, and sort of fun, and lots of songs. I didn't realize until my roommate had a brother in the Rainbow Division and went every morning to look at the casualty list. We knitted socks in chapel. You couldn't knit on Sunday in church; you could knit socks in chapel. We had Red Cross things and wrapped bandages and made awful sweaters and things.
Biagi: Were you very good at that?
Beebe: I was good. Yes, I knit socks with red, white, and blue tops. We had even little arrows going up the sides. Yes, very fancy. But as a grandmother, I don't seem to knit at all. [Laughter.]
Biagi: So it was 1919.
Beebe: 1919, in the fall. I went with my friend from Western, Mildred Nusbaum, and we went together to Wisconsin. That was a whole different chapter and it was wonderful. I learned how to have a good time, and I wanted to. I actually would stop myself from studying. My parents backed me in that. They thought it was time that I should, you see.
Biagi: So you were 17 then, were you?
Beebe: I was 15 when I graduated from high school, but the next September I was 16. I was 16 as I started to Western, so I was 18 as a junior at Wisconsin.
Biagi: Is that at Madison?
Beebe: That's at Madison. There was only one then, and it seemed perfectly huge, you know, to us. At Western, we would walk along the sidewalks and meet the teachers. "You're going to be with us next year?" And at Wisconsin, we were at the end of the line, standing there trying to get up to windows and try to find out how to register. It seemed absolutely immense to us!
Biagi: Did you live in the dorms there?
Beebe: No, no, we didn't want to. We had had dorms, thank you. It was fun, too, but no, we rented a place right down on the lakefront. Well, about on the lakefront—Lorch's.
We had rather an unsocial time at first, but that's when I had to decide, since I was a junior, what my major was going to be. So now we come, really, to begin. I'm afraid it was done rather aimlessly. You had to pick a major and, of course, I always talked over everything with my parents. We were on very good terms. They said we had writers in the family and I seemed to do well in English, so why didn't I want to write? How about journalism? I said, "Well, what's journalism?" more or less.
Biagi: Who were the writers in the family that they kept referring to?
Beebe: Just that they wrote journals. It was a literate family. Mother wrote a book, by the way, when she was pregnant. My Aunt Katherine Beebe said that they ought to have more life
and history and take a hero and make it come alive to the children. She said, "Okay," she would do it. So she wrote one about John Paul Jones. I have it. All you had to do to Mother was give her an idea and she was halfway done. My father was still talking about it and would say, "Let's wait. Let's talk about this," and was involved. She got $500 for it. She mailed it, I think three days before Stanley was born, and she got $500. But she had the choice of royalties. Had she taken it, it was taken up by the Chicago schools the next year, we would have made money.
Biagi: Who published it?
Beebe: I don't know, but I've got the book.* [Tape interruption.] She also had a magazine article published: "Outdoor Recreation for City Children." She wanted to do something, you see. She felt trapped there. She didn't like domesticity, but she did it. She didn't like to cook. That banking career was just wonderful for her.
Biagi: She never wrote another book?
Biagi: Or any magazine article or anything else?
Beebe: No. She made some talks. She wrote her own speeches. No, I don't think so. I don't have anything, anyway, if she did.
Biagi: Let's go back to your choosing your major.
Beebe: So I talked to them and decided, "Why not journalism?" My roommate, Mildred Nusbaum, said she didn't have any idea, either, so we might as well both do that. It was that casual.
Biagi: She became a journalism major, too?
Beebe: No. I'm still in touch with her. She said I persuaded her; she didn't really belong in it at all, but she went home and worked for a year on the paper. She was engaged when she got through college and she worked on the hometown paper, then got married and raised a family. Her husband, by the way, was head of journalism at Northwestern University for 25 years.
Biagi: Is that Stewart?
Beebe: Ken Olson. Ken Stewart was out here. Did you know Kent Stewart?
Biagi: No, I didn't.
Beebe: But Ken Olson was at Northwestern.
Biagi: So here you are, choosing a major.
Beebe: There we are, choosing a major. We went to the first journalism class and it was too big. Everybody seemed to want to go to journalism. They said they were going to have to wash out some people, and it was going to be very hard. They told us what we were going to have to do and they said, "We won't accept any papers in longhand after November. After that, it's got
* Four American Naval Heroes by Mabel Borton Beebe, published by Werner School Book Company in 1898.
to be typewritten." And we didn't have typing, you know. We rented typewriters and a book, and went at it and made it by November. But when we came out of the class that day, we were in some doubt about it. The professor, Grant Hyde, sounded pretty discouraging, you know. We decided to stay with it, so we did.
I think the thing that really seriously made me decide to be a journalist is reading Philip Gibbs' Street of Adventure, if I have to pick one thing. I liked Philip Gibbs' stuff. Do you know about him?
Biagi: No. Tell me all about him.
Beebe: I'm afraid I've thrown away most things. I looked last night for my textbooks in journalism. I thought you might be interested to look at them.
Biagi: I would.
Beebe: The news writing and editing. This Street of Adventure was Gibbs' more or less autobiographical account of journalism in London. The journalists sat around and toasted chestnuts by the fire. Sounded very nice. Also they were finding ways to ride behind the royal carriage by dressing a certain way. It sounded rather exciting, and I thought, "That's it! That's what I want to do."
Biagi: Was that required reading?
Beebe: No, it was recommended extra reading. I came across it. That book was suppressed for quite a while because of libel threats. Then it came out again later. When we had history of journalism, perhaps I got interested in it. That's why I got a copy and read it. That is a little bit simplistic, because, of course, he told what was really involved in being a journalist.
Biagi: What did you think at that time was your view of a journalist's job?
Beebe: We were getting told about it pretty much. We had a good course. Our news-writing course was taught by an ex-newsman who was very literate, too, and had integrity. There were three papers in Madison at that time, and he made an agreement with the papers that his students, or certain ones of them that he would recommend, would cover assignments for free, and since there were many speeches in a university town and many things that would have to be let go, they were glad to take him up on it. But they said, "We are not going to fool with students who don't show up and so on." So if we made this agreement, you personally had to be responsible. He had every schedule that we had. He knew exactly where we were every hour of the day, so we would get this assignment and go and cover the speech. Then we would write it up, take our carbon, and we would submit it to the paper we were assigned to do, and the carbon to him. He would tell us what was wrong with it.
I can remember my first assignment. I can't even tell you what it was, but I had made an introductory paragraph, and when it got in the paper, that was all that got there. [Laughter.] It was like one of the New Yorker funny ones, you know. So then you went to the conference and he looked at it and he said, "I don't need to tell you anything about this, do I?"
I said, "No. I see." It's the way to tell you what might happen. [Laughter.] But I think that was very good, really.
I had one little triumph. I went to one assignment, which was a school parent-teacher meeting, when it had been discovered that students were writing love letters back and forth. A teacher had managed to get some. Everybody said, "Read them! Read them!" And she looked
around and said, "Well, we don't want publicity on this," looking hard at me. I just sat, looking blank and didn't say anything. [Laughter.] Sure enough, they read these letters about when they would meet and so on. So I went and wrote this up and it made front page with big headlines. Oddly enough, the other paper had the same story and there was a big kick about that. They wondered if I had taken it to the other paper. I hadn't. It was a mystery. I don't know what ever happened, how it was.
Biagi: Did they publish the actual letters?
Beebe: Oh, yes, they published the actual letters. That's what made the front page. They were mild. I mean, they were not specific as things would be now.
Biagi: What paper in town was this?
Beebe: That one was the Wisconsin State Journal, which was the leading paper. The other one that cribbed it somehow, maybe they got a first edition when that came out and made it somehow. The Capital Times, that was the La Follette paper, on which I later worked for three months.
Biagi: So did you do almost all your work at Wisconsin in journalism?
Beebe: Pretty much, because, you see, I hadn't had any of the undergraduate courses that I would have had if we were going to do that. No, we had to take some other things. I took European history. Mother never liked history. Father did; Mother didn't. So Mother was most decided in all opinions, so I thought I didn't like history, either. That was the lowest grade I got. It was a lecture class only, and what I did, I guess, really showed that I was just a reporter. I wrote my notes of what he said, and then I crammed for exams. But unfortunately, I had not given myself enough time. About 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning before, I thought I'd better get a little sleep and I'd only gotten two-thirds of the way through. So his exam was five questions, and the last two were on ground I hadn't covered, so I got called on it. My first three were fine; the last two—that would be 60—were absolutely terrible. It looked as if the person I was copying from had gone home and left. So he wanted to know what had happened. I told him. He said, "Don't you take it in? As you listen to it, doesn't it mean anything?"
I said, "No, I just write it down and get to it later." [Laughter.] That shook him, so he changed his course.
Biagi: Oh, he did?
Beebe: Yes, he did. He said, "I'll make a deal with you. If you will take history again next semester, I'll just call this an incomplete or something." So I did and came out with a B at the end.
Biagi: How were your other grades? Did you do well?
Beebe: Yes, I got good grades, but I didn't even know about Phi Beta Kappa. When one of my friends said she made Phi Beta Kappa her junior year, I said, "What's that?" They had an honor society at Western, but no Phi Beta Kappa. We, of course, had no sororities. We had clubs. But the journalism group was fun and we put on a Gilbert and Sullivan play, and soon we had a group, of course a co-ed group, and two or three of the girls were engaged, and two or three of us weren't. I have a letter in here that I've just dug up and I'm going to show it to my great-granddaughter about the house party. We went to get chaperones for it. Apparently it seemed queer to us that there wasn't any supervision at these things, because we were so used to
rules, you see. We got a young married couple to be chaperones for our house party. The gals slept upstairs and the boys slept downstairs.
Biagi: Very appropriate. Tell me first what role you played in the Gilbert and Sullivan play.
Beebe: I don't know. I usually pulled the curtains, and I did at Western, too. My friends were always actors and actresses. I played a Pullman porter at Western once, with Shinola* on my face. It was very hard to get off! Then I was in a French play because I had good French, but I was no actress, so I was a curtain puller. In Gilbert and Sullivan, I was in the chorus.
Biagi: You got to sing again. [Laughter.]
Beebe: I got to sing. I was drowned out. [Laughter.]
Biagi: What other memorable things happened to you at Wisconsin?
Beebe: I have letters here that I wrote to Mother about all the dates I had, and nothing about studying at all. I think she was delighted, because she thought it was time, you see. I just had a ball. But it was slow coming. Our first semester was pretty grim. It was big and different, and we weren't sorority, you see. We came as juniors, and that was bad. Nuzie was supposed to be—in a little town, you must make a sorority—and she came home from a rush party in tears because she said she knew that you could see they had a lot of people there, but they had only certain ones they wanted.
Biagi: Did you try to get in a sorority?
Beebe: I had introductions, too, but I could see, too, right away that it was nothing. Finally, I went to one, to Pi Phi. That was amusing, too. One of our Western friends was coming to Wisconsin as a graduate, and her sister was a national officer of Pi Phi. She had never seen a sorority party and she was, of course, invited and was supposed to be kind of an honored guest because she was the sister of this So-and-so, and so would I go. I said, "All right, I'll go." They're not interested in me. Naturally, she was a graduate, so I would go. When I went there, she hadn't come. They were supposed to bring her. I went around and said, "You haven't got Miss Florence Bryan, who's waiting to come." They didn't seem to know what was going on, and I found myself in this place with tables of four. We were eating, and everybody was talking about what kind of cars they had. They had Packards and they had this and that and so on. They said, "What kind of car do you have?"
I said, "We don't have a car. We can't afford one." [Laughter.] Just at that moment, as sometimes happens, there was dead silence, and it was a terrible silence. The whole room heard this. I did it kind of on purpose, because I just knew that it made me kind of ill, anyway, all this stuff that they were talking.
Afterwards, one of my good friends, who is a journalist and was a Pi Phi, told me that they had a big row in the chapter and almost had a majority take me in because they liked what I said. I was so surprised, because I thought the Pi Phis had a reputation of being butterflies. Absolutely impossible for me.
Anyway, we did not belong to a sorority. So that was what most social life was keyed to, you see, there. So it really took us quite a little bit before we had our outside group. It wasn't like Stanford, where people chose not to. The roughs were boasting that they didn't belong. In the midwest, it was pretty important.
Biagi: What were some of your assignments working for that newspaper?
Beebe: They were mostly speeches. I can't really remember. They were nothing. They wouldn't give students assignments that were anything very—they wouldn't take a chance on that, you know.
Biagi: You did that for two years, then?
Beebe: Yes, I guess I did. Both of us went to work on the Cardinal. That's the daily university paper. We were really working there every day and writing every day about school stuff. I can't remember what it was. You know what they're like.
Biagi: Any big scoops?
Beebe: No. It wasn't a scoop atmosphere. In fact, I don't know that I heard that word, really. It was just telling what happened. That was my idea, anyway. Of course, it was acceptable.
Biagi: Did you have a teacher working with you on the paper?
Beebe: Oh, no. It was student. By the way, no woman was, of course, main editor then, but the number-two person was Esther Van Wagoner (later Tufty.) She went to U.S. News [& World Report], didn't she?
Beebe: She had her own service in Washington.
Biagi: So she was there when you were there.
Beebe: Yes. Let me see if I can think of any famous people. Fredric March Bickel, he was a big star on campus, theater production, very good, too. [Charles] Lindbergh was there, by the way, but I didn't know it. He was at Wisconsin at the same time. I never met him, but I heard later where he lived, and we were a block or so apart there. He was not known in school.
Biagi: Did you do general assignment at the Cardinal?
Beebe: I guess just general assignments. That was already the thing I wanted to do. I never liked the departments and I never liked the women's stuff. You see, Esther got her job because she was supposed to be the women's editor. But she was a good newspaperwoman, too. If you wanted to get anywhere—and that's what they told us in journalism school. They said, "Your chance is with women's specialty, because the others are pretty well exclusively for men," whereas, of course, I decided, with my general perversity, that that was what I wanted to do, because that was the more important thing and that's what I wanted to do. I spent most of my career doing it. I'd have to start, usually, with women's stuff and work around it every time, over and over again.
Biagi: Were there a lot of other women working in the journalism school and at the Cardinal with you at that time?
Beebe: There were quite a few girls, yes—we didn't call ourselves women then—that were in it, but I don't know that many of them went on, except for Esther Wagoner. I suppose some of them did, but I didn't keep track of anyone who did, and I think most of them did go on to specialties of style or so on. Women were already then interested in it.
You see, the Roaring Twenties were starting, and it was post-war. Many men at Wisconsin were a little bit older because they had been to the First World War and were coming late to get their education. Since women had worked during the war for the first time and had tasted a little independence and independent money, it was more or less—I'd always assumed that I would go through college and then I would earn my living. So I didn't have any history of having to be a rebel, you know, my family thinking that I should go home and be in the kitchen. They didn't. Of course Mother didn't and neither did Father. He was very liberal and broad-minded and had a very high opinion of women's abilities, because I think men do if the women around them have abilities. The ones that marry little butterflies that are kind of crazy and look like the comics, you know, think all women are like that. They just judge by the ones who are around them. I found that throughout. I remember people on the court beat, a bailiff. "My mother was a wonderful woman," he said. They would be glad that I was there. In unexpected places you'd get it, whereas overall, the idea that a woman was limited and she could do "women's stuff," but otherwise, "My goodness, isn't there a man around here?" They'd look over your head. "Who's doing it?"
I remember one time I was on the Star and was interviewing Martin Johnson. I don't know whether that name means anything to you, but he was quite a nationally known explorer, and his wife, whose name was—I can't remember. I've got a clipping in here. I saw it the other night. We had a photographer who was very intelligent and interested in things, and he was literate, too, which was unusual. The usual newspaper photographers in those days were just, "Move over, queen, if you want to get in the picture." [Laughter.] So he was talking, too, a little bit. Of course, Johnson would be talking to him. To me he said, "You know, my wife is over there now."
I said, "Yes, I'll talk to her later." So I went on. He was very interesting. I had a column or so in the paper and it made the front page. He wrote a letter. He said he didn't know who had written it. "There seemed to be two or three people there." Whoever had written the story, it was the only time in his whole experience when there was no mistake in it. So the paper put that letter on the bulletin board, but didn't mention who had written it. We didn't have bylines on the Star. But I was very pleased at that.
Biagi: I'm sure you would be. So we get you to Wisconsin.
Beebe: I just had a good time socially and enjoyed it, did journalism and got good grades.
Biagi: Were there any women teachers there? Were they all men in the journalism program?
Beebe: I'm trying to think. I think there was a Genevieve Broughman [spelling uncertain] who came. No. Let's see. Willard Bleyer was the head of the journalism department. He was a wonderful person, but he did have the driest course in the history of journalism that anybody had ever heard of. Then there was Grant Hyde, the news-writing teacher. I mustn't get it mixed up with Stanford now. It seems to me there was somebody else. No, there was no woman, I guess, not in those two years. But I think quite soon after I left there, they did have one.
Biagi: How did you find your first job?
Beebe: I went home.
Biagi: This would have been what year?
Beebe: This would have been 1921, my graduation. So I wanted to go out on my own. I had glimpsed an adventure from one of the young men in our group. He was a very glamorous
figure. We all fell in love with him in turn. He saw life as adventurous, and he more or less opened my eyes about that. So I was very interested to go and try the world on my own, but, of course, I didn't have any money. So I went home. "Why don't you get a job here? I'll see Mr. So-and-so." Somebody, I think, talked to the publisher of the number-three paper in Kansas City, and I went there. I suppose the publisher had said, "We'll look at this person." They needed a women's club editor. Women's clubs were very big then, especially in the midwest. That was the only activity women had, you see. There were columns of their meetings. There were all these Eastern Stars and drill teams and everything, and then the Atheneum in Kansas City was the club where lecturers came and they had groups and different courses for women and whatnot. There were clubs of every kind. So I was taken on for that. The managing editor said, "Can you come to work right away?"
I said, "Yes, right away."
"Come to work tomorrow," or Monday. "We only pay women $15 a week to start, the first two weeks." I didn't bristle at that. I mean, I was not a rebel. That was the way things were.
Biagi: What would have been a good wage or a fair wage at that time, do you think?
Beebe: They were all low, I know that. There was a woman on the paper that was kind of a drudge by that time, had worked there a long time, and she told me she was getting $30 a week. This was after 25 years or something, I think. So I worked the two weeks. It was a roundtable of clubs, and although I couldn't make a speech, I was anxious to get to them the fact that we were going to open this department. So I kind of forgot about it and told them that we wanted to pay attention to them and cover their activities. Oh, I got applause!
Biagi: This is which paper now?
Beebe: That was the Kansas City Journal. It was a morning paper, the number-three paper. The Star owned everything. The Star was morning, evening, and Sunday for ten cents a week for years. Try to beat that competition. They owned everything and they were quite arrogant. Then the Kansas City Post was the sensational P.M. paper that sold on the streets. The Journal was more or less a financial morning paper. So that was the one.
Biagi: Do you remember your first day of work there?
Beebe: I can't seem to remember where I worked. I can't see my desk. I've had so many since, that it's gone. But the thing I do remember was that this managing editor had his sleeves rolled up, had a large snake tattooed on his arm, and I noticed it. I was told by somebody there that there was a story in this, that he had gone to work at the Star and that then city editor, I believe, George Longan, who later became the top man at the Star, had a phobia about snakes. This reporter went up to put his story down and put his hand down, and George Longan saw it and gave a scream, jumped from his chair, and fired him. [Laughter.] That's why he was working at the Journal. He was a young managing editor. Nobody got much money.
Biagi: What was his name?
Beebe: I can't remember. [Earl Smith.]
Biagi: But he had a snake.
Beebe: But he had a snake. It was a big, colorful snake, too. I don't know where he got it. That's my impression, more or less, of the first day, except the first time I handed in my stuff for the Sunday paper with all these clips, I got a lot of notices out of that meeting. I took the
Star, which had columns of them, and I called the people and said, "Wouldn't you also like it in the Journal?" "Oh, yes," they'd like it. So I had a whole bunch. "Where did you get all of this stuff?"
So I did my clubs there for two weeks, and then I went around and said, "I've worked two weeks now. You said $15 a week for two weeks."
"Oh, is it two weeks?"
"Yes." Then I got $18.50. I was getting up.
Biagi: Did you change your assignment? Did you still have the clubs to do?
Beebe: Oh, yes, that's really all I had to do. But meanwhile, they were short with everything. The city desk borrowed me for a stunt story that they wanted. They were going to try to expose some fake fortune tellers that were apparently actually prescribing medical things to people. So I was to go and pretend to be a fortune-telling person.
Biagi: You did that?
Beebe: I did that, and I can remember she said, "Did anyone ever tell you you look like Gloria Swanson?"
I said, "No. You think so?" I did a story about this, and they liked it.
Meanwhile, I was saving money. Of course, I lived at home. I'm puzzled now at parents who say that their children should be earning when they're 18 and "I'll only have to support them another year." There was never anything like that. My father and mother, too, would have been delighted if I'd just stayed at home. I lived there. Why would I pay anything, you know? So I could save, and I was saving. So I had $100, and I thought that would be enough to start out and seek my fortune.
My goal was not very grand; it was to work on a newspaper in California because of this young man at Wisconsin, who was a Stanford graduate and a very gung-ho Stanford person, Noel Stearn—we called him "Christmas." He had a beautiful tenor voice, he was an athlete, he'd earned his way through Stanford in three years and sent money home, he wrote poetry, he wrote music, and he would say, "I have disposition indigestion, and I'm going to walk around the lake tomorrow morning. I'm going to start at 7:00. Does anybody want to join me?" It was 28 miles around the lake. Of course, several of us turned out and walked around the lake. This was what I had been saying, you know—it gave me a different idea about things. He was going to be a geologist. He had been an English major at Stanford and decided he was going to be a geologist. He was a graduate at that time. He thought I belonged in California, so he introduced me, by mail, to his old Stanford bunch, and we exchanged letters. That became the reason I came out here.
First, Mother said, "Well, if you want to go, how are you going to get there? What are you going to do? You have my sister in Salt Lake. Why don't you go there? I'll write and see if you can stay there. Maybe you could get a job there and then see what you could do."
So I went and said I was going to resign.
Biagi: This would have been what year now?
Beebe: Let's see. '21. I went that summer. It was fall of '21.
Biagi: You just worked three months or so?
Beebe: Just to save $100. It was winter. Must have been maybe November. The $100 seemed to me to be the amount that I would need until I could get a job. Of course, I figured I could get one. Of course, Mother arranged that I could go and stay with her sister, and then if I didn't get a job, I could come home. I was never at risk, really. So I did do that. I went around to the papers. There were three of them in Salt Lake City. I was told, "Well, you know, we've got a woman. We took a woman once on the news side, and she didn't work out. We fired her and she committed suicide, and we don't want any more of that."
I said, "Well, I have a family at home and I won't have to commit suicide."
"Well, you come back and see us later."
I said, "Well, I'll be back every day."
"Oh, don't do that! Don't come until next Monday." I came the next Monday and I got a job for two weeks on the Salt Lake Telegram. They had a budget for two weeks because they were going to have a man who had worked for them and had gone to the big town of San Francisco and didn't like it, and was coming back. He wouldn't be there for two weeks, so I could have that two weeks' job—$35 a week! Up from $18.50, this was great. That added $70 to my pot. Of course, I wasn't paying my aunt anything. You didn't do that with a relative.
Biagi: What was your assignment there?
Beebe: General. They had had a gal who left, and as I went around to sort of a beat she had, the Chamber of Commerce and whatnot, they'd say, "Where's So-and-so? She was cute as a little red wagon." I could see they didn't think I was very cute. [Laughter.]
Biagi: But you had the better body, you remember? You had won the better body award.
Beebe: It was only better than before.
There was a story. People were making speeches about how the war would never happen again, you see, big, big stuff. They had an election. That was interesting to me. I worked on the election and got a little extra money, I think. The candidates were LDS or Gentile, you see.
Biagi: Those were the parties? Is that how they were listed as parties?
Beebe: Yes. It was still a Mormon town. When you wrote obituaries, you had "survived by his wife So-and-so and his wife So-and-so." People who had had polygamous families were allowed to keep them, you see. After polygamy was outlawed, they couldn't do it anymore, but there were those women. That interested me.
Beebe: With me and my aunt was my brother's young wife, who was separated from him. She went with me. I don't want to make this too complicated, but she was there, too, with my aunt, and they didn't get along. Mother found that out and she said, "Get out quickly," so we went and rented a pad, a little room. We didn't have any cooking, I think. Soon after she went back to New York, leaving me there.
I went to the Salt Lake Tribune, which was the number-one paper, to see if I could get work. Of course, they wouldn't take me on, but I did write a piece for them about a weekend mountain club. I went with a Mormon mountain club up to a summer resort which was covered with snow. It was fun. I didn't know a soul, and I was adventuring then, for sure. I wrote this up and they used it, but they didn't pay me anything. The club was great.
Then I went to the Mormon paper, which was Deseret News. It had a Catholic city editor, and he said, "Of course, I haven't got any budget. No, we can't take on a woman, but I'll tell you what. If you're hard up, you can do some space stuff. You can be paid for space." He gave me a few little assignments. "Go out to a suburb and write about the new streets or something like that." They paid 15 cents an inch, but he gave me such crummy assignments, he paid me 30 cents an inch. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Do you remember some of those assignments? What were they?
Beebe: I can't. They were just very crummy, you know, nothing interesting at all. But a lot of things you wrote then, everything was progress. Growth, you see, that was the story. Everybody approved of that. Everybody was pleased when population grew, people grew, houses went up, and so on. When new streets went in, that was news.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Biagi: We are now competing with the Salt Lake Tribune in Salt Lake City. You are writing, also.
Beebe: Yes, and my money ran out. The landlady didn't want to lose me, so she got one of her boarders to give me a job as a carpenter's helper on a railroad. He was an engineer and he couldn't hire anybody but that. I'm sure now that I think back, he made it up, but he said the big boss was going to come look at his notes of bridges and they were so messy, would I copy these.
Biagi: This was extra work beyond being a reporter?
Beebe: I had nothing but temporary. I had those two weeks, then little pieces.
Biagi: The guy came back to work?
Beebe: Yes. He came back. The two weeks are gone. They were nice. They said if there was another opening, but that was it, that they could take me again. But there wasn't. There was a little depression going on then, too. The mines were shut down for some reason. So I was broke.
So I went to a teachers' agency and said if they had anything that would take less than $25 to get to, which is all I had left, I would take it. I got a job teaching in Lone Tree, Wyoming, 40 miles from the railroad. We lived in a school house. I was a principal. I was then 20. This was in March, so it would be just to fill out the year, you see. But because I had a university degree, I was really up there. You could teach elementary school with high school and one summer of pedagogy in Wyoming at that time. So I was up there, but I hadn't had any pedagogy. I didn't know anything about it! [Laughter.] That was really a fun adventure.
I have in there letters I wrote. Mother saved all those, thinking I might want to write it up sometime. It was really fun for me. I'd always wanted to be in the wild west with room, so I was the only person in the whole landscape when I got up there. The kids, I had some Indians. I remember it took us two days to get there from the railroad. We went in a prairie schooner
(covered sleigh), believe it or not. We stopped overnight in this big half-way house, which was the most awful place you could imagine. But to me, you see, this was adventure. I was having adventure. So I was very popular at the school, because mostly they got crummies from Salt Lake that couldn't get any other jobs except this god-forsaken place. But to me, it was just what I wanted. I would go out and walk. That seemed very strange, because they'd ride horses to go across the street. All the way over, this bunch of sheep men, they were telling me about what happened to the last schoolteacher. Her throat was cut by one of the Indians and they threw her out the window. Of course, I thought I was being kidded. Actually, the incident was true. [Laughter.]
I went in the first morning, determined to say that, of course, I didn't believe in corporal punishment, but if there was any need for it, I would not hesitate to do it. Came clumping in these two great big half-breed Indians, so I changed my speech. I didn't mention anything about that. We'll skip it.
Biagi: How many students did you have?
Beebe: I only had about eight or nine, and only one of them had a mother. The mothers all died out there. [Laughter.] I had the upper grades, and the other teacher had the lower ones. Then the third room we lived in. We had to bring our water from across the road, dip it out of a little stream that ran through the barnyard with all the animals walking across it. Mother was writing to me, "For goodness sakes, boil your water!" Which I did. I boiled it. And we cooked on wood, a wooden range and a wooden stove.
Biagi: How long did you stay?
Beebe: I stayed through June. I was asked to come back, too. But no, I still wanted to get to California.
I forgot to say that when I was in Salt Lake, I got the Ed/Pub and wrote one letter a day to a California paper applying.
Biagi: Editor and Publisher? Is that what you're saying?
Beebe: Yes, Editor and Publisher, with all the papers in it. I took a California paper a day and wrote a letter each day. I got some very nice replies, but no jobs. But I still had it in mind. However, at the end of June, I was home again—no job, no money. Well, I did. I got my check all at once—$405, I think, for the three months. It was good stuff.
Biagi: So this would have been which year?
Beebe: 1922. Of course, it seemed natural to me to go home in the summer and lie around. By that time, the little lake cottage we had, Father and Mother had built their permanent home there
Biagi: Where was that?
Beebe: At Forest Lake, Kansas. It was on an electric railroad to Lawrence by the University of Kansas. We were half-way between Kansas City and the University of Kansas there. It was a little handkerchief-size lake, very pretty, with hills around it, and a clubhouse. They had built there. I had the summer at home, trying to see what I was going to do next.
That is when I got word that my roommate's husband now had become editor of the Capital Times and horribly needed a society editor. He knew how I hated it, but it was a job.
So that sounded good to me. So back I went to Madison. Also, the glamour boy was there, and I thought this was going to be fun, you know. It wasn't. [Laughter.] This is at the Capital Times in Madison.
Biagi: The glamour boy is Stearn.
Beebe: He died last week, 93, up here [October 1989]. He didn't marry any of us, but he remained single until he was about to retire early in his fifties, then married a red-headed Catholic gal in the office and had eight children. They came out here to live. They were our neighbors up at West Ridge in Tortola Valley. So the rest of his old group, they all came back to Stanford and took me in. I was a member of that group for all those years. Now I think I'm, with one other, the only leaf left on the tree.
Biagi: So Noel was there?
Beebe: Yes, he was, but he was interested in another gal. He was interested in all the gals, anyway. There was Mickey Hahn, by the way. Do you know—the New Yorker. She's written several books—Emily Hahn. Then my roommate was having a baby and I couldn't have cared less, you see. My thoughts were not that way at all. Of course, she was all taken up with that. I couldn't get anyplace to live in the university end of town; I had to go on a streetcar way into the other end of town, go to a job as society editor of the third ranking paper. It just wasn't much good.
So then through the journalism department at Wisconsin, they said that there was a job at Fond du Lac, on the Fond du Lac paper. Again, it was women's editor. Of course, I would grab any way I could get my foot in the door. But when I wrote, I got a reply that they had just filled that position, but they did need a reporter, and if I knew of any, would I tell them. I told them I was one, and I persuaded them to take me on, on the news side. So I went to Fond du Lac.
Biagi: That paper is what?
Beebe: Dead. I've killed a lot of papers. The Journal is dead; the Salt Lake Telegram is dead, and this was the Fond du Lac Daily Commonwealth. Oh, but it was a skinflint paper.
Biagi: Why do you say that?
Beebe: Well, when I was pressing for a raise, I still had my $35-a-week as my idea that I should be paid, and I was paid $30 there. When I applied for a raise because I knew I was doing all right and they were pleased, they said, "Well, how about $2.50 a week for a raise?" I said, "Well, it seems so little, I guess I'll wait until they get to five." So they did five.
Biagi: They did five?
Beebe: Yes! It was funny. That was a fairly pleasant time. This was the first time I had a beat. It was a court beat. The opposition for the other paper was the brother of Grant Hyde at Wisconsin, so he was friendly. Of course, he was also a good newspaperman and he was in that little town because his wife wouldn't leave it. Her family was there. He was stuck there. I had extra help in that whatever we covered, you see, I could see what he did with it in his paper, because I never got any help at my own paper.
Biagi: How many other people worked at that paper?
Beebe: My paper? Well, it was fairly sizable. I was outside, you see. The typewriter I was given—[Laughter]—I was the last man in, so I got a typewriter—I don't know if you've ever seen one.
The capitals are up here and the others down here. I'd never seen a thing like that, and it was just ready to fall to pieces. But I, of course, had to do it and I struggled with it. After I'd been there about two weeks, I got up suddenly and my dress caught on it, pulled it off on the floor, and it broke. There weren't two pieces of it together. So that took care of that. I had to get another typewriter. That was an improvement. That's the chief thing that stands out about that journalistic job.
Biagi: Where there ten people there? Fifteen? Twenty reporters?
Beebe: Fifteen, twenty, all going around. The editorial room was fairly spacious. There was a women's department. I had the beat. There was a city editor. It was a regular set-up. The managing editor had his more important desk. They had all the structure.
Biagi: Were there any other women reporters?
Beebe: No. There was this women's society editor, but no.
Biagi: Other than your typewriter, do you remember other stories you covered that were interesting?
Beebe: Goodness. I just remember one time when I scooped my opposition because Bill Hyde had gone home. [Laughter.] He and my predecessor had been in considerable competition, but he felt that I was a neophyte and it wouldn't be quite fair. So he more or less shared what there was. He had gone home and I got it, and his paper jumped him about this story. That was sort of fun, and he laughed about it, too.
I'll tell you a thing I do remember about it, though the assignments really were not much. I did learn a little about the courts. Speeders were brought in to the municipal judge if they were going 30 miles an hour, because 28 was the speed limit. We had a collection of that. We had a horrible old municipal judge that married people. He had tobacco juice all streaming down his vest. [Laughter.] I wondered how the poor brides and grooms could stand it.
I remember covering a Highway Commission meeting in the middle of winter, when it was almost 20 below zero, and it was in a basement with everything shut tight, and they all smoked pipes, strong pipes. And I had a cold. [Laughter.] I didn't know whether I was going to survive that or not.
But the thing I remembered was that I got the offer of this job just before Christmas, and I think I managed so I could go home for Christmas, come back in January. I still had the academic idea, you know, you went home on vacations and came back in January. After I'd been there two or three weeks, I found that when they put their finger on me, they had fired a man whom they didn't care for, I guess, a week before Christmas—a man with five children, and without any further notice. That was it. He might have gotten a week's salary, but that was about it. Of course, I was cheaper. That I remembered when the Guild was organized. That was one thing I remembered and used to tell others later when they got kind of bored with the Guild. "What did the Guild ever do for us?"
I said, "You don't really realize what it did for people, especially who were not going to go anywhere else and they were stuck in those cubbyholes and were trying to raise families and never got home for holidays, never got any extra pay, never got any pensions, never had any notice for firing. You just don't know what it was like." That was one example.
The other was one when I was later on the Star. Wilbur was the son of a mechanical person in the Star who thought it would be much more prestigious if Wilbur would be a journalist.
So Wilbur was hired and he was there for ten years doing accidents and roundups of little obits and whatnot. Finally, they decided that Wilbur wouldn't do, and they fired him. Now, of course, under the Guild, after two years they would have had to decide about Wilbur. But he'd lost ten years and they just fired him without any notice after one of their periodic lookings-over of the staff. He was dead wood and whatnot, and they decided they could do without Wilbur. That was the other thing I would tell them about the Guild.
Biagi: Was anybody in this point in your life, in your family or anywhere else, saying, "What do you want to do with the rest of your life? Do you want to be a reporter forever?"
Beebe: I have just found a letter that I wrote to my father. He asked me what kind of a job did I want. Do you want me to read it? It's not too long. I came across it and can lay my hands right on it. I'll bring it in. [Tape interruption.]
"Dearest Father, For some time I've been meaning to drop you a note and thank you for keeping me so well posted while Mother was away when I first arrived," and so on. This is when I was out here at Stanford, my first job being a secretary, which I had never trained for. It's 1923. Father always said, "You know, if you have secretarial training, you can always get a job and that's a good place to start." I didn't want to do that.
"In this job it doesn't take a great while to learn the foibles of one's boss, and then it's a simple matter to watch him cater to them. But on the other hand, it means making a point of doing things another person's way, not good executive business training," and so on. "However, it's a very pleasant sort of existence and certainly is not a very great strain. I have been somewhat disappointed lately to learn there will not be as much of the journalistic writing here as I had at first thought. Everything is so extremely conservative that it is really impossible to keep a straight newspaper point of view. In fact, the newspaper correspondents about here seem to regard Mr. Smith more as a professor than a newspaperman. It wouldn't hurt most of them, though, to absorb a little of his integrity and idealism." [Laughter.] Prig!
"You were interested to know what kind of a job I would really like. I remember that phrase very vividly, for I have thought of it a number of times, since when I am tempted to pick to pieces one kind or another of legitimate employment. I have tried to analyze the things I would want, and find that they are about these: absorbing work which means putting the best you have in you into it and using your head at high tension; ethical work, which means that you are harming nobody and that your effort is for an end beneficial to humanity as a whole; interesting work that entails meeting and dealing with people and having a variety of contacts; well-paid work, in which one could expect to become a person of importance and unquestioned standing in the minds of fellow beings; and work that leaves time for one to enjoy active play. As far as jobs go, there ain't no such animal, of course, since this is only the earth. There are lots of things which would meet one or two of these requirements, but nothing which would meet them all, and there are probably more if I should stop and think about them a little more carefully." So that was my thought process in 1923.
Biagi: Sure it was. Well, at Fond du Lac.
Beebe: Yes. I left there after six months. I figured it was time to move on. I still wanted to get to California. That was the only goal I had, not a very lofty goal, but a newspaper job in California was still the goal.
So I went home again, of course. Should I even tell you that we hitchhiked home, a college friend of mine and I? Because glamour boy had been doing this, and, of course, that gave us the idea. So we did that.
Biagi: This is a woman friend?
Beebe: Yes, a woman friend that I had had at Wisconsin, who had a teaching job in a neighboring town. I knew nobody in Fond du Lac when I went there. I had to get a boarding house place to eat and a room. It was kind of grim, too. I didn't mind. I was on my own, and it seemed adventurous and independent and so on. So she, who had been one of glamour boy's favorites, and I decided we would do this. We got into khaki pants. I wore my brother's World War I pants with boots. It was hot weather. [Laughter.] Believe it or not, I actually had a gun. I'd been covering police, too, and I told them what I was going to do, and they said, "You should have something." So I went down in the basement to their police target range and they gave me a .38. All I could get was a blood blister trying to pull the trigger. [Laughter.] I subsequently got a little .22 and I had that. I don't think there were any laws about it at the time. I never used it, but I had it.
Biagi: Where did you keep it?
Beebe: In my hip pocket! We had sacks on our backs. Oh, was it hot. Anyway, I wrote home. Of course, I knew the folks would have a fit, so I left letters to be mailed after I went so that they would still be getting letters. They knew I was coming, but I said I hadn't got my ticket, just what day I'd be home. Well, we made it in about six days. It was fun. That's another story. It was fun and we got there and surprised them. Of course, we were safe then, so that was all right.
Then it was that summer that I got the letter from Elinor Cogswell, whom I had met by mail only.
Biagi: She was Noel's friend?
Beebe: Well, yes. She was part of this Stanford bunch. She, in fact, was sort of the head of it. She was really older than the rest a little bit. She had found that the head of the journalism department at Stanford needed a secretary, and he was also, with his left hand, publicity director for the university in his odd moments. So that appealed to me, you see. I thought I'd get some connection with papers out here, and this would be a good opening. But I didn't have any secretarial training.
So I got a shorthand book and studied it on the train coming out. It took two days and three nights to get out here. It wasn't enough. [Laughter.] But he knew. He knew about it, and mostly he could say what he wanted in the letters, I could phrase them, and he could edit them. That went all right.
We also got out news releases, and almost all began the same way: "President Ray Lyman Wilbur announced today—" And the newspapermen did make fun of him for this, but I thought his theory was right. He said, "What the papers want is an authoritative source. They're going to rewrite it, anyway. This is really what they want." But they kind of made fun of the newspaper style. We ground out our releases with a mimeograph machine and there were four papers for the city, student correspondents. Some of those people I've met afterwards through the years.
Biagi: What was Stanford like then?
Beebe: It was a very, very pleasant place. Oh, that was such an easy job, you know, two hours at lunch and you'd just stroll around. Evvy Smith would come in in the middle of the afternoon and say, "I see no point in your staying on. I don't think there's anything more this afternoon." There was no push about anything.
Biagi: That's who you were working for?
Beebe: Yes. Everett Smith. He was the first head of journalism. At that time it wasn't even a department; it was a division, I think. He was there, and then there was Buford Brown, who did the business courses. And that was it. So I stayed for that academic year, which was very pleasant, indeed. Then Evvy gave me letters to all the papers in San Francisco.
Biagi: This would have been 1923?
Biagi: That's when you wrote your dad that letter.
Beebe: Yes, it was when I was working there.
Biagi: It says "the office" at the top there, doesn't it? Do you see?
Beebe: Does it say "the office?"
Biagi: October 19, 1923, when you wrote that letter.
Beebe: I had just been there a month or hardly that. I was quite new.
Biagi: You were typing all right.
Beebe: I'd been typing then ever since 1919, you know. But, of course, I never really had instruction in typing. Nuzie and I stopped when we got to the numbers and the extra things. If we could just do the others, we thought we had it fixed. So I really never learned to be a proper typist, but I typed better than lots of newspapermen, who used two fingers then. That was not at all unusual. My husband did it two fingers. You can do it pretty fast, you know.
Biagi: Yes. I saw a reporter the other day—I've never seen it before. He typed with his full right hand and one finger of his left hand.
Beebe: Now, that's a new one!
Biagi: Have you ever seen that one before?
Beebe: I wouldn't know about that. But when the electric typewriters came in, again, I was always a little bit leery about extra gear to get out of whack. I said, "My typewriter can go just as fast as I can think."
Biagi: Were you offered a lot of jobs?
Beebe: I wasn't offered any jobs at all. Oh, goodness, no. I went the rounds. I can remember Evvy saying—I told him I was experienced. After all, I'd worked on the Journal and I'd worked on the Fond du Lac paper, I'd worked on the Madison paper. I thought I had experience. He didn't say much about that. I can remember the letter he wrote. "She's a very quick and straight-thinking young woman." He knew what he was talking about. He said, "Bill Wrenn at the Examiner will probably look at your legs, anyway, instead of your record. You can tell them about that." [Laughter.]
So I went the rounds. The Chronicle, no, they didn't have anything at all. The Examiner was then the monarch of the dailies, you know. It ruled the roost on things, or thought it did. They were both morning papers then and separate. There was also the News, which was a Scripps-Howard paper, and the Call, which was the Hearst paper, and the Bulletin. There were all those papers. I went to all of them. I can remember the Bulletin was kind of the best. I had to nail the city editor, who was going with the story, "I want a job."
"Well, a little."
"Did you cover anything hot?"
I said, "I covered a fire once." [Laughter.] But no, he didn't have anything. They were courteous, they were nice, but they would let me know later.
In fact, when I went to the Examiner, I said, "But you'll be so glad to take my name and address and let me know."
He didn't like the fact that I wasn't believing him. He said, "No, I have something in mind. We have a correspondent up in Marin County who is so bad that not even a woman could be worse." [Laughter.] Again, I didn't bristle. I knew that's the way people thought. I knew also that I could probably do it all right. So I'm thinking of trying it there, trying it out there. He said, "When can you go to work?"
I said, "In June, when my—"
He said, "No, I wanted you to go up Monday. When you get ready to work, come back." So I wasn't going to leave Evvy in the middle of the academic year. I just wouldn't do that.
Then I went over to the Oakland Tribune, and the managing editor there was a Stanford graduate.
Biagi: What was his name?
Beebe: Leo Levy. He was tall, rather good-looking, Jewish, artistic, a good person. He said, "Well, what's going on down at Stanford now?"
I said, "Well, they're talking about doing away with sororities."
He said, "That might be interesting. You want to do a story about it?"
I said, "All right." And I did. I went and got the pictures of gals, and there was this movement about how cruel it was. Then there was the row and the sororities. It was quite a division there, and it was a bad, snobbish setup.
Biagi: The "row?" What are you describing?
Beebe: The row of sorority houses. Roble was the dormitory. So it was "Roble or the Row." I had quotes and these pictures, and they used the story on the front page. Then my boss, Evvy Smith, down here, got a call from the Chronicle. They said, "We never get anything out of Stanford. In the Tribune, there's a front-page story about sororities there."
He said, "Yes, that was written by my secretary, who tried to get a job with you and you didn't listen to her." [Laughter.] So that was fun.
The upshot was that I got a job on the society desk of the Oakland Tribune at $40 a week. Since at Stanford I had been getting $85 a month, that was big stuff. But $85 was all right. I had board and room of $55. I was on the campus. There were no other expenses. I had all that and $30 to spend. But, of course, it would be different in Oakland.
Biagi: Did you live in Oakland? You did move to Oakland?
Beebe: Oh, yes. I moved to Oakland. I went to work with the society editor, who was a legend. She had only a high school education, but she knew who were the "right" people to write about. Society departments were big then, you know. They wrote up all the weddings at length. They had great pictures, and Sunday there was a big spread of the people doing whatever they were. Although Oakland was sort of like Brooklyn to New York, nearly Piedmont (an exclusive San Francisco suburb) was top copy. So they had their upper crust. Dear Mabel!
Biagi: This is Mabel—
Beebe: Mabel Williams was society editor. She had no sense of humor whatever, and she was really pretty ignorant, you know. She'd say, "You came from the east. Did you know So-and-so?" The "east" being Kansas City. "She went to the university, I believe. Did you know her?" [Laughter.] She used to send her copy down with common pins, with it all stuck together, and it would stick in the tube. There was always a new story about Mabel. She was good for a laugh. One time she called up. She had a caption that had been wrong for some reason, and she called the city editor at 2:00 a.m. "This is Mabel. I'm way over in Forest Hill."
He said, "That's very interesting, especially at this hour."
She told him. She knew he went to work earliest because he was also the music critic, and he'd be early in the composing room and could catch her mistake.
Biagi: What was it like in the newsroom?
Beebe: That was the first time I was in a real paper with those characters you get. I just loved it, you know. There was a business editor, an automobile editor, a theater critic, and, of course, the news staff, columnists. There was a lot of camaraderie there. It was pleasant, but I was stuck with Mabel and I hated it, of course, terribly.
Biagi: What did you hate about it?
Beebe: Society? It was awful, you know. I didn't want it. It was calling up people and asking them what the bride wore or the tea party. The scoop was to get somebody's tea party before some other paper got the tea party. But nothing in it had any interest to it. The news side would take it away if there was anything happening.
I did have a break about two weeks after I came on. One of Mabel's sources, a society person who was a well-known woman, called and wanted to talk to her. She wasn't in yet. Her nephew had been killed in Central America. I got the story from her and went over and told the city desk I had it. They said, "Write it." I wrote it. I remember the lead yet: "Killed by a Stray Bullet," etc. The city editor came over with a first edition and he said, "Eight columns, front page is what you get today." That was a big thrill.
Biagi: That was about your second front-page story that you've described to me. The first one was for the competition. The Chronicle had the story about Stanford.
Biagi: That was a front page.
Beebe: They didn't connect that.
Biagi: No, what I mean is, that's another front-page story.
Biagi: That's unusual for somebody who's working in the society side.
Beebe: Well, I don't know. It's just sort of the breaks. I didn't think about it. The front page hadn't been written then, and I didn't think about it in those terms. I really didn't. I was pleased because they were pleased, but I didn't think it was so wonderful.
Biagi: Did you have a byline on those stories?
Beebe: I don't suppose so. I don't think so. I'm sure they wouldn't give bylines to a new recruit. They were given out later. That didn't matter. The Tribune had seven editions and two makeovers for the P.M. paper. In those days, the street sales were big, because there wasn't much radio, there wasn't T.V.; we were all there was. I have often been glad that I date back to the time when we were it and that there wasn't any other news media. It was a whole different setup than now.
I was there a whole horrible year, I guess until the next spring. Then I decided, since I had a friend at Stanford who had been given a car by her rich brother in Chicago and wanted to drive back to Chicago, I thought it would be fun to go with her. So I put in for a leave of absence.
Biagi: Which year?
Beebe: 1924, that would be. He [the managing editor, Leo Levy] was somewhat surprised. People didn't do that, I guess, but I think I was still in that academic business that you worked and then you had the summer, kind of. He said, "Well, I can see you now packing. I wish I could do something like that."
I said, "Well, because you're managing editor, you can't." [Laughter.]
He said, "Well, I can't do anything like that. If you want to go, go ahead. When you get ready to come back to work, you write us and we'll see if there's anything."
So with that, I said, "Well, I think I'll go." So we did. We drove across the country.
Biagi: What kind of a car?
Beebe: She had a Buick coupe. She had not driven before. By that time, I had bought a Model T Ford with side curtains, a touring car. I'd gotten it for $175. The garage man told me how to drive it.
Biagi: You'd never driven before?
Beebe: No, no. But, of course, already California was booming. As soon as Fords came out, things were booming. So I had this Ford. I left it with somebody, and off we went. We started from here. Or did we start from Oakland? Anyhow, between that and the midwest, the only paved roads there were outside of cities were 25 miles between Reno and Carson City. Otherwise, it was all just unpaved roads. We were not in any hurry at all. We stopped when we thought it was nice to stop, in the mountains or whatever.
Biagi: You camped?
Beebe: No, no. There were always hotels, you know. But I said, "We'd better have some kind of bed rolls, because when we get to Kansas, it's going to be hot and we won't want any stinky hotels. We might want to sleep out." I think we did sleep out once in California on the banks of the American River, with the river rushing by and the needles under us one night, by some other campers. We said we weren't really campers, but they said, "Fine." It was pleasant.
But we went through a stream and the car stopped. It got wet, you see. We got out of the stream, but it wouldn't go. It coughed and gave up. A couple of men came by and said, "What's the trouble?"
"We got it wet."
They looked and poked and everything. They said, "Where are you going?"
We said, "Milwaukee." [Laughter.]
Well, they tried some more and said, "We've got to go. We can't stay."
We said, "Okay. It's all right." We had oranges and crackers and we ate them. After an hour, it dried off and we went on.
It took us a month, I think, to get back. I guess we went first to my house in Kansas City, and then we went to hers in Milwaukee. Then I went back home for the rest of the summer, I think. [Laughter.]
Biagi: The true academic pattern.
Beebe: That's right. I hadn't grown up, you know. In fact, I told them once on the Tribune, the day of the big game, I said, "I'd like to go to the big game." I said I had forgotten to tell them when I came to work that I only worked there between big games. They laughed and let me go. It was a very famous game, too.
Biagi: Oh, sure.
Beebe: It was the 1924 game, which is still in the—it was 20 to nothing against Stanford, and Stanford tied it in the last minute or two minutes or something.
Biagi: Worth going for.
Beebe: Yes, except I missed it, because somebody died in the stands behind me, and I thought, "Oh, it's probably somebody important. I'll have to find out who that is and phone it." By the time I got back to my seat, the score was 20-20. And he wasn't anybody important. [Laughter.]
Biagi: So you stayed with your parents for the summer?
Biagi: You're now 23, 24. Was anybody saying to you, "Isn't it time for you to get married?" Was anybody asking you about marriage?
Beebe: No, no, because, you see, this was the twenties. The girls in high school got married to the postman or somebody and went home and had kids. It just didn't look good to me. I knew I expected to get married sometime, and I wanted a family. I thought that would be the thing. But I wanted somebody who would sweep me off my feet, because I would have to give up all my so-called career, and I wanted a chance to do it. You got married or you worked. You didn't do both. I knew which one I wanted to do first. So, no, my parents never put any pressure at all on me. I wasn't like Daisy May, who was an old maid at 19, you know. There wasn't any pressure that I felt. I was having a ball, and I had my goal of working on a paper in California, so I expected to go back there, and I did.
Biagi: Want to take a break?
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Biagi: You're in the newsroom. I wish you would talk a little bit about that.
Beebe: I went back to Kansas City again, and then I began to write to Mr. Levy when it came time to come back, to try to get out of society. "Couldn't I get on news?" I got nowhere. Of course, that was a big concession, anyway, to take me back. I wanted to come back, the place there was society, so I had to come back to society.
Biagi: So you came back. Was that September?
Beebe: I can't tell you exactly, but it was the summer that I was at home, so it would be in the fall, anyway, sometime. I had, however, a good break soon afterwards, because a new paper was started in Oakland. Hearst decided to move over and start a new paper—PM, I guess. It didn't last very long. But the first thing they did was come and raid the staff of the Oakland Tribune, take three of their best rewrite men all at once. I heard about this, and so I stamped across the room and said, "How about taking me now? I do want to get on the news side."
Roy Danforth, who was the city editor, was a little hunchback, and he was very well liked. He was also the music critic. He had a sense of humor and he was a well-liked person. He said, "We start people. We usually put them out in the bureaus, over in San Leandro or something."
"I do know how the office works, and I don't know anything about that over there. It's rewrite people you want. Couldn't I try out?"
So he, being very hard up, took me on. "You have to get to work at 7:00, you know."
I said, "I know." I never liked getting up early. My little Ford, by that time, that I had, and I was living in Berkeley with a couple of students. I was still kind of campusing, you see.
I can see Roy. One time I was standing there, and he said, "You may approach." There was a nice spirit in the office. They didn't take themselves too seriously, you know. Rewrite was fast stuff. We had these seven editions, and the first thing, you got there and there were all those morning-paper clippings, which we had to rewrite for the early editions of the Tribune. I survived. One time I said something about 7:30. I was a little hungry. Everybody came to work and then they went out afterwards for breakfast. I always got breakfast first, because I couldn't move much without it. I said, "I need some food."
"Well, you're getting to be a regular rewrite." But I liked it, even though it was a push, because speed was really—I was never as fast as my mother or brother. If they leave me alone, I'll take as much time as there is. But I knew I had to do it fast, so I kept pushing and did.
About that time, Roy went on a vacation. An assistant city editor, who nobody liked, he was a Hearst-trained person, had had paralysis of some kind, so that when he walked, his feet kind of flapped. You could always tell when he was coming across the room. He had fiery red hair, all frizzy, and lots of freckles. He was rather crude, too. He decided that he wanted Roy's job. While Roy was on vacation, he moved into the chair and made a lot of extra stuff and a lot of show for the powers that were, and nudged Roy out of his job. That kind of paper, family-owned, Knowland, didn't fire people. They made him assistant managing editor—just boosted him up. But there was Pinky. Pinky Norton was in the seat. I felt—oh, it weighed on me that this horrible creature now was the city editor. The city editor, as you know, is king, czar. They own you. [Laughter.] Then I thought, "Well, if I can please this Hearst-trained guy, I can probably survive anywhere. So I will just put my mind to it and see what he wants and see if I can do it." And I did win him over. I have a letter from him. I don't know whether you saw that or not.
Biagi: No. I'll look.
Beebe: Anyway, he would come flapping over and say, "This isn't sensational enough!" I wouldn't say anything. I'd just wait until he made a suggestion and I'd do it. Well, I did it. Pretty soon, I was the one doing all the main front-page crime stories, and that was the era of the bandits. It was after the First World War, and a lot of the soldiers came home and they were hard up, and they robbed banks and things. We had crime and bandit stories, and I knew them all by their first names. [Laughter.] When I would say, "Boy," they would come fast, because the copy boys always know who has the front-page stories. I was in my element. I just loved it, because it seemed big stuff after that horrible society thing.
Beebe: I felt, "Well, I'm here. I'm doing it now."
Biagi: Were there any other women doing that kind of reporting at the Tribune?
Beebe: Oh, no, no, or anywhere else.
Beebe: There was one woman who covered Berkeley, by the way, and that was one of my arguments with Roy to give me a chance. I said, "How about Rose Glavinovich?"
He said, "Well, we might make another Rosie of you." Rosie Glavinovich was one darn good reporter and she covered the University of California, had good sources, and was well thought of there. But she was a great exception. Of course, she wasn't in the office. Keep the
women out of the office, except over there in society. So I was on rewrite row, you see. The men wore their hats.
Biagi: Describe that newsroom.
Beebe: It was noisy. Desks were joined together, so there were two rows of them. Kind of like the front row, we had mostly front-page stuff, and many of the men wanted to get off that, you see. They didn't want to do that; they wanted to do features and edit special stuff. That's why I had the chance to, because they were eager to get their names in the paper and do things otherwise. I was eager to show I could do it with the regular and take the gaff for the regular things.
I can see Pinky Norton coming in. I could hardly get my hat off and slide my chair, and here he'd come with his hands full of clippings. "Write! Write 'til you almost collapse!" he would say. He did all the front-page stuff. You could hardly believe it. But he loved it. He was one of a kind I've met since in newspaperdom, who lives, breathes, and thought nothing but papers. I've seen him on his day off. I drove by him one time and he was on a park bench, completely surrounded with newspapers. That was his life and all he cared about.
So you see, I had then made my mark when, all of a sudden, this Bluebird rumpus occurred.
Biagi: Describe for me what the Bluebird book was.
Beebe: Bluebird was just a Christmastime project. Instead of having as many papers do a party for inviting all the poor children, they asked people to write letters and asked the post office to give them Santa Claus letters. Then they took these names and they got the stores to give toys. They had the party, but they also went around to homes and left toys at some of these homes. I was told by the receptionist outside of the door there that this trail of people that got the toys were mostly Portuguese, that she had a very low opinion of them, of course, and that the beggars were getting it all, and the people whom the social workers knew about, and the families that had pride, never wrote, and that it was not good.
Well, I was supposed to do this one year. I had to do a story a day. I had the letters and I would pick the ones that were the sobbiest and use them and make a little lead to it. Apparently, they got more money in that year than they had at all, and I was groaning about it when Roy went by one day. I said, "This is awful."
He said, "Well, one thing about it, you only have to do this one year. We never make anybody repeat."
Biagi: This was what year, then, that you did it?
Beebe: Let's see. It must have been '25, probably. Yes, because then came the next year and they asked me to do it. I made the mistake of saying, "Well, I was promised not to have to do it." Meanwhile, Roy was no longer city editor.
They said, "Who promised you?" and I had to say, and I realized it was a mistake, because the managing editor said, "We don't make promises of that kind," and got very stiff about it. Then I got stubborn and didn't want to do it. I went into the managing editors' office, and he reminded me that when I came to work, he said women always blew up over something and that they didn't want women, and he reminded me. He said, "Remember when you came here to work?"
I said, "Yes, I do." I had thought of all this. Well, he very kindly said he had to do a lot of things he didn't like and I'd better go out and do it, and that I had gotten better results, and they wanted me to do it again. Well, I walked around and decided I could do it after all—but wouldn't. I had a lot of soul searching about it, and I laugh at it now, but then it seemed very serious.
So the next morning, when Pinky, with his flaming hair, came over and said, "We want a story on this now," and put it down, I looked at him and said, "I'm not going to write it." Well, he was usually very profane and loud, you know. He almost had apoplexy. He swallowed hard, then said, "Well, you can't stay here."
"I know that."
And he said, "You're foolish!"
I said, "I know that, too." And the upshot was that they had a big to-do about it. You see, Pinky Norton didn't want to let go of me now. I was very useful to him. He'd got me trained just the way he wanted it. So he didn't want it, Roy didn't want it, and Leo Levy didn't want to fire me, either. But how can you do anything else if that's what you're going to do on a paper, as I had acknowledged in the first place? But instead of going home, I just thought I'd stay and make them fire me. They had an awful time about it. Finally, I got the letter from Leo Levy that told me I'd have to go. Leo said he was very sorry and I could stay until the first of the year, which meant another six weeks or so, and he'd give me recommendations and so on.
Biagi: Why didn't you want to do the story?
Beebe: I just felt that the newspaper was using its power to encourage begging, and that if we worked with the social workers—now, the New York Times had what they called "100 Neediest Families." They were doing it in a little bit more scientific way and trying to find the people who really needed it, whereas we were just bidding for people to exploit us. It just seemed wrong to me. Of course, what I didn't know was that it was a sacred cow in the paper because it had been engendered, in the first place, by a man who lost his wife to the managing editor. So the managing editor was very careful to preserve this project.
Biagi: Had you talked with anybody else about it? Who did you talk to about it?
Beebe: I talked with my Palo Alto friends. I was coming down here for weekends. Elinor Cogswell was my friend for 60 years. They followed all my agony from step to step. This took—oh, I don't know, two, three, four weeks before they finally managed to bring themselves to—poor Leo really hated to fire me. He was a nice person. I wrote him a letter afterwards and said, "I know you had to do it. I would have done it, too, in your place. Don't feel too bad about it." [Laughter.]
So I was still working there and beginning to go over to the city and try to get a job in San Francisco, which was very nice that they said they'd give me recommendations. Also, you were expected to try to get to the big town, rather than the East Bay paper, although the Tribune did very well. But still, it was not San Francisco.
It was then that my father died suddenly. I just had to go home, so I went home to be with Mother. So I really never stopped working there. I just went home then.
Biagi: Before the end of the year?
Beebe: Yes. Father died on—I remember—December 14, 1926. I got the telegram, "Father very ill. Come home." Of course, you didn't fly then. It took two days and three nights, and I knew that I was going to leave for good, that I would be staying with Mother. Well, you just took that for granted. She already was having her career. She was in the bank. It was not quite the same as a poor old mother who was going to cling; she was a person in her own right. But Father was her whole world.
Biagi: What was her job by this time in the bank?
Beebe: She was the manager of the women's department there. I don't know whether she was an officer of the bank or not, but she always was department manager. Then there was no question but that I would try to work in Kansas City. Of course, I had worked on the Journal there. I went back to the Journal and they said, yes, maybe I could work for $30 a week. I'd been earning more. In fact, I had gotten raises on the Oakland Tribune, and they demanded, "Don't tell anybody, because you're getting more than some of the men." That would never do!
Biagi: How much were you making at the Tribune?
Beebe: I think it was $48.50, which was all right. So to go back to $30? That seemed pretty bad.
So now comes a really shameful incident. I got my job on the Kansas City Star by sheer pull. There was no other way you could do it. I don't know whether your fame goes to—oh, dear, a New York writer on the New York News, who did politics and had a column and was quite famous.* When she met me in New York and said, "You mean you got to work on the Kansas City Star? Let me touch you. I bombarded the Star for almost a year and I couldn't break them down."
And I said, "Just be calm. I didn't get it through anything except just sheer pull." The way that happened was that the Star—you know your history of journalism and William Rockhill Nelson. He had died, and the paper was in hock at the time. It was in sort of a trust to the three universities of Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, I believe, and to the banks. So there was quite a period there when it was really kind of a headless horseman. Since my mother was in the bank, and since Mr. McLucas of the bank was a very powerful person and he was sympathetic with Mother's loss, her first husband, said, "When your daughter gets ready to work on the Star, let me know."
I thought, "How awful! I don't want to get a job that way." So I went down and tried to see the city editor, and I did. I had some clippings. I just got mumbles, polite, but nothing happened at all. I was getting absolutely nowhere. So I thought, "Well, I've got to live in Kansas City. The Star is it, so why don't I? They don't know I'm any good. I know I'm any good. So all right." I said, "Mother, go ahead. Tell him."
So I suddenly got a call from the Star, and I went down. I was escorted over to the Sunday editor's desk, a very charming gentleman, and he talked for an hour to me, very pleasantly, fluently, and I had a lovely chat. I went away and nothing happened.
In about a week, Mr. McLucas stopped at my mother's desk and said, "Did your daughter get a job on the Star?"
She said, "No, she hasn't heard. She went to talk, but nothing's happened."
He frowned and went back to his desk. The next day, I got summoned to come to the Star. Well, I felt just awful, you know. I felt, "Oh, what a way to have to get a job!" They didn't want me. I was in Coventry for weeks. They gave me nothing to do. [Laughter.]
Biagi: Who was this person, the Sunday editor? Do you remember?
Beebe: Ruby Garnett. Yes, I do. He was a charming person. I knew everybody afterwards. The Star was a wonderful experience. They had had at one time a woman who did the schools. They didn't call them education editors, but she "did the schools." She was not there anymore, and they thought that I might do the schools. So they got an old desk from the basement. It was just a wreck, and an old typewriter, and put me down at it. Mr. Nelson's idea was that everybody should be in one room. It was nearly a block long. Everybody was there, so you wouldn't have cubbies and you couldn't sleep behind walls. Everybody knew what everybody else did. That was his theory. I was put down toward the back entrance, way back as far as you could get. [Laughter.] And this awful old desk. Well, that was all right. At least I had something to do. I could go to the schools and went down to the school board and started to see what I could do.
One day the business manager and the publisher—I guess the Nelsons' son-in-law, he was the only one who had a separate office. He was quite a wild gentleman and had a cane, was a sophisticate, but I don't think he did anything much except just kind of come in and go to lunch. But he and the business manager were going out, and they had come back the back way from lunch. The business manager looked at that desk and said, "What is that thing?"
"This new person that they hired, they had to get a desk for."
"It's terrible. Take it out." So when I got back from lunch, I didn't have anything! [Laughter.] So there was nothing but to sit me up in what they called "the pit." Instead of desks all along, they had long tables. Then typewriters were fastened to the floor at intervals, because, you see, we had the Star and the Times and the Sunday paper. So there was a rotation. Nobody had any drawers, nobody had any desks, and they sat me in front of one of these typewriters and gave me no assignments. I really suffered through this.
Of course, I did know that the time would come when there were some stories coming in and there wouldn't be anybody else to call on. I got one from some drowning in a bus accident down in the country somewhere. They suddenly heard my voice raised, because I was trying to get what I needed. I said, "What did they say when—" I was working at it and got the story. It seemed to be all right.
Then, too, I was covering the school board. They came around and said, "If you need a taxi to get home, of course, you could do that."
I said, "Are you sure? I live out at Forest Lake, 15 miles in the country." [Laughter.] So I always stayed overnight at the hotel downtown at my own expense. I figured, well, it wasn't their fault that I was commuting from the country.
They wouldn't send me alone to cover the school board, either; they didn't trust me for that. They had one of their regular staffers. I got a break then, again, because at one of the first meetings there came up the question of a dance class after school. Now, remember, this was midwest, and the idea of schools promoting dancing? This was going to be viewed with some alarm. So I thought, "Well, this is a pretty good story." When we came home, he said, "I'll write the budget story," which was always on the front page, the school budget.
I said, "I'll just write this one about the dance class." So I did, and mine was the one that took the front page, and his trailed under it.
The next day, I think, the city editor—I was working under the night staff. They came on about 2:00, and I had a funny little third assistant city editor for the night side that would give me some assignment that would keep me after 5:00, and I was trying to drive Mother home. It was a mess. The city editor on the day side said, "Don't pay any attention to that old man." It was a very unusual organization.
After that school board story—no, I guess it was the next one. The next one, they had a new plan, a pay-as-you-go plan financially. By that time I had met them down there and I knew these people, and I talked to the head of the school board and brought the story in.
Biagi: What did that mean, a pay-as-you-go plan?
Beebe: It was to finance with money that you wouldn't go into debt. You'd spent it as you went. They thought it might work better. Anyway, I wrote the story and it made the front page. "Did you have some experience before you came here?" the day editor asked me.
"This is my sixth paper and I told everybody that when I was trying to get a job." [Laughter.]
So then I was moved over to the day side, and from then on, I had it made. As I've often told other young women who wanted to go into newspaper work and wanted to get on the news side, I said, "You know, you've got to look out for something, because you have nothing to beat. Their expectations are so low that exceeding them doesn't take much effort. Then they think you're wonderful, and you can get the idea that you're more important than you are. Compared to what they thought you'd be, you know, 'You write like a man. You're wonderful! This is a very great exception.'" And there were quite a number of those young women beginning to try it.
Biagi: At the Kansas City Star?
Beebe: Oh, no, not the Star. Oh, no. Heavens, I was still the only one on the regular news staff. But I've had occasion to meet them and every one would laugh. They all were thought to be exceptional. They really were like newspaperwomen; they weren't sob sisters. They were exceptions.
Biagi: What was the attitude in the newsroom towards you generally?
Beebe: At first, of course it was hostile. I remember one dreadful feeling of rebuff I had. I was sitting there on this row and there was nothing going on, so they were talking about something, and all of a sudden I put my oar in and made a comment. Instead of acknowledging it, they just looked at me as if I were a two-headed eagle or something. "What's this?" And never acknowledged anything and went right on talking as if I hadn't spoken. I had forgotten, because the atmosphere was the same, more or less, as the Oakland Tribune, and we were all such friends. I'd forgotten for the moment. That was when I was being in Coventry pretty much. But I had no other place to sit. But as I began to do the stuff, yes, they were not only friendly, but very helpful.
Biagi: What about the people you covered? Was there any reaction to you?
Beebe: No, I don't think so, because I still had the schools beat. People know you. They feel comfortable. Also, to write the story and it comes out the way they wanted, or at least if there
were no mistakes in it, why, they're delighted. These reports began coming back. I guess maybe I'd been there a year when I heard Mother was told by Mr. McLucas, the banker, that out in the country club front porch, George Longan, the managing editor, had bored everybody for 40 minutes talking about me, about what a surprise it was and how they hadn't wanted to take me on, and how glad they were they had me, and so on. Of course, Mr. McLucas was very pleased because he would have made them take me, no matter. [Laughter.]
So I was then set. You knew how you stood by the assignments that you were given, you see. That's what your status depended upon. You began to get out-of-town assignments. Of course, Kansas City is not a place where a lot of exotic things happen, but, still, we had things that did happen. I was sent to Columbia to cover a sex-questionnaire rumpus down there at the university that almost dislodged the president. When they wanted me to cover it, they said, "Whom would you like to help you?" and let me pick one of the young men to take with me. Then there was a student correspondent down there, too. That turned out to be a very interesting assignment, but again, I had one of my experiences that depend on your being a woman.
We were all sitting out waiting for the board. The board was meeting on whether to fire both the president and the head of the abnormal-psychology department, who had sponsored this sex questionnaire, which asked the students—anonymously, mind you—if they had had any sexual experience. The idea of the flower of Missouri womanhood being asked questions like that? Did the man have no sense at all? [Laughter.] So, you know, it was good copy. We were sitting out there waiting for what was going to come out of the board meeting. Finally, the president of the university, Stratton Brooks, came dashing out, went down the hall, and a whole pack of us followed him. He turned into his office and went through a door. I was along with the group. It was his john! [Laughter.]
Biagi: So you stopped.
Beebe: I backed away. Charlie Grumich was our student correspondent then, and he later was quite a big-shot with the AP. He never resisted twitting me about that. [Laughter.] I had friends there.
Biagi: There was no question how far you would go to get a story. [Laughter.]
Beebe: It's just that I thought he'd gone to get some data, you know. Here was all this crowd in this little narrow thing, and here suddenly I saw him starting to get on this john. I think he saw me at the same time, so, of course, I quickly fled. Since I had two helpers there, I didn't miss anything. But I felt pretty bad. So you do have experiences like that. It is true. And you understand, too, why they didn't want to fool with women.
On that Salt Lake paper, by the way, they didn't even have a toilet for women. Where I had to go was downstairs at the back, and it was icy, leading into a back alley, half a block down to the dimestore, and go in and use the public restroom at the dimestore. So they just didn't have women. That was that!
Biagi: What was the best thing about working at the Star, that you liked the best about it?
Beebe: Oh, they called it the Star family, and it was. We had parties. We had a group of good friends. The Star, also, it was kingpin. You had entré anywhere. It wasn't at all what you'd get in many places, about, "Reporters, get out of here," you know. "You're from the Star? Come right in." Although we did have our experiences, too. There was a very fashionable women's private school that had some kind of a tea, and they wanted it covered. They sent one of our quite good, very able writers, a little Irishman, Hubert Kelly. He stood there, and if somebody came by with a plate of cookies or something, they'd say, "Who are these?"
"Oh, reporters," and she passed him up. [Laughter.] We all, of course, roared at that.
But mostly, the Star had a great deal of power. It also had respect for writing. On so many papers, the desk people are the ones that have prestige, but they didn't have at the Star. When we got a new managing editor, Roy Roberts, who came home from Washington—he'd been Washington correspondent there—we gave him a party only for reporters—no deskmen invited. He was a reporter, too, you know. No deskmen were permitted. I was, of course, the only woman there, and I left early so they could tell their jokes.
Biagi: Did it ever make you feel uncomfortable at all?
Beebe: No, because so soon you were accepted. This is why I've always said it was a good thing. In subsequent jobs, for instance, at Stanford, I found that you never could get over the barrier, but on a newspaper, the city editor, the person getting out the paper, doesn't care if you're black, white, blue, male, female, or between. If you can do it, they can use you. If you can do it and you show you can do it, you have the respect of your colleagues. That's why I liked it. That's why I stayed with it. I turned down chances, one, to be a national women's correspondent in Washington, and one to be a Hollywood-star writer for the movie business. I didn't want either of those things.
Biagi: How did having that job affect your social life? Did it affect it in any way? Or did you have a social life?
Beebe: Well, you know, if you're not a couple, a social life isn't exactly conventional, anyway. I was happiest with the people that I knew and was with. Remember, I had grown up in Kansas City. We had family friends, too. Also, it was on the Star that I met the man I later married. That was a very long and agonizing thing, because he was married. Of course, one didn't do that then. We were both Victorian, so we didn't do it. That's why I went to New York.
Biagi: He was a reporter?
Beebe: When we were on the Star, we were taught to say very proudly that we were reporters. He was very much of a special writer and had prestige—well, he gave distinction to the paper and he just was in a class by himself.
Biagi: When did you first meet him?
Beebe: I met him first in what he was writing. He had been doing editorials and was pretty tired of that, so he became a roving correspondent. He was writing about California. Of course, I was very homesick for California. I just couldn't wait to get the paper in the morning, and I would burst into laughter and read the stuff aloud to Mother. I had never met him. I wasn't working there yet.
Biagi: What was his name? His byline said—
Beebe: He didn't have a byline. Nobody had any byline. Just "The Star's roving correspondent."
Biagi: So how did you know he was writing it, then?
Beebe: Well, I knew somebody was. I didn't care who it was.
Biagi: You didn't know it was him at that point?
Beebe: No. At the office I said, "This is wonderful. This is Pink's stuff." He was kingpin.
Biagi: That was his nickname, though?
Beebe: Yes. He was Pink. So I guess I had probably carried out the threat of Leo Levy. I blew up and finally I fell in love, and then later I had a family and the paper came last. So I guess I carried out all his fears. But then, as I pointed out, the men get drunk and also fall in love and are no good. They also blow up! [Laughter.] But I managed to work through it.
I was at the Star for five years. We had the first political convention nominating Herbert Hoover. I was completely ignorant about that. I hadn't even taken political science in college, although I was advised to. I didn't and I was sorry afterwards. But that was very interesting.
Oh, I don't know. What else happened that was exciting and different on the Star? I was sent to various things.
Biagi: Did you ever go back to the kind of police reporting or bandit stories and all those kinds of stories? Did you do any of that again?
Beebe: The Star didn't do much of that. You see, it was a different thing. You were interviewing people and writing whatever would happen, you know. We had a report that the hospital had blown up. At the time, they were taping a movie about the Star and how it worked, and they were having reporters rush up to the city desk and so on. We got this report about the blow-up, and the city editor came out and said, (whispering), "Explosion at research hospital. Will you get up there?" So I tiptoed out and rushed up, and it turned out to not be much. But by that time, it was established that anything that there was, you know, I could do.
I had an interesting story and was sent off to Iowa. A man had died there and left all his money to establish a library into which no woman should enter and in which no books by any woman should be. It sounded kind of freakish and interesting, so they sent me up to see what it was all about. It was very fascinating. He was dead, you see, and I went around to try to figure out, from everybody who knew him, how come. He was a great misogynist. But oddly enough, he'd gotten married three or four years before. "He certainly beat a path to my door," said his widow. Of course, the city had to question, because women were taxpayers. They weren't going to support such a library. There was a legal fight about it and whatnot, a whole page of Sunday stuff about it. It was very interesting.
Biagi: But you couldn't get into the library?
Beebe: You never find out. When the thing gets into litigation, you know, it's there forever. I suppose it just died a death. I don't know whatever became of his money. His widow told me that he was almost sick when he learned that Henry Mencken had gotten married. Remember?
Biagi: Yes, he said he would never marry. Fell deeply in love, really, Mencken did.
Beebe: Yes, he did. Then we had a very nasty crime trial there of a man who had kidnapped a child, a young teenager, from the next-door neighbor. He had dug a pit and put her in his yard and he kept her down there in chains.
Beebe: Yes. Oh, yes, for sexual purposes. She'd been there some weeks, I guess. So this was not the kind of crime that Kansas City was used to. It was rather a messy sort of thing. The city editor came over and said how did I feel about covering it. He said, "I would like to have you do it because I think you would be better to be able to write about it. It's pretty sensational stuff," which the Star was not. "But we want it. We want everything we can get, and we think you'd do it best."
I found out later that there was talk around. "Oh, what did they mean by sending a nice girl to a trial like that?" But I did it. It was, I guess, another feather in my cap at the city desk, as far as that went.
I got my name in the paper just once, and that was when I came back to California. I managed to get an extended vacation and some leave to go out and see my friends.