[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Knight: Today we're going to talk about the AP. I've even cut you off on stories in the past, when you started to talk. So tell me the story about how you came to work for the AP on the Washington bureau.
Campbell: The morning that I arrived in Washington to work for the AP—and I had never worked for a wire service before—the train arrived at eight o'clock. I started to go down the steps, and there was Sigrid Arne, this wonderful newspaperwoman that I had known in Oklahoma City. And she had become a feature editor for the AP and head of one of their big bureaus in New York City. Anyway, I wanted to say hello and welcome her, you know, and what she said to me was, "Do you know 'Silent Night?'" [Laughter.]
I said, "Well, I think everybody knows 'Silent Night.' Why?"
She said, "You're going to sing it at the White House tonight."
"I've never been in the White House, and I can't sing, but why?"
"Well," she said, "the Gridiron Widows always meet when the President goes to the Gridiron Club, and this year they've invited Mrs. Roosevelt to join them. Of course, whoever is the President is always the guest. But at any rate, Mrs. R. is going to invite them to come to the White House, and they always do a—" Well, no, I guess they didn't always. They were going to do a stunt party that night, like the Gridiron puts on a show. And one of the things, the Washington Press Club—then the Women's National Press Club—was going to do was to sing "Silent Night," and I was going to be in the chorus or the choir or what have you. So I accepted that.
But then I was shocked again, because she said, "We'll have to hurry, because you're supposed to report at the office right away." Well, nobody told me that. That I should go to work that very first morning at eight o'clock, you know, seemed a little odd and strong. But at any rate, I hopped in her car, and we went off to the AP office, which was in the Washington Star building on 11th and Pennsylvania at that time. When she took me up to the third floor, I believe it was, where the Associated Press had very much like a newspaper office, with a circular table, a half-circle, anyway, and people sitting around, working hard, either a typewriter here, editing here, and she took me over. First, she took me and introduced me to the bureau chief in his separate little office. At that time, the one I had known once, Brian Bell, had gone to New York with Kent Cooper, and so this was Milo Thompson.
Then we came out, and she started around the room with me. After a couple of people, well, after one, I guess, she said, "And this is Joe Short, who's the deputy day editor." And that was the Joe Short who I later married. [Laughter.] I didn't know it, of course, then, but he looked mighty nice, I thought.
Then we went on to Ray Crawley. That was really bad, because he said to me, "Miss Campbell, I'm going to want a night lead on your Gridiron Widows story at two
o'clock this afternoon." I guess I had to swallow or something, because I really didn't know anything about the Gridiron Widows, and I didn't know anything about the White House, and I didn't know what a night lead was. I'd always worked on an afternoon paper in whatever town I was in. You know, I didn't know all these Associated Press descriptions, but I didn't ask him. When I got away from there, I found somebody who could tell me what a night lead was, which meant that although I had to write it at two o'clock, I had to write it as if it had already happened, because it was going to be in the morning paper.
And so a lot of other things happened that day, but I was at the White House my first night working for the AP in Washington, and covering it. [Laughter.] And it turned out I wasn't too wrong on too many things, so that was the way it went.
I forgot. It was very feminine of me, I know, but the only evening dress I had was in a trunk, and I finally had a taxi driver help me open the trunk. We found the evening dress, but I couldn't find the belt. I was so embarrassed, meeting the woman I was going to cover for I didn't know how many years in the future, without a belt. I didn't have any belt, and it didn't seem to hurt our relationship. It had been hard for me to think of just covering Mrs. Roosevelt, because, however, the job was lots more than that, fortunately, or I wouldn't have wanted to take it. But I had read that she was very close friends with the newspaper women who covered her and sort of palsy-walsy, that kind of thing. And I never had been close—I didn't believe in being close to any of my news sources. You know, I wanted to be just as friendly as I could without ever being too close. So I had decided that if I got invited to one of the Sunday night—you stirred up a chafing dish or something, scrambled eggs—I was going to say, "No, thank you." But I didn't get invited, so I didn't have to worry! [Laughter.]
But at any rate, I had a very good experience with Mrs. Roosevelt. I didn't ever see this partiality, this leaning towards certain members, women, in her press conference. She had decided that there were going to be only women in her press conference. Of course, there had never been anybody who discriminated for women. There had been plenty of people who might discriminate against. But at any rate, the AP, I was proud to be working for, because it was the only news organization that had a full-time person who covered everything, not just Mrs. Roosevelt. Now, the United Press had hired Ruby Black to cover Mrs. Roosevelt's press conference, and there were a number of organizations—Mrs. Herman Gash for Universal Service, but most everybody just had a special somebody, a woman, and they hired her just—well, Frances Lide, a good friend of mine here, worked for the Washington Star. That's the reason she got her job, they told her, that they had to have a woman covering Mrs. Roosevelt's press conference. She was a good reporter and got to do other things later. But from the very beginning, they sent me to hearings, they sent me to interviews, all kinds of things. It wasn't just Mrs. Roosevelt. However, whenever she went anyplace, I went, too.
Knight: Did you know, when the job was described to you, that you would be doing more than just covering Mrs. Roosevelt?
Campbell: Oh, yes.
Knight: How did they describe the job to you before you took it?
Campbell: Just general assignments, and that's what I'd been on on the papers I'd been working for, so I thought that meant, you know, just anything they wanted to get rid of, they send you out on. But I liked it. I liked the variety of covering—well, in
Washington, that meant that sometimes I covered congressional hearings, sometimes I covered what would have been society in a smaller town, but here it would always be officials, senators and Supreme Court justices, and people like that.
Oh, that was one of the things, too, that caught me when I first came. You don't want me to jump off of Mrs. Roosevelt.
Knight: Please go on.
Campbell: Well, this was Byron Price, who had been chief of the bureau for a long time, was still here. I said he moved. He was leaving that next week, and there was a party for him on Saturday night. He invited me into his office and said, "I know this is going to be hard, but you're going to cover FDR's second inaugural." They had just changed it from March 4th, which it had always been, and this was the first time it was to be on January 20th. So he said, "You know, you'll need to know practically everyone. You're going to have the ticket for the inaugural platform, where he will be, and where Mrs. Roosevelt will be. So you'll need to know these people. And the only way I can help you is that they're having a party for me tonight at the Willard," I guess it was. And he said, "There will be an announcer who will stand right by me and Priscilla (his wife) to say who everybody is. You'll get the name as the couple, or person, is introduced. You know, you can learn 500 people in one night, can't you?" [Laughter.]
At any rate, maybe I couldn't, but the very next day, I met Jim Farley, the postmaster general, on Pennsylvania Avenue, on my way to work. His office was right across the street. And he said, "Hello, Beth, how are you today?" You know, there had been all these stories about what a name-rememberer he was, but that out of all those people—well, anyway, I didn't remember. I knew sort of who he was, but I couldn't think of his name. Oooh
!So actually, the inaugural came along in those few days. I got here on the 21st [of December], and the 20th [of January] was the inaugural date. The President and Mrs. Roosevelt were up at the Capitol on this special stage that was built out there in front. I wondered how in the world, if anybody moved or had to say, "So and so did this," or "So and so did that," how I would know who he was or she was! But the first thing that happened, it started to rain, and Mrs. R. went to the edge of the platform and reached down to a couple of women who were down there—maybe there were three—and told them to come up on the stage. And some Secret Service men or some policemen or somebody helped them get up on the stage, and she took them over, and somehow there were seats for them that probably hadn't been there before. They were old friends of hers with whom she ran a school in New York City. So I didn't know their names then, but I found them out somehow. Then who else? Well, there were all these Supreme Court justices and senators, and I had learned a lot of them, and I was pretty good then. Oh, boy, I'm terrible now, but I could really learn the names of a lot of people quite rapidly, and I did.
So when it was time to go, I mean, when the thing was finishing, I realized, right before that, I had this envelope, a big brown envelope, where I had put my notes in it as I wrote a page, so the rain wouldn't—I was using a pencil, and I knew I wouldn't be able to read a word if I didn't cover them up, so I had everything in this, including the tickets that the AP had given me, five of them, I think. There was one for this stage I was on, up above the inaugural platform; the next one was to get into the Senate Office Building and Capitol Building, where I could write my story, dictate it over the phone in the Senate press gallery, which was new to me, too; and then the next one was to get a taxi to go down so that I could watch the
inaugural go by, right across from the White House, where the President and Mrs. Roosevelt would be. Then the next one was to get into the White House grounds, to go write a story, and then another one to go to a tea at five o'clock in the White House personal part.
And just as I was leaving, when I realized it was breaking up, I reached for this brown envelope that had been tight under here, and I'd been putting stuff in it all the time, and it wasn't there anymore. And nobody around me had seen it; it wasn't on the floor. So there I was without my notes or without my tickets. I'd read a story in the paper—oh, it was in our own; it was an AP story by Eddie Gilmore, which was so funny, about how you couldn't go anywhere in Washington that day unless you had a special piece of paper. And here I was without any special pieces of paper! [Laughter.]
But I looked to see how far it was down to the platform, where all the big-shots were, and I figured it was about 9 feet. I figured I was pretty strong then. Let's see. I was 28 then, something like that. So I jumped. Well, fortunately, there was a young police officer down there, who caught me. You know, I might have gotten a pretty strong push on the feet if I had landed on my own feet, but he caught me. I thanked him and ran for the door where people were going into the Capitol, where they were going to have lunch, you know, except me; I was going to find that Senate press room. But there was Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, and I recognized her from her pictures, and I spoke to her, you know, as if I'd known her always, because I had seen that people did that in Washington. And sure enough, I just said, "I'm Beth Campbell of the AP, and it's nice to see you. How many of these have you seen since your own husband was President?" And we walked together into the Capitol. Then she went off to her luncheon place. I went off this way and found the Senate press gallery and dictated my story.
Then I decided the best thing to do would be to go across through the building. I had already found out about the little car down in the subway, between the Capitol and the Senate Office Buildings. So I got on that and came off, and got as far as I could away from the traffic that would be coming from everywhere. And sure enough, I got a cab. And I said to him, "We'll have a terrible time, I'm sure, because I've lost my ticket that tells you you can go anywhere, tells the police you can go anywhere."
"Well," he said, "you're just the person I've been looking for, because a man hired me at five o'clock this morning, who had all these tickets and gave me." And he showed me. He had them on his windshield. "But then he went off someplace and never came back, and I waited an hour and a half for him. I think it's time for me to take another passenger." So he drove me, sure, down right through everywhere, so that we got across from the White House. I don't know how I got in there, where you're supposed to have seats, you know, but anyhow, somehow I did, so that I could sit there and look right across. And the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, naturally, were greeting people, and people were coming up and congratulating him. It was a marvelous thing to watch. Then the parade was going by, too, which was interesting to watch—people from every state in the union.
Well, then it was getting time now I'd better go write a story, so I thought, "How will I get into the White House grounds?" And I thought, well, the only thing I could do, I mean, I'd been over there, I knew how they were protected, was to climb the fence. I had on a yellow slicker, which is what we wore in those days. It was raining still. So over the fence I went, and I, fortunately, made it, and got inside the White House without the policeman doing anything to me. Then I saw the
lieutenant governor of Oklahoma—-you see, I'm from Oklahoma originally—walking from the place where they watched the parade go by, towards the White House proper. So I said, "Hello, Governor! How are you?" You know.
And he said,"Hello, Beth. How are you? What are you doing up here?" He said, "Come on and go to the party with me."
I said, "I'm not invited to this one, Governor. I'm sorry." But at least I walked with him up to the White House.
He said, "I insist that you go." You know, very important.
And I said, "Well, I just know they won't let me in, because I have an invitation for five o'clock, but not for now. Or I'd had an invitation for five o'clock." [Laughter.]
So we went up to the door, and Ray Muir, I think that was who was the usher then, said, "I'm sorry, Miss Campbell, you must have the wrong time, because you're coming at 5:00."
And the governor said, "She's with me, though. I'm So-and-so of Oklahoma."
And Mr. Muir said, "I'm very sorry, Governor, but she'll have to wait 'til five o'clock. You must come on in," said he, welcoming him. So I slipped off and went over to the U.S. building, where I could write a story, and I called up. After I dictated everything that had happened after what I had already dictated at the Capitol, I said, "And don't forget, you owe me $13.95 for a yellow slicker." [Laughter.]
Knight: It sounds like you were pretty much on your own.
Campbell: Oh, I was.
Knight: You were learning the ropes. How different was it from the newspapers that you'd worked on previously?
Campbell: I don't know how to say any answer to that, really. It seemed very different to me in a lot of ways, but trying to convince somebody that you have a right to be somewhere, when you know you do, it's not as if you were trying to fool somebody and were cheating. I think if you really believe what you say, that most people, whether they're in Oklahoma City or Washington, and whether they're police or not, are apt to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Knight: But the job itself, did anyone help you learn the ropes? Did anyone realize you'd come from a print background and not a wire background?
Campbell: Oh, yes, everybody helped me. Oh, that lovely Rags Ragsdale, who wrote a book about Presidents, a wonderful book, had the desk right next to me, was a lot older than I. And he just answered any questions that I had and knew everything there was to know and was just a delightful, lovely man.
Well, I think that there wasn't too much difference, but I may be wrong. I don't know everything. I didn't then, and I don't now.
Knight: You were the only woman there, when you got there.
Campbell: Oh, yes, when I came. I had not been the only woman on the papers that I'd been on. As a matter of fact, on the first paper in Springfield, Missouri, I was one of four or five. But here I was, 55 men and me in this AP office. I didn't ever feel discriminated against by the men in the office. I had a little trouble with some of their wives at parties. I think they just didn't like having just one woman down there at the office or something. [Laughter.] But several times, things were said to me that were not very kind, but never by one of the men. And that in spite of the fact that very soon after I went there, there was a sign on the bulletin board that said that every reporter who made $50 or less must restrict "himself" to a 40-hour week.
Knight: Fifty dollars a week or less.
Campbell: Yes, 40 hours a week. And several men on the staff did say, "Look, your name wasn't on there." And they said, "Himself." I couldn't very well tell them that I really owed it not to my competence, I don't think, but to the fact that the publisher who had twice turned me down, turned the AP down about my coming to Washington, without even asking me, had told them that he'd let me come if they'd pay me $62.50 a week. No, wait. Sixty. Sixty. I later got that up to $62.50. It took about three years. But that was way higher—I don't mean way higher, when you're down there in the $10 group, you know. But it was higher than a lot of people made in the office.
Knight: What was the general rate?
Campbell: Well, out of 56 employees, including me, there were, it seemed to me—I knew at the time; I counted it—but it was something like 20 who were $50 or under. Of course, they had to restrict the hours, and that's, oh, so hard on a newspaper, so very hard, you know. Later on, when the King and Queen came, I worked two whole days and nights, and when I was in Springfield, we had a couple of murders, a lot of murders, six of them, and I worked 48 hours in a row. You know, you just almost have to. Nobody can pick up from you on a really hot story.
Knight: What was the rationale for not allowing people that made under $50 to work more than 40 hours?
Campbell: Because the American Newspaper Guild had just signed a contract. I mean, AP was just one of ten employers. Time magazine and a lot of separate newspapers were together in this. This was the first time AP had ever had a contract with employees.
And of course, when I started at $25 a week in Springfield, Mo., Hugh Johnson—I hope that's his name—came along as the NRA administrator, and that was National Recovery Act, I guess. This was to stretch employment out. It required that anybody who flew an NRA flag over their place of business had to restrict their employees to 40 hours a week. So that had spread very widely over the country; it had even spread to the publisher that I had. I was working about 72 hours a week when they hung up that flag. [Laughter.] And they did cut me down some.
Knight: Explain to me more about why it was the publisher who had to give you permission for you to work for the AP. How did that work?
Campbell: Well, the AP, you see, is a cooperative with member papers all over the world now; I don't remember then whether it went over the world or just over the country.
And the Daily Oklahoman, and earlier than that, the Springfield Leader, both of them, were Associated Press papers. I mean, they were in this cooperative. So you couldn't have the guy who was chairman or president of the cooperative able to tell everybody what they had to do, but if he got permission from a publisher or a managing editor—I think the rule was managing editor—then he could take the person.
Knight: But he didn't necessarily have to discuss it with the reporter first?
Campbell: No. Well, the first time, I didn't know anything about it at all. [Laughter.] But about a month after this happened, or two months, Skipper called me over to the corner, where his desk was, and said, "Beth, would you like to go to Washington and work for the Associated Press?"
And I said, "Well, I'd have to think about it, because my mother just died, and my brother's here going to high school, and I'm keeping house for my dad." And you know, I was thinking aloud. Then I just thought quietly for a little while, and I said, "Yes, I want to go." I had figured out how I could arrange things.
And he said, "Well, I'm sorry, you can't. I told them no." And that was that. But then they asked again in another couple of months later, when he went to another—he was in both the Associated Press managing editors' convention and the owners'. He wasn't an owner, but he went to a lot of those conventions, too, and he was president of the Sigma Delta Chi, which was an honorary journalistic fraternity in college. So he knew a lot of newspapermen, and he went to meetings all the time. So the next time they asked him, he said, okay, I could go.
Knight: Did you know who was wanting you, who "they" were?
Campbell: Yes. That had happened. Oh, dear. When I was on the Oklahoman, the convention in 1936, I guess—would that be a presidential convention? Philadelphia. And they were sending Luther Harrison, who was an editorial writer and about 78 or 79, you know, young like me. And they decided that it would be nice if they had me go, too, and that since Luther was going to be there, he could sort of chaperone me, you know. So they assigned me to go to the convention, and I did. It was just, oh, so much fun. I'd never done anything like that before. And when I got to Philadelphia, I met all sorts of big-shot newspapermen. This was before TV, of course, but a lot of them in radio I met, radio people.
And I went on from there to New York City to see my sisters, and one of them said, when I arrived, "Oh, there's a man at the AP who's been trying to get you, and he wants you to call the minute you arrive." But it was too late for them to get me in Washington or in Philadelphia. So I called him, and he asked me to go to lunch. He was the assistant to the general manager, Kent Cooper. And when we had had a bite to eat, he said, "This is really a business lunch. We've decided that the AP's regular weekly fiction continued story is no good, and we would like you to take it Over."
And I said, "I don't know anything at all about fiction. I couldn't possibly write you a continued story."
"Yes, you could, because we want you to use people like live in your town." Well, live in my town. He was talking about in Oklahoma City. "So the people really will read it. Sometimes the reason that people don't read these is that there's just no connection with themselves or any kind of life they've ever lived. And if you make it, even if you aren't a great fiction writer, that's what we want you to do,
because you'll have two small-town experiences behind you." And that's what the AP papers are, you know, altogether.
Well, I thought about it, and I finally called up Skipper, the managing editor, and told him that they'd offered me this job. I was very questionable about it. And he said, "Well, Beth, I don't want to lose you. You know that. But I think probably this is too good for you to turn down." And so I went back and told this nice man that I had talked to Skipper, and I would like to take that job.
Well, four days later, I got a call from him. Mr. Cooper had come back to town and decided that the AP didn't really need a fictional series running every week at all, and they didn't need an extra person on the staff, and he had to cancel it, embarrassed as he might be. Well, it was embarrassing to him, but it was embarrassing to me. [Laughter.]
But at any rate, I had met one person in the New York office, but for the last two years or three, I only had a week's vacation. You didn't have much vacation in those days. But since I had two sisters in New York, I'd go to visit them, and I always stopped. I went to New York to call on the editor of the New York Times, the city editor, and the city editor of the New York Herald Trib[une], and then when I had come down to Washington, just dropped by to talk politics or farm situations back in Oklahoma or Missouri or something, you know. I didn't ask for a job, ever, but I went in to meet these people, so I did know the bureau chief, Bryan Bell, and I knew some other people that I never got to know any better, who didn't have a job for me. [Laughter.] But that worked out.
Knight: So this was basically Kent Cooper at the very beginning, that your name surfaced when they needed somebody?
Campbell: Probably, I think, Sigrid Arne, this old friend who had worked on the Daily Oklahoman when I was in college and journalism school, and we'd gotten to be friends. I think that—I don't know. She never said it, you know; it would have seemed like bragging or something. But at any rate, I think that she probably recommended me. Then I think the fact that I had been in to see Mr. Bell, you know, on my vacation, even if we didn't know each other real well, was better than if he'd never seen me at all.
Knight: While you were there, how long were you the only woman there?
Campbell: Oh, in the AP?
Knight: The whole time you were there?
Campbell: Oh, I was the only woman the whole time, but instead of being one out of 55, I was one woman out of 127 when I left.
Knight: Did they ever consider hiring any other women that you knew of?
Campbell: They hired a woman or two on the regional staff, but I was on the general staff, covering all of Washington. The regional staff were people who covered, you know, South Carolina and North Carolina, or two or three states, and they had a different editor and different responsibilities. But on the general staff, it was true. The men on the staff were always wonderful to me, and I even had one ask me one time, "Beth, who taught you how to be a newspaper reporter?"
I said, "A man named George Olds, my city editor when I first started."
He said, "I wish I had him." So that was one of the nicest compliments I ever had, I thought, because he was a better reporter than I was, the man who said this.
Knight: Tell me about covering Mrs. Roosevelt. Tell me about one of her press conferences. What were they like?
Campbell: Well, they were always very natural and friendly. She made you feel as if you were her friend she'd invited over for a cup of coffee, except you just didn't have a cup of coffee. She always had [reporters] aside from the regular members here in Washington. At that time Emma Bugbee came down from New York and Kathleen McLaughlin, so we had two New York members who just came for that one day, and they were good reporters. It was good for me to see them and watch them work. She was,you know, we'd just say she was open for questions. We asked her whatever we could think of, and she always answered the best she could. She didn't always know the answers to questions, and that's always a problem, I think, with the first lady. She came to really know them better than most, but that isn't her business.
But she did get excited about the kinds of things that were going on in the United States at that time. For instance, down in West Virginia, the miners had had terrible times, and she helped with a furniture factory or something that they started down there. She got interested in why couldn't—she read someplace, I guess—-that it would be possible, if the scientists just knew how, to grow chicken with bigger chicken breasts, and to grow pigs with bigger hams. [Laughter.] And doggone it, when I was there covering her, I don't know when she'd gotten this interest, but she'd passed it along to the people at Beltsville, which was fairly new at that time. So the next thing we knew, the press conference went to where she said she was going, so we said we were going, too. We went to Beltsville and saw these chickens that they had grown with bigger breasts and pigs that had been grown with bigger hams, and they were healthy and doing fine, and pretty soon, they were on the market. She wrote about it—I mean, she told us about them, and we wrote about them, so there were stories about them all over the country. She did things like that quite often.
I remember once when she said she was going to a settlement house here in Washington. I didn't even know we had any; I thought that was New York. But at any rate, there was a settlement house here, and she was going to it on a given morning. And when I went there at the proper time, I was the only reporter who happened to come. That very seldom happened. But at any rate, her questions were so good. And I'd been with her on quite a lot of other trips she'd made to one organization or another, where she'd had to ask pretty general questions, because she didn't really know the details of how an operation worked. Well, my goodness, she knew lots more than I did about how settlement houses worked, and she asked wonderful questions. And the woman who was running it commented on the fact that she had been so helpful and had asked such good questions. Mrs. R. said, "Well, you know, there was a time when that was the only activity outside the home my family thought was decent for me to engage in." So she had worked in settlement houses for a long time.
That was the time when, going back to driving, she said, "As long as you're alone here, drive with me in the car." And so she went to the White House first, naturally, and then sent me on to my office. But while we were going, she didn't talk or chat; she just went through the mail, and she'd mark it for Tommy—Malvina Thompson, her secretary, and say, "Yes," or say, "No," or, "We'll have to investigate
this one. Let's call So-and-so at the Agriculture Department or the Treasury." And I said, "Do you do this all the time?"
She said, "I couldn't ever get through the mail if I didn't. Whenever I'm in a car, I try to take advantage of the time to get some of the mail out of the way, because I like to give every letter consideration." And she did. Of course, she had such a good secretary in Malvina, whom she had had for—well, more than 16 years. I don't know exactly, but I think it was more like 26, all through the campaigns in New York, when he ran for governor, and a lot of things. And she had come to know everybody, and she was accurate, and she was kind, and she was a marvelous secretary. But that story reminded me of riding in a White House car, if I could stick in a story of my own.
That first week that I was there, I remember I got here on the 21st. On the 24th, on Christmas Eve, there was a tradition that at the White House, there was a party where the President—-I don't know whether he dedicated or praised or what, but anyhow, the big Christmas tree on the Mall, right there out from the White House, and sure enough, they had this great big semi-circle of people sitting around this table, around this semi-circular table, and all of them looking down the Mall at the beautiful Christmas tree. Oh, it was beautiful. But somehow or other, I had to figure out who they all were. I had done a little background work on looking up pictures and that kind of thing, because you couldn't always understand who they were introducing. The President was usually introducing. He did some of it, and Mrs. Roosevelt did some of it. But I remember one, when she said, "This is Elizabeth." She'd been saying, "This is my daughter-in-law." But then this very pretty girl stood up when she said, "This is—" Oh, dear what is her name? Anyhow, she was Elliot's first wife, and Elliot was there with his second wife, Ruth Gugans. Oh, Elizabeth Donner; that was her name. And she had, I think, two children, one or two. But the Roosevelts invited all the family for Christmas, you know, whether they were ex or current. [Laughter.] And it made people feel awfully good, I guess. I don't know why they would come, if they didn't. Of course, the President read them Dickens' Christmas story every Christmas Eve. That would be a nice thing to go for. But here were all these people. And Franklin—by this time, I had met all the children that were around. Franklin was in college, but he was so good-looking and so friendly. So I just saw him there that day.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Knight: What was the most memorable? You travelled with Mrs. Roosevelt on some of the trips that she made.
Campbell: Oh, not very many. I wasn't supposed to really go with her on long trips, because, usually, the long trips, the President went, and the White House guy covering FDR covered him, and that was my husband. [Laughter.] The only way I could see him was meet him up at Hyde Park or something on weekends.
But anyway, the time that I really travelled to see her—this might be a good story you'd be interested in. I thought, since she had always said no on any of the people in the press conference covering things that happened at Hyde Park, and just said that was where she went for her summer, so I said, "Well, could I come and see you long enough just for one story, a feature story on what you do with your whole summer, not just that day or one particular thing? But I'd like to get a story about all the kinds of activities that you have." I knew she went to the church, but what other kinds of women's or men's or political or unpolitical things did she go to?
And she said, "Well, I'll be glad to give you that kind of a story. If you want to come, you may come to lunch. When would you like to come?" And she set a date.
I said, "I'm speaking at Swampscott, Massachusetts, at a convention on such and such a date, and if I stopped here on my way back, I could see my husband for that weekend." [Laughter.]
She said, "That's just fine. You come to lunch," on whatever day that was going to make it right for me.
So I got up there, and the newspapermen were out at the big house with FDR. So I borrowed a typewriter from the Western Union. And I called her first to see whether I could come out then, and she said, "Yes," and lunch would be at such and such a time. So I got a taxi and went out to Hyde Park, and went to lunch, and it was just delightful, just the two of us. She was as real as one of my aunts or somebody, but never this familiar kind of thing that there had been indications in those first years. I never saw that in her at all, with me or with anybody else, except she had this business of calling everybody "darling" and "love" and "beautiful." [Laughter.] I don't know, it was just like Miss Hallidan, who lived next door to me when I was a little girl, always put nice names in front of the people, men and women. And she did that. But at any rate, we had a good talk on whatever was going on.
It turned out, she said, "Of course, we've had quite a discussion lately, but the King and Queen of England are coming, you know, this late summer, and we've invited them to come up here first, before coming to Washington. And I thought it would be fun (I'm not quoting her directly, of course, just the idea) if we had hot dogs, because it's so American. I don't know anybody in England who has ever had a hot dog," or something like that, you know. So apparently, other people thought it was a grand idea, but she said, "The only trouble I had is with my mother-in-law, who thinks that that's a little too informal. She suggests that if I want to have that kind and shape of meat, that it would be better to have little pig sausages." But she said, "I'm holding out for hot dogs." [Laughter.] "And we're going to have hot dogs."
I said, "Well, I think that's a grand idea."
She said, "Before the King and Queen get here, Princess Martha of Norway and her husband,"—I've forgotten; King Olan or somebody—and anyhow, there were there different countries with royalty coming, and two of them before the King and Queen of England. And she said, "We'll have them all come here first and all have hot dogs, and then we'll go to Washington and have the usual formal things for them, so they won't think we're
Anyhow, so I said, "Well, that is a news story, Mrs. Roosevelt. I know that I didn't come up here to get a news story, but that's not what your summer's about. I'd like to write that just as a story, saying you've decided to do that."
And she said, "Well, that's all right."
So I said, "Just what you've told me now."
So when I got back to the hotel, before I even looked for Joe, I put that on the wire, because everybody had been wondering what was going to happen with the King and Queen, but nobody had ever thought of hot dogs. [Laughter.]
So then they were back, the newspaper people, and he said, "We're going out to the Nancy Cooke cottage, near Mrs. Roosevelt's cottage, half a mile from the big house," where FDR's mother lived. "She's invited us out, Mrs. Roosevelt has, for a swim." And so we all went out and got on the bus.
Knight: The whole press corps?
Campbell: The entire press corps for that, you know, just the people who had covered Roosevelt. I was the only one that was sort of extra. There weren't too many, you know, maybe 25, 22, something like that. But at any rate, when we got out there, there was one other newspaper woman besides me, and Mrs. Roosevelt said, "You girls come and change. I'll show you. I have to change, too." So we went into the room that they had there for people to change clothes in when they were going swimming.
Suddenly, this other newspaper woman said, "Mrs. Roosevelt, I hope you read what Beth did to you this morning in the Associated Press stories."
Mrs. Roosevelt said, "I don't know what you mean," or something like that.
She said, "Well, she wrote this real mean story about how you're going to serve hot dogs to the royalty, and that you had a fight with your mother-in-law in order to do it, that she wanted little pig sausages, and you wanted hot dogs. Sounds like it's sort of undignified, as a matter of fact." She said, "And I'm sure it isn't true."
Mrs. Roosevelt looked at her and said, "From what you've told me, it's exactly right." [Laughter.] "That is what I told Beth." [Laughter.] Now, how could you have a better news source than that?
Of course, you had to do things to her now and then, because I remember another time I was covering a speech she was making in the Labor Department auditorium, and I've even forgotten what it was about, but she was making it. I was sitting down on the front row, you know, right under the stage. Suddenly, she said, "Well, off the record—" and she started to go on.
I stood up and said, "Mrs. Roosevelt, I'm with the Associated Press, and you can't have things off the record with 400 people listening!" [Laughter.]
And she said, "You're right, Beth. I can't." She went ahead and told whatever it was on the record.
So those are two sort of samples of what kind of person she was to cover.
Knight: Had you gone to the coal mine with her?
Campbell: No, that was before I came. She did go down there another time, but she didn't take newspaper people that time. Usually, she went places here in Washington all the time, or like the one out to Beltsville, just close by. And normally, the whole press conference went. Each one made their own arrangements, but we got a bus and followed her.
That business I told you about of covering the Christmas Eve service, it was as soon as the Christmas Eve program was over, Mrs. Roosevelt went out to her car. We'd all seen her schedule. She was going from that to the alleys. They were having a number of programs in Washington, in the D.C. alleys, for Christmas, and she was going to talk at whichever one she went to. So when we got outside, where the cars were, everybody else had called their offices and was told, "Well, skip this. After all, it's Christmas Eve." [Laughter.] But the AP, we always covered everything. So when she saw I was the only one, she said, "Why don't you ride with me in my car?" which was nice. We did go to these alleys, and she was very nice to everybody. This one Negro woman came running down the steps, with her hair in curlers, and wearing a robe, which she apparently had hastily pulled together, and she—"Oh, I'd rather see Mrs. Roosevelt than anybody in the world!" And she, you know, thanked her for all Mrs. Roosevelt had done for people like her, she said.
So then we went out and got in the car, and she left at the White House, and I went on back to the office. I told the editor that there was one other thing, a service at a church on 16th Street. I've forgotten which one. But at any rate, at eleven o'clock. So I went and got a cab and went out to the service at eleven o'clock. I kept looking all around, looking for Mrs. Roosevelt. She was so tall, you could always find her. And I didn't see her anywhere. The service went on, and she didn't come in. And it was over, and I hadn't found her. I thought I just was blind and it was my fault. I went outside and looked at the people who came out, and she didn't ever come out.
So when I went back to the office, I said, "I'm afraid I've failed you completely, because I didn't find Mrs. Roosevelt at this church service." [Laughter.]
And the early editor, whoever was on duty, said, "Well, Beth, that's not unusual. We just had on the wire that Mrs. Roosevelt is in Albany with Franklin, who had an emergency appendectomy." [Laughter.] She must have just gone, immediately got on a plane after I left her, and gone up there. Anyway, she did go and take care of her children when they needed her, and she was very, very generally easy to work with.
Knight: Was there any tension between reporters who covered just Mrs. Roosevelt and reporters that had the broader beats?
Campbell: Oh, not really. I don't think so. Ruby Black was a good friend of mine. Of course, what she did, in addition to covering Mrs. Roosevelt, she had her own bureau and was covering all sorts of other stories, just like I was for the AP, but not with the same boss. It was much nicer, too. And there wasn't anybody else but me who had that kind of a setup.
Knight: Who did both.
Knight: Because Doris Fleeson was covering almost completely the President.
Knight: I ask the question because Esther Von Wagoner Tufty had said in her interview that she always felt that Doris Fleeson was a little "snooty" towards some of the women that only covered Mrs. Roosevelt, and I wondered if you had ever sensed
any kind of tension between the women that only covered Mrs. Roosevelt and the others.
Campbell: Well, there certainly was tension between Doris and me at times. I'll just say that. [Laughter.] In general, I think, there wasn't any difference much between, but Doris, of course, she was writing a column with her husband. She was very, very busy. She just didn't have time to fool with other people, I think, maybe, or something like that.
Esther Tufty was a very special person. I hope you get her on this, because she was—
Knight: She passed away last year.
Campbell: Oh, that's right.
Knight: This was an older interview that I had of hers.
Campbell: Yes. You know, she was on TV, had her own program in the mornings, every morning for a long time. She was good, too.
Knight: She had her own service, as well.
Knight: One of the things that she also talked about that I meant to ask you, you kept your Beth Campbell, even after you were married, didn't you?
Campbell: Yes. [Laughter.]
Knight: There were a few other women who did that, too.
Campbell: Well, I didn't. I tried to change. It didn't do any good. I said to the editor, "You know, Joe and I were married last week," or whenever we got back from the honeymoon. "And I guess you want to change my by-line." And I put Beth Campbell Short on whatever I was taking over to him.
He looked at me like—he said, "What in the world do you think we are? Do you realize you have 30 million readers? Do you think we're going to change your name suddenly?" [Laughter.] I don't know whether I had 30 million readers or not. The AP claims an awful lot more than that now, but that is what they said at that time. So they kept it Beth Campbell all the time. But whatever work, as soon as I quit, any freelancing that I did, I always used Beth Campbell Short, because with three children, I just couldn't think of having them not have their mother and father with the same name. So that's why I did that.
Knight: Ruby Black always kept her same name.
Campbell: Yes, I know she did.
Knight: And Esther Tufty told the story that Ruby Black had even refused to cash a check that was written out with her husband's name on it; she insisted that she was Ruby Black, and that she wasn't going to change her name. But that sounds unusual. Was it?
Campbell: There weren't too many of us that were married, newspaperwomen married to newspapermen. But I always thought Joe was a lot better reporter than I was. I think that Ruby probably thought Herb was a better reporter than she was—I mean, she was a better reporter than Herb was. [Laughter.] That was the only reason I could think of that anybody would want to keep her name the same.
Knight: You did join the Women's National Press Club as soon as you got to town?
Campbell: That night. I sang "Silent Night" with them.
Knight: How was the association with them? What value was it to you to join that group?
Campbell: Oh, great! It was the Women's National Press Club then. Very soon—I don't think it was the first year, but maybe it was, because it seems it was almost immediately, I was the guest chairman. So that meant getting a guest. We had meetings—at that time, luncheon meetings—once a week, and the guest had to be somebody pretty important that would be a news story, so that editors would let you go. [Laughter.] So I don't know, I got Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy, and I can't remember whether I did Helen Hayes or somebody else did. I remember getting to talk to her a good deal. You know, we had people, not only the ones I happened to mention in the entertainment world, but a lot of them were serious scholars, too. Of course, lunch was just 75 cents! [Laughter.] If you can imagine that! You really could go to lunch once a week and enjoy it very much.
But what else did I do with the Women's Press Club? Oh, I participated in all the shows. [Laughter.] We put on these shows, and one year—I won't tell you about all of them, because they all were sort of silly—but this one was really funny. I was half of the time Mrs. Roosevelt, very tall and distinguished—imagine me being tall; they didn't have any stilts for me—but I also was the second half, Cleopatra. It was Cleopatra that I had the trouble with, not Mrs. R., because they didn't worry about my height, and they didn't worry about the way I said my lines. But they fussed about—I remember whoever was the director said, "Beth, has anybody ever taught you how to slink?"
Well, I said, "I thought I was slinking."
"Well, you're not slinking! You better learn to slink!"
Well, I went home. My brother was visiting from Yale at the time, and my husband—both thought it was awfully funny. They said, "We'll teach you to slink." We were going up to somebody in the neighborhood that night to see them, and they didn't say anything about it on the way there, but on the way back, after we'd had a drink at the Beavers—apparently this had all been planned between them—they started, one on one side, one on the other, very tight, with their arms around me, and like this [back and forth]. [Laughter.] Well, pretty soon, Jack said, "Beth, you're really slinking!"
And Joe said, "I don't know whether I want a wife that slinks or not." But at any rate, they taught me to slink. And when I went to the next rehearsal, everybody just praised and screamed about it.
Oh, what else did I do in the Press Club besides slink? I think I had some other offices. I don't remember what they were. I never was top office. I certainly went to almost every meeting.
Knight: What was the value of the group?
Campbell: Well, at the beginning, I think we lost that part as time went on. The speakers were such good stories that for a newspaper person, man or woman, they were just really top. Later on, I think, well, there was some difference between the Women's National Press Club and the American Newspaper Women's Club. I think that was the way the name went. But at any rate, it [ANWC] was more social. They had members who were senators' wives and all that sort of thing; we didn't. So their parties were very fancy. But our annual party, our congressional dinner, was as good a party as was given in Washington every year. We had congressmen who had to be funny, and they managed, somehow, to be funny.
Knight: It's still true.
Campbell: [Laughter.] Then, also, I think the value of the club, a great value of it, is that if you're a member, you have a challenge to do as good writing as somebody else does, as other people do. And people who may have started out rather vaguely, you know, I find that they go along with somebody else on covering a story or something, and pretty soon, I think they're stronger.
Knight: Do you think there were women consciously helping other women in that way? Or would it happen more by example?
Campbell: I think it's by natural. [Laughter.] That isn't good English, probably. But if you're with somebody else and you can help them, you just do it. I don't think you do it because they're a woman or man. At least I didn't. I used to work with men, too. I covered hearings up on the Hill. Oh, there's a good story I haven't told you about—Mrs. Roosevelt on the Hill. She every so often had somebody who was her latest interest, somehow, that she wanted to help. And sometimes that person would be one kind of a person, and sometimes another. Sometimes they were social service people who were, you know, trying to make the schools better or help poverty out of the way. But then every so often, there would be an entertainer. And one time, this girl, who was—I don't know, I think she could sing. I've kind of forgotten the details of it. It's probably right in that book there, Joe Lash's book. What's the name of it?
Knight: A World of Love.
Campbell: A World of Love. Well, Mrs. Roosevelt had it. She'd help this I thought, rather crude—I'm not going to tell you her name, not after I've said that. But at any rate, it was a girl who could sing some, and Mrs. Roosevelt brought her and introduced her to the Press Club at the press conference once. So that was one person.
And another time, Joe Lash, who wrote that book, (and I have three or four others of his around). He was very good on Mrs. Roosevelt, the best person that has written about her. But we would never have known that at the time, because he was a student. He was president of the American—let's see. I can't remember whether it had "Liberal" or "Communist" or what in the title, but it was a college organization, and it was definitely very extremely liberal, if liberal is the right world. Liberal doesn't mean that, but red. Communist, I guess, is what they used. Anyhow, she brought him to the press conference once. Oh, my goodness, the editorial writers went crazy! The idea of these horrible feet on the sacred White House grounds! [Laughter.] And criticized her. When we asked her at the press conference once, at
the next available time, how she felt about that sort of thing, she said, "Well, it seemed so very absurd to me, because we know that we have the best government in the world, and if there are college students who are trying to somehow make government better and finding it not as successful as we did, it's because we're not doing enough of a job to teach them what the United States is about. And not only did I bring him to see you, but I've also gone with him to his own meetings." [Laughter.] Of course, that got another bunch of people mad at her.
But at any rate, he was due to testify before the committee which was investigating both fascists and communists at that time in the United States. So I found out—I don't know whether other people did or not—but at any rate, that she was going up to hear him. And so I, of course, was going up to hear him, too, and I went up and sat a couple of seats behind her. She got a seat right on the front row. When he was called to testify, she was right there and smiling at him, urging him to do a good job, I'm sure. You couldn't have done a better job than she did, it seemed to me. She showed her support of the need for him to have a fair chance, by just being there. And she won. I mean, he became not only a good American citizen, but a very outstanding one. I thought that her decision with this boy, who was quite young, still in college, to try to make him learn what our Constitution is for, was very, very good. Somebody should help Ollie [North] find it. [Laughter.]
Knight: Not being able to join the National Press Club, what did you think?
Campbell: I thought they were meanies. [Laughter.]
Knight: How did you feel? How did other people feel?
Campbell: I thought it was very unfair. I didn't want to be in a separate [group]—I had always felt that it was important to be on a newspaper as a reporter, just like a man reporter. And if they had to go do things that were hard in the middle of the night, you went and did things that were hard in the middle of the night. I never asked for any special treatment. So I didn't think what they were doing was fair. Fortunately—I was awfully glad, because I would never have tried to influence him—my husband, who became president of the National Press Club, wanted women admitted, but it got turned down. That's about the only thing he lost, as I recall. He was a president of a great many things. He had important things, I remember, in the campaign to be president [of the Press Club]. He was for keeping the same kind of plates that they had at the time, where they had both a sprig of parsley and—[Laughter.]. Oh, and on the dessert, a cookie. There was a group in the National Press Club who claimed that the same parsley was used on every plate, every day, at every meal. And the same with the cookies! [Laughter.] That was very funny.
Knight: Did you ever talk to your male colleagues about not letting women in?
Campbell: Oh, sure.
Knight: What were their reasons?
Campbell: Oh, some of them just thought it had started as a men's club, and there was no point in changing it. President Taft or somebody had done this or that. Although they voted as if it were a real deep-set belief, in normal conversations, they never
seemed to be feeling that way. So I was very pleased when—and you know, because I was the wife of a president of the National Press Club, they made me a member separately and continued my membership after Joe died, and treated me just like any other member. [Laughter.]
Knight: Do you think that affected your ability to be a good reporter?
Campbell: Oh, my goodness, no. Well, it would have at one point, where they wouldn't let you in—oh, this, I thought, was scurvy. They had a rule. At first, they wouldn't let women come to anything. But when they began having pretty important—really important speakers, like the head of the United States this or the World Bank that, and stuff, there were so many protests, not only from women reporters, but from their editors, that they decided that women could come if they'd sit up in the balcony. [Laughter.] The men sat down below and ate, and the women didn't get any lunch that day; they sat up in the balcony, and they couldn't ask questions, but they could listen. And that is what I said was scurvy. I said that was terrible, just awful. But they got over that, and somebody was able to join different ideas together, and we're now one club. I think it's great. Of course, I'm curious at the fact that there is—I thought the National Press Club Foundation, the National Press Foundation, which I joined when it started, was for everybody. Now, the Washington Press Foundation is it.
Knight: The Washington Press Club Foundation is sponsoring this project that we're doing today, and they're separate.
Did you also belong or know women who belonged to the White House group of Eleanor Roosevelt's press women, the White House correspondents, the group of women who just joined together because they had covered Eleanor Roosevelt?
Campbell: I didn't know there was such an organization. We were all together at the Smithsonian. Not all of us, but there were eight, I think, who were left, about 12 years ago, who had all covered her, and that was the only thing we had necessarily in common. Some of us were good friends; some of us weren't. But is there now an organization?
Knight: Not now. There was for a short period of time.
Campbell: If I were you, I would check up on that, because I don't really believe. Of course, every time anything has been brought up about Mrs. Roosevelt's press conference, remember, I joined it in—
Knight: You were one of the later starters. Some of the women had started in the early '30s, when she first started.
Campbell: So I can't swear they did or didn't.
Knight: What about your colleagues at the AP? Tell me about some of the people that you worked with at the AP that made a particular impression on you.
Campbell: Oh, there were lots of them. One of them was Ben Grant, who later became the managing editor of the U.S. News & World Report. Then Dave Lawrence, I guess he was the editor of it for a while. But anyhow, he [Grant] was marvelous, friendly, able, a marvelous person. He had come from Florida, and one of the interesting things about Ben, I think everybody's been interested I ever told it to, is that when he went to college, he was about 5 feet tall. But then his folks had already
started with some medicine. He had doctors that were working on this. He wasn't tall enough for anybody of his other characteristics. And by the time I met him, he was 6'1". It just shows all sorts of things can happen, except I can't get taller now. I'm getting shorter all the time. [Laughter.]
Knight: Ruth Cowan Nash followed you at the AP?
Knight: You had followed Bess Furman?
Campbell: Bess Furman.
Knight: Was that a woman's slot, do you think, at the AP?
Knight: They knew they were going to hire a woman for this slot?
Campbell: Yes, I think they did.
Knight: Did you feel that that paved the way for you in any way?
Campbell: Yes, I think so. She [Furman] was a good reporter who could do anything, and I hoped I was. I didn't know Ruth before she came. She was in Chicago, as I recall. But I did know Bess, because she stayed here. Her husband, Bob Armstrong, was a correspondent for a St. Louis newspaper, and she started doing her own stuff, her own bureau, sort of, after her children—she had twins—were born. I was always very, very fond of her. I suppose—I don't think I ever talked to anybody about that—but I think that she had covered Mrs. Roosevelt for so many years. I saw a news story that she had sent me, that she wrote years later, but it mentioned how many years she had covered Mrs. Roosevelt, but I've forgotten what it was, but it was a lot. She covered it and went up to New York and covered her.
Knight: When you were replaced by Ruth, did you have any hand in selecting her?
Campbell: Oh, no, none at all.
Knight: None at all? Did you work with her for a little while before you left?
Campbell: No. No, I had told them that I had a baby coming, because they insisted that I must tell them. [Laughter.] They didn't want another surprise like Bess had given them, and if I was pregnant, I should notify the managing editor, the bureau chief. And I did. I told him. I asked them when they wanted me to leave, you know. I would leave that day. If they wanted to know when I was pregnant, I was pregnant already, and I'd just quit. And they said, no, no, they needed me a while longer, please. And so this was February. Maybe it was January; I don't know. Anyhow, the date we set was in February, about the 12th. I flew out to Toledo, where a sister lived at that time, and so I mean, it was all set. They knew when I was going. If they had wanted to bring her in, they could have, but they didn't. But she was a very experienced person like I was. She didn't really—and as you asked me, and I told you, all the men in the office were wonderful to me, to help me get used to things when I was new, as far as the things that were different in a press service.
Of course, there was one thing that was very wrong, very mistaken. The Sunday before I left Oklahoma City, I had a call from a boy that I had had some dates with, who worked for the Associated Press in the state office, and a friend of his, and they asked if they could come out for just a few minutes, and they did. My little brother was there—little brother, he was in high school, 14. And my dad was there. And they said they wanted him in this conversation, too, that what they'd come to tell me was that they had voted—I don't know who "they" were—that I shouldn't come to Washington, that in Washington, there were just all these women and no men for them to marry, and that if I came up here, I'd just turn out to be an old maid. And they didn't think that was right for me. [Laughter.] So they pointed out that in Oklahoma City, I not only knew a lot of people when I first came there from the University of Oklahoma, but I went to all the university parties and things like that, and they just named all kinds of reasons why, if I stayed in Oklahoma City, I would be married very soon. And I said, "Well, I've been here for three years, two years, whatever, and I'm not married yet. So I'm not going to let that decide me." So I told them no, and came on, the 21st of December 1936. And I was married the 26th of December 1937. [Laughter.] And so happy about it, and stayed happy about it the whole time. So lucky.
Knight: I think we'll finish up for today.
Campbell: Good. I've enjoyed it.