[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Cowan: Wes Gallagher was in charge of all the units over in North Africa at the time, you see, that I landed there, and he wanted me put right on the boat and sent back to the United States, and Iris Carpenter along with me.
All right. Now, go ahead and ask me any questions. I'll try to give you the answers. Brad will be listening to it, and I think we can probably get them straightened out.
Knight: I want to concentrate today on the time you did spend overseas during World War II. How did you get the assignment to go over? How did that come about?
Cowan: Well, it wasn't supposed to be that way. I had wanted to go over to London. I was, at that time, stationed in Washington, and I wanted to go over with Mrs. Roosevelt when she was making a trip flying back and forth or somebody else like that. But I would like to have worked in London, I said, for Time. I wanted to be transferred. Well, they dilly-dallied with it, and then just one day they told me that the assignments had been set up, and I would be going to London. So I got things fixed around there, and not supposed to tell anybody, not supposed to give any information. They arranged to have someone living in my apartment and taking care of anything that I needed, but I couldn't tell anybody that I was going out of the country, especially not to London or anyplace else.
So I found out that the WACs were going over there, and I had been covering the WACs from the very beginning. Oveta Culp Hobby was a good friend of mine, so she gave me some breaks—you know she was head of the WACs—and said that there would be a unit of the WACs going over there. I said, "Well, why can't you take me along? I've been covering the WACs. And if they're going over there, don't you want some coverage from London? We give over here in America great coverage to the girls that come over from England. Why shouldn't we get some in reverse?" So they agreed that it would be all right for me to do that.
Then you want to know how Inez Robb got involved in the thing. Well, I had some very good friends in New York that I used to go up and visit like that—Wiley Smith, who was head of one of the units, Universal Service was another one, a Hearst outfit. When I would come to town, he would take me to dinner, and I knew him when he was stationed in Washington as director of the Universal Service. So I looked him up. Somehow or other, that evening we encountered Inez Robb. I had told what's-his-name, Wiley Smith, that I was going overseas, and walking down the aisle, I said, "Gosh, I'm going to get to go overseas." Well, she just went to work right now, trying to go, too. I felt that it didn't bother me that there would be another woman in the thing or anything like that, whether I would go alone or she would be with me, or anything else. So we sort of joined forces to get this ball rolling.
For one thing, we had to—oh, a lot of things and details you had to do about your things when you were leaving and so on and so forth. I was going with the WACs,
definitely, so I had to get a uniform with the WACs. Well, they gave me one of the uniforms for the WACs, all right, to wear over there, and then I had one tailor-made, but I couldn't have any insignia on it. I went through all of North Africa with that, and when I got to England, those people looked at me a little oddly. So I just went into the AP Bureau, and I said, "Listen, I'm not going around wearing an American uniform or anybody else's uniform without an insignia on it. Put some on." So they did. They got me things up here for the neck and for the arms and all that sort of thing, the same things up there.
Knight: Why did they put you in uniform?
Cowan: Oh, they have a different way of handling the correspondents now than they had then. Then it was a different thing. Well, you had status with the military service, and you weren't a member of the thing, but you were, nevertheless, brought in that way, and you were subject to their rules and regulations. If they wanted to move the unit out, they moved you along with the unit, you see. And so you were always hunting for a place to affiliate with the military service so that you could get taken places like this, that, and the other. That was probably one of the reasons I wanted to see Patton. [Laughter] I wanted to get up front and have a look at what he was doing up there.
Knight: So who had to approve your going with the WACs besides Oveta Culp Hobby? Who else had to approve it?
Cowan: Well, the AP had to approve. The AP approved. I came in, I remember, and telling them that I had this chance to do it, and I'd go with the WACs. I was absolutely frank. You have to be frank with the immediate bosses like that. And they agreed, too, it was a good idea. Nobody ever said anything. I just vanished from the scene.
Knight: So you took care of details and you went with the WACs.
Cowan: With the WACs. I went up in New Jersey, and we all thought we were going to London at first. Somebody came along and told me that I couldn't take my winter clothes with me, all the winter clothes I had. They said I won't need them, and they said, "You're not going to need a lot of your own civilian things. You'll have a military uniform, and that's all right." Well, that was okay with me. So we were more or less attached—put it that way—to the WAC unit, Inez and myself.
Knight: It was a simulated rank.
Cowan: Yes, we got in a simulated rank. We stayed up there in New Jersey for a week or ten days, until they got orders to ship us. Well, we were all set and ready to go to London. [Laughter] We got out in the middle of the Atlantic or something like that, and somebody who had been on back and forth said, "This isn't the way to London. Even I can recognize that out here in the Atlantic!" [Laughter] So we said no, we were not going there. Then we were told that we were going to Africa. Well, the war had been starting in Africa. It had gotten that far, and I was just delighted.
So we went on and landed at Algiers. The first night they had a whatchamadoodle [air raid] overhead; it's very noisy. Then stayed at the hotel down there, and everybody knew and thought it was very funny at the day, but I didn't think it was funny, and I don't think Wes Gallagher thought it was funny. He said, "I don't want any women attached to my unit. Send them back!" And he said, "The ship's going back
here the next day. Put 'em on!" So Inez Robb got support from her outfit, and she didn't have the trouble that I had. Of course, it's all funny now, and Wes Gallagher and I are good friends. He's made some recommendations for me. He was later head of the AP.
Let's see. I've lost what I was telling you.
Knight: Wes Gallagher was the head of the unit.
Cowan: Yes, he was the head, and he wanted to send me back. But I thought and I said, "No." He wouldn't give me an assignment, you see, or anything like that to do. Well, that was all right. I knew how to figure out my own assignments, so I went around interviewing this person, who was in charge of publicity for the Army and the other branches of the military service. And I said, "What would you suggest I try to do today?" And so they would give me some suggestions, and I would do it. I'd bring them in and file them with the AP, and also I would tell the military that I had filed it. A lot of that stuff got back home, so they seemed to be pretty well pleased with me.
When it came time for the units to move from North Africa to go up to England—that's not press units; military units and that sort of thing, what had happened when Eisenhower and the rest of them were conferring, Marshall and Churchill. So I was with the contingent that was moved up while the others of the AP, most of them were sent home. There were several other units, but most were sent home. But there was no suggestion that just because I was a woman, I should be sent back now at this late date. I finally found myself in Gibraltar and then on up with the contingent of correspondents going into London to augment the place there and get ready for the real invasion. Now, that wasn't to come the next day or the next week. I was quite some time in London and so were a lot of the others.
Knight: What stories do you remember covering when you were in Algiers? Do you have any particular memories of favorite stories that you covered?
Cowan: Algiers, you mean, when I first got there?
Cowan: Let's see what I can think of. One thing that I can remember is in Algiers, with the unit that was going up to the front in Algiers, and I got up there, that was the one where we had to retreat and had to beat it back to Algiers. They turned us around up there, and I was with several officers. We commanded a car, and they drove back. Then I got stories about food and that sort of thing, but you're very limited when you're covering stories when you're in actual action. It has to wait until it cools off so they can't specify where you were and what you were up to. I had a good deal of difficulty getting specific names of people. I'd interview them and think, "When this story gets back to the United States, then they'll be very proud of so and so." Well, that story went in the waste paper basket as fast as they could put it there, because I'd told where the units were. So you were handicapped. But one learned that if I waited a few weeks, I could write about what happened up there when the enemy found out we'd been there and so on and so forth, whether we had won or we'd been kicked back.
As I started to say, I made progress to go back to London, and found some stories on the Riviera that were very interesting to write about and made some good friends on the Riviera, and they invited me into their homes and all that sort of
thing. I could see how things changed there. There were Americans there still. Then I just got hotel accommodations. It wasn't difficult. You just went into a hotel and somehow or other you said, "I'd like to have a room, please, and I'd like to have some meals attached to the room," and you got it. War is very different from peacetime stuff. So I stayed in several places along the Riviera, and then, finally, I got ordered formally to Paris, and I went up to Paris. I stopped in Rome on the way. I had to see Rome. Then from Rome on up, I worked my way and got into Paris. They were very glad to see me and said, "Oh, we have a lot of stories for you to do."
And I said, "Yes, I suppose you want to know what the latest fashions are in wartime." So I went to see what happened with some of the fashion industries, and I got along very well in that.
Then, finally, as things got a little more tense, I went back to London for just a little while. It seemed like just a little while, but I did a lot of covering in and out of various towns in England and Scotland and so forth. As I said, they gave me so much leeway. They didn't know what to do with me; that was the answer.
So then just as the war was getting involved, the place where you knew there was an invasion coming, I covered that as far as I could, telling them what might happen and so forth. Then I was sent down. I was very close friends with the WACs and stayed close to them all the time. We had the same hotel, same accommodations, and same billeting orders. Then the guy on the desk at the AP in London said, "How would you like to go to the south part of England?" I said, "Suits me. I don't think I've been down there." So he said, "All right, we'll send you down." So I went down to the southern part of England, and found that I was mixed up with a unit that was going to go overseas very shortly. Well, that was fine; that was exactly what I wanted. Then somebody decided that I was—a little question of whether they ought to look me over, and reported in to the headquarters of this unit that I was going to travel with, and two of the top people in the WACs came down, and we all met in some general's office. I don't remember who. They all knew me, and they said, "No, she's all right. She's the genuine object." Somebody had faked themselves to be me. I never did find out who did it or what, but they got that cleared up, so we all said goodbye, and they said, "See you in France," or something like that.
So I made one trip over with the medical unit to pick up some wounded on a plane, so we went over and we landed along the shore someplace, and they loaded up again and came back. Then I guess I did all right on that and thought that would give me a chance to go, so I got assigned to a unit that was going over, on a ship over. It wasn't very exciting. We whirled around a few times and took off and went over to France. We parked out there until they could unload, and then got on the beach. That was a little noisy. They worked to get people on the beach and up as quick as they could, and I was with the unit that they pushed up. I was dirty, too, and I ran out of face powder and everything. I had a rough time. [Laughter]
Knight: It sounds like you were pretty much on your own in terms of determining how much you did.
Cowan: I was very much, in terms of my own, but I always made it a point to tell the commanding officer of whatever unit I was assigned to or whatever unit I asked if I could join or that sort of thing. No, I never pulled any rank or tried to get by on any rule or regulation. I immediately went to the headquarters and reported myself in.
Knight: Within the AP, did you report, then, to whoever the bureau chief was for the sector that you were in?
Cowan: Oh, yes, I would. When I was working so much on my own, I was checking in with the military, finding out what stories they had that they were maybe going to release in some publicity that they would send around to the various units, newspaper units and magazine units, or any outlet in which they could get some publicity back home in the United States.
Knight: How did you get along with the other journalists?
Cowan: There were no other girls at that particular time, except when Carpenter and I went. There were some girls in London, some that I knew, who had gone over to England, one or two who had married and gone over. In London, of course, it was a different story. It was just like being home, as it were.
After I got over to France and that sort of thing, bumming around, and then the gal that was with me, Iris Carpenter, part of the time, we separated and went on different units and that sort of thing. I knew the nurses. I made a point of getting acquainted with them, any women units that were around. You see, the British had women in uniform—military uniform. Well, the uniform I was wearing was a done-over WAC uniform. [Laughter] It was pretty dirty—I, too. But it didn't have any insignia until I finally blew my stack and said, "Put something on me. Somebody will arrest me some day and I'll get shot."
Knight: What about the men journalists?
Cowan: Oh, the men were just—it was different in the day. Of course, we are not in war, you see. Now, maybe when we go to war, the men correspondents, both the writers and the photographers, will be put in uniform, and you're under a certain control. You don't go roaming around as freely; you have to go and get clearance to go. And it was never hard to get. Wherever I wanted to go, I found I could get there.
Knight: How did you get along with the men journalists?
Cowan: Oh, some of 'em didn't like me. I mean, Wes Gallagher wanted to send me home immediately, as I told you, and he said, "Hold the ship and put her on it, going back home!" [Laughter] Finally, we became pretty good friends, and he and I are now friends. Then I had no trouble. When I got to London, we were all friends. I knew a number of the men who were over there.
Knight: When you were in Algiers, going back just a little bit, that's when you covered Patton at the Kaserene Pass during that retreat.
Cowan: Well, I heard there was some action going on up there, and of course, you went sometimes by plane and sometimes you managed to get a group of soldiers that were moving up and that sort of thing. So I wanted to find out what was going on. Wherever I heard there was something happening, I wanted to try to get there. So I went up. On the way up there, we were in the plane, and the plane came down low enough so that you could see pretty well what was going on on the ground. You didn't want to be too high up, because they'd shoot you down. I saw that there was so much traffic going back this way when it should have been going that way. Troops that were successful would go that way. But here they were coming back. So I began asking questions. [Laughter] I ran onto Patton up there with several other officers, and I came up and said, "What's the trouble?" [Laughter]
And he said, "I guess it's the wrong way." Some remark like that; I don't know if it was that. So then I figured I'd better get myself back to Algiers myself, which I did.
Knight: I understood that Patton had been too busy to see the reporters.
Cowan: Well, he had, but he was out on the field, and I was the only reporter. I was with some other group, of course, and just—-well, you know, some of the other military officers that were up on various jobs without necessarily commanding a unit, and I was with one of those groups. We went up to him, and Patton couldn't do much else but sit and talk to me. I think he was so confused by the fact I was up there. [Laughter] That was nothing. I knew Patton after that time. We used to say hello and all that sort of thing.
Knight: Didn't you run into him later on after that retreat at the French Embassy in Algiers, as well?
Cowan: Yes. Did I tell you about that?
Knight: I've heard about that.
Cowan: What did it say?
Knight: [Laughter] It's your story.
Cowan: Yeah. I can remember, but I can't quite remember. I remember we were having lunch at the counter, because things were very informal in those days. But I don't remember exactly what was said then. If you'd tell me, I probably could recall it, because I remember talking to him. No, Patton was all right. I liked Patton very much. I have great admiration for him.
Knight: You were on the ship with Patton during the Normandy invasion, I read.
Cowan: Well, I think I was on the unit that was commanded by Patton, but I'm not sure. I can't recall that I did. If I said I did, well, I probably can find that I was. That's just procedure.
Knight: Tell me about the Harvard hospital unit, the unit that you went to in France.
Cowan: Well, I found out very early in the business that if I got in touch with organizations like hospitals and medical units and that, that I had a good chance of staying there, but if I wanted to get involved with a military unit, no, they didn't want any of that. I wasn't a good enough shot for that, I guess. And also, they didn't want women getting mixed in with the men units, if at all possible. So I just let them go do the fighting, and I went around and tried to write the interesting sidelights of the war.
I had made contact with a great many of the hospitals and field units, because I was always accepted there. The nurses were there, for one thing. They were used to the fact that there are women in this world, and that they can have a part in the war, too.
Well, one of the hospitals, the biggest one at that time in France, was the Harvard Hospital. I think it was Inez Robb. At that time we were about ready to get into Paris, and we started on this detailed trip into Paris, and stopped at this hospital. By that time, my hair was not naturally the color that I was wearing it, you see, and it had grown out a little bit, so I thought I ought to do something about it. I said, "I'm not a golden—haired person anymore, am I?" So they said, "No, you're not. You have a streak around there. It's a little darker."
So I went into this hospital, and I said, "Any chance of getting a pail of water?" I had a bottle of the stuff that I could put on it. "Does anybody know about putting some stuff on heads?" Yes, they did. So they gave me a dose of putting the bleach on my head and all that sort of thing, and washed it. And when I came up, somebody said, "Oh, my God, it's not the right color." [Laughter] So here I was, starting out with two layers of darker hair than my real hair, I think. She put something on there; I don't know. That's part of that story. So I got into Paris. One of the first things I did was to find a beauty parlor and get myself all in one tone up there. It was just fun. I didn't like it much.
Knight: Let's take a break and change the tape.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Cowan: When it came time to go in, Inez and I got separated. She wanted to go on one type of story, and I wanted to go on another, and we were on the outside of Paris. The train that went into Paris, wasn't it? Well, I was with one small hospital that particular time, and they were going into Paris, being transferred from out where the action was into Paris, and I wanted to know if I could get a ride with them, and I did. I got a ride on the train into Paris with this particular unit. I rode in the cabin, the engine, climbed up in the cab of the engine to see what it was like up there. There wasn't much I could see or look into. [Laughter]
Knight: This would have been when Paris was liberated in August of '44?
Cowan: No, no, it was earlier. Oh, no, we were still fighting in Paris, fighting for life, as it were. Then every now and then, I'd get with a WAC unit. We joined the WAC unit, we went into Paris in a car, an automobile. One of the WACS had enough rank to get a car, and we got in. We got quarters in one hotel and went up and pushed the window up, thought we'd wave the American flag out. Pretty soon somebody began firing at us, so we closed the window down and stopped it, decided it was a little bit too early. [Laughter]
Knight: You said in an interview that when you were assigned to these stories, that you were assigned to these stories with a women's angle on it.
Knight: What did that mean?
Cowan: Men in those early days didn't really know what to do with a woman reporter. Now, could she come in and cover a murder trial? Isn't that rather messy for her to cover? Shouldn't she be protected from that type of thing? Well, that was the early days. Of course, I was right out there where I wanted to find out what was going on.
Now, what was the question you asked?
Knight: The women's angle of stories.
Cowan: I always had to worry with the women's angle in something, but that was not the real story. I was after the real story.
Knight: Explain to me the difference. What would a women's angle story be, and what would the real story be?
Cowan: A women's angle would be covering nurses, covering hospitalization, covering whatever civilian things would carry over into the military, covering the food, but not covering fighting, the battles, not going in when they were planning what kind of a move they would make, when the military was planning what kind of a move they'd make. Like I can remember that one of Eisenhower's groups, the men came in and they were talking about what moves they would make in a particular maneuver they were making. And I was right in the back, standing right there. I never intruded in anything. I never wanted to get thrown out if I could help it. I didn't see much of a women's angle in it; I thought it was just a war—period. And I've been around when they were firing cannons and that sort of thing, but I didn't push my way in.
Knight: You preferred what kind of story?
Cowan: More or less human interest stories, what the whole thing was all about. I wasn't an authority on this thing, you know. What adventures various—I would go into a hospital in which they had casualties recovering, and I would talk to them and get their stories and write them and push some of them back and file them. Of course, a lot of those things didn't get printed, of course, didn't even leave the country because they couldn't. It would give too much away. That was their job, not mine.
Knight: The editors that you passed the stories on to.
Cowan: Right. Sure. I knew pretty well if I could write the story or not, but if so and so a person was wounded in such a battle that happened at such a place, perhaps that wasn't knowledgeable to the enemy, so why do it? You don't do it.
Knight: How would you actually physically get these stories? Did you type them? Did you write them longhand and send them on to an editor? How did they get to where they were supposed to get?
Cowan: I used the phone a lot. It was pretty hard, those phones over there, to handle, especially they have French operators, and I spoke no French. But I managed to get through. And then I used to write stories. If there were men correspondents who were going back or something like that, I'd give them something to turn into the AP. Usually I could find AP—enough of us were over there—that I could make connections with an AP chap and give him some copy to take back, or I would give it to some friends of mine. It got back all right. Not all you write, of course.
Knight: You also tried to join General Patton at the Battle of the Bulge, I understand.
Cowan: Oh, there's something about that I can't quite remember. I've been going back to when you asked about Patton. The Battle of the Bulge, that was in the later part.
Knight: December of '44.
Cowan: Yes. I can't quite remember what it was.
Knight: I understand that you didn't get to go, but they sent you to Rome instead, and you went to see Pope Pius XII.
Cowan: Yes, I saw him. I can't quite remember it. I know that there's something there with Patton, because we always remained kind of close friends.
Okay. Anything else?
Knight: I know that some of the relationships that you made during the war were helpful for you when you returned back to the United States. After you got back, did they keep your slot open at the AP, at the Washington Bureau? That was waiting for you when you returned?
Cowan: Yes. I was pretty exhausted when I came, and there were about—oh, six to eight of us, something like that, that they just simply got back into London and then put us on a plane and sent us home. We were glad to get home. I went to New York, of course, and they said that I should have some leave, so I met some friends, so on and so forth, and I had to get some clothes. I had no clothes. Then I didn't have to go to work. I went up to the AP office and reported in every now and then, in a few days or something of that sort.
When I came back, I did some initial writing, but I was awfully tired. Then they said I would be assigned to the London Bureau, and that was all right with me, but I didn't go back.
Knight: Why didn't you go back?
Cowan: Got my old job back in Washington. I liked it better. And I'd left my apartment in Washington. Several WACs had it. Hank Horrack—do you know her?
Cowan: Well, she was public relations for the WACs, and she was a very close friend of mine. We worked very good together. So when she came back a little ahead of me, she took my apartment, and a couple of other WACs still. The war was still on.
Knight: You came back in the summer of '45?
Cowan: Something of that sort. I'd have to look up the date.
Knight: And when did you start back to work at the Washington Bureau?
Cowan: About two months or something. I went down to Texas and stayed there. That's my home state, as it were, and stayed there about a few weeks and then came back, rested a little bit more, and I wanted to go back to work.
Knight: Now, you were involved at that point with the Women's National Press Club.
Cowan: Oh, yes. I think I joined the [Women's] National Press Club before I ever went overseas. Along early in that deal, I got elected president.
Knight: Tell me about your year as president. What do you remember most about it?
Cowan: Well, I had some very good speakers. Of course, I had Mrs. R. Then when they were working out plans for the peace and all that sort of thing, I had everybody that had a title, I think, in one of these departments, the head guy, I tried to get him to talk to the Press Club. And I had some very good programs because I got good people.
Knight: This was during the time in which women weren't allowed in the National Press Club.
Cowan: Oh, Lord, no. You could go in with somebody. You know, there's one little room off to the side there as you come in the main door. It's a room off there. I think it's a cloak room now. And that was a dining room. Some man member or some man that had connections with the Press Club could invite you to go in there to lunch or dinner. Then they got so that they would let two or three women come in if one of them was married to a man that was a member of the Press Club. But you couldn't go beyond a certain place over there. You could hardly get a check cashed. [Laughter] That was funny.
Knight: What happened when you had Secretary of State Marshall to the Women's National Press?
Cowan: Oh, that was the time we got mixed up. He got there ahead of me. I went down to one entrance to get him in, and I went to the entrance where men and women could—it wasn't the Press Club. It was a men's club right about K Street, somewhere there. Do you remember, Brad, what that thing could be? [Army & Navy Club] Anyway, there was one door which men and women could come in, and then they would—BZZZZZ—right to the very top floor, which they could have men and women at night shows and that sort of thing, night dinners. Then Marshall—no, I'm all mixed up. I know what you're talking about, but I can't get quite the connection of the thing. What did you have on it?
Knight: That the men were very upset that the Women's Club had gotten Marshall to speak about the Marshall Plan, and they couldn't come.
Cowan: Oh, that was the time that I had asked Marshall if he would come and speak, and he did. He said he would. We got mixed up getting upstairs, but that didn't have any real serious thing to it. But Marshall made the first public statement to the Women's National Press Club. Well, now, a woman in the National Press Club could invite a man to come if she wanted, as her guest, because they would let the men invite us to certain limited number of performances, types of performances they had. The men just couldn't get in, and here was Marshall making his speech, you see, the first one, and they were all out in the hallway. Oh, it was adorable! [Laughter]
Knight: Turnabout is fair play.
Cowan: Absolutely! [Laughter] Marshall was a great person.
Knight: Were there any efforts when you were with the Women's National Press Club to integrate the two clubs and merge them during that time?
Cowan: No, not that I ever knew anything about. I thought we were doing very well on our own. [Laughter] We were getting places that sometimes the men couldn't get.
Knight: For example, what kind of stories do you think you were able to do that they couldn't?
Cowan: Well, Mrs. Roosevelt, of course. The men didn't want women in the President's conferences, and once in a while you would get in, but you always were having to stand at the back and that sort of thing. So Mrs. R. didn't like the way the women were pushed around, so she had press conferences, and she wouldn't let the men in! [Laughter] Funny days, those.
Knight: You had started covering Mrs. Roosevelt when you worked in Chicago.
Cowan: Oh, I was in Chicago when I covered her. Yes. Her secretary, we went down, and the mine got stuck down there. [Laughter] They had to get us up by inches, almost.
Knight: That was when she went to the Orient mine in Chicago?
Cowan: The Orient thing, yes. Have you got that?
Knight: I knew that you were on that trip.
Knight: But I didn't know you had gotten stuck.
Cowan: No, it was slow getting up. It wasn't really a stick; we weren't barricaded down there or left down there. But it was very slow coming up. I think they were afraid to let us off, I don't know. They had to just skip that. That was the time that I backed up against something. It was summer, and I had a light wool dress, a knit wool dress or something like that on, and I was covering Mrs. R's several functions in Chicago at that particular time. That was when I was stationed out there. I had to keep going from one thing to another. At the night performance of this group, some big women's club, everybody was all dolled up, and, of course, I showed up and here I had all this stuff that I'd gotten on me from backing up against this thing in the elevator, in the mine. And walked out, trying to find a place to hear Mrs. R. talk, and they just wouldn't let me on. Mrs. Roosevelt saw it, and she laughed and laughed and laughed, and said, "Ruth, come on over here and sit down here." And then I realized what was the business, so I said no, but I was awful darn mad. [Laughter] I imagine I covered the meeting without any spite, but I would have liked to have wrung their necks.
Knight: What other stories do you remember covering of Mrs. Roosevelt that stick out in your mind?
Cowan: Well, the first time I ever saw Mrs. Roosevelt was the time she came out after the election, and she had a lot of mail in her hands. She asked if anybody from the AP was there, and I acknowledged that I was, and I moved up front. She said, "Well, here. I brought these letters." And I said, "You're carrying our letters for us?" [Laughter] She handed me a bag of mail. They were personal things, you see. They weren't really letters that went through the mail. So I took them into the office, and I said, "Mrs. 'R' brought these things to us." Some people had left her, and she wanted the people from the AP to see them or something. I don't know what was in the things.
Knight: She had had a very good relationship with the women reporters, didn't she?
Cowan: Oh, yes, she liked them. She didn't like them being pushed around like they were, and if you went to something to cover something, and you had maybe a little difficulty getting a chair or something like that, she, sitting up on the platform, would move down and point to a chair or something like that. She was very helpful, one of the most helpful people you could possibly imagine. And she was helping the women. Any time that she could say a good word for a woman, she did. So the men, of course, didn't like that either, because good stories would break through Mrs. R's press conference, and I imagine she and the President plotted some of that stuff. Anyway, they got to the place where they would try to sneak in to us. One time she got up and just ordered them out of the hallway. [Laughter] "Okay, I see you over there. Get going." [Laughter] I was very fond of Mrs. R.
Then when I first came back from overseas, I went up to Hyde Park there for a little bit. She liked reporters and understood them. She liked men reporters, too, but they weren't going to keep the women from getting a break, too. This is early, you know.
Knight: Back in '33, when she first held a press conference.
Cowan: Right. And this is when civilization was a little different.
Knight: When you came back from the war and rejoined the AP in Washington, were you still the only woman that was there?
Cowan: In the AP?
Cowan: No, they had a couple in the Feature section, and then there was a gal taking my job while I was gone. She then went back home to get married, so things moved. I just got my same old desk and shoved the stuff in.
Knight: And you had a general news beat, the same beat that you'd had before, covering the White House?
Cowan: No, I was more or less—well, I had some of that. If it was special stories, yes, I covered the White House and that first. Then I was assigned to the Department of Defense. They thought I knew a cannon from a shotgun. I got along over there all right because I knew so many of those people.
Knight: And how much longer were you with the AP? You worked there until the mid-Fifties.
Cowan: About '55. [June 30, 1956]. Somewhere in the early Fifties. I don't know, Brad.
Mr. Nash: You were there 'til '56. We got married, and that was when you lost your job.
Cowan: Yes, I got fired! [Laughter]
Knight: I want to talk about that.
Cowan: No, that's a joke.
Knight: You were single all this time.
Knight: Was that a choice that you had made?
Cowan: Well, once in a while I did get an offer to change it. [Laughter]
Cowan: I didn't do it, of course.
Mr. Nash: You covered the press gallery.
Cowan: Oh, yes, I did. Right after the war, they'd learned that maybe women could do some of these jobs, so I was assigned to the press gallery and to the House Armed Services Committee in the House. Then, naturally, I would go into the press gallery to see what was happening to the bills that I was concerned with in the committee meetings.
Knight: I am interested, though—I've asked other women that I've interviewed—-in the choice that you did make. Did you think about marriage and think about having children and what that meant for your career?
Cowan: Oh, I did, of course, going along the way. I had a few love affairs, but that was not—everybody has those. When you're in high school, you fall in love with somebody.
Knight: I'm just curious.
Cowan: No, I was very anxious to be a success in the writing business and that sort of thing, and I had a lot of fun in those days.
Knight: Did you think that getting married might change that or getting seriously involved with a man would change that?
Cowan: Sure! In those days, the AP didn't want a married woman. Bess Furman—that was one of the reasons—did you know her or of her?
Cowan: Well, that was one of the reasons poor Bess lost out over there. She got married. A terrible crime. [Laughter] Hope you notice that as a joke. [Laughter]
Knight: Then Beth (Campbell) Short followed her.
Cowan: Yes. And then Beth Campbell married, and I followed her in, you see. Yes.
Knight: What about some of your other women journalist friends? Do you think they had difficulty making that decision?
Cowan: No, I don't think so. I think we were all more or less of the same opinion, and it just worked out that way for me. Any time that I got—I don't know, I was rather ambitious to get something done. I don't know. I just went from one place to another.
Knight: So what made you finally decide to get married?
Cowan: Well, if you were not of a certain age in AP, why, they put you on more or less kind of a retirement basis, which was not much good. I had met Brad by that time.
Knight: That's true. They had an after-55 retirement rule at the AP. Sigrid Arne was forced to retire at the age of 55 at the AP, I recall.
Cowan: Yes. So was—who else was up there? I think Bess Furman was, wasn't she?
Knight: Yes. I'm not sure if she left because she married or because she got hit by the retirement.
Cowan: I don't know either. I've forgotten.
Knight: Were there any reporters that you worked with who were married and had families? I know Sarah McClendon obviously was on her own.
Cowan: Well, that's different. The AP finally got some sense. Yes, there were others, but there were so many of those restrictions. It was very difficult for women in the teaching profession to ever become a principal. Who ever heard of that? Ages have changed a little bit, and it's very amusing to see how much they've changed in the recent last few years.
Knight: When you look at journalism today and you think about your career as a journalist, what do you see as different in the field, in what you read today in the papers?
Cowan: You mean the material, the content of a story?
Cowan: Well, they're different type stories, but if a person was covering a committee hearing, there would be very little, if any at all, difference in the way it would be written by a man or by a woman. A woman can take a viewpoint of that kind that it's a little more difficult for a man to describe a woman's hair-do and that sort of thing and her clothes. I don't remember, in covering the White House social events, I don't remember seeing too many men there, if any at all.
Knight: Do you see any other changes in the journalism field that you've noticed since you've retired from journalism?
Cowan: Well, I think that they're accepted, and then, also, they accepted women. You see, men didn't want women in, because sometimes they would get some of the prize stories. Now I think men are accepting women, and women are accepting men. Okay.
Knight: When you look back on your life as a journalist, what are you most proud of in the work that you did?
Cowan: I think some of the stories I did overseas. I mean, they seem to stay longer with me. And I was always proud when I got—well, of course, it was after I came back from overseas, I was assigned to military—over at the Pentagon, and I liked some of those stories. But a story, to me, was a story.
Knight: How do you mean?
Cowan: Well, it was a good story and it told something, and it met some need. I think of a medical campaign going on, and you would go to the medical headquarters and get what they were doing. That had no sex. Lots of stories don't have sex. [Laughter] And worth covering. [Laughter] That's a joke.
Knight: Well, thanks. I think we'll wrap up for the day.
Cowan: All right. I hope it's been worthwhile for you.
Knight: Yes, it has for me. It's been really fun today and the last time. You should look at the transcripts that I gave to Bradley and see if there are any corrections you want to make.
Cowan: All right. Will do.
Knight: And then I will come back in a few weeks and bring the transcript from today, and you can look at that, and we can maybe fill in some dates and fix some things.
Cowan: Yes, we could. We'll probably have some changes to make.
Knight: I'll also make you a copy of the videotape so you can have a copy of it. At the end, when we're finished with all these transcripts, I'll give you copies of transcripts.
Cowan: That will be fine.
Knight: You will have them for whoever you want to see them, which will be fun.