Dorothy Misener Jurney (1909 - 2002)
Dorothy Misener Jurney, hailed as the “godmother of the transformation of the women’s page,” was a trailblazing journalist who pushed the boundaries of the male dominated field of journalism. At a time when women’s pages were expected to report on what fellow journalist Kay Mills defined as the “Four F’s – family, food, fashion, and furnishings,” Jurney successfully transformed the “look, philosophy, and level of professionalism” of women’s pages from soft news to hard news. She successfully shifted the focus of women’s pages from society news to serious issues such as the women’s movement, female political candidates, and women in the workplace. The advances Jurney made during the course of her career benefited countless female journalists who followed in her footsteps and enriched the lives of her female readers.
Early Years & Education
Dorothy Misener Jurney was born on May 8, 1909 in Michigan City, Indiana, to Herbert Roy Misener and Mary Zeola Hershey Misener. Her father was the publisher of the Michigan City News and her mother was a suffragist who, in 1928, became one of the first three women elected to the Indiana House of Representatives. Jurney began working at her father’s newspaper when she was in high school. She attended Western College for Women in Ohio and then transferred to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where she received her degree in 1930.
Jobs were scarce due to the Great Depression, so Jurney worked for her father's newspaper until he sold it in 1939. She then became women's editor of the Gary (IN) Post-Tribune. Jurney later observed, “A lot of people think Gary is the end of the world, not the beginning. I found it exciting because I learned about people and countries and religious ways of life I didn’t know existed. There were Ruthenians, Moldavians, Bosnians, Serbians, Croats, [and] Greek Catholics.” Instead of covering the “bankers and League of Women Voters members and steel mill executives,” Jurney wanted to report on “the men who handled the steel in the mils. There was so much to learn about.” She left the Post-Tribune when she married engineer Frank J. Jurney in 1940.
Shortly after the couple married, Frank Jurney accepted an engineering job in the Panama Canal Zone. Prior to their marriage, Jurney expressed his opinion that his bride-to-be should not work after the two married. She countered, “Well, I didn’t want to have any children and work was really more important to me than getting married.” Instead of staying at home, Dorothy Jurney served as assistant to the Press Representative of the Panama Canal from 1941-1942. Because Panamanian journalists were not allowed in the Canal Zone, Jurney served as an intermediary, and wrote press releases about construction on the canal that were published in Panamanian papers.
"I'm a Woman."
Upon the Jurneys’ return to the United States in 1943, Dorothy accepted a job as assistant women's editor of the Miami News until a career move for her husband in 1944 led to a position for herself as assistant city editor, and later acting city editor, of the Washington Daily News. At the end of World War II, Jurney and other women had to relinquish their positions to men returning from war. She was asked by managing editor John O’Rourke to train her replacement, a cub reporter for the News before the war, to be city editor. Years later she still remembered her conversation with O’Rourke. “Dorothy,” he said, “you know, I would like to make you city editor, but I just don’t think it would work. You know why?” Jurney responded, “Yes, I’m a woman.” O’Rourke replied, “That’s it.” Although she resented training her replacement, Jurney managed to get a raise before her husband took a new job in Florida.
A return to her former job as assistant women's editor at the Miami News was not at all satisfactory after the experience of wartime journalism in the nation's capital. Unhappy with reporting society news, Jurney asked managing editor Hoke Welch to transfer her to the newsroom when a position became available. When she reminded Welch of his promise, he responded that he would see what he could do. After speaking to Daniel Mahoney, publisher of the News, who also happened to be the son-in-law of the newspaper’s owner, James M. Cox, Welch was told he could not transfer her to the newsroom. Welch told Jurney, “Dorothy, there isn’t anything I can do about it.” It was at the News that she formed a long lasting friendship with fellow journalist Marie Anderson. Their friendship would prove fruitful for both of their careers.
Reputation for Excellence
In 1949, Jurney resigned from the News. She subsequently joined the Miami Herald where she worked on the copy desk for a year before being promoted to women’s editor. As women’s editor, Jurney was given the authority to develop a women’s section that became widely recognized for its excellence in the journalism field. She hired Marie Anderson as her assistant and surrounded herself with a talented staff. She and Anderson were joined by reporter Roberta Applegate, food editor Jeanne Voltz, copy editor Marjorie Paxson, and advice columnist Eleanor Ratelle. Paxson later remembered, “We got along very well. And we had a good time.” Jurney won several awards during this period, including the Florida Press Club award for general excellence in women's news (six times) and National Headliner of Women in Communications.
Marjorie Paxson later said of Jurney:
“Dorothy always wanted to see all the headlines. And if the headline wasn't right, she could usually have some kind of a suggestion of a word that would make it better or make it stronger. She was tremendous when it came to criticizing it because she never started out by saying why did you do a dumb thing like that? You should have done so-and-so. She always started out with a compliment; then she would tell you but it would have been better if you had done it this way. But on the whole — and she had another compliment. She used the sandwich technique just beautifully. She was marvelous.”
Despite her success at the Herald, Jurney was still limited by gender discrimination. The experience of being told she would never be city editor at the Washington News left Jurney pessimistic about future opportunities. She recalled, “I had no hopes of becoming a city editor or a managing editor or any kind of a top editor” after leaving the News. Jurney somberly recalled that when she graduated from Northwestern University “there was that impetus that we should all be working – we should be working women and have careers. But nobody ever pointed out, or we were not smart enough to realize, that the horizons were not very high.”
Shortly after she was named women’s editor at the Herald, Jurney was asked to meet with Cle Althouse, head of the paper’s personnel department. Althouse asked her about her ambitions and goals. Jurney replied, “Well, Cle, my ambition is just to do the best I can every day.” Althouse responded, “You don’t want to be city editor or you don’t want to be managing editor?” Jurney retorted, “Cle, why should I try? I would be butting my head up against a wall and I’m not going to do that for my own peace of mind.” What Jurney did not know at the time was that she was under consideration for the city editor position. A male colleague later told her, “You didn’t get it because of the way you answered.” Jurney later said, “My answer would have been very different” if she had known she was under consideration.
Despite this setback, Jurney soldiered on and found solidarity with other women’s editors who faced the same discrimination. In 1959, the American Press Institute sponsored a conference at Columbia University for women’s editors. Jurney called the conference, “quite a revelation.” Participants engaged in critique sessions of each other’s women’s sections. Jurney found that the sessions were “a very valuable tool and somewhat difficult because I wasn’t used to such close criticism.” She observed that at the Herald, “We didn’t have anybody to say, ‘Dorothy, I think it would have been better if you’d done it this way.’ [Editor] Lee Hills on the Herald was very good at that, but he had a whole newspaper to take care of.” She wryly observed, “Most male editors were happy to leave the women’s sections alone as long as they weren’t making horrible mistakes and the advertisers were happy. So we didn’t learn a great deal.”
Hills recognized Jurney’s ability to solve problems and generate new ideas. He asked her to help overhaul the women’s pages at the Charlotte (NC) Observer. While in Charlotte, Jurney met Charles McKee, an African American. Shortly thereafter she filed for divorce from Frank Jurney, citing incompatibility. Although the divorce was initially granted by the lower court, Frank Jurney contested the divorce, and the Florida Supreme Court ruled in his favor. Jurney dryly observed that “the Florida law was not very good for women in divorce cases.” The couple’s marriage ended in a legal separation in 1959.
In 1959 Jurney made another life-changing decision when she accepted a position as women's editor on the Detroit Free Press. There she would develop her talents as a journalist even further.
Detroit Free Press
The years Jurney spent in Detroit were exciting times for women. Her section reported extensively on the women's movement and on political, social, and economic gains made by women. Jurney and her staff also covered local stories that helped establish the women’s section as a vital part of the Detroit community. One groundbreaking story during Jurney’s time at the Free Press covered the Detroit public school system’s efforts to address the issue of homosexuality during the 1960s when the subject was taboo. Such stories defined the Free Press’ women’s pages “as a news section.”
She remembered, “Detroit was a macho city, but there were many strong women too. It was good to identify with their goals – women in the labor movement, women in politics, women in business, women in the arts, and women in Detroit’s great universities and colleges. They were black, Jewish, WASPs and from the many ethnic groups that comprise Detroit. We were reporting on the cutting edge of what was happening, of what people were thinking about, and what people wanted to happen.” Jurney declared, “We were very highly regarded by the community. We were important.” Her work as a women’s editor did not go unnoticed by fellow journalists.
In 1967 Jurney was asked to participate in the Asian-American Women Writer's Conference in Hawaii. She met a fellow journalist from the Philippines, which resulted in Jurney interviewing Imelda Marcos, then First Lady of the Philippines. She was later confronted in her Detroit office by unidentified men, possibly from the Filipino military, about the published interview. Jurney recalled, “I can remember them standing there at the desk and me looking up at these guys. And I said, ‘But this is what Mrs. Marcos told me. I didn’t make it up.’” When Jurney later saw Marcos at an event at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the first lady scolded her by saying, “Naughty, naughty.”
While at the Free Press Jurney was recognized with several awards, including a nomination by the Michigan Press Women Association as Newswoman of the Year of the National Federation of Press Women. In 1973 Jurney was made assistant managing editor of the Free Press, and became a member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. She also was the first woman board member of the Associated Press Managing Editors organization. Later that same year she was asked to move to the Philadelphia Inquirer as assistant managing editor during a period of transition for the paper.
Unlike Miami and Detroit, Philadelphia was a challenge for Jurney. She admitted, “I wasn’t particularly happy in Philadelphia. I didn’t have a long enough time at the Inquirer.” Jurney observed, “I didn’t have a very good staff – in fact, quite a miserable staff – some individuals who were good, but it was not sufficient to cover Philadelphia.” Due to the small staff she found herself “almost literally tied to the desk.” As a result, she said, “I had no opportunity to get out and meet the women in Philadelphia as I had in Detroit.” When she found out that Philadelphia had a larger number of garment workers than New York City, Jurney assigned a writer to report on local labor unions. The stories that followed resulted in Jurney being criticized for not “devoting time and attention to what was going on on the Main Line.” Still, she asserted years later, “I still think I was right.”
In 1975, Jurney took part in the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ second trip to China. Upon her return to the Inquirer Jurney wrote a series of articles about her experiences overseas. Shortly thereafter, she retired in 1975.
Jurney kept busy after retirement. She worked for the National Commission on the Observance of International Women's Year, 1975-1979; participated in the National Women's Conference in Houston, 1977; founded the Woman's Network, an editorial talent search firm; conducted a study on women in news management positions and published her findings in the Bulletin of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 1977-1986; and served as media specialist to the Women's Study Program and Policy Center at George Washington University on a project that analyzed newspaper reporting of issues and events of importance to women, and published the findings in a report called New Directions for News in 1983. (See Collection 3901, New Directions for News, Research Project, Papers). She became a board member of the newspaper think tank, also called New Directions for News, located at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Jurney also traveled extensively, especially in Asia, about which she wrote many articles. Dorothy Jurney died June 19, 2002 in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Journalist Jean Sharley Taylor said of her former colleague, “Jurney didn’t apologize for being a woman. She would be a good editor on any paper today. She had self-esteem as a woman.” Former Gannett executive Al Neuharth remarked that Jurney “was clearly, to me, a broad-gauged editor of women’s pages” who helped “the guys in their part of the newsroom understand what the hell folks wanted to read.” Catherine East observed, “Dorothy was born too soon.” Although Jurney was denied editorial positions due to her gender, her achievements helped a new generation of female journalists advance in newsrooms across the country.
Dorothy Misener Jurney Papers
The Dorothy Misener Jurney Papers consist of newspaper and magazine clippings, correspondence, speeches, photographs, slides, and miscellaneous material documenting Jurney's career as a newspaper reporter, editor and consultant from 1930 to the 1980s. The papers are arranged in three series: professional, women’s editors, and biographical. The professional series is subdivided into activities, articles, and speeches. The activities section includes correspondence, pamphlets, programs, photographs and miscellaneous items. The articles section is arranged chronologically from 1929 to 1987 and includes correspondence, notes, clippings and photographs relating to published articles written by Jurney on a variety of topics.
The women editors series consists of research notes, statistical charts, news clippings, and correspondence relating to a ten-year study of women in directing editorships—policy-making, management positions on newspapers—conducted by Jurney from 1977 to 1986 and reported annually in the publication of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The biographical series, arranged by type of material, consists of clippings and awards, correspondence and photographs documenting Jurney’s career achievements.
Text and research by Kimberly Harper.