Officer's identification card, No. 296054, for Mrs. Antoinette Frissell Bacon, photographer for the American Red Cross

World War II opened a new chapter in the lives of Depression-weary Americans. As husbands and fathers, sons and brothers shipped out to fight in Europe and the Pacific, millions of women marched into factories, offices, and military bases to work in paying jobs and in roles reserved for men in peacetime.

For female journalists, World War II offered new professional opportunities. Talented and determined, dozens of women fought for--and won--the right to cover the biggest story of their lives. By war's end, at least 127 American women had secured official military accreditation as war correspondents, if not actual front-line assignments. Other women journalists remained on the home front to document the ways in which the country changed dramatically under wartime conditions.

Women Come to the Front: Journalists, Photographers and Broadcasters of World War II spotlights eight women who succeeded in "coming to the front" during the war--Therese Bonney, Toni Frissell, Marvin Breckinridge Patterson, Clare Boothe Luce, Janet Flanner, Esther Bubley, Dorothea Lange, and May Craig. Their stories--drawn from private papers and photographs primarily in Library of Congress collections--open a window on a generation of women who changed American society forever by securing a place for themselves in the workplace, in the newsroom, and on the battlefield.

Two Centuries of American Women Journalists

The women journalists, photographers, and broadcasters of World War II followed two centuries of trailblazers. During the 1700s, Mary Katherine Goddard, Anne Royall, and other women ran family printing and newspaper businesses along the East Coast. By the late 1800s, the growth of higher education for women had spawned a new market--and jobs--for writers of "women's news."

At the turn of the twentieth century, the woman's suffrage movement opened opportunities for female reporters to cut their teeth on national politics under the guise of women's news. However, female reporters often worked without permanent office space, salaries, or access to the social clubs and backrooms where men conducted business. In response, women began their own professional associations, such as the Women's National Press Club, founded on September 27, 1919, by a group of Washington newswomen. The organization eventually merged with the National Press Club after it admitted women in 1971.

When the Great Depression threatened the tenuous foothold of women on newspaper staffs, Eleanor Roosevelt instituted a weekly women-only press conference to force news organizations to employ at least one female reporter. During World War II, many of the newswomen in the First Lady's circle served as war correspondents.

Those who did get to the war front followed a path begun a century earlier by pioneers such as Margaret Fuller (the New York Herald Tribune's European correspondent in the 1840s), Jane Swisshelm (Civil War), Anna Benjamin (Spanish-American War), and Dorothy Thompson (overseas correspondent in the 1930s), among others. One of the most important predecessors was Peggy Hull, who on September, 17, 1918, won accreditation from the War Department to become the first official American female war correspondent and who went on to serve as a correspondent during World War II.

Whatever route led them to the hospitals, battlefields, and concentration camps, female reporters found that the war offered an unanticipated opportunity. Political-reporter-turned-war correspondent May Craig best summed up their achievements in a 1944 speech at the Women's National Press Club: "The war has given women a chance to show what they can do in the news world, and they have done well."