The White House Correspondents' Dinner is an amazing experience for many reasons but this year, a year when women's rights have been under attack politically, I want to report back on some possible reasons for feminist optimism.
Every revolution wants change NOW and the women's movement is no different. Those of us who were active early have had many reasons for pessimism as we see how slowly corporations change. Only 35 women hold the top spot at Fortune 1000 companies, and very few traditional companies have made allowances to make life easier for two-career families.
But I am beginning to be optimistic that America is changing and that it's permanent.
Friday night I was at a party sponsored by Time and People that is a traditional part of the White House Correspondents' weekend in Washington, D.C. We were in the courtyard of the St. Regis Hotel where I had just finished one conversation and was turning to look for another when a delightful young woman (in her early 20s at best) introduced herself to me. (As a mom, it is always heartening to encounter capable young people who are comfortable connecting with adults.)
Moments later I realized I was in the midst of a family... the young woman's mother was ABC White House Correspondent Ann Compton, with whom I had worked at the beginning of both of our careers.
Met at ABC Radio
I was hired out of college by ABC Radio because the networks were being sued by the National Organization for Women because of the dearth of women in technical positions. My job was as an associate director of radio, a job that required union membership in the Directors Guild of America. (At that time, the number of women members in that guild was infinitesimally small.)
As an associate director I was responsible for getting a radio newscast on and off the air and seeing that the scheduled commercials were played. (I worked with professionals who had been doing this for years, so my responsibilities sound a lot harder than they were.)
One day something new happened. A young woman entered the studio to anchor a newscast. ABC had hired her from a CBS television affiliate in Virginia to come to New York to be a network radio reporter. That reporter was Ann Compton.
I remember feeling so happy when she was ushered into the studio for her first broadcast -- one of my shows! Because she was new, she actually looked to me for guidance on the timing in a way that long-time newscasters never needed.
Running into Ann and her beautiful daughter and at least one of her three sons felt so wonderful -- a circle completed.
With Ann's move to the network, she had found her calling. She was the first woman to cover the White House on a full-time basis for a network television news organization, and she was the only broadcast reporter allowed to remain on board Air Force One on September 11, 2001, during the hours when President Bush chose not to return to Washington. As a result, she was an important part of the team who was awarded the prestigious Silver Baton Alfred I. DuPont Columbia University Award for the network's 9-11 coverage.
My joy in seeing Ann still actively working as White House Correspondent for ABC Radio and accompanied by her spouse, Dr. William Hughes, and at least two of her four children who are clearly ready to take on the world made me feel so optimistic. The revolution is happening... it is just is taking time.
While Ann found her calling at ABC, my work there showed me that I really preferred the written word so I went on to life as an author. Thirty-five books later, I now devote my time to stories of American history, including many about American women who have made a difference. I am elated to say that my husband and I, too, have sent dynamite women out to change the world... one in the world of film; one in retail; and one in journalism.
My youngest was at the party, and I would have loved to introduce her to Ann Compton but I couldn't. She was off working the room.
If you would like to read more about women who have made a difference, please visit: www.americacomesalive.com
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