Eleanor Packard. Half of “Pack and Peebee.” (I couldn’t make this stuff up.)

Eleanor Packard was a long -time correspondent for the United Press, who covered the Ethiopian War, the Spanish Civil War, and World War II.  She worked as a team with her husband Reynolds Packard. They reportedly met in a bar when he got into a fight and she floored his adversary. (What the New York Times called their “two-fisted and venturesome” approach to reporting created a lot of anecdotes. It’s hard to know which stories about them are true and which are not.) Known as Pack and Peebee,* they covered major stories on four continents, beginning with China, often splitting up to cover more territory.

Big, tough-looking and often unkempt, she was no “tiger in white gloves. ” She often said she was too busy covering wars to worry about her appearance.

As a case in point, she was the first woman to wear slacks in an audience with the Pope.** In 1944, the day after American troops liberated Rome, she was one of a group of correspondents waiting to see Pope Pius XII. Packard had arrived in Rome with the Fifth Army with no clothing except her war correspondent uniform.*** There were two other women in the group, both of whom wore dresses. Vatican officials asked her to leave because of her inappropriate attire.

Just then the Pope entered the room. As he made the rounds of the correspondents, he stopped in front of Packard. saying “I presume you are American. And you have been reporting this war?”

She said yes, and tried to explain that she didn’t have any other clothes with her. He smiled, and gave her a rosary and his picture. She stayed for the interview. The story made headlines around the world.

Later that week, she was held by some Italian villagers and three American G.I.s, who suspected her of being a spy. When the G.I.s asked if she could prove she was who she claimed ,she produced her passport her war correspondent accreditation, her vaccination record, her New York checkbook and her PX card. It was the PX card that convinced the G.I.s. “We’d never seen a woman correspondent so close to the front,” one of them apologized. “It just didn’t look right.”

After World War II, the Packards made their headquarters in Rome, now correspondents for the New York Daily News. Eleanor ( I refuse to call her Peebee) specialized in covering the Vatican, Including the deaths of three popes and the coronations of their successors. None of my sources mention whether she ever wore slacks to the Vatican again

*I have no idea.

**Those of you/us old enough to have endured dress codes that forced us to wear dresses to school in the winter will realize that this was a big deal.

***She apparently did not opt for the version with a skirt.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.