Kathryn Cravens: The Flying Reporter

Headshot of Kathryn Cravens, in the nid 1930s, with a CBS microphone

And speaking of women reporters and aviation, as I believe we were, allow me to introduce you to Kathryn Cochran Cravens (1898-1991), “The Flying Reporter.”

Cravens did not set out to become a reporter. In 1919, she went to Hollywood with the goal of becoming an actress. She began her acting career working in silent movies for Fox Films, which was a major player in the motion picture industry at the time. (Fox later merged with 20th Century Pictures to become 20th Century Fox, but I digress.) (1) In 1922, she married Rutherford Rector Cravens. (They divorced in 1937.) Even after her marriage, she worked in silent movies, stock theater companies, and radio theater throughout the 1920s.

In the early 1930s, Cravens’ career took a new direction. She had been working on a women’s program in St. Louis, when the station gave her the opportunity to do a 15-minute daily news program called “News Through a Woman’s Eyes.” (2) Instead of limiting herself to the classic “who, what, where, when and why” of newspaper reporting,  she specialized in asking her subjects how they felt about the topic at hand. In 1936, when CBS picked up the show, Cravens and the program moved to New York and her career took off. CBS broadcast her program nationwide, making her one of the first women news commentators heard “coast to coast”. (3) Her show was so popular that it took four secretaries to handled the fan mail.

In 1937, she took to the air in a different way. (Whether this is related to her divorce that year is unclear to me.) She was an early promoter of the commercial air travel, before it was common. (4) As a result, airline companies offered Cravens free air fare in exchange for making air travel more visible. She traveled throughout the country in pursuit of stories, logging more than 100,000 miles as the “Flying Reporter.” During this period, she also produced a syndicated column, titled “Thru a Woman’s Eyes.”(5)

Kathryn Cravens posed jauntily in her war correspondent uniform.

Toward the end of World War II, Cravens became an accredited war correspondent for WOL, in Washington, D.C. Her shortwave reports were titled—what else?—“Europe Through a Woman’s Eyes.” She was one of the first reporters to broadcast from Berlin after the Allied victory in 1945. Among other things, she broadcast live interviews with displaced persons who had relatives in the United States. (6) She covered the Potsdam conference,(7) the Nuremberg trials, and the post-war elections in the Balkans..

After the war, she reported from 22 countries for the Cowles Broadcasting Company and the Mutual Broadcasting system. She also published a novel, Pursuit of Gentlemen. Sources say it is a fictionalized version of her life, but that cover makes me wonder.

Book jacket of Pursuit of Gentlemen, in which a busty blonde in a low cut long red dress loosely aims a rifle at a gentleman riding a badly controlled horse. The general style is that of the poster for a comic Western

(1)The early motion picture industry seems to be tracking me down lately.  Hmmm.

(2) Women often found their way into reporting hard news through “the woman’s angle.”

(3) Mary Margaret McBride ran her a close second.

(4) Air travel was expensive and still uncomfortable., even after the introduction of "sky girls" to tend to passengers. Though most Americans were fascinated by aviation, getting on a plane to go from point A to point B was a bird of a different feather.

(5) This is known in modern publishing as building your brand.

(6) Sigrid Schultz also tracked down European relatives for people back home. Instead of broadcasting interviews, she wrote personal notes to their families telling them what she had found.

(7) The Soviets arrested Cravens because she entered the post-war conference site before Truman, Stalin, and Churchill arrived, which was seen as compromising security. After her release, she was suspended from broadcasting for 72 hours.

My publisher is giving away 25 copies of The Dragon From Chicago on Goodreads. You can sign up here  through July 4. Good luck!

Lady Hay Drummond-Hay : Around the World in a Flying Machine

Grace Marguerite, Lady Hay Drummond-Hay (1895-1946) was a British journalist who wrote for the Hearst papers.  She made her name with a series of articles about her experiences as one of the passengers on the first transatlantic flight of a civilian passenger zeppelin in 1928.* The following year, she  was the first woman to travel around the world by air, again in a zeppelin. She contributed to the public's general knowledge about aviation—and added a sense of glamour to the enterprise--by writing articles about her aerial adventures for American newspapers in the late 1920s and early 1930s.  (She was more than just a passenger, she was also one of the few British women pilots to hold the military "blue certificate" for blind flying before World War II and was president of the Women's International Association of Aeronautics for many years.)

Drummond-Hay later traveled as a war correspondent in company with her Hearst colleague Karl von Wiegand. (In her obituary, Time described her as von Wiegand's Girl Friday.  To which I can only say, grrrr.) Together they reported on the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931) and the Italo-Abyssinian War (1935-37).  During World War II, the two reporters were interned in a Japanese camp in the Philippines.  They were released in 1943 and traveled to the United States in the Swedish ship SS Gripsholm, which the United States had chartered as an exchange and repatriation vessel. In 1944, they were back on the job, assigned to cover conditions in Portugal and Spain.

Hay-Drummond's time in the internment camp left her in poor health, from which she never entirely recovered.**  She died of coronary thrombosis in February 1946.


*For a time, it looked like Sigrid Schultz was going to be a passenger as well. Her father had been a friend of Graf von Zeppelin, the eponymous inventor of the aircraft, and she had friends in the Zeppelin organization who were willing to pull strings on her behalf. The opportunity fell through because McCormick wasn't willing to pay even the "friends and family" fare she had negotiated. Schultz was seriously disappointed.

**She probably wasn't in great shape when she was interned. Being a war correspondent was hard on the body.

Just a reminder:  My publisher, Beacon Press,  is giving away 25 copies of The Dragon From Chicago on Goodreads. You can sign up here  through July 4. Good luck!

Thérèse Bonney: “Photofighter”

Photographer Thérèse Bonney was already in Europe when World War II began. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, she sent thousands of pictures of France back to the United States through her syndication service, the Bonney Service, including spreads on European modernism and on American expatriates in Paris.  By her account, she reached 150 newspapers, including ten major daily papers.  (To put this in context, the five big news services with which she competed supplied photographs to 2000 newspapers and 150 Sunday supplements.)

In September, 1939, Bonney traveled to Finland to photograph preparations for the 1940 Summer Olympic Games. As a result, she was one of the few phototjournalists in Finland when the Soviet Union invaded on November 30.  Bonney remained in Finland until the brutal "Winter War" ended on March 13, 1940.  Many of her images from the war appeared as a photo essay in Life.

Bonney was horrified by the brutality of World War II.  Once she left Finalnd, she traveled through the French countryside on what she called "truth raids," in which she documented the plight of children and adults made homeless by the Nazi invasion.  She also photographed several Nazi and Vichy concentration camps and Nazi accumulations of looted art.

She looked for multiple ways to reach her audience.  In addition to syndicating her photographs in American newspapers, she self-published two influential books of photographs, War Comes to the People and Europe's Children, and held one-woman shows at museums in the United States and Europe.

She received the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur from the French government and the Order of the White Rose of Finland for her work She was also the heroine of a wartime comic book, Photofighter.  Now there's glory for you!

Just a reminder:  My publisher, Beacon Press,  is giving away 25 copies of The Dragon From Chicago on Goodreads. You can sign up here  through July 4. Good luck!