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Ann Cottrell Free Dies; Washington Journalist

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 31, 2004; Page C09

Ann Cottrell Free, 88, a reporter who covered wartime Washington, roamed post-World War II Asia, India and Europe, and championed abused animals, died of pneumonia Oct. 30 at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

Mrs. Free, a resident of Bethesda and Lantz Mill, Va., was the first woman to be a full-time Washington correspondent for Newsweek, the Chicago Sun and the New York Herald Tribune. She was a regular at Eleanor Roosevelt's female-only press conferences. She slogged through postwar China and discovered that desperately needed relief supplies were being diverted, and she interviewed Gen. Chou En-Lai, who later became premier, and his wife, who was a survivor of the Long March.

Ann Cottrell Free worked for animal rights.

Mrs. Free was among a small number of female journalists who broke into the overwhelmingly white male Washington press corps during World War II and who managed to hang on in their profession when the veterans returned after the war's end.

"Women still get a rotten deal," she bluntly told the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame when it honored her in 1996. "You have to speak up for yourself."

That never seemed to be a problem for her, especially as she aged. Mrs. Free befriended Rachel Carson while the biologist was writing her epic "Silent Spring" and launched a successful campaign to establish posthumously the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

Locally, she helped stop road construction through Glover Archbold Park, prompted federal hearings on conditions at the Food and Drug Administration's animal labs and protested a planned deer hunt at the National Zoo's rare animal preserve in 1982, which was canceled.

Mrs. Free was born in Richmond and graduated from Barnard College in 1938. She began her career with her hometown paper, the Richmond Times Dispatch, for which she interviewed African American contralto Marian Anderson after her historic 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

She then went to work clipping newspaper stories for Newsweek at its New York headquarters. "One day the manager and editor called me in and said would I like to go down to Washington. I thought he meant to take a package. But I was the package," Free said in a 1989 Washington Press Club Foundation interview for an oral history project.

Once in the District, Mrs. Free reported on the impact of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the nation's entry into World War II, military and home front mobilization, women in the armed forces and war factory production. One of her stories began: "Ships and shoes and sealing wax and cabbages and kings were covered at Mrs. Roosevelt's press conference today."

After the war, she went to China as a special correspondent for the U.N. Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. She then wrote stories for the Herald Tribune and other papers from French Indochina in the 1940s and went to India to report on the transfer of power in 1948 from Great Britain to the new Indian government, narrowly escaping the Muslim-Hindu riots that followed.

After filing stories from Egypt's Sinai desert, Palestine, Vienna, Paris, London and Berlin, she joined the Marshall Plan in 1948 as a special correspondent and reported on the efforts to rebuild war-ravaged Europe. She married another newspaper reporter, James S. Free, in 1950, and in the late 1950s, she began writing about animal protection; her reporting helped mobilize support for enactment of the Humane Slaughter and Animal Welfare Acts.

Mrs. Free wrote for many publications as a freelance journalist, and in the 1960s, she and her husband co-wrote a syndicated Washington column called "Whirligig." Her work won the Albert Schweitzer Medal from the Animal Welfare Institute in 1963, the Rachel Carson Legacy Award in 1987 and many other awards from humane and environmental organizations.

She wrote three books: "Forever the Wild Mare" (1963), "Animals, Nature and Albert Schweitzer" (1982) and "No Room, Save in the Heart" (1987). At the time of her death, she was working on a fourth, a memoir of her time in China. Her oral history, "Telling Their Story Is All I Can Do," is a part of Columbia University's animal advocacy oral history collection.

Mrs. Free was a trustee of the Albert Schweitzer Animal Welfare Fund and was on the board of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship. She was a member of Society of Woman Geographers, the National Press Club, the American Newswomen's Club and a founding member of the Friends of the National Zoo. In 1986, she co-founded Vieques Humane Society and Animal Rescue on the Caribbean island of Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Her husband died in 1996.

Survivors include her daughter, Elissa Blake Free of Washington, and a granddaughter.

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